Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Diary June 2021

 It remained hot on 15th June and in the middle of the day there was so little insect activity I was reminded of Silent Spring.  Maybe it was too hot, maybe it was something else.  At least bumblebees seem to be doing quite well this summer except we come across many crawling on the ground or on leaves that seem unusually disoriented, or just not very well.  One little highlight of the day was when I spotted a tiny creamy yellow globe on a grass blade in M3.  I thought it might be an insect's egg until another even smaller appeared and I could see through my close focus binoculars that they were very small mites.  The two faced up to each other then whirled round and round like dancers or duellists.  After a few seconds they both retreated to the underside of the leaf.  I reflected on how marvellous it was that such tiny creatures, perhaps 0.5 mm across were equipped with a nervous system capable of such complex behaviour.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

The Potato Square.

 As I remarked earlier I have marked out for study a square metre in the bare earth of the potato patch tended last year by Tana.  It is about 10 metres south of the original Square Metre and is already starting to green over  I will run it as a sort of subsidiary to the Green Sanctuary/Square Metre proper and add updates in this section of the blog.

Things only started to happen towards the end of May 2021.  Dandelions, creeping buttercup, herb robert and red campions started to flower, fallow deer came and grazed buttercup, sow thistle and red campion plants.  I found a somewhat less than lively caterpillar which turned out to be a fragment of carpet. Bonfire moss is fruiting abundantly on patches of bare earth.

Plant list

American willow-herb (Epilobium ciliatum)

Annual meadow grass (Poa annua)

Bonfire moss (Funaria hygrometrica)

Bramble (Rubus fruticosus agg.)

Creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens)

Creeping comfrey (Symphytum grandiflorum)

Dandelion (Taraxacum agg.)

Druce's crane's-bill (G. x oxonianum)

Goosegrass or cleavers (Galium aparine)

Herb-robert (Geranium robertianum

? Hoary willowherb (Epilobium parviflorum)

Marsh thistle (Cirsium palustre)

Nipplewort (Lapsana communis)

Potato (Solanum tuberosum)

Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea)

Red campion (Silene dioica)

Rough meadow grass (Poa trivialis)

Rough sow-thistle (Sonchus asper)

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica)

Sycamore (Acer pseudo-platanus)  Many seedlings

White clover (Trifolium repens)

Wood dock (Rumex sanguineus)

Yorkshire fog grass (Holcus lanatus)

Animal List

Fallow deer (Dama dama)

Rhingia rostrata (Diptera: Syrphidae)

Cantharis  ? cryptica/pallida

Saturday, May 01, 2021

Diary, May 2021


A bright May Day morning to start the month off, but it was still quite cold with an overnight temperature just proud of 2 degrees C.  Later there was some rain and for the first time in several weeks the leaves in The Green Sanctuary were sparkling with raindrops.  There were four dandelion flowers and a few new primocanes of blackberry are growing visibly in Brambly Hedge alongside a good showing of tufted vetch.

.Below is author overlooking the Square Metre on 3rd May.

Last year there was a cluster of  American willowherb (Epilobium ciliatum) at the southern end of Cynthia's Ridge.  The basal rosettes survived the winter but one plant has turned quite bright red and I fear it is mortally infected. However, its near neighbours on the left of the picture below seem unaffected.

On 4th May a red admiral butterfly was enjoying that part of the garden near the Square Metre, resting with wings open on any warm surface such as bare earth and logs.  However it is still too cold for most butterflies although, on 5th, I saw one holly blue.  It continued cold through 6th May with a northerly wind.  Things continue to grow though and, in the Brambly Hedge West the tufted vetch plants have reached one metre tall.  I noted that the first true leaves of sycamore seedlings vary through green to a variety of bronze shades.

On 7th May the red admiral was still in residence.  One of  the cleptoparasitic nomad bees, probably Nomada ruficornis, (see below) was prowling about as they often do at this time of year, looking for Andrena mining bee hosts.  A bee fly, Bombylius major, was also hovering about looking for Andrena bees' nests. 

On 8th May the rain started and was very welcome after April's drought, but it continued on and off for the rest of the month with the dry and the wet making conditions difficult for nesting birds and early flying insects..  I found a female Adela reamurella on a birch leaf and the birch itself has great curtains of male catkins that give the \Green Sanctuary and interesting top dressing when they fall.

