Saturday, September 04, 2021

Diary July and August 2021

 The cold wet summer has resulted in overmuch green growth and M3 is dark and shady.  I let in a little more light around Lammas (1st August) by pruning some of the more vigorous shoots on the cordons (hornbeam, ash, birch and oak).  However, many of the usual plants have flowered including greater bird's-foot-trefoil, knapweed and hedge woundwort.  The latter I noticed looks as though it has a spike of flowers but this is an illusion caused by coloured bracts, buds or faded blooms with only two or three flowers out at any one time.

Ivy has enjoyed the cool, wet conditions and by the end of August had doubled its height up the birch trunk and has reached up some 3 metres.

Invertebrates have been disappointing and numbers are down almost everywhere.  One high light though was a silver-washed fritillary which glided imperiously round the area for two or three days in early August>

Another new record for the Green Sanctuary was the het bug Apolygus lucorum exploring the bramble cube.

I spent much time during this period trying to photograph the various dolichopodid flies with their glittering green integument.  Sometimes there were several of the tiny Medetera spp. leaf-walking (its size can be judged by comparison with the birch seed to the right of it).  These were difficult to photograph but the larger insect (which I have not tried to name) produced a better result.  I have given up catching and trying to identify small insects.

The area was also visited by the bumblebee hoverfly (Volucella bombylans).  See below.

And quite a few plants of goosegrass had their leaves rolled by the gall mite Cecidophyes rouhollahi.

This year I noticed several birds lying on warm surfaces and fluffing out their wings, maybe after a water bath or dust bath.  Below is a robin doing this on a bench I use to contemplate the Square Metre.

Such close attention often enables me to find things a would normally overlook.  For example, below is a cherry stone I spotted on 10 July, brought, I would guess by a passing bird.  The probably source is some wild cherries trees further down the garden.  I doubt whether it will get much further: mice and voles are masters at gnawing through to get at the kernel - a tasty treat.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Diary June 2021

The month started very warm and sunny and the western end of Brambly Hedge started to burgeon.  The area is roughly a 1 metre cube and is another good example of a very small nature reserve looking rather like a green igloo with various leaves and flowers poking out of the tope.  Brambles provide the basic structure and support and some of  the other plants that flourish in the sheltered area are tufted vetch, narrow-leaved vetch, goosegrass, black bryony and red campion.

On 8th June I managed to photograph a gout fly, Chlorops pumilicornis.  The larvae of these tiny flies live in the shoots and stems of various grasses and cereals causing them to swell, hence the name 'gout fly'.  This is the first example I have come across in our garden, so I think most of the grasses are safe. 

The weather was now turning quite hot and grasses such as rough meadow grass, Poa trivialis, are in anthesis (flowering).  The white powdery oak mildew, Erysiphe alphitoides,  has started to appear on oak leaves, as it always does at this time of year, and later in the month I spotted that remarkable gall known as a bedeguar or robin's pincushion on what I think is a field rose, Rosa arvensis, growing in the penumbra of M3.  The galls are made by a small wasp, Diplolepis rosae, but this is usually outnumbered by inquilines who get a free ride in a gall they haven't made.

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.

The Cotoneaster frigida, which flowered and fruited well last year has produced only a few small flowers this year, but is growing well.  One of the flowers (below) is very swollen and I think it might be infected by mites or some such.

The weather turned cold and wet from mid June and mud returned to local woodland paths.  Invertebrate activity was reduced and this must have had a damaging effect on nestling birds.  Anyway, here are some of the insects I saw in, or very close, to M3 in mid to late June.

A male horsefly in Brambly Hedge looking at me head on as a potential blood meal.  I haven't been bitten so far this summer.

The solitary bog hoverfly (Sericomyia silentis) above turned up on Brambly Hedge on 24th June.  This is a large, impressive species and The National Biodiversity Network (NBN) says it is "normally encountered in small numbers in mountain regions and moorland and bog locations." but I usually see it here once or twice a year.  It breeds in peaty ditches and small pools and is mainly recorded from Wales and western Scotland.  The nearest suitable breeding areas here are 2 or 3 km away in Brede High Woods.

Spiders are far lerss common than they used to be in the early years of the project..  These Pardosa  spiders used to scurry about everywhere but I have only seen this one eample (carrying her egg case) this year, probably because the site is more shady than it used to be.

The Phaonia pallida above is, on account of its colour, a very distinctive memmber of the large Phaonia genus of muscid flies.  It is not infrequent in M3.  The predatory larvae are associated with woodland fungi and rotten wood.  

The female tiger cranefly (Nephrotoma quadrifaria) above is the first cranefly I have seen in the project area this year.  It was resting in Brambly Hedge West.  This is a widespread and common species whose larvae live in soil.

On the botanical front I continue to examine the stigmas in the flowers of the weedier willow herbs as an aid to determination.  Below is a good example of the flower of broad-leaved willowherb, Epilobium montanum showing the 4-lobed stigma (and its shadow) in the centre of the flower.  M3 also has several plants of American willowherb, E. ciliatum, with club shaped stigmas and I am always conscious that these and other willowherbs are notorious hybridisers.

At the end of the month I noticed some leaves in the area between the Square Metre and Medlar Wood and am pretty certain they are a baby field maple (Acer compestre) a native tree common in our local woods but of which we have no seeding examples in our garden.

This puts the M3 tree list up to 13 species, all self-sown: birch, oak, wild service, goat willow, holly, hornbeam, ash, hazel, hawthorn, field maple, wild privet, yew and sycamore.

If you were wondering about that roundish object towards the bottom right-hand corner of the picture, it is a hanging seed of common sorrel (Rumex acetosa).


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 bennett (Geum urbanum)

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

Comma (Polygonia c-album)

A shrew

Marmalade fly (Episyrphus balteatus)

Red admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

Meadow brown (Maniola jurtina)

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.