Monday, 26 November 2018


An early peep out of the bedroom curtains suggested that we were in for a (relatively) fine day. This was good news, for Chris was heading to Byfield for a ramble with friends and she dropped me off en route to visit Matt's farm.

The early promise turned out to be a deception. True, it wasn't windy or wet but, even though I was well wrapped up it was distinctly cold. Things were again looking miserable, the landscape grisaille-like. True, a brave Red Campion was doing its best to brighten things up but it had little support. George Gulliver collected the species near Banbury sometime between 1818 and 1824 (perhaps in Northamptonshire) and there are old records from Byfield and Charwelton, all probably on slightly acid soil.

Red Campion often produces the odd, speculative late flower.
Foxhill Farm near Badby. 26 November, 2018

Arriving at Foxhill Farm I made my way towards a grove of Western Hemlock, Tsuga heterophylla, which looked promising. I should have known better. Little was found until I began lifting pieces of loose bark. I was interested to find that a specimen of Diaea dorsata had taken refuge there. With prey likely to be virtually absent over the next few months I suppose it was just sitting it out until the spring. In the gloom beneath the trees and using an unfamiliar camera I couldn't get a satisfactory shot.

Loose bark was providing a refuge for this Diaea dorsata. Foxhill Farm, Badby, Northants.
26 November, 2018

Also beneath the bark were several female Amaurobius fenestralis. Unlike the Diaea this was to be expected for crevices of this kind form its normal habitat. A virtually identical species is found around our houses, again occupying crevices. This is Amaurobius similis and, if you discover one when you open your window, it is unlikely to be fenestralis, despite the name, but similis. Using an organ called the cribellum these species produce a bluish, woolly silk, and any creature struggling to free itself from this material usually becomes more and more enmeshed. The two species can only be reliably identified by examining the epigyne, i.e. the outer, exposed part of the female genitalia, or the palps of the male. The same camera problem persisted.

This female Amaurobius fenestralis was also beneath bark.

Although the woodland was general disappointing there was one surprise. By beating a clump of ivy I dislodged a Juniper Shieldbug, Cyphostethus tristriatus. It is not rare but to find it on ivy is most unusual, and it is new to Foxhill Farm, bringing the total there to 436 species. With its amber, boomerang-shaped marking this species, once a great rarity, is very distinctive.

A Juniper Shieldug was a surprise and a new record for Foxhill Farm.
26 November, 2018
I had kept my eyes open for fungi. They're really not my bag (as Jacob Rees-Mogg would say) but I do manage to recognise a handful. One of these is the Candlesnuff Fungus, Xylaria hypoxylon. Another name is, for rather obvious reasons, Carbon Antlers.

Candlesnuff fungus is likely to be encountered on a
winter woodland walk. 16 November, 2018
As I plucked a few for photographing, a white cloud of spores drifted away on the light breeze. In the spring these are replaced by black spores. It is common on decaying logs, especially in damp woodland and often in gloomy situations.

So, the morning was not a waste of time and overall I was pleased with my findings, meagre though they were.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Plant problems

Oh dear, I'm afraid this is one of those blogs which is little more than a memo. A walk home from Daventry revealed a number of pest diseases and disorders of plants which are of little or no general interest but I couldn't resist making a photographic record.

Holy Cross church, Daventry. 25 November, 2018

My walk commenced in the churchyard of the Holy Cross, a sad scene of neglected gravestones, litter and plastic flowers. And questions too.


JULY 13 1950. AGED 24 YEARS

Who was he? Where did he work? Who was at fault? Did he leave a widow? No doubt newspaper archives would be helpful and perhaps someday...

The churchyard could, with appropriate management, be a haven for wildlife but today revealed little. A leaf on a stinging nettle bore a blemish, a mine caused by the fly Agromyza anthricina, but not even the most enthusiastic naturalist could get excited about this.

