Friday, 6 July 2018

Island Interlude

Morning All. Just back from a very pleasant few days on the Isle of Wight with our old friends Ann and John. Conditions were very dry and blisteringly hot but, of course, no different from those in our home town, Daventry. As usual I was on the lookout for wildlife.
Cliff-top walks were made enjoyable by brisk, cooling breezes but there was rather less in the way of wildlife that might have been hoped for. Around Compton Bay there were flowers a-plenty but many of the earlier species had long gone, the scorching weather conditions perhaps driving them out of the scene earlier than usual. Sea Club-rush, Scirpus maritimus (= Bolboschoenus maritimus) was present near Compton Bay; not a spectacular plant but a species I have not seen for many years, despite it being common around our coasts.
Sea Club-rush occurred in damp areas at the foot of cliffs.
3 July, 2018 
Marbled Whites, Melanargia galathea, were flitting around the cliff-tops, where their caterpillars will feed on grasses such as fescues and Yorkshire Fog. These butterflies, despite their name, are more closely related to the 'browns' such as the Meadow Brown than 'whites' such as the "cabbage whites". They only occasionally settled, and then only briefly; in the brisk breeze I was fortunate to get a photograph at all.
Marbled Whites were frequent on the grassy cliff-tops around Compton Bay.
3 July, 2018
I also managed a picture of the colourful caterpillar of the Yellow-tail Moth, Euproctis similis, outside the public lavatories at Compton Bay. It feeds on plants such as oak, willows and hawthorn, so what it was doing there was a mystery; their frass* is normally freely distributed rather than left at a public convenience.
Caterpillar of the Yellow-tail Moth. Compton Bay. 3 July, 2018
By and large there were few butterflies or moths on the wing although the diurnal Six-spot Burnet, Zygaena filipendulae was common, particularly on Ragwort, Jacobaea vulgaris. It is one of those species, known as aposematic, which is recognised by its colours as being toxic to would-be predators, its body in this case being loaded with cyanide.
Six-spot Burnets were happy to flaunt their bright colours before birds.
Compton Bay, Isle of Wight. 3 July, 2018

For moths I should perhaps have ventured out towards nightfall and as for butterflies, I saw very few, although Meadow Browns, Maniola jurtina, were ubiquitous even in town parks.

Anything vaguely resembling a meadow attracted Meadow Browns.
Mornington Woods, Cowes. 4 July, 2018

Indeed, it was in the towns, in this case Cowes, that much of the interest was to be found. A pair of trees with remarkably bluish foliage was passed en route to Freshwater and later in the day I walked back for another look. Closer examination showed that the species was the Cootamundra Wattle, Acacia baileyana.
A pair of Acacia baileyana formed an eye-catching sight.
Cowes, Isle of Wight. 4 July, 2018
This tree, from New South Wales, has a form referred to as 'purpurea' and this is doubtless was what I was looking at. It is only marginally hardy and would surely not survive in Northants. Like many acacias such as 'Mimosa', Acacia dealbata, it has bright yellow inflorescences and this wattle in late winter would surely have been a wonderful sight. Again, like other wattles, A. baileyana has neat pinnate foliage with, in this case, a silver-grey appearance.
Known as the Cootamundra Wattle, it has neat, pinnate foliage with, in this
case, a blue-grey appearance.
There was much of interest in a nearby wooded area, known as Mornington Woods, with Butcher's Broom, Tutsan and so on being present. These might not receive a comment elsewhere, but they are very rare in Northants and probably only occur as garden escapes.

Mornington Wood: an odd sort of village green.
4 July, 2018

Tutsan, Hypericum androsaemum, has stems which are rather aromatic when bruised. The nature of the aroma has led to the plant sometimes being called Stinking Tutsan. 

Tutsan was flowering beautifully. Mornington Woods, Cowes.
4 July, 2018
When in fruit it is much used by flower arrangers, the fleshy berries being as attractive as the flowers. Fortunately many varieties seem to lack much in the way of an aroma.
It is valued as much for its berries as its flowers.
Enough! I could ramble on about bush crickets, beetles and curious fungi noted but this blog is in danger of becoming yet more tedious AND I have a considerable back-log of insects to examine from before our holiday. Suffice it to say that our short break on the island was very welcome and I returned to Northamptonshire refreshed and with pleasant memories.

* Frass: the droppings of insect larvae

Tony White. E-mail:


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