Wild blooms

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The results are in! After a concerted effort to check as many different local habitats as possible, walking 31.5 miles over 5 days, I managed to find 29 different wildflowers in bloom this week. Two (Ragwort and Smooth sow-thistle) were too distant for good photos; the other 27 feature in this week’s little video. I hope you’re also seeing plenty of flowers in your areas now too.

The 27 are: Alexanders, Barren strawberry, Colt’s-foot, Cow parsley, Cowslip, Creeping buttercup, Daisy, Dandelion, Dog’s mercury, Field speedwell, Forget-me-not, Gorse, Groundsel, Ivy-leaved toadflax, Lesser celandine, Opposite-leaved golden-saxifrage, Petty spurge (with little yellow spots of the rust Melampsora euphorbiae), Primrose, Red dead-nettle, Red valerian, Shepherd’s-purse, Snowdrop, Spurge laurel (a shrub really but I’m including it), Sweet violet, Three-cornered leek, Wavy bitter-cress, and Winter heliotrope.

Mossy gravestone

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Graves may not be everyone’s idea of wildlife-friendly spaces but I’ve found cemeteries and grave-filled churchyards can hold some interesting, often unusual flora and fauna.

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Mosses grow very easily on next to nothing. They have no roots, and only need moisture and shady conditions to grow.

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I presume the indentations of the inscription on the gravestone, though shallow, would be deep enough to accumulate a little moisture and a modicum of dusty soil, and that’s all these little mosses required to thrive. The churchyard is also well shaded by hedges and tall trees, as well as the church building itself – again, perfect for the mosses.

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Some people might think mosses and lichens should be scrubbed off gravestones or sprayed with chemicals to kill them. Not me. I can think of nothing nicer than to have my gravestone be home to little beauties like these, and my personal details spelled out in mosses.

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Nipplewort Rust

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I was almost home from today’s 7-mile walk when I spotted the subject of this post, lots of pink gall-like bumps on the leaves of a group of plants I quickly realised were Nipplewort (Lapsana communis).

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And that clinched the identification of the bumps, especially when I turned a leaf over and spotted the little yellow dots. These are the aecia, cup-shaped structures in which aeciospores are produced. (And, as you can see, this particular leaf was also home to a tiny spider.)

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These Nipplewort plants were absolutely covered in rust fungi, Nipplewort Rust (Puccinia lapsanae), a rust I’ve seen before but never in such quantity.

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First hoverfly

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Yesterday’s exercise walk was a long meander around local paths looking for wildflowers in bloom (those pictures will be coming on Sunday), and in the process I spotted my first hoverfly of the year, this tiny Chequered hoverfly (Melanostoma scalare), nectaring on Alexanders. With temperatures forecast to rise and the prospect of some sunshine over the coming days, I’m hoping for more … and maybe even my first butterfly of the year. Fingers crossed!

Leaf mines: Phytomyza ilicis

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The tale of the Holly leaf miner (Phytomyza ilicis) is a tangled one. Way back in December 2016, I blogged about the leaf-mining life of this tiny fly’s larvae. Then, early in 2020, doubt was cast on the true identity of this leaf miner, when two scientists published a paper, stating that, through genital examination of one particular Phytomyza ilicis specimen, they had determined there were in fact two very similar species to be found in Britain. Of course, this called into question the true identification of all prior records, and no subsequent records could be confirmed without genital examination of specimens.

At that stage, I stopped recording leaf mines on Holly. But now I can start again because the work of those earlier scientists has recently been disproved. The organiser of the Agromyzidae Recording Scheme (the family to which Phytomyza ilicis belongs) re-examined the questionable specimen and found the genitals had actually been damaged, which had led to them being wrongly identified.

So, until that ‘other’ Holly leaf miner (Phytomyza jucunda) makes its way from Europe to Britain and so long as the mines look similar to the various ones I’ve included here, it is safe to record the Holly leaf mines we see as Phytomyza ilicis.

You can access the splendid new website of the Agromyzidae Recording Scheme here, and read more about the story of the Holly leaf miner in a recent newsletter here.

Feather: Swan

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Where the Mute swans do their grooming and preening, there is always a profusion of white feathers, large and small, stiff and downy. I grabbed this one because I liked the way it showed the constituent parts of the feather.

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Rather than repeat what others have so ably published, I thought I’d just post the pretty pictures here and, if you want to learn more, you can check out this particularly good post (with excellent illustrated drawings to aid their explanations) on The Cornell Lab website.

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Snowdrops, native or not

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I thought the Snowdrop was a native British wildflower but it seems not.

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This is from the publication Wonderland (by Brett Westwood and Stephen Moss):

Though they were once considered native, botanists now believe they were brought here from continental Europe to adorn Elizabethan gardens.
The first definite record in the wild dates from the 1770s, when they were discovered in Gloucestershire and Worcestershire. If these showy flowers were truly native before then, it is hard to imagine them being overlooked.

I’m now seeing plenty of Snowdrops when I’m out and about on my exercise walks, though I’m not sure whether they’re naturalised non-natives or have been planted along the roadsides by green-fingered locals. There are several different varieties of Snowdrop, and I’ve also seen quite a lot of double-flowered varieties amongst the more common types. The doubles (pictured on the right above) are probably Galanthus nivalis Flore Pleno, according to the identification crib sheet on the BSBI website, which, if you’re interested, also gives clear details of how to ID the single-flowered varieties.

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Farewell, Fieldfares

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Now that the cold-weather ‘Beast from the East’, a freezing Arctic blast, has passed and been replaced with much milder temperatures, the birds have decided it’s spring.

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This week I’ve heard Song thrushes and Blackbirds belting out their tunes from the treetops, Dunnocks singing from the bushes, male Greenfinches wheezing a welcome to prospective mates, and Skylarks songflighting above the local farm fields, which is all wonderful, but it also means the thrushes that have been over-wintering in Britain will be heading back to their breeding grounds.

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These Fieldfares are probably the last I’ll see, until the winter thrushes return again later in the year. They may already have started their long flight back east, to the Scandinavian peninsula, Finland or northwest Russia, according to the BTO website.

Bands of colour

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I can never go past Turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) without checking out their wonderful rings of colour.

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These are neither as vibrant nor as varied as some I’ve seen but there is a hint of blue in one of those outer bands that doesn’t really show up well in my photos, as the light was very dull this day. I figured they were still worth sharing for Fungi Friday.

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