Friday, 28 September 2018

Cranesbills and Storksbills

We are all familiar with Cranesbills. They are true species of Geranium, as distinct from the largely South African Pelargonium plants. Gardeners persist in referring to the latter as 'geraniums', much to the frustration of botanists.

Geraniums get their name from geranos, the classical Greek word for a crane and the reference is to the long pointed 'beak' of the carpels. Probably most gardeners grow some geraniums although currently I only grow one - the small but delightful Geranium cinereum 'Ballerina'. (Probably not true G. cinereum but a hybrid.)

Geranium cinereum 'Ballerina' in our front garden at Stefen Hill, Daventry.
28 September, 2018

It has typical geranium leaves with the usual palmate shape, 'palmate' because the lobes of the leaves spread out like fingers from the palm of a hand. Small geranium species are common on roadside verges and in lawns and the leaves of Dove's-foot Geranium, G. molle are very familiar.

Geranium molle showing the palmate leaves. 
Church Street, Byfield. 3 October, 2018

Storksbills are members of the Erodium genus and are very closely related to cranesbills. The best-known species is probably Common Storksbill, Erodium cicutarium, a plant which enjoys dry, rather sandy ground and in Northamptonshire, with its clay soils, it is not 'common' but is only occasionally found. However,  given the right habitat it can be abundant. I was both pleased and surprised to find a considerable patch on the grassy roadside verge outside my daughter's house earlier today.

Common Storksbill on the roadside at Timken, Daventry.
28 September, 2018
This plant also gets its name from the Greek, in this case from erodios, a heron, and Storksbill also has long pointed fruiting head. A crucial difference between Geranium and Erodium lies in the shape of the leaves for in the case of the latter genus they are not palmate but pinnate, and where the leaves were spreading across a kerbstone their appearance was clear. (An exception to the rule is Erodium pelargonifolium, with palmate leaves.)

A pinnate leaf is a compound structure consisting of leaflets spread along the rachis (leaf stem) and, as most will be aware, comes from the Latin pinna, a feather. Several storksbills are included in plant lists for rock gardens, but are only occasionally used.

Storksbills usually have pinnately compound leaves.
Timken, Daventry. 28 September, 2018
In the wild, given its liking for sandy conditions the Common Storksbill is more frequent on or near to the coast. I suspect that the occasional taste of salt when roads are gritted does not come amiss.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Yet another Daventry walk

Bright, warm sunshine today encouraged me to walk into Daventry. There are always jobs to be done. My walk took me past Danetre Hospital (Danetre, along with Daventrei and Daivintre, is an old name for the town) and a largish Lawson's Cypress occupies a position near the entrance. Unsurprisingly a Juniper Shieldbug, Cyphostethus tristriatus, superbly camouflaged, was on the foliage. Unsurprising for 2018 perhaps, but this would have been a real puzzle fifty years ago when this bug was a rare insect found only on juniper in Surrey and perhaps one or two adjacent counties.

Juniper Shieldbug on Lawson's Cypress. Danetre Hospital, Daventry.
I was indeed surprised when I found a paler specimen on a beech tree a couple of hundred yards further on. There were more Lawson's Cypresses nearby and I think it had simply suffered a satnav error.
A specimen on beech was clearly confused. I recommended 'The Hamlyn
Guide to the Trees of Britain & Europe' but it treated my suggestion
 with disdain.

I have recently mentioned the knopper gall in my blogs. Caused by the wasp, Andricus quercuscalicis, it is generally found on the acorn cup. On an oak in Daventry today I found an example where five of these galls were present on the same cup and had coalesced to form a very odd structure.

A quintet of knopper galls had coalesced on this oak in Daventry.
25 September, 2018
To the rear of our local Tesco supermarket stands a Cedar of Lebanon, Cedrus libani. Currently it is a particularly fine sight for the sweeping lower branches are adorned with hundreds of cones.

Even when young a Cedar of Lebanon is a fine sight.
Daventry. 25 September, 2018
They are the male cones and a closer examination shows that their pale yellow pollen is currently exposed, eventually to be carried away in the wind. Once the pollen has been dispersed these cones will fall to the ground, their task complete.

Pollen was clinging to the male cones. A dry day and a brisk wind
and they will be swept away.
Many people are puzzled by the strange larval forms of ladybirds. With practice they can be identified but one specimen made me pause for thought although I should not have been surprised. It was a Harlequin Ladybird, Harmonia axyridis. The adult (imago) is extremely variable and this larva simply had yellow patches on the abdomen rather than the brick-red with which I am more familiar.

