As I have mention before in ‘Nature Notes’, if you look hard enough, Frodsham Marsh has a lot more than birds on offer. On the occasional quiet birding day I slow the pace down and have a look around for what else I can find of interest. Looking closely at trees in blossom, flowers in bloom and the insects associated with them often reveals a hidden world. I find it fascinating and at times starkly beautiful.
Spring often gives the feeling that it’s late in coming. The days remain cold and there is often persistent rain and westerly gales as low pressure and Atlantic fronts refuse to give way to high pressure or winds from the south that would bring the first migrants in. Even when the first Sand Martin and Wheatear trickle in, the marsh has already woken up and the Gorse in flower with its coconut-scented deep yellow flowers filling the air with a hint of suntan lotion. When I look closely I always think that they are reminiscent of goose barnacles in shape.
Fast on its heels comes the Blackthorn, the delicate white flowers lighting up the landscape just as the Hawthorn is just coming into leaf in late April. A close look at the flowers reveal them to be anything but white with green sepals, yellow-brown anthers and lemon stigma. They hug the bare branches for a short time to be pollinated by insects before the leaves appear and the fruit begins to develop into the familiar misty-blue sloe berries that ripen as the autumn nights cool. One particular moth, the Sloe Pug is associated with this plant.
Almost as delicate is the blossom of Apple trees, beautiful soft pink petals and yellow anthers. There is a single tree by the old log along Brook Furlong Lane that has been particularly showy recently.
As the days in May get warmer and there are dry sunny spells with southerly winds, two more trees put on a show. Some years are better than others and 2016 has been spectacular for Hawthorn blossom. The trees look as though they are covered in snow at the moment, some of them having so many flowers that it’s difficult to see any leaf. From a distance it looks whitish, but close up they are wonderfully different with the white flowers having a lime green centre and stigma surrounded by rose-red anthers. Pollinated by insects, bees and flies, they develop into the familiar red berries much beloved by lots of birds but in particular thrushes.
As the Hawthorn puts on its show, one other tree tries to out-do it with bright green leaves and large candelabra of creamy white flowers. Horse Chestnuts are familiar to all young boys as ‘conker trees’ the hard seeds used in many a boyhood conker contest that has resulted in skinned and bruised knuckles. The spikes of flowers are spectacular enough, but get up close and the individual flowers are superb. Cotton-wool textured flowers, centred lemon-yellow and pinky-red with strongly up-curved brown-tipped stigma remind me of ice cream with raspberry and lemon sauce. Bees love these flowers and Buff-tailed and Common Carder Bumblebees were in evidence on the trees below the old log this week.
The original track down from the old log (south-east corner of No.1 tank) to the River Weaver is alive with insects on warm sunny days in May and besides the numerous Cow Parsley, there is a single umbellifer, a Hogwort, in flower that is attracting some of the more interesting species. The nicest species is a Nomada bee, tentatively identified as Fork-jawed Nomad Bee, Nomada ruficornis, a parasitic species which lays its egg inside the egg chamber of the Orange-tailed (Early) Mining Bee, Andrena haemorrhoa, and the larvae hatch, kill the original occupier and then lives off the food supply. There was also an Ichneumon Wasp, but I’m not confident at identifying most of this family. I did manage to sort out a black hoverfly that was basking on bramble leaves in the sunshine, Cheilosia variabilis, (illustrated above) a widespread species.
My challenge to you is to go to the marsh armed with a camera/note book and capture some of these critters and then let us what you have found?
Written and illustrated by Tony Broome.