The end of May and the blackthorn blossom has seamlessly transformed into that of the hawthorn. There seems to be a profusion of it this year, which is good news for the birds that will feed on its berries during winter. The catkins of the willows have now dropped and the trees are in full leaf. Munday's close has a number of more unusual trees including the guelder rose and spindle, both in flower in early June. A little later and the dogwood and elder were in full bloom. After the daffodils and bluebells had finished in the verge at the side of Mickley Lane it suddenly exploded into a froth of cow parsley blossom. This provided an ideal source of food for insects and the birds that feed on them. I watched a dunnock making frequent trips back and forth to feed her nest of chicks calling from the hedge on the other side of the lane. I sometimes think we tidy up too much and leave featureless and lifeless areas of short grass when nature can make a much better job of making it look attractive.The cowslips in Munday's close have finished and the uncut area has grown apace. The earlier flowers among the grass have been green alkanet, forget-me-not,
ox-eye daisy,common vetch and yellow rattle. The next to appear were meadow crane's-bill and, along by the burial ground, the bright orange fox and cubs. Unfortunately the last mentioned were victims of the dreaded mower just as they were coming into flower. Worse was to follow when I discovered the wild flower meadow area had also been mown. Some of the plants in it had not even flowered let alone produced seed. This area should not have been cut until autumn. Along the first part of Mickley Lane common mallow can be seen. This plant is of the hollyhock family and it's leaves are covered with orange patches of hollyhock rust. If you grow hollyhocks you will certainly have come across hollyhock rust on them. At the end of paving a clump of hedge woundwort is flowering. One of the nettle family it has dark purple flowers which are exquisite when looked at closely. Ingrid Heldt caused a bit of excitement when she reported a snake eating frogs in her pond. Some deft work with a net by Mike Frisby removed what turned out to be a grass snake. The snake had a suspiciously large bulge in its body. I later released it at the bottom of the field, at which point it regurgitated a large frog which hopped off, seemly unconcerned after its narrow escape. Grass snakes are completely harmless so if you see one please do not harm it. It is the only snake you are likely to see in Langham and can be identified by the yellow collar at the back of its neck.Another ladybird to look out for is the two spot ladybird, smaller and less common than the seven spot. I used to think ladybirds were simple to identify, just count the spots and that was it. Of course things are never that simple. In 2004 the Harlequin ladybird arrived in Britain and in ten years had spread throughout the UK. It was introduced into America from Asia in the 1980's to control aphids and spread from there to here. Unfortunately it does not feed solely on aphids and has become a threat to native ladybirds and other species of insect. It is difficult to identify with many variations in colour and pattern including black with red spots. Go to http://www.harlequin-survey.org/recognition_and_distinction.htm for more information and an identification chart. Other insects I have seen include two hornets, one in the field and one along Mickley Lane. Also were seen in the field were two male azure damselflies with their brilliant blue, black striped bodies. The females lack the blue colouration. If grow any verbascums in your garden have a look for caterpillars of the mullein moth. They are white with orange and black markings which act as a warning to predators not to eat them. One minute there is no sign of them and the next the plant is reduced to stalks. Hearing a loud chirping from beside the brook I quietly investigated and saw a wren, then another and yet another. As I kept very still I saw a family of six of them. One of the youngsters came so close I could have reached out and touched it. After watching them for a few more minutes I left them to continue their foraging. Reports from around the village. Lorna Burger sent in a picture of a blackcap in her garden. Normally quite shy birds they are usually found in dense undergrowth. They are known to visit gardens in autumn and winter but rarely at this time of year. Gill Frisby reported that jackdaws had started to become regular visitors to her garden. As my garden backs onto a field I have always had jackdaws. There appearance in other gardens may be because of what seems to have been a very successful breeding season. I have never seen so many and the raucous flocks, with the young pestering their parents for food, looks like something out of Hitchcock's "The Birds". One day I counted forty or so from the dining room window. They also have started mobbing other birds. Russell (the crow) normally sees them off but even he was seen rapidly heading for the sanctuary of the hedge when set upon by twenty or so jackdaws. Jennifer Corbett reports that a pair of linnets has nested in her garden and that the presence of a magpie was a threat to their survival. In my own nest boxes a pair of blue tits raised a family, one, newly fledged, landed in front of me whilst I was in the garden. Maggie Roberts sent in a photograph of the swans and their cygnets that they hatched on the Oakham canal. Anthony Wright reports a green woodpecker looking for ants on his lawn and describes a great spotted woodpecker feeding one of its young from his bird feeders. "The adult pecks at the nuts that are hanging from the bird table whilst the baby clings to the bird table pole awaiting its meal. Every now and again the adult feeds the baby while still hanging on to the nuts".At the moment I am photographing the wild flowers of Langham. A new section is on the village website where the photographs with the plant name, how common it is and it's time of flowering can be found. It will be accessible from the "Flora and Fauna" page under the "Flora" or "Nature Notes" tabs. Illustrated versions of this and previous articles can be seen on the village website www.langhaminrutland.org click on the blue text to bring up the photographs.
