Tuesday, 30 August 2016

August draws to a close at Kentle Wood

Lovely late summer weather impelled me to visit Kentle Wood; I had kept clear of the area for long enough to re-kindle my enthusiasm and I bounced, Tigger-esque, over the entry stile. (Perhaps there is a scintilla of exaggeration in the use of the word 'bounced', but in my imagination...) It is true that few flowers remain to beguile insects but blackberries are ripening and brilliant blue or green flies swarm in to mop up the juices.
Hedge Woundwort  at Kentle Wood, Daventry. 30 August, 2016
Among the flowers were a few tatty specimens of Hedge Woundwort, Stachys sylvatica. I refer to these in a rather dismissive way, common as they are, but they are an important source of nectar and plants such as this will sustain bees and other insects until the autumn feast of ivy nectar becomes available.

Similarly important - and possibly even more tattier - were clumps of Creeping Thistle, Cirsium arvense. These too will produce a few flowers over the next few weeks, their nectar eagerly sought.

Creeping Thistle, Kentle Wood, Daventry. 30 August, 2016
This triumvirate* of pink-purple flowers was completed by Rosebay Willowherb, Chamerion angustifolium. I looked in vain for the caterpillars of the Elephant Hawkmoth, for which this plant is a pabulum. My friend Lynda found one recently in Byfield but so far this year they have evaded me.

Rosebay Willowherb is still in bloom at Kentle Wood, Daventry.
30 August, 2016
So yes, there were still plants in flower but we are now moving into Keats' 'season of ... mellow fruitfulness'. Most striking were the rowans, with their corymbs of scarlet fruit. At the moment they are more or less untouched, but turdine birds such as Song Thrushes and Blackbirds will soon be gorging on them, putting on the fat lost during the breeding season to take them through winter.

Rowan, Sorbus aucuparia. Kentle Wood, Daventry. 30 August, 2016
Sloes, elderberries and, of course, blackberries are also becoming available (although the sloes will not be taken for another three months or so, by which time they will have bletted). Brambles are, of course, extremely variable so, although they may be lumped together as Rubus fruticosus, this variability means that although some 'microspecies' now bear fully ripened fruit, others are only just coming into flower. As I have mentioned in a previous blog, the study of these microspecies is known as batology - and the study of bats is chiropterology. Oh dear!
Some bramble microspecies are still flowering at Kentle Wood.
30 August, 2016

Anyway, back to the blue or green flies I mentioned in the opening paragraph. The situation is not as simple as it might appear. There are bright glossy green flies in several families. There are the so-called 'dollies', i.e. members of the Dolichopodidae such as Dolichopus rupestris, there is a Tachinid fly, Gymnochaeta viridis, and there are species from various other families. But by far the most obvious when we are out and about are Muscid flies ( i.e. in the same family as the common house fly) such as Neomyia species, and blowflies such as Lucilia species. I don't claim the expertise to recognise these muscids and blowflies without examination via a hand lens or, frequently, a microscope. As 95% of the species examined turn out to be very common flies, this can be rather frustrating but the occasional surprise makes it worthwhile.

Greenbottle on birch leaf. Kentle Wood, Daventry. 30 August, 2016
This 'greenbottle' fly on a birch leaf is typical of those likely to be seen on a walk almost anywhere. It flew off as I photographed it so, despite having studied flies for many years, other than stating that it is a male (the compound eyes almost meet in the middle) I simply cannot put a name to it.

The temperature was steadily climbing so I re-crossed the stile (with a little less elan than a couple of hours earlier) to get back to my car and find that, according to the dash, it was 24 degrees. Nothing untoward had been noted but my microscope may later reveal surprises.

* Yes, I know its not a true triumvirate; I plead poetic licentiousness.

Friday, 26 August 2016

St Andrew's Hospital

Chris and I visited Northampton today where she received more treatment at the General Hospital. The procedure was in two parts, with a break of almost three hours between them. We partly filled in the time by visiting the Daily Bread Co-operative with a lunch at the adjacent cafĂ©.

Chris met up with a couple of old friends there and so, having eaten and exchanged pleasantries, I left them to reminisce and wandered off for a little exploration. A nearby pond held my attention for a while and I regretted not being able to record insects there, for plenty were around, particularly on damp marginal mud. Many water lilies occupied the middle of the pond; although probably planted here, this is one of our three native species, the White Water-lily, Nymphaea alba.