By 9th May there was much new, fresh, bright foliage - the stones along Cynthia's Ridge have almost disappeared - and the birds were singing lustily, but there were few insects for them to eat.  The fluffy seeds of nearby sallow bushes kept floating through the air and I found a tiny spider on a bramble leaf which my old friend Andy Phillips identified from a photo as Zilla diodia.

I have bought a pair of long-handled shears which are useful for trimming brambles as well as for cutting grass (especially in awkward corners).  The weather is still cold for May and the only insect I saw over seral days was a nomad bee (Nomada sp.). 


The first red campion in the Square Metre came out on 10th May.  A few days later, with the weather still mixed and cold, various hoverflies started to appear including what I think is Rhingia rostrata, a rather scarce species that often appears in The Green Sanctuary in spring.

As the month wore on the rain continued to fall and the oak came out much later than the ash indicating, according to ancient custom, that we were in for a soak.  The new oak leaves also sported two different kinds of gall: round, cherry-like ones (Cynips quercusfolii) and green bumpy ones that distorted the new leaves (Andricus curvator).  On 19th May a few wrinkled ants (Myrmica ruginodis) appeared on leaves some way from the ground.

After this we had several periods of high rainfall and strong winds.  There were great pools of water in local woodlands and the ground was littered with young leaves and twigs.  I heard on one occasion that it was the wettest spring on record.  On 25th, however, a small white butterfly was flying around the Green Sanctuary area and I spotted a colony of greenfly on one of the new rose shoots (it had gone by the following day, predated no doubt), then from 26th it started to get warmer returning almost to the average temperature for the tome of year..  In the Square Metre sweet vernal-grass was nearly fully developed \and white herb robert flowers and the swaying spires of sorrel were a feature.

The beetle below is Cantharis decipiens 

On 29th May the first flowers on the medlar appeared above The Green Sanctuary and many dock bugs came out to sun themselves on the top of Brambly Hedge.  Later in the day Tana saw a young fox sitting in the GS.

After the rains and the warmth the western group of dandelions has grown quite vigorously with their leaves standing up at 45 to 50 degrees.  The last day of the month was hot, the warmest of the year.  At 1pm many plants were drooping from the heat, though there must be plenty of water in the ground.  There were few insects but it was good see the bee mimic hoverfly, Bombylius major make a fleeting visit.

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Dandelions and sorrel

The dandelion season has begun again with one flower opening on a plant in Troy Track (where they get fairly well-trodden).

I have been looking at the many sorrel plants in the Green Sanctuary and last year's plants seem to have broken up into small-leaved clumps.  It will be interesting to see how they develop.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Diary April 2021

 At the beginning of April, I found a yew seedling close to the original birch tree in the Square Metre.  This puts the count of self-sown tree species up to 12.

It turned very cold from about the 4 April, which slowed things down a bit.  However, the first dandelion, one in Troy Track, came into flower on 6 April.

There are dozens of sycamore seedling this year.  When they first come up they can easily be spotted by the green gold colour of the underneath of the cotyledons.  As these fold outwards the upper sides are the most visible surfaces and they are a plain green that merges with the nearby vegetation.

The unfurling leaves of the second year sycamore seedlings are things of wonder with their rich coppery colour and intricate folding.

It turned very cold on the night of the 6th/7th with frost.  Many of the early flowering and leafing plants in the neighbourhood were scunnered by this and looked brown and miserable.  The cold wind continued all day on 7th and one worries about the birds, especially the insectivorous ones, as little or nothing appears to be on the wing.  However, things started to warm up on 8 April and temperatures look like returning to normal next week.

The 8th was a warmer day with the temperature rising to about 15 degrees.  A bee fly, Bombylius major flew by and settled briefly on the dandelion flower on Troy track..  There was one green bottle, Eudasyphora cyanella and a solitary speckled wood butterfly, the year's first.

I spent some time looking at the crumbling framework of Brambly Hedge.  What happens is that the floricanes bear fruit and die but, in the case of Brambly Hedge, they are not being replaced with primocanes for next years flowers and fruit.  So this leaves a tangle of pale brown thorny dead stems, with a few remnant leaves from last year.  It is not very beautiful to look at, but creates a wonderful protective cage for vulnerable plants that grow within it.  I also noticed that many of the old green bramble leaves are pock marked by something.  On most leaves as well as the pock marks, all on the upper side, there are brown patches which might be vacated leaf mines.  I suspect a Coleophorid moth may be the culprit.