TheendofMayandtheblackthornblossomhas seamlesslytransformedintothatofthehawthorn.There seemstobeaprofusionofitthisyear,whichisgoodnewsfor thebirdsthatwillfeedonitsberriesduringwinter.Thecatkins ofthewillowshavenowdroppedandthetreesareinfullleaf. Munday'sclosehasanumberofmoreunusualtreesincluding theguelderroseandspindle,bothinflowerinearlyJune.A littlelaterandthedogwoodandelderwereinfullbloom.After thedaffodilsandbluebellshadfinishedinthevergeatthe sideofMickleyLaneitsuddenlyexplodedintoafrothofcow parsleyblossom.Thisprovidedanidealsourceoffoodfor insectsandthebirdsthatfeedonthem.Iwatchedadunnock makingfrequenttripsbackandforthtofeedhernestofchicks callingfromthehedgeontheothersideofthelane.I sometimesthinkwetidyuptoomuchandleavefeatureless andlifelessareasofshortgrasswhennaturecanmakea much better job of making it look attractive.ThecowslipsinMunday'sclosehavefinishedandthe uncutareahasgrownapace.Theearlierflowersamongthe grasshavebeengreenalkanet,forget-me-not,ox-eyedaisy,commonvetchandyellowrattle.Thenexttoappearwere meadowcrane's-billand,alongbytheburialground,thebright orangefoxandcubs.Unfortunatelythelastmentionedwere victimsofthedreadedmowerjustastheywerecominginto flower.WorsewastofollowwhenIdiscoveredthewildflower meadowareahadalsobeenmown.Someoftheplantsinit hadnotevenfloweredletaloneproducedseed.Thisarea shouldnothavebeencutuntilautumn.Alongthefirstpartof Mickley Lanecommonmallowcanbeseen.Thisplantisofthe hollyhockfamilyandit'sleavesarecoveredwithorange patchesofhollyhockrust.Ifyougrowhollyhocksyouwill certainlyhavecomeacrosshollyhockrustonthem.Attheend ofpavingaclumpofhedgewoundwortisflowering.Oneof thenettlefamilyithasdarkpurpleflowerswhichareexquisite when looked at closely. IngridHeldtcausedabitofexcitementwhenshereported asnakeeatingfrogsinherpond.Somedeftworkwithanetby MikeFrisbyremovedwhatturnedouttobeagrasssnake.The snakehadasuspiciouslylargebulgeinitsbody.Ilater releaseditatthebottomofthefield,atwhichpointit regurgitatedalargefrogwhichhoppedoff,seemly unconcernedafteritsnarrowescape.Grass snakesare completelyharmlesssoifyouseeonepleasedonotharmit.It istheonlysnakeyouarelikelytoseeinLanghamandcanbe identified by the yellow collar at the back of its neck.Anotherladybirdtolookoutforisthetwospotladybird, smallerandlesscommonthanthe sevenspot.Iusedtothink ladybirdsweresimpletoidentify,justcountthespotsandthat wasit.Ofcoursethingsareneverthatsimple.In2004the HarlequinladybirdarrivedinBritainandintenyearshad spreadthroughouttheUK.ItwasintroducedintoAmerica fromAsiainthe1980'stocontrolaphidsandspreadfrom theretohere.Unfortunatelyitdoesnotfeedsolelyonaphids andhasbecomeathreattonativeladybirdsandotherspecies