Sunday, 28 April 2019

Hannah

Storm Hannah has passed through with high winds, chilly conditions and some rain. Barely enough of the latter though; a morning visit showed that our allotment is in need of a good soaking, not just a couple of moderate showers. It did little damage. The ground had a scattering of tender young sycamore leaves across the surface but otherwise little harm had been done. I planted some lettuces, gave certain crops a good watering and returned home.


In fact the afternoon turned out to be very pleasant, with warm sunshine and very little wind. I didn't want to venture far so I predictably strolled over to the local pocket park.


Quite a few butterflies were on the wing including a female Holly Blue. A couple of days ago I had photographed the males: today it was the females who seemed more frequent.




Male Holly Blue at Stefen Hill Pocket Park. 25 April, 2019
Their dark-edged wings make them very distinct. Is it coincidence that I saw males around for a few days before any females? Were the males lying in wait? Certainly it is the case that some spider species mature before the females. Once mated the females will go away and seek a food-plant for their eggs. Obviously holly is used but ivy, dogwood and gorse are acceptable.

Female Holly Blue. Stefen Hill Pocket Park, 28 April, 2019

Again, with Orange-tip butterflies I noticed males before any females, but that just may be a consequence of their more striking appearance.


Male Orange-tip at Stefen Hill Pocket Park. 22 April,2019

The females lack the orange tips to their wings and they may be overlooked as another 'white' unless the mottled underside of the wings is visible. I should emphasise that both sexes have this wing mottling.

Female Orange-tip, same place. 28 April, 2019


The Green Shieldbug, Palomena prasina, assumes a sombre brown colouring for the winter to blend with the dead leaves under which it may hide. Now it has assumed its bright  summer green, and thus remains camouflaged.


This Green Shieldbug had assumed its summer colours.
 Stefen Hill Pocket Park, 28 April, 2019 



A tiny ladybird had me puzzled. It had only two spots but certainly wasn't the Two-Spot Ladybird, Adalia 2-punctata; the pronotum (the white, black spotted area behind the head) was all wrong. This pronotal patterning made it clear that it was a 10-spot Ladybird, Adalia 10-punctata. This is known to be a very variable species, with some forms having no spots at all.

A two-spotted Ten-spot Ladybird! Stefen Hill Pocket Park.
28 April, 2019


Ladybirds were to be seen everywhere. So far I have recorded five species and if I take a closer look at the pines at least one other may be present. This pair of 14-spot Ladybirds, Propylea 14-punctata, was doing its best to ensure that populations remain healthy, and Harlequin Ladybirds were similarly occupied.



14-spot ladybirds in copula. Stefen Hill Pocket Park, 28 April, 2019
I left, rather pleased to see that in this (relatively) chemical-free environment, at least some wildlife is flourishing.











Friday, 26 April 2019

A garden surprise

I visited the Stefen Hill Pocket Park earlier today but, apart from photographing Gooden's Nomad Bee, Nomada goodeniana, (easily mistaken for a wasp) there wasn't much doing. So far I have recorded three nomad bees from the park but this is the commonest species.


Gooden's Nomad Bee. Stefen Hill Pocket Park.
26 April, 2019
The more interesting find came when I arrived home. A striking sawfly was investigating a Pyracantha bush. Now I don't really do sawflies. They form a huge, complicated group of insects and there is no comprehensive key to the adults available.

However, this was a rather large specimen with striking black and gold bands across the abdomen. My initial thought was...Abia sericea. I posted a picture on Facebook and I was advised that it could be a member of the very similar genus Zaraea.

A Honeysuckle Sawfly on pyracantha. Our garden, Stefen Hill, Daventry.
26 April, 2019
With this clue I delved further into the matter and concluded that it was Zaraea lonicerae, the Honeysuckle Sawfly. Certainly there is honeysuckle in our garden.

