Knopper galls! I don't know if you have looked closely at any oak trees lately, but instead of seeing normal acorns, you may see these weird and rather knobbly distorted acorns, called knopper galls. Many of the oak trees on the edge of the Green have these galls but what exactly are they? Well, in early summer, a tiny wasp (Andricus quercuscalicis, if you want to know) lays an egg(s) on a developing acorn and the resultant larva hatches and not only lives in what should become the acorn, but it also releases a number of chemicals that cause the acorn to develop this rather bewilderingly distorted knobbly appearance. I find this absolutely incredible and if you cut open this gall, you would find the wasp larva nicely snuggled up in its cosy home! More about these fascinating galls are explained in this excellent article by Sussex Wildlife Trust.
Near the path going to the back gate, by Leomansley House, there are a number of tall plants with lovely long purple flower heads. This is purple loosestrife, which loves to grow in damp ground and so is only found on the wetter areas of the Green. It flowers later than many plant species and so is an important nectar source for butterflies and other invertebrates. Often you will see butterflies feeding on the flowers this time of year - but not when I took the photo, as it was almost raining!
What a fantastic photo of the Green in the (very) early morning! It was taken by Wildlife Kate, who often frequents the Green a bit earlier than I do! Such a tranquil scene with the cattle just starting to get out of bed and the cathedral being silhouetted in the background. Sadly for us, Kate is going to be moving on to pastures new in the near future and I for one will definitely miss her support and amazing photos! But good luck Kate in your new venture!
July, as well as August, is when the number and variety of butterflies on the Green dramatically increases (apart from when it is raining of course!). Have a look at our butterfly page on our website to see what species can be found. One of my favourites (although I do have quite a few) is the elegant comma butterfly, which can usually be found feeding and basking on the bramble. They are so called, as they have a small white comma marking on the underwing, but this one decided to show off its beautiful upper wing instead!
Talking of butterflies, don't forget you have until the 6th August to take part in the Big Butterfly Count. This is a great initiative and is simple to do. I spent 15 minutes on the Green yesterday looking at a small patch of bramble and counted 8 meadow brown, 9 gatekeepers (shown in photo), 2 comma and 2 small white butterflies. Not too bad considering the weather could have been better. Please let us know what you find!
Well, the orchids are all done and dusted for another year, and I am really pleased that most of the flower heads managed to go to seed and hopefully that will allow the orchids to spread even further! Although rather different, one plant that is now flowering, is the rather eye catching, yet delicate harebell (also known as Scottish bluebell). These seemingly innocuous flowers however are surrounded by folklore, not least that the milky sap that the flowers produce can be drunk by witches, who will then be turned into hares — and hence the name, harebell! So, look out for any witches, or hares, for that matter on Pipe Green!
Yes, the cattle are now on the Green and are settling in well. They have certainly got a lot of food and seem to be putting up a team effort to see how much they can eat! I have been to say hello and they are very friendly and curious but please keep dogs under close control when around them.
The orchids did not disappoint this year and put on a wonderful show. They certainly seem to be spreading, which is great news. What I also love is the diversity of plants growing amongst the orchids, from the birds foot trefoil to the elegant grasses. It is this diversity of plant species that makes Pipe Green meadow such a special place (and a Site of Biological Importance). Unfortunately, across the UK, meadowland habitat has decreased by 97% since the Second world war and this is why it is so important that we protect and appropriately manage the Green.
Towards the end of the month, the number of butterflies out and about have also dramatically increased. I saw hundreds (well maybe a bit of an exaggeration!) of meadow brown butterflies last week. which is a good sign. They love to feed on the bramble blossom and it is worth stopping and having a good look at the bramble bushes on the edge of the Green to see what you can find. Not only the butterflies feed on the nectar, but also bumblebees, hoverflies and lots of other interesting critters!
What a display the Green is putting on for us this year! There has been a profusion of buttercup and pignut, giving a wonderful yellow and white haze to the meadow, which in turn is encircled by a belt of white hawthorn blossom. It certainly is a perfect foreground for one of the best views of the Cathedral and a scene that would probably have looked very similar 200 years ago!
It's not only the plants that are putting on a great display, but the invertebrates are doing pretty well too. There has been a male broad-bodied chaser dragonfly, strutting his stuff and whizzing around. Fortunately he does occasionally stop and rests, which makes for a good photo opportunity. This is quite a chunky dragonfly with a very distinctive, and rather splendid, light blue abdomen with yellow markings. The female has a yellow/brown abdomen, but so far, I haven't seen her around - hopefully she will turn up soon!
Yes, it is soon going to be orchid time! Some are starting to flower already and hopefully they will put on a great display - it certainly is looking promising! You may have already seen that the “cattle-proof” fencing has been put up around the orchids, to protect them. We are expecting the cattle to be put onto the Green next week, so please be mindful of them (they can initially be quite spritely!) and please keep dogs under close control.