ofinsect.Itisdifficulttoidentifywithmanyvariationsincolourand pattern including black with red spots. Go to http://www.harlequin-survey.org/recognition_and_distinction.htmformoreinformationandanidentificationchart.Other insectsIhaveseenincludetwohornets,oneinthefieldand onealongMickleyLane.Alsowereseeninthefieldweretwo maleazuredamselflieswiththeirbrilliantblue,blackstriped bodies.Thefemaleslackthebluecolouration.Ifgrowany verbascumsinyourgardenhavealookforcaterpillarsofthe mulleinmoth.Theyarewhitewithorangeandblackmarkings whichactasawarningtopredatorsnottoeatthem.One minutethereisnosignofthemandthenexttheplantis reducedtostalks.Hearingaloudchirpingfrombesidethe brookIquietlyinvestigatedandsawawren,thenanotherand yetanother.AsIkeptverystillIsawafamilyofsixofthem. OneoftheyoungsterscamesocloseIcouldhavereachedout andtouchedit.AfterwatchingthemforafewmoreminutesI left them to continue their foraging. Reportsfromaroundthevillage.LornaBurgersentina pictureofablackcapinhergarden.Normallyquiteshybirds theyareusuallyfoundindenseundergrowth.Theyareknown tovisitgardensinautumnandwinterbutrarelyatthistimeof year.GillFrisbyreportedthatjackdawshadstartedtobecome regularvisitorstohergarden.Asmygardenbacksontoafield Ihavealwayshadjackdaws.Thereappearanceinother gardensmaybebecauseofwhatseemstohavebeenavery successfulbreedingseason.Ihaveneverseensomanyand theraucousflocks,withtheyoungpesteringtheirparentsfor food,lookslikesomethingoutofHitchcock's"TheBirds".One dayIcountedfortyorsofromthediningroomwindow.They alsohavestartedmobbingotherbirds.Russell(thecrow) normallyseesthemoffbutevenhewasseenrapidlyheading forthesanctuaryofthehedgewhensetuponbytwentyorso jackdaws.JenniferCorbettreportsthatapairoflinnetshas nestedinhergardenandthatthepresenceofamagpiewasa threattotheirsurvival.Inmyownnestboxesapairofbluetits raisedafamily,one,newlyfledged,landedinfrontofme whilstIwasinthegarden.MaggieRobertssentina photographoftheswansandtheircygnetsthattheyhatched ontheOakhamcanal.AnthonyWrightreportsagreen woodpeckerlookingforantsonhislawnanddescribesagreat spottedwoodpeckerfeedingoneofitsyoungfromhisbird feeders."Theadultpecksatthenutsthatarehangingfrom thebirdtablewhilstthebabyclingstothebirdtablepole awaitingitsmeal.Everynowandagaintheadultfeedsthe baby while still hanging on to the nuts".AtthemomentIamphotographingthewildflowersof Langham.Anewsectionisonthevillagewebsitewherethe photographswiththeplantname,howcommonitisandit's timeoffloweringcanbefound.Itwillbeaccessiblefromthe "FloraandFauna"pageunderthe"Flora"or"NatureNotes" tabs. Illustratedversionsofthisandpreviousarticlescanbe seenonthevillagewebsitewww.langhaminrutland.orgclick on the blue text to bring up the photographs.