Monday, 30 December 2019

Last of the year?

'Twas  a fine day, perhaps the last chance of 2019 to get out and do some recording. 'Stap my vitals!' I said to myself. 'I'll away to Foxhill Farm, split open a few grass tussocks and record some beetles.'

Well, the first two stages were managed successfully: I did indeed get to Foxhill Farm, and I did split open some likely-looking tussocks. Part three turned out to be the tricky bit and after ten minutes I had found nowt, nothing, zilch, bugger all; my collecting tubes displayed the unadulterated quintessence of nihility. 

But the weather was holding and the twigs of an ash tree formed an unmistakable silhouette against the clear but steely grey sky.

The stubby twigs of ash with their soot-black buds are unmistakable.
Foxhill Farm, Badby. 29 December, 2019

Although beetles were proving hard to find spiders were less elusive although crouched in crevices in the damp soil they were difficult to photograph. This immature crab spider, Xysticus cristatus, could not be manoeuvred into a suitable position.

Hoping not to be seen. A tiny specimen of Xysticus cristatus tries to blend
in with soil crumbs. Foxhill Farm, 29 December, 2019

Much the same was true of the tiny, 16-spot Ladybirds, Tytthaspis 16-punctata*, also found inhabiting crevices, although with a dozen or so to choose from I managed to get a recognisable picture.

There were lots of 16-spot Ladybirds at the foot of a fence post.
Foxhill Farm, 29 December, 2019

Perhaps the most interesting organism I found was a jelly-like colony of a cyanobacterium. These curious organisms were a great puzzle to early naturalists  and were given fanciful names like witches butter, star jelly and mare's eggs.  To quote from a BBC programme in which a Scotsman was interviewed:
'Star jelly is a magical substance that makes up the sun, or meteors...and other stuff out there in the sky. When these objects from the cosmos break apart the star jelly falls gently to earth, landing in gelatinous lumps...'

In Germany it is Sternenrotz - star snot.

Nostoc commune, found beside a gravelled track at Foxhill Farm,
Badby, Northants. 29 December, 2019

The species I found (in fact there were three or four colonies) was Nostoc commune, and is not uncommon in lawns. I brought a specimen home for a decent photograph to be taken.

In fact I also came home with a decent collection of spiders and beetles, plus one fly, the tiny Lonchoptera bifurcata.

* Micraspis 16-punctata in older books.


Friday, 27 December 2019

Log cabin log book

We spent Baby Jesus' Birthday not in a stable but in a log cabin, kindly arranged by Jacqui, our daughter, and Dean, her husband.

South west of Cirencester lies a series of lakes, most of which are flooded gravel pits with one or two marl pits by way of variety. (Marl is a lime-rich clay which was often spread on to fields, especially where the soil was light and acidic, acting as a fertiliser.) Our log cabin lay on the margin of a biggish lake the edges of which are being sympathetically managed in order to support wildlife. Enjoying warm sunshine we walked around the perimeter track of our lake and it turned out to be approximately two miles.

The lake was tranquil throughout our time there. Poole Keynes,
Gloucestershire. 24 December, 2019
Dean, invoking the spirit of Christopher Columbus and James Cook, set off and did more or less the same journey by the boat with which we had been provided.
Dean would have preferred a Viking Longboat but a simple rowing boat
had to suffice. 25 December, 2019

The cabin was very cosy and well appointed; we wanted for nothing, and as a bonus our bedroom windows looked out across the lake. I did no serious birdwatching but I noted nuthatch and a group of about ten goosanders; cormorants were generally present. Jacqui and Dean spotted an otter but Chris and I were less fortunate.

The sides of the lake were well vegetated with Reed Mace (Bulrush)
present. 25 December, 2019
For birders midwinter is a good time to be beside a lake. Botanists are less fortunate. Leaves were scattered across the decking around the cabin and included those of a North American Oak, perhaps Quercus palustris, confusingly known in America as Common Sallow.

Quercus palustris? Probably but I couldn't be sure. I never located the
tree from which they came.

