A Warm Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

The leaves from the horse chestnuts have fallen already

Dear Readers, you might have been expecting the answers to last week’s quiz this morning, but actually nobody had a go this week – I suspect summer is here and people have lots of things to do, plus I know that some of our regular quiz-goers have some health challenges at the moment. So, I’ve decided to keep my quiz on beans open for another week – I’ll republish it tomorrow so that anyone who wants to have a go doesn’t have to go hunting for it. The answers will (finally) be published next Sunday, so you have until 5 p.m. UK time on Saturday 16th July to submit any answers. No pressure! It’s going to be too hot for anything involving the brain next week anyway.

In other news, I was in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery this afternoon, and it already feels like everything is sleepy. There’s the sound of tiny birds in the trees, but the great chorus of spring is silent, except for one familiar refrain – a song thrush, still hoping to find a mate even this late in the year. Song thrushes will sing until they find a mate, and will then fall silent except for during the morning dawn chorus, when everyone announces that they’re holding a territory and that they’ve made it through the night.  How well camouflaged these birds are! I imagine that this is a young male who has been heartily out sung this year. Maybe he’ll have better luck next spring.


In other news, as mentioned in the first photo, the leaf miner and the fungus have pretty much done for the leaves on this horse chestnut already, though other trees are looking a bit healthier. I find it hard to believe that the trees will survive this shortening of their season year on year, but fingers crossed. This one certainly looks pretty sad.

Branch of horse chestnut tree, showing the leaf damage.

It’s not all bad news, though – believe it or not, this is a buzzard, making slow, lazy circles on the thermals over the cemetery. I belong to a Facebook group called ‘Crap Bird Photos’ and I have a suspicion that this could be a candidate.

After a few minutes the buzzard drifted off towards the North Circular Road, and a kestrel zoomed past instead. All I needed was a sparrowhawk and all three of the Cemetery Raptors would have been visible at more or less the same time. Alas, the sparrowhawk didn’t show. It was lovely that the birds of prey were not harassed by the crows, who I presume have finished breeding for this year and are therefore not quite so touchy.

The Cedars of Lebanon all have some very fine cones, and if you look closely, you can see that they have clearly been slithered over by some snail or slug. These molluscs are clearly more acrobatic than you’d think. Unless it’s some other kind of resin? What do you think, Readers?

Cedar of Lebanon cone with added slug slime. You’re welcome .

And then there were the speckled wood butterflies. What vigorous critters these are. The males perch in a spot of sunlight and take on all comers – the one in the photograph not only saw off other males of his species and an unlucky large white butterfly, but also various hoverflies. Testosterone is clearly a force for action even in something as delicate as a butterfly. It was quite something to see the male spiralling up at speed and circling his opponent in a shaft of sunshine, before coming back down to rest. Females prefer males who defend a territory, because clearly they are fit and able to hold their own against other males. Interestingly, as the female comes to the end of her life she becomes less picky, and will mate with males who are not defending a territory but are instead just patrolling the countryside. Anyone who thought that butterflies were gentle, delicate creatures has clearly never watched the shenanigans of a bunch of speckled wood males. It’s like Poole Harbour on a Saturday night.


And finally, I was very happy to see that the white bryony is in flower. Our only native member of the cucumber family, this is a rather lovely vine with creamy-green flowers, and is clearly loved by hoverflies. I like the green tracery on the petals, and cupped shape of the flowers. It’s so nice when ‘weeds’ are left to do their own thing – there’s a lot of strimming going on at the moment in the cemetery, and while I appreciate that it’s necessary to keep some areas spick and span and tidy, I do love the wilder bits of the cemetery the most, where the ivy twines and there are unexpected rustles in the undergrowth. Let’s hope that at least some parts of the cemetery stay this way for years to come.

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