Friday, December 05, 2014

Coppice time

In a brief spell of rather cold sunshine, I tackled the annual job of cutting back the sallows today.  Before and after pictures below.



There has been a surprising amount of growth on the sallows during the year and I continue to wonder where they get the nourishment from as no fertiliser is ever applied to the box.  I suppose it must come down in the rain and, to some extent, through the nitrogen fixing abilities of the clover and vetch.

The stick at the rear on the left is a two-year old wand which I have allowed to grow to about half a metre as a sort of cordon or pollard

With a bit of tidying up the top of the box looks quite presentable and very varied.


It does collect a lot of dead leaves in autumn though and I never know whether to leave them or tidy them away.  Perhaps I could put them into a neat leaf mould pile in some neglected corner.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Close encounter

Because, I suppose, of the recent wet weather the slugs and snails have been active everywhere.  The other day I spotted this tree slug (Limax maculatus) slithering slowly up a sallow wand.  Eventually it progressed onto a leaf already occupied by larvae of the sawfly Nematus pavidus.


The caterpillars kept flicking up their tails to discourage the slug, which quite quickly turned tail and headed into a less crowded area.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Summer variety

Many small things go on in the window box at this time of year and I can easily get overwhelmed with what needs to be worked out or dealt with.  Not that this couple of Sapromyza flies (Dipt: Lauxaniidae) would care about that:



One of the sallows has a fungal affliction that slightly distorts the leaves and there are yellowish patches of  ‘rust’ on the lower surface.  It is undoubtedly a micro-fungus, but I cannot pin it down to a particular species.


The colonies of Aphis gossypii on the tutsan are growing and the ants love the honeydew they secrete.  The abdomen of the ant on the right is gorged with it, but she is still drinking.  The black pods are of hairy tare.

I am still fascinated by the way the top of the small log is turning into a plateau of biodiversity.


One of the rush stalks has grown right through the blade of a leaf on the hazel (see below).  This means the leaf will not be blown away by autumn gales and its nutrients can go beck into the log top.


Saturday, August 09, 2014

The chequered fruit-tree tortrix

The caterpillar I found in a rolled leave of tutsan (Hypericum androsaemum) on 30th June (see below) pupated and hatched into a moth recently.  It turned out to be a chequered fruit-tree tortrix (Pandemis corylana), a species whose larvae are usually found on trees, especially oaks.


Having photographed it, I took it back to the window box and let it go near the plants where I found its caterpillar.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Aphis gossypii

The blackflies depicted here on a shoot of tutsan (Hypericum androsaemum) have been identified by Bob Dransfield, the national aphid recorder as Aphis gossypii, the cotton or melon aphid.


This is a widespread pest in the tropics but not so frequently recorded in Britain.  It can easily be confused with two other aphid species, Aphis chloris and an unnamed Aphis.

Although they are a difficult group, much progress in the identification of British aphids can be made by using this web site:

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

A golden argent

Interesting name that – means a ‘golden silver’ – electrum maybe.

Anyway, I found this golden argent moth (Argyresthia goedartella) resting on a sallow leaf in the window box after a heavy rain shower (note raindrops in photo).

The larvae are found in birch catkins and there is a large birch tree nearby.


Monday, August 04, 2014

The first lacewing

This delicate insect exploring a sallow leaf on the window box is a green lacewing Chrysoperla carnea agg.  there are know to be several species in the aggregate, so it would be difficult to be more specific.

Among other things they eat aphids and we have some good colonies of this building up on the tutsan (Hypericum androsaemum)


Saturday, July 26, 2014

A candy stripe spider

The picture below shows a female candy-stripe spider (Enoplognatha ovata sens. lat.).  This species is easily confused with its rarer relative Enoplognatha latimana – the two were only separated towards the end of the last century.  The spots on the abdomen are characteristic, but often there are red, or deep pink, stripes as well


E. ovata spends the winter in leaf litter and grass tussocks and comes up to low growing vegetation in spring and summer.  The females bind some leaves together with silk and guard an egg-sac within.

A common and widespread species in the British Isles.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sawfly predator

Most years we get troupes of larvae of the sawfly Nematus pavidus eating the leaves of the goat willows (Salix caprea) in the window box (see entry on 21st September 2008).  There are usually two generations in spring and summer.

This year the spring generation performed as normal, turning many leaves to fretwork and some just to a midrib.  The second generation also started off well, but went into a decline a week or so ago.  Today I could only find one or two sickly individuals, but noticed the predatory mirid bug Heterotoma planicornis running about where the sawfly larvae had been.  They pierce their victims with the proboscis and suck the juices out.


Though not obvious from the photo this is a very distinctive insect with flattened second antennal segments and slender whitish ones beyond these.  This rather poor picture gives a better idea.


The bug is quite small, so maybe it had some help in eliminating the sawflies.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Early summer records

The window box continues to offer a home, or temporary shelter, to new arrivals.  I found a caterpillar that had neatly rolled a leaf of tutsan (Hypericum androsaemum).  This plant is a St John’s wort but there are several micromoths shelter in spun leaves at the tips of Hypericum shoots.  I think the most likely identity is that it is a large purple flat-body (Agonopterix liturosa), but it could be the tortrix Lathronympha strigana, both of which have larvae in spun Hypericum shoots, or one of the polyphagous micros.


Also, I can see no feeding damage on the tutsan leaves, so it might just be using this one for shelter.

