Thursday, 27 October 2016

A carpet of leaves

On my way to Kentle Wood I pass trees in their autumn glory. The Narrow-leaved Ash, Fraxinus angustifolia, has been widely planted hereabouts and one reason  must be the wonderful autumn coloration of its foliage. It is quite variable - perhaps the nature of the soil is a factor - and ranges from a lovely salmon-pink colour...
Fraxinus angustifolia beside the A45 in Daventry. 27 Octeober, 2016

 ... to a rich maroon purple.
Fraxinus angustifolia again, a little further along the road.

The woodlands of Maine, in the north-east of the U.S.A. are justly famous for their colours in the fall and huge numbers of visitors visit the region to marvel at the sight. Much of the coloration is due to the presence of Acer species - maples and sycamores to you and me - but here in Britain Acers can also take on lovely autumn colours, the intensity of which seems to depend on the weather over the previous two or three months and again, possibly, the soil. Is it my imagination or do trees growing in acid soils develop a brighter red autumn foliage?
The most familiar Acer to most people is the Sycamore, Acer pseudoplatanus. It is probably an introduction but as the pollen is virtually indistinguishable from that of Field Maple there is room for doubt.

Sycamore, Acer pseudoplatanus, beside London Road, Daventry.
26 October, 2016
For some reason the autumn colours of Sycamore are, I find, particularly vivid on saplings.
The autumn foliage of a sycamore sapling. Byfield, Northants.
2 November, 2016

The Field Maple, Acer campestre, is undoubtedly native. It is a generally smaller tree than the sycamore and its leaves often assume a primrose-yellow hue in autumn.
Young (c. 20 years old) specimens of Field Maple, Acer campestre.
Kentle Wood, Daventry. 27 October, 2016
And of course the land beneath the trees in Kentle Wood is becoming carpeted in leaves.

As a child I loved shuffling through this multi-coloured layer, kicking up golds, russets and crimsons in whispering showers. I was not alone in this joy and the present generation of children are equally enthusiastic. My boyhood friend Trevor Hold was also familiar with this joy:

                                           "See me somersault," he cries
                                            diving onto the mattress of dead leaves,
                                            and seeking a womb, he burrows like a mole
                                            among the brittle death-shapes
                                            of oak and sycamore,
                                            then pokes out a face
                                            laughing in resurrection.

                                                        'Boy among leaves' from 'Mermaids and Nightingales'
                                                                          by the late Trevor Hold, 1991

 Gradually, as the weeks pass, a task force moves in to work on the breaking-down of this seasonal bounty. There are the larger, obvious invertebrates such as woodlice, millipedes, slugs and snails, but anyone sifting through this material will quickly become aware of the generally smaller springtails. These vitally important creatures are a bit of a taxonomic puzzle: they are obviously arthropods, but just where do they fit in?   Should we regard them as an odd group within the insects? That would be convenient but not very satisfactory. As we delve into the leaves they leap around like tiny seashore shrimps - and this is what causes difficulties. Springtails possess an organ called the furca and the unique nature of this mechanism, allowing them to leap for surprisingly long distances, is the problem. How and when did it evolve?

I am embarrassed to admit that, although I have the necessary key to the springtails, I never seem to find the equally necessary time to identify them.

Important though these creatures are, pride of place must go to the minute fungi and bacteria that ultimately return this organic treasure to the soil to form humus. The vital role of these organisms cannot be overstated and we ignore them at our peril. (A recent report by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation predicts that the earth may only have 60 years left for growing crops given the present rate of soil destruction and loss, so soil renewal by processes such as leaf fall are vital.)

Personally, if I investigate dead leaves I am in search of a different group of creatures, the spiders. In the depths of winter, when all seems lifeless, the number of spiders going about their business can be astonishing. Some are active hunters, ever on the move, pausing at intervals to allow the hairs on their legs to detect the slightest movement. These hairs, generally only visible under a microscope, are called trichobothria; they are incredibly sensitive but, from the point of view of an arachnologist, also important in the job of identifying the species in question, particularly with regard to 'money spiders'. Other spiders employ a different strategy, building a simple web and playing the waiting game; for both these groups springtails must form an important prey item.
The carpet formed by autumn leaves is a vital but, as far as I am concerned,  under-investigated habitat. I must use the next few weeks to start and remedy this situation.