Another view of the same insect.
This seems to be a relatively scarce sawfly with, for example, only one record for Leicestershire, so I'll forward the information to iSpot.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

From aphids to bees

I took a chance and visited Stefen Hill Pocket Park even though the wind was very blustery with lots of cloud cover. In fact I needn't have worried; insects were very plentiful even though the first located was not really an insect as such.


An orange-red bulge on the edge of a hawthorn leaf betrayed the presence of Dysaphis crataegi. This 'species' of aphid is in fact a complex group of closely related species requiring identification by an expert. I am content to leave it as D. crataegi. Part of its life is spent on hawthorn (the primary host) and it then moves to a secondary host, which can be any one of several members of the carrot family such as Cow Parsley, abundant in the pocket park.


The aphids are concealed, safe from birds, in this leaf roll.
Stefen Hill Pocket Park,Daventry. 25 April, 2019

On a previous visit I had attempted to obtain a decent photograph of a Holly Blue butterfly but with little success.. This time I found a co-operative specimen that posed for me on a beech leaf. The Common Blue butterfly is far more likely to be found in meadowland but this Holly Blue was in a well-wooded area.


This Holly Blue co-operated by spreading its wings. Stefen Hill
 Pocket Park, Daventry. 25 April, 2019
I an always reluctant to harm bees so as far as possible I rely upon photographs. This specimen was visiting Horse Chestnut blossom and I am content that it is a Tree Bumblebee, Bombus hypnorum. This is a remarkable species in that it was first recorded in Britain as recently as 2001. By 2013 it had reached Scotland and had crossed to the Isle of Mull by 2014. Nowadays it is common in parks, gardens, allotments, hedgerows, orchards and so on.

A Tree Bumblebee pays a visit to Horse Chestnut flowers.
Stefen Hill Pocket Park, Daventry. 25 April, 2019

A month ago the Hawthorn Shieldbug was nowhere to be seen - or at least, I couldn't find it. Now it is to be seen everywhere although its camouflage is very effective and it can easily be overlooked.
The pointed 'shoulders' of the Hawthorn Shieldbug help to make it
easily recognisable. Stefen Hill Pocket Park.. 25 April, 2019
It is associated not just with hawthorn but many of its relatives such as rowan, cotoneaster, whitebeam and so on - all members of the Rose Family, Rosaceae.


A doubtful day turned out to be rather productive and the list of species known from the park now approaches the hundred mark.




Tony White.  E-mail: diaea@yahoo.co.uk










Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Hawthorns

Ne'er cast a clout till May be out, goes the old saying (in pre-climate-warming times!). Almost certainly this refers, not to the month, but to the flowering of May, or Hawthorn as it is now more commonly known.


The genus Crataegus, to which hawthorns belong, is a huge one. There are certainly 200 species, largely in North America, but if 'microspecies' are included, then there could be as many as 1000. Here in Britain we have just two native species (several others have become naturalised) and both are found in Stefen Hill pocket park.


Unsurprisingly most of those present are Common Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna. Its sweet-smelling blossom is now beginning to appear. The leaves are deeply dissected, jagged even, and quite distinctive.
Common Hawthorn has deeply dissected leaves. Stefen Hill Pocket Park.
23 April, 2019

I was pleased today to find that few bushes near to the pond were of our other native, Midland Hawthorn, Crataegus laevigata. It has shallowly dissected leaves which are generally easy to recognise.

The leaves of Midland Hawthorn are only shallowly dissected.
Stefen Hill Pocket Park, 23 April, 2019
But the real giveaway is the flowers. Superficially the two species have flowers of a similar appearance but those of Midland Hawthorn have a rank smell, reminiscent of rotting fish. My grandmother would never allow hawthorn in the house, and I had assumed that this was because hawthorn is one of the many trees from which Judas Iscariot hanged himself. However, the problem was probably this rank smell which would pervade the house if the wrong hawthorn was gathered.

