Friday, 9 March 2018

Making the best of it

Nine o'clock in the morning and the sun was shining. There were gardening jobs to be done but the temptation to visit Foxhill Farm was too great. I aimed for the area around Newnham Windmill, now almost a default destination for me. The road up to the windmill is winding and quite narrow but has been rendered narrower still by the drifts of encroaching snow on what is, for Northamptonshire, fairly high ground.
Snow was still lying at the roadside near Newnham windmill.
9 March, 2018
The flock of sheep which normally trots over to greet me as I scaled the fence was absent. They have doubtless been taken to the lambing sheds below. But there was a greeting of a kind as a chaffinch burst into song from a nearby tree. Ravens were croaking overhead and a green woodpecker cackled its insane laugh as it flitted from tree to tree. An anomalous cormorant flew over heading south vaguely in the direction of Fawsley Hall and its lakes. But for all this activity the countryside appeared otherwise lifeless.  Just at this time a huge blanket of cloud chose to move in and that was the last of the sunshine for the morning. Suddenly everything seemed chilly and damp - as indeed it was.

My first target was a Scots Pine and without optimism I swept my net through its needle-like foliage. A ladybird with unmarked elytra (wing cases) was taken but the distinct markings on the pronotum showed it to be a Larch Ladybird, Aphidecta obliterata - not a new record for the site. The same sweep also netted a picture-winged fly, Tephritis vespertina. This is a common insect associated with Cat's Ear, Hypochaeris radicata, an abundant yellow-flowered plant everywhere. But it was new for the site. 
A larch ladybird was beaten from Scots Pine. 9 March, 2018
I began my usual zig-zag descent of the slope below the windmill. Old records shown that these slopes were once called Beggars Bank; for all I know they still are. The underlying rock at this point probably consists of a Jurassic stratum known as the Marlstone Rock Formation but I cannot confirm that as local geological maps aren't detailed enough to show this amount of information. Furthermore as the last ice age period, the Wolstonian, receded it left behind a landscape covered in glacial material, effectively masking most of the underlying rock. Over much of Northamptonshire this took the form of boulder clay, often sticky and impervious, but Foxhill Farm and much of western Northants has been spared this and the glacial deposits are more tractable and even somewhat sandy. Although the Marlstone Rock Formation is limy - and therefore alkaline -  the glacial deposits are on the acid side. However, I digress...
As I approached the bottom of Beggars Bank I turned and looked back. About six little patches of woodland similar to the one shown cling to the slope; collectively they will give me an enormous amount to work on.

Looking east up Beggars Bank, near Newnham.
9 March, 2018
With another centipede, a fly and a trio of beetles in my haul the total for the site limps up to 59 species. I got home just before rain came.

Tony White:



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