Agromyza anthracina, mining the edge of a nettle leaf.
Holy Cross churchyard, Daventry. 25 November, 2018

Much the same could be said with regard to the holly leaves mined by another fly, Phytomyza ilicis. On one tree almost every leaf seemed to be affected. A poor photo but, in mitigation, I've borrowed Chris' camera and I'm not used to it.
Phytomyza ilicis, making a mess of holly leaves. Holy Cross
churchyard, Daventry. 25 November, 2018

On then to the recreation ground behind the police station. Birch trees are often greatly afflicted by a range of problems, some malignant and some of little consequence.

Witches' Brooms often develop on birch trees. For decades they were often vaguely ascribed to 'physiological disorders' but research has shown that the usual culprit is a fungus, Taphrina betulina. A row of about six trees stands along one edge of the area but, strangely, only one tree is affected.

Birches displayed a fine collection of Witches' Brooms. Daventry.
25 November, 2018
Another of the Birches bore a huge burr on its trunk. This problem has often been put down to 'stress' but I am far from convinced. Bacterial attack by an Agrobacter species is an alternative - and more plausible - explanation. Some burrs are greatly valued by wood turners but birch is too soft for many uses.

Burrs affect a range of trees, in this case a Silver Birch, Betula pendula.
Daventry. 25 November, 2018
Between the trees pyracantha shrubs had been planted. All over Britain shrubs in this genus, together with hawthorns and many of their relatives are being affected by the Firethorn Leafminer, Phyllonorycter leucographella, even though this moth arrived in this country as recently as 1989.

The mine of the Firethorn Leafminer always occupies the midrib of
the leaf. Daventry, 25 November, 2018
The mine forms a thin membrane, through which the larva can frequently be seen. Like the Harlequin Ladybird, it is here to stay and it appears that little can be done about it. But is it a problem? I don't regard it as such.

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Nasty November

Early November, with the trees still bearing foliage of scarlet, russet and gold, can be very pleasant. But then it deteriorates. We have had two or three frosty nights, but even though milder weather has returned, grey skies and the now-leafless trees impart a sad feeling to the landscape.

Chris was attending a fitness gym for an hour so I went with her as far as the car park and then walked home. We take our exercise in different ways.

This autumn has seen bumper crops of domestic apples but my stroll into Daventry made it clear that crab apples had done equally well. Large numbers remained on the trees...

 Crab apple trees are still heavy with fruit near York Way, Daventry.
24 November, 2018

… but enormous numbers lay on the ground too. Blackbirds and the like will feast well over the next few weeks.

And the ground beneath the trees was littered with fruit.

Among the various street trees on view was a surprise.  A specimen of Tibetan Cherry, Prunus serrula, was displaying its lovely bark. Our local Wild Cherry or Gean, Prunus avium, is very commonly planted hereabouts but the Tibetan Cherry less so.

Prunus serrula in High March, Daventry.
24 November, 2018

Making my way to the London Road I headed for the town centre. Daventry was once an important stop for coaches plying between Birmingham and London and a milestone (genuine?) is a reminder of those times. The metal plate appears to be the real thing, the stone setting not. 

Eleven and a half miles to Towcester, another town with old coaching inns.
Daventry, 24 November, 2018

A few yards beyond this stood a Himalayan Honeysuckle, Leycesteria formosa. It is not a true honeysuckle but is in the same family, Caprifoliaceae. It is obviously not a British native but with its nectar-rich flowers and succulent berries it is a good plant for wildlife. The berries are edible to humans as well as birds and 'foragers' speak highly of it. A leaf bore an interesting leaf mine in the form of a fold. It was created by the larva of the Honeysuckle Midget, a widespread micro-moth.
A Honeysuckle Midget has created this leaf deformity.
London Road, Daventry. 24 November, 2018

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

It is only autumn but...

Officially the first day of winter is 21 January but the last 72 hours have been distinctly parky, with a biting wind appearing to come from the south-east - not a warm quarter at this time of the year.

As we move into late November there are compensations. A quarter of a mile away from our house a specimen of Eucalyptus gunni is in flower. This Australian Gum Tree is clearly unaware that it has been transported to the northern hemisphere and, bees or no bees, it is covered in optimistic flowers, looking like little cream mimosa blossoms. (In fact the mimosas are completely unrelated, being in the Pea Family, Fabaceae, whereas the Eucalyptus is in the Myrtle Family, Myrtaceae.)

