A Darwin Wasp

I managed to glimpse this insect on some Hogweed flowers (not Giant Hogweed – I haven’t seen any of that dangerous and poisonous plant in the village so far). This little creature is a solitary parasitic wasp belonging to a group of 32 families and 6,600 different species in the British Isles. It is an Ichneumon wasp and gets its common name from Charles Darwin who studied these insects in great detail.

Given the number of species, it is difficult to be confidant which one this is – but I would hazard a guess at the Yellow-striped or Tiger Darwin Wasp (Ichneumon xanthorius) but I am not certain. This insect group has an interesting and somewhat macabre lifestyle. The adult lays her eggs inside the larvae and pupae of moths of certain types; the eggs hatch and the larvae slowly eat the internal soft body parts of the host organism while it is still alive; then they pupate and ultimately break out of the husk of the host when they hatch. Nice!

What’s this Bird?

I am not very good at birds. There will always be someone with more knowledge than I. As a rule birds move very fast and that makes them difficult for me to photograph. But back in early June this small bird was hopping uncertainly along the dirt path beside a barley field just ahead of me. It made a some practise flights a few inches from the ground and then scurried into the wayside vegetation. It paused long enough for me to photograph. I think it is an immature female Blackcap (with the lovely scientific name of Sylvia atricapilla). Does anyone else have other ideas about its identification?

Cinnabar Moth

There are not so many splashes of bright yellow-flowered ragwort around as in some previous years. I have found one small group of plants beside a wheat field. The other day there were several small black and red moths fluttering nearby. Mostly they were elusively moving and resting deep in the shady undergrowth and only fleetingly appearing in clear view of sunlit spots. It was very difficult to get a good shot. But here are a few pictures of the Cinnabar Moth (Tyria jacobaeae). It lays its eggs on Ragwort, and later I am sure to find some of its distinctive caterpillars eating the nearby flowers.

View from Wood Hill 4

Wood Hill overlooks Charlton Down to the north, Charminster Down to the west, Charminster village to the south, and Charlton Higher Down to the east. On the north side of the hill closest to Charlton Down, small numbers of livestock such as cattle, sheep, and horses are grazed on the slopes.

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View from Wood Hill 3

One of the two public footpaths from my village of Charlton Down to the next village of Charminster, that lies further south, passes over the top of Wood Hill. On the top of the hill is a group of trees called Wood Hill Clump. The path goes around the trees, and after navigating the stile (or ‘kissing gate’), you see a completely different kind of view across a field of ripe wheat towards Charminster, the developing town of Poundbury, and the hills beyond.

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View from Wood Hill 2

There are gorgeous panoramic views of the village and surrounding countryside from the top of Wood Hill just to the south of Charlton Down in Dorset. This is the view from near the top of the slope looking east towards Charlton Higher Down, which I have managed to reach several times in the past pandemic year. It is the place marked by a Bronze Age barrow that I featured in an earlier post. There is also one hidden from view in a thicket of brambles in the field below the gate in this picture. When the burial sites were new and covered in white chalk over three thousand years ago, they must have really stood out in the landscape and been seen for miles around.

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Arable Weeds 5 – Nipplewort

This flower I am not a hundred percent certain about the identification but I think it is Nipplewort (Lapsana communis). It certainly is a common yellow flowered plant and is not confined to this particular habitat in the strip of arable weeds that I have been investigating. There are so many similar yellow flowered plants that I am never absolutely certain what they are. Anyway, this is my best attempt. If you know better, please do let me know.

Nipplewort is said to have useful medicinal and culinary properties.

You can click on an image to enlarge it and view in a gallery.

Arable Weeds 4 – White Campion

White Campion (Silene latifolia) occurs all over the place around Charlton Down and is more commonly found in hedgerows and verges, but there were a few among the Common Poppies and wealth of other types of arable weeds in the uncultivated border of a maize field. The white flowers stood out among the greens, reds, yellows and blues 0f other native wild plants with which they are intertwined.

Down by the River

View looking north along the Cerne Valley from the river as it flows near Charlton Down. The river banks still look lush in comparison with the brown fields around which have recently been harvested or ploughed. The field peas in the adjacent field were noisily being cut and garnered by the machine as I took this picture yesterday, 20th August 2021.

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Arable Weeds 3 – Scarlet Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis) is one of those beautiful little wild flowers which seem utterly familiar, and makes me think of early childhood days and spending long hours out of doors in the garden. In a way, it is surprising that there were any weeds at all in our garden because Dad was out every day hoeing the soil to prevent anything establishing itself among the rows of vegetables and fruit bushes. Control was the name of the game. But we lived next to an open field, and intruders were bound to come in despite his control measures. Scarlet Pimpernel has dainty and colourful flowers which in reality are usually a pinkish orange but with a darker red centre (the petals can even be blue). Seeing these tiny flowers scrambling over the bare chalky soil in Charlton Down fields somehow makes me feel the same way that I did as a child discovering the natural world in a way that was mixed with fantasy and dreams.