* Sycamore is generally regarded as an introduction but not all botanists are convinced. For some the jury is still out.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016


Odds are that the first beetle recognised or observed by a child will be a ladybird. At one time it would probably have been a Two-spot Ladybird, Adalia 2-punctata, or a 7-spot Ladybird Coccinella 7-punctata. Unfortunately today it is as likely to be a specimen of the aggressive Harlequin Ladybird, Harmonia axyridis - aggressive in that this recent arrival to our shores is partial to the larvae of other ladybirds (but also its own species).

In most areas the commonest ladybird is still the 7-spot, which has three spots on each wing-case (elytron, plural elytra) and one on the suture, i.e. the dividing line.  The spots are not present when the adult first leaves its pupa but develop within the first few hours.
Seven-spot Ladybird in my garden at Stefen Hill, Daventry.
12 June, 2016, above its black pupal case.
I photographed this specimen of the 7-spot in my back garden as it left the black pupal case; the elytra slowly took on a red coloration and the spots gradually appeared like a photograph being developed. This species in particular is aphidophagous but other species eat aphids too. In his book on ladybirds ('Ladybirds', Richmond Publishing, 1989) the late Michael Majerus divides the apparently defenceless aphids into kickers, walkers and droppers. The first group kick out at an attacking ladybird, the second group attempt to move away - apparently quite a successful strategy - and the droppers simply fall to the ground.
Anyway, I digress.
Calvia 14-guttata at Sixfields, Northampton. 2 June, 2016
Ladybirds come in a range of colours and this brown species, Calvia 14-guttata, was on a shrub near Sainsbury's at Sixfields, Northampton. It is quite frequent and is known as the Cream-spot Ladybird.
When I said that 'other species eat aphids', I implied that some had an alternative food source. Several species are herbivorous, and feed on mildew. The familiar yellow and black 16-spot Ladybird, Micraspis 16-punctata, is one such species, while the tiny 24-spot Ladybird, Subcoccinella 24-punctata, feeds on clovers and vetches.
Of course, the larvae of ladybirds are also distasteful and bear warning marks to deter birds and other would-be predators. The picture shows the almost fully-grown larva of a Harlequin Ladybird, Harmonia axyridis.

Larva of a Harlequin Ladybird, Daventry town centre,
24 May, 2016
Once the larva emerges from the egg it must find food quickly. The larva of the Two-spot Ladybird, Adalia 2-punctata, will only survive for about a day, perhaps a day and a half, before dying. It will survive on meagre rations but be smaller than a well-fed specimen.
I suppose around three quarters of the ladybirds I encounter are Harlequins and the remainder are largely Seven-spots, but occasionally others make an appearance. The Eyed Ladybird, Anatis ocellata, is nationally quite common but is largely confined to pine trees and their relatives.

Eyed Ladybird, Anatis ocellata, on a fence in Byfield, Northasnts.
25 October, 2016
When one turned up in Byfield I was quite surprised as I have not recorded it there before and pines in the area are few and far between. It is one of our largest ladybirds and each black spot is edged with a cream-yellow border, making it quite distinctive. I must be more observant.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Spines and cyanide

I recently posted a blog bearing the title of  'Autumn Leaves', in which I considered the phenomenon of leaf fall. 'But what of plants such as holly?' I hear you cry.

Its evergreen nature has made this tree very important in ritual over the millennia, for whereas the winter appears to bring about the death of deciduous trees, to be followed by a rebirth in spring, holly appears immortal. Of course holly does lose its leaves, but at a fairly constant rate throughout the year and anyone attempting to crawl under a holly tree becomes quickly aware of this when hands and knees receive sharp prickly reminders, especially as the dead leaves are slow to rot.

