A May Walk in Coldfall Wood and Muswell Hill Playing Fields

Coldfall Wood

Dear Readers, after many months of trudging through the mud during the winter, it’s astonishing how the wood has now dried out. It’s true that we haven’t had any serious rain for several months (though some is forecast overnight), but even so the clay soil has turned into a miniature relief-map of ruts and runnels. Still, the place is alive with bird song – robins, song thrushes, blue tits and nuthatches to name but a few.

Someone has moved some branches to protect this multi-coloured group of hybrid bluebells from trampling, and very pretty they are too. There’s not a sign of the wood anemones that I remember from back in 2011 when I first arrived in East Finchley, though – maybe they’re hiding out in some of the less-trodden corners.

The hornbeam is flowering – it’s monoecious, which means that it has male and female flowers on the same tree. In the photo below, the prominent catkin right in the middle is the male one, but on the lower right-hand side you can see a collection of green slender outward-pointing ‘seeds’ which are the female flowers. As in many trees which have both male and female flowers, all the trees in the area are likely to set seed at the same time, so that there will be at least some cross-pollination. There might also be a slight time-lapse between the different sexes on the same tree, to prevent self-pollination. The sex-lives of plants are extremely confusing, and don’t even get me started on fungi.



Male and Female hornbeam catkins/flowers

In fact, there are flowers and catkins everywhere today. The crack willow has ridiculously long catkins (these are the female ones)

And here are some completely different catkins – this is black poplar (Populus nigra), though I’m not sure whether it’s the vanishingly rare native subspecies (ssp betulifolia) or the more commonly seen hybrid black poplar. It would be great if it was the first, as this is our rarest native tree, but let’s see – I’ll keep you all posted.

And what a fabulous year it’s been for the blackthorn. I have never seen so many flowers.


And I rather like the catkins on the sycamore too.

I had to have a quick look at what I’m beginning to think of as ‘my’ wildflower bed in the far corner of the fields, although I am a bit nervous about the encroachment of the Japanese Knotweed, which seems to increase year on year. It looks to me as if children have been thrashing their way through it, which will only help to spread the stuff. Still, there are plenty of plants in flower already:

White Deadnettle

Green alkanet


Red campion

More green alkanet

However, it was on the walk home that I noticed that the whole path was full of flies. What a twit I am! I’ve been hoping to see St Mark’s Flies (Bibio marcii) – these jet-black, slightly hairy flies are so-called because they normally emerge around about St Mark’s day, which is 25th April. The males have enormous eyes, largely because they fly around at head height looking for females to mate with. The females have much smaller eyes because presumably all they have to do is avoid predators. Look at the beautiful iridescence on the wings of this chap – like pastel-coloured stained glass.

St Mark’s Fly (Bibio marci)

I soon realised that the flies were all over the path, which led to some very delicate ‘tiptoe through the tulips’ type manoeuvres.

I think the fly on the grass is just sorting out his wings preparatory to his maiden flight….

And here is some wobbly film of one of the St Mark’s Flies having a little wash and brush-up. You’re welcome 🙂

And now I realise that the ‘little hoverfly’ that I mentioned in my Saturday post was actually a St Mark’s Fly, and furthermore, the reason that the starlings have been behaving in a most peculiar manner (hawking and diving around very energetically) is because they’re catching these little chaps by the beakful. Doh.

A blooming St Mark’s Fly.

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