Monday, 27 August 2018

Byfield Pool - another try

A recent visit to Byfield Pool failed, as I said in my last blog, to do it justice so today I returned and spent longer there, recording spiders, harvestmen, beetles, lacewings and flies. I also noted a number of interesting galls.

The first was encountered before reaching the reserve.

Bedeguar galls on dog rose near Byfield Pool.
27 August, 2018
Bedeguar galls, caused by the wasp Diplolepis rosae, are often noticed in mid-winter, looking brown and tatty, but at this time of the year they are of an attractive cherry red. Over the next few weeks other insects, known as inquilines, will also take up residence in the gall, without apparently causing harm. The eventual result will be a complex community.

Once in the reserve other galls were noted. An oak sapling bore two very obvious marble galls, the work of another wasp, Andricus kollari, but a closer look revealed yet another.

A couple of Ramshorn Galls can be seen a little below the Marble Galls.
Byfield Pool, 27 August, 20118
The Ramshorn Gall is very distinctive, bearing a pair of tapering projections. The actual form is quite variable but two examples can be seen a little below the Marble Galls. This wasp bears the appropriate name of Andricus aries and anyone born under the zodiacal sign of the ram will note the link. The gall is common but easily overlooked.

A fallen log sported an interesting fungus but, being a mere tyro in the field of mycology I hesitate to name it. It may be Oxyporus latemarginatus but it will not appear on my list of recorded species.

Oxyporus latemarginatus? Perhaps, but I cannot be sure.
Byfield Pool. 27 August, 2018

One disappointment: I had hoped to find a range of bugs (true bugs, that is) but my haul was a paltry one and diptera - two-winged flies - formed the bulk of my 'bag'. However I expect that, once identified, these and other organisms will do much to raise the profile of this reserve.

The pool and its surroundings are the property of the Canal and River Trust and the status of the site as a nature reserve is contentious. It may eventually be dropped from the reserves managed by the Northants Wildlife Trust and in my opinion this would be a great pity. Much of the waterside vegetation I would define as 'carr' and over the decades drainage has made this a relatively uncommon habitat in Northants. A proper investigation would probably show a range of scarce species still occupy this reserve and to lose it would be unfortunate. If anything the reserve should be extended eastwards to include Parson's Spinney, but that is a pipe dream.


Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Sawflies and Thorn Apple

Chris was at Northampton General Hospital today for the last of her course of treatments. The staff have been wonderful and the quality of care superb. As I have mentioned before the administration of her medication is a lengthy business and I usually take the opportunity to have a wander around the hospital grounds.

An unkempt rose near to the treatment rooms was looking tatty, stripped of much of its foliage. The culprit was not difficult to establish. It was a Large Rose Sawfly, Arge pagana. Confusingly there is another 'Large Rose Sawfly', Arge ochropus also going by the same name.

Arge pagana had defoliated much of a rose shrub in the Hospital grounds.
Northampton General Hospital, 22 August, 2018 
Northampton General Hospital has, for the best part of a century, been a site where Deadly Nightshade, Atropa belladonna, could reliably be seen.  Alas, the plants have quite understandably been sprayed and today I was unable to find a specimen.

Deadly Nightshade, Northampton General Hospital, 6 July, 2017
For all its toxic properties I hope that somewhere in the grounds some plants have survived. However, quite astonishingly, a matter of twenty feet from where I took the photograph above, I found what is possibly an even more toxic plant.

Thorn Apple, Datura stramonium, is a North American species from the same family, Solanaceae, as Deadly Nightshade. In America its dangerous properties have earned it the name of 'the Devil's Apple' although it is better known there as 'Jimsonweed', a number of American soldiers being poisoned by this plant at Jamestown in 1676. Its fruits look vaguely like an oval Horse Chestnut but the numerous seeds are dark and kidney-shaped.

Thorn Apple in the grounds of Northampton General Hospital.
22 August, 2018
I dug out my floras to find out more and I learn that the plant contains hyoscyamine, hyoscine and scopolamine. Here a little confusion sets in as I learn from Poisonous Plants and Fungi, (H.M.S.O 1988) that: 'poisoning...can be severe. Roman soldiers were poisoned by the plant around 38 B.C.'  A little research established that this 'North American' plant also occurs in North Africa, being found in parts of Algeria - an odd geographical distribution.