The larva of a Harlequin Ladybird. The transformation into the adult form is
something we often take for granted but it really is astonishing.
Daventry. 25 September, 2018
As usual the walk was of far more interest than the shops, despite all their blandishments.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

At last, a pond.

Some months ago Matt Moser had mentioned that a pond existed towards the western end of Foxhill Farm, but prior to today I had not seen it. In fact I was not looking for it at all but sort of blundered on it today whilst having a general walk. It is, of course, completely artificial and, unlike the farm's other 'pond', it contained water.

The lake at the western end of Foxhill Farm had shrunk greatly during the
long, hot summer, but at least there was water. 24 September, 2018

The two ends were quite different: the western end held a stand of Lesser Reedmace, Typha angustifolia, but the eastern end was dominated by Common Reed, Phragmites australis. I must pay more attention to these patches for numerous insects are associated with the two species.

Lesser Reedmace was present at the western end of a small lake on
Foxhill Farm. 24 September, 2018
Water there may have been, but the banks were largely unvegetated and, other than a few lycosid spiders dashing around, there was little to be seen in the way of invertebrate life. I suspect the pond has been re-dredged recently.

A stand of Common Reed dominated the eastern end. 24 September, 2018
A hefty tree-trunk had been left to decay at one point and I enthusiastically embarked upon an investigation of the rotting wood. Disappointingly I found nothing other than a few woodlice and was about to give up when a chunk of soft material broke off to expose a couple of very large beetle larvae.

A stag beetle? Probably, but likely to be the Lesser stag beetle rather than
its impressively large cousin. Foxhill Farm, 24.ix.2018
Foolishly I photographed one specimen without placing something nearby for scale but each was about the size of a pound coin. This is not my area of expertise but the words 'stag beetle' came to mind. I must keep an eye on this area next summer. Realistically they are most likely to be the larvae of the Lesser Stag Beetle, Dorcas parallelipipedus.

On my way to the pond I noted several shieldbugs. (The famous scientist E.O.Wilson once wrote 'Every kid has a bug period. I never grew out of mine' I can sympathise with that.)Anyway, these particular insects rely on 'stink glands' to deter predators but, ideally, their camouflage will prevent them being detected in the first place. A Green Shieldbug, Palomena prasina, had made a reasonably sensible choice of an ash tree leaflet on which to rest.

A Green Shieldbug is reasonably well camouflaged on an ash leaflet.
Foxhill Farm, 24.ix.2018

Unfortunately another shieldbug nearby had made a rather less prudent decision and was relying on a purple dogwood leaf as background. Whoops!

Not so good!
One of our commonest shieldbugs is the Hawthorn Shieldbug, Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale. A specimen dropped into my sweep net and I photographed it for no particular reason but was astonished to find, on returning home, that it had not been previously recorded at Foxhill Farm.
A Hawthorn Shieldbug was surprisingly a new record for Foxhill Farm.

Monday, 24 September 2018

An abandoned track

A couple of days ago, quite by chance, I stumbled upon a long-disused track towards the southern edge of Foxhill Farm. It had been metalled but was now overgrown, with weeds splitting open the surface. (I was inspired once home, to put on a c.d. of Janacek's delightful piano suite 'on an Overgrown Path.) The sides of the track were lined with bushes of hawthorn, elder, snowberry, gorse, viburnum, blackthorn, privet and spindle. Most had been planted, with the last two not naturally found on the mildly acid soils of the farm but more normally found on limy soils, whilst snowberry is not a British native, being a North American introduction. Swathes of the willowherb known as Great Willowherb or less prosaically, Codlins and Cream, Epilobium hirsutum, also bordered the track.

The track once metalled, has fallen into disuse. Foxhill Farm,
Badby, Northants.
The Spindle, Euonymus europaeus, was fruiting in abundance, turning an otherwise unremarkable-looking shrub into a very eye-catching feature. Indeed, the word euonymus means 'of good name' for, although it is rarely planted it was highly regarded for various features (despite the fruit being distinctly poisonous to humans, though clearly not for birds, which are happy to consume the berries). The wood is strong and hard so it was much used for making spindles, hence the common name.