The off-white flowers of Eucalyptus gunni. Daventry. 20 November, 2018
This species, hailing from Tasmania, is probably the hardiest of the Gum Trees and is the most popular member of the genus to be found in Britain. It has not yet become naturalised to any great extent but it is a species which Defra is keeping an eye on.

I am constantly harping on about my ignorance regarding the world of fungi. I regret this because the role of fungi in the recycling of organic materials cannot be over-emphasised and my ignorance is a source of vexation and embarrassment. Today I was intrigued by a lovely toadstool outside the village hall at Byfield.

A Lepista, but which one?
The gills were of a rich lilac, a rather deeper shade than my photograph suggests. It is undoubtedly a blewit, i.e a species of Lepista. On balance it is probably Lepista nuda but I certainly won't be submitting the record to the Wildlife Trust. It is a common species anyway.

Surely Lepista nuda, the Wood Blewit. Byfield, Northants.
21 November, 2018

With all these fungal temptations to distract me I'll be very tempted to spend too much time with them when by rights I, like most good citizens, should be studying the spider fauna of leaf litter.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

That's more like it!

There is no doubt that summer blogs can be rather boring and I plead guilty to my sins in that respect. Perhaps it is because, with so much to see, blogs become little more than an illustrated list of what is seen. As the year edges toward its end a little more imagination is required to produce anything worthwhile.

Today found me in Byfield, and as a rule there is little to get excited about; observations  are largely of mundane features.

Beside the Brightwell playing fields in a tree stump. It is more or less buried beneath soil and leaf litter but a crop of fungi has made its position very obvious. They are not rare and they are not colourful - but there's a lot of them.

Marking the location of an old tree stump. Byfield, Northants.
17 November, 2018
I'm sure they are a species of Coprinus, i.e. inkcap, but beyond that I won't go. With beetles, flies, bugs, woodlice and spiders I have enough to keep me busy so fungi are a step too far.

Yews in the village are fruiting prolifically. I once read that their name, Taxus baccata, is related to toxic. Certainly the word toxic comes from the Greek toxon, a bow, and toxicon, arrow poison, but there seems no etymological evidence to go a step further and assume that Taxus comes from the same root. Yew is highly poisonous but has it been used for poisoning arrows? I have no idea.

Yew carried large numbers of 'berries'. Byfield, Northants.
17 November, 2018
The tree has been greatly valued in the past for its timber, and I will not discuss its use for the English long-bow, but with regard to its toughness, a spear found at Clacton has been dated to 250,000 B.P., making it the world's oldest known wooden artefact.

Notwithstanding the late date Choisya ternata was still flowering vigorously. Despite this I have never found any sign of fruit and neither do I know of any cases of it escaping into the wild.
Choisya ternata hoping for a visiting insect. Byfield, Northants.
17 November, 2018

Red Valerian, Centranthus ruber, grows all around the village. A native of the Mediterranean region it is widely naturalised over much of Britain. It is usually pronounced 'sentranthus' but a good argument could be made for 'kentranthus' and indeed in his 1930 Flora of Northamptonshire G Claridge Druce actually spelled the genus Kentranthus (although this spelling is no longer accepted).

All this may - or may not! - be interesting. What I did find of interest was that some of the plants had been attacked by the psyllid bug Trioza centranthi.

Trioza centranthi attacking Red Valerian. Byfield, Northants.
17 November, 2018
Apparently this insect was once described as 'rare and local'' but recent records suggest that it is moving northwards. Certainly I had not seen it outside text books and journals so it was a very pleasing find.

Friday, 16 November 2018

Curious signs

It was back to Matt Moser's farm today but my precise destination was a little different. Last time we had met I had asked Matt whether a little patch of land in the north-east corner was actually part of Foxhill Farm. He assured me that it was, so a small group of trees I had hitherto ignored suddenly took on considerable interest.