A closer look at the spiny fruit.
The leaves had been mined, apparently by the fly Pegomyia hyoscyami. This moth's association with Datura has not yet been noted in Britain although it is known from other members of the Solanaceae. Interestingly the specific name hyoscyami forms the generic name of Henbane, Hyoscyamus niger, a rare and also very poisonous relative of Deadly Nightshade and Thorn Apple.

Yet more strangely I recorded Pegomyia hyoscyami only yesterday, where it was mining the leaves of Swiss Chard (See my blog 'Dilly-dallying around Danetre'). All very odd. I ought to re-visit the hospital to procure a couple of the affected leaves. It is a thirty mile round journey: is that too far to go for scientific evidence?

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Dilly-dallying around Danetre

Daventry, or to use its old name, Danetre, has lots of little areas of greenery around the town centre, but probably no more or less than the average town of its size. Today, with my small amount of shopping complete, I strolled around in my usual nosy fashion to see what traces of wildlife could be found. I use the word 'traces' as realistically nothing dramatic was likely to be discovered.

I dumped my shopping in the car and wandered off in the direction of Homebase (there are some convenient conveniences there) passing some scruffy blackthorn shrubs at the edge of the car park. The leaf margins bore pustules caused by a mite,  Eriophyes similis. This will occasionally attack domestic plums but, other than being disfiguring, it causes no harm.

Unsightly but causing little harm. Eriophyes similis causes pustules
 on leaves of blackthorn. Daventry town centre. 21 August, 2018
For some strange reason a plant of Swiss Chard had been planted in a concrete container along with more conventional plants such as Hylotelephium spectabile (formerly known as Sedum spectabile).
Swiss Chard is an attractive species but it was still a surprise to see it used in
an ornamental planter. Daventry, 21 August, 2018
One leaf of the chard bore a huge discoloured patch caused by the leaf miner Pegomyia hyoscyami. This was a new record for me, making me inordinately pleased.
The fly Pegomyia hyoscyami had caused large patches on the leaves.

This will attack beetroot too (a close relative of chard) but is not really a problem as the affected leaf can be simply picked off and discarded.

I was rather surprised to find ivy already in bloom as I tend to associate its flowers with autumn. Bees will not complain as the flowers are very rich in nectar.

Is mid-August an early date for ivy to bloom?
Daventry town centre. 21 August, 2018
Bees were also busy at flowers of Hypericum calycinum but for a different reason. The R.H.S. suggests that 'Hypericum provides bees with pollen and nectar'. In this they are wrong: there is pollen in abundance but no nectar is produced. Furthermore, despite the busyness of the bees this species, known as the Rose of Sharon, only occasionally produces seed.

Hypericum flowers yield no nectar but bees readily visit them for the
 abundant pollen. Daventry town centre, 21 August 2018

So there Dear Reader, you have it. Just enough interest to make my dilly-dallying worth while.


Sunday, 19 August 2018

The Olive Salver

I met up today with members of the Northants Diptera Study Group with the intention of doing surveys of Boddington meadow and Byfield Pool. It was a mistake. We were far too ambitious and should have done one or the other as neither was given sufficient attention.

Conditions were very windy. It only affected me slightly as I spent most of my time on hands and knees delving into grass tussocks but for those attempting to employ a sweep net things were very difficult. After an hour or so we gave up and moved on to the Pool where heavy tree cover gave us much calmer conditions.

At Byfield Pool the Wild Angelica was attracting many insects.
19 August, 2018

Angelica, Angelica sylvestris, was in flower and was attracting quite a number of insects including a Median Wasp, Dolichovespula media. This is often quite an aggressive insect and when I took a specimen for confirmation at home I was more than usually careful; I have been stung by this species before!

Woody Nightshade, aka Bittersweet, Solanum dulcamara, scrambled through the damp undergrowth below willow trees. It leaves were showing the pale patches cause by the larvae of the Bittersweet Fanner, Acrolelepia autumnitella. This tiny moth is very common and most of the Bittersweet in the Byfield/Daventry area seem to get attacked.

