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.

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