Category Archives: London Invertebrates

A Spring Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

Dear Readers, three weeks after the onset of my Covid I’m finally feeling like myself again, and so it was such a joy to head out to St Pancras and Islington Cemetery to take in the glory of the Lesser Celandine. Just look at them! Could they be any more joyful, I ask myself.

And if you watch closely, you can see them being appreciated by a whole mass of bees and tiny pollinators.

The primroses are out in force too.

I heard the buzzards mewing, and saw one being hotly pursued by the usual gang of crows. And, for your delectation, here is a sparrowhawk’s backside, shortly before she exited stage left, also pursued by crows. Note those distinctive bars on the stomach.

Blackcaps were singing their heads off, as was this chaffinch, who was making a most uncharacteristic volume of sound.

And the blackthorn is in flower.

I have mentioned before that the lesser celandine was Wordsworth’s favourite flower, but I’d never read the poem that he composed to it. I had expected some cheery paean to the first flower of spring but, as so often with Wordsworth it’s rather more thoughtful than that. So here, for your delectation, is Wordworth’s Lesser Celandine. See what you think.

The Lesser Celandine

There is a Flower, the Lesser Celandine,
That shrinks, like many more, from cold and rain;
And, the first moment that the sun may shine,
Bright as the sun himself, ’tis out again!

When hailstones have been falling, swarm on swarm,
Or blasts the green field and the trees distressed,
Oft have I seen it muffled up from harm,
In close self-shelter, like a Thing at rest.

But lately, one rough day, this Flower I passed,
And recognized it, though an altered form,
Now standing forth an offering to the blast,
And buffeted at will by rain and storm.

I stopped, and said, with inly-muttered voice,
“It doth not love the shower, nor seek the cold:
This neither is its courage nor its choice,
But its necessity in being old.

“The sunshine may not cheer it, nor the dew;
It cannot help itself in its decay;
Stiff in its members, withered, changed of hue.”
And, in my spleen, I smiled that it was grey.

To be a Prodigal’s Favourite -then, worse truth,
A Miser’s Pensioner -behold our lot!
O Man, that from thy fair and shining youth
Age might but take the things Youth needed not!

William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

The Mosquitoes of the London Underground

Photo One by Walkabout12 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47027176By Walkabout12 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47027176

The London Underground Mosquito (Culex pipiens f. molestus)(Photo One)

Dear Readers, I was much taken by an article in New Scientist about the evolution of urban species by Rob Dunn this week, and in particular his thoughts about the infamous London Underground mosquito. During the Second World War, unfortunate civilians who spent nights on the platforms of Underground stations to avoid the Blitz complained about being bitten unmercifully, but it’s only recently that genetic technology has advanced to a point where we can really work out what’s going on.

Photo Two by By US Govt - This media is available in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration, cataloged under the National Archives Identifier (NAID) 195768., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3458515

Sheltering in the Underground (Photo Two)

The original LU Mosquito came from the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East and lived above ground. These insects are active only during the warmer months, require a meal of blood before they can reproduce, and feed mainly on the blood of birds. However, as the mosquito spread north into colder climes, it survived by living in cities, particularly their underground regions such as sewers. The insect evolved new genetic characteristics, such as odour recognition, digestion and immunity, that would be useful in environments rich in organic waste.

However, it wasn’t just the genes that changed, behaviour did too. Both the underground and the above-ground mosquitoes are thought to be the same species, but the underground ones are active all year round, can reproduce without a blood meal, and prefer to feed on mammals: rats and mice in particular, but humans where they can find them. The underground mosquitoes are isolated from other mosquitoes, and their habitat can be compared to an island, as Dunn points out: the mosquitoes cannot disperse, and so they become more and more specialised. Cities such as Paris, Minsk, Tokyo and New York all have their own ‘Underground Mosquitoes’.

However, the isolation can have another, even more extreme, effect – it’s been shown that where LU Mosquito populations are isolated within the Underground network, they can start to become genetically distinct from one another. So, it was found that the mosquitoes found on the Victoria Line were different from those found on the Bakerloo Line. It’s quite possible that every underground line could have its own mosquito, though I suspect that lines with a larger proportion of stations which are above ground might be less distinct, because their mosquitoes can actually disperse and interbreed.

