Greater Spearwort

These yellow flowers are members of the buttercup family and are called Greater Spearwort (Ranunculus lingua). They are growing on the damp edge of the pond in the Charlton Down Nature Reserve. There are over 600 species of Ranunculus in the world and this is one of 35 species that occur in Britain.

Bumblebee or Humblebee ?

I think this is a Buff-tailed Humblebee (Bombus terrestris) but I could be wrong. The slightly larger White-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lucorum) looks very similar. Perhaps you know the difference and can put me right? Anyway, there were several of them busy getting nectar and covering themselves with pollen in the Charlton Down Nature Reserve last evening.

Red Admiral

A beautiful Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) butterfly, basking in a shaft of sunlight on the tall hogweed flowers to the south of Greenwood House yesterday evening.

Tiger Cranefly

I saw this odd insect on a hogweed flowerhead. It is something new to me. It is rather magnificently named the Tiger Cranefly (Nephrotoma flavescens) because of the colouring and pattern if not for any behavioural characteristics. It is harmless enough, and feeds on pollen and nectar.

Pellucid Hoverfly

It is undeniable that there are fewer insects around than there used to be even ten or twenty years ago. The change is dramatic when compared with my youth and childhood which is a very long time ago. On a warm summer afternoon like yesterday there was hardly a creature on the wing in the village nature reserve. There are currently swathes of flowering plants and grasses. Nothing really remarkable – most obvious are the tall stands of various umbellifera, like hog weed and cow parsley with their large flattened flowerheads, providing hundreds of thousands of tiny white flowers full of nectar and pollen. A potential feast for insects. The creamy white background of the blooms makes it easy to see any feeding insects. There were only or two noticeable.

The first one I saw was this unusual insect that looked at first like a bee but had markings on the one pair of true wings. The second pair were reduced and these are called halteres – that signalled it as a type of fly (Dipteran, not Hymenopteran). Looking up the identification back home, I found out it was a Pellucid or Great Pied Hoverfly (Volucella pellucens) which is more characteristic on bramble flowers although it is also seen on others like the umbellifers. Pellucid means translucently clear; and you can see that there is a band of segments on the abdomen nearest to the thorax that looks a cream colour – because you can actually see the intestines through the clear integument. Why does it mimic a bee? Well the adult female needs to be in disguise when laying her eggs inside the nests of wasps and bumble bees. The hoverfly larvae feed on waste matter and bee/wasp larvae when they hatch out.

Blackberry 1

Another of the commonest wild plants is the bramble (Rubus fruticosus)and it can be quite a nuisance too. Its sprawling, spreading, intertwining growth habit means that it spreads with ease and can soon reach out over paths and catch you as you walk by. You can’t miss them in Charlton Down. No-one ever seems to manage them – even while there is a great eagerness to mow down and cut back every other sign of natural wildlife on a regular basis. We more than tolerate them for the promise of the berries to collect in the autumn. Buds quickly turn to blooms (white or pink), and flowers rapidly convert to green fruits. Whether these develop into luscious black berries is another matter. So weather dependant. My mouth is watering at the prospect of collecting in due course the fruit from the orchard too, for making blackberry and apple crumble!

Herb Robert

Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) seems able to survive almost anywhere. I have seen it at the foot of hedgerows, in the undergrowth beneath trees, and in really hostile habitats like the angle crack in concrete at the junction of walls and paths, and on stone steps in Charlton Down. I think the colour of the foliage is dependent on the degree of shade and moisture in which the plant is growing – so that the redder leaves and stems are on plants in the drier places. They are low-growing creeping plants with much-divided leaves and hairy stems. There are small pink flowers and lovely long pointed beak-like seed capsules that are the give-away sign that they are members of the cranesbill family of plants.

Plantains

Humble plants, often overlooked, but very common and found growing all over the place. They come in tall varieties and short ones. Lawn mowers try to exterminate them but they keep returning. I am talking about Plantains (Plantago spp.). They may not be very pretty and colourful but they are interesting and attractive in their own way. The cream flowers borne on tall stalks certainly provide a useful feeding station for insects.

Dog Roses

There is something special about Dog Roses. Somehow it seems a special treat to see them in the hedgerows. Their pale pink petals so fragile, tender and ephemeral, their colour changing with the degree of light and shade. Dog roses are blooming this week in the village playing field (Olympic Park), the Charlton Down Nature Reserve, and the place I call the ‘Meadow’ on the north side of Charlton Down – to name just a few of the easily accessible spots where you can enjoy them. In these locations there are only isolated rose bushes but sometimes the whole hedgerow is adorned with them; I have included some pictures like this from a walk on Charminster Down taken several years ago.

Frome Water Meadows

A few pictures from a gentle evening stroll among the Frome River Valley water meadows, on the northern edge of Dorchester, and just a few miles from Charlton Down. The fields are looking particularly glorious right now with thousands and thousands of bright yellow buttercups. Despite the overcast skies, it was a very enjoyable walk in very pleasant company with the added delight of observing clouds of newly-emergent dancing mayflies.