By bearing its tough, waxy leaves throughout the winter holly is able to take advantage of early spring sunshine but the downside is that its leaves are available to hungry animals which can, and do, browse the trees. Interestingly, studies in south-eastern Spain, reported in the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, have shown that when holly is browsed there is a rapid response at molecular level, with far spinier leaves being produced. This tendency for leaves on higher branches to be free of spines has been known for centuries and a vague memory led me to a poem by Robert Southey. In it he wrote:

                          No grazing cattle, through their prickly round,
                          Can reach to wound;
                          But, as they grow where nothing is to fear,
                          Smooth and unarmed the pointless leaves appear.

                                                                   The Holly Tree, Robert Southey 1774-1843

Be that as it may, even the smooth leaves are tough and unpalatable to many animals and are avoided where better browsing is available.  Even insects tend to eschew (rather than chew!) the leaves but one exception is the fly, Phytomyza ilicis. Here its very familiar mine is photographed on a spine-free holly leaf, but they are just as happy on a spiny leaf as, for this insect, the spines are irrelevant. (The caterpillars of the Holly Blue butterfly, Celastrina argiolus, normally restrict their diet to the flowers and buds.)

Phytomyza ilicis on a holly leaf in the churchyard at Norton,
Northants. 22 October, 2016

Another tough-leaved evergreen is Cherry Laurel, Prunus laurocerasus. This is a very popular garden shrub but, unlike holly (no relative), it is not native to Britain.

Cherry Laurel is familiar in gardens, often being used for
hedging. Daventry, 21 October, 2016
Whether in gardens or in semi-wild shrubberies it is rarely nibbled by deer, rabbits and so on and yet its leaves are unarmed. The defence is more subtle yet equally effective: the leaves are laced with cyanide. To be more precise, cyanogenic glucosides in the form of prunasin and amygdalin are present. (I know: I'm not an organic chemist either.) These substances are also present in the cherry-like berries, with nasty consequences for children who might be tempted to sample them. If I am out and about looking for leaf-mining insects I give Cherry Laurel only the briefest of glances although the presence of a tiny moth, the Apple Leaf Miner (Lyonetia clerkella) is sometimes confirmed, its larvae producing characteristic sinuous mines pale against the dark leaf.

Cherry Laurel is a member of the rose family, Rosaceae, as is the Almond, Prunus dulcis. The smell of cyanide is often likened to almonds and the kernel of the almond nuts does contain cyanide. This is no more than a harmless trace in the edible varieties but the nuts of ornamental almonds are to be avoided as there the levels of cyanide compounds make them distinctly toxic.
Not to be eaten! Ornamental almond at Newnham, Northants.
22 October, 2016
Back to evergreen shrubs, and I must mention Ivy, Hedera helix. To what extent will stock eat it? What defences does it have? According to the old song:

                             Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy...

...and up to a point this is true. According to my book - admittedly rather old (it was produced by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) - 'Poisoning in animals can be ... serious, as large quantities of leaves and berries are sometimes eaten'. It appears that substances called saponins are present in all parts of the plant, although this doesn't stop the ripe berries being an important late-winter food for birds such as thrushes. It seems that at one time farmers would give cattle a few ivy leaves as a 'tonic' and this practice seems to have been harmless. Incidentally ivy belongs to the Araliaceae, a family largely of tropical lianas, and is completely unrelated to the Poison Ivies of North America. These latter plants belongs to the Cashew Nut family, the Anacardiaceae.

So we should not be surprised to find that otherwise palatable plants use a variety of defences to ward off hungry animals. Across the plant kingdom a huge range of dodges are employed, some quite bizarre - but  that is another topic.
A day after publishing this blog I noticed a holly lookalike in a nearby garden and I couldn't resist giving it a mention. It is, of course, the variegated form of Osmanthus heterophyllus.

Despite spiny, evergreen leaves it is not in the Holly family, Aquifoliaceae, but is a member of the Olive family, Oleaceae.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Autumn leaves

The autumn winds have begun their job of stripping leaves from the trees. Among the first to go seem to be those of ash; a few briefly clung to my car windscreen a couple of weeks ago before being whisked away. In ten weeks or so the trees will be revealed, Ishtar-like, in their naked state.