I frequently come across these leaves on country walks (around Byfield for instance) but usually, as in this instance, fail to find the tree from which they came.

I was surprised to find a specimen of the rarely-seen Betula medwedewii. It hails from the Caucasus and is sometimes called the Transcaucasian Birch.

An ordinary-looking little birch...
I would like to say that it was my outstanding botanical knowledge that allowed me to identify it but to be honest I took it to be just a common native birch until I spotted the label. I suspect it was an expensive purchase but to my mind it had little merit. Perhaps in the summer...
...but it turned out to be rather unusual.

The property was provided with a hot tub in which Dean spent an inordinate amount of time, wreathed in steam and contemplating the infinite. 

Dean spent so much time in the hot tub that his fingertips became quite

The nearby swans showed no alarm or even mild surprise. 

At this time of the year the swans are probably finding food quite

As for Chris, she had a mug of tea and was content with her lot. We all tend to find the waterside calming or stimulating, depending on the weather, and Chris has always loved being beside water.
A nice cuppa. Can't be bad!

A small artificial island near to our cabin was accessible by a short, low bridge and we used the island for a barbecue over a specially constructed fire pit. The weather was mild given that it was late December and we were surprised to find a significant frost had formed on the bridge.

The little footbridge leading to 'our' island became quite frosted.

Yet only a few yards away flies were basking on the wall of the log cabin. Almost predictably they were a species of Cluster Fly, Pollenia species, the golden hairs on the thorax being conspicuous.
Flies, in this cases a Pollenia species, basked in the sun having probably
become torpid during the night

Lichens, in this case Xanthoria parietina, were  developing
on tree trunks.
The trees around the lake had all been planted in the last twenty years or so but a combination of clear air and perhaps a raised humidity level caused by the proximity of the lake had encouraged the development of quite a good lichen community.

Lecanora chlarotera, very common on tree trunks.
Here beside lake at Poole Keynes.Gloucestershire

As far as my untrained eye could tell all the species present were commonplace but the signs were encouraging.

We only spent four days at Poole Keynes but they were memorable ones and I am tempted to make a return visit in late spring or summer. We'll see.

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Why did I bother?

After several days of seemingly incessant rain today has been fine and sunny. Dry too in the sense that we have been spared more rain but in fields, parks and gardens the unwary walker finds water oozing around his or her shoes. The ground is absolutely waterlogged. Even so I felt the need to blow away a few cobwebs and so I took a stroll over to our local pocket park. It was probably a mistake.

Blackbirds , clucking with indignation, scattered as I approached. They are probably finding feeding easy, judging by the number of berries available but unconsumed. One bright and shining example was Bittersweet, Solanum dulcamara. This relative of potatoes and tomatoes has succulent berries but birds have so far resisted the temptation to consume these berries for it seems, as I have mentioned before, that they are relatively unpalatable. They are poisonous too (for humans) but only mildly so.

Attractive but not, it seems, tempting to the local birds. Bittersweet, aka
Woody Nightshade, in Stefen Hill Pocket Park. 22 December, 2019
Several species of plant were putting on steady growth but as yet there was no sign of flowers, just greenery. Snowdrops, probably Galanthus nivalis, were pushing through, forming what every year are increasingly extensive patches.

Snowdrops are pushing through. Their flowers will be visited by early bees.
Stefen Hill Pocket Park, Daventry. 22 December, 2019
(I read recently of a woman who, only this year, was showing a botanist friend her Turkish holiday snaps who recognised from them - or should I say failed to recognise - a snowdrop species which proved to be new to science. It has been named Galanthus bursanus and is, it seems, already vulnerable due to deforestaation.)

The bright green foliage of Cow Parsley, Anthriscus sylvestris, was everywhere. In Northamptonshire it is always known as Keck, and is as abundant now as it was in my childhood.