White water lilies in a pond beside the Daily Bread Co-operative,
Billing Road, Northampton. 26 August, 2016
The flowers often attract dragonflies and John Clare was aware of this, writing:

                                  Where Water-lilies mount their showy buds,
                                  On whose broad swimming leaves of glossy green
                                  The showy dragon-fly is often seen.

                                                               Clare's Rural Muse. 1835

These flowers were held well above the pond's surface, but they are known sometimes to flower under water - a phenomenon noted by the apothecary cum botanist John Hill as far back as 1773, when he wrote: 'I have seen them...twenty feet underneath the surface [in flower] in the clear Nen a mile above Peterborough.'

I continued my walk and soon found myself encroaching on land belonging to St Andrew's Hospital where, incidentally John Clare and, a century or so later one of my favourite composers, Malcolm Arnold, received treatment for psychiatric problems. Neither really properly functioned again. (If anyone thinks that Arnold wrote 'trivial' music, listen to his Second Symphony and be prepared to change your mind!)

Colourful drifts of flowers in the grounds of St Andrew's Hospital,
Northampton. 26 August, 2016
Laudably a swathe of land has been sown with meadow plants, mostly annuals, to produce a very colourful display. A good number of insects were visiting the blooms but I was a little saddened to see that the blend of seeds used was only partially composed of native species. An obvious giveaway was the presence of Scarlet Flax, Linum rubrum.

The alien Scarlet Flax amongst the meadow flowers.
St Andrew's Hospital, Northampton. 26 August, 2016
There is no denying that this species, a native of northern Africa and southern Europe, produces lovely blooms but British it ain't, and a species such as Yellow Rattle, Rhinanthus minor, would, to my eyes, have been far more welcome. I shouldn't be churlish but my worry is that some continental strains of wildflower will hybridise with native stock. Is that being racist? I don't think so.

Anyway, pausing only to pick a few birch catkins (to be checked later for signs of galling by Semudobia species), I returned to gather Chris and whisk her back to the N.G.H. for the second phase of today's treatment.  

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Byfield Pocket Park, late August

Another visit to Byfield Pocket Park - an almost weekly event it seems. I passed clumps of Stinking Iris, Iris foetidissima, all of which seemed to be infected with the rust Puccinia iridis. Like most (all?) rusts, this organism has alternate generations, with the other host uncertain, although common nettles are suspected. Some irises are immune to this disease, but it seems that the Stinking Iris is particularly susceptible to attack. 
Leaves of Stinking Iris under attack from Iris Rust.
Byfield, Northants. 24 August, 2016

These rusts are a terrible problem, with outbreaks of the related Wheat Rust, Puccinia triticina, regularly devastating crops in the tropics, particularly in India.

Nearby another plant was under attack, but from a quite different source. Broad-leaved Dock, Rumex obtusifolius, is a very common species of dock, and is indeed quite a serious agricultural pest. Some measure of control is afforded by the anthomyid fly, Pegomya solennis.
As the picture shows, the larvae of this insect cause a large blister-like patch to develop, often covering 50% of the leaf. It won't kill the plant but will debilitate it and perhaps lead to lower seed production.

Broad-leaved Dock under attack by Pegomya solennis  Byfield
Pocket Park. 24 August, 2016
We have about 61 species of Pegomya known from the U.K. and a range of plants may suffer serious attack from other members of this genus.

There are some days which seem too hot even for insects and today was one of those days. A few butterflies were about and Small Whites were common. A Speckled Wood fleetingly rested on foliage, flicked its wings and flew off.

Speckled Wood on sycamore foliage. Byfield Pocket Park.
 24 August, 2016

One of the 'Blues' was visiting bramble blossom. It refused to open its wings; these creatures don't always as you would wish and I was reminded of a note written by Kenneth Williams in his notorious diaries: '...went to see Ring of Bright Water which was about as bad as you can get in movies. Even the otter was amateur'. However, despite it being shy of the camera it is clearly a Holly Blue, Celastrina argiolus, and appears to be a male.