This species, as the name suggests, is quite widespread in the English midlands but is always the less common of the two species. Further north it becomes scarce and there are only a handful of scattered records from Scotland.
Not a flower for a bouquet! The odour of Midland Hawthorn flowers is
foul. Stefen Hill Pocket Park. 23 April, 2019

I took photographs of a couple of insects today. One was of the Cream-spot Ladybird, Calvia 14-guttata, the second record from the pocket park of this widespread species.

Calvia 14-guttata, a smart ladybird, with chocolate background colouring
and 14 cream spots. Stefen Hill Pocket Park. 23 April, 2019
The other was one of our bee-mimicking hoverflies, Myathropa florea. It has been given the name of the Batman Hoverfly because some feel that the markings on the thorax (the region behind the head to which the legs and wings are attached) are reminiscent of the Batman logo. All I can say is that you need a strong imagination!

This Batman Hoverfly was basking on the leaf of a maple.
Stefen Hill Pocket Park. 23 April, 2019
It is a handsome insect and is very common at least in southern Britain.


Tony White.  E-mail: diaea@yahoo.co.uk


 

Butterflies a-plenty

The searing heat of yesterday has been replaced by conditions which are pleasantly warm and I took a constitutional around the local pocket park. It turned out to be a productive visit in terms of butterflies.


First up was a Speckled Wood, surely the commonest butterfly around here. It posed nicely on a horse chestnut leaf before setting off in chase after a potential partner.


Speckled Woods were very common. Stefen Hill Pocket Park.
22 April, 2019

Orange Tips have been around for some days but, camera shy, they haven't paused long enough for a picture - until now. Although this male was on a nettle the females are mainly interested in Hedge Garlic upon which to lay their eggs, and there is plenty of that in the area.
Male Orange Tip (the females lack the orange tip) Stefen Hill
Pocket Park. 22 April, 2019

Blues can be tricky for people who, like me, are not lepidopterists. This specimen didn't help as it stubbornly refused to open its wings. It is a male and I am happy that it is a Holly Blue, Celastrina argiolus. In any case, it emerges in the spring before other blues are about.

Holly Blue, the earliest of the blues. Stefen Hill Pocket Park.
22 April, 2019
The only other insect I photographed was the hoverfly, Helophilus pendulus. The bold black and yellow stripes on the thorax have earned it the name of the Footballer Hoverfly, although our fauna contains some very similar species.

Helophilus pendulus is the commonest species of Helophilus in the U.K.
Stefen Hill Pocket Park. 22 April, 2019
The Horse Chestnuts, Aesculus hippocastanum, are just coming into bloom. Many regard this tree as the finest of all temperate flowering trees. Sadly it is becoming endangered in its home on the forests of the Balkans.

As children we called the inflorescences of  Horse Chestnuts 'candles'
Stefen Hill Pocket Park. 22 April, 2019.
It is much visited for nectar and honey bees will return to the hive with the bright pink pollen on their faces. Sadly in a matter of weeks the leaves will begin showing the ugly disfigurement caused by the Chestnut Leaf Miner.

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Goat's Beard and Bee flies

A few days ago (8 April to be precise) I was commenting on the phenomenon of nyctinasty. I had in mind those flowers that close at night, to open again in fine weather. It comes from the Greek nyctos, meaning night, and for years I had believed that the term applied only to plants such as the common lawn daisy, whose name of course is derived from 'day's eye'.  But what of plants which behave in the opposite manner?


I have in mind Goat's Beard, Tragopogon pratensis, a specimen of which has popped up in our front garden. One of its many other names is Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon because, just when the sun is at it brightest, the flowers close.


In our front garden I had been watching a Dark-edged Bee-fly, Bombylius major, as it delicately inserted its proboscis into the tubular flower of a Cowslip. Its actions were so reminiscent of a humming bird.


Bombylius major feeding at a cowslip in our front garden.
Stefen Hill, Daventry. 20 April, 2019
As I stepped back, trying not to disturb this remarkable but common insect, my attention was caught by the Goat's Beard. In the bright sun of this blisteringly hot day, just when pollinators would be about, its flowers were closed for business.