I parked up about half a mile away on the edge of Daventry and set off walking. A flock of Jacob's sheep met me as I climbed the stile and entered the first field. I say 'met' but in fact they strolled off, unhurried but determined.

Jacob's sheep turn their bums to me and strode off.
Foxhill Farm. 1 October, 2018

Trying not to let my hurt show over this rejection I made for an area which would be bathed in sunshine yet sheltered. I wasn't the only one with similar ideas for on a sunny tree trunk was a Noon Fly, Mesembrina meridiana. The Noon Fly belongs to the same family, the Muscidae, as our common house fly and it has to be said that  the majority of its members are dull little creatures. Not so with this species.

A Noon Fly basks on the trunk of a tree stump. 1 October, 2018
With its brilliant orange wing-bases this insect is very eye-catching. Its larvae, which live in cattle dung, are coprosaprophagous, feeding on the faeces but also decaying vegetable matter. Apparently they may also live on carrion.

Also enjoying the sunshine was a Comma butterfly, Polygona c-album. As it sat on a fence with its wings spread, the c-album bit wasn't visible as the marking is on the underside of the wing.

The clue to the comma's common name is not to be seem on the dorsal
wing surface. 1 October, 2018
I offered it a Kit-Kat to co-operate and it obligingly opened its wings but I then sneaked off and ate it myself. Yes, I know...there's a nasty side to my nature.

The comma mark is very clear on the ventral surface of the rear wing.
1 October, 2018
I continued on my way and eventually reached my target - a clump of Norway Spruce, beneath which were several rotting logs. A number of interesting spiders were taken from the crevices and under loose bark but, just before departing I had a swish with my net through the needle-like spruce foliage and...

One of Britain's prettiest spiders is Diaea dorsata. The male is striking, with emerald-green legs and carapa and was painted by Mike Roberts for the cover of his monumental 'Spiders of Great Britain and Ireland'. The female is of a similar shape and size but is of muted browns.

Diaea dorsata features on the cover of Volume 1 of Mike Roberts' great 
3 volume work.
I also chose it for my e-mail address:, so when I looked into my net and saw it there I was delighted. The species seems to like evergreens and I usually find it on yew. This was not the easiest place for a photograph so it is a poor picture but I hardly felt like complaining.

From a Norway spruce came this prize. Foxhill Farm.
I October, 2018

A good start to October.


Thursday, 15 November 2018

More ramblings around Daventry

Chris is involved in lots of activities and today was a case in point. She attended a meeting of the U3A (University of the Third Age) at the Community Centre in Ashby Road.  I accompanied her to the meeting but only to help with the putting out of chairs. The talk was on motor car racing, a subject of marginally less interest than 'The Influence of Coco Chanel in the shaping of post-revolutionary thought in Kazakhstan'. (Actually I'm lying; I did attend that meeting in Towcester and it was absolutely riveting.) Anyway, I gave today's talk a miss and set out for home.

The journey was via The Headlands and Drayton. The first area I know hardly at all but I can now attest that it holds little of tourist interest, however I was reminded of what a brilliant splash of colour is provided by a patch of Pot Marigolds.

Pot Marigold, Calendula officinalis, brightening up an otherwise dull
 fence-base. The Headlands, Daventry. 15 November, 2018

Why don't I grow them? They are easy-peasy and reasonably trouble-free, added to which they do attract pollinating insects.

Mid-November, and ivy is still in bloom. Wordsworth Road, Daventry.
15 November, 2018

Speaking of insects there were a few flowers still to be seen on ivy as it scrambled over fences. Insects were taking advantage of the copious nectar and this hoverfly species, a female Eristalis pertinax, was re-fuelling as I approached.