A solitary Horse Chestnut stands near to the pocket park entrance. Isolated it may be but Horse Chestnut Leaf Miners had sought it out and the leaves were characteristically disfigured. The leaf miner in this case is a tiny moth, Cameraria ohridella.

Horse Chestnut foliage mined by Cameraria ohridella. Byfield
Pocket Park. 24 August, 2016
Although it was first recorded in Britain as recently as 2002 its spread has been rapid. A friend recently remarked that the Sweet Chestnut, Castanea sativa, seems unaffected. In fact the Horse Chestnut, Aesculus hippocastanoides, and the Sweet Chestnut are completely unrelated so one would not expect the latter to be attacked.

I suspect the Horse Chestnut Leaf miner is here to stay as eradication seems very unlikely.

Monday, 22 August 2016

The Admiral Nelson

The weather on Sunday was quite decent so Chris and I decided to go over to Braunston for a meal at The Admiral Nelson. It has a picturesque setting beside the canal and is a far more colourful scene than that which met me three days ago on the same canal near Daventry.
The food is not haute cuisine but the tables were full and the customers happy. As for the canal, it was extremely busy and a couple of boats usually shared the lock as they headed south-east or north-west. We had booked a table but allowed ourselves half an hour or so to stroll around and enjoy the scene. Very few water plants adorned the banks along this stretch with only Amphibious Bistort providing a bit of colour.
Amphibious Bistort was plentiful beside the canal.
Braunston, 21 August, 2016
This plant, Polygonum amphibium, has some attractive garden relatives, e.g. Polygon affine, which attract numerous insects but none was present on this common species.
Taphrina tosquinetii galling alder leaf at Braunston, Northants.
21 August, 2016
An alder, Alnus glutinosa, stood near to the canal edge. Curious galls were present on the leaf blade, almost certainly the work of the fungus Taphrina tosquinetii.
The 'pleating' along the midrib on this ash leaflet is the
work of Dasineura fraxini. Braunston. 21 August, 2016
The leaflet of an ash tree showed far more familiar galling. It was the work of the fly, Dasineura fraxini. This is both widespread and common, so is not likely to be a new record for this 10x10 km square. A closer look at the underside made the gall more obvious.

Dasineura fraxini, another view
The ground around the busy locks at Braunston endures a great deal of trampling and general disturbance so chances of unusual wildlife sightings are slim, but galls always come to the rescue!

The locks were in constant use. Braunston, Northants. 21 August, 2016
Here I must confess that I've been very lax. This is probably a gall caused by the mite, Phyllocoptes goniothorax, but I really should have examined it more closely or, better still, have brought the leaf home. Now I'll never know for sure.

Phyllocoptes goniothorax? Almost certainly. On hawthorn at
Braunston, Northants. 21 August, 2016
Speaking of laxity, I always take a small specimen tube out with me - except today. So inevitably I found an intriguing insect, one that required closer examination. It had feathery antennae and was clearly a member of that group of flies known as the Nematocera - but what is it? It was quite tiny (about 3mm) and thus tricky to photograph clearly in the blustery wind. Its marking are vaguely similar to the genus of craneflies known as Ctenophora, but the insect is far too small. The truth is, I'll never know, and this is a sharp reminder to me: Estote parati, as we never said in the Boy Scouts.

??? Braunston, Northants. 21 August, 2016
So, not for the first time, my blog is little more than a memo of limited interest to anyone except myself; a pleasant couple of hours perhaps to be repeated in the near future.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Grand (and not so Grand) Union Canal

Four days ago I set out intending to visit the Grand Union Canal north-east of Daventry. I failed to make it (see blog 'Lang Farm') so today I had another attempt, picking up the towpath at Wharf Farm. Some stretches of canal can be lively and colourful, surrounded by lovely countryside, but...
Grand Union Canal north-east of Daventry. 18 August, 2016

First impressions were that the canal was too tidy for much in the way of wildlife. A stroll of half a mile or so proved that these first impressions were correct. I had hoped for clumps of sedges, bulrushes or reeds. No chance. Everywhere was well maintained. There were a few rather stunted plants of Meadowsweet and, as the photograph shows, the odd plant of Angelica.
Angelica was common but hardly abundant. Near Daventry.
18 August, 2016
Some Angelica leaves were covered in blotch mines, the work of the fly, Phytomyza angelicae.  A few insects were on the umbels but nothing to cause a sharp intake of breath.
Angelica leaves with the blotch mines of Phytomyza angelicae.
Near Daventry, 18 August, 201

Some alder branches overhung the water and the leaves bore swellings caused by the mite Acalitus brevitarsus but this very common and unspectacular gall barely merits a picture.

