Thursday, April 30, 2020

Coronavirus lockdown: some wild flowers on my regular daily walk in April

The end of Coronavirus Lockdown April, restricted to early morning exercise walks close to home. Following the same route daily has a lot to recommend it, in a month where spring really begins to make its presence felt. At the beginning the trees were bare and there was only a tint of green in the hedgerows, with a few hawthorn buds bursting. By the end, there was greenery everywhere and new spring flowers were appearing every day. 

In a normal spring i would have made several trips to the Durham or Northumberland coast by now and would have seen scurvy grass Cochlearia danica flowering in its natural seaside habitat. This is as close as I got, here in the Pennines - a patch growing between a wall and the pavement beside a main road, just a few hundred yards from my front door. The plant's seeds have  been spread inland by the gritting lorries that salt the road during icy periods in winter.

There isn't a lot of lesser celandine around the route that I have walked, probably because it doesn't compete very well with taller vegetation in road verges that are mostly left uncut. 

Sporing shoots of field horsetail Equisetum arvense appeared in the verges almost overnight, during the third week of April.

By the second week of April many of the early blooming colt'sfoot shoots had already run to seed.

By the end of April there were some magnificent displays of dandelions on the verges.

By mid-April the earliest blooming dandelions had already run to seed

An unidentified forget-me-not species, almost certainly of garden origin. The road verges around these lanes have often suffered from fly-tippers and quite a few species have found their way here from local gardens.

There has been a smattering of gorse blossom all winter, but in April it really got into its stride. My walks have always been early in the morning, before the flowers are warmed by the sun and emit their coconut scent, but on a sunny afternoon the fragrance would have been intoxicating.

Alliaria petiolata garlic mustard, also known as hedge garlic and Jack-by-the-hedge, appropriately enough, beside a hedge.

Ribwort plantain

Groundsel, more at home in disturbed soil of a garden than in the closed sward on a road verge; these plants were right on the edge of a tarmac road.

The first meadow buttercup, opening its first flower in the fourth week of April

Bush vetch Vicia sepium, flowering on the road verge in late April.

Cow parsley began to flower during the third week of April

Meadow foxtail grass coming into flower at the end of the month. 

Sweet vernal grass, flowering at the end of the month.

Ground ivy Glechoma hederacea, in bloom in the last few days of April 

Ground ivy Glechoma hederacea

The roadside silver birch trees produced a spectacular display of male catkins from mid-April onwards.

New clusters of needles on a roadside larch - like miniature green shaving brushes.

Sycamore buds began to burst in mid-April and by the end of the month the flowers were just beginning to open.

Sessile oak leaves and catkins forcing their way out of the buds.

Ash leaf buds had begun to burst by the end of the month - but mostly only on small saplings; many of the larger ash trees show no sign of leaf buds opening yet.

On my route there is a solitary horse chestnut sapling, about five feet tall. There are no other horse chestnuts anywhere near, so someone must have introduced this as a 'conker'.

Male flowers of a roadside willow.

There are several crab apple trees in the hedgerows along my route. These are very likely to be the progeny of discarded culinary apple cores, rather than a genuine wild native crab apple, which is quite a rare tree.

An old pear tree in full bloom - again, the result of a discarded domestic pear core.

Lilac, another plant that must have arrived in the hedgerows here as a result of fly-tipping of garden refuse. Just coming into full bloom at the end of April - in a week or two the fragrance will be wonderful.

There are some very well maintained new hawthorn hedges along the route, planted when the opencast land was restored about twenty five years ago. They have standard trees planted al intervals along their length - mostly ash, but in this case a wild cherry that catches the early morning sunlight in its flowers.

And so another month has past, and spring has worked its magic. 

This is the long, straight lane known as the Mile Lonnen, with old oaks on one side and a more recently established copse on the other, planted with larch, wild cherry and willows.

I've walked this route daily, thirty times this month, and it has been fascinating to watch the unfolding of spring in such detail, with tiny increments of growth each new day, and the pace of spring quickening.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Hairy shieldbug Dolycoris baccarum and green shieldbug Palomina prasina

Last May, for the first time, I found a single hairy shieldbug Dolycoris baccarum in the garden here in Durham, which was notable because the guide that I used to identify it mentioned that this species was not very common north of East Anglia. Today I found many more, mostly on Honesty Lunaria annua, which is flowering in the garden now.

It may be that this of one of several insect species that are extending their range northwards, due to climate change.

One of the key identification features, apart from those smart black and white antennae, is that this species is covered with a scattering of pale brown hairs, which you can see in this photo. 

This individual is performing some essential maintenance on its rostrum, the highly specialised feeding tube, somewhat like a hypodermic syringe, that it uses for sucking sap from plants.

They are breeding here, so it looks as though I may now have a permanent garden population of these sap-sucking insects, which I welcome: they have a fascinating life cycle and add to the garden's biodiversity.

This is the second shield bug species that has turned up in the garden in the last week.

A few days ago this green shieldbug Palomina prasina, hard to spot with its cryptic coloration, turned up in a lavender bush. It has been an established member of the garden insect fauna and is partial to feeding on ripe raspberries in the summer.