Keck, Anthriscus sylvestris, in Stefen Hill Pocket Park.
22 December, 2019
It has shining green, virtually hairless foliage. With it grew Upright Hedge-parsley, Torilis japonica. They were easy to distinguish because the latter has slightly downy leaves, giving them a rather greyish appearance. It bore extensive mines formed by the larvae of a fly, Phytomyza chaerophylli. This patterning can be quite attractive and may explain the name of the insect, chaerophylli meaning 'pleasing leaves'. This fly will on occasion attack Cow Parsley but I saw no evidence of his today.
The leaves of Upright Hedge-parsley mined by Phytomyza chaerophylli.
Stefen Hill Pocket Park, Daventry. 22 December, 2019 

So my walk was not entirely without interest (for me at least) but at this time of the year the sun sets very early and is accompanied by a noticeable drop in temperature. I scurried home to begin packing for our Christmas holiday which will involve a log cabin in the Cotswolds.

Saturday, 21 December 2019

A Blue Acacia in Daventry?

Last year, during a short break on the Isle of Wight, I saw a stunning specimen of Blue Acacia, Acacia dealbata. Its name refers not to the flowers, which are yellow, but to the foliage, which is of an unusual silvery blue-grey, and it is sometimes called the Silver Wattle.
A fine specimen of Acacia dealbata photographed on the Isle of Wight.
July, 2018

My wife knew I was very taken with it so this autumn, when she was at Grandborough market, she saw a specimen and promptly bought it. I was delighted but at the same time full of doubt. 'You realise, Chris, that this is a distinctly tender species?' 

The pinnate foliage is of a striking silver-blue colour.
'I couldn't resist it,' she protested, and in fact I was delighted. 

So, I filled one of my largest tubs with a suitable compost of a neutral nature (it likes mildly acid conditions) and planted it in a sheltered position against our garage wall. It is not normally trained against a wall and left to its own devices will make a substantial tree. But I am limited in terms of space and in any case the shape of the specimen lent itself to this treatment.

We have had one or two sharpish frost in recent weeks and so I have prayed to Silvanus, Roman God and protector of forests. So far things are looking good and in late winter or early spring we could be rewarded with the patter of tiny rounded heads of yellow, possibly fragrant, flowers.
The foliage is looking healthy and flower buds are forming.
Stefen Hill, Daventry, 21 December, 2019

Acacias, also known as wattles, are found throughout much of Australia and adjacent islands. They were once placed in the same genus as the African acacias but the latter are now placed in other genera. Even so, Acacia remains almost the largest genus of plants on earth with something in the region of 1,200-1,300 species.

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Day dull: blog dull

We awoke to a foggy day and, on top of that it was chilly (5 degrees) and wet. Of course the Winter Solstice is only five days away after which all will be sunshine and joy - or not.

I invariably visit Byfield on Wednesday but for divers reasons I went today ('Events dear boy, events,' as me old mate Harold MacMillan once complained). Anyway, undaunted by fog, rain or chill I set off. I paused in Woodford to perform a small task.  Hogweed was stubbornly blooming in the main street hoping ('Like Patience on a monument' as my mother would have said) for a visitor.

Hogweed bloomed in the main street of Woodford Halse.
 17 December, 2019

On then to Byfield where I was astonished to find Elder, Sambucus nigra, in the pocket park displaying fresh growth. It was probably a response to being cut back late in the year and I suppose that if it can hold on to these recently-produced leaves it will give the plant a head start in the spring.

This elder has recently put on fresh growth. Byfield Pocket Park,
17 December, 2019
But elsewhere everything appeared lifeless. This is deceptive of course and if I had lifted some flat stones...

In the burial ground which lies adjacent to the pocket park a Paperbark Birch, Betula papyrifera, was peeling in an attractive manner and shed bark lay scattered on the ground all around. A native of Canada and the northern states of U.S.A. it copes perfectly will with conditions in Britain. It is birch bark (although probably not from this species) on which the oldest known Hindu manuscripts, dating from c. 1800 B.C.have been written. As a schoolboy I was familiar with birch for a different reason and I learn from Colin Tudge, that the word Betula is derived from the Latin 'to beat'.