The gall of a mite, Acalitus brevitarsus, on alder beside the Grand
Union Canal near Daventry. 18 August, 2016
I swept a few caddis flies from overhanging branches but otherwise there was little of note and the only other canalside feature I photographed was a Honeysuckle, Lonicera periclymenum, scrambling through a shrub at the towpath edge. I rarely seem to find this plant free of leaf mines, but today even these were lacking.
Honeysuckle flowers still in bud near Daventry. 18 August, 2016

The plant seems to have quite a long flowering season; in places flowers were still in bud but elsewhere on the plant the berries had formed and ripened.

But some flowers were open. Near Daventry, 18 August, 2016

So obviously there were flowers fully formed but their fragrance will not become apparent until the evening. The berries are generally regarded as poisonous but it seems likely that large quantities would need to be ingested before harm is caused. Of course, honeysuckle is a sure-fire protection against witchcraft so I always carry a sprig.

By this time, despite the lovely weather, I was becoming a little despondent. I got chatting to a fisherman who told be that he was after gudgeon - hardly a lofty ambition.   Clearly stoicism comes naturally to Daventrians. He told me that there was a dead cow in a field nearby and it was attracting lots of flies; I thanked him but held my enthusiasm in check.

A few yards further on a small stream entered the canal from the west. I decided to part company with the canal an follow this alternative. It quickly became apparent that I had entered a site earmarked for new housing (the Monksmoor Farm Residential Development). A sewerage system had been installed and I am guessing that the stream I was following would eventually finish up underground in some sort of culvert.

How pretty! Monksmoor Farm, Daventry. 18 August, 2016
The ground had been subject to major disturbance and a host of annual weeds had sprung up, with Scentless Mayweed, Tripleurospermum maritimum, and Field Poppy, Papaver rhoeas both abundant and attracting insects.
Scentless Mayweed, abundant on the disturbed ground.
Daventry, 18 August, 2016

The Common or Field Poppy provides no nectar but bees are often to be observed harvesting the pollen. My grandmother always called this plant 'Head Ache', and Druce in his flora (G. Claridge Druce, 'The Flora of Northamptonshire', 1930) also mentions this as a local name.
Head Ache, aka Field Poppy. Monksmoor Farm, Daventry.
18 August, 2016

John Clare gets in on the act too:

                                   Corn Poppies, that in crimson dwell,
                                   Call'd Head Ache from their sickly smell.

                                                          Clare's Shepherd's Calendar, 1827

The plant is poisonous to stock when green but is safe when dry in hay.

I spent half an hour on this site gathering flies, most of which will prove to be commonplace, before an unproductive walk retracing my footsteps along the canal towpath.

So, here we have a rather dismal stretch of canal and, a stone's throw away, a housing development. Surely it is not beyond the wit of man to create a buffer zone beneath the housing and the canal, an area planted up with some of our finest native shrubs to enhance the environment and encourage its colonisation by butterflies and other invertebrates. I examined the on-line plans for the development but the situation is unclear. Perhaps a letter to my local councillor would be in order.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Lang Farm

Lang Farm is one of Daventry's most recent developments. I never intended to go there, my target being the Grand Union Canal, which runs a little north of Lang Farm. However, having taken a wrong turn and coming across a rather attractive lake; I changed plans and decided to have a closer look. It proved to be a balancing pond, i.e. one, usually near to urban areas, constructed to temporarily hold water in case of flooding.
The main pond at Lang Farm, Daventry. 14 August, 2016
Much of the surface was covered by Fringed Water-lily, Nymphoides peltata. It is not a true water lily at all but belongs to a small family, the Menyanthaceae, although at one time it was classified with the gentians. This plant is extremely rare as a true native of Northamptonshire but has recently been found in a number of new locations, perhaps as a throw-out from garden ponds. The word 'fringe' refers to the toothed edges of the petals.
Fringed Water-lily taken from a distance. Lang Farm,
Daventry. 14 August, 2016
At no point could I get near to it for a decent photograph but I did my best. It was receiving quite a few visits from bees and is altogether a 'good egg' as far as plants go. As with many of these ponds, alder trees, Alnus glutinosa, had been planted near to the water's edge. They were bearing a good crop of the cone-like female catkins and I found one bearing a grotesque tongue-like growth caused by the fungus, Taphrina alni. At this time of the year it is in the process of changing from green to a reddish-purple.
Alder Tongue, Taphrina alni on a female alder cone.
Lang Farm, Daventry. 14 August, 2016
Once very rare this has now become frequent enough to have gained the common name of Alder Tongue.