The flowers of this Goat's Beard were firmly closed at midday
Our garden at Stefen Hill, Daventry. 20 April, 2018

At ten am the following day the flowers were open again.



Open at ten a.m. but only to close a couple of hours later.

This, I felt, made no sense, yet after scouring my botany books and the internet I found no explanation for this seemingly illogical behaviour. Apparently the term nyctinasty not only covers the closing of flowers at night, but in the daytime too.










Tony White. E-mail: diaea@yahoo.co.uk





Numbers build

On a worryingly hot day I paid another visit to Stefan Hill Pocket Park. This is apparently the hottest Easter for 70 years and it is shaping up to be the hottest ever.


Dandelions studded the grassy areas of the park. Fifty years ago I would have expected the flowers to be attracting dozens of not hundreds of insects. Today I saw just the one bee, and that didn't linger.

Even so, there were insects around in considerable numbers but the first creature to come to my attention was a mite. The Galium Gall Mite, Cecidophyes rouhollahi causes the tips of Goosegrass to become distorted, with thickened, twisted leaves. This is my first gall of the season (although I have found the remains of some from last year).

These goosegrass leaves have been distorted by the Galium Gall Mite.
Stefen Hill Country Park. 20 April, 2019
A few days ago I found some Brassica Bugs, Eudema oleracea, on Hedge Garlic. Alliaria petiolata. I photographed some specimens but none of the pictures was satisfactory. Today I revisited the site in order to obtain a picture, but I was in for a surprise. No Brassica Bugs were found but instead around fifty Sloe Bugs, Dolycoris baccarum, were congregated on the plants.

Sloe bugs were congregated on Hedge Garlic. Stefen Hill Pocket Park.
20 April, 2019
Many were mating and the gathering may have been the consequence of females releasing pheromones to attract the males. With black and white antennae and similarly coloured edges to the abdomen they are easily recognised. The pale tip to the scutellum is also distinctive though other bugs have a similar feature.

Many were in copula, as biologists often put it.

Far more surprising was the presence of at least four Cinnamon Bugs, Corizus hyoscyami.  I have mentioned these insects in previous blogs. Once rather rare and confined to sandy areas around the coast of southern Britain this species has, over the last couple of decades, enjoyed a remarkable expansion in range for reasons which are not obvious. Apparently from close up they smell of cinnamon.

Cinnamon Bugs were present too, clearly also intent on pairing.
Stefen Hill Country Park. 20 April, 2019
A third bug, very common everywhere, was found on some dock leaves. The favoured plant was no surprise as it was a Dock Bug, Coreus marginatus. Again there were several specimens present and they too clearly planned a passionate affair.

Dock Bugs are common on docks, but also their relatives such as
rhubarb. Stefen Hill Country Park. 20 April, 2019


The only other insect I photographed was a very common ladybird. We have several yellow and black ladybirds in Britain but this, the 16-spot Ladybird, Tytthaspis 16-guttata, (= Micraspis 16-punctata) is the commonest by a country mile (whatever that is). It feeds on mildews, often in grass tussocks. Not being dependent on aphids it is frequently active in winter.

The 16-spot Ladybird is a mildew feeder but here is on a Norway Maple
leaf. Stefen Hill Pocket Park. 20 April, 2019
The numbers of species now recorded for the pocket park steadily rises and has now topped the 80 mark with some yet to be determined. The tiny beetle Bruchus loti is the latest addition to he list. It is common but easily overlooked. Perhaps the most interesting species recorded was the Red-girdled Mining Bee, Andrena labiata, a rather scarce insect.







Friday, 19 April 2019

Familiar haunts

The dodgy weather of recent days has deterred me from venturing much further than our local pocket park and the consequence is that I have neglected Foxhill Farm. Some of the high ground around the windmill can be distinctly chilly. 'Real brass monkey stuff. Fair gets through to yer bleedin' marrer, guv', as Jacob Rees-Mogg would put it.


