November Nature Notes, by Malcolm Cox

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I am starting this month’s notes with apologies for errors in last month’s effort. No doubt some sharp-eyed reader with a love of music spotted my error on Britten’s Wasp Overture, this was of course written by Vaughan Williams. Annoying the way these mistakes go unnoticed until the final published article.

The second error is merely one of being a couple of weeks out-dated by events. There are now 252 species of bee in the British Isles following the confirmation of a viper’s bugloss masonry bee appearing on our shores.

Viper's bugloss masonry bee

Viper's bugloss masonry bee

No, I had never heard of this insect either, which illustrates that there is always something new to learn or discover. Apparently, this insect is common in Europe and was discovered in a London park. The finder, David Notton, insect specialist at the Natural History Museum, said: “It is quite a big bee and I am surprised that nobody else spotted it.” Thank heavens for modern science, DNA tests confirmed the insect’s identity as Hoplitis adunca.

Many readers will be familiar with the lovely wild flower viper’s bugloss, a member of the borage family. The bee’s expansion in Britain however is likely to limited as it is at the edge of its temperature range.

And so to autumn proper. A glorious September and much of October compensated for a generally poor summer. I wonder if, like us, readers watched the recent painted lady special with bee expert and Woman’s Hour presenter (yes, I am a regular listener) Martha Kearney, tracking the migration of these lovely butterflies from Morocco to Europe.

I was surprised to learn that this late summer turned out to be after all a fairly normal year for painted ladies, they were certainly sparse in our corner of God’s own county. We do so often complain about our weather don’t we?

Shaggy Ink Caps

Shaggy Ink Caps

Time to pause and think about all those poor folk in the Caribbean who are just recovering from yet another hurricane. A bit of a digression there.

A further surprise awaited our return from an extended European break of three weeks. Demands of the garden do not allow an escape during the main summer period. On visiting our local garden centre – in the old days we called them “nurseries” didn’t we? – anyway the proprietor of Moat Road Nursery informed me that recently they had been visited by a kingfisher, and yes, I even glimpsed it myself albeit if for a split second. And yes, John Robson has a decent sized pond in his garden. The surprise is that neither of us can think of a suitable breeding site in the immediate vicinity. Must make a mental note to seek more information; how far do these exotic looking birds wander from their territories? Another of those “reader’s views welcome” issues. Like all gardeners, the autumn reminds us of this year’s successes and failures.

An awful strawberry and raspberry crop but spinach out of control has kept next door’s bunnies content. Bell peppers (capsicums) grown outside puzzlingly produced a good crop. Everything’s on hold, cosmos blooms remain in flower, we all await the first frosts to clear the decks. And of course – NUTS.

The green open space opposite our house which neighbours keep mown as neatly as a bowling green and provides a regular landing strip for green woodpeckers and other birds which prefer short sward, has a modest collection of trees. The birch has rocketed since planted 14 years ago, others have produced more of a canopy.

A horse chestnut grown from a conker potted up for a couple of years now produces its own modest crop alongside a bigger cousin. I never tire of admiring these lovely nuts, glistening and brown.

Neither sweet nor horse chestnuts are native to the British Isles, though they have been here for a very long time.

As I write, this patch of ground is hosting an array of fungi, some that I cannot identify for sure. What can so easily be identified however is a fine collection of shaggy ink caps. Also known as lawyer’s wig, these newly emerged specimens stand out as pristine, snowy white towers. They will not last long in this state, soon they will be reduced to an inky slime. Autumn is, of course, the season for fungi yet they can appear any time if conditions are suitable. Our back lawn has produced its usual tiny crop of brown hay cap (rather hallucinogenic affects so not one for the table) and a few beautiful red wax caps.

Eighteen months ago I found myself making daily visits to the QE hospital. Landscapers were busy building banks along the walkways from the car park to the main entrance. Wild flowers such as scabious, campion and yarrow were being planted. No doubt some readers will have the cultivated varieties in their garden as we have.

Another round of weekly visits confirms just how well this planting has taken and the ground here is also littered with sweet chestnuts.

It is hard to believe but the next contribution will signify yet another year ending as winter takes hold. Stay warm and for those who send photos to the Lynn News, keep ’em coming, I find them such a treat.