Tuesday, 18 February 2020

'Woodhenge'

Today involved yet another visit to Byfield Pocket Park. The site still has very few spider records and I was hoping to begin rectifying that situation.


My first target was a deeply mysterious 'henge' consisting of timbers in a more-or-less circular arrangement. Was it an early Neolithic or even Mesolithic meeting place of profound ritualistic significance? There are those who believe that it is a ring of logs set up three years ago by the local Boy Scout troop to provide seating around a bonfire, but my gut instinct is that it is far older.


A mysterious 'henge' occupies one corner of Byfield Pocket Park.
17 February, 2020
I was still thinking over this conundrum as I carefully turned over each log, revealing fresh grass beneath some of them.

The creatures revealed were predictable - or almost so. Woodlice, earthworms, centipedes and millipedes were present in abundance. But there was one surprise and it proved to be present difficulties - an ichneumon fly had crept under one of the logs. It was, with little doubt, a species of the type-genus, Ichneumon, but beyond that I couldn't go. Ichneumons - relatives of bees and wasps - are a really difficult group and keys are almost unobtainable so that even though I could get down to the genus it could have been Ichneumon extensorius, I. confusor or several others. Frustrating!


An ichneumon fly had crept under the edge of a log.
17 February, 2020
With all things taken into account it is most likely to be I. suspiciosus but I certainly don't have enough evidence to record it as such. I allowed it to fly away the following morning.


A beetle proved to be more straightforward. The family to which it belongs, the Carabidae, is large, with about 350 species in Britain, but keys are readily available. As children we always called them rain beetles - but I have discussed that matter before.

Unfortunately, and very disappointingly, it was Loricera spinicornis. I have already recorded it from the site on several occasions.


Loricera spinicornis, a common carabid beetle, was found beneath a log.
Byfield Pocket Park. 17 February, 2020
There were two millipede species. One was a flat-backed millipede, five species of which occur in Britain. They are all very similar and microscopic examination of the gonopods (sex organs) is necessary for accurate identification. The specimen photographed is Polydesmus angustus.

Polydesmus angustus is perhaps the commonest of flat-backed millipedes.
Byfield Pocket Park, 17 February, 2020

The other main group of millipede present in Britain is the Julidae. I found one specimen and close examination showed it to be Cylindroiulus caeruleocinctus. It is mainly confined to the southern counties of Britain and seems to be associated with habitats showing some human disturbance. The two millipede species were new to the pocket park.
The millipede Cylindroiulus caeruleocinctus was also present, this time
under stones. Byfield Pocket Park, 17 February, 2020




As I stated in the opening paragraph, I was hoping to gather spiders to gain a better picture of what and was not present. In this aim I was overwhelmingly unsuccessful, for twenty minutes of grubbing around in grass tussocks and so on I secured only one species, the tiny 'money spider', Erigone dentipalpis - and that was already on the list!

So far I have to admit that 2020 has been disappointing, though not for lack of effort.  Crocuses and daffodils are in bloom but astonishingly wet weather (it is raining again as I write) have effectively suppressed insect activity. Things can only get better.



Thursday, 13 February 2020

Plus ça change...

On my last four occasions I have visited our local (Stefen Hill) pocket park  have set out in bright sunshine, only for clouds to roll in and thwart my plans. Today was going to be different because the sunny conditions looked set to hold. But no, with ten minutes the sky darkened, the sun disappeared and a chilly wind sprang up.  Am I being paranoid? Of course not - but it is clear that someone is out to get me!


Anyway, undaunted I pushed on making my first target the pocket park's only pond. In parts of Britain there have been reports of frogs and toads already spawning. Would there be any in 'our' pond? The answer was no. Last year the pond held thousands of tadpoles but it completely dried up and none survived. Perhaps this will have a knock-on effect on breeding this year.


There was no sign of life, vertebrate or invertebrate. However the spear-like leaves of Yellow Iris, Iris pseudacorus, were pushing through in abundance - too abundant if truth be told for, lovely though they are, these 'flags' may ultimately overwhelm the pond. The specific name is derived from the similar appearance of this plant to Sweet Flag, Acorus calamus, but the two plants are quite unrelated.
The spears of Yellow Iris, Iris pseudacorus, were breaking through the
surface of the pond. Stefen Hill Pocket  Park, Daventry 13 February, 2020

A couple of rotting tree stumps bore neat tiers of a fungus. As I have pointed out ad nauseam I am no mycologist but it is almost certainly Turkey Tail, Trametes versicolor.