The shedding of leaves is of course, amongst other things, an excretory mechanism. A number of abscissional cells develop to form a weak point at the petiole base, allowing the leaf to fall without damaging the tree. As the leaf falls it leaves a scar and in the case of the Horse Chestnut it is very distinctive. The scar resembles a horseshoe, complete with nails, and it is widely believed that this feature has given the tree its common name. For clarity (?) I have shown the scar upside down.

Horse Chestnut twig. Stefen Leys Pocket Park, Daventry.
10 October, 2016

As the leaves fall they take with them various substances such as tannins which would otherwise be harmful. These unwanted substances can include toxic metals and much interest is being shown in using trees not only to remove these metals from contaminated soils, but as a way of 'harvesting' these potentially valuable materials.

Oak leaves turning gold. Aston le Walls Pocket Park.
9 October, 2016

So the leaf, in falling, takes with it unwanted and harmful chemicals. But there is another very good, obvious, yet often overlooked reason why a tree will shed its leaves. As summer advances the leaves will begin to experience many kinds of attack from other organisms to a point where a leaf is rendered almost useless.

One source of trouble can be galls. The photograph shows a dozen or so galls of Neuroterus quercusbaccarum, the Common Spangle Gall. These are overwhelmingly on the under side of an oak leaf and a group like this will probably not have much effect.

Oak leaf with Spangle Galls. Aston le Walls Pocket Park.
9 October, 2016
However, the upper side of the leaf is also affected, and a severe attack will render the leaf unable to photosynthesise.
The upper side of the galled leaf.

Some problems can be referred to mildews. The leaves of this sycamore, Acer pseudoplatanus, photographed recently in Byfield, have been attacked by Uncinula aceris, making the leaf look as though it has been splashed with white paint. Again, they will now perform very inefficiently.

Acer sapling beside Byfield Village Hall. 12 October, 2016
Also affecting sycamore is the fungus known as Tar Spot, Rhytisma acerinum. It has been known from Europe since 1794 and, according to the literature, can affect a number of Acer species. However I have only found it on sycamore; Field Maple, Acer campestre, seems largely unaffected even when the two species are growing side by side. Cleaner air was thought to be allowing the disease to become more prevalent but there is little evidence to back this up.

Tar Spot on sycamore, Badby Road West, Daventry.
14 October, 2016

Caterpillar damage is also an obvious problem. In my own garden my Rose 'Canary Bird' has had some of the leaves skeletonised by the larvae of the Rose Slug Sawfly, Endelomyia aethiops.

Damage caused by the Rose Slug Sawfly, Stefen Hill,
Daventry. 19 October, 2016
These now-useless leaves can be shed during the autumn but the caterpillars will have formed a cocoon in the soil beneath the rose; they will return next spring to wreak further havoc unless I take appropriate measures. Incidentally males of this species are extremely rare and so reproduction is almost invariably by parthenogenesis. As a rule the depredations of caterpillars are of little consequence but severe infestations by, for example, box tree caterpillars, can eventually lead to the death of the affected plant.

There is no doubt that the autumn leaf fall is a phenomenon worthy of our attention and not just Nature's way of providing us with beautiful photographs.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Chinese Lanterns

It is in the autumn that Chinese Lanterns are looking their best. Of course I am talking about the plant Physalis alkekengi, referred to in some works as P. franchetii.

Physalis alkekengi growing in Flore, Northants.
17 October, 2016
Attractive it undeniably is, but plant it at your peril. Somehow a fragment of the rhizome - the creeping underground stem - found its way into a border at our last property and before I realised what had happened the plant was popping up everywhere as these rhizomes snaked their way between abetting neighbours. It took me a long time and a rich variety of expletives to (hopefully) eradicate it.

The name Physalis comes from the Greek phusa meaning a bladder, and if this papery 'lantern', actually the inflated calyx, is split open the spherical orange fruit - a true berry - is revealed. The flowers are relatively insignificant in terms of garden value.

