Tuesday, October 08, 2019

23 Aug - 30 Sept 2019

23 August 2019.         Quite hot so most of the invertebrates sitting it out in the shade.  I did a little grass cutting of the Conservation Lawn. Some of the hogweeds now have their characteristic heads of brown striped seeds.  The western dandelion does not look happy: its leaves are flat on the ground and look as though they have wilted.  Perhaps something is attacking the root.

24 August  2019         Gathering heat, so I made an early visit to Emthree.  Splendid two-spot ladybird, Adalia bipunctata, shining black with red spots, resting on an oak leaf.  A female scorpion fly struggled over the Conservation Meadow grass.  Everything else silent and still in the sunshine.  A black slug with yellowish orange undercarriage slid determinedly across Amazon Square.

25 August 2019           I fancied some unripe hogweed seeds were swollen and remaining green.  Possibly gall midges: more likely my imagination.  Very hot max 27.5° in the shade.

26 August 2019          Even hotter: 29.7° max in the shade.  Terrific glare from the open areas of Emthree.  Younger leaves on the large ragwort wilting in the heat.  I found a knapweed seedling to the east of Amazon Square and a tiny cotoneaster on the edge of Medlar Wood. 

                                    Ginger brown carder bees are constant visitors to a knapweed flower in The Waste.  I have concluded that one of the rose species also in The Waste is another small-flowered sweetbriar Rosa micrantha though there are no scent-bearing hairs on the solitary hip (there are on the petiole and on the under surface of the leaves).  The prickles are quite small and the whole plant not very vigorous, so it is possibly a hybrid.

27 August 2019.        Very hot again.  Yesterday was 28.7° at the maximum.  A red admiral butterfly came and sat briefly on my shoulder.  I found an oak leaf covered in spangle galls, Neuroterus quercusbaccarum, in the lane and searched the oak cordon to see if Emthree had any.  There were none (or ‘was none’?) but I did find a currant gall on the underside of a leaf blade.  This appears to be a different form of N. quercusbaccarum.  When I looked for it the following day it had disappeared – fallen to the ground I thought.  I have put little stones that I find here and there on my walk to mark small plants I might overlook when cutting.

                                    I reflected on the mowers, strimmers and chain saws that I hear almost constantly when I am in Emthree.  If we had no tools, especially power tools, our houses would soon be in a forest of tall trees, our artificial landscape would disappear and the Wild Wood would return.

28 August 2019.         I have marked a seedling cotoneaster and a tiny seedling shoot of some other plant with stones from the lane.  The second seedling shoot looks unusual.  It has a straight black stem with no visible cotyledons and small dark green leaves.  I wondered if it might be a heather.  We shall see.

                                   There are three pieces of birch root about as thick as my forearm that, for some reason, have arched above the soil in the Second Meadow.  The best one is just in front of my seat.  A polished mahogany colour with whitish segment-like bands.  It could be part of a huge subterranean worm.  They are worth looking after as kind of natural Zen landscape elements in the area.  They also create small microclimates by providing shelter with, perhaps, slightly warmer, wetter and safer environments in their shelter for small plants and animals.

29 August 2019.         Pleasantly warm with some intermittent showers in the last 24 hours.  The carder bee makes visits the solitary knapweed flower with watch-setting accuracy. I wonder that there is any pollen or nectar left.

                                    I have now located five surfacing birch roots in the Second Meadow apparently haphazardly distributed and pointing in various directions.

30 August 2019.         A cool and rather quiet day. There are several blackberry juice stains on the rocks of Cynthia’s Ridge.  These are where birds have voided or excreted material still full of the purple juice.  The western dandelion has leaf miners in some of the central veins, which may be the cause of the rather sad overall appearance of the plant.  There are several species of Diptera that could be the culprits.

                                    I found another exposed birch root in the Second Meadow to the east of this dandelion, putting the number of surfaced roots in this area up to six.

31 August 2019.         The last day of meteorological summer and pleasantly warm and sunny.  Flies are returning the blackberry-stained stones on Cynthia’s Ridge. The leaf mines in the leaves of the western dandelion are longer and more obvious.  More leaves, green, brown and yellow have fallen onto the Second Meadow giving it a fin-de-saison feel.