Turkey Tail? It seems a pretty safe bet. Edge of Stefen Hill Pocket Park, Daventry.
13 February, 2020
Elsewhere the flowers of what I suspect is a plum (probably Cherry Plum, Prunus cerasifera) were open for business should any bees be on the wing, but today it was flowering in vain.

A rather weedy shrub, perhaps some form of Cherry Plum, was flowering
in a brave but probably futile manner. Stefen Hill Pocket Park again
The first spits and spots of rain arrived on the freshening wind and I decided that enough was enough.

The sparse flowers suggest that is a seedling of a more floriferous
variety.

Hurrying on in the increasing rain I noticed that the male flowers on ash are about to burst forth - but I wasn't prepared to stay for another photograph.  A disappointing day!



Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Still not much doing

nothing obvious, that is. Storm Ciara has not only brought high winds but distinctly chilly weather. Crocuses, narcissi and so on seem to be on hold, awaiting warmer conditions.


The recent high winds have wrought more damage than I had at first thought, with a brick wall, barely 100 metres from our house, brought crashing to the ground.
Whoops! Storm Ciara has brought down a brick wall in Christchurch Drive,
not far from our house. Stefen Hill, 22 February, 2020





I visited Byfield Pocket Park earlier today and found that that a large limb had been torn from a huge poplar tree. It would appear that the tree itself will be left to stand even though an examination by tree surgeons revealed that there was a considerable degree of decay on the main trunk. In a few years this could be yielding an interesting suite of flies and beetles.


The storm has also wrought considerable damage to this poplar tree
in Byfield Pocket Park. 12 February, 2020
Even in the depths of winter a few calliphorids, a genus of blowflies, may be found on a sunny fence or tree trunk, but not today. Calliphorids such as Calliphora vicina are pretty hardy insects and one of its relatives, Boreellus atriceps is confined in Finland to high regions in mountains, often above the tree-line. (Quoted in Blowflies, by the late Zakaria Erzinclioglu - a book which should be read by every right-thinking adult) However, today blowflies were absent. They may be hardy but they are not foolhardy!
I have included a picture so that you know what to order when visiting
your local bookshop!

No, the truth is that today was very disappointing. Some consolation was found when I turned over a stone and discovered a true bug and a beetle. The bug, a decidedly drab insect, was Peritrechus geniculatus, whilst the beetle was Sitona lineatus, an insect known as the Pea Leaf Weevil. Both are common species but were new to Byfield Pocket Park, indicating how limited the coverage has been so far.




Monday, 10 February 2020

Not the best of days

Storm Kiara had paid Daventry a visit and we appear to got off lightly. It is true that a few fences had been blown down but damage seems to have been relatively superficial.



The morning was quite breezy but bright sunshine temped me to make my first visit of the year to Kentle Wood. Needless to say, the sun rapidly disappeared to leave a steel-grey cloudy sky to take its place. Things did not look promising.


I turned over a few logs in the hope of finding a carabid beetle or a 'staph' (staphylinid beetle) but there was nowt.


Rotting logs looked promising but produced nothing other than a slug or two.
Kentle Wood, Daventry, Northants. 10 February, 2020
I proceeded with caution as the rides though the wood were slick with mud and once or twice my feet slid sideways alarmingly. Accordingly I forsook the path and made my way into the trees away from danger. As a result I caught my foot on a snaking bramble and fell flat on my face. Bugger!

I shouldn't grumble because the brambles yielded my only insect of the morning. The sinuous mine of a Golden Pigmy Moth, Stigmella aurella agg, raised the number of arthropods I've now recorded from Kentle Wood up to 541.



This sinuous mine is very common on bramble and is the work of
Stigmella aurella. Kentle Wood, 10 February, 2020
I have cautiously placed the letters agg behind the Latin name as this 'species' is really a complex aggregate of closely related species, but S. aurella is the most commonly encountered species within the group.


