In close-up, this paved area at the end of Barbara’s brother’s South Ossett garden is a miniature landscape; a sun-baked plateau dissected by a network of canyons. Brown ants patrol the edges of a dense forest of mosses.
Moss is still green in the crevices but on the surface of the concrete paving slabs, it’s dried up. White whiskers give the clump a little protection from the direct glare of the sun.
Spore capsules of the mosses are like pepper-pots on wiry stalks. One (left) has split open, leaving the teeth around the rim splayed out, like the petals of a miniature daisy.
Spots, Stains and Splatters: Crustose Lichens
There are a few spots of a dirty yellow crustose lichen on the concrete. It’s dotted with orange sporangia, each with a narrow yellow rim.
This black crustose lichen looks like little more than a tar stain on the concrete but my macro photograph reveals a surface cracked like dried mud.
A white lichen looks like splatters of paint. In close-up almost every individual scale in the colony is dotted with a small depression, perhaps the lichen’s spore-producing body.
I’m guessing that the single orange sporangium is a different species of lichen – probably the yellowish species – that has become engulfed by the white one.
Bluebottles and Bumblebees
When I drew these a month ago on 11 June the temperature was climbing to 34°C, 92°F, in this sunny corner, so insects were active. A half-size version of a bluebottle touched down while a small marmalade-coloured bumblebee visited the white clover at the edge of the lawn.
I was soon adopted as an extension of the habitat by a small brown spider which climbed over me.
This afternoon, for the first time in a week or more, the sky is overcast. It’s so grey over to the east that you could believe that we might get a rain shower; we don’t, but these still, sultry conditions are perfect for the brown ants that have a colony under our patio to release their winged queens and males. Hundreds of them are lined up ready to take off over the lawn as the ground crew, the colony’s workers, scurry about excitedly.
It seems that some of the queens don’t go far on their nuptial flights. A few hours later, as I’m watering a small patch of the lawn that I’ve reseeded, I spot three or four of them running around and, when one of them finds a likely cavity, it heads straight down; the start of a new colony, if all goes well.
The queen ants are so much larger and plumper than the workers, with glistening abdomens, so that when I first see them I think that they’re some kind of ground beetle. They’ve already discarded their wings, which are used solely for the nuptial flight.
The four cream ‘shaving brushes’ on the back of the Vapourer moth caterpillar, Orgyia antiqua, make it easy to identify and presumably make predators think twice about trying to eat it.
This was nibbling away with three or four vapourer caterpillars on willow leaves by the woodland ride at Thorpe Marsh nature reserve. Larger numbers of vapourers can have a devastating effect on city trees.
12.30 pm, 23°C, 71°F: On a visit to the RHS gardens at Harlow Carr, Harrogate, I spend half an hour drawing some of the insects that are visiting the vegetable patch.
At first, it’s the fly, a house fly or one of its close relatives, basking in the sun on the arm of the garden chair that attracts my attention but apart from going through a grooming routine, as flies habitually do, it’s isn’t engaged in any interesting behaviour.
A drone fly visits a yellow tagetes flower, as does a small white butterfly.
Bee on Sweet Pea
A black bee on a sweet pea flower bends its abdomen upwards, takes the stamen between its back legs and transfers its white pollen to the underside of its abdomen. It appears to be sipping nectar simultaneously.
Moving flower pots under the bench in the greenhouse, I came across a black hunting wasp* with conspicuous white dots halfway along its antennae. There also appeared to be a white dot at the rear of its thorax. It’s been a mild day and it was even warmer in the greenhouse, even so I was surprised by how active it was. It didn’t appear to be just running for cover after I’d removed the plant pots, it appeared to be actively hunting on the surface of the damp soil. Its antennae were exploring all the time, moving independently of each other.
It was a little over a centimetre, about half an inch long, perhaps a little longer including the long antennae.
* It’s an Ichneumon – a relative of bees, wasps and ants – Ichneumon suspiciosus, a common species throughout the British Isles. Seeing it from above, I’d noticed a brownish tinge on its wings which was, in fact a broad red or orange band on its abdomen. The species also has pale spots to the rear, which I didn’t notice as it scuttled along.
