Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Wealden wood

With its complement of fallen leaves lying on the moss and the various plants arrayed around within the window box, I noted that it now looks very much like a small rectangle of Wealden woodland floor.

This is not surprising as this is exactly what the area where the window box is situated would have been before the land was cleared by human activity.

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I feel quite pleased as it would be almost impossible, or very difficult to produce such an effect quickly and deliberately.

The photo was taken on 21 December 2008.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Target leaf-spot fungus on clover

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Some of the leaves of the white clover (Trifolium pratense) has developed target leaf-spot fungi, probably, I think, Stemphylium sarciniforme (there are many leaf spotting fungi found on clovers and they all look very similar unless studied under a high power microscope).

They are called 'target fungi' because they tend to make target-like concentric rings on the leaf.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Fourth year begins

Today the window box had its third birthday and now sets off into its fourth year.

20081104 Wbx

I took the picture above from the rear to avoid it looking exactly the same as the ones taken a couple of days ago.

I must repair that rim sometime - the consequence of journeys to Islay and London with TV crews.

At least the soil does not seem to be shrinking so much and I am thinking of ways of building it up with box-grown stick bundles and blown in fallen leaves.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

World's smallest coppice?

I have, as I do every year, cut back my three sallow trees (actually two grey sallow, Salix cinerea, and one goat willow, Salix caprea) now all the leaves have gone (mostly eaten by sawfly larvae).

The pictures below show the situation before and after the coppicing and sharp-eyed visitors may be able to see where some of the twigs top left have disappeared.

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20081027 Wbx  003

I took the cut off twigs and shaped them into a bundle.  I call these 'woodcharms' but I suppose the correct term is 'faggots', a word deriving from the same root as 'fascist' (from the bundles of rods, or fasces, carried by people in power and authority in ancient Rome). 

20081027 Wbx Salix woodcharm faggot

A faggot was, like mine, bound with two ties.  If only one tie had been used it would have been a bavin (I now feel moved to make a bavin so I can legitimately use this word).

My faggots are also a bit small.  A short faggot would have been 24 inches (61 cm) round and 32 inches (81.3 cm) long and a long faggot 24 inches round and 48 inches (121.9 cm) long.  I guess mine is a microfaggot.

I have put this microfaggot alongside the northern end of the window box and one of the cut sallow stools can be seen top right of the photo.  Hopefully this will help to rebuild the soil level which still continues to shrink and drop.  This year I will leave any fallen leaves that blow into the box, though I don't think these will help much.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The striped gold midget

Some dark blotches on several of the leaves of the Himalayan honeysuckle (Leycesteria formosa) have proved to be the upper side of the leaf mine of the striped gold midget (Phyllonorycter emberizaepenella).

20081018 P emberizaepenella 3

'Phyllonorycter' means 'leaf-digger' and 'emberizaepenella' 'bunting-winged' so the vernacular name should, perhaps be 'bunting- winged leaf-digger'. But there are some further complexities with this wonderfully Ciceronian scientific name: the second half of the specific name derives from Latin penna meaning a wing. This would give two n's in emberizaepenella and the fact that there is only one is said to be a typographical error. Unless a properly recorded earlier version of the specific name of this moth is found the misspelt version has to remain under the international rules of nomenclature.

The moth is said to widespread but very local and the larvae feed also on honeysuckles and snowberry. There are no records for the species in East Sussex in the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre's database. There is however a dot for East Sussex in The moths and butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland, so it must have been found. It is, however, listed by the Record Centre as occurring at Ebernoe Common, West Sussex.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

More Nematus pavidus sawfly larvae

A few weeks back a colony of Nematus pavidus sawfly larvae fed up on one of the sallow in Wbx.  Recently a new colony appeared, founded I suspect, by an adult of one of the earlier larvae.

Today I noticed that there were three ages: the small white worms and their left behind eggshells, some rather large larvae but still with some growing to do, and some really big ones almost ready to pupate.

20080921 Wbx Nematus pavidus 016

There was also a parasitic wasp (ichneumon or braconid) pottering about nearby and maybe looking for an opportunity to lay eggs in some of the sawfly larvae via that vicious-looking ovipositor.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A sawfly: Nematus pavidus

20080809 South View Nematus pavidus 1)

The baby sawfly larvae spotted recently on the goat willow (Salix caprea) have turned out to be Nematus pavidus, confirmed by John Grearson of Symphata: The Sawfly Forum (a very useful Internet discussion group for those interested in British sawflies).  The picture above shows two mature examples on the window box.

N. pavidus does not appear to be at all common.  There are no records on the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre's database and none for Sussex on the National Biodiversity Network.  Indeed there are only six 10km squares in Britain from which the species has been reported, including one that covers Lundy Island.

Although the caterpillars are very obvious, working out what they are was not easy and, as with many sawflies, the adults may not be much in evidence, so it is probably under-recorded rather than rare.

Whatever the case, they have turned many of the goat willow leaves into fretwork, though I am sure this will do no long term damage.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Hairy tare goes to seed

The hairy tare (Vicia hirsuta), now sprawling all over the window box, is running out of steam as it seeds ripen.  First the pods turn brown, then black, finally splitting to scatter the seeds all over the place.20080728 Wbx & Woodside map 008

20080728 Wbx & Woodside map 009 

The leaves in the background are one of the sallows that have nearly been overwhelmed by this wiry weed.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sawflies attack sallow

One leaf of one sallow plant has been turned to fretwork by a host of small sawfly larvae.