Here and there the alder leaves had been rolled into a tube; this was the work of a tiny moth, the Pale Red Slender, Caloptilia elongella.
A rolled alder leaf hides Caloptilia elongella. Lang Farm,
Daventry. 14 August, 2016
I carefully unrolled a leaf for confirmation and the slender green caterpillar was snug inside.

The handsome spike-like inflorescences of Purple Loosestrife, Lythrum salicaria, were present and attracting a few insects but none was out of the ordinary. Was it introduced or had it arrived naturally? Probably the latter as it is a common enough plant in the county. It has probably suffered from 20th century land drainage but the numerous flooded gravel workings now present along the Nene valley may have largely compensated for this. 
The spikes of Purple Loosestrife beside the pond at Lang
Farm, Daventry. 14 August, 2016

Such a lovely plant inevitably caught John Clare's attention:

                                   And gay long purples with its tufty spike
                                   She'd wade o'er shoes to reach it in the dyke...

                                                                                        Clare's Village Minstrel, 1821

Clare's use of the term 'Long Purples' is rather interesting. When Shakespeare wrote (Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 7)

                               ...Of crow-flowers, Nettles, Daysies and Long Purples
                                  That liberall Shepheards give a grosser name...

he was apparently referring to the Early Purple Orchid, Orchis mascula. What this 'grosser name' was I have no idea but it is worth remembering that 'orchis' is the Greek word for 'testicle'.

However, I digress.

This moth proves that bright colours are not required to create a lovely effect. This is a rather pale - probably female - form of the Brown China-mark, Elophila nymphaeata.
Brown China-mark moth, Elophila nymphaeata. Lang Farm, Daventry.
14 August, 2016
It was no surprise to find it adjacent to a pond as its larvae are aquatic, feeding on water plants. It is common right across Britain, absent only from some parts of northern Scotland.

So, not a bad afternoon, but I recorded no grasshoppers and only a couple of beetles. The area is quite well 'manicured' and arguably the local authority should allow a patch or two of rough grassland to develop. Perhaps there will be a surprise or two among the specimens taken home.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Buzzy, whiny things

High summer, and it has been some weeks since I last visited Kentle Wood. With the temperature at a pleasant 17-18 degrees I set off, with high hopes and a sweep net which, I noticed, was getting rather grubby.

I was waylaid  by a small girl who wondered what the net was for. I explained that, contrary to the usual assumption that I was seeking to catch butterflies, my main quarry was 'ordinary' flies. Her mother cut in: ' Ooh, I can't be doing with them buzzy, whiny things.' I was rather annoyed, not because she butted in with an opinion which was not sought, but because she was likely to colour her daughter's attitude for years to come, if not for ever. A quick glance it my bookshelves later confirmed that I have over eighty books on these creatures, plus a hundred or so journals dealing  broadly with this topic. Yet this is but a tiny fraction of what an expert like Peter Chandler or Alan Stubbs must hold - and every year dozens, if not hundreds, of new species are described. Insects and other invertebrates are responsible for pollination, diseases, decomposition, stings and bites and a huge range of other activities. They are food for bats and other small mammals, birds, fish, lizards and amphibians and, to an increasing extent, us. They are even used medicinally with, for example, Lyssa vesicatoria - known as 'Spanish Fly' - used for certain skin complaints. (Incidentally it is not a fly but a beetle, and has no known aphrodisiac properties.) And as for cockroach 'milk' - who knows? Quite simply, the world as we know it would not exists without these 'buzzy, whiny things'.  At least the woman had taken her daughter walking in the countryside. I should be grateful for that.