This harlequin ladybird landed on the window this afternoon. It’s probably on the look-out for a suitable site to hibernate.
A map on the Harlequin Ladybird Survey website shows how this North American species, introduced to Europe in 1988, has spread from the south-east of England. From a couple of records in Yorkshire in 2003-2004, it has now been recorded across most of the county, with the exception of parts of the Dales, the North Yorks Moors and the Wolds. It’s apparent absence here may be the result of there being fewer people to record them.
Hundreds of knopper galls are scattered beneath the oaks in Nostell Park. On some you can see the way that the acorn has been transformed into the home and the food source for the larva of the gall wasp Andricus quercuscalis. The acorns have stalks, botanically penduncles, so these are the acorns of the common or pendunculate oak, Quercus robur.
It’s the asexual generation of this gall wasp that produces the knopper gall; the alternate sexual generation produces tiny galls on the male catkins of the Turkey oak, Quercus cerris. Turkey oak acorns have ‘mossy’ cups, that remind me of the furry Russian hat that Ivan the Terrible might have worn. There are several Turkey oaks at Nostell.
This species of bracket fungus is sprouting on deciduous stumps in the woods around the lakes.
The head gardener is adding wire mesh to the newly restored iron gate to the walled garden.
“Is that to stop the ducks getting in?” (It’s been a good year for the mallards on the nearby lakes).
“I worked on the film of Watership Down, so I’m always rooting for the rabbits.”
The garden is at it’s most productive so Barbara is busy in the kitchen, using a couple of pounds of split tomatoes in a Crank’s recipe for chilli bean and vegetable casserole, which also includes courgettes, onions, runner beans and potatoes from our garden.
She added some of today’s raspberries (we picked a bowl and a half of them) to a batch of muffins.
We haven’t been able to keep up with the runner beans. A handful of the slenderest are going into the casserole but I’ve stripped off all the large stringy pods that were beginning to swell to encourage the plants to put their energy into the fresh pods which are still appearing.
As I reached inside the wigwam of beanstalks, I was surrounded by sunlit foliage. With temperatures climbing into the 70s it felt more like high summer than the beginning of autumn.
Spider and Wasp
It’s a time of plenty for the spiders too: a jumping spider patrols the sunny kitchen windowsill and an orb spider with a web on the outside of the lounge window fusses out of its corner to check out a tiny insect which has landed on its web but just misses it as the insect breaks away.
A garden spider at the centre of a 12 inch wide web in front of the ivy at the end of the herb bed has more success. It has swathed a wasp in silk and is slowly consuming it. Unlike the spider in the corner of the window, it doesn’t retreat to a lair: it’s been there right at the centre of its web all afternoon. Two hours later it is still clutching what remains of the unfortunate wasp.
Wasps nested under the tiles of the roof above my studio two years ago and, during the summer months and well into a mild autumn, dozens, if not hundreds, of them somehow blundered their way into the studio and I regularly had to release them by flipping open the Velux window.
A few found their way into our hot water system and for months afterwards the odd fragment of wasp carapace would appear when we ran a bath.
This year wasps have nested under tiles again but near the apex of the main roof so thankfully well away from the hot water tank.
5 p.m.: The workers of the ants’ nest under the paving slabs of our patio are getting rather excited but it’s not going to be perfect weather for the winged queens and males to take off on their nuptial flight as although it has been warm and humid we’re now getting flurries of breeze and fine, misty drizzle.
At first it was the song thrush that started anting – encouraging ants to run over its plumage – while the female blackbird hopped up the lawn and started pecking up the scurrying ants to eat them.
Now she has taken to anting too, picking up the ants and letting them run about on her feathers. She does this at first from under the cover of the leaves of the peony that overhang the corner of the patio then comes out and continues by the bird bath.
The sparrows are more interested in eating the ants. One male hops under the plastic bird bath which is supported by bricks, a space that the blackbird, which later reverts to simply eating the ants, cannot reach.