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Wildlife in July 2016

Regular reports about some of the plants and animals that you may see on a visit to Fineshade Wood
- and also some that are rather more elusive!

3rd July.  Two very unusual insects

Recently John Showers, the Northants Recorder for Diptera (true flies) paid a visit to help with recording some of Fineshade’s lesser known insects.  


He was delighted to find two species both rare in Northants though one occurs more frequently further south and the other further north. 


Near the railway bridge at the top of the lane that leads to Top Lodge John found a small longhorn beetle, on the head of a Hogweed. It is Stenurella melanura.


This species is widespread and common in the south of England but much rarer in the Midlands and north, although there seems to be a hotspot for it in the Rockingham Forest area as the NBN gateway distribution map shows.


The beetle breeds in small branches that are lying on the ground in damp conditions.

Later, near one of Fineshade’s ponds, John found three specimens of a most interesting hoverfly species, Sericomyia silentis, sometimes known as the Bog Hoverfly.


This species looks very like a wasp but notice that it only has two wings whereas wasps have four. It breeds in peaty ditches and small pools.  


The species is widespread on the wet heaths and moors of northern and western Britain but, again, it is very scarce in Northamptonshire. The NBN gateway distribution map for this species is here


Stenurella melanura. Photo John Showers

2 insects

Sericomyia silentis

Photo John Showers


8th July.  Crossbills and Cranesbills

Male Crossbill

Mike Pennington via Wikimedia Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license

There was news this week of two Common Crossbills in Fineshade.  Jacob Spinks and Eleanor Morrison were at the wildlife hide and saw one male Crossbill singing/calling before it flew off to the right of the hide. They heard the second bird calling from the car park.

There are historical records of Crossbills breeding in Fineshade but no confirmed breeding in recent years. In fact breeding records are now very unusual in the East Midlands as a whole. These birds can start breeding very early in the year, depending on the availability of conifer seeds.

There were three records in Fineshade in the early spring of 2015 including a flock of 20. Earlier this year it seems that a party of 8 were seen, again at the wildlife hide.

The distinctive crossed bill is an adaptation enabling the bird to feed on pine cones so it worth looking for these birds on any conifers with ripening cones. Please do let us know of any further sightings of this unusual conifer specialist - or indeed of any other interesting wildlife.

One of the most obvious flowers in Fineshade at the moment is the Meadow Cranesbill - a member of the geranium family.

You can see them along the lane that leads up to Top Lodge and in many places alongside the walking tracks through the wood.

A particularly good place is beside the track that leads down past the tree house and youth shelters - where the picture on the left was taken.  Look out for butterflies including lots of Silver-washed Fritillaries down there too.

The large flowers of Meadow Cranesbill will later turn into pointed, bill-like seed pods that give the plant its name.  Apparently the plant has antiseptic medical properties, and in the past it was used to relieve a range of medical problems including cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, nosebleeds, ulcers and haemorrhoids. Wow!

Meadow Cranesbill


13th July  Glow-worm, Long-eared Owls and dragonflies

At this time of year you have to be up late if you want to see a Glow-worm, but conditions were perfect on Sunday night - a half moon shining low in the western sky above Wakerley Wood.  


And there, shining through the grass was the neon-green light of a single female glow-worm trying to attract the attentions of a male. Magic!


You can read more about Glow-worms on this page written by local recorder Linda Worrall.

Photo Matthew Rumbelow

Then, towards midnight, a strange sound began to come from the Mill Wood area. Clearly made by an animal ,but rather like the sound of a squeaking gate. (Listen below) It was repeated over and over again, and then joined by a second one.  

These were the food-begging calls of young Long-eared Owls, one of the most elusive breeding birds of Fineshade Wood

Much easier insects to see (at a rather more social time of day!) are dragonflies and there are lots around at the moment. The two on the left, both females were photographed yesterday. Above is a female Common Darter in the grass and below, on one of the tracks, is a female Black-tailed Skimmer.

However, an exciting sighting at the Wildlife Hide on Monday was Britain's largest dragonfly, the aptly named Emperor (Anax imperator).

A male was patrolling the pond right in front of the hide, resplendent with its bright blue abdomen with a thin dark line down its back. (Photo, right)

We'd be very pleased to know of other dragonflies recorded or photographed in Fineshade Wood.

By Bj.schoenmakers (Own work)
[CC0], via Wikimedia Commons


17th July  Butterfly walk

White-letter Hairstreaks in Fineshade
Photo taken by Doug Goddard in 2015. 

The weather was great for Butterfly Conservation's guided walk this morning. Former county recorder, Doug Goddard, led us from Top Lodge down past the caravan site and almost immediately there was something unexpected. Marbled Whites typically occur in open grassland, but there was one about 100 yards from the visitor centre - only the second time it has been recorded here.

As we proceeded slowly down the hill Doug pointed out Purple Hairstreaks in the tree tops, Essex Skippers in the grass and many, many Silver-washed Fritillaries flitting everywhere. Eventually a White Admiral was found, but the butterfly that enthusiasts really wanted to see (some had come from Wales and Cheshire) was one of Fineshade's special butterflies, the White-letter Hairstreak. These are Nationally Scarce and they feed on honeydew in the tops of Elm trees. Sure enough, there were at least 8 of these to be seen, and enough to satisfy those who had travelled so far to see them. 

During the morning a total of 222 butterflies of 18 species were recorded and we were very grateful indeed for the shared expertise and good humour of our guide.

Marbled White. A meadow specialist recorded for the second time in Fineshade

Photo Kurt Hellwing


21st July  An unusual hoverfly

Many thanks to Russ Briers for sending us this picture, taken in Fineshade, of an unusual hoverfly: Volucella inflata. It is an Ancient Woodland specialist but records are largely confined south of a line between the Severn and the Wash apart from a group of records in Rockingham Forest as the NBN distribution map shows


It has now been seen three times this month in Fineshade: once by the county Fly recorder, John Showers, once in a house at Top Lodge and now in this photo. Adults fly from May to July and feed on nectar from flowers.

Volucella inflata and its UK distribution


30th July  Look what's coming up in Westhay!

Common Cudweed

Common Cudweed (left) is "near threatened" in England but it is cropping up in several places in Fineshade. Northants Plant Recorder Rob Wilson has records from only 3 other sites in the county. Ace botanist Brian Laney has found it previously this year on two of the lorry bays, but last week he also located it deep in Westhay Wood. 

Brian came to see what interesting plants might be coming up along the rides in Westhay after the disturbance to the ground caused by last winter's extensive ride widening. Not only did he find the Cudweed but also three other species that are scarce in the county: Lesser Centaury (right), Heath Grounsel, and Small Teasel. This Teasel species occurs in the northern parts of the wood but it is very good to see it establishing also in the widened Westhay rides.  


In all, Brian recorded 129 species of plants and grasses in a 4-hour survey of just part of the widened rides. He says "the ride widening has been beneficial to plants in opening up the seedbank. There is still more of this habitat to look at to see what else has come up."  

Lesser Centaury

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