In appearance it very much resembles the Cape Gooseberry, Physalis peruviana, popular in some countries for pies and jam-making. From time to time I have found this latter plant embellishing a dessert in restaurants, and very pleasant it is too.

However it is as well that I have never been served Chinese Lantern fruits for despite its close relationship to Cape Gooseberry it is distinctly toxic, especially when under-ripe, and could be fatal if ingested in large quantities. This is not a great surprise when one learns that the plant is a member of the Nightshade family, Solanaceae, and is therefore akin to Deadly Nightshade (Atropa), Henbane (Hyoscyamus species), Tobacco and Thorn Apples (Datura species). In general members of this family form a nasty gang even though potatoes, tomatoes and aubergines are also in the Solanaceae.

The plant has become naturalised here and there in the U.K., probably as a throw-out from gardens. It is fairly common in south and central Europe and grows right across southern Asia as far as China and Japan.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Badgers and bridges

I found myself in Woodford Halse earlier today and, with an hour on my hands, I strolled out along the Farndon Road. At the edge of the village, beside the road, lay a freshly-dead badger, Meles meles. I assumed it had died only a few hours ago as I could detect no odour of decomposition, but the same could not be said of flies. Lucilia species can apparently pick up the scent from over 6 kilometres.

Badger corpses are sadly common beside our roads (although a livestock
farmer might not share this sentiment). Woodford Halse, 12 October, 2016

Several had detected the faint scent and were already investigating the corpse. All were members of the Calliphoridae, i.e.  the family of insects commonly known as blowflies. I netted a few for examination and, predictably, all were females. They were seeking a suitable site for egg laying and I only found two species, Calliphora vomitoria and Lucilia caesar.

Greenbottles (Lucilia species) on the badger corpse. Woodford Halse,
Northants. 12 October, 2016
As all lovers of TV series involving forensic work will know, blowflies tend to visit carcases in a fairly well-understood sequence. A useful little book on the subject was written by the late Zakaria Erzinclioglu (or Doctor Zak as he was known).

My copy of this book is now fairly well-thumbed but I still need to dip into it now and then. He quotes research which shows that Calliphora vomitoria has a preference for larger corpses and a badger certainly comes into that category. Calliphora species will lay eggs on carcases in direct sunlight but seem to prefer those in shady positions; with Lucilia species the situation is reversed.

In the roadside hedgerow Hops, Humulus lupulus, were common. It is a plant found over most of Britain but, although a native plant, it is probably an escape in many places. It is a member of the Cannabiaceae and is thus closely related to Cannabis, Cannabis sativa.

Hops, Humulus lupulus, were common in the hedgerows. Woodford Halse,
12 October, 2016
Hops are invariably associated with brewing, not for a cannabis-like effect but to impart a bitter flavour. The cone-like female inflorescences are also widely used, like lavender, in pillows to induce sleep.

Hops have cone-like female inflorescences. Woodford Halse,
12 October, 2016
I pushed on to a point where a bridge crosses the road. This once carried the Stratford upon Avon and South Midlands Junction Railway line and at this point it was roughly midway between the stations of Moreton Pinkney and Byfield. There is no public right-of-way but a steep track tempted me to scramble up to the line. Looking back over the bridge parapet I could see the road I had just left.

Looking down from the old S.M.J. Railway line. Woodford Halse,
12 October 2016
In truth the climb was hardly worth it. A faint track could be followed for a few yards but it soon disappeared into undergrowth. Clearly only a fool would attempt to follow it, so...

No public right-of-way exists along the old track.
I progressed for some 25 yards before the vegetation became impenetrable and I was forced to retrace my steps. As I said, it wasn't worth the effort.

