Latterbarrow Picnic

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After Foulshaw Moss we travelled the very small distance to another Cumbria Wildlife Trust reserve at Latterbarrow. It’s a small reserve with masses of parking available on a section of the old road which was superseded by the current A590. It’s also a marvellous spot. And very quiet. In the couple of hours (or more) that we spent there we didn’t see any other visitors.

One of the striking things about the meadow here is the abundance (and in some cases size) of the meadow ant mounds.

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I’d been thinking about these kind of nests after Emily’s question regarding them in a comment and so now, with TBH and A content to lounge in the sun, the boys and I took the opportunity to investigate at leisure.

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They’re composed of extremely fine soil and often have a slightly different mix of plants growing on them than the surrounding turf has.

This one had a very showy display of flowers of barren strawberry (looks really like wild strawberry but the big gaps between the petals are the give away – don’t wait here for tiny, sweet red fruit, they aren’t coming).

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Of course, once you start to look closely, you notice other things – like this seven spot ladybird. Many of the mounds had one or two ladybirds. Ladybirds are predatory – I don’t know if they eat the ants, but they compete with the ants over aphids (which the ants ‘farm’ milking them for sap – there’s a fascinating description of this relationship in ‘Buzz In the Meadow’ by Dave Goulson).

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Look closer still and some of the barren strawberry leaves and stems have a coating of bright orange rust, a fungi, at least I think that’s what it is.

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Many of the mounds have been savaged by predators a bit larger than a ladybird; both badgers and green woodpeckers are apparently fond of snacking on meadow ants.

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I don’t know what did the damage in this case, but it might have been a badger. This area seems to have a large population and not too far away we found…

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…a neat and tidy badger latrine. Very fastidious animals badgers.

Although the partially destroyed mound had other scat…

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…on it too. Not sure what animal this is from.

Poke a couple of fingers into a mound and you’ll soon find a patrol of small defenders coming out to check you out….

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With the sun shining, and lots of wildflowers on show, there were quite a few bees about. I’m aware that many bees live in burrows. I’ve even seen them disappear into them occasionally. But one advantage of grubbing around looking at ant mounds for a while turned out to be an unexpected encounter with a bee. I noticed a bee, in a particularly fetching orange coat, land nearby and when I located it again was surprised to see that it was digging…

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You can see the spoil it was kicking out onto nearby leaves with its hind legs.

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It had soon disappeared completely from sight. I’m going to tentatively identify this as a female tawny mining bee, which my ‘Collins Complete British Insects’ says ‘is unlikely to be mistaken for anything else’. I wished I’d watched for a while longer now because apparently, she, like the ants, builds a mound – ‘a volcano-shaped mound around her nest entrance’.

On the other hand, I don’t even have a tentative suggestion for these tiny white flowers which were growing on another ant mound. Any ideas anyone?

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The blackthorn was finally beginning to blossom….

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And a couple of buzzards were circling overhead.

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Peacock butterfly.

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Tortoiseshell butterfly.

Terrific picnic that. Will have to do it again sometime.

Latterbarrow Picnic

Scorpion Fly

Tuesday afternoon commute. I crossed the golf course as usual, but instead of taking the field path home, I continued along The Row and into Eaves Wood.

A tiny frog squirmed across the path. It was mud brown with some orange highlights – quite well disguised against the bare earth of the path. I was surprised to see a frog in the woods so far from surface water.

Eaves Wood is warrened with paths. I followed a series of faint trods, all of which eventually petered out. Progress was slow as I ducked and weaved under and around thorny bushes and low yew branches. I ended up with bark in my pockets and cobwebs across my face. But I did find this huge ants’ nest which may even be bigger than the one by the ruined cottage. I watched the ants for a while working purposefully. One ant was climbing the mound laden with something relatively large which I thought might be the tail end of a bee. I noticed a couple of ants coming down the mound carrying other ants which looked like they were struggling – intruders? Another ant began its journey up the mound carrying a bee’s face.

I’d crashed through several webs amongst the trees, but I saw this one before it was too late. This spider was about 5 feet above the ground and the nearest anchor points were branches about 18 inches above.

I think this is the garden spider Araneus diadematus.

As I turned away from examining the spider I caught a movement in the grass in the corner of my eye. Which turned out to be….

…a striped fly with an enormous conk, hanging upside down from a blade of grass. This is a scorpion fly. It must be a female because its tail tapers to a point whereas a male has a curled tail reminiscent of a scorpion but is none the less harmless.

There are apparently three different British species of scorpion fly, but it’s only really possible to distinguish between them by examining the genitalia: this fly was remarkably placid whilst I brushed the grass aside for a better view and inched ever closer with my camera, but that would seem to be going just a little too far on first acquaintance.

This photo isn’t so sharp, but it does show that splendid beak in profile.

This is another ant mound – of yellow meadow ants rather then the larger wood ants. I’m pretty sure that the ants haven’t left these empty hazel nuts shells here, but what has made a picnic table of this spot?

There are two classes of yellow flowers which I find a bit daunting when it comes to identifying them – yellow flowers which look a bit like buttercups and yellow flowers which look a bit like dandelions.

I suppose that this flower falls into the latter category – I don’t know what it is, but I love the colours and the shape.

I don’t know what these are either – they were tiny but I admired the scarlet stems and sepals.

A branch had fallen from a tree leaving the underside of this ear fungus exposed.

Scorpion Fly