Anyway, undeterred by her acerbic comment, I pressed on. Rowan trees were heavy with nearly-ripe fruit and will attract many creatures over the next few weeks.

Rowans, Sorbus aucuparia, are now a fine site in
Kentle Wood, Daventry. 10 August, 2016
Brambles were promising a very good crop of blackberries although those photographed will require a few weeks to ripen.
Blackberries are developing well and will be important to a range of animals
 as they seek to put on fat for the winter. Kentle Wood, 10 August, 2016
Rowan fruits and blackberries differ so much from each other in appearance that their close relationship is not obvious, yet both are members of the Rose Family, Rosaceae. (But so, of course, is Bridewort, Spiraea salicifolia, looking so different again and photographed a few days ago in Byfield Pocket Park.
Bridewort, Spiraea salicifolia, in Byfield Pocket Park, 8 August, 2016

It was while sweeping beneath the rowans that I took a specimen of Palloptera muliebris. This small and quite unmistakable insect is moderately common but I do not often take a specimen. This was certainly the first for Kentle Wood. Its widely-stretched wings also form a characteristic pose. 
The highly distinctive fly, Palloptera muliebris. Kentle Wood, Daventry.
10 August, 2016
I cannot, off the top of my head, think of another fly having a similar border to the wings. (Oddly enough, a second specimen was in my house a few hours later. And no, it wasn't the same one as that was safely pinned.)
There were some butterflies about, although perhaps fewer than I might have expected. I don't like to catch butterflies (illogical, given that I am quite happy to net two-winged flies) although Skippers really need a close examination. However I am reasonably confident that this specimen is a Common Skipper, Thymelicus sylvestris.
Common Skipper on Creeping Thistle. Kentle Wood,
Daventry. 10 August, 2016
The Creeping Thistle upon which it sits is a very popular plant with insects, its flowers providing lots of nectar so hoverflies and various bluebottles were there too.

There are plenty of vetches and clovers in Kentle Wood so to find this Shaded Broad-bar, Scotopteryx chenopodiata, was not a surprise. It is a widespread and fairly common moth. The specific name, chenopodiata, is rather odd, for it means 'goose foot' (Greek chen goose and podos foot). Perhaps it was once mistakenly believed that the larvae fed on goosefoot plants, Chenopodium species.
Shaded Broad-bar. Kentle Wood, Daventry. 10 August, 2016

All-in-all I was pleased with my visit and a closer examination of my specimens is likely to show that between five and ten species have been added to the list for Kentle Wood. I set off home with a vague feeling of guilt: I really must make more of an effort to gather spider specimens.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Of Conopids and things

I was in Byfield yet again. And again I had some time to kill - about two hours in fact - so I ambled over to the pocket park, confident that yet again I'd find something of interest. In fact before I had even reached it I had cause to bring my camera into action. A couple of Lombardy Poplars stand at the northern edge of Byfield's playing field and some of the leaves bore reddish swellings.

Poplar leaf galled by the fly Contarinia petioli, Byfield.
4 August, 2016

To be more precise the swelling was near the leaf-stalk (the petiole) and was a gall caused by the fly, Contarinia petioli. This gall is widespread in England but little recorded; it often occurs on aspen too.

I must have taken this route over a hundred times and yet before me I suddenly found a fine plant of Angelica, Angelica sylvestris

Angelica beside the stream at Byfield. 4 August, 2016
It must surely only have established itself in the last year or so.The umbels of this plant attract large numbers of insects. but not today. After a moment of admiration, for it was a fine specimen, I moved on. 

We have about 24 species of Conopidae in the British Isles. These flies are slightly problematic in that dipterists are unsure about their relationship to other families. They may be related to the hoverflies and, like them, are often very good wasp mimics.  The commonest in my experience is Conops quadrifasciatus, and I was fortunate to find a pair in copula today on a knapweed plant.

A pair of Conops quadrifasciata in Byfield Pocket Park
This species is  very wasp-like but is known to be a parasite of the Red-tailed Bumblebee, Bombus lapidarius. The victim is pounced upon while in flight and the Conops lays eggs on the host's abdomen, prising apart the abdominal segments. These eggs hatch and the resultant larvae burrow into the bee and feed on the contents of the abdomen. Remarkably, if only one larva parasitizes the host, the bee may survive.