The Bittersweet Fanner leaves distinctive mines on Woody
Nightshade. Byfield Pool. 19 August, 2018
In slightly drier areas dog roses were very common and in some cases the leaves had also been mined by a moth larva. This was Stigmella anomalella, an insect bearing the obvious name of Rose Leaf-miner. The dark line of frass (poo) down the centre of the mine is characteristic of this species.

Rose leaves bore the mines of - what else - the Rose Leaf-miner.
Byfield Pool, 19 August, 2018
Most of my specimens at the two sites consisted of tiny spiders of the Linyphiidae Family, i.e 'money spiders'. They await microscopic examination and might present me with a surprise but I have to confess that my haul was less than exciting.

Just before leaving I lifted a damp, rotting log and on the underside found Catinella olivacea growing. Known as the Olive Salver it is not often recorded I was pleased to find it as fungi are not a field in which I claim any expertise.

The underside of a log bore the fungus, Catinella olivacea.
A close-up shows the yellow-green rim to the dark olive discs which help to make this species distinctive. It was a rather pleasing discovery which helped to brighten an otherwise unmemorable day.

The rims contrast with the main body of the fungus..
Byfield Pool, 19 August, 2018
Having said that I intend to return to Byfield Pool within the next few days. I feel it still has much to offer.


Once home I examined my 'bag' and found that I had a Notable B insect (nationally scarce). It was the brick-red beetle, Platycis minutus. The tips of the antennae are yellow - a distinguishing feature of this species.
Platycis minutus is a nationally scarce beetle. Byfield Pool, Northants.


Saturday, 18 August 2018

C'mon you reds

The rowans are looking lovely at the moment with their scarlet fruits inviting the birds to come and eat. A variety of birds will take up the invitation, particularly members of the thrush family. The seeds are distributed over considerable areas by birds and in some cases the partial digestion which takes place as the seed passes through the gut assists the seed to germinate. Gardeners will be aware that yellow- or white-berried rowans are less readily accepted.

Rowans are having a good year. Trinity Close, Daventry.
18 August, 2018
Lords and Ladies, Arum maculatum, is currently also putting on a show, although their berries may not be quite as tempting.

Lords and Ladies at Daventry Golf Club. 16 August, 2018

These are joined by rose hips, holly berries, hawthorn fruits and, in our back garden, succulent honeysuckle berries.

Lonicera periclymenum. A honeysuckle fruiting in our back garden.
Trinity Close, Daventry. 17 August, 2018
How strange it is, therefore, that many insects adopt similar scarlet coloration to do the exact opposite and warn birds that they are distasteful or even toxic.

Ladybirds are rejected by many birds and it is not surprising, as their bodies contain alkaloids, histamines and quinolenes, all of which are toxic to some degree. When alarmed many ladybird will exude an unpleasant fluid from joints in the legs. This behaviour is known as 'reflex bleeding'. Their bright red and black coloration is saying, in effect, 'Keep off!' Other ladybirds such as the brownish Larch Ladybirds, are not apparently toxic.
The 7-spot Ladybird exhibits reflex bleeding when alarmed.

It comes as no surprise to learn that many harmless insects have adopted warning colours to fool would-be predators. This is known as Mullerian mimicry and I suspect that this Cinnamon Bug, Corizus hyoscyami, which I recently photographed in my front garden is rarely taken by birds. Many (most?) bugs have scent glands just behind the head and these, like ladybirds, exude an unpleasant fluid when the insect is alarmed, earning them the name of Stink Bugs, but the Cinnamon Bug is scentless.

Corizus hyoscyami on lavender in our front garden. Trinity Close, Daventry.
17 August, 2018
It is an interesting bug, It was, until recently, more or less confined to sandy coastal areas in south-west England and South Wales, but has suddenly begun a remarkable expansion and I now see it frequently in the Daventry-Byfield area.

Burnet moths contain cyanide-based compounds and are avoided
by birds.
Burnet moths...I could go on. Aposematism - the use of warning colours to avoid predation is a fascinating subject and is far too big a topic for a blog.

