White Letter Day

I had the distinct honour of adding a butterfly to the campus species list this week, in the shape of a rather smart White Letter Hairstreak. New moths come along on a near weekly basis – hardly surprising since we’ve recorded barely 1/10th of the UK fauna – but butterflies are far less diverse and consequently new site records are much more difficult to come by. It was in the small clearing at the heart of the Wilderness, resting low down in rough grass at about 8:30 in the morning on Wednesday 23rd.

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Bees in the grass

Every one loves bees these days and pretty much everyone loves bee orchids (Ophrys apifera) too!

The University of Reading campus is no exception and there is a small population flourishing in purposefully unmown grass opposite the Hopkins Building and outside the RSSL Building.

You can’t miss it but step tread carefully lest you trample a spike or two, as has already happened where eager plant hunters have stepped on the long grass (and a hidden bee orchid) in their eagerness to get a closer look at these fine and very beautiful wild flowers.

The Bee orchids are at their best in second half of June so please admire them, it may take your eyes a while to adjust and find these rather delicate plants amongst the grasses and other flowers but its worth the effort but please keep to the mown edges and do not tread anywhere on the long grass!

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The Hornet Hoverfly- Volucella zonaria

There is no need to be alarmed the Hornet Hoverfly (Volucella zonaria) is a harmless species. Although I will admit, in its outwards appearance, if you have never seen one before or happen to see it out of the corner of your eye, it is an excellent hornet Batesian mimic and will get your attention rapidly! The species mimics the colours and the size of the defended hornet, with its potent sting, to avoid predation. This species is off interest as for one its large and easily spotted (our largest species of hoverfly) and two it has only colonised the UK since 1940 and has an interesting biology. This species was seen on campus on the 20/August/2012, no doubt obtaining salts from freshly dug compost. Continue reading

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Slender speedwell

Slender field speedwell

Slender field speedwell

Like the Common field speedwell (Veronica persica), the Slender speedwell (Veronica filiformis) has relatively large bright, blue and white flowers, each held at the end of a long stalk, well clear of the leaves.

The Slender speedwell can occur on bare patches of soil but is most often seen in lawns. Its prostrate stems enable it to continue to grow despite regular mowing and it seems to be able to hold its own even when crowded by grass tillers.

The easiest way to separate it from the similarly large-flowered Common field speedwell is to look at the shape of the leaves. The Common field speedwell has a distinct point at the leaf tip, whereas the Slender speedwell has a rounded tip to the leaf.

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A Nightingale Sings In Whiteknights Park

This afternoon I was out enjoying the sunshine and doing a spot of fly-catching in the meadows near the meteorology field station. At about half past 3, I thought I heard – or perhaps imagined – the jug-jug-jug-jug phase of a nightingale’s song. A few minutes later and it sang again, a longer phrase: I was not suffering from sunstroke induced hallucinations but was indeed hearing a nightingale sing, from dense vegetation down near the lake.

It was still singing earlier this evening, thanks to Peter Gipson for the update. It’s late in the year now for a nightingale to be setting up territory, so this is probably either a late passage bird or a wanderer that has been displaced from one of the nearby nightingale hotspots at Theale to the west and Dinton Pastures to the east. Well worth hearing whilst it is with is. It was near the main bridge this afternoon and a bit further south this evening, sticking to the east side of the lake. Directions are, in any case, hardly necessary: if it does sing whilst you are out searching it will immediately give its location away!

 

 

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Common field speedwell

Common field speedwell

Common field speedwell

True to its name, this is one of the most common speedwells on campus. It is certainly much more common than the other field speedwells.

The common field speedwell (Veronica persica) turns up on wasteground and disturbed ground amongst other vegetation wherever there is plenty of light. The plants’ stems grow along the ground sometimes producing a thick mat. The bright, blue and white flowers are each held at the end of a long stalk that extends out well beyond the leaves.

Capsule shape, and the hairs on the capsules, are important diagnostic characters for speedwells. In the common field speedwell the v-shape between the two lobes of the capsule is very broad.  The capsule hairs are held upright. Some of them are glandular and can be seen, under a hand lens, to have a small droplet of liquid at their tip.

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Speedwells – well represented on University land!

Speedwells have small blue (occasionally white, lilac or pink) flowers, either occurring as single flowers or in a spike. There are 20 native species of Speedwell (Veronica) in Britain. A surprisingly large number can be found on campus, with even more occurring on the University’s farm at Sonning.

Of the 20 British species, three (V. alpina, V. fructicans and V. verna) are restricted to mountains and three more (V. praecox, V. spicata and V. triphyllos) are rarities in the Breckland area of Norfolk and Suffolk. The other 14 are listed below:

  • Wetland or marsh:
    • Brooklime (V. beccabunga)
    • Blue water speedwell (V. anagallis-aquatica)
    • Pink water speedwell (V. catenata)
    • Marsh speedwell (V. scutellata)
  • Heathland
    • Heath speedwell (V. officinalis)
  • Woodland
    • Wood speedwell (V. montana)
    • Germander speedwell (V. chamaedrys)
  • Disturbed ground/wasteland/arable fields
    • Thyme-leaved speedwell (V. serpyllifolia)
    • Ivy-leaved speedwell (V. hederifolia)
    • Slender speedwell (V. filiformis)
    • Wall speedwell (V. arvensis)
    • Common field-speedwell (V. persica)
    • Green field-speedwell (V. agrestis)
    • Grey field-speedwell (V. polita)

 

Species

Whiteknights Campus

Before 2009

Le Grice & Jury 2009

Since 2009

Wetland or marsh
    Brooklime

X

X

X

    Blue water speedwell
    Pink water speedwell
    Marsh speedwell
Heathland
    Heath speedwell

X

Woodland
    Wood speedwell

X?

X

X

    Germander speedwell

X

X

X

Disturbed ground
    Thyme-leaved speedwell

X

X

X

    Ivy-leaved speedwell

X

X

X

         ssp hederifolia
         ssp lucorum

X

X

X

    Slender speedwell

X

X

X

    Wall speedwell

X

X

X

    Common field speedwell

X

X

X

    Green field speedwell

X

X

    Grey field speedwell

X?

X

X

There is also a non-native, but self perpetuating, species of speedwell on campus: American speedwell (V. peregrina). This has become established on the experimental plots behind the greenhouses by the Harborne Building.

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