Early humans including Neanderthals are known to have produced, by a process known as dry distillation, a sort of chewing gum from birch bark. Even as I write news has come of the reconstruction of an ancient person's complete genome from a piece of this discarded gum. Now I know I'm getting on a bit but I promise it wasn't mine!
The bark is lifting on this Paperbark Birch and, in so doing, revealing
fresh bark beneath. Byfield parish burial ground, 17 December, 2019

Beneath the tree an Ivy-leaved Cyclamen, Cyclamen hederifolium, is patiently waited for spring to arrive, but it won't flower until autumn is almost upon us. With its curiously reflexed petals it is odd to reflect that this is a member of the Primrose Family, Primulaceae.

Cyclamen hederifolium is called the Ivy-leaved Cyclamen for very good
reasons. Byfield parish burial ground. 17 December, 2019

As the title of this blog indicates, it was hardly an exciting day. In fact, for all naturalists except mycologists, (who may still be finding interesting toadstools) and ornithologists (who will be sifting through gull roosts in the hope of a Glaucous Gull or whatever) this tail-end of the year rarely produces surprises. I did have one little surprise however.

A couple of days ago the family held a pre-Christmas get-together at a Turkish restaurant in Daventry. Rather appropriately a couple of olive trees stand outside and I noticed a leaf-mine on one of the plants. Once home I was able to confirm that it had been formed by the larva of an Olive Moth, Prays oleae. This moth, although a pleasing find for me, is far from welcome around the Mediterranean, where it is a serious pest.

This may be my last blog before Christmas so to all my readers (who range, I am, astonished to find, from California to India), have a suitably bibulous time and a happy New Year.

*Tudge, Colin (2005) The Secret Life of Trees  Penguin Books.  This is a wonderful read for anyone with even the slightest interest in plants.

Tony White  E-mail:

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Suffering from wind

Today proved to be another deceptive day. Certainly it was sunny and, at about 8 degrees, warm for December. However I was visiting Foxhill Farm and its elevated position (the clue is in the name) makes it very exposed to the wind.

I squelched my way across pasture at the foot of Fox Hill (spring line?) and made for the shelter of a small area of woodland, intent on sifting through leaf litter in search of linyphiid spiders - money spiders as they are popularly known. The woodland floor was scattered with logs too so I decided to investigate those if time allowed.

Fungi formed neat lines along fallen tree branches.
Foxhill Farm, Badby. 9 December, 2019
Those logs which had fallen naturally were encrusted with fungi. These are really a no-go area for me but they looked suspiciously like Turkey Tail, Trametes versicolor.

Turkey Tail?
There were sawn logs scattered on the ground too but as yet they were showing no sign of fungal attack.

These sawn logs were being allowed to rot, hopefully attracting beetles and
wood-boring insects.
On the plus side they were easy to turn over and on being rolled to one side hundreds of woodlice were exposed, mostly Oniscus asellus.

Oniscus asellus was present in abundance and will assist in the
process of decay. Foxhill Farm, 9 December, 2019 
I was surprised to find, in the middle of the woodland, a single plant of the Chinese Barberry, Berberis julianae. Being tough and spiny this species is very commonly cultivated for hedging and had probably been bird sown. Hailing from central China it has become naturalised in parts of the U.S.A.
Berberis julianae is present in a wood on Foxhill Farm.

Many of the hollies were probably bird sown too. The leaves were predictably scarred by the workings of The Holly Leaf Miner, Phytomyza ilicis. Had I previously recorded it from Foxhill Farm? Yes, of course.
Few holly bushes are unaffected by the larvae of the two-winged fly,
Phytomyza ilicis. Foxhill Farm, Badby, Northants. 9 December, 2019

I have had more exciting mornings and only came a way with a few spiders and a beetle or two. The woodland is man-made, probably less than thirty years old, so the flora and fauna are still getting established. For the record my haul consisted of:

Alligator:        Lithobius forficatus

Spiders:          Diplostyla concolor,
                      Linyphia hortensis,
                      Microneta viaria,
                      Tenuiphantes tenuis

Springtail:       Pogonognathellus longicornis  New for site

Harvestman:   Nemastoma bimaculatum

Beetles:          Anthobium unicolor A tiny (3mm) rove beetle. New for site

The total for the farm now stands at 502 species.