This is a good time of the year to look for the Scarlet Elf Cup. It is a delightful little fungus often on dead plant material at ground level. Indeed I found some specimens in Kentle Wood about three years ago but today there was nothing doing.
Scarlet Elf-cup, Sarcoscypha coccinea. Courtesy Woodland Trust



I decided enough was enough, turned on my (very muddy) heel and headed for home, getting there shortly before a heavy - and unpredicted - snow shower.







Monday, 3 February 2020

Vernal signs

The approaching spring was increasingly evident on my visit to Byfield Pocket Park earlier today. Conditions were dry and sunny with the thermometer reading 9 degrees but conditions were deceptive as a strong wind sought any weakness in clothing. So although crocuses and narcissi were flaunting their flowers I saw none receive visitors.


The narcissi have been present for as long as I can remember and appear to have spread a little.
The clumps of narcissi are small but seem to be spreading.
Byfield Pocket Park, 3 February, 2020

The crocuses are a fairly recent arrival, having probably been planted some two or three years ago but seem well-established beneath an oak tree and they too should gradually multiply.


The colony of croci under a central oak provided a splash of colour.
Byfield Pocket Park, 3 February, 2020
I confess to only taking a glance but I suspect they are Crocus chrysanthus, a native of Turkey and the Balkans. It is sometimes referred to as the Snow Crocus, being a particularly early flowerer. Bees will visit the flowers for pollen but, as I have said, not today.


The 'lambs tail' catkins on the hazel bushes have been out for some time and in some cases were turning brown. I kept an eye open for distorted catkins as they are often an indication of attack by mites, but I found none.
Bright sun made hazel catkins appear almost luminous.
 Byfield Pocket Park, 3 February, 2020


The oak trees proved more interesting with two very obvious galls present. One was  predictably the Oak Marble Gall, caused by a cynipid wasp Andricus kollari. The second was more common but proved a little trickier to spot. It is known as the Ramshorn Gall but in this example the gall looks more like a spring onion in shape. Again it is the work of a cynipid wasp, Andricus aries and occurs only on oak.





The Ramshorn Gall often has curved 'horns' but not in this case.
Byfield Pocket Park, 3 February, 2020



 
I had decided not to take any collecting equipment with me. This decision was logical as I had several other things to carry but it became frustrating as I exposed several interesting beetles when lifting loose bark on sycamore trees.

-------------------------------

So, here I am, two days later. Chris is visiting her friend Julie Ferguson and I, properly equipped, am hoping to pick up where I left off. The sycamore trees had not run away and this time I am armed with my trusty pooter  Within five minutes I had successfully secured a beetle specimen from beneath bark.

It proved to be Calodromius spilotus. The name is derived from the Greek kalos, beautiful, dromas, a runner and spilos, a spot. This rather common species, like those of its close relatives, is distinctly flattened and rather wedge-shaped, allowing it to insinuate itself beneath close-fitting bark.

Specimens of Caladromius spilotus were very common beneath loose bark.
Byfield, Northants, 5 February, 2020
Several other insects turned up including a Hawthorn Shieldbug and, on the tree trunk, a Green Shieldbug, Palomena prasina.
Removing loose bark also revealed a Hawthorn Shieldbug.
Byfield, 5 February, 2020

Despite its common name the Green Shieldbug was a dull brown. It will retain this colour until winter is over and will then turn green and so be inconspicuous against foliage.
A Green Shieldbug was still in its brown winter colours.
Byfield, Northants, 5 February, 2020



With a Winter Gnat, a mirid bug and a tiny beetle yet to be properly identified I was well pleased with my morning's efforts - but by heck it was cold!

A group of Iris reticulata which I believe to be the form known as
'Eye Catcher' aroused feelings of envy when I spotted it in a Byfield garden.
5 February, 2020



Thursday, 30 January 2020

More mines

My recent blogs have all included a whinge about January and the paucity of wildlife. But of course, if conditions are mild - as they currently are - there are things to be seen. Nothing dramatic but nevertheless of interest, if tiny creepy-crawlies turn you on.


A stroll around Stefen Hill Pocket Park, camera in hand, was not particularly exciting but there were two or three surprises.