On 10 April the temperature went up a little and there was some rain, though not enough to have much effect on the ground.  Despite the rather wintry weather it has been quite dry for several weeks.  By 11th the cold had returned with overnight frost, but things kept growing.  Hazel, sycamore and hawthorn are leafing well in the Square Metre and not far away flowers are coming out with the leaves on the tall wild cherry.  On 12th it was even colder with a light overnight frost and brief snow showers in the morning.  Growth is now slower than in most springs in The Green Sanctuary and some of the more tender plants around the garden are being scorched by the chill.

The weather continued cold, but with sunny days.  Very few insects though so it must be hard for the birds.  On 15th a single male green longhorn moth (Adela reamurella) landed on the grass just outside the eastern boundary of the Square Metre (see below) but otherwise there were very few of the usual April bees and butterflies.  

On 16th, as an additional experiment, I marked out a second Square Metre in Tana's old potato plot about 10 metres south of the existing Square Metre.  Tana dug it over last spring and the set and harvested potatoes, so it has stood as freshly turned earth over winter.  On 17th I listed all the plants already established in it.  I could identify: wood dock, creeping buttercup, red campion, sycamore (many seedlings) goosegrass dandelion, stinging nettle and dwarf comfrey.  A fine selection of weeds.  I think there was also some meadow buttercup, sowthistle and several grasses.

The site is open and sunny and I intend to keep most of the vegetation relatively short so that I an run over the square with a sweep net from time to time. 

Also on 17th I noted a small, dark insect which might be a bee or a sawfly on a rose leaf in the Green Sanctuary.  It spent some time carefully exploring some of the newly expanded rose  leaves and I am fairly certain it was getting something sweet.  There is certainly a dearth of nectar for these early flying insects. 

Over the next few days the weather changed to bright, sunny days and cold nights, but it was still generally cold for the time of year.  Insect numbers increased a bit with bee flies and mining bees on the wing, but butterflies are very scarce or absent.  However, on 20th April a red tailed bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius) landed in Brambly Hedge and rested for long enough for me to get a quick photo. 

The following day, after several yoga-like contortions I managed to get a somewhat blurry picture of a feathered leaf-cutter moth (Incurvaria masculella) resting on a hawthorn leaf in the Square Metre (the foodplant of this species is hawthorn).

It is now getting worryingly dry and one or two friends have remarked that bluebells to not seem to be flowering in such abundance as usual.  The forecast indicates many more days without rain and often with cold drying winds.

The drought continued, with more cold, bright days through 21st to 25th of the month (and maybe beyond as I am writing this on 25th).  Dust whirls in the lane when traffic passes, lawns are looking thirsty.  In The Green Sanctuary, I have noted a small ragwort plant, a species I thought I might have lost, both the eastern and the western dandelions are flowering intermittently and the wild service tree is shooting up well.  On 22nd I spotted a green shield bug climbing up the wild onion plants (see below).  This must be about the most difficult means of ascent in the area, but maybe the insect had its reasons.

The 24th was designated Cherry Blossom Day by the National Trust and I made a small contribution by photographing one of the fallen petals of the wild cherry that had blown into the GS (see below).  A few butterflies were out too and I saw a male orange tip and a female brimstone.

The ivy on the birch trunk is now starting to grow quite rapidly.  The leading leaves are almost black and quite shiny so that they look like small beetles.  A little bee with a distinct blue sheen was visiting the dandelions.  It might be a male blue mining bee (Osmia caerulescens) but I would have to catch and kill one to decide and I am reluctant to do that.  On 26th April the bugle spikes along Cynthia's Ridge were at their best and a speckled wood butterfly enjoyed the chilly sunshine, resting on leaves and bare earth.

It continued cold to the end of the month, with a shower or two of light rain on 30th.  The weather people say that there has been a frost somewhere on every night of the month.  Round about the spring countryside continued to unfurl with the hooded spikes of cuckoo pint, flowers on stitchwort, yellow archangel, hedge parsley and, of course woodsfull of bluebells and thick swags of blossom on wild cherry trees. Butterflies have been scarce but I saw the first large white on 27th.  The following day there were muscid flies resting on every stone and other surfaces in the Green Sanctuary.  I see singletons of this group of flies almost every day, but the sudden increase suggests a local emergence.