1 September 2019.     Have cut the south western quartile of The Waste to ground level using a bread knife.  The soil surface, to which recent showers do not seem to have penetrated, is pale grey and bumpy where there have been worm casts and other small disturbances.  There are dead grass stems and blades of pallid fawn colour and some bright green leaves of bugle and self-heal getting ready for next spring.  Tomorrow, or soon, I will give the area a further trim.

2 September 2019.      Sunny after a cooler night than usual.  I cut the south west quartile of The Waste as close to the ground as I could with trimming shears.  This area now looks much like the original Square Metre when I started this project on 15 September 2003.  I put a small piece of pure white gypsum rock by the self-heal in front of my viewing seat.  A lesser hornet hoverfly, Volucella inanis, nectared briefly on the last umbel of hogweed flower and nearby I found a rust fungus on an undeveloped flowering shoot of marsh bird’s-foot trefoil.  The larvae of the hoverfly develop in wasps’ and hornets’ nests and neither of these two insects has been very common this year, so it is good to see V. inanis, which breeds in wasps' nests, is still about.

3 September 2019.     This morning I found a forest bug, Pentatoma rufipes, nestling in the leaves of the hornbeam cordon.  The tiny plant in the Dust Bowl now it has developed further looks like a vetch seedling.  A male hoverfly Myathropa florea (sometimes known as the false dronefly or the dead head hoverfly) kept coming and going to the umbel of hogweed flowers.  This made me wonder why it made these trips as, unlike bees, it has no hive or nest to supply with pollen and nectar.  Perhaps it was going to search for a mate.

                                    The new meadow cut in The Waste looks like my first action in setting up the Square Metre Project on 15th September 2003.

4 September 2019.      Rain his morning but it has scarcely wetted the soil in Emthree.  I visited quite late in the afternoon when the shadows were lengthening across the bumpy ground of the New Quartile.  It made me think of the beautiful last line of Virgil’s first eclogue: maioresque cadunt altis de montibus umbrae (and longer shadows fall from the mountain heights).

                                    There are some mosses growing on the worm casts in the New Quartile – maybe I should have a shot at naming them.

                                    I have accidentally scraped a patch of the very thin bark from one of my exposed birch roots and was surprised to see that the cambium layer beneath is a clear olive green.

5 September 2019.     Cool and sunny with a northerly wind.  The rust fungus, Puccinia hieracii, on the eastern dandelion is now having a debilitating effect on the plant.  Some small hoverflies and a muscid explored the last hogweed umbel, but there were few other insects about.  A blackcap was chipping away in the medlar from which another fruit had fallen to land beside Second Meadow pond.

                                    The cambium exposed yesterday on one of the surfaced birch roots had changed from olive green to a very similar brown to the exterior bark.  It had gone from being very noticeable to almost unnoticeable.


                                    A speckled wood butterfly settled on an oak leaf which had a whitewashed appearance where it had been infected by oak mildew, Erysiphe alphitoides. While watching a Rhingia rostrata (scarce snout-faced hoverfly) hide under a hazel leaf I noticed a very tortuous leaf mine probably of the least nut-tree pigmy, Stigmella microtheriella, once thought to be the smallest British moth.

6 September 2019.     Cool and mostly cloudy. The leaf mines in the western dandelion are spreading and terminally damaging some of the older leaves. There also seem to be a few speckles of the rust fungus that has infected the eastern dandelion.

7 September 2019.     Cool and cloudy again.  At 1pm it started to rain.  I found three small blister mines on the lower leaves of the cordon oak.  I think they are mines of the sawfly Profenusa pygmaea.

8 September 2019.     Sunny but still rather cool.  A red admiral did a brief fly round.  This butterfly has done well this year and our cloven gum box, Escallonia bifida, regularly has several visiting the flowers.  They are continually chased by hornets that never seem to catch them.

                                   The Second Meadow Pond was 2/3rds empty.  There are very few insects evident except various larger Calyptrates that forage about on the ground as well as occasionally visiting flowers or resting on foliage.

9 September 2019.     There is still a single, unopened flower on the American willow-herb at the end of Cynthia’s Ridge.  Today a black ant was exploring the higher stems and I think it must have found some aphids, probably the green willowherb aphid, Macrosiphum tinctum.  There were a ringed, purple and red spots caused by a microfungus on some leaves like the Great Red Spot on Jupiter.  