Plants of Wood Avens, aka Herb Bennet, Geum urbanum, bore the mines of the Golden Pigmy Moth, Stigmella aurella. In a way this was a disappointment because I had recorded this very common species only yesterday, in Byfield. There it was on bramble, but of course Geum and brambles are fairly closely related, both being in the Rose Family, Rosaceae.  Incidentally Herb Bennet is a corruption of the words Herba Benedicta, or the Blessed Herb.


Herb Bennet bearing a mine of the Golden Pigmy Moth. Stefen Hill
Pocket Park. 30 January, 2020
On the same plant, just a few inches away, a gall was present. It was caused by a mite, Cecidophyes nudus. Now I am forced to admit that, compared with the animals to be seen on the plains of Serengeti, it was not wildly exciting. But it was a new record for the pocket park so I was content.



The gall of  a mite, Cecidophyes nudus, on Herb Bennet. Srefen Hill
Pocket Park. 30 January,2020

Leyland Cypress, x Cuprocyparis leylandii, is notorious for provoking quarrels between neighbours, and it is generally pretty useless for wildlife, but it did have a surprise for me today. A dicoloured shoot looked suspicious so I took it home for closer inspection and found that a moth larva was present. It was a Triple-barred Argent Moth, Argyresthia trifasciata. This tiny but rather attractive moth was not recorded in Britain until 1982, when a specimen was taken in London but is now quite common in gardens. Of course it was new to the pocket park.


The much-maligned Leyland Cypress nevertheless provided a home
for a Juniper Ermine Moth, causing discoloured tips to the
branches. Stefen Hill Pocket Park, 30 January, 2020
I found little else to set my heart a-flutter. Yes, the Firethorn Leaf Miner, Phyllonorycter leucographella had left evidence of its presence on its eponymous host, but it is another extremely common micro-moth of no great significance.

Damage caused by the larva of the Firethorn Leaf Miner.
Stefen Hill Pocket Park, 30 January, 2020
I had a little surprise as I left the park. A salt-grit box stands at the entrance and I paused, not because I was enchanted by its beauty but because these boxes are often home to interesting spiders (no, I don't know why).

It may be a grit box to you...
I lifted the lid and found, not a spider but a Hawthorn Shieldbug, Acanthosoma haemorroidale. It is a very common species but to find one under these circumstances was a surprise.
...but it is a home for this Hawthorn Shieldbug. Stefen Hill
Pocket Park, 30 January, 2020




A pleasing way to end the day!






Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Mosses, mines and Male Ferns

I am not a person who generally suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Even in the darkest months of the year there is usually something in parks, gardens and hedgerows to pique the interest. But having said that this particularJanuary has dragged on summat rotten.


Today I revisited old haunts and took a stroll around Byfield Pocket Park. An adjacent patch of pasture is technically part of the park although of late it has become a dumping ground for piles of cleared vegetation. But an old willow tree stands in this area. As an example of its species it is unremarkable, but it has developed some interesting features. Obvious are the luxurious patches of moss around the base of the trunk, making it a picturesque sight.


A moss-covered tree trunk is an attractive feature. Byfield
Pocket Park, 29 January, 2020
From a distance I took a guess that it could be Common Feather Moss, Eurhynchium praelongum. Certainly a tree trunk is a very typical site for this common species. I took a sample and quickly realised I was quite wrong and a closer inspection showed that it was Hypnum andoi.

It proved to be Hypnum andoi, and formed a lovely cushion.


This very common moss is known as Mamillate Plait-moss and its preferred habitat is indeed on wood.


Elsewhere bramble leaves had been mined by the Golden Pigmy Moth, Stigmella aurella. This is by far the most frequently encountered species within an aggregate of very similar species.


Stigmella aurella is an exceedingly common sight on bramble leaves.
Byfield Pocket Park, 29 January, 2020
Specimens of the Male Fern, Dryopteris filis-mas, are common in the wooded areas of the pocket park and I examined them closely (and without luck) for galls and leaf mines.

The Male Fern is a common species in Byfield Pocket park.
29 January, 2020
This fern is identified by the sori (reproductive organs) on the back of the fronds which are generally in clusters of about four to six. (Incidentally there is a species known as the Lady Fern, Athyrium filis-femina which is not quite as common in the county)

Sori on the back of Male Fern fronds.
I have had more exciting and productive visits to the site but I was cheered by noticing, just as I was leaving, that clumps of daffodils are close to flowering. They aren't great for attracting wildlife but they were good to see.