What a lovely time we had on Sunday afternoon doing our Bioblitz as part of the City Nature Challenge (organised by Lichfield Wildlife Group). It was great to see so many people taking part and recording the amazing biodiversity of plant and wildlife that live on the Green. So here are just a few of our findings. Whilst not a rare species, I have never seen common dog violet growing on the Green before, so I was really pleased to find some. On a closer inspection, I think you will agree it has a beautiful purple flower. But be warned, there are a number of violet species that all look quite similar and they can get quite confusing!
How about a beetle for a change? This little chap (or chapess?) was wandering around on a grass stem. It did confuse me for a bit, as it looked like an alder leaf beetle, but it wasn't near an alder tree! However, there are loads of these beetles feeding on alder leaves at the moment, so I suspect it was just a bit lost, or maybe fancied something different to eat for change!
It is not just in the Autumn when the fungi appear! In fact there are quite a few fungi species appearing at the moment, even if they are a bit small and brown. I do like the name of this one — petticoat mottlegill, which, as the name suggests, has a white “petticoat” around the base of the cap. Initially, I was a bit annoyed with the piece of “grass” covering part of the cap, but if you look closely, you can see small hairs on the blade and in fact it is not grass at all but field woodrush. So two species in one photo and a timely reminder that a lot of the “grass” on the Green, is in fact not grass at all!
Hooray — frog spawn in the brook! Wonderful to see and definitely a sign that Spring is here. The Green supports a large number of frogs, which is why you can usually see a heron hunting in the shallow part of the brook and amongst the rushes. Another sign that Spring is here is that chiffchaffs have arrived and are now singing away with their distinctive song. Excellent!
Talking of birds, another species that is out and about is the reed bunting. As the name suggests they nest and live amongst the reeds, and we normally have about 4 pairs nesting on the Green. They can be a bit tricky to see as they are small (sparrow sized) and brown, but the males have a distinctive black head and white collar and will sit and sing from the top of the rushes. So do keep an eye (and ear) out for them as well.
I couldn't resist a picture of the lesser celandine that are flowering well at the moment. Their yellow faces always make me smile and they are an important food source for early emerging queen bumblebees. They belong to the same family as the buttercups and interestingly are also known as pilewort - because they have historically been used to treat piles!
It is lovely to hear the birds starting to sing and it won't be long until there is a full blown dawn chorus! One of the birds I heard sing for the first time this year, is the dunnock This is a common bird, but it is not always readily seen as it often skulks around in the hedges. Hence it is often called a hedge sparrow - not that it is related to a sparrow though! They can be found flitting along and around the hedgerows of the Green, but they are also a garden bird, so you may well see them at home as well.
One advantage of the trees not having any leaves on them is that it is very easy to see the beautiful lichens growing on them, especially when the sun shines. Many of the hawthorn bushes on the Green have this wonderful orange coloured lichen Xanthoria parietina, growing on their branches. A closer look and I think you will agree it is beautiful. Lichens are fascinating as they contain both fungal and algal cells, that live symbiotically. In this photo, the bright orange discs are the part of the lichen that produce the spores (apothecia) and the more yellow leafy growths are known as the thallus.
The spring flowers are slowly starting to appear and I did see my first lesser celandine flowering last week, which is always a welcome sight. Another early flowering plant and one that is a very important nectar source for emerging bees, is the red dead nettle. Whilst it is a common plant, it might take a bit longer to find, as it nestles in amongst the grasses. Once found, I think you will agree that the flowers are beautiful, being very delicate and almost orchid-like - and the bees definitely like them!
There are definite signs that Spring is getting a little bit closer: snowdrops are flowering, tree buds are swelling and more birds are singing (especially the song thrush). A less obvious sign that Spring is creeping up on us is the presence of hazel flowers. Now these pink/red flowers are only a couple of millimetre long - so you are forgiven for not seeing them! They adorn the branches of hazel trees and can usually be found just above the dangly male yellow catkins. Amazingly, these small female flowers, once pollinated, go on to produce the much larger hazel or cobnut see Diary 2022 and scroll down to August, much loved by mice, squirrels and humans! So next time you are admiring hazel catkins, take a closer look and see if you can spot any red female flowers.
Regular visitors to the Green will be familiar with the sight of the fallen sweet chestnut tree, that we have left to rot down in situ. However, last summer some of the branches were cut up and distributed around the edges of the Green, to rot away and to provide habitats for all sorts of critters. Well, I was delighted to see that the decomposing process has already started, by the presence of fungi on some of the dead wood. This is hairy curtain crust fungus (more about this in a future post) and it is an important species in breaking down and decomposing dead wood. Just what we wanted!
Quiz time … what bird does this pinkish breast belong to? Well, it is a rather camera shy male chaffinch who just wouldn't put his head in front of the branch! It was great to see though, as chaffinch numbers have dropped dramatically since 2007. They are susceptible to a disease called Trichomonosis (as are greenfinch) and so their numbers have plummeted and this once common garden bird is now struggling. So it is good to see a pair out and about on the Green and fingers crossed that they will breed successfully this year.