Anyway, I put that matter right today but only venturing as far as the north-east corner of the farm, the nearest accessible part. It really was a lovely day with my car thermometer reading 24 degrees C. although it was standing in the sun. A smell of balsam permeated the air, coming from poplar trees alongside the busy A45 and a pair of jays flew, screaming raucously, between a couple of ash trees nearby. It is amazing how these gaudily coloured crows can be unnoticed until they give their whereabouts away.  Their Latin name of Garrulus glandarius is very appropriate. The almost inevitable buzzard circled lazily above.


A number of butterflies were on the wing: Peacock, Orange Tip (only the males have the orange 'dipped in paint' wings), Brimstone and (probably) a Silver-washed Fritillary, Argynnis paphia. I only got a fleeting glimpse of the latter species and, as I am not a lepidopterist, I won't record it.




A fence had collapsed and on a fallen section was a very smart Zebra spider, Salticus scenicus. I approached it in order to obtain a photograph but it dashed under the piece of planking. When I lifted this the spider had disappeared but I had exposed a nest of the Yellow Meadow Ant. With the ants were several specimens of the Ant Woodlouse, Platyarthrus hoffmannseggi. This blind, albino creature seems to be tolerated by the ants and it is suspected that it does a service by clearing up their droppings. It was only 3 mm long and I struggled to obtain a decent picture.


The Ant Woodlouse is common but only revealed when an ants' nest
is disturbed. Foxhill Farm, near Badby. 18 April, 2019

Very few bugs came to my attention and I only recorded two very common species, the Green Shieldbug, Palomena prasina, and the Dock Bug, Coreus marginatus.



This Green Shieldbug will blend in with the nettles even better when it has
assumed its summer colour of emerald green. Foxhill Farm, 18 April, 2019.
A Noon Fly, Mesembrina meridiana, was motionless on the trunk of a young ash tree but  may not have been inactive. Was it releasing a pheromone to attract a mate? I confess I have no idea. Certainly it had no success while I was watching.
The bold markings of the Noon Fly make it unmistakeable.
Foxhill Farm, 18 April, 2019


Although I took relatively few flies I did obtain a considerable haul of Wolf Spiders. These cannot be positively identified unless they are sexually mature and they are usually in mating condition between April and late June. (The original 'true' tarantula spiders belong to this family, the Lycosidae, and they are only very distantly related to the large Theraphosids which are now regarded as tarantulas.)


Despite taking a large number of insects I only added a couple to the farm list, one of which was Gooden's Nomad Bee, Nomada goodeniana and the  other was a Flavous Nomad Bee, Nomada flava.


The farm total now stands at 452 species.




Saturday, 13 April 2019

Daffodils

We're reaching mid-April and the daffodils have finally peaked. I have started to dead-head some withered early blooms. In terms of appearance they aren't my favourite flower but their perfume can be wonderful. Half a century ago they grew in profusion in Gibraltar, mostly at the foot of limestone bluffs high on the rocky slopes. With a gentle breeze the whole of the main town could enjoy the glorious scent of these swathes of Narcissus papyraceus.


Several clumps of daffodils have appeared in our garden, obviously planted by previous occupants. I haven't had the heart to grub them out but some I really don't like. I think some will have to go.
These plants, with their shapeless, muddled blooms, will have to go.
13 April, 2019



Can anything new be said about daffs? Perhaps not, although it is perhaps worth mentioning the curious derivation of the name. In the 16th Century it was simple affodil, and came from the medieval Latin affodilus. So far, so good, but then complications arise. The earlier Latin form, based on a Greek word, was asphodelus. But the Asphodel, a flower which is very familiar to anyone rambling in the Mediterranean region, is a rather different plant, belonging to the Lily Family, whereas the daffodil is in the Amaryllis Family. The other puzzle concerns the letter 'd'.  Perhaps here the answer in more straightforward: the Netherlands has for some centuries been an important source of bulbs, and the Dutch referred to the plant as de affodil.
A better flower altogether. The contents of this pot will be transferred
 to the garden later. 13 April, 2019