Pink rather than red, the four-lobed berries of Spindle adorn hedges
usually on chalky soil.. Foxhill Farm, Badby. 24 September, 2018
In my childhood almost every suburban garden seems to have its privet hedge, with the chosen species invariably being Ligustrum ovalifolium, a native of Japan. It was dull, useless for wildlife and needed constant clipping but it was apparently a 'must have'. I suppose its evergreen nature was a plus. The clipping regime greatly reduced its capacity to flower and fruit, doubtless much to the relief of beekeepers because, I gather, the resultant honey is nauseous.

Privets belong to the Olive Family, Oleaceae, and there are about fifty species in the genus. Our native privet is Ligustrum vulgare, and this is the species occurring at Foxhill Farm. The species attracts a number of insects including our largest resident moth the Privet Hawkmoth, Sphinx ligustri, scarce in Northamptonshire and thinning out rapidly further north. I should perhaps not be too dismissive of Garden Privet for the insects which feed on Wild Privet are generally happy to accept the garden alternative. (Also content with privet, as many schoolchildren know, are stick insects.)
Privet is in the Olive Family and the fruits have a superficial resemblance
to olives. Foxhill Farm, 24 September, 2018

Late summer into early autumn is the prime time to be looking out for galls or for leaf mines. Insects have done their worst and left the scene; the naturalist must be prepared, like a detective, to examine the evidence and come up with a culprit. So I was intrigued to find that this acorn on a Pedunculate Oak, Quercus robur, had become distorted, losing its normal symmetry.

In this case the culprit was a wasp, Andricus quercuscalicis. The gall it had caused, the very common knopper gall, had developed and grown into the acorn, with the odd result shown in the photograph. On the same tree was a silk-button gall, yet again caused by a wasp, in this case Neuroterus numismalis.
The Silk-button Gall is an extremely common feature of oak leaves in
late summer. Foxhill Farm, 24.ix.2018

 This and other species took the Foxhall Farm total to 404.

Monday, 17 September 2018


On my last visit to Foxhill Farm I met up with Matt Moser and he accompanied me for a few minutes, intrigued by the various methods employed for catching creepy-crawlies. On the way he pointed out to me, hidden beside a rather tall hedge, a field (7077) I had previously overlooked. Last year, 2017, he had sown it with a range of flowering plants to attract bees and, later on, birds to the seed heads. This year he sowed it with barley but it was an indifferent crop, largely because a huge number of these wild plants re-appeared. I decided there and then that this field must be the target for my next visit.

So that is where I found myself today.

At first there was little to show other than a pair of Dock Bugs, Coreus marginatus, sharing a leaf but clearly not on speaking terms. As I have said before, this species is invariably lumped together with shieldbugs although technically belonging to a separate though related group.

Dock Bugs on -  what else? - dock. Foxhill Farm, 17 September, 2018
Despite the name of Dock Bug this insect can also be found on sorrel and, occasionally, rhubarb.

In truth there was not a great variety of plants to be seen but the situation was interesting. A dense growth of sub-tropical grasses had appeared and beneath them there was a carpet of borage. This plant, Borago officinalis, gives its name to the family Boraginaceae; it is, as John Hutchinson once pointed out, 'The Borage of the Borages'. Borage oil is sometimes used in skin conditioners and in order to boost its appeal in cosmetics it is sometimes given the name of 'Star Flower Oil'.

Thousands of borage plants carpeted the ground beneath the tall grasses.
Foxhill Farm, 17 September, 2018
The flowers were attracting huge numbers of honey bees together with a smaller number of bumblebees. For birds however the grasses are of greater importance because the species present produce large quantities of sizeable seeds. These are already ripening and being shed.

In the brisk breeze a satisfactory photograph proved tricky so I brought home specimens of the most significant species.

On the left is Cockspur Grass, Echinochloa crus-galli. This is a luscious, robust annual from the warm temperate parts of the Old World but is frequent in Britain from bird seed mixtures.
Cockspur Grass and Glaucous Bristle-grass sown to support wildlife.
Foxhill Farm, 17 September, 2018
Yellow Bristle-grass, Setaria pumila, is on the right. It too turns up in wild bird mixtures but is perhaps rather less common. Like Cockspur Grass it is a native of the warmer parts of the Old World.

Common Hawthorn has jaggedly pointed leaves but at the foot of this field a species with
rounded leaves was present. This is Midland Hawthorn, Crataegus laevigata, frequent in this area but always pleasing to see.

Midland Hawthorn has rather rounded lobes to the leaves.
Foxhill Farm, 17 September, 2018
I made my way home with a mixed bag of spiders, flies, beetles and true bugs. The total for the farm should soon reach the 400 mark.

