Friday, 31 July 2015

Galls on willow

A follow up to the last willow posting.

We have white willows AND crack willows at Filnore Woods and at this time of year both species are likely to produce galls.  This sprig of willow not only sports a fine Mossy Willow Catking Gall, but also some red blister galls on the leaves.  

The Mossy Willow Catkin Gall, which is really a modified catkin, is probably caused by a virus but science has not yet tracked it down.  It used to be thought that it was caused by tiny mites but it is just that large numbers of mites and insects choose to live in and around these galls.

The blister galls on the leaves are the trees reaction to being injected with eggs by the female Willow Redgall Sawfly (Pontania proxima), which is like a tiny black wasp.  As soon as she has sawn a slot and placed her egg in the leaf, the tree produces this red blister gall, which the sawfly grub feeds on from the inside until it is time to pupate.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Pollarded willows

The willows near the 'White House', which we pollarded in spring, are producing lots of new shoots.  This is encouraging.  Next winter we may pollard a few more as several of them are breaking their branches. 

Pollarding is a type of management which allows willows to be repeatedly cropped for poles or basket withies.  It also keeps the tree to a manageable size and prevents injury and damage from large, falling branches.

In March they were just like standing logs.

In June they were sprouting nicely

Now in July they are quite bushy

 Interestingly the logs that were cut off and have been lying on concrete, contain enough moisture to allow the shoots to grow without any roots.  A log like this, placed on soil, might well sprout roots as well.  This is the willow's strategy for eternal life.

Monday, 27 July 2015


There is a pink haze in the old tree nursery between posts 13 and 15
This is Fireweed or Rosebay  (Chamerion angustifolium)
The spires of flowers open at the bottom first and gradually move up the stem.
Buds at the top, then the flowers, and below them the ripening seed pods, which will later burst open and send fluffy down far and wide, carrying the seeds.

The plant used to be known as Rosebay Willowherb, but it is no longer considered to be one of the true willowherbs (Epilobiums).

The Great Willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum) is also frequent at Filnore Woods but is quite different, as you can see below.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Power pruning

In case you have been in Filnore Woods lately and wonderd why so much cutting has gone just up from the footbridge, it is the three yearly vegetation maintenance that the power companies undertake.  There must be no danger of trees getting too close to the overhead high tension cables.

As well as a few neat piles of logs and large amounts of hazel prunings, they have left us some woodchip, which we may be able to use to beef up the steps and paths.

The nettles and other plants which had grown up under the pylon have also been cleared.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Parcel in the grass

Saw this little webby enclosure in the grass yesterday.  What could it be?  Some spidery lair, no doubt.  Perhaps the nursery of a nursery web spider protecting her spiderlings but it's a bit late in the year for that.  Suggestions please on an email to

Thursday, 23 July 2015


I bumped into Rob Collis the other day, doing his monthly survey of birds at Filnore Woods.  I asked him what less common species he had seen or heard that day and one he mentioned was the whitethroat.

This member of the warbler family comes to us from south of the Sahara and stays from May to August.

Bird books are rather rude about whitethroats, I think.  They are said to be rather slow and heavy with a big head and a long tail.  The churring call sounds like "chair, chair chair" and the song, according to my Collins Bird Guide is " a short, fast verse with scratchy hoarse, gruff voice, delivered in jerky and jolting rhythm."

They seem to nest in the brambles alongside the steep path between posts 2 and 3.  We are very glad to welcome them to Filnore, however bad-tempered they seem to be.

This video by 'the bald ibis' (thank you) shows the grey head, orange wing-edges and white throat and eventually you get to hear him singing.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Common blue butterfly

(photo: Simon Harding)

Here's a common blue butterfly taking nectar from a buttercup.  The males are blue on top but speckled black and white and orange on the underwings, which makes them hard to spot if they are feeding on cow parsley or hogweed flowers. 

The females are usually brown with just a tinge of blue near the wing base, and orange and black dots on the wing margins.

The best time to see them is in the morning or evening, when they bask in the weaker sunshine with their wings spread flat instead of clipped shut over their bodies.

The caterpillars feed on black medick, rest harrow and, most commonly at Filnore, bird's foot trefoil.

Monday, 20 July 2015


If only the wheelbarrow would rake up the stuff we cut and then load itself.  

(Barrow trained by Alan Watts)

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Thistle Do

Terrible title pun and beautiful images supplied by Simon Harding.

Here we have a Burnet Moth and a Meadow Brown butterfly feeding on common creeping thistles 

and a Marbled White butterfly on what I think may be Saw-wort

All photographed this week at Filnore Woods

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Summer flowers


Greater Knapweed (left) and Field Scabious (right) are two of our most popular butterfly and moth plants at Filnore.

 They both provide nectar for insects and the scabious leaves are food for several species of caterpillar.

Another good nectar plant is the Ragwort which is just coming into flower.  

It's also the food plant for the Cinnabar Moth caterpillars who absorb poisonous substances from the plant into their bodies.  this makes them taste nasty - for birds that is - so they are not afraid to advertise their presence with bold black and yellow hoops along their bodies.  This is warning colouration as opposed to camouflage, another form of defence. 

photo: Simon Harding

Agrimony or Aaron's Rod is yet another nectar plant.  My Reader's Digest flower book says, 'Flies and bees are attracted to the slender spikes of flowers by a scent reminiscent of apricots.'

In the pylon field we have a large clump of Great Willowherb.  Because it spreads by creeping stems it is forming a larger clump year on year.  It's pretty but we may need to curb it a little or it may swamp everything else.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Friday, 10 July 2015


Pignut is in the cow parsley family but is much smaller.  It grows happily in grassland and in woodland so we have plenty at Filnore Woods.  The basal leaves are finely divided and the stem leaves are really wiry. 

Pignut gets its name from the little tubers on the root, which are edible for humans as well as pigs and taste a bit like hazel nuts.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Essilor helpers

The Thornbury lens manufacturer, Essilor, have teamed up with us at Filnore Woods, and are providing extra volunteers to help with the conservation management work.  Here Rob and Jay from Essilor demonstrate their scything skills.

Monday, 6 July 2015


The two commonest buttercups are the Meadow Buttercup, which stands tall, and the Creeping Buttercup, which, well, creeps.  The leaves are quite different too.  The meadow buttercup, on the right in the picture below, has much more finely divided leaves than the creeping buttercup on the left.

Saturday, 4 July 2015


(Photo:  Simon Harding)

Simon photographed this green lacewing (Chrysopa perla) at Filnore Woods.  It is probably hunting for aphids, its main food supply.  The larvae are also voracious gobblers of aphids so the female lacewing usally lays her eggs near an aphid colony.

The body is green with a row of black squares on the underside and the blue-green wings have a lacy network of black veins.

Check out Chrysopa perla on wikipedia, where there is a tremendous video of a lacewing searching for aphids and snacking on some flower nectar for afters.