Friday, 18 August 2017

Be quiet for a glimpse of stoat

ENJOYING the unfurling oak leaves above the bluebells, we also found cherry galls, pale cream with pink shading, softly growing on the tips of twigs, formed by the tree around the eggs of a wasp.

They will be hard, brown and perfectly spherical by autumn with a tiny hole where the gall wasp has burrowed out.

These wasps have an extraordinary life cycle: a generation of male and female wasps produces fertilized eggs which are able to survive adverse weather conditions, such as winter.

From these galls only females emerge. These females lay, by parthenogenosis, unfertilized eggs, usually at the onset of milder weather, which also develop in a gall.

Wasps of both sexes eat their way out, so all female and mixed sex generations alternate, which must give the insects the optimum survival rate.

Different types of galls are formed by the different generations and indeed each type of wasp has its characteristic galls.

The oaks are flowering and the white clouds in the hedgerow are wild cherry or hawthorn now as the blackthorn fades.

Spindle and holly have flowers too small to see as you drive by, so you must get out and walk.

If you are quiet, then you may spot a stoat, patrolling a field edge, black tailtip bobbing as it hops along, as I did on the way to Greys Court.

On the way back to Henley the first two fields of Happy Valley (taking the footpath opposite the Rotherfield Greys end of Rocky Lane, below the house) are full of cowslips, as are the meadows above the Crown at Pishill.

Peacock butterflies flutter in the sunny glades, seeking nettles, and silver-washed fritillaries feed on the violets all around.

I was disconcerted to see orange tips as it was too early for the cuckooflower (lady’s smock), but read that they also feed on garlic mustard, which may have been growing in the wood.

A day later there was a female orange tip, which is dull white with grey wing tips, on a cuckooflower out on the meadow at Cliveden.

Do not remove those purple honesty plants which seed themselves all over the garden as the orange tips need them and any other crucifers, such as shepherd’s purse.

The drought has inhibited the growth of these weeds in the garden and winter wheat is showing brown on the tips in some fields.

When the leaves do develop on the trees they will also draw up huge quantities of water from the soil.

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