The daffodils are close to flowering! Byfield Pocket Park.
29 January, 2020
Spring is on the way!


Monday, 27 January 2020

Return to Delapre Abbey

Chris had a meeting in Northampton today so I travelled with her and resolved to pay a visit to Delapre Abbey.


I didn't need telling that a visit in late January was likely to be rather fruitless but I decided to give it a go regardless. In the event I had a mild surprise before I even reached my destination.


Travelling down the London Road towards the town I passed a line of fastigiate trees which, from a distance I took to be Lombardy poplars, but as I drove by I saw that oak-like leaves were clinging to the lower branches. I pulled over for a closer look.


A row of fastigiate oaks lines London Road, Northampton
Sure enough, the trees - about ten in all - bore typical oak leaves and I believe they were specimens of Quercus robur 'Fastigiata'. I have never regarded Northampton as a very imaginative local authority but I confess I was impressed for, although I know they are occasionally employed as street trees elsewhere, it was a surprise to find them in Northampton. Its neglected roads may make it a contender for the title of pot-hole champion of Britain but they've got something right.

The fairly typical oak foliage was, against the odds, clinging to the lower
branches. I assume the trees to be Quercus robur 'Fastigiata'
 27 January, 2020
Anyway, on to the abbey. It has, in recent years, received extensive restoration work but I had no intention of going inside whilst the sun was shining. (Incidentally Northampton once had another abbey, rather unimaginatively known as Northampton Abbey, and its remains are now buried beneath housing at Abbots Way.) Delapre Abbey as it stands incorporates some remains of a former monastery, the Abbey of St Mary de la Pre.

Delapre Abbey.The buildings, once sadly dilapidated, have been greatly
smartened up. 27 January, 2020

Anyway, enough of history, I was intent in looking at the walled garden to the rear of the buildings. The scene was one of desolation. I suspect the upkeep of the grounds relies to a considerable extent on voluntary labour so it is unfair to be over-critical but the area had a very uncared-for look. Not a single plant was named and the glasshouses (former orangeries?) were full of little more than rubbish.

A few Bergenias bloomed near the front entrance to the garden. Now the saxifrage family, to which the genus belongs, contains some lovely plants and I cultivate some, including Saxifraga oppositifolia, but I can find little to enthuse about regarding Bergenias. Their principal merit seems to be hardiness - they hail from Siberia.

The rose-pink flowers of Bergenia cordifolia are quite attractive...
Individually the flowers are rather attractive but the foliage, which gives the plants the common name of Elephants' Ears, is to my eyes ugly in the extreme.


… but the ugly foliage detracts from any beauty the plant holds.
Delapre Abbey, 27 January, 2020


Outside the walled garden the ground was very wet. clumps of bedraggled snowdrops scarcely lifted the spirits and a few hellebores, Helleborus argutifolius (otherwise known as H. corsicus), hardly added colour to the scene. Added to this was the disappearance of the sun. Grey day!

Helleborus argutifolius, sometime called the Holly-leaved Hellebore, is
hardly a colourful plant. Delapre Abbey grounds, Northampton.
27 January, 2020
It is sad that one of the richest countries in the world cannot find the wherewithal to provide proper funding for not just these building but the surrounds. Incidentally these buildings are set in parkland containing some fine trees. A huge Tulip Tree, Liriodendron tulipifera, draws many people to it when in flower and even in the depths of winter it is arresting.



This Tulip Tree has developed into a huge specimen and may be a couple
of centuries old. Delapre Abbey grounds. 27 January, 2020


If I sound depressed then I have given the wrong impression and walking round this mighty tree lifted my spirits. I was not at all surprised by what I found and departed, off to pick up Chris, in a bright frame of mind.

Friday, 24 January 2020

Careless!

A few days ago - 8 January to be precise - I mentioned in my blog that I found some woodlice under a stone in Byfield Pocket Park.


Any road, a couple of days ago I visited the aforementioned pocket park with a clump of Scots Pine as my target. My plan was a simple one: I intended to gather a few pine cones from beneath the trees and split them open in search of true bugs (Hemiptera) and, with a bit of luck, a false-scorpion.