Friday, 17 August 2018

Woodland floor

Very windy today, and everywhere is still very dry. To avoid the gusty breeze which threatened to turn my sweep-net inside out I spent an hour or so in the woodland at Foxhill Farm, working my way through twiggy litter. Sadly the section visited contained little other than pine and sycamore, neither native here.
Almost 100% rather young sycamore trees. Below Newnham Windmill.
There were pines and oaks at the woodland edge. 15 August, 2018

I was surprised to find a rather dozy Hornet, Vespa crabro, in the litter and even more so when I found a second one a few metres away. What were they doing there? Apart from their size the amber projections at the rear of the thorax make them easily distinguished from 'true' wasps, which belong to the genus Vespula.

A hornet was concealed beneath twiggy leaf litter.
Foxhill Farm, Badby. 15 August, 2018

Also in this litter were Violet Ground Beetles, Carabus violaceus. Handsome they may be, but these carnivores, at about an inch long, are formidable predators, hunting slugs and insects at night.

To find the Violet Ground Beetle beneath litter is more understandable.
Foxhill Farm. 15 August, 2018
I secured a number of spiders but, with the exception of the rather odd-looking Harpactea hombergi, with its pale, tubular abdomen, there was nothing new to the site.

At the woodland edge the acorns on oak trees have been severely under attack by the cynipid wasp Andricus quercuscalicis, an insect, first recorded in Britain in the 1960's, which causes 'knopper' galls. Indeed, a quick survey failed to reveal any acorns not affected.

Knopper Galls are currently a problem for the oaks on Foxhill Farm.
15 August, 2018
The galls in many cases more or less enveloped the acorn. One or two Sessile Oaks occur in the area and their acorns are apparently rarely attacked; I must check this out.

Butterflies have apparently had rather a good year, but today the windy conditions meant that I saw very few. A Specked Wood briefly alighted on a hawthorn leaf but that was about it.

This Speckled Wood was on the lee side of a woodland patch.
Foxhill Farm, 15 August, 2018

Chris was at a birthday 'do' with her friend Julie Ferguson and I set off to pick her up, well content. All in all, it was a successful visit.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Still dry

I visited the Area below Newnham Windmill today and, following very heavy rain in the last forty-eight hours, I was expecting conditions to be rather wet. In fact the soil was no more than damp and we will need a lot more rain to fall before there is any significant change.

The insect life of Foxhill Farm should soon respond to the conditions and a number of interesting insects including the parasitic fly Phasia obesa were found. Dock Bugs, Coreus marginatus, were evident before the rain as docks, with their deep tap roots were only marginally affected by the drought.

Dock bugs are not technically shieldbugs but are generally treated as such.
Foxhill Farm. 13 August, 2018

A brilliantly coloured nymph of another bug, Troilus luridus, was also present. This is an active predator and will feed on small grubs and soft-bodied insects, piercing them with a syringe-like rostrum and sucking out the fluids.

Triolus luridus is a true shieldbug. Foxhill Farm, Badby, Northants
I laid my net on the ground to inspect a length of hawthorn hedging and a specimen of the Roesel's Bush Cricket, Metrioptera roeselii, leapt upon it, clearly keen to be recorded. I had to break the news to it that I had noted it some weeks before. It hopped away, a disgruntled look on its face.

Keen to be photographed was this female Roesel's Bush Cricket.
Foxhill Farm, 13 August, 2018
A tatty, much-perforated leaf of Creeping Thistle betrayed the presence of a moth, Coleophora peribenanderi.

I am bound to admit that neither the moth, known rather clumsily as the Pale Thistle Case-bearer, or the photograph itself, are very exciting but in truth, although there were lots of insects about they were largely tiny, non-photogenic creatures.

A much-perforated thistle leaf was the work of the Pale Thistle Case
Bearer moth. Foxhill Farm. 13 August, 2018
I was pleased to find a thicket of Spindle, Euonymus europaeus, in an area I had not visited before. The four-lobed fruits are very poisonous to humans, containing glycosides, and causing vomiting, convulsions and loss of consciousness.

They have yet to fully ripen but once they have attained their lovely sealing-wax red coloration they will be eagerly sought by birds.

