Thursday, 3 May 2018

Bounteous May!

Well, we've waited patiently and finally it is here - a lovely, warm and sunny day. Rather predictably I set out for Foxhill Farm, feeling very optimistic.
I paused a little below Newnham Windmill and looked out at the landscape. It was beautiful but rather daunting and I must accept that I'll never adequately record all the insects and spiders present but as I say, I was in an optimistic mood and weeks ago I had resolved to give it a bash.

Looking west across Foxhill Farm. The white building in the distance is
Badby Care Home. 3 May, 2018
Flowers are beginning to make their presence known, particularly in places where they are out of the reach of ever-nibbling sheep. Greater Stitchwort, Stellaria holostea, was present, often behind barbed-wire fences. Apparently it really was once thought to ease a 'stitch' in the side. Children (and adults) are amused  to find that when the seeds are ripe it is only necessary to brush against the plants for the capsules to go off with a pop, scattering seeds over some distance.
Greater Stitchwort is still quite common over much of Northamptonshire.
Near Newnham Windmill, 3 May, 2018
My suspicion that some of the tree cover is of considerable age was strengthened by the presence of patches of English Bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scriptus, for this plant is recognised as a good indicator of ancient woodland. The drooping, one-sided inflorescence is quite distinctly different from that of the Spanish Bluebell and is of a deeper blue. It can be argued that Hyacinthoides hispanica is a better garden plant, being stouter and therefore less prone to flop untidily, but it all-too-readily hybridises with our native species.
Our native bluebell has drooping flowers forming a one-sided
inflorescence. Beggars Bank, Foxhill Farm. 3 May, 2018
Rosettes of violets were scattered over the woodland floor. We have seven species of Viola in our country (eight, if escapees of Garden Pansy are included) but these were Common Dog-violet, Viola riviniana.
Common Dog-violets were frequent on the woodland floor.
Beggars Bank, Foxhill Farm. 3 May, 2018
Gorse was in flower of course, and so abundant as to be taken for granted, but I was pleased to see that, finally, Gorse Shieldbugs, Piezodorus lituratus, were present. I have been looking for them, without success, for the last three weeks, but today, suddenly, they were present in dozens. It cannot be called an exciting-looking bug but it is beautifully camouflaged against the young seed pods.
A remarkable number of Gorse Shieldbugs were present.
Foxhill Farm, Badby. 3 May, 2018

Also present was the Sloe Bug, Dolycaris baccarum, but although I had expected to find other species it was not to be.
Sun-warmed wooden fences were attracting hordes of flies, but none more handsome than the Noon-fly, Mesembrina meridiana. With its golden face and conspicuously yellow wing base it is a striking insect. It breeds in cow-dung - and clearly thrives on it.
The striking Noon-fly loves sun-warmed surfaces. Beggars Bank,
Foxhill Farm. 3 May, 2018
Perhaps I should close with a mention of the woodland tree trunks. Many were showing bright rust-coloured patches of the alga Trentepohlia. There are a number of species and I currently have no key for separating them. The colour is due to the presence of a carotenoid - the pigment which gives the same colour to carrots. I have a feeling that these algae are becoming more common, but have no evidence to back up this idea.

Rust-coloured patches on tree trunks are usually species of an alga,
Trentepohlia. Beggars Bank, Foxhill Farm. Badby. 3 May, 2018.
I suspect I'm going to be kept very busy during the coming weeks.


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