                                    A flower has appeared on the self-heal plant near the place my feet go when I am sitting on my seat and I marvelled at the colour and biodiversity of a distorted fallen oak leaf on Conservation Lawn, colours caused by maybe half a dozen species of microfungi growing on it.
                                    A little gathering of black hole (Melanostoma) hoverflies appeared suddenly on the last hogweed flowers, flowers that have lasted much longer than those on neighbouring plants in Emthree.  They do not, however seem to be setting seed.

10 September 2019.   Comma butterfly gliding and basking around the Green Sanctuary.  A second hip on the older small-flowered sweet-briar, Rosa micrantha, is turning red as it hangs suspended in the gloom of Medlar Wood.  I photographed the microfungus on the American willowherb.  Quite difficult as it is so low down.  Had my annual health check in the village surgery and came through with flying colours.

11 September 2019.   Cold, grey and windy with the occasional rain shower.  A medlar has fallen, or rolled into, the eastern dandelion.  It should provide a sort of fruity compost over time.  No insects today but the woodchip in the south west corner has been disturbed, so something must have walked through the area. 

                                   Two pigeons were coo-ing nearby.  The louder was, I think, the male.  He was replied to by a softer, gentler warble from the female who is sitting on a nest with two chicks in our Persian ironwood bush.  Very late for a bird’s nest, but pigeons are strange creatures.

12 September 2019.  A little warmer and cloudy.  A most beautiful leaf of a pure yellow has landed in the centre of the eastern dandelion.  I am not sure what tree it has come from but suspect it is an atypically-shaped birch leaf.  There has been a few slight showers and it is probably that this has revived the western dandelion from its rather sad flatness.

13 September 2019.    Getting warmer – a bit of an Indian summer.  Creeping buttercup, generally described as a pernicious weed, makes quite attractive patches of ground cover here and there in the Second Meadow.  The fret-sawed leaves lie very flat on the ground where they grow in poor soil and produce the occasional flower, though there are (is) none at the moment.

                                   One or more birds have been splashing about in Second Meadow Pond leaving tell tale feathers behind.  Today three quarters of the water was gone and one of the sandstone pebbles from the bottom had been removed and lay on the nearby grass.

                                   The sheared south west quartile of The Waste has started to sprout grass shoots although conditions are very dry.  A cut down knapweed has however produced a bold tuft of grey green leaves.  Insects remain very scarce.  Today only a few calyptrate flies were about.

14 September 2019.    A lazy warmth has arrived.  A Colletes bee and some small fry visited the late hogweed flowers.  The  ragwort was drooping in the heat.  Yesterday’s bright yellow leaf in the eastern dandelion has turned autumn brown and rolled itself up.

15 September 2019.   The heat continues to build in strength.  Many of the smaller plants and seedlings are wilting and will die if we have many more days of this heat.  Grass seedlings seem to cope with the heat better than most plants as do bugle and self-heal.

                                    Insects are very scarce again but a speckled wood butterfly appeared, I suspect from a roosting place, deep in the longer vegetation of The Waste.  It fluttered about for half a minute or so, rested on an oak leaf in the sunshine and made off down the garden.  I wondered what purpose it had in mind.

16 September 2019.   Warm and overcast.  Several blister mines have appeared on a leaf of the smaller birch. These later expanded and joined up as one large blotch.  They looked most like the sawfly Fenusa pumila which I previously recorded in July 2008. 

                                    A number of seedlings have crisped up to a point of no return in yesterday’s heat.  I noticed one, possibly a scarlet pimpernel, in the centre of the Dust Bowl, that looked dead whereas a similar one close to an overground birch root had survived, perhaps due to the root’s creation of a microclimate with slightly more moisture in the soil.

17 September 2019.    Gentle warmth but Emthree very quiet.  The berries on the black bryony on the iron pole are still green, but those in Brambly Hedge are bright red and ripe.  A drone fly preened itself on an ash leaf now slowly draining of chlorophyll to lime green.  Only wild rose leaves are turning colour properly to bright yellow.

