Sunday, 27 February 2011

Light and dark

I went up to the Celandine area, but the buds were still closed. I did, however, find a few open specimens of Coltsfoot:


Coltsfoot is quite interesting in a couple of ways:

1) The flowers always appear before the leaves
2) The stems have a fine cobwebby covering which tightens and stretches to alter the attitude of the flowerhead and seedhead as the season progresses.

Gorse has also come back into flower:

Gorse flowers
At this point, the rain became much heavier and the next Gorse shot has a very interesting background:

Gorse in heavy rain
Damaged parts of leaves attract me like a magnet: they usually indicate a fungal influence or signs of something feeding . This Common Polypody had a single leaflet that was clearly eaten:

Polypodium with feeding signs
I flipped it over and immediately saw that a micromoth had been eating the spores and had made its pupation case from the leftovers:

Pupation case of micromoth
The pupation case is the large cluster of sori just below centre.

Only one micromoth  - Psychoides filicivorahas been recorded from Polypody, so I rather suspect this is the beast we have here.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Slight heat

Last night was slightly warmer than it had been recently, so I had a quick check at the porch lights just in case moths were active. 

This male Pale Brindled Beauty had tried to get as close to the *light as it possibly could:
Male Pale Brindled Beauty - Phigalia pilosaria
Again, these have flightless females, and they appear in two main colour forms: in rural areas they tend to be as shown above, and in industrial areas or cities, they are often much darker.

The Chestnut is a bit atypical of the winter moths, since it is patterned and coloured like many of the moths from much later in the season (it also belongs to a different family - the Noctuids):

Chestnut moth - Conistra vaccinii

Both of these moths can be found during the coldest months, so they aren't really a sign of the forthcoming spring, but they do bring a smile nevertheless.

* this is a very interesting lightbulb, as it attracts many night-flying moths; it's one of the newer energy-saving bulbs that's shaped to look very much like the old incandescent bulbs.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Little things

This is a great time to have a look at mosses: many of the fruiting capsules are ripe and ready to release their spores for the next generation. I really like the setae ('stems') that support the capsules: many of them are translucent and come in various shades of green, yellow or red. If you can get a back-lit shot, then the results can be very beautiful indeed, as this shot of Tortula muralis shows:

Notice that the red capsule lids are sliding upwards over the capsules as they expand to make room for the growing spores.

There has been a recent trend to 'dumb-down' the names of many species of mosses, lichens and fungi by giving them 'friendly English' names. Tortula muralis would be known as Wall Screw-moss if this system became more popular. I'll stick with the latin binominal.

Since the primary purpose of the setae is to give the spores the best chance of distribution via exposure to wind and/or rain, I find the system used by the moss Grimmia pulvinata to be almost perverse: the setae are invariably strongly curved, leading to a situation where the capsules are always buried below the leaves of the parent plant:

I cannot think of a reason for this system, but Grimmia pulvinata is one of the more common mosses on our wall tops, so it obviously works well enough.

A quick couple of flower shots:

Snowdrops fully opened
And a glimpse of the first daisy of the year: Groundsel:

Friday, 18 February 2011


For the last few nights we have had freezing fog and temperatures that hover around the -1, -2 mark, but when I'm driving along I can see plenty of moths caught in the glare of the headlights. I made a quick check at the front of the house last night, just in case some crazy moth had decided to hatch in these freezing conditions, and this male Early Moth - Theria primaria - obligingly flew up from the ground and landed on the windowsill:

Theria primaria - Early Moth (male)
The Early Moth is one of the species which is resistant to frost and will emerge in sub-zero temperatures. It has only been recorded a few times in Co. Donegal, which is strange, because it's a Hawthorn and Blackthorn associate, and those plants are very abundant here.

The above specimen is clearly a male, since the female is flightless.

Pussy Willow catkins are appearing on many trees, now and I caught a glimpse of a couple of flies moving along the hedgerow, so we're clearly emerging from the depths of winter.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Low level activity

Most of the current activity seems to be taking place at ground level: mosses and terrestrial lichens are looking well at the moment. I suppose they have to make use of whatever light they can get before the taller plants shade them for the rest of the season.

The area I went to yesterday is a high boggy area which is very good for mosses, since they need water for the early stages of their lifecycle.

Two of the most prominent mosses in this area are Rhytidiadelphus triquetris:

and Rhytidiadelphus squarrosus:

Rhytidiadelphus squarrosus might be more familiar to you as one of the mosses which grows on poorly-drained lawns.

The Reindeer Lichen Cladonia portentosa is making the pale, cloudy, growths that peek out from the clumps of Sphagnum:

Higher up, one specimen of Pine was sporting pale green needles, which indicate new growth:

And this Willow bud was closest to opening:

Notice that the tip of the branch has been burnt by the heavy frosts we had in December.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Things are moving!

Out for a walk with the dogs tonight, I spotted this female frog crossing the path in front of us. Quick dash back to the car to get the camera and she's recorded for posterity: 

Female Rana temporaria
I also saw a newt which had tried to cross the same path earlier, but it hadn't been as lucky with the traffic.

It's amazing what a little heat (or less cold!) can do.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Dependency chains

Willow catkins have started to appear on a few trees, so the dependent species will be stirring from their winter hiding places: the larvae of some micromoths live inside the catkins, causing them to drop early; larger moths of the Xanthia family feed on the pollen; and the solitary bee Andrena clarkella gathers the pollen to feed her larvae in the underground burrow. 

Catkins of Salix
As soon as the leaves appear, a completely new set of micromoths and beetles will appear to eat the leaves or make mines inside them. This pattern of a series of dependent species will repeat itself when other trees such as Birch, Oak, Beech and Alder produce their flowers and leaves, but the Willow is the first of our trees to produce these food sources, so it's always the one to kick things off for the new season.

Willow catkins
I don't usually try to identify Willows to a single species because they hybridise and back cross very freely. This one seems most like Goat (Pussy) Willow, but I suspect there's a bit of Grey in there, too. ( I know of a lovely specimen of Dwarf x Eared Willow growing in the middle of an abandoned path: the tree produces catkins, so it's mature, but it is no more than 10 cm. tall. I'll show some pictures in June, when it's in flower.)