Spindle fruits are not yet ripe. Foxhill Farm. 13 August, 2018

The fruits were once baked, powdered and used to treat head lice. How efficacious this treatment was I have no idea.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Crooked spires and tepees

When Chris and I announced that we were spending a long weekend in Glossop our son-in-law Dean commented that the name sounded rather off-putting. In fact it seems to be Anglo-Saxon in origin and may originally have been Glott's Hop, with Glott being a local chieftain and 'hop' being a valley.

It is a very attractive little town where we planned to spend a couple of days visiting our old friends Sheila and Alan Conchie who were celebrating their Golden Wedding anniversary but, hoping to arrive in Glossop 'bright-eyed and bushy-tailed' we decided to break our journey and have a night at Chesterfield.

Even as a child I recall reading about the curious twisted spire of the Church of St Mary and All Saints. For a long time a favourite theory regarding its odd structure was poor workmanship. This was plausible as the spire was constructed in 1362, at a time shortly after the ravages of the Black Death had led to a shortage of skilled craftsmen.

Chesterfield. The twisted spire of St Mary and All Saints seems to dominate
the town centre. 4 August, 2018
More recently an interesting alternative theory has gained favour. The spire is lined withan astonishing amount of lead - one estimate puts it at 33 tons. This is heated by the sun's rays on the southern side whilst he northern aspect remains cool. The resultant expansion and contraction has, over the centuries, led to the twist. Yer pays yer money...

We'd have been happy to spend more time looking around the interesting centre of Chesterfield - but not to spend more time at our decidedly indifferent hotel.

The next morning it was off to Glossop via the Snake Pass. The scenery is lovely and the roads were thronged with cyclists some of whom did not really have the figure for their skin-tight Lycra outfits. We completed the journey without mishaps and finding our hotel, the curiously-named Windy Harbour, without trouble.

We were alarmed on approaching our B and B to see a huge tipi erected on the adjacent land. Our worries were short-lived and we had a conventional room with, like all the other rooms, a lovely view of the surrounding hills.

Sheila and Alan were keen for us to see some examples of traditional Derbyshire well dressing and we accordingly drove to the village of Bradwell, where some recently created examples could be seen. With the displays using materials such as leaves and flower petals, each has a very finite life, particularly given the current weather conditions.. We visited three 'wells', each with a different theme.
Traditional Old English themes such as Walt Disney's Snow White were
featured. Bradwell, 6 August, 2018
They were very cleverly done and each example we saw had clearly involved a great deal of planning and effort. I could not help but admire the work, particularly as it brought together villagers and the local school in a communal effort, and it would be sad if the tradition died out.

The sites were not functioning wells but may mark places where wells once existed. I must delve a little more into the subject but I strongly suspect that the idea of revering wells and marking them with some sort of ritual may be pre-Christian.

I was not really on the lookout for things botanical or zoological but one or two things caught my eye. One patch of waste ground in Bradwell had been colonised by Chicory, Cichorium intybus. This is well established as a garden throw out and even, as at Boddington Reservoir, happily co-existing with other plants, but it is an introduction (as is horse-radish, some of which grew nearby). It is an untidy plant but there is no denying that its sky-blue flowers are very attractive.

Chicory is an archaeophyte, but well established.
Bradwell, Derbyshire. 6 August, 2018

Speaking of sky-blue, the weather was lovely throughout our stay in Glossop with some striking patterns of cirrus clouds over Bradwell.

Cirrus clouds sometimes indicate a deterioration in the weather,
but it remained fine. Bradwell, Derbyshire. 6 August, 2018
We set off home on Tuesday, making a detour to call in at Albrighton Pottery - but that's another story.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

No Green Revolution

I would like to report that recent rainfall has led to an explosion of insect activity. Well, if it has it passed me by, for a visit to Foxhill Farm led to the finding of an average figure for new records - with one exception.

In the north-east of Matt's land lies a small pond. Or in theory it does. In fact weeks of searingly hot weather it has dried up completely but the downpours of recent days have at least made the site damp and the reed-mace seem happy enough.
Reed Mace is flourishing despite the drought. Foxhill Farm,
1 August, 2018

When I strolled through it a number of moths took to the wing. Lepidoptera are not an Order to which I have ever paid much attention, ranking some way down the list after rugby football, left-wing politics, classical music and spiders/flies - though not necessarily in that order.