18 September 2019.    Continuing warm sunshine after a colder night.  There are some very delicate grass seedlings in the Dust Bowl with purple bases to their leaves.  They seem to survive the lengthening drought well.  Insects remain scarce: today I saw only a black spider-hunting wasp and a flesh fly.

19 September 2019.   Warmish after a cold night.  I have not seen any crane-flies this autumn and usually they are abundant in Emthree, the garden and nearby fields. On 12 September 2005, for example, I wrote of Emthree “The common crane-fly Tipula paludosa is now abundant everywhere and I often see the females scrambling through the grass on egg-laying excursions.”

                                    A honeybee fossicked about on the last umbel of hogweed flowers and a speckled wood butterfly floated about in Medlar Wood.  Probably the same one I saw on 15 September.  The pond in Second Meadow was nearly empty and the drought continues to strike hard.  Today the St. John’s-wort by Cynthia’s Ridge was starting to shrivel.

20 September 2019.    A dry silence spreads over the ground with feelers of wind from time to time.  A very pretty hoverfly, Metasyrphus corollae, with lemon yellow inverted crescents down its body like some antique military uniform, fed briefly on the last hogweed umbel flowers.  The western dandelion has been half buried in woodchip scuffed from the nearby path.  The small blister mines on the birch leaf have not changed.  Maybe what is inside has stopped feeding and will fall with the leaf.

21 September 2019.    Autumn equinox.  Warm sunshine, but rain forecast.  It seems to be very hot direct sunshine that makes seedlings shrivel and other plants wilt.  Some are better than others at surviving the drought though.  Second Meadow pond was nearly empty and a speckled wood butterfly patrolled up and down along the edge of Medlar Wood.  The sunlight caught two more small-flowered sweet-briar hips that I had not noticed before high up in the medlar tree.

22 September 2019.   There was some small rain during the night, then a sunny break just after 11am.  I was surprised to see how positively some of the plants had responded to the weather change.  The small St. John’s wort, for example, had come back to life after looking on its way out.

23 September 2019.    Cool mix of sun, cloud and showers.  The earth is still very dry but grass is starting to grow again.  On arrival today I was given what sounded like an angry buzzing by a queen hornet as she flew out from somewhere at the rear of the Square Metre.  They are not usually aggressive creatures but this one sounded quite irritated.  A woodpigeon also decided to land at the back of Emthree and took off noisily as soon as it saw me.  Plants continue to respond well to the increasingly damp weather.

24 September 2019.    Heavy rain overnight and in the morning.  The ground now seems properly wetted.

25 September 2019.    Intermittent showers.  Mosses have perked up and other plants are continuing to enjoy the wet.

26 September 2019.    Still showery.  One of the gladdon pods has split to show a line of bright orange seeds.  A yellow fly, Phaonia pallida I think, fell into Second Meadow Pond and swam feebly round without seeming able to get out.  I lifted it from the water with a stick and it flew off apparently none the worse for wear.  More seedlings are now appearing.

27 September 2019.   Quite wild weather with wind, sun and showers.  Lemony-lime ash leaves are popular as sunbathing stations for a range of insects.  These included the noon fly, Mesembrina meridiana, the tapered drone fly, Eristalis pertinax, the scarce snout-faced hoverfly, Rhingia rostrata, Eudasyphora cyanella, red admiral butterflies and various other species.  On hazel leaves there was a gold belted hoverfly, Xylota segnis.

28 September 2019.    A windy, showery autumn day.  Sunlit leaves continued to attract several red admirals and other insects.  The dying yellow ash leaves are covered in brown speckles.

                                    There was a sort of circus of ant like sepsid flies around Second Meadow Pond and the nearby grass and leaves.  They walked rather than flew, characteristically waving their wings.  Occasionally they approached one another and touched heads but it was more like a kiss than a butt.  No doubt some sort of courtship ritual, very well-choreographed but with no specific outcome that I could see.  It appeared to be an isolated event and by 30th September they had gone..

29 September 2019.    Heavy rain.

30 September 2019.   An almost eerie autumn quietness with warm but clouded sun.  Grounded leaves are increasing now with every variety of colour (except blue).  There was a female crane fly, Tipula paludosa, that had spread herself delicately with extended legs on a hornbeam leaf.  This is the start of the autumn daddy-long-legs season.