What of the rather twee term, Daffy-down-dilly? Apparently we have the American author Nathaniel Hawthorne to blame for that. His novel, 'Little Daffydowndilly', written in 1843, became widely read and the term was picked up by A. A. Milne, who wrote a poem, Daffodowndilly:


                           She wore her yellow sun-bonnet,
                           She wore her greenest gown:
                           She turned to the south wind
                           And curtsied up and down.
                           She turned to the sunlight
                           And shook her yellow head,
                           And whispered to her neighbour;
                           Winter is dead.


Well, winter certainly is dead and we're well into spring but the weather has been very erratic lately and parts of the English midlands have had sharpish frosts. The daffodils won't care, they're pretty tough because of course daffodils, such as Narcissus obvallaris, are native to the UK. They were once found in Northamptonshire (although here they are probably extinct) and at Foxhill Farm Matt Moser has planted many hundreds of them in woodland and in semi-shade on the farm, giving a glimpse of what once was.
Daffodils make a lovely sight in spring. Foxhill Farm, between Badby
and Daventry





                           

Roadside tragedy

Travelling back to Daventry after a short visit to Byfield I saw the corpse of a moderately large deer lying beside the road near Badby. From the size and general shape it appeared to be a roe deer. There was a lay-by a couple of hundred yards ahead so I parked up and strolled back to have a look.


It was indeed a Roe Deer, Capreolus capreolus. The antlers are fairly distinctive and the whitish patch of the rump is a clincher.


The roe deer has fairly short antlers. Roadside near Badby, Northants.
13 April, 2019
A Roe Deer weighs in at between 10 and 25 kilograms and this specimen must have been at the upper end of that range. My guess is that if it had been hit by a car the vehicle could have sustained some damage. It was a lovely animal, appearing to be in prime condition. Very sad. The local buzzard population will be interested!

The white patch on the rump is a clincher.
As I strolled back to the car I noticed a familiar - and yet unfamiliar - plant growing at the roadside. It looked like scurvy grass but it had pale lilac flowers, unfortunately not very obvious in my picture. On arriving home I checked my books and read: Common Scurvy-grass, Cochlearia officinalis...flowers white, rarely lilac.



Danish Scurvy-grass, once uncommon, now a striking roadside sight.
Near Badby, 13 April, 2019
But I still wasn't happy. Beside our main roads there is often a ribbon of white flowers at the roadside. This is Danish Scurvy-grass, Cochlearia danica, a plant which can also have lilac flowers. A closer examination of the leaves showed that it was indeed this latter species. It is an interesting example of a once-uncommon coastal (and therefore salt-tolerant) species being converted to a weed by human intervention, in this case the application of salt in icy conditions.


The winter has been relatively mild and a sort of confirmation came when I noticed a few plants of Wild Privet, Ligustrum vulgare, also at the roadside. It was still bearing plenty of berries which, although they may not be the favourite choice of birds, would surely have gone had the winter been severe.

Wild Privet, a shrub which tends to prefer alkaline soils.
Roadside hedgerow near Badby, Northants. 13 April, 2019
In my childhood a huge percentage of urban gardens were bordered by neatly trimmed hedge of privet, (appropriately known as 'private' in parts of Kent). But this was invariably Japanese Privet, Ligustrum ovalifolium.  Its berries too are eaten by birds and the shrub is occasionally self-sown via their droppings but as hedging it is now far less common, having fallen out of favour and been replaced by cotoneasters, barberries and so on. Both these shrubs of course form the food plant of the Privet Hawkmoth, Sphinx ligustri. This handsome moth is on the edge of its range here in Northants and I have yet to see one - but I live in hope.


Tony White  E-mail: diaea@yahoo.co.uk




Thursday, 11 April 2019

Now, is this finally spring?