Several hazel, Corylus avellana, shrubs are present in the pocket park. One specimen has reddish foliage and may be the form known as 'Red Majestic'.

Red hazel at Byfield Pocket Park. 4 August, 2016
The nuts on this species are similarly reddish, as are the jagged involucres wrapped around the nut. In theory the hazels will be cut back almost to ground level (coppiced) on a regular cycle but this system may fall into abeyance. Our old friends Emma and Dave Marsh are on the point of leaving Byfield and they will be greatly missed. It is their sterling efforts that are responsible for the pocket park being kept in good order; its future maintenance is now uncertain and rampant growth is already obliterating some of the less-used paths. A few people gather the hazel nuts in a desultory manner but I prefer to leave them for the squirrels:

                            ...' neath the Hazel's leafy thatch,
                            On a stulp (sic) of mossy ground,
                            Little squirrels' gambols watch,
                            Dancing oak trees round and round.
                                                               Clare's Village Minstrel. 1821

Interesting to reflect that these would have been Red Squirrels. I wonder when the last were seen in Northamptonshire?

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Thistles and Thorns

As I happened to be visiting Byfield today it seemed an opportune time to cast an eye over the nature reserve at Woodford Halse. On my last visit I had looked at the western part of the reserve; today I strolled east, or actually nearer south-east. It was fine and warm, though very blustery. Within a couple of minutes I had dislodged a rather striking caterpillar from a clump of nettles. It was the larva of Abrostola tripartita.
Caterpillar of The Spectacle moth. Woodford Halse
Nature Reserve, 3 August, 2016
The adult moth, the imago, is known as The Spectacle and is a common species. It gets its name from a raised tuft of scales on the thorax which, when viewed from the front, resembles a pair of spectacles.

Three species of thistle were present, all species of Cirsium. The most common, often attaining the status of an agricultural pest, was Creeping Thistle, Cirsium arvense. This is a nuisance in both in pastures and among crops and indeed arvense is derived from the Latin arvum: a field.
Creeping Thistle. Woodford Halse Nature Reserve.
3 August, 2016

It produces abundant seed but readily reproduces from fragments of the creeping rootstock, distributed by cultivation. It was surely this species John Clare had in mind when he wrote:

                           Each morning now the weeders meet
                           To cut the thistle from the wheat.
                                                                     Clare's Shepherd's Calendar, 1827
The second species, also extremely common, was the Spear Thistle, Cirsium vulgare (C. lanceolatum in some older books). This is also a nuisance but is a biennial and is thus more easily eradicated.

Spear Thistle at Woodford Halse Nature Reserve.
3 August, 2016

In its first year the plant forms a very thorny rosette, able to penetrate thin-soled footwear.

The third species was more of a pleasant encounter. On the steep sides of an embankment were several spires of Woolly Thistle, CIrsium eriophorum. This is a handsome biennial and would surely make a fine border plant.

Woolly Thistle. Woodford Halse, Woodford Halse Nature
Reserve, Northants. 3 August, 2016

The bracts are thickly cobwebbed with white 'wool' and G. Claridge Druce refers to a specimen in Whittlebury Forest over six feet high. 

                              Where the Thistle meets the light
                               With its down head cotton white.
                                                                    John Clare, Cowper Green, 1821

The species seems to prefer a limy soil and is probably less frequent than in Clare's time, perhaps easily weeded out by farmers.

Robin's Pin Cushion aka Bedeguar Gall at Woodford Halse
Nature Reserve. 3 August, 2016
Now for the thorns. I was pleased to find, on a Dog Rose, Rosa arvensis, a fine Robin's Pin Cushion. This is a gall, induced by the wasp Diplolepis rosae. As I have written in an earlier blog, this gall has been the subject of much investigation in recent years and a surprising number of other insects have been shown to be associated with it.

A few moments later - disaster. I mentioned in the opening paragraph that it was  blustery day. A sudden gust and my sweep net was firmly caught on a wild rose and there was a nasty tearing sound! It was time to go home anyway so I'll be doing some repair work tonight. Heigh-ho.