20080728 Wbx sawfly larvae 001

Although they feed quite openly during the daytime, they are easily overlooked, the bare leaf veins being the most noticeable thing.  Their habit of cocking their tails up in the air when alarmed is characteristic

They are too young to be certain of the species but I suspect it is Croesus septentrionalis.  I will be able to tell when they are larger.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Beetles, flies and rushes

Much action on the Windowbox today.  In the morning three common red soldier beetles (Rhagonycha fulva) were crawling about on the hairy tare, which is now like green wire-netting.

20080718 Wbx & South View 007

Several small flies rested, as they like to do, on the leaves of the largest sallow.  The one below is, I think a lance fly (Diptera: Lonchaeidae)

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There was also (below) a common flower bug, (Anthocoris nemorum) on a sallow leaf, a plant of which it is particularly fond as an aphid hunting ground (though there do not appear to be any aphids).

20080718 Wbx & South View 013

The soft-rush (Juncus effusus) is flowering now, though this year's stems are very weak and the flowers unusually pale.  For some reason this plant seems to be photographed by others mainly when the it has run to seed.  Maybe actual flowering is very brief.

20080718 Wbx & South View 026

Friday, July 11, 2008

A new hoverfly

A new hoverfly was settled on the sallow leaves on the window box the other day.  It had gone by the time I got the camera, but I re-found it on some nearby hogweed flowers.

20080705 Cheilosia illustrata 003

The larvae of this species live in the hogweed roots and it is generally quite common in the English countryside at this time of year.

The flowers on this particular hogweed plant are pale pink as opposed to the normal white.  This is because the backs of the petals are pink.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

More insects

Many insects rest on leaves in the window box.  Today in addition to the gold-green Chrysotus spp. (Diptera Dolichopodidae) that are around all summer, I found the wing-waving Sepsis fulgens, the lauxaniid fly Minettia longipennis and the neat gold moth, Micropterix aruncella.  There are only six Sussex records for this in the Biodiversity Record Centre's database, six of them from the garden here.  It is a pretty little thing as this picture shows.

I have now recorded over seventy spcies from Wbx.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Loxocera albiseta emerges

The other day I noticed some black and orange flies crawling about on foliage around and above the soft-rush plant in the window box.  They turned out to be Loxocera albiseta (Diptera: Psilidae), relatives of the carrot fly and whose larvae live in rushes.

I have never seen this species in our garden and we have very few rushes so I wondered if a female had laid some eggs when the Windowbox was up in Islay with Simon King during last year's Springwatch TV programme.

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The flies constantly wave their rather unusual antennae.  In the picture the long black third segment contrasts with the more slender white arista (hence the specific name 'albiseta') making it look as though the antennae are forked.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Hairy Tare (Vicia hirsuta)

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Today I identified the vetch, which is now flowering as hairy tare (Vicia hirsuta). Having remained a very small plant throughout the winter, it has grown rapidly over the last month and is now the largest plant in Wbx. Clearly it is finding ample nutrient. As far as I know it grows nowhere else in the garden and in the Square Metre the very similar smooth tare (Vicia tetrasperma) fills an equivalent ecological niche.  Hairy tare is flowering a week or two earlier than smooth tare and the latter is said to prefer damper conditions.

I wonder if the hairy tare is the same as the plant mentioned in the Bible’s New Testament. Matthew Chapter 13 says, for example: “tares are the children of the wicked one.” Devilish plants that strangle their neighbours. Certainly the Wbx tare has a fine capacity to overwhelm but, as an annual, it may only be a short term dominance.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Plantain arises

The spear-shaped, reddish leaves of greater plantain (Plantago major) have emerged from the soil again, having died down completely for the winter (an old flower stalk lies to the left). Though an annoying weed elsewhere, it is as welcome as a treasured alpine in the Windowbox and unlikely to become any kind of a nuisance. The white clover leaves are also starting to enlarge now, having been much smaller during the cold months.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

New leaves - tutsan and sallow

The tutsan plants (Hypericum androsaemum) start into leaf very early, sending up shoots surmounted by purple spear-shaped leaves. The older leaves remain on the plant and the whole is only halfway to being a proper shrub, a suffruticose perennial I suppose is the correct description. The sallow 'coppices' are also starting into leaf.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Goblin chestnut

Hard up against the sallow log a saw a boot-polish brown glint in a small hole. After careful probing I brought a shiny Spanish chestnut to light that must have been buried by a grey squirrel. Though maybe it was a goblin of the kind described in Goblin Market by Christina Rosetti:
One began to weave a crown
Of tendrils, leaves, and rough nuts brown
(Men sell not such in any town);

This large seed raises some interesting question for a wildlife recorder. Do I claim a chestnut (Castanea sativa) for the windowbox, or should I wait to see if it grows? How about a grey squirrel, or a goblin, or a gruffalo? Well, no, I think not. I did, however, put it back in its dark hole to see what happens anon. The nearest trees, incidentally, where such a nut could have come from are probably 50 metres away.

In the middle of this episode a man called with a new shelf for the fridge. I explained the windowbox and the chestnut to him and, surprisingly, he did not seem to think I was crazy.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Rough-stalked feather-moss

I have started to look again at the mosses on the windowbox as winter is a good time for this, free of the more heady distractions of the warmer months (not that mosses aren't heady in their way).

This one, growing up the side of the sallow log, is the very common rough-stalked feather-moss (Brachythecium rutabulum). It is distinguished by the yellowish tips to its shoots and the roughened seta - the stem that supports the spore-bearing capsule. and other features.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Seasonal snow

It was reported today that Britain had its second warmest year in 2007 since records began (the warmest was 2006).

Today, however, was decidedly cold, though the snow did not lie until much after lunchtime.

As the other photo shows, I have been doing some cutting and coppicing. The rush, like a spiny green and white sea urchin, is soft-rush, Juncus effusus, and seems a very strong plant, so I am sure it will survive. Elsewhere in the picture you can see sallow stumps where I have started a small coppice.