For us, though, as humans, it means that the old Petula Clark song ‘Don’t Sleep in the Subway’ has never been better advice.

 

 

The Secret Life of Flies by Erica McAlister

Dear Readers, this isn’t exactly a book review (yet) because I am only up to page 57 of this rather splendid book. However, it is so full of interesting factoids that I wanted to share a few with you, even though I am in the middle of year end and things are a bit on the frantic side (understatement). So, please forgive me for a few quick bullet points. There are more fly-related things to be said in the future, I’m sure.

First up, McAlister estimates that there are 17 million flies for every single human being currently walking about on the planet. They are a hugely diverse family, from craneflies and hoverflies to bluebottles and horseflies. But, as she puts it ‘The question you still want answering is: what have all those flies ever done for us?’

The obvious first answer is that we would be up to our ears and above in waste if it wasn’t for flies, but flies are extremely undervalued as pollinators. For example, there is only one group of tiny flies that can pollinate Theobroma cacao, otherwise known as the chocolate plant. These are known in the Caribbean as No See Ums, and I remember my Dad talking about how badly some members of this family of midges could bite. The chocolate midge (Forcipomyia sp.) manages to pollinate the flowers of the chocolate plant, but it is a very particular little creature, preferring damp, shady woodlands and moist soil or a pond to raise their youngsters. The cutting down  of forests to plant larger and larger chocolate plantations is, ironically, destroying the habitat preferred by the crop’s only pollinator. Could this be the end of the Curly Wurly? Only time will tell.

A chocolate midge (Forcipomyia sp.) (Photo by© Christophe Quintin Via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Like many pollinators. flies and flowering plants have evolved alongside one another, and this has led to some most intriguing designs, none more so than that of Moegistrorhyncus longirostris, a fly which has a proboscis eight times longer than its body. If a human had a tongue of equal ratio, it would be over six metres long. Why the long tongue? Well, eight species of plants on the Cape in South Africa can only be pollinated by this fly or one that’s closely related, because they have such long tubes that only the longest-tongued can reach their pollen.

Just the kind of flower that longirostris feeds on…

And so I am very much enjoying this book, as you would expect from someone with a name like Bugwoman (though flies are not bugs in the technical sense of course). I am sure there will be more highlights later!

A Damp Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

Dear Readers, I was in the mood for a brisk walk on Saturday – the fog had just cleared but it was a damp, dreary day that didn’t really encourage my usual drifting along. So it was not until I reached the ladies ‘convenience’ on the far side of the cemetery that something finally caught my eye. What was this in the corner of the building? Well, it appears to be a group of hibernating harlequin ladybirds (they are much too large to be any other species). I love the way that the ones in the middle have piled on top of one another for warmth. I am slightly surprised that they haven’t woken up yet, what with it being so mild, but maybe they know something that I don’t. There certainly aren’t many greenfly about yet, and as that’s mainly what they eat, maybe it makes sense to snooze on for a little longer.

There was lots of crow activity today – this magpie was throwing the leaves about in much the same way that a blackbird does. I think it gives an indication of how many invertebrates use the leaf litter as a place to spend the winter, and how important it is to leave at least some leaf piles in the garden.

The crows are super-curious, and are always investigating the graves to see if there’s anything edible. I sometimes see them picking up the artificial flowers and then throwing them over their shoulders as if in frustration. This one eventually flew off with what looked like a chrysanthemum flower. Maybe there are some seeds or insects inside. The magpies will also take shiny objects and fly off with them, so the old adage about magpies being ‘collectors’ still seems to hold true.

The first primroses are starting to emerge…

And there are still some rather damp-looking fungi around.

Mystery fungus! All suggestions welcome.

But what does this hogweed think it’s doing? It’s at least four months too early. It was flowering away in splendid isolation, with not a single fly to pollinate it. There were a few winter gnats around, but as far as I know they don’t act as pollinators. This is a high risk strategy, but as the winters get milder, who knows whether early-flowering plants might be the winners in the end?

And finally, we were accosted by this enormous squirrel. I am 99% sure that she is pregnant, rather than just well-cushioned – I noticed squirrel mating behaviour back in December, so although she’s a bit early, she’s not that unusual. I imagine that there’s lots to eat in the cemetery, so let’s hope that she gets enough nutrition to provide for her kits. She looks in excellent condition.