Of several moths I got only a fleeting glimpse but a few were, I hope, correctly identified.
One very common moth, but new for Foxhill Farm, was the Blood-vein, Timandra comae.

The Blood-vein was common on long grass. Foxhill Farm.
1 August, 2018
Certainly the larval food plants of docks and sorrel are plentiful enough and indeed there were several specimens of this pretty moth on the wing. Seemingly more numerous were Straw Dot moths, Rivula sericealis, but it may simply be that these undistinguished little insects (easily mistaken for a micro-moth) are easily disturbed.
Straw Dots are never colourful but  this was a particularly
anaemic-looking specimen. Foxhill Farm, 1 August, 2018

I was pleased to note that Matt's haymaking team have left broad strips of land untouched at the field margins, giving wildlife a safe haven.

A strip of three metres or so has been left around the field edges - good
news for wildlife enthusiasts. Foxhill Farm, Badby. 1 August, 2018
Grasshoppers are among the insects to benefit and Diminutive Policemen Small Coppers were also doing well, particularly on Creeping Thistle and Ragwort.
Small Coppers were very common, here on Ragwort.
Foxhill Farm, Badby, Northants. 1 August, 2018
Also on Creeping Thistle I found three Sloe Bugs, Dolycoris baccarum. As I have mentioned before, they are by no means confined to sloes and occur on a range of plants. Their black and white antennae help to make them distinctive.

This Sloe Bug sat in my sweep-net and refused to budge until shaken
vigorously. Foxhill Farm. 1 August, 2018
A fairly young but rather fine beech tree grows in the hedgerow along this north-eastern border. I don't think I have ever seen a beech as heavily laden before with its fruit, each of which consist of a prickly cupule containing triquetrous nuts. They are small but tasty and as kids we would eagerly eat them by the score. In Germany the leaves are - or were - made into an alcoholic drink, beech-leaf noyau (see below). By all accounts it has quite a kick.

If rugged oaks are a symbol of masculinity the elegant beech seems to be rather more feminine and at one time a fine specimen would be referred to as a 'Queen beech'. It is to some extent a thermophilous species and for a long time regarded as doubtfully native but its pollen has been found in Hampshire dated at 8000 B.P. and so it is as British as H.P. Sauce (now, come to think of it, made in the Netherlands!). Its cream-coloured timber can sometimes have black lines weaving through it, a consequence of infection by a fungus - probably a hoof fungus. This is particularly valued by wood-turners (a situation perhaps paralleled by the 'noble rot' of wine). One old name for beech was 'bok', and it is possible that slices of beech wood, inscribed with runes or graffiti, were the first 'boks' or books. But I will need a lot of convincing on this point.

The branches were heavy with the fruit, each a cupule containing three-sided
nuts. Very tasty too. Foxhill Farm, 2018

Back to the nuts... They, together with acorns, were valued as pannage for pigs and they are still utilised in this way in the New Forest. Many other creatures will feast on the nuts, particularly bramblings, flocks of which will sometimes gather for the bounty. When bears were still wild in Britain they too will have tucked in.

The leaves have a slightly leathery texture and often cling on long after
other trees have shed their foliage.
Despite my opening comments about lack of insects, I had an interesting haul to be sorted later. I also had a two-mile walk as I was without the car so, striding out to the second movement of Beethoven's Seventh I headed for home.

Adele Nozedar (Nozedar, 2012) offers this recipe:

Beech-leaf Noyau

For every 70cl bottle of gin you will need

                            400g of fresh young beech leaves with the stems stripped off
                            225g granulated white sugar
                            300ml water
                            200ml cognac

Put the gin and the leaves into a large, sterilised glass jar, seal and leave for three weeks.
After the three weeks strain the gin from the leaves. Boil the sugar in the water. Allow to cool and then mix together with the strained gin and the brandy. You can then decant the mixture into attractive bottles and store.


No, I don't think I'll bother either.



Nozedar, A.  (2012) The Hedgerow Handbook  Square Peg Books, London