Friday, 14 September 2018

More pocket park maintenance

Once again a select band of locals gathered in Byfield Pocket Park for the first of three scheduled autumn meetings. Despite a very dry summer, with remarkably dry soil as a consequence, plants had flourished mightily. Much of the pocket park is situated on land  on which Byfield Railway Station once stood. This land, and the adjacent ground, has been levelled off at some time with rubble and being very free-draining this has exacerbated the dry conditions.

Typical plants of waste ground occur including Mugwort, Artemisia vulgaris. Most people are familiar with it, not only because of its appearance with deep-cut leaves, greyish beneath and dark glossy green above, but also because of its smell. This is not as pungent as its close relative Wormwood, A. absinthium, but is easily recognised. Indeed its aromatic nature has led to it being used in the past, probably through much of southern England, as a substitute for tobacco. It has a rich folklore associated with it and for millennia it has been employed medicinally for things as diverse as relieving indigestion and easing childbirth. Today my interest in it was limited to an interesting leaf miner, Calycomyza artemisiae.

The leaves of Mugwort had been mined by a fly, Calycomyza artemisiae.
Byfield Pocket Park, 14 September, 2018
This insect is a member of the Agromyzidae Family and is not rare but has not previously been recorded in the pocket park. It was not the only addition to the pocket park list. A tiny fly on a leaf turned out to be Fannia armata. In fact although this is quite a common insect it is the first time I have ever recorded it, perhaps because it is such a small fly.

Mahonia branches burned particularly well.

Pom Boddington has ordered a number of plants including Spindle, Euonymus europaeus, and presumably our next session will concentrate on getting them in before the winter.
Chris broke from her work for a snatch of conversation
As long as Pom provides delicious cake she will be able to depend on a loyal band of volunteers.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018


I was in Daventry today and, despite rather inclement weather, was enjoying one of my occasional strolls around the town.

The are an inordinate number of Box Elder, Acer negundo, trees throughout the town, as though an over-enthusiastic planner had ordered a hundred trees when the intended figure was ten. But their dangling strings of fruits, technically samaras, are attractive enough.

Long bunches of keys (samaras) hang from a Box Elder. The Hollows,
Daventry. 11 September, 2018
Beneath one of these trees a plant of Oxford Ragwort, Senecio squalidus, was in flower and a wasp-mimicking hoverfly, Helophilus pendulus, was busy fuelling up with nectar.

A Tiger Hoverfly, Helophilus pendulus, on Oxford Ragwort.
The Hollows, Daventry. 11 September, 2018
However, what most set me thinking (a rare activity for me nowadays) were the plants of Snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus, currently bearing their fruits. Apparently known in some areas as Lardy Balls, they are familiar to everyone, even though the plant is a native of North America. The fruits are technically drupes although the term berry is generally used and, unless one is being very pedantic, is convenient enough. (A banana is a true berry, showing how problematic are some botanical terms.) Anyway, this discussion is about as interesting as one of Nigel Farage's beer-sodden rants and as far as we are concerned snowberry fruits are berries.

The fruits of Snowberry are surely familiar to everyone.
North Street, Daventry. 11 September, 2018

Snowberry shrubs are untidy, sprawling things and would never find a place in a garden of mine although this member of the Honeysuckle Family does have its points of interest. It seems that birds will eat the fruits - sometimes described as being like 'soft meringues' - and after the species was first introduced it was widely planted for game cover. Since then it has become almost invasive even though it rarely regenerates by seed and usually spreads via suckers.
A fifth (final) instar of the Green Shieldbug on Snowberry.
North Street, Daventry. 11 September, 2018

The flowers are rich in nectar and attract a wide range of insects including honey bees and, it would appear from the photograph, the Green Shieldbug, Palomena prasina.

Perhaps predictably it attracts a number of leaf miners normally associated with honeysuckle, such as Aulagromyza cornigera, whose larva produces a long, sinuous mine. In fact several species of insect were mining the leaves but I will not try the patience of my readers by rabbiting on about them.

Snowberry leaves are commonly mined by Aulagromyza cornigera.
North Street, Daventry
Not far away, a second species of Symphoricarpos was being grown. This was another American example, S. orbiculatus, and curiously, although its nectar was attracting insects I found no examples of leaf miners at work. This species has smaller, pink berries and to my mind is a neater, more garden-worthy plant.

Symphoricarpos orbiculatus behind Daventry library.
11 September, 2018
One day perhaps I will venture into Daventry and not find something to pique my interest!

Monday, 10 September 2018

A trip to the west end (with typos corrected!)