And so it’s back home, to get stuck into the chemistry module of my Open University degree. Studying the Periodic Table reminds me of why I loved chemistry at school – what an elegant and precise way of starting to understand the material world it is! No doubt I shall be waxing lyrical about it soon. For now, I’m just grateful for the way that science provides a way of asking questions about the world that is calm and rational. It feels like just the bracing intellectual exercise that I need.

A Moth Like a T-Bar

Beautiful Plume Moth (Amblyptilia acanthadactyla)

Dear Readers, I am always happy to see a plume moth, especially as the last one that ventured in was squashed by my cat – I only wish she had such success with the clothes moths. You might be more familiar with the Hemp-Agrimony Plume moth (Adaina microdactyla) or maybe that’s just me, what with having the plant in the garden. I always find these sitting on the front door.

Photo One by This image is created by user Wouter van der Ham at waarneming.nl, a source of nature observations in the Netherlands., CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Hemp-Agrimony Plume Moth (Adaina microdactyla) (Photo One)

The wings are unusually constructed, as you can see – at rest the wings are rolled up like a Venetian blind. Plume moths are closely related to the many-plumed moths, which take the wing construction to a whole new level –  (Alucita hexadactyla) has wings that look like feathers.

Many plumed moth (Alucita hexadactyla)

Although these wings probably aren’t ideal for flight, they do seem to be useful for camouflage – both the beautiful plumed moth and the hemp-agrimony plume moth look like pieces of dead grass when they are in their natural habitat. Alas, they are rather more noticeable against a plain wall, as my cat will attest.

The beautiful plumed moth on my kitchen wall is probably looking for a place to hibernate, as the adult moths spend the winter dozing away, before heading off in spring to mate and lay its eggs. The larvae have wide and varied tastes, and will munch on mints, thistles, heathers and geraniums, but rarely reach pest status in this country. Besides, my water mint has gone berserk this year, so if these little critters will keep it all in check I will be only too happy.

Sunday Quiz – Aliens!

A Martian in Woking (Photo by Colin Smith ) This is a metal sculpture, based on H G Well’s book ‘The War of the Worlds’

Dear Readers, this week we had Claire with 11 1/2 out of 15 and Fran and Bobby Freelove with 13 1/2 out of 15, so well done to all of you! The next quiz will be tomorrow, and I am wondering why I didn’t have the idea for it ages ago…I hope you enjoy it!

‘Alien’ animals can cause a range of reactions, but the history of how they got to the UK, and what their impact has been, fascinates me. In most cases, they arrived because we wanted them, and didn’t realise quite how keen they’d be to get back to the wild. Sometimes, they were hitchhikers, a result of the international trade in plants and artefacts. Very rarely, they flew here of their own accord and found the conditions to their liking. With climate change, and with our inadequate biosecurity regulations, we are going to have to get used to all manner of plants and animals arriving and setting up home. As always, it will be interesting to see how such encounters play out.

Photo One by Bouke ten Cate, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

1. Edible dormouse (Glis glis)

This attractive little rodent was deliberately released into the wild in 1902 (it comes originally from southern and central Europe). It is considered a menace because it can wreak havoc in lofts and roof spaces, and damages trees by stripping the bark. The Romans used to have special pots for keeping edible dormice until they were fat enough to eat. I must admit I thought that they had brought them to the UK, but it seems that if so they became extinct, and were re-introduced much more recently.

Photo Two by Ryzhkov Sergey, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

2. American mink (Neovison vison)

Farmed for their fur, some escaped while others were deliberately released, sometimes by well-meaning animal activists. However, these creatures are efficient predators, and their presence has been linked to the decline of the water vole and various ground-nesting birds. Their numbers might be decreasing slightly as the larger otter becomes more common.

Photo Three by Lilly M, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

3. Sika deer

Originally introduced to populate the grounds of stately homes and estates, the sika was established in the wild by the 1930’s. It interbreeds with native red deer and can cause serious damage to crops, trees and sensitive habitats. There are lots in Dorset, and on our way back from Dorset last week our train nearly ran over two who were on the tracks.

