Saturday, August 26, 2006

New lichen, Lecanora campestris

Standing idly in the rain yesterday, I noticed a sort of grey smear like some distant nebula on the sandstone rock in The Waste. There have been various stains of an indeterminate nature on this rock and others in Emthree, but today I could clearly see the small brown jam tart-like fruiting bodies that revealed Master Smudge's identity as a lichen.

Consulting with books led to the conclusion that it might be Lecanora campestris and this was confirmed by Simon Davey, the Sussex Lichen Recorder. L. campestris is an abundant species in the south and, among other habitats, it likes to grow on nutrient enriched silaceous rocks. In this case the repeated cracking of snails by our garden thrush must have produced a rich patina of snail juice and bird poo that has no doubt fostered the growth of this lichen. At this rate it will be no time at all before we have a layer of soil on the rock.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Phaonia on Hypericum

Having said in an earlier posting that I saw rather few insects on the square-stalked St John's-worts in M3, today I noticed this muscid fly, a Phaonia species (see above) enjoying its afternoon tea on one of the flowers.

There are many members of the genus Phaonia, so I am not going to hazard a guess at the species, though it is one of the common ones.

Square-stalked St John's-wort, Hypericum tetrapterum

This hypericum reaches its best in mid-August and is a distinctive mixture of flower and fruit. The seeds pods turn boot-polish brown as they ripen which adds to the effect. The plants (which are said to prefer marshy places) have increased steadily in the past few years and it seems quite at home both in M3 and in The Waste.

Not many insects visit the flowers, but there are various things that feed on the leaves. One is the larvae of the tiny Johnswort pigmy moth, Fomoria septembrella, that make distinctive mines on some of the leaves. I have brought one leaf indoors to see if I can breed out an adult moth.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Too deep for tears

There is a great summer stillness under the high cloud blanket. It is our 48th wedding anniversary and that distant commemorated day seems such a long time ago.

An autumnal theme is starting to prevail in M3: dry grass, leaves fading from pale buff to umber black, often fretted with holes by July insects or scribbled with their leaf mines.

There are a few weary bees on the flowers gathering the last of the honey and pollen.

I sat thinking about the reasons why some people respond passionately to nature while others are little moved, or indifferent. Immanuel Kant in his Critique of Judgement (1790) argued that ‘enjoyment’ is the result when pleasure arises from sensation, but judging something to be ‘beautiful’ has a third requirement: sensation must give rise to pleasure by engaging our capacities of reflective contemplation.

The ardent naturalist seems often to be moved to a deep and meaningful contemplation by what is perceived as the beauty of wild things.

Maybe Wordsworth had read Kant. His Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood completed in 1804, the year of Kant’s death, ends with the lines:

Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Today was hay-cutting day ...

Today (31 July) was hay-cutting day for Mice & Red but I was busy and out a lot and I forgot. No matter, I will go for it on 1 August.

I did make a brief evening visit and simply sat there and enjoyed the relative coolness; enjoyed watching a rosy-flounced tabby, nectaring with evident satisfaction on flowers of ragwort. These attractive little pyralid moths, Endotricha flammealis, have been much in evidence this year.

July we learn has been the hottest month on record in Britain since records began in 1914 with an average day and night temperature of 17.8°C. The main effect this seems to have had in M3 is that some of the July flowers are going over to seed more quickly. This, of course, may be because there has been an almost continuous opportunity in the daytime for insect pollination rather than the heat per se.

I have bought a simple rain gauge and have set it up near M3 to see how much rain we actually do get. On this last day of July we did have a heavy shower at about 8pm and there was more rain overnight: it won’t fill the reservoirs, but it might help some of the plants along.