Sunday, 31 August 2014

Ivy Flowers and Burdock

As the flowers of Burdock fade, you can see the fruits forming. These are the burrs that children (and silly adults) delight to throw at other people so that they catch on their woolly coats or jumpers.
  Some more common plants that use people and other furry animals to spread their seeds about are goosegrass, herb bennet (or wood avens) and agrimony, which seems to specialise in socks.
While while most plants are preparing their fruits and seeds for autumn, the Ivy is just producing its flower buds. 

These will provide a last feast of nectar and pollen for insects before the frost cuts short their buzzy little lives.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Spangles and currants - very galling

Some of our oak trees are now showing yellow blotches on their leaves.

If you look underneath the leaves you find lots of little brown sequins.  These are spangle galls and are caused by a tiny gall wasp called Neuroterus quercusbaccarum. 

They fall to the ground in autumn when the leaves fall, and in the spring fertile female wasps emerge and lay eggs on oak buds. These cause not spangle galls but red currant galls on the young oak leaves and catkins in May and June. 
This time both male and female wasps emerge from the galls and this results in eggs laid on the oak leaves. These cause the new spangle galls.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Puffing and bubbling

As I have been writing this blog about the natural phenomena in Filnore Woods since 2012, there is inevitably a bit of repetition.  But that is the way of things.  The cycle of the year is a never-ending repetition of itself. Here are two things spotted this week again:
First the Giant Puffball which appears annually in the grass at the welcome area just inside the gate.  This is the fruiting body of a fungus Langermannia gigantea, and if someone hadn't kicked it it would have grown even bigger.
My second spot is that the stream, which has been dormant all summer, has woken again following the showers we have been having. 

If at any stage this autumn you see the pipe under the stream crossing blocked up, please unblock it to prevent flooding.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Berries ripening on Guelder Rose

Bushes of Guelder Rose are ripening up already.
These berries will be scarlet soon, bringing some colour to the woodland edge and providing good bird fodder.

Elderberries are also ripening so all you jelly makers and wine brewers can get picking.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Ragwort pulling

Today volunteers from among the Friends of Filnore Woods went on a 'ragwort pull'. 

Although Ragwort ('wort' pronounced to rhyme with 'Bert') is a pretty yellow flower and a good nectar source for insects, it can spread to neighbouring farmers' fields where it can prove harmful or even fatal to horses and cattle if included in hay or silage.  So we need to control it.  We won't eliminate it because it is very good at spreading by its windblown seeds, but we can maintain it at a low population.

You loosen the roots with a fork and then pull the whole plant up and dispose of it by composting so that none of the toxins get back into the food chain.
The leaves are very ragged, which helps ditinguish it from another plant with a yellow flower head flowering at this time - the Perforate St John's Wort.  Compare the raggedy leaves of Ragwort . . . . . 

 . . . . . .with the neat pairs of leaves on the Perforate St John's Wort below.  If you hold a PSJW leaf up to the light you can see the translucent dots, like little perforations, that give it its name.
And the flowers are quite different too.

Saturday, 16 August 2014


This little purple flower, Selfheal,  can grow up to 20cm high.
But usually, when I see it in my lawn it is no more than a couple of centimetres and spreads like fury. 

It has been used as a healing herb for centuries, for wounds, minor injuries, sores, burns, bruises, sore throats, liver complaints, inflammations and allergies. 
John Gerard in the 16th century said "there is no better herb" and Nicholas Culpepper in the 17th century said it was called selfheal "because when you are hurt, you may heal yourself." 

Friday, 15 August 2014

Medicine for a centaur.

This small flowering herb is called Centaury because the myhical centaur Chiron used it to cure himself of a wound  from an arrow poisoned with the venom of the nine-headed sepent Hydra.
Centaury prefers to grow on poor, alkaline, soil and so at Filnore Woods it can be found on the slope below the pylon.  This is where, several years ago, the soil was eroded by heavy machinery, which was used to service the high tension cables on the pylon.  

So even an event which we think of as damaging the environment can sometimes have an unforeseen beneficial effect.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Invertebrate Survey August 2014

Last Sunday we had some local experts leading a group of us on an invertebrate survey.  It's interesting and important to know what buglife we have at Filnore.  A lot of different creatures means a healthy environment. 
Butterflies, grasshoppers and dragon flies are the easiest to see but there are loads of other little guys hopping and buzzing about if you have a net and a hand lens to see them.  Some really tiny creatures are beautifully patterned and coloured, but you have to get down to their size.  My camera isn't the best at close-ups and high magnification so I can only show you a few from the day but I'll say more in future blog posts, using more professional pictures from the internet.
I'll show you the worst picture first.  This is a Long-winged Conehead, a member of the grasshopper tribe, with long antennae and a dark brown stripe down its back.  Very smart.  It also likes nibbling and gave one or two of us quite a nip, without managing to break the skin.  It probably thought we were grass stems.
Genuine Filnore photo
photo from ecomart website

 The next is a moth, called the Brown Broad Bar. 
You can see why.
And lastly a few shots of a Comma butterfly.  You can see the c-shaped comma on the dark underside of the wing when it perches with its wings held together.
And when it opens its wings to sunbathe, you can see the ragged shape and the lovely colours of the upper side of the wings. 
This is a strong fast flyer. The caterpillars feed on nettles.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Sphinx of the Privet - a hawkmoth caterpillar

This fat green caterpillar is the larva of the privet hawkmoth.

The red and white oblique stripes along the body distinguish it from other caterpillars.  And like most hawkmoth caterpillars it has a horn on the tail end.  The horn is not a sting and the caterpillar is totally harmless although this one did wriggle very vigorously and alarmingly from side to side when I picked it up.  I suppose that is a strategy for scaring off predators like blackbirds.
 The caterpillars feed on privet and ash which we have plenty of at Filnore. They also like to eat lilac and this particular individual fell out of a lilac bush on to my lawn.  So I had to move it before mowing. 

As it was so big I should think it was ready to spin a cocoon and pupate.  They bury themselves up to 30cm down in the soil to do this and emerge in the spring.  I found this picture of the adult moth on, which has a great page about hawkmoths.
The scientific name is Sphinx ligustri, which means 'Sphinx of the Privets'.

Friday, 1 August 2014

The see-through hoverfly

This biggish hoverfly (Volucella pellucens) is sometimes called the Pellucid Hoverfly.  Pellucid mean clear or transparent.  The white middle section of the thorax is actually translucent, you can see sunlight shining right through.
It has bold bodily markings, and prettily patterned wings with an amber leading edge and dark brown spots halfway along.  It also has an orange face between the big eyes on either side of its head.
I read in my insect book that it likes woods and is especially fond of bramble flowers.  This is clearly why it is around now.

The males hover just above human head height so you may not notice them.  This one unfortunately died in my conservatory so I kebabbed it on a pin for the photo.
The larvae or grubs apparently live in the nests of bumble bees and social wasps (that's the black and yellow stripey jobs so many people love to hate), feeding on the rubbish and even on their hosts' larvae.

There's a good page for recognising hoverflies on