Photo Four by Prue Simmons, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

4. Racoon Dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides)

This animal (which is a canid not a raccoon) was introduced to the UK from East Asia for its fur. it isn’t established in the UK yet, but it is well established in many other parts of Europe so watch this space. Where it has established a foothold, it is a predator of birds and amphibians, and competes with native carnivores such as the fox and badger.

Photo Five by Bernard Spragg. NZ from Christchurch, New Zealand, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

5. Ring-necked/rose-ringed parakeet (Psittacula krameri)

Did Jimi Hendrix release a pair of these while he was on an acid trip, resulting in the many thousands of birds that are now common in London? It’s more likely that there were escapes and releases from multiple sites over a period of years. At any rate, the parrot is now moving north and west at an inexorable rate. It strips orchards and may compete with other hole-nesting birds, but personally I think that it brings a touch of the exotic to North London.

Photo Six by By Andreas Trepte - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=788401

6. Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiacus)

This medium-sized goose has been breeding in the wild after escaping from wild fowl collections since the early 1800’s, but has increased like billy-o since the 1980’s. It is well-established in the wild in Suffolk and Norfolk, and seems to be going west at a rate of knots. It can cause crop damage and pollute water bodies, but to be honest so can most wildfowl at high concentrations. Plus, to be complaining about pollution of water bodies when there’s so much agricultural and industrial run-off seems a bit hypocritical. Interestingly, they often seem to nest in hollow trees, which is quite a feat for a large aquatic bird.

Photo Seven by By Rhondle - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16504721

7. Red-eared terrapin (Trachemys scripta elegans)

I was only writing about these animals earlier this week. They can’t breed in the UK (yet) because the winters are still too cold, but individuals can live for up to thirty years, and there seems to be no limit to the number of people prepared to throw their pets into the nearest water body when they get too big. They are voracious predators of amphibians and invertebrates, even taking ducklings when they are tiny.

Photo Eight by Charles J. Sharp, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

8. Marsh Frog  (Pelophylax ridibundus)

Deliberately introduced by the end of the 19th century, this chap is also known as the laughing frog because of his loud call. The frog is now well-established in Romney Marsh in Kent, the Somerset levels and the area around Tamworth. The species is apparently becoming more common, so keep an eye open….

Photo Nine by Dieter Florian (To contact the author, ask the uploader or take a look at tauchshop-florian.de.), CC BY-SA 3.0 DE <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en>, via Wikimedia Commons

9. Wels catfish (Siluris glanis)

This enormous fish, which can grow to 5 metres long and weigh 300kg, was deliberately introduced as a food fish. Hah! By the 1950’s it was swimming happily in managed stillwaters used by fisheries, and in some deep lowland rivers. It eats anything and everything, from frogs to water voles to ducks, and as you can see, there’s nothing in UK rivers that can outcompete it.

Photo Ten by Liquid Art, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

10. Rainbow Trout (Oncorhyncus mykiss)

The trout that made river fish available to the general public when fish farming really took off in the 1970s in the UK, rainbow trout seem to have problems breeding in the wild in the UK, and are still usually out-competed by the local brown trout. However, climate may be a factor in keeping them in check, and this is changing as we know. Again, watch this space.

Photo Eleven by David Perez, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

11. Signal Crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus)

Introduced from North America in the 1970s, this crayfish quickly found its way into the wild, and has caused the rapid decline of the native white-clawed crayfish through competition for food and other resources. It also spreads crayfish plague (who knew there was such a thing?) As if that wasn’t enough, it makes its burrows in the banks of water bodies, causing them to collapse, and eats the eggs and young of fish. There is a move afoot to persuade the UK public to eat more crayfish.

Photo Twelve by David Short from Windsor, UK, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

12. Harlequin ladybird

This much-maligned beetle comes originally from Asia, and was deliberately released in Europe as a biological control, presumably against aphids. Sadly, the harlequin ladybird is much more of a generalist predator than that, and when the aphids are gone it will turn its attentions to other insects, including the much smaller native ladybirds. It arrived in the UK in 2004 and made itself very much at home ever since. I think personally that it outcompetes other ladybirds than rather than actually eating them, but that’s anecdotal, based on a couple of years observation of one aphid-infested buddleia.