The composer, Igor Stravinsky, once spoke of the violence of the Russian spring, 'that seemed to begin in an hour and was like the whole earth cracking'.  In Britain it isn't at all like that and yet over the last few days, after a few false starts, things have moved on in a rush. Insects are suddenly appearing, if not in hordes, certainly in significant numbers.


Be that as it may, there was a chilly wind blowing earlier today and I wimpishly decided only to venture as far as our local pocket park. Butterflies were on the wing including Speckled Wood, Pararge aegeria, with one specimen graciously posing whilst I took a picture.


This is a widespread butterfly with the larval food-plants being common grasses such as Cock's Foot, Yorkshire Fog, and so on. It can have up to three broods per year, so in favourable conditions it can multiply quickly.


This Speckled Wood was one of many insects basking in the sun.
Stefen Hill Pocket Park, Daventry. 11 April, 2019
In sheltered conditions insects were basking in the sun and this Noon Fly, Mesembrina meridiana, was one to take advantage, using the park notice board for its sunbathing.

This Noon Fly was taking advantage of the Park's notice board.
11 April, 2019

It has a curiously tautologous name for Mesembrina comes from the Greek mesembria, midday, whilst meridiana is simply the feminine of the Latin word meridianus, which also means midday.

I swept my net through some Cow Parsley in an attempt to catch a wolf spider. I failed but in my net found this wasp-like bee, one of a group known as Nomad Bees.


A nomad bee turned up in my net.


This particular species is Gooden's Nomad Bee, Nomada goodeniana, widespread across England and Wales, and just making it as far as the Scottish borders. Nomad bees are kleptoparasites, their victims being Andrena bee species.


It proved to be Gooden's Nomad Bee.
Stefen Hill Pocket Park, 11 April, 2019



Among a welter of insect recorded was a specimen of Phryno vetula, a bristly yellow-legged fly which is a parasite of certain looper caterpillars. It may be a first record from Northamptonshire. It is certainly the first specimen I have encountered.



Wednesday, 10 April 2019

A back garden miscellany

I am keeping an anxious eye on our pears for two reasons. The first potential problem concerns pollination. We grow two varieties, Conference and Concorde. In theory they will pollinate each other, but for that to happen, clearly both need to be in flower at the same time. Our Conference is full of blossom.


Our Conference pear is blooming exuberantly. 10 April, 2019
Unfortunately the Concorde flowers are still a few days short of opening.  They may just about overlap and should that happen I'll be helping things along with a very soft brush.

But Concorde is lagging behind. 10 April, 2019
Really there should be no shortage of pollinators. Quite a few bees are about and they are backed up by hoverflies. This Eupeodes corollae may not have the furry body of a bee but research has shown that hoverflies have a useful role in pollinating and if we lose our bees they may become desperately important.

Hoverflies like this Eupeodes corollae are frequent visitors.
10 April, 2019

My other worry is a more serious one. A big proportion of the pear leaves have been attacked by Pear Leaf Blister Mite, Eriophyes pyri. There seems to be no cure for this problem and all I can do is pick off and destroy affected leaves. But that would mean removing, I guess, over half the leaves.

Our Conference pear is under attack! Pear Leaf Blister Mite,
10 April, 2019

The brick wall against which the pears grow is patrolled by zebra spiders, Salticus scenicus. This attractive species will hunt down many insects but I suspect that the mites attacking the pears are far too small to be of interest. And of course they are safe within the pustules - the galls - which they have created.

Most people are familiar with Salticus scenicus.Here it is on our
garage wall. 10 April, 2019


This spider gives its name to the huge family to which it belongs, the Salticidae and so taxonomically I suppose it is rather important: the Salticus of all Salticids.  Salticus zebranus also lives in Britain but it is a west country species and I have never seen one. Salticids are found all over the world with some particularly beautiful ones, Maratus species, known as Peacock Spiders, in Australia. If any reader cares to look for these on the internet they will find it a worthwhile experience.