Eristalis pertinax. A female rests on a leaf, Spenser Crescent,
Daventry. 15 November, 2018
In Ivy Court the leaves on a privet, Ligustrum ovalifolium, shrub were being mined by an insect. This is the work of a tiny moth, Gracillaria syringella, known as the Lilac Leafminer (Lilac and privet are very closely related). It is common and attacks a number of other plants in the Olive family.
The caterpillars of the Lilac Leafminer have been at work on these
privet leaves. Ivy Court, Daventry. 15 November, 2018

A few metres away the larvae of a fly, Pegomyia flavifrons, had been tunnelling away in Chickweed, Stellaria media, leaves. This is probably quite a common insect but records seem to be rather few. Perhaps no-one bothers to examine such a humble plant.

Chickweed leaves attacked by Pegomyia flavifrons. Ivy Court, Daventry.
15 November, 2018
In both pictures the larva is in occupation, appearing as a black patch in the mine. I left them to feed undisturbed and completed the last half-mile home.

Another view: same species, slightly different shape of mine.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

High March and beyond

Chris had an appointment on High March so I decided to cadge a lift and walk home, hoping to reveal as-yet undiscovered areas of Daventry.

Towards the top of High March I found a footpath climbing up a slope on my right. It was too tempting to resist so, although there was probably no right of way, I decided to go for it.

An alluring footpath struck out east from High March.
13 November, 2018

There was a good deal of elm in the area, the deeply fissured bark suggesting that the 'species' was Ulmus minor. In fact this is an aggregate of taxa and elms, at their best, are very tricky to identify. It may be that all the trees I saw belonged to one huge clone, spreading by suckers. Incidentally, a similar type of bark can develop on Field Maple.

The deeply fissured bark of young branches of Ulmus minor disappears
as the branches age. Daventry, 13 November, 2018

If I'm honest, this part of my walk turned out to be a bit of a disappointment, but if I repeat it next spring or summer it could be a different story. The only interesting species observed was Equus caballus. Recent DNA analysis of the domesticated horse has provided some surprises and I am not competent to discuss these findings. However, drawing on years of experience combined with acute powers of observation I am left in no doubt that the animal that I observed today was a horse.

No doubt about it, it was a horse. Near Borough Hill, Daventry.
13 November, 2018

My walk had taken me to the foot of Borough Hill but I now turned west into Daventry where, as I passed through Southbrook, a large and impressive cotoneaster was putting on a fine show. I suspect it was Cotoneaster frigidus, in a form known as 'Cornubia', but with no flowers I don't feel over-confident about it.

An impressive cotoneaster in Trafalgar Way, Daventry.
13 November, 2018

And so on towards home noting, on the way, garden hedgerows of box, Buxus sempervirens with their terminal buds attacked by Psylla buxi, causing them to bunch like a small cabbage.
'Surely not,' I hear you cry, 'that is Spanioneura buxi.'  But no, it is yet another name-change we must learn to contend with.
Psylla buxi has attacked this bud of box. Swann Dale, Daventry.
13 November, 2018

This is an extremely common affliction suffered by box bushes and anyone who grows this species is likely to find their plants attacked by this psyllid bug. Fortunately it appears to that the shrub/tree is unharmed.

Three and a half interesting miles - or at least I thought so.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

... and still the flowers bloom.

In October we had a couple of distinctly chilly nights. Ice formed on our 'pond' (just a half-barrel really) and when I broke it off and dropped it on to the flagstones it lay there in shattered fragments for all the following day. With these low temperatures it might be thought that all flowers would have given up, but not a bit of it.

Our Trumpet Honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens, is on a south facing fence and is thriving.
A native of the eastern U.S.A. its long, tubular flowers are pollinated by Ruby-throated Hummingbirds on their migrations. They overwinter in Mexico and then spend the summer in Maine, Massachusetts and so on. Unfortunately these birds are rarely seen in Daventry but some moths may pay the flowers a call.

Far more mundane is Aubretia, Aubrieta deltoidea, but it is utterly reliable and is seeding itself in various crevices around both our front and back gardens. In fact this native of South-east Europe has become naturalised on suitable walls and rocky banks as far north as Sutherland.

According to 'the books' this is a spring-flowering plant but fortunately hasn't read the books and is ignorant of this.