As a fitting end to the month I photographed the flower on the solitary new bluebell in Medlar wood.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Bluebell,daffodil & bee

 On the first really pleasant day of the year (21 degrees), I sat for some time in the Green Sanctuary and, as has been the case on this date sometimes in the past, it seemed unusually quiet.  There were however brimstone butterflies and bee flies enjoying the sunshine.  I keep thinking the garass is not growing as vigorously as it should and there are large areas of 'meadow' in the garden and M3 that are covered in moss, although bulbous plants such as daffodils, bluebells and colchicums seem to be growing more strongly than usual.  I haven't seen an worm casts in M3 whereas 16 years ago they were a fairly obvious feature.

Under the medlar tree I have discovered a bluebell.  Quite a large size so it must have been there for a year or two and an interesting addition to the plant list as it is associated with ancient woodland.

The small sallow bees, Andrena praecox, are about again.  They only sit very briefly on the birch trunk, but I caught the one below on a Tenby daffodil just behind the place I sit to study M3.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Trees and flies

 The picture below is taken from where I usually sit looking across the Green Sanctuary towards the north east.  Within this picture which covers an area about a square meter in extent, and including part of the original Square Metre, the following tree species, 12 in all, are growing, self-sown by wind, birds or animals: birch, oak, wild service, goat willow, holly, hornbeam, ash, hazel, hawthorn, wild privet, yew and sycamore.  There are two species of wild rose, ivy, bramble and spindle that has suckered in from the side.  There is a planted hedge of box and Lawson's cypress at the rear.

It is difficult to see all these species in the picture and I keep most of them reasonably small so that they don't take over.  However, it does show how woodland can regenerate from open grassland if nature is left alone to do the job for herself.

The mature birch tree towards the left is now regularly shedding storm blown unopened male catkins.

The sallow flies, Egle spp., that breed in sallow catkins have emerged.  The one below is settled on a dead oak leaf speckled with a microfungus that will eventually help with its breakdown and return to the earth.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Cercospora leaf spot

Today I noticed that some leaves on the wild privet (Ligustrum vulgare) that grows, bird sown, in the north west corner of The Green Sanctuary had several leaves with brown ends.  The brown, dead part was differentiated from the rest of the leaf by a purplish semi circle and, on closer examination indoors, many spore-bearing pustules were seen on this band and across the rest of the underside of the leaf.

This is caused by cercospora leaf spot (Thedgonia ligustrina).  It is, I am sure, is quite common wherever privet grows in the British Isles, though it is rather seldom recorded. It does not appear to cause any great harm to the shrub apart from being, in gardeners' eyes, perhaps a little unsightly.  

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Another liverwort

I was scrutinising the top of Butterfly Rock today when I noticed a small green patch different from the surrounding mosses.  On closer inspection it was clearly a liverwort, lower plants closely related to mosses but with a number of rather variable distinguishing features.  Once one is familiar with a few species it is quite easy to distinguish them from mosses.

My liverwort looks like bifid crestwort (Lophocolea bidentata) a very common and widespread species that grows both on wood and rocks though I have not seen one in the Green Sanctuary for 17 years.  It is one of several strongly aromatic liverworts and I wonder what the purpose of evolving scent was.  There are various insecst that live in and on liverworts, but the plants would hardly want to attract those creatures that are inclined to eat them..

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Birch and bumble bees

In windy weather such as we have had today, I always enjoy watching the large birch tree in the Square Metre as it rocks backwards and forwards.  As well as sap drips, unopened catkins have landed all over the ground beneath and the twigs that come down too seem to be quite fragile, though the tree in general seems to be scarcely damaged.  Around the bottom of  the trunk the ground moves as the tree sways and it is a marvel that the roots can hold the whole overground tree upright.  I don't know the volume of the birch but it must be at least a cubic ton.  The ground doesn't sink as this, or any other, tree grows, so I take it that virtually all its substance comes from the atmosphere.  The picture below shows the base of the trunk.  Note the climbing ivy showing a preference for the rough, dark bark.