Photo Thirteen by Charles J. Sharp, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

13. Asian hornet (Vespa volutina)

Oh lord the column inches devoted to this insect! It is true that it eats honeybees, but I suspect that it has been the cause of the death of more European hornets, hoverflies, wasps and native bees than any other creature. It is seen fairly regularly in the Channel Islands now, and I believe it’s also been spotted in Cornwall. It arrived in south-western France in some pots imported from Asia. It’s most likely to be spotted in areas where honeybees are kept, but it is still very unlikely to be seen in most of the UK. It is much darker in colour than our native hornet.

Photo Fourteen by David Short from Windsor, UK, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

14. Horse chestnut leaf miner moth (Cameraria ohridella)

This is the tiny creature responsible for our horse chestnut leaves become dry and crinkly and dropping off early every year. Little is known about it, except that it arrived as recently as 2002 on some imported plants, and has been spreading north and west ever since. Though it makes the trees look ugly, it doesn’t yet appear to affect their long-term health.

Photo Fifteen by Kleuske, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

15. Oak processionary moth caterpillars (Thaumetopoea processionea)

This little darling appeared in 2006 as a contaminant of imported plants and trees – it’s native to northern France. London appears to be the epicentre of its population at the moment, maybe because of a concentration of oak and hornbeam forest, which it seems to like (our local Coldfall and Cherry Tree woods have both had infestations recently). The insect can be a major defoliator of trees, and its hairs can cause allergic reactions and skin irritation. It can also cause the eradication of populations of innocent caterpillars such as those of the ermine moth (which forms nets in bird cherry and some other trees, but causes no long term harm). Don’t just take a flamethrower to your tree, people!

Photo Credits

Photo One by Bouke ten Cate, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Two by Ryzhkov Sergey, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Three by Lilly M, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Four by Prue Simmons, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Five by Bernard Spragg. NZ from Christchurch, New Zealand, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Six  By Andreas Trepte – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=788401

Photo Seven By Rhondle – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16504721

Photo Eight by Charles J. Sharp, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Nine by Dieter Florian (To contact the author, ask the uploader or take a look at tauchshop-florian.de.), CC BY-SA 3.0 DE <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en>, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Ten by Liquid Art, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Eleven by David Perez, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Twelve by David Short from Windsor, UK, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Thirteen by Charles J. Sharp, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Fourteen by David Short from Windsor, UK, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Fifteen by Kleuske, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

A Late Summer Walk at Walthamstow Wetlands

The Engine Room at Walthamstow Wetlands

Dear Readers, last time I was here with my friend S, the site was closed due to flooding, so it was a relief to actually be able to see the reservoirs and lakes this time. The whole place was full of dragonflies, not one of which sat still long enough for me to get a photo. Still, they are such a delight, zipping about like those toy planes powered by elastic bands that you used to get for about a shilling when I was a girl. 

They currently have a Moomin trail for the children. I was never a great fan of the little critters, but my lovely friend Susie, who died much too young, was an avid collector of all things Moomin, so I had to take a few photos for her.

On the ‘real’ wildlife trail, though, my Birdnet app proved its worth again. I heard some calls coming from what I thought were small birds in one of the goat willows. Well, I was half-right – they were small birds, but they were Little Grebes, or Dabchicks (Tachybaptus ruficollis). According to my Crossley Bird Guide, their ‘very well-known call is like whinny of tiny horse or slightly insane giggle’. I love this book!

The young birds can apparently retain the stripes on their head through their first winter, which I think is what is going on with this bird. It has a fluffy tail too, which leads Crossley to describe the bird as a ‘floating rabbit’. All in all it’s a slightly bedraggled-looking little bird, but it bobs under the water with all the efficiency of its larger relatives and then bounces back up like a cork. Dabchicks eat insects and larvae, so any baby dragonflies had better watch out.

On one of the other lakes, I spotted an adult bird, looking a bit more dapper. That splendid chestnut neck is diagnostic for the species, and I’d have though that the white mark below the bill was a good indicator too.

Adult Little Grebe

What’s going on with the water, though? Although in some places it looks like one of those Venetian marbled papers, it does look a little alarming. It’s not duckweed, and it doesn’t seem to be chemical pollution, so I’m assuming that it’s algae.