A clump of Scots Pine stands at one entrance to Byfield Pocket Park.
22 January, 2020
In the event I found neither. All that emerged from the de-scaled cones were a couple of springtails and some very young woodlice. I was disappointed. Making a mental note of the fact that the woodlice were all specimens of the very common Philoscia muscorum I gathered up the debris and scattered it beneath the Garrya at the end of our back garden.

When, I wondered, had I first recorded this woodlouse - known as the Fast Woodlouse - from the pocket park? I checked my records and was surprised to find that I had never recorded any woodlice from Byfield Pocket Park!

With this in mind I re-examined a photograph I had taken on 8 January. Sure enough. It clearly showed Porcellio scaber and Oniscus asellus. So, along with the Philoscia muscorum I was able to add these three crustaceans (woodlice are related to crabs and prawns) to the list for the site. To have failed to record these creatures was very careless. But the site total, even with these additions, is still only a paltry 190. A phrase vividly  remembered from my school reports comes to mind: Tony must try harder!
Oniscus asellus, with pale edges to their rather shiny carapace, surround
 a few darker grey Porcellio scaber.  Byfield Pocket Park,  8 January, 2020
Incidentally, mention of the Garrya - Garrya elliptica to be precise - reminded me that the catkins on this shrub have now reached their maximum length. Out of interest I took a specimen catkin and measured it with my Mickey Mouse ruler: 250 millimetres. Size matters!
The catkins on our Garrya elliptica have now attained a length of
250 millimetres. 24 January, 2020








Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Spurge-laurel again

Virtually every Wednesday finds me in Byfield, but recently I seem to have exhausted the few opportunities it has to offer regarding January wildlife. I decided to visit the extreme north-east of the village, by journeying to The Causeway. Its name may be a corruption of 'Cow's Way' but I cannot confirm this.


I was surprised to find a number of plants in flower or with well-developed flower buds.
The most obvious of these was Winter Jasmine, Jasminum nudiflorum. Being a winter flowering shrub it probably attracts few, if any, insects; certainly I have never seen it receive visitors.



At a time of the year when there is not much colour about Winter Jasmine
is very welcome.  Byfield, 22 January, 2020
Unsurprisingly it appears to produce no fruit and I know of no records of it escaping into the wild. I suppose we take it for granted but it is a lovely thing and it received the coveted A.G.M. (Award of Gardening Merit) in 1923.


Nearby grew Stinking Hellebore, Helleborus foetidus. It was close to flowering and its green, claret-edged tepals* will soon become apparent.
Stinking Hellebore. Not foul-smelling but merely a bit...odd.
Byfield, 22 January, 2020

An alternative name for the plant is Setterwort but I have never heard the name used and it appears to have a north country origin.

The plant I had really come to see was Spurge-laurel, Daphne laureola. I had found it in the area some seven or eight years ago. Would it still be present? In fact I quickly found two robust plants threading their way through hedges in adjacent gardens.

Spurge laurel has evergreen, laurel-like leaves. Byfield, Northants.
22 January, 2010
The flowers of this shrub are hardly colourful, being of a yellow-green shade, and it relies upon its fragrance to attract early-flying moths and bees. I stuck my nose close to the blooms and detected a faint but pleasing scent, one which would be far more obvious to the insects it was courting.

The flowers are not striking but are neat and fragrant. They are followed by
poisonous black berries.

Its status around Byfield is problematic. It is native to those parts of Northamptonshire where lime is present in the soil, but that is not what we have around Byfield. Nor is it a plant which would be carefully propagated and passed from gardener to gardener. I suspect it is a rather uncommon wild plant in western Northants but with bird-sown plants (the juicy black berries seem attractive to birds) sustaining a robust local population. It is also present here and there in Daventry. Overseas it ranges across Europe to the Azores and has been introduced to North America where, in Washington state, it has become a noxious weed.


All-in-all I was pleased with the morning's findings and I may return to examine the spurge-laurel for Dasineura daphnes, a rare fly which causes distortion of the shoot-tips.



* Tepal. A term used when it is unclear whether the organ in question is a petal or a sepal.