When visiting Foxhill Farm I almost invariably make my way to the east end. The steep wooded slopes are understandably enticing from the naturalist's point of view but by contrast the western parts appear bland, with scrub rather than woodland and the slopes are at most gentle. However I felt a twinge of guilt at paying this area such scant attention so today I decided to try and make amends.

The farmhouse itself is quite modern but has been constructed using local Jurassic sandstone. The garden is relatively small and from my point of view was of no particular concern.
The farmhouse is a fairly new building.
More interesting was a curious building  a couple of hundred metres to the south. It appeared completely functionless and was perhaps no more than a folly, or a playhouse for children.
Folly? Kids playhouse? Pigeon loft? Foxhill Farm. 9 September, 2018
I couldn't resist having a look at this building but on the way I passed a bowl-shaped structure holding water for thirsty beasts.

This drinking trough proved to be very interesting.
Foxhill Farm, 9 September, 2018

I almost passed it by unexamined but on an impulse paused - and saw something rather unusual. A number of dead bugs floated on the surface, standing out clearly against the algae-green water. 
Huddled together in death. A group of backswimmers in the drinking
trough. Foxhill Farm, 9 September, 2018
They were backswimmers of the Notonectidae and the mottled patterning on the forewings showed that the species was Notonecta maculata. It is known to favour artificial ponds but why were they all dead? Perhaps, having mated and laid their eggs they simply expired; they are known to live for only one year. Incidentally, when I lifted one out of the water with a finger tip I did so rather gingerly, just in case it was still alive. Notonecta species can not only give a rather nasty bite but their saliva is toxic.

On the pond rim sat a smallish but very handsome dragonfly. It was a male specimen of the Common Darter, Sympetrum striolatum. It is well distributed throughout Northamptonshire but was a first for the farm.
Small but perfectly made. Common Darter on the rim of the trough.
Most importantly I rescued a dung beetle from the water and it proved to be Onthophagus coenobita, rare in the English midlands and perhaps a new record for Northants. It was a male and a curious 'horn' projects from the back of the head.

So, the hitherto neglected west end of Foxhill Farm turned out to be rather special and certainly merits a return visit.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Byfield Pool 3

Byfield Pool is always going to be limited in species-richness as it contains no ancient woodland, being apparently constructed to feed Boddington Reservoir, itself dating back to the canal age. Nevertheless it has the feel of an ancient habitat and there is always a hope that something special could crop up.

Vines of Black Bryony, Tamus communis, festooned the hedges as I approached the reserve.

A temptation for birds. Black Bryony near the edge of Byfield Pool
Reserve. 6 September, 2018
This is the only British representative of the Yam Family, Dioscoriaceae. Although not related to White Bryony the two plants share the doubful merit of being toxic. If the berries of Black Bryony are eaten they will cause blistering of the mouth and rarely is enough eaten to cause severe illness. Furthermore their ingestion can, like rhubarb, lead to the formation of calcium oxalate crystals within the body.

The pool is surrounded by woodland, largely of willows. Some specimens bore large burrs on the trunks.
A large burr made this willow noteworthy.
Byfield Pool, Northants. 6 September, 2018
The cause of burrs is usually difficult to establish but the result is greatly prized by wood turners and a large burr can fetch a high price. Because they begin as a problem they have been described as being rather like pearls in oysters.

Byfield pools may be interesting botanically but it is not the place to find spectacular flowers. Hedge Woundwort, with its rank-smelling leaves, is a familiar hedgerow plant but at Byfield Pool it is replaced by Marsh Woundwort, Stachys palustris. In books this species is often described as odourless but in fact it too has a rather disagreeable smell, though fortunately faint.

Marsh Woundwort occupied some of the wetter ground.
Byfield Pool. 6 September, 2018
The only other flowers to catch my attention were those of a stitchwort. I was hoping it would prove to be the increasingly rare Marsh Stitchwort but it was the common Stellaria holosteum. It is pretty enough if examined closely but hardly causes a sharp intake of breath.
Common Stitchwort, Stellaria holosteum. Common perhaps but it
only seemed occur in one small patch. Byfield Pool. 6 September, 2018
So was my visit worth it? Absolutely! I took a wide range of species including a large ground beetle, Pterostichus niger. It is a very common insect but, at 20 mm, is quite impressive. It will take several hours at the microscope to properly sort out the insects, woodlice and millipedes I found but again it should increase our understanding of what Byfield Pool has to offer.