And how about this fabulous spider, who was floating in mid-air half way across the path and wasn’t best pleased when we accidentally undid all his/her hard work by walking right through the web…

There’s also some flowering Japanese knotweed (though as we know there are only female plants in the UK so it’s not the seeds that are the problem, but the roots) and! apparently some Giant Hogweed though I couldn’t see it. For those of you who don’t know, the sap of this plant can cause blisters, and it also makes the skin photosensitive so that it becomes red and sore on exposure to sunlight, sometimes for years afterwards.

There are lots of rosehips about too, including this sweetbriar( Rosa rubiginosa) – the hips have much longer sepals than on a dog rose.

A lot of the paths are out of action at the Wetlands at the moment – when ducks moult they lose all their flight feathers at once, and so are extremely vulnerable and need places to hide without disturbance. It’s always a great place to wander around, though, with lots to see if you’re patient. Today felt like summer’s last gasp, with temperatures in the high twenties, and so it was good to make the most of it. Plus, the cafe does the most delicious sandwiches and cakes, so it makes it easy to just ‘hang out’. What a great addition Walthamstow Wetlands is to the green spaces of London!

A Bank Holiday Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

Dear Readers, it was extremely quiet in the cemetery today. I’m guessing that lots of people are away, what with it being the August Bank Holiday and all, but it meant that I spotted two handsome foxes (though they dashed away too quickly for me to get a photograph), and also saw two buzzards circling overhead, mewing to one another. I expected the crows to rise up in umbrage, but they didn’t for once – maybe they’re all on holiday too.

Some Japanese anemones are just coming into flower in the woodland grave area, along with some most unlikely-looking plants – they remind me of one of my house plants. Let’s hope they survive.

Look at the swamp cypress, people! I am waiting for the first hints of rust to appear. There is a definite increase in tempo this week, with the coal tits and blue tits cheeping and the robins starting to announce their winter territories. I love autumn though, it’s probably my favourite season – there is strangely more of a sense of possibility and new beginnings for me at this time of year than in the spring. Maybe it’s all those years of education, when the school year started in September, but it’s always been pivotal for me – I got married in September, as did my mother and father, and I started my most recent job in September too.

The swamp cypress

Anyhow, I’m starting to see a lot of wasps drifting about. I wonder what this one was after on this conifer? Maybe there’s something sweet and resinous being produced.

The Cedars of Lebanon are looking particularly magnificent, and several of them are producing their female flowers, which will be shedding pollen and irritating the noses of hay fever sufferers for the next few months.

 

The conkers are filling out nicely, and there are plenty of berries on the holly.

And here’s a holly-blue butterfly, sunning itself. This one is a female (you can tell by the black edges to the wings).

I always stop and give the Tibetan Cherry trunk a little rub as well, to keep it nice and shiny.

There is a definite meadow-ish feel to some parts of the cemetery at the moment – the gardeners are out with their strimmers and, I regret to say, their leaf-blowers, but it’s been such a wet summer that everything is springing up as fast as it’s trimmed. Some grave-visitors have taken to bringing in their own strimmers. Still, I thought I’d try to take a couple of grasshopper-eye views of the plants while they’re still around.

Red clover and ribworth plantain

Other notables today were the hedgerow geranium, with its intensely mauve flowers..

…the common toadflax…

…the bristly oxtongue…

….the nipplewort…

…and the Japanese Knotweed in full flower. Just as well it doesn’t spread by seed in this country, there’s quite enough of it in the cemetery as it is.

And in other signs of autumn, there’s the tarspot fungus in all its glory on the sycamore leaves…

and the hogweed seeds, which are rather pretty close up. I’m sure someone on Masterchef actually used these in a dish recently, I shall have to check (though the umbellifers are a tricky family with several, such as hemlock, being extremely poisonous).

And finally, it’s funny what you don’t notice, until you do. I walk this way every week, but never saw that the ivy had covered a whole row of graves just by one of the woodier parts of the cemetery. It’s amazing the way that ivy just reclaims things. Was this part of the cemetery once pristine and neat, I wonder? I know that I prefer it the way it is now. Although a lot of the wilder parts of the cemetery are being dug over for new graves, I imagine that there will always be older parts where it’s just not economical to cut down the trees. I hope so, anyway.

Graves disappearing under the ivy.

Danger Lurking!