In places it became impassable
All I noted were a few berries of Woody Nightshade, aka Bittersweet, Solanum dulcamara, and a tatty plant of Nipplewort, Lapsana communis, so called because the closed flower buds resemble nipples and thus, in accordance with Doctrine of Signatures, the plant was used in the treatment of breast problems such as ulcers.
The mildly poisonous Woody Nightshade was present.
Woodford Halse, 12 October, 2016

This is occasionally a weed of cultivated ground, but in my experience it is quite easily eradicated. If the flowers resemble those of a lettuce (Lactuca species) it is because the plants are closely related. I slithered my way back down the bank and returned to the village.
Nipplewort was one of the few plants in flower.
Woodford Halse, 12 October, 2016

I consoled myself with the thought that it was a bit of much needed fresh air and exercise.



Sunday, 9 October 2016

Daisy Bank Pocket Park

This, it seems, is the correct name for the pocket park at Aston le Walls.

It is situated beside the Welsh Road to the west of the village and is one of the more interesting of these little parks hereabouts, with a good range of habitats on offer to our flora and fauna. Like many local pocket parks (Byfield, Woodford Halse) it makes use, at least in part, of disused railway tracks.

The Welsh Road passes over the edge of the pocket park.
Aston le Walls, Northants. 9 October, 2016
The photograph shows the line of the old track looking north-east as it passes under the Welsh Road (so called because this was an old drovers' road used for driving animals - mostly sheep - from the Welsh hills to markets in Northampton, London and so on). The railway line was the Stratford-upon-Avon and Midland Junction Railway. There was no station as such at Aston le Walls but there was a public siding for the handling of livestock, bricks, coal etc. Maybe the odd person sneaked on but there was no official passenger service.

Anyway, as so often I digress. The park is approached via an unpromising and rather gloomy path through blackthorn and hawthorn, then down a flight of steps before widening out into a grassy meadow area.  A large skein of Canada Geese, honking clamorously,  passed over as I entered this open ground. 
Canada Geese passing overhead. Aston le Walls, Northants.
9 October, 2016

I was delighted, and a little surprised, to find Meadow Cranesbill, Geranium pratense, still blooming at this late date. I must admit that my camera failed to do justice to them, for they were of quite an intense violet-blue colour. This species is a parent of many lovely and popular garden hybrids

Meadow Cranesbill was flowering vigorously at Aston le Walls,
9 October, 2016
Why so late in flower? They may have been inadvertently subjected to a form of 'Chelsea chop'; this is a strategy well-known to horticulturalists who find that if a perennial is cut back in late May - about the time of the Chelsea Flower Show - a crop of later flowers can be obtained. I suspect that these geraniums were somehow cut back, perhaps in June, and were now responding with these late blooms. Spindle, Euonymus europaeus (in some old books it was given the spelling of 'Evonymus'), was flaunting its lovely sealing-wax pink fruits.

Quite a large quantity of Spindle was present and in fruit.
Aston le Walls, 9 October, 2016
Really each fruit is a capsule in three parts, with a single seed in each cell. All parts of the plant are poisonous but the (very few) known cases of poisoning seem to be the result of eating the fruits. Why anyone would attempt to eat them is a mystery as they have a thoroughly unpleasant smell and a bitter taste.
Spindle fruits were splitting to show their three-segmented structure.
Aston le Walls, 9 October, 2016

In the bordering hedgerows the brambles were heavy with fruit. When they become over-ripe they are attractive to butterflies like this Red Admiral which was so busy 'lapping up' the juices that my approach failed to disturb it.

Red Admiral butterflies enjoyed the ripe blackberries.
Aston le Walls, 9 October, 2016
The catkins on a nearby hazel were already developing for next spring. They will steadily lengthen over the next few weeks and, if last year is anything to go by, some will be showing their stamens by Christmas.
Hazel catkins were already very obvious. Aston le Walls, 9 October, 2016
And close by on a hazel leaf sat one of several Green Shieldbugs, Palomena prasina, about which I will say no more as I have discussed the species in a recent blog, other than mentioning that it will take on a brown coloration over the next few weeks as camouflage as it hides away beneath the leaf litter. Bugs have an unpleasant taste and odour anyway, thus deterring predators.
Palomena prasina is one of our largest shieldbug species.
Aston le Walls, 9 October, 2016