Monday, 3 September 2018

Wayside plants

A cash-strapped local authority seems to be allowing our local grass verges to grow rather more between cuts. The consequence is that plants are flourishing when twelve months ago they would have received the chop.

Some of these, such as yarrow, are commonplace and put on a good show whatever the mowing regime. Others are doing much better than usual and brightening up the verges no end. One such species is Black Knapweed, Centaurea nigra. It is welcome in its own right but is also a plant frequently visited by a range of insects including some interesting picture-winged flies of the Tephritidae family.

Black Knapweed is otherwise known as Hardheads. Christchurch Drive,
Daventry. 3 September, 2018
Perhaps a little less welcome is Oxford Ragwort, Senecio squalidus. It can be untidy but no one can deny that it with its yellow flowers it provides a splash of colour, and is again popular with insects.
Oxford Ragwort is now a common plant of roadsides and waste ground.
Badby Road West, Daventry. 3 September, 2018

A puzzle presented itself in the form of another untidy, yellow-flowered plant whose four-petalled flowers immediately marked it off as a member of the Brassicaceae - the Cabbage family. It looked vaguely like Hedge Mustard but the flowers were too large on the general habit too bushy.

An untidy plant. Hoary Mustard blooms beside Christchurch Drive,
Daventry. 3 September, 2018
I took a sample home and examined it properly, concluding that it was Hoary Mustard, Hirschfeldia incana. It is a native of southern Europe but is a frequent casual in Britain.

Hoary Mustard is a typical member of the Cabbage Family.
Forty years ago I would have been excited by my find as it was not recorded in Northamptonshire prior to 1974, but it has become increasingly common on waste ground and appears to be spreading. I was nonetheless pleased, not least because the Brassica family can be tricky and I rarely delve into its mysteries.


Sunday, 2 September 2018

Of fruits and bugs

This autumn looks like being very good for fruits, with blackberries, hawthorn and crab apples all bearing heavy crops. All three are members of the Rose Family, Rosaceae, and structurally apples and haws have much in common, being technically known as pomes. (The pomegranate, from the Latin pome, apple and granum, seed, is unrelated)

Hawthorns at Foxhill Farm and elsewhere are heavy with fruit.
1 September, 2018

Both the Common Hawthorn and the Midland Hawthorn grow hereabouts. Their fruit have structural differences which need not concern us here. Some people find the smell of the flowers separates the two, the former being heavy and sweet, the latter being nauseating. Adele Nozedar describes the fragrance of the Midland Hawthorn as 'putrid'. (Ref. 2)  I will try to check this out for myself next spring although people who go around sniffing hawthorn hedges usually have a nurse with them.  Like, I suspect, many others I have nibbled the ripe fruits but found them rather insipid and it came as a surprise to read Richard Mabey's comment (Ref. 1) that they taste 'a little like overripe avocado pear'.

At Foxhill Farm the Crab Apples seem to be the genuine article.
1 September, 2018

The apples I photographed  today seem to be the genuine native Crab Apple, Malus sylvestris. Many so-called  'crab apples' in our hedgerows have grown from discarded cores of cultivated apples and can present the botanist with considerable difficulties. The fruit, once partially softened (bletted) by decomposition, will be eagerly sought by birds, including migrant redwings and fieldfares. With any luck waxwings will be there too. At one time the juice of crab apples was used to make verjuice, employed on food as a replacement for vinegar or lemon.

On quite a different subject, I was delighted to find this 'nursery' of the bug Elasmucha grisea gathered together on an alder leaf. The species is known as the Parent Bug because when alarmed the nymphs will gather under the mother until danger has passed.

A cluster of Parent Bug nymphs on alder. 1 September, 2018
The nymphs pass through several stages - instars - as they develop and those photographed have reached a stage where they are clearly too large to crowd under Mum. They rely on their camouflage and the fact that, like most bugs, they release a foul-smelling odour as a deterrent. The mother was probably not far away and will eventually lead them to the catkins of birch or alder, their food-plants.(The callous female of the Birch Shieldbug simply lays her eggs on birch trees and then abandons them to their fate.)

Yesterday I met Matt Moser and he assured me that a small pond at the north-east corner of Foxhill Farm is indeed part of his land. With this information I eagerly made my way to investigate the area only to find that the pond had dried up! and I came away with very little. Ah well, next year perhaps.


Mabey,  Richard (1996)  Flora Britannica  Chatto and Windus

Nozedar, Adele (2012) The Hedgerow Handbook  Square Peg Books