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

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