Erratum:   Owing to a mistake at the printers the word 'Alligator' replaced the correct word; it should have read 'Centipede'. There have been no reliable reports of alligators from Foxhill Farm for several years. 

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Its Wednesday so it must be Byfield

Another day of deceptively bright sunshine but it were right chilly - brass monkeys in fact, but I steadfastly made my way to Byfield Pocket Park. Leaves carpeted the ground, and included those of Pedunculate Oak, Quercus robor, and  Turkey Oak, Quercus cerris, plus a few beech leaves for good measure.

...leaves carpeted the ground beneath oak trees. Byfield Pocket Park,
4 December, 2019

A few leaves, very varied in shape, still clung to the Turkey Oak. Such was the variation that I wondered if the tree in question was a Quercus robur/Q.cerris hybrid.

A third species of oak dwells in the pocket park. Three specimens of the Holm Oak or Ilex, Quercus ilex stand at the eastern end. Despite its Mediterranean origins this is a tough character holding its evergreen leaves throughout winter. Every year I search for its tiny acorns and (almost) every year I fail. Perhaps I'm short-sighted but I feel that the trees simply don't bear many. Ilex is of course the generic name for holly (Ilex aquifolium, and the leaves of young holm oaks are similarly spiny.

The leaves of the holm oaks looked polished in the bright December
sunshine. Byfield Pocket Park, 4 December, 2019
In fact I did not dwell in the pocket park but re-entered the village via Church Street. The church referred to is the Holy Cross and tumbling over the perimeter walls were ivy plants. I was surprised to note that they were in flower because although the species frequently flowers into November, December was, I felt, pushing it a bit.

Battered but blooming. Flowers on the ivy plants beside the Holy Cross
church were lingering on. Byfield, 4 December, 2019
The flowers were a bit on the tatty side but there was probably enough in the way of nectar and pollen to interest any bees prepared to investigate. However, although the temperature had reached 7 degrees C., that was far too low for bees to be out and about.

However a solitary fly was sunning itself on an area of sunny church wall but if it was hoping for some company I suspect it was out of luck. In the photograph it will be seen that short golden hairs cover the thorax, showing it to be a species of Pollenia. It is likely to have been Pollenia rudis, a very common relative of the blowflies, but I made no attempt to capture it for confirmation.
A Cluster Fly, Pollenia species, basking on the church wall.
Byfield, 4 December, 2019

Various items of interest were noted along Church Street but I will limit myself to one more. A solitary Strawberry Tree, Arbutus unedo, stood in a garden. Solitary it may have been but it bore several fruits.
Birds will need to be really hungry before indulging in these
Strawberry Tree fruits. Church Street, Byfield. 4 December, 2019

Like the ivy flowers they were tatty but a cheerful sight nevertheless. This tree, surprisingly a member of the Heather Family, Ericaceae, is regarded as native to the southern parts of Ireland but may have been brought over, unwittingly or deliberately, by neolithic settlers from the Iberian peninsula. Perhaps we'll never know for sure. It is not bone hardy and some years ago the trunk of a specimen of ours was split by a hard frost and never recovered. Fortunately the plant we now have in our back garden is quite well sheltered.

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Cor blimey!

We have just endured a spell of bitterly cold weather. To be honest, back in the 1940's and 1950's it would have been regarded as a bit on the chilly side - but climate warming has changed all that. Nevertheless, even if it hasn't been historically cold I have had little opportunity to get out and about, because if it hasn't been unusually cold it has been extremely wet. The consequence has been an enforced writer's block and I am put in mind of the old nursery rhyme: 

                             The north wind doth blow and we shall have snow,
                             And what will the blogger do then, poor thing...