Schizostylis coccinea, from South Africa is only a 'half-hardy perennial' but again has clearly nor studied the literature and is thriving even here in Daventry - not really known for its mild climate. Hopefully no-one will enlighten this plant regarding its true status.
Schizostylis coccinea is still brightening up our front garden.
10 November, 2018

About three years ago I planted a hybrid foxglove in one of our raised beds. Up came this penstemon! My immediate and foolish thought was that it was indeed the aforementioned foxglove, not giving it more than a cursory glance.

An unexpected penstemon has appeared in a raised bed.
10 November, 2018
Anyway, it is very welcome and the rather small clump will hopefully increase steadily. It is often wrongly spelt pentstemon, an understandable mistake for the first part of the name is derived from the Greek pente, five, alluding to its five stamens.

Less colourful but, to my mind, more interesting, is our Strawberry Tree. Its ivory flowers are, in shape, not unlike those of the cranberry or Pieris japonica and this small tree is obviously a member of the Heather Family. Quite illogically I still feel surprised by this. It is a member of Britain's Lusitanian flora but, as I blogged about this some time ago, (11 November, 2014) I won't go further into the subject.

I'm hoping that a few months down the line our Strawberry Tree will start
to bear fruits. 10 November, 2018
To complete this sextet of plants comes Pale Corydalis, Pseudofumaria alba. It was once known as Fumaria alba, hence the generic name, but there are minor differences which I will not go further into this subject either.
Pale Corydalis, Pseudofumaria alba, is not yet a problem but will need
watching. 10 November, 2018
Will I regret introducing it into the garden? Certainly seedlings are popping up in several places but weeding them out should not become a problem. Its close relative, P. lutea, with its cheerful golden-yellow flowers is, like aubretia, well naturalised in suitable places throughout Britain and perhaps P. alba will eventually attain the same status but so far escapes into the wild have only been on a small scale.

These flowers surely won't be with us for much longer but the catkins of the Garrya are lengthening and beyond that there may still be a surprise or two.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Down the alley

In Byfield a narrow but very useful alley links the High Street with Church Street. I use it quite frequently and today I took the opportunity to take a closer look at one or two of its features.

A shady brick wall at the High Street end is home to a colony of Maidenhair Spleenworts, Asplenium trichomanes.

Maidenhair Spleenwort is found on several walls around Byfield.
7 November, 2018
This species, dainty and well worth a place in the rock garden, was indeed, as the name suggests, once used to treat diseases of the spleen. The dried fronds have apparently been used as a substitute for tea - but Ty-phoo will do me!

Apart for a few lingering  flowers Ivy, Hedera helix, is now busy developing its fruits. The loss of its flowers will rob many insects of a valuable source of both pollen and nectar, the former proving protein and the latter useful for building up fats for the winter.

Ivy has largely ceased flowering and the fruits are developing.
Byfield, 7 November, 2018
But help will shortly be at hand. Nearby a strong-growing plant of Fatsia japonica will soon be coming into flower and will, on mild days, be besieged by insects. These two plants are closely enough related to hybridise, the offspring being called x Fatshedera lizei. The x symbol in front of the name indicates that the plant is a bi-generic hybrid. This type of hybrid, between species of two different genera, is unusual and the offspring are invariably infertile. 
Fatsia japonica beyond a wall in Byfield. 7 November, 2018

The cross has been made on a number of occasions with slightly varying results each time. They must, of course, be propagated by vegetative means. 

Lemon Balm, Melissa officinalis, grows atop a wall a little further down but at this time of the year is too tatty to photograph although the leaves are still fragrant. Like many plants with scented leaves such as sage, thyme and lavender, it is a member of the Mint Family, Lamiaceae.

Leaving the alley my walk took eventually took me past a Beech, Fagus sylvatica, tree. Some of the leaves had been mined by the Small Beech Pigmy, Stigmella tityrella. The mines of this common but tiny moth have the curious effect of causing part of the leaf to retain its chlorophyll, giving the leaves in question a very distinctive appearance.
Mining by the Small Beech Pigmy moth can produce curious effects.
Brightwell playing fields, Byfield. 7 November, 2018