Despite the wind the bumble bees were still active though two of them sought shelter among low vegetation for ten minutes or so before off foraging again.  The picture below shows a buff-tailed queen well tucked into ivy and red campion leaves at the base of the birch.

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

The cherry log

Turning a little warmer with some nice sunshine on my back.  The large birch tree was dripping sap again and I noticed that some of the Muscid flies including the greenbottle Eudasyphora cyanella and a Phaonia  species were seeking out splashed leaves and feeding from them.  As well as liquid, the birch sap must contain a variety of nutrients so feeding on the splash marks makes good sense at a time when other food sources might be few.

I have put an old cherry log near Pork Pie Pond, a place where I can easily keep an eye on it from my bench.  This is partly to see if any fungi or invertebrates patronise it, but also because birds will perch on it.  If it works like Butterfly Rock their droppings may contain seeds that wash down to the base of the log to flourish in the well-fertilised soil there.  In windy weather caterpillars may be blown down from the large birch and climb up the log which they have mistaken for the birch trunk. Looking on top of fence posts near tall trees in windy weather often presents interesting larvae.

Today I was inspecting the log with my close focus binoculars when I spotted two tiny (about 1mm) cream coloured blobs on one of the cut ends.  They might be the droppings of some passing insect  In the photograph above apart from the blobs there are some tine white spots in a roughly rectangular shape lower down and towards the right.  These might be sporophores of a slime mould or just random motes from the wind.  Taking close up photographs of wild bits and pieces often reveals things like this not easily seen with the naked eye.

The western dandelion is now accompanied by at least two others that were seedlings last year.  They grew slowly during summer and autumn but have speeded up during the colder months and may flower this year.  However, on my visit on 11 March I discovered that abut half the leaves had been eaten, possibly by rabbits or deer.  I think they will recover.

Monday, March 08, 2021

Spring advances. News from the Rock

Still cold but signs of spring continue to appear.  On some of the seedling hawthorns there are buds breaking with bright green leaves.  There is a scatter of recently germinated seedlings on patches of bare earth.  Birds, particularly blackbirds, peck over the fallen leaves and today had managed to bury the eastern dandelion completely.  The eastern dandelion is having to compete with a young lords-and-ladies (Arum maculatum) which is, not surprisingly, larger than it was last year.  The birch tree continues to drip sap creating small splash sounds easily heard in these quiet days of Covid lockdown (though the children have gone back to school today, putting more traffic on the roads.

Butterfly Rock still continues to deliver interest.  The picture above shows that grass and sorrel is surviving among the moss on top of the rock while the pale green patch close to the centre is a lichen, possibly a Bacidia but I shall have to let it develop a bit.

Thursday, March 04, 2021

A cold March day

One of the things I enjoy least are cold spells in spring.  With the arrival of February some days of warmth happen.  Primroses, crocuses and daffodils flower, snowdrops are fading.  Then - bang! – the wind turns round to the north and a huge cloud-hung blanket of arctic air descends from the Polar Vortex or some other extreme weather circumstance at the top of the world.  Venturing forth in such conditions means the heaviest of clothes, fully drawn down hats and fingers frozen in the wind or from touching cold surfaces.  Precocious plants wilt, frost stricken and the black branches of winter trees rattle their twigs in the icy blast.  As one’s spirit sinks, the thought slinks into the brain that this might last for many weeks: March will go by, April get started and weather forecasts will still talk of late frosts and warn that “it is turning colder”. 

With these grey thoughts I walked down to The Square Metre in my slippers and gazed glumly at the winter flattened grass and leafless trees and shrubs with unbelief that the great summer resurgence is only a few weeks away.  But in my mind the chill was mitigated and the grey thoughts dimmed by the knowledge that the sunshine will come back with added strength, growth will resume and my spirits will return to a more acceptable place.

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

3 March 2021

Rather cold (9 degrees at midday) and with a thin mist everywhere.  I only made a quick visit to Emthree, but rediscovered the wild privet in Medlar Wood though it is well hidden in a tangle of tutsan and brambles.  The second privet is also doing well in the north east corner of the area but neither plant grows very quickly.

Looking back through past entries in early March, I noted that rabbits used to eat the pendulous sedge plant in Medlar Wood.  It does not seem to have suffered that fate this year, though it woulkd grow better if it had a little more light.