Today the weather relented. Not only was it dry but the temperature rose to a dizzying nine degrees centigrade! I celebrated by strolling over to our local pocket park. Stefen Hill Pocket Park is not the place to visit for spectacular wildlife and the blogger/naturalist needs to be eagle-eyed and imaginative. 

Plenty of berries were in evidence. Woody Nightshade and blackberries were still available for hungry birds but they are not yet desperate enough. The availability of these berries is a major reason why flocks of redwings and fieldfares make Britain the place to be for a winter holiday. With luck they will be joined by waxwings.

Cotoneasters are frequent in parts of the pocket park and are currently bearing their bright red berries. They may be Cotoneaster lacteus but these shrubs form a tricky and diverse group with hybrids complicating matters. In the third edition of Clive Stace's flora (reference below) 85 species are listed as having been found in the wild in the U.K. Of these only one, Cotoneaster integerrimus, is native (on the Great Orme, Llandudno). Whatever the species is, the berries appears to be rather unpalatable, often lingering into spring.

Cotoneaster lacteus? Perhaps, and when it is in flower I may
have a crack at naming it. 3 December, 2019
Wooden fences in the (relatively) warm winter sun were attracting flies. This specimen scarpered when I approached but there was time to glimpse a golden sheen on the face, allowing it to be identified as Polietes meridionalis. This sheen is unfortunately not apparent in the photograph.

Polietes meridionalis on a fence in Stefen Hill Pocket Park.
3 December, 2019
Entomologists first began to record this species in the U.K.first began to appear in around 2006. Since then it has since spread rapidly to become one of our most familiar insects, especially near human habitations.

What else was on view? Certainly there were very few flowers but this sow-thistle was brightening up a dull fence at the edge of the park. It is Smooth Sow-thistle, Sonchus oleraceus, and is probably the most familiar of the genus. It can be eaten, especially if the plant is young or blanched (in fact the specific epithet oleraceus means 'of cultivation, suitable for food'). I'll leave tucking in to this culinary delight to others.
Smooth Sow-thistle is abundant right across Britain. Here it is in
flower,  Stefen Hill Pocket Park, Daventry. 3 December, 2019

Here and there clumps of Upright Hedge-parsley, Torilis japonica, were present. This very common umbellifer was being mined by Phytomyza chaerophylli, a fly new to the pocket park. I cannot claim that it is spectacular.

Phytomyza chaerophylli is responsible for these mines on the leaves of
Upright Hedge-parsley. Stefen Hill Pocket park, 3 December, 2019

I include, without comment, a burr-like growth on the trunk of an ash tree. I cannot comment because I am unaware of the exact causes and all I can add is that there were many of these ugly growths.

Not nice. Growths on ash tree. Stefen Hill Pocket Park.
3 December 2019
Finally, to something I can name with a reasonable degree of confidence. The Candlesnuff Fungus, Xylaria hypoxylon, is easily found by anyone wandering through woodlands in the winter - providing they keep their nose to the ground.
The Candlesnuff Fungus has many other common names.
Stefen Hill Pocket Park, Daventry. 3 December, 2019

It grows on damp dead wood, usually favouring that from broad-leaved trees but occasionally that of conifers. A number of chemical compounds have been identified from this fungus, some of which appear to have value in the treatment of cancer - or at least certain phases of cancer.


Stace, Clive (3rd Edition, 2010) New Flora of the British Isles  Cambridge University Press

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Westhorpe Lane

I regard Westhorpe Lane as the most attractive area in Byfield and I suspect that many of the villagers would agree with me.  Once a separate hamlet Westhorp, as was an original spelling, is now merged with Byfield but retains a slight air of separateness with lovely, set-back houses, and no through traffic.

With Byfield Pocket Park incredibly wet following prolonged rain I decided to take a break from routine and stroll along the winding road, on either side of which Westhorpe stands.

