Monday, April 16, 2018

April lepidoptera

Butterflies and moths are becoming more frequent again as the weather gets warmer.  So far in the garden I have seen brimstones, peacocks and the comma (Polygonia c-album) below sunning itself on a flagstone.  I sometimes wonder quite how the aerodynamics work with the ragged-edged wings of this very capable flier.


On the moth front we were surprised to see on 11th April a small magpie (Anania hortulata) on our sitting room ceiling.  This normally emerges from June to August and such an early record possibly indicates that the caterpillar had found somewhere to pupate undisturbed indoors.  

The generic name Anania is a figure of speech known as a litotes (e.g. 'not bad') which, in this instance, could translated as 'not unattractive'.  However, the moth was originally placed in the genus Eurrhypara which means 'well greasy'.  The wings were said to have a greasy appearance, a feature which escapes me.


A very pretty Geometrid moth (see below) that normally flies in April and which I haven't seen for some time is the streamer (Anticlea derivata) appeared the other night on our lighted kitchen window.


This has caterpillars that feed on the leaves and flowers of wild roses, reminding of William Blake's poem The Sick Rose

O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

The scientific name is interesting.  Anticlea was the mother of Ulysses and she is said to have died of grief because her son was away too long at the Trojan War, though I fail to see why this relates to the moth. The specific name derivata means 'a diverted stream' and presumably refers to the fine black lines (the streamers) crossing the outer part of the forewings. 


Friday, April 06, 2018

Spring arrives

The weather has now turned warmer - up to 15 degrees C today.  Over the past week a wood mouse has been sharing some barley flakes put out for the birds.  Here it looks a bit on the wet side and seems to have the tip of its tail missing, but having survived the worst of the winter it might now have a chance.


In contrast to the damp mouse, today a comma butterfly sunned itself on the concrete path.  Almost the first butterfly of the year.


The early dog violets (Viola reichenbachiana) are starting to come out in various places in the garden and woods.  They flower earlier than common dog violets (V. riviniana) and are a somewhat redder shade of mauve which is distinctive when one is familiar with both species.  The flowers also have a dark spur at the rear rather than the paler one of the common dog violet.


The clay pit in Killingan Wood is very attractive just now with many patches of wood anemones but very few bluebells.  The hornbeams, which are the dominant trees in most of the wood and the oaks, maples and other species tend to grow on the clay sides of the pit whereas the central sections have mainly been colonised by ash.


In one out of the way corner I found a colony of about 25 early purple orchids (Orchis mascula), a species that seems to do particularly well in this wood.  I shall return when the flowers are out.




Tuesday, March 20, 2018

A common rough woodlouse

On emerging from our back door today after a second spell of cold and snow, the first thing that caught my eye was a woodlouse about a metre up on the wall.  Not exactly a sheltered position but one that perhaps gathers some heat from the kitchen behind.


Woodlice (or isopods) are interesting subjects of study for those who like invertebrates.  There is a manageable number - nearly 40 British natives or outdoor breeders (and a few more in greenhouses) -and, unlike many invertebrates they are around all the time and can often be found just as easily in summer as in winter.  They also have an interesting range of parasitoids and predators, do not sting or bite, cannot be classed as pests and are easy to collect and keep alive.  Identification is fairly straightforward with the AIDGAP guide A key to the Woodlice of Britain and Ireland by Stephen Hopkin and published by the Field Studies Council.  There is also a British Myriapod and Isopod Group which promotes the study of these and some other invertebrate groups: http://www.bmig.org.uk/

The woodlouse in the picture on our wall above is the common rough woodlouse, Porcellio scaber, a very common species in the British Isles.  The orange bases of the antennae in this example is a frequent feature of this species.



Thursday, March 15, 2018

A few spring flowers

Between bouts of cold the earliest spring flowers are starting to bloom.  There are a few anemones in the woods and the new growth of dog's mercury is a bright glossy green.  In a woodland garden near home I noticed one clump of daffodils.  They look like wild daffodils (Narcissus pseudo-narcissus) and do not appear to be part of any organized garden.  So far as I could see they are the only clump of daffodils in this area and they seem to have spread from one bulb.  If so I wonder how they got there.


It might be slightly too large for the true species, but the characteristic two-toned flowers have the wildlings slightly downward drooping habit.

Other minor pleasures include the first celandines and a dandelion in flower.




Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Snowball pink

The Beast from the East as the bitterly cold Siberian anticyclone has been dubbed brought heavy snow showers this morning.


Just outside our window were the skeletal remains of a Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria) with each grey brown shuttlecock of seed head delicately holding up a small ball of snow like a supplicant making an offering.  This pink has been surviving as a self sown annual in our garden for maybe 30 years and needs no looking after.  It often seeds itself into pots of other plants where it can be left as its slender shoots do not mask the main attraction.  Then, in summer, it produces a sequence of small dark pink flowers.


There is a fine appreciation of this modest native flower by Andy Byfield here: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/jun/21/deptford-pink-plantlife






Saturday, February 24, 2018

The lane in the cold

Along the lane they have been cutting the hedge by machine (permissible until 1st March).  The rather brutal results with shredded wood and white broken branches harmonises well with the bitterly cold wind from Siberia.  It reminds me of of Totes Meer, the painting by Paul Nash: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/nash-totes-meer-dead-sea-n05717


There are some very Gothic shapes among the battered bushes, especially where the hedge is thin, but I expect it will all fill out quite nicely.  The other day we had a visitor from Alberta in Canada and she asked why we had hedges round our fields instead of fences - that gave me an opportunity to hold forth on the English landscape and its conservation.


Despite the frigid weather and brutal hedging work, there were some signs of spring in the lane.  Patches of snowdrops, little 'tommies' (Crocus tommasinianus) escaping from our neighbour's garden and a few flowers on lesser periwinkle.






Thursday, February 01, 2018

Knapweed phyllaries

Yesterday I received my copy of the BSBI News from the Botanical Society of the British Isles.  It has been redesigned and has a new editor - Andrew Branson - and the results in my view are excellent, though I shall always have fond memories of reading and writing for the previous version under the editorship of Gwynn Ellis.

One article that interested me was "Ambiguity in recording Centaurea (knapweeds) taxa using MapMate".  This had coloured pictures of the phyllaries of what are considered to be the three British species (C. nigra var. nigra, C. nigra var. nemoralis and C. jacea) though it pointed out that hybrids were common.  ('Phyllaries' are the small leafy structures, or bracts, that surround the base of the flower/seed head.)

I immediately pulled on my boots and set off to my favorite patch of 'old' meadow where I found plenty of knapweed seed heads still perched on stiff, dead stems above the fallen grass.  These were plainly the nominate subspecies Centaurea nigra var. nigra.


A wonderful excuse to do some useful botanising in winter and to remind oneself on what to look forward to when summer returns.