Dear Readers, there is always drama going on in the garden. Sometimes it’s spectacular, as when the heron visited a few years ago, or when the sparrowhawk wreaks mayhem with the woodpigeons. But normally it’s on a tiny scale, and I have to stand still and ‘get my eye in’ to notice it. Take this spider lurking on the hemp agrimony, for example. It looks like a blob of Tippex, but it has pale green markings on its abdomen and thorax – it’s on the right of the plant, towards the top. If you look closely, you’ll see that it has its ‘arms’ wide open, as if hoping to embrace an old friend. Well, clearly what it’s actually after is a tasty meal, because I only noticed it when it got very excited and moved after a honeybee landed. Oh the suspense!

Fortunately for the bee, it never got quite close enough for the spider to pounce, and so it made its getaway unmolested. The little moth on the left-hand side is a mint moth, also known as purple-and-gold, which is probably having a break from all the water mint that has taken over my pond this year. It shouldn’t be too relaxed, though – the spider will happily chomp a moth if one comes within reach. I think I now understand why I found a dead and desiccated brimstone moth tucked into one of the hemp agrimony flowers last week.

I’m pretty sure that this is the Common Candy-Striped Spider (Enoplognatha ovata), as a very similar spider was identified in the garden a few weeks ago. Why candy-striped when it’s clearly mostly white and green? Well, there are three colour forms, with varying degrees of  pink stripy-ness. I was lucky enough to spot this one, which illustrates the point rather better.

What fine spiders these are! Apparently the females have a bluish egg sac, which they hide away in a rolled leaf. I shall have to have another look. The garden is always full of surprises.

Careful Does It….

Dear Readers, today I decided to do a little bit of judicious pruning – my buddleias hang over the road a little, so I try to be a good neighbour and keep the pavement clear. Then, I noticed that some bindweed had infiltrated the hardy geraniums, and I finally paid attention to the elder that was trying to grow out of the wall. I chopped up all the bigger stems and was just about to go indoors when I noticed this shieldbug. My Facebook friends think it’s the last instar of a Hawthorn shieldbug, which makes a lot of sense what with me having a giant hawthorn tree in the garden.

And then these insects started to emerge – there were three of them in total, but they don’t hang around. I think this is probably a Southern Oak Bush-cricket (Meconema meridionale) – the ‘spike’ sticking out at the end shows that this individual is a female, and this is her ovipositor, for laying her eggs into rotten wood. Look at the length of those antennae!

All of the bush-crickets bounced away into the undergrowth. They can jump many times their own body-length, and just as well – being bright green they are far too conspicuous. You can tell this is a Southern Bush-cricket by the yellow dorsal stripe. This is another recent arrival, first recorded in Southern England in 2001. As the animal is flightless, it has probably been ‘hitching a lift’ in plant material that’s transported by vehicle. But here’s a thing – it is said to be a predator of the horse-chestnut leaf miner, the moth that is turning all the horse-chestnut leaves to crisps as we speak. It generally lives in trees, so I’m wondering if it is currently living in the whitebeam? Or was it hanging out in the buddleia, which is now the size of a small tree?

When I remove plant material from my pond, I always put it on the side for a couple of days to allow the little critters to wriggle back into the water, but I’ve always just plonked the lid onto my wheelie bin once I’ve done the pruning. It occurs to me that I should leave the lid open for a few hours, just to allow insects to escape as the vegetation starts to wilt. I’d already removed a two-spot ladybird and a very pregnant spider, so hopefully other creatures will also have a chance to escape.

So this is basically a plea for anyone who has their garden waste recycled, or who has a tightly-enclosed compost bin (like some of the plastic ones I’ve seen) to consider leaving the lid open for a little while, to avoid condemning invertebrates to death. It’s something I’d never thought of until all the action today, and I’d love to hear how you deal with such things.

In other news, the garden is a jungle. Once the angelica fell over and everything around it collapsed, it’s been a tangle of meadowsweet, hemp agrimony and greater willowherb. Chelsea Flower Show it ain’t, but how I love to watch all the pollinators, especially as the plants are at a very convenient height for observation.

The pond has water mint and figwort, with the bees and hoverflies being especially partial to the former.

Water mint

And the bumblebees continue to home in on the bittersweet.

It’s true that soon there will be some tidying to do, but I am just starting to realise how many species the garden supports. I will try to be sympathetic to what the creatures need, while also trying to keep my own sanity. Still, this is all a problem for September. For now, my tidying is done.