This huge tree has recently been officially classified as an Ancient Oak. Oaks have three notional ages during their expected lifetime of 900 – 1000 years. This one, middle-aged, is about 550 years old. There are signs that it is just beginning a very slow decline towards becoming one of those misshapen gnarled oak stumps that date from Norman times.
When this tree was an acorn, the Plantagenets were on the throne. The battle of Bosworth had yet to be fought. America had not yet been discovered. Columbus was a teenager. Botticelli was honing his precocious skills.
Highly sophisticated methods of dating trees have overtaken the counting of rings, with very specific criteria that go far beyond girth measurement. Behind this tree you can see another oak. It was damaged in storm Alex last autumn before it had shed its leaves. At around 250 years old, it is designated a Veteran Oak. Captain Cook was the vogue explorer at that time.
I have no idea what species of tree this is. We came across it at Greys Court, a NT house in Oxfordshire. From a distance it looked unreal, possibly painted plastic with some of the paint having run in a rain shower to reveal yellow undercoat. Even quite close to, it was hard to believe it was real, though eventually the bark gave the game away.
If anyone knows the species (I suspect an Asian origin), please leave a comment.
Here’s a moth species new to me, that I couldn’t locate on any UK Moth ID site. Then I found out why. The Box Tree Moth Cydalima perspectalis is native to East Asia. It’s an introduced species to Europe, first recorded as recently as 2006 in Germany; 2008 in UK; and nearly everywhere else since. It thrives on Box Buxus colchica, and to an extent the species may have spread with exports of the bush. And it’s plainly a busy reproducer… and now it’s here, it’s probably a stayer.
A few days ago we had one in the kitchen (bonus points for recognising the cookery book it chose to land on). I took some quick photos for ID, failed to find a match online, and resorted to the excellent Moths UK FB page, where mothmaticians quickly respond to images uploaded for ID. I later found out that one of our sons has had two infestations this summer, resulting in total loss of two small rows of box.
KNOW THY ENEMY
The moth lays its eggs on the undersides of Box leaves. The caterpillars feed so rapaciously on the leaves and shoots that they may simply destroy the entire plant. And there are two or three generations gorging each season. Furthermore, there are no natural predators (such as the Asian wasps that target the larvae in their native lands). Maybe in time that will change, with birds and other predator species learning a taste for the things.
There’s also a quite different brown morph / colour variant of the Box Tree Moth to contend with, which I imagine is just as effective in destroying the host plant.
There are apparently various methods of dealing with the problem, mainly involving chemicals, bacteria, nematodes, and pheremone traps. All seem to require intensive repeat applications. Some of these solutions may presumably have an adverse effect on other wildlife.
As far as ‘mistake’ species are concerned, the ones that have accidentally (or through escape or deliberate release) colonised places far from where they belong, I reckon a case-by-case approach is needed. Harmless to humans, other life-forms, ecology and the environment? Bring them on. Harmful in any of those respects, parasitic, fast-spreading, predator-proof, potentially ineradicable? Expunge them ruthlessly.
I take one of these views about the Box Tree Moth. Look out for the eggs, the caterpillars, the imagos. Report them. Or DIY. A box bush might be a good place to start.
Top 3 photos from the kitchen; the others thanks to Wiki. There’s a mass of stuff on these critters and their little ways online if you want to find out more. Not trying to be controversial here, btw, but I’d be surprised if you can’t name half a dozen species of animal, bird and plant that are invasive to the UK / Europe, damaging to the new host territory – and would be best eradicated.
Forde Abbey is a former Cistercian monastery dating from the c12. Grade 1 listed, it is now privately owned. The gardens and parts of the house are open to the public, and in Michelin guide speak Forde undoubtedly Mérite le détour and is Vaut le Voyage. In spring, the gardens are filled with thousands of tulips. Here is a small collection.
We were sitting having a picnic on the low wall surrounding a small hilltop church in the eastern Pyrenees, when I caught sight of this wonderful creature. A marital ‘no computer’ pact and limited wifi possibilities for a phone meant that ID was frustratingly delayed.
This butterfly turns out to have the wonderful names Two-tailed Pasha or Foxy Emperor (Charaxes jasius). Frankly either name is exotic enough to stick in the mind, but I think I prefer the Pasha. Because the creature was on a tree beyond the parapet, there was no chance I could get near enough for a close-up, so I had to resort to zooming in at various angles and magnifications, and hoping for the best.
I kept hoping the butterfly would move without going to the extreme of flying away. An open wing shot would have been great to get, but it was not to be. Here’s what the upper wings look like. Having found the image, I realised at once that we saw one or two of the same species on the wing elsewhere, but they were too busy to pause for a photograph.
These are butterflies of Africa, but they are also found on the southern fringes of mediterranean Europe. Apparently they like maquis-type scrub country or (clearly) the similar garrigue terrain where we were. They also like some height, although we were only about 1500 ft ASL.
There’s a time and place for resorting to an iPhone for close shots. The time is when your camera is not handy – possibly 3 or 4 counties away; the place is where you are right now, when an orange tip – so often a skittish species – decides to choose a plant to land on and to stay there for a while.
The technique for getting reasonably sharp pictures with an iPhone is this: take 20 – 30 rapid shots of the subject, holding the phone at varying distances from it until you get too close and the creature flies away. This specialist process is necessary because it is impossible to be sure what the camera has actually focused on and what the optimum distance for the shot actually is. This may be a question of distance, angle or lighting – or any combination. These were the best of them – but I also got some great detailed shots of the flowers and their stems, with the butterfly a smear of orange and white.
These images are never going to make the grade in the aggressively contested photograph section of the village art and craft show (unless there’s a special iPhone group, perhaps). But they are better than I was expecting, with reasonably sharp ‘buds’, as I think the blobs on the end of the feelers are called. That’s the first thing I look at when deleting butterfly photos…
Many visitors, as they shuffle in a slow queue around Monet’s beautiful lily pond at Giverny, will have noticed a congruence between the reflections in the water and the painted impressions of the scene by an ageing artist with failing eyesight. A few will have decided to see if photography can produce an effect reminiscent at least of the great paintings. Mrs RH is one such, and these are all her photos taken a few days ago.
Mrs RH also had the perfect opportunity to channel her inner Georgia O’Keeffe…
This blog has been in limbo for 6 months or so while I have been working on other projects. This blog is always the one that gives way first. Thanks to everyone who has visited it and even stuck with it despite the lack of new posts.
It’s high summer in the garden. That means beans. Beans does not mean Heinz in garden terms. Beans means butterflies, in this case a brimstone feeding on the bright fiery runner bean flowers. This female is a pale greeny yellow; males are a more striking bright yellow.