 I earlier mentioned the Meadow Cranesbill but several other plants were in flower.  One species was Hedge Bedstraw, Galium mollugo. It looks like a small version of Goosegrass, Galium aparine, but the bristles on the leaf-edges point forwards, so that it will hardly cling to clothing. It is a curious fact that the Rubiaceae family, to which Galium species belong, also contains coffee - Coffea species.
Hedge Bedstraw was in flower at Aston le Walls.
9 October, 2016

Also flowering were those ever-reliable plants Hogweed, Heracleum sphondylium, and White Dead-nettle, Lamium album. I have found the former in flower from March to early December but, although it attracts great numbers of insects throughout the summer I found nothing on it today other than a few bugs (true bugs, that is) which I'll examine later.

It was no surprise to find hogweed in flower.
Aston le Walls, 9 October, 2016
White Dead-nettle I have found in flower during  every month of the year.  It barely needs a photograph but the plant is of interest if only because the genus Lamium gives its name to the Lamiaceae (in old books, Labiatae), a family which includes lavender, sage, marjoram and so on.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Braunston Church

Braunston is a rather attractive village a couple of miles north-west of Daventry. The church of All Saints (people around here like to hedge their bets - let's go for all the saints) is situated on a high point to the edge of the village. The road approaching the village is steep, and may have given the village its name:  the Saxon word 'brant' meant 'steep', so we have a farm (tun) on a steep slope. However, it must be allowed that there are other possibilities.

All Saints Church, Braunston. 3 October, 2016
It is a fine-looking building which at first glance looks old but in fact only dates back to 1849. The architect based the design, as far as possible, on an earlier church which had become structurally unsafe and was demolished, with much of the original stone being re-used.
A large proportion of the masonry has been employed in an ashlar form, i.e. the blocks are square-cut and neatly fitted together with only a little mortar employed. The stone has quite a dark, reddish tone and was probably quarried fairly locally but I have not been able to establish its origins. It seems devoid of fossils although there is current bedding to be seen.

Ashlar masonry, Braunston church. 3 October, 2016
Last night we had a slight frost and when I arrived in mid-morning it was still rather cold even though the wind was light. This high ground must catch every passing breeze, an ideal position for the windmill, now converted to a holiday let (currently £1044 per week), standing adjacent to the church.

As the sun gained in strength the south-facing masonry began to warm up sufficiently to attract butterflies, such as this Red Admiral.
Red Admiral butterfly, Vanessa atalanta, Braunston.
3 October, 2016

The warmth was also appreciated by a Noon Fly, Mesembrina meridiana, which posed prettily for me. This rather large species, with the distinctive orange-tinted bases to the wings, is common at this time of the year. Its larvae live in cattle droppings.
Mesembrina meridiana on masonry at All Saints Church,
Braunston. 3 October, 2016
By and large the churchyard is well maintained; great if you are a visitor but not so good if you are a weed or an insect. Though not a weed, one plant was of interest. I spotted some 'strawberries' growing on a bank. The flowers were a buttercup-yellow and the fruit completely tasteless, with all the flavour of cotton-wool dipped in water. 

Duchesnea indica in turf at All Saints Church, Braunston.
3 October, 2016
The flowers were the give-away; it was the Indian Strawberry, Duchesnea indica, a native of south and east Asia. Our native wild strawberry is Fragaria vesca and some botanists have placed the Indian Strawberry in the same genus, referring to it as Fragaria indica. Just to complicate matters it has also been placed with the Potentillas, as Potentilla indica. Oh dear - and if that wasn't sufficiently headache-inducing, the 'berries' aren't berries at all; the true fruits (technically achenes) of all strawberries are the little pips found on the outside of the swollen, red receptacle.

The flower of Duchesnea indica, Braunston.
3 October, 2016
The flowers, this late in the year, seemed reluctant to fully open and this was the best I could find.

Well, I've had more exciting mornings, but I returned home moderately well pleased and with a bag of swag in the form of an insect miscellany to sort through.