Saturday, April 21, 2018

April reflections

We are having an April heatwave: plants are growing fast, the ground is drying.  A white butterfly, probably a small white, flew round and over M3 before disappearing into the trees.  Two white flowers are out on herb robert and there are several hairy bittercress plants in bloom (below).


The wood dock at the eastern end of Mice&Red (see below) has enlarged very quickly.  It is as good as a Hosta.



There was a visit from a comma butterfly.  It fluttered carefully between various leaves, seemingly testing them to see if they were nettles and suitable for egg laying and the subsequent sustenance of her caterpillars.

The sorrel plants (Rumex acetosa) have flowering stalks surging upwards.  The tops look like red and green hard roes.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A new log seat

With the help of our granddaughter, I stacked a couple of large rounds of wood to make a place where I could sit and contemplate The Square Metre.  The lower log is an old round of sweet chestnut and the upper is from the incense cedar that blew down last year.  It has acquired a bloom of green algae in its top and I vaguely wondered how I might identify this (our native trees do not seem to develop algal blooms like this). Note also the dandelions flowering on Troy Track in front of the logs.  They appear to prefer to grow on trodden ground.


The birch tree in M3 is full of catkins, but you have to look upwards to see them well.



Saturday, April 14, 2018

Flies, ferns and trees

Now spring is advancing rapidly there is a large variety of bees and flies sunning themselves on the trunk of the birch tree.  For example, the hoverfly below.


Over the last few days there have been several male sallow catkins (Salix caprea) on the ground in or near M3.  They must have come from the large example some twenty metres to the south which has flowered well this year and I suppose they must have been blown across, though I do not recall seeing this before.  They may be just fallen flowers but there is enough left in them to support and protect the sallow fly larvae (Egle spp.) that live inside them: a good example of a symbiosis where both species benefit and no harm is done.


In Planet Terracotta a leaf of the wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa) has appeared as it usually does.  It has now survived in this rather hostile environment for ten years, but shows no sign of flowering or spreading.


In contrast to the wood anemone, the broad buckler-fern (Dryopteris dilatata) continues to enlarge and now has seven fronds. They grow very rapidly once they start, but I wonder why they don't all develop at the same rate.  It has an Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society and is a very common wild plant in our area.


Another fast developer is the sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus).  This year at least six seedlings have appeared, more than at any time before.  As seedlings the species is very attractive but, if left, I fear they would come to dominate the whole of M3.  Considered by most to be an introduction, there are relatively few insects that eat the leaves and, with its fast growth, it can quickly become a dominant or the only species where it flourishes.  As I said when I found a sycamore seed in M3 last autumn, I do not know the source of this species as there are no trees nearby that I know of that are large enough to bear fruit.






Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Bee time

A mild and sunny day and the insects are starting to reappear.  At about midday there were two queens of the tree bumble bee Bombus hypnorum flying about and scrabbling on the ground as though looking for somewhere to nest (though this is normally an aerial nesting species)  It has been expanding rapidly in Britain since its first record in 2002 and is common in our garden.  It is readily identifiable from its brown-haired thorax and white-haired tail.


On a sunny day the trunk of the birch tree in M3 is a magnet for flying insects.  Today I noted many sallow catkin flies (Aegle spp.) and two mining bees: the small sallow (Andrena and Clark's (A. clarkella).  The Aegle spp. (see below) are always common here when the sallows are in flower as the larvae live in the fallen catkins.


The Clark's mining bees have a nesting aggregation on the root plate of a windthrown chestnut just beyond the end of the garden which is probably where this male came from.  Both mining bees are very fond of visiting the catkins of sallow trees and there is a very large example of Salix caprea just coming into flower a few metres south of M3. The picture below is of a male Clark's mining bee: the small sallow bee was too quick for me.


Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Morning snow

The weather has turned bitterly cold with a huge anticyclone (known as the Beast from the East) heading in across mainland Europe from Siberia.

There was an appreciable amount of snow this morning and I ventured out to see what it had done to the Square Metre.  Interestingly, unlike the rest of the garden, it was almost snow free, I think because it lies on the southern side of a hedge and can catch any sunlight that is going.  This gives it an appreciably warmer microclimate that elsewhere in the neighbourhood.  Note that the area beyond the hedge and on its north side has an unbroken snowfield.


It is in weather like this that the self sown holly just to the right of the birch tree comes into its own.




Friday, February 02, 2018

Return of the thrush?

The broken shell below is of a brown-lipped snail, Cepaea nemoralis.  It is resting on the Lyon Stone on the western side of M3 and it looks very much as though it was battered open by a thrush using the stone as an anvil.  In 2004 a thrush was very active in the area using a different piece of stone as an anvil but they do not seem to have been common in recent years.


I have written about the stone elsewhere.  It came from the river Lyon in Glen Lyon, Scotland and was given to me for no obvious reason and without explanation by an acquaintance who had just returned therefrom.  There is all sorts of magic and mystery about these stones and I rather treasure it.  Much about the stones of Glen Lyon here http://philipcoppens.com/glenlyon.html





Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Where did it come from?


I found this old sycamore key today lying like some strange deep sea fish on Troy Track on the eastern side of M3.  Winter had shredded the blade of the samara revealing the sinews that hold it all together with the muscular, batswing fingers stretching from the seed casing.  This casing is slightly chewed as though some creature was, unsuccessfully, after the seed.

There is no fruiting sycamore tree near M3 though two or three seedlings have appeared over the years, so I wondered how far it had samaraed through the air before coming to rest.  Despite careful scrutiny I could find no microfungi on it so I have put it in a small plastic box with damp paper to see if anything will incubate.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A first spring development

I look at M3 practically every day now to seen any signs of spring ahead.  There seems to be very little, but in the last week or so these leaves of cuckoopint (Arum maculatum) have emerged by the old yew log in the penumbra area.


The leaves are beautifully fresh and green and, in this example, patterned with purple black spots (hence the specific name maculatum, I suppose).  These spots only occur on some of the plants and I have read that they are caused by a fungus Melanustilospora ari.  

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Ash bark lichens, changing winds

The start of 2018 has been depressingly grey and wet so I was pleased to find something to attract my attention.  The smooth grey bark of the ash tree has quite a few scarcely visible, circular patches of lichen.  I think the species might be Opegrapha atra though this is very close to O. herbarum and some other species.  Getting an accurate determination will need microscope work I think.


On a rather larger level there have been further changes to the area surrounding M3 inasmuch a large whitebeam that has grown some 20 metres west of the project has blown down.  The reason is, I suspect, that many oaks were removed in the autumn from a garden to the north and this has allowed winds from the north to topple the whitebeam.  With the incense cedar to the south this will make a considerable change to the pattern of wind circulation in and around M3, though I doubt whether I shall be able to disentangle the effects of this from changes brought about by increased light levels and other factors.