On several of the sallow shoots there are colonies of aphids attended by our little brown ants.  I am pretty certain the aphids are the small willow aphid (Aphis farinosa) which favours goat willow (Salix caprea), which is the sallow mine are on.


Also today there was one tiny micromoth perched on a leaf.  It is a small or plain gold (Micropterix calthella), now right at the end of its season.


Monday, May 19, 2014

The scallop shell moth

One of the chrysalises from WBX I have overwintered hatched out today and was readily identifiable as a scallop shell moth (Rheumaptera undulata).


It was found last year as a caterpillar feeding on the sallow in WBX (see photo below).  It hid, or sheltered, under a loose tent most of the time and is distinctive not only from its colour and pattern but from the way in curls round like a question mark.

2013-09-02 12.08.32

Not all that common in Sussex I think, but I’ll have to check.

After identification I let the moth go in the window box.  It flew straight off, unconcerned about its old territory.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Maybe a conifer.


The seedling spotted the other day emerging from Sallow Log looks very much like a conifer.  Interesting that I now have two trees on top of this rather unpromising habitat, the other being the hazel.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Window Box reserve in context

The window box that is the subject of this blog as seen from our sitting room window.  It is towards the top of the pane on the right against the shed wall.  Surprisingly tiny for so much going on.

DSCN3109 WBX in context

Monday, May 12, 2014

More flowers

The white clover does not seem to be doing quite so well and it has left space for a plant of goosegrass (Galium aparine), first recorded in WBX a couple of years ago.

DSCN3140 WBX goosegrass

There was also another herb robert (Geranium robertianum) a white one this time (for the dark pink ‘normal’ variety see 22nd April).  The plants in WBX and about the garden produce either the dark pink flowers, or the white ones: I have never found pale pink intermediates.


While examining the new found hazel, I noticed what I thought was a small brown lacewing (just below the curve on the right and opposite the leaf stalk in the picture below).  On closer inspection it turned out to be the bud scale of something, blown off a tree in the recent strong winds no doubt.


I am still baffled as to how this baby hazel came to occupy its current position on top of the sallow log, but suspect the shoot must have thrust itself right up through the wood and the nut was probably buried under, or very near, the base of the log.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The mysterious plateau

The top of the sallow log, put in place when this window box project was started, is a most unusual habitat.  There is no soil, of course, and the wood seems to decay very slowly, though various insects have bored into it or hatched out of it.


There are a couple of moss species and the black marks are, I think, some kind of fungus.  There are two clumps of rush and, to the right of the farther one, what I have now identified as a hazel seedling (how did it grow there – a hazel nut could hardly be buried in the wood: did it force its way up from near the base of the log?).  There are three more young plants in front of this, one of the weedier willow herbs I think, and a grass in front of the leading rush.  The white thing like a garlic clove is a petal blown from a nearby bird cherry.  Between the two rush clumps there is a strange, snake-like seedling that I cannot identify.  The cotyledons look curiously like bananas.


So, at least eight plants resident on the lost world of the Sallow Plateau.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sallow bronze

The window box nature reserve is just about at its best with all plants looking healthy and bright.  It has never had fertiliser, but everything seems full of vigour.


The sallows that were coppiced, as usual, last autumn are now sprouting well and the leaves on the tips of the shoots are flushed bronze and often backed with white down.


Maybe the brown is due to tannins and discourages insect attack on the new young shoots.  The white down might have to same effect.  Both will disappear quite quickly leaving the leaves plain green.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The year’s first flower

A rather fine plant of herb-robert (Geranium robertianum) has produced the first flower of the year in WBX.  It is the normal pink form although many plants of this species in or garden have white flowers

2014-04-22 17.51.25

Overall, the box is doing very well and, as can be seen in the picture below, most plants are growing vigorously and well.  All the more remarkable as WBX has had no applications of fertiliser during the life of the project.  Perhaps the nitrogen fixing properties of the clover roots may be having an effect.

2014-04-22 17.55.31.

As I arrived today there was a robin perching on the box.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Mystery shoot

A fat (but tiny) red shoot has emerged from a mossy crevice on top of the sallow log.  It is not a seedling but, at present, I cannot imagine what it is.  A bramble maybe?  But there aren’t any growing in the window box

2014-04-17 11.58.21

Anyway, something to watch over the next few weeks.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Minim returns

The very small, minim version of the black garden ant (Lasius niger) have reappeared in some quantity on the uncoppiced sallow whip.  There are no aphids I can find and I think they are extracting honeydew or sap from the new leaves.  They seem much slower than they do later in the season and last year I did not seem the until early May.

2014-04-16 18.32.41

I notice in the photo above that something has taken a chunk out of the leaf edge.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

First insect record of the year

2014-04-15 WBX cuckoo spit

At the back of WBX nestling in the fork of a herb robert plant (Geranium robertianum) about to come into flower was the characteristic froth of a cuckoo spit insect.  Not a new record, but always good to welcome old friends.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A new season begins

Now the warmer April weather is slowly arriving, life in WBX is resurgent after a very wet, but mild, winter.  The shot below, taken from overhead, shows how well the white clover is doing and, so far as I can tell, it has all arisen from a seedling that appeared on bare soil 8 years ago a few months after this project was started.

2014-04-13 10.44.58

The central sallow log still seems pretty solid despite its coating of moss and tufts of rush, and the tutsan and herb-2014-04-11 11.38.01robert on the right, and the hairy tare centre left are all doing well.

The sallow stools are beginning to sprout and the whip that I did not coppice last autumn is now well in leaf.  Hopefully it will attract some early caterpillars.