Clumps of Pellitory of the Wall, Parietaria diffusa, were clustered around the base of several walls and I might have passed by these rather dull plants without a second glance. However I did pause and was rather surprised to see that there were flowers present.

Pellitory of the Wall is very common at the foot of old walls.
Westhorpe Lane, Byfield. 27 November, 2019
True they were tiny and lacking any distinctive coloration but at this time of the year any flowers are welcome. This often-neglected species is a member of the Nettle Family, Urticaceae and is often attacked by the insects and fungi which afflict its larger relatives, but these specimens appeared to be largely free of problems. Incidentally, the word pellitory is ultimately derived from the Latin parietis, a wall. Perhaps it has occupied its distinctive location since ancient times. (Another, unrelated plant, Anacyclus pyrethrum, is known as Pellitory of Spain.)

Pellitory of the Wall has flowers which are easily overlooked.  Westhorpe,
Byfield. 27 November, 2019
In a similar position at the foot of walls were Red Valerian plants, Centranthus ruber. They were being attacked, most obviously by the psyllid bug, Trioza centranthi, which was causing leaf rolls on the edge of foliage. This insect was regarded as rather uncommon up until a few years ago but now many records are coming in: either the insect has become more common or people have been alerted to look out for it.

Trioza centranthi is common locally on Red Valerian.
Westhorpe, Byfield. 27 November, 2019

On to Wistaria Cottage. To give the spelling 'Wistaria' to this lovely climber is scientifically wrong and yet it could be argued that this is correct, for was named after Casper Wistar, professor of anatomy at the University of Pennsylvania.

Wrong? Perhaps, but an easy mistake to make.
Westhorpe Lane, Byfield. 27 November, 2019

Thomas Nuttall, who named the plant Wisteria seems to have got the spelling wrong but, according to the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature, the original spelling must stand.

Our native Wild Privet, Ligustrum vulgaris, grows along Westhorpe Lane. Privets are members of the Olive Family, Oleaceae, and its small, glossy black fruits do have a passing resemblance to tiny olives. They are still present in some quantity, apparently being eschewed by birds in favour of tastier fare.

Wild Privet, as it is usually unclipped, bears fruit in quantity.
Westhorpe Lane, Byfield. 27 November, 2019.
The leaves are distinctive, being almost lanceolate in shape. This make the species easily distinguished when compared to Garden Privet, Ligustrum ovalifolium, some specimens of which also grow along Westhorpe Lane.

The leaves of our native privet are almost lanceolate.
This latter species is from Japan and Korea. Its leaves are, as the name indicates, far more oval in shape. Both species are semi-evergreen, managing to retain some of their leaves in even the harshest winters.
Japanese Privet has leaves far more oval in shape. Westhorpe Lane, Byfield.
27 November, 2019

Fishbone Cotoneaster, Cotoneaster horizontalis, was in fruit, occupying its usual position against a wall. This Chinese species was introduced to Britain in the late 1870's and can be very invasive, frequently being found in the wild. It does however have two redeeming features: its flowers are very attractive to bees and its fruits are popular winter feed for birds.

Cotoneaster horizontalis is a very popular garden plant. Here it is in
Westhorpe lane, Byfield. 27 November, 2019
I will mention only one other plant. The Japanese Quince, Chaenomeles japonica, was displaying its pale yellow apple-like fruit. It is a low-growing shrub, easily confused with C. speciosa, a rather taller plant. (The true quince is Cydonia japonica.)

Japanese Quinces stood out boldly on a miserable, damp day.
Westhorpe, Byfield. 27 November, 2019

Theoretically the fruit can be eaten but they are hard and astringent unless allowed to go semi-rotten, a process known as bletting. The books will tell you that it may be used to make quince jelly but I have never found anyone who has attempted this. It is grown instead for its spring flowers which may red, pink or white.

I turned to go home and in so doing lost my footing on a grassy, muddy bank, landing with a bump. 'Oh dearie me!' I muttered...and spent the next few minutes scraping mud from my shoes. However I made my way without further mishap to my car. Foolish man!