Friday, 6 April 2018

What a difference a day makes...

A fine day! It seems a long time since I have been able to say that, but with wall-to-wall sunshine and only a light westerly wind it was a day to cherish. Chris was off to Byfield but she dropped me off and I set out to walk the few hundred yards to the eastern end of Foxhill Farm.
At the roadside the occasional flower of Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara, has been showing for a couple of weeks now, but today they were plentiful, and were attracting a good few bees.
Coltsfoot flowers were numerous. Newnham Road, Daventry.
5 April, 2018
A nearby Ash Tree, Fraxinus excelsior, was close to flowering too. Its curious male flowers, the stamens yet to release their pollen, looked almost like strange purple fruits or some kind of fungal growth.
Ash tree flowers have a curious appearance. Newnham Road, near
Daventry. 5 April, 2018
The ground was completely waterlogged over considerable areas and I was glad to be wearing wellies. My destination was a gorse-strewn, sunny hillside where I hoped to find specimens of the Gorse Shieldbug, Piezodorus lituratus. I was out of luck, but the peak season for this rather large insect is three or four weeks away, so there is time yet. Although gorse has been in flower throughout the winter, the sunshine has really encouraged the flowers to display all the details of their pea-flower shape. The Gorse Shieldbug will occasionally be found on broom or even laburnum.
The gorse flowers have opened to the point where the details of their
flower structure are clear. Near Newnham Windmill, 5 April, 2018
I was compensated by seeing my first Dark-edged Bee-fly, Bombylius major, of the year and also, on a sunny barn door, a Zebra Spider, Salticus scenicus. The name of zebra spider perhaps ought to be given to the very similar Salticus zebranus but the latter is far less common, being restricted to the west country and apparently not found in Northants. They are jumping spiders and give their name to the Salticidae, with the name coming from the Latin Saltus: a leap (think somersault). This very large family has some of the world's most colourful spiders, making it a popular group among arachnologists.
The landowner, Matt Moser, is happy for any members of the public to stroll across his land: in too many cases they have repaid him by leaving cans, bottles and so on, strewn around. Although a public right of way does not exist Matt has provided stiles to allow easy access or egress, but with so many sheep around the problem is making the stiles easy to negotiate for people but not for sheep.
Sheep-proof stiles have been provided. Foxhill Farm, 5 April, 2018
Matt's goodwill has also been strained as recently people have been using wire cutters to create further access points - and allowing sheep to escape.
Among the insects taken was the pale-faced tachinid fly, Gonia picea. Besides the distinctive face it has pale stripes across the abdomen and reddish patches on the sides.

The face of Gonia picea is pale, usually of a yellowish shade.
Foxhill Farm, Near Badby, Northants. 5 April, 2018
Being an early species it is often missed by entomologists who are not 'out and about' at this time of the year although it is quite widespread. Like all tachinid flies it is a parasite when in the larval stage, in this case preying on the caterpillars of moths.
The pale abdominal stripes of Gonia picea are clear in this photograph
Not an exciting-looking fly but I was well pleased and, needless to say, it was new to the site and possibly the first record from the western end of Northamptonshire.

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