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NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS 'Anting'-Like Behaviour by a Blackbird In N o v e m b e r 1988, while digging on my allotment, a female Blackbird which used to visit m e and pick u p worms and grubs caught my a t t e n t i o n . O u t of the c o r n e r of my eye I first saw it turn over on its side with its wings spread out. It then t u r n e d over on its o t h e r side in like m a n n e r . L o o k i n g m o r e closely I saw in its b e a k a millipede (Iulus terrestris) which it was holding against its under-wing f e a t h e r s in t h e m a n n e r of 'anting' by other birds. I did not see what h a p p e n e d to t h e millipede a f t e r w a r d s . H. E. Jennings [ R e a d e r s not familiar with 'anting' by birds are r e c o m m e n d e d to read Miriam Rothschild and T h e r e s a Clay's Fleas, flukes & cuckoos (Collins N e w Naturalist, 1952, pp. 127-8). T h e subject is both complicated and controversial. D ß r i n g what is r e f e r r e d to as 'active anting' a bird will snatch up an ant and d a b it quickly first u n d e r o n e wing and then u n d e r the o t h e r . Formic acid is released w h e n an ant is crushed against the f e a t h e r s and is t h o u g h t to act as an insecticide against lice or other ecto-parasites. H o w e v e r , s o m e biologists believe that the birds simply get pleasure f r o m the stimulus of f o r m i c acid on t h e skin. Tarne or captive birds have been seen to anoint their p l u m a g e with o t h e r a r o m a t i c or acidic materials. M r . J e n n i n g s ' most interesting Observation strongly supports t h e 'insecticide' t h e o r y on ' a n t i n g ' , for the O n i s c o m o r p h a g r o u p of millipedes, to which Iulus belongs, have several repugnatorial glands along the sides of their bodies secreting a fluid containing hydrocyanic acid, iodine and quinine, which could well be an effective insecticide. But millipedes are eaten by many species of birds, in particular by starlings, and i n t e r p r e t a t i o n of bird b e h a v i o u r can be difficult. T h e insecticide theory could still be wrong. Editor.1 Hedgehogs Active in Winter Weather T h e first snow of t h e winter feil in Ipswich on 19th N o v e m b e r 1988, and the w e a t h e r was cold e n o u g h for some of it to have b e e n preserved in the garden by the 23rd w h e n a h e d g e h o g was seen at a b o u t 1800 hrs. It was of average size, a n d s e e m e d well and active. Some cold chicken meat was put down which it ate b e f o r e m o v i n g on. T h e t e m p e r a t u r e at ground level was 1°C and t h e r e w e r e no signs of any invertebrates or molluscs in the g a r d e n . O n the 2nd of D e c e m b e r a f t e r a few days of milder, misty w e a t h e r , a similarly-sized h e d g e h o g was active in the g a r d e n at 20.35 hrs. It weighed 18 oz. and a p p e a r e d to be healthy. T h e t e m p e r a t u r e at ground level was 4°C and the w e a t h e r was d a m p and misty. N o w o r m s or slugs were f o u n d on t h e surface of the g a r d e n , although t h e slug species Limax valentianus and Deroceras reticulatum were active on the c o m p o s t - h e a p w h e r e the t e m p e r a t u r e was higher than in t h e r e m a i n d e r of the garden. Eric P a r s o n s

Trans. Suffolk

Nal. Soc. 25



An Encouraging Note on Frogs Frogs were on the move in my immediate neighbourhood on the 19th February 1989, and several were found on the road within 25 yds. of my house. All those examined were males. By the 12th March, 5 pairs had spawned in my garden pond, which had only been constructed in the previous summer. It is interesting not only how many frogs there are in suburban Ipswich, but the number that have located a new pond. Eric Parsons [It does seem that 1989 is a good year for frogs in Suffolk. Unusually large numbers were mating and producing spawn in a pond at Cockfield this year (about 20th March), and I saw the first pair of the season in a fond embrace at West Stow Country Park on 6th March. Editor.]

An Attempt to Breed Bumble Bees A nestbox was being filled by Blue Tits during April 1987, when they were ousted by Bumble Bees that subsequently established their own nest amongst the material brought in by the birds. In March of 1988 the Contents of the box were examined and among the moss gathered by the Blue Tits were the remains of many old Bombus sp. cells, traces of orange pollen, pieces of dead bee and many unspecific larvae. Also present were two torpid, but alive, Bombus horiorum (L.) bees which were considered to be queens by virtue of their large size and the time of the year in which they were found. They were installed with portions of the old nest under 5 in. crock flower-pots that were half buried, hole uppermost, in the garden. The part of the nest that had been used by the bees was discarded along with the larvae, and only the remains of the original birds' nest were put in the pots with the queens. The pots were separated by a distance of about 3 metres and they were positioned in grass beneath a hedge of Holly where they faced West. One of the first mild days of the year, in the middle of April, had produced the first sightings of Small White butterflies and several species of bumble bees in the garden. These included Bombus lapidarious (L.) and Bombus pascorum Scopoli. As there was no sign of the bees under the flower-pots an inspection was made. It was discovered that the moss was wet in both cases, but both bees were still present and fairly active although both were by then infested with small, cream-coloured mites. The pots were refurbished with some dry moss and the bees returned to their respective Containers. This time the pots were installed in a horizontal position, slightly depressed, into the soil surface. A house-brick was used to block the mouth of each pot with soil formed in a mound Over the arrangement, and a turf of grass placed over it all. The flower-pots were not used as nesting sites by the bees and they disappeared during the following month. Eric Parsons

Trans. Suffolk Nat. Soc. 25


Suffolk Natural History, Vol. 25

Inesculation Inesculation is when a branch of a woody plant fuses with another, very rarely with that of another species. The not uncommon phenomenon is usually where the bark between two branches has worn away, often through the wind blowing the branches together. A fallen Sycamore at Easton Cliffs in March 1989 showed four examples of inesculation. Four branches had fused together to make an almost equal-sided parallelogram of sides approximately 50cm. Dr. Alan Beaumont

Bird-seed Aliens We have more unusual species to report in 1988. Mrs. F. Edwards found Chenopodium murale L., Nettle-leaved Goosefoot, and Vicia narbonensis L., Purple Broad Bean (identified by Dr. J. L. Mason) in her garden near Cläre (TL74, v.c. 26). Both species are known to be present in bird-seed mixtures (Hanson & Mason, 1985). Occasional plants are found in waste places with other bird-seed species, but rarely in gardens. Mrs. J. Harris watched the development of sturdy plants of Carthamus tinctorius L., Safflower, and Guizotia abyssinica (L.f.) Cass., Niger, in her Hitchin garden (TL95, v.c. 26). Both det. J. M. Mullin. Seed of both species is sold as bird food but, to judge by our records, surprisingly few plants grow from it. Reference Hanson, C. G. & Mason, J. L. (1985). Bird-seed aliens in Britain. 15, 237.


E. M. Hyde

Three Quarters of (the Society's) Lifetime Ago (Claude Morley) DĂźring the early part of 1944, I wrote to Claude Morley enquiring about membership of the Suffolk Naturalists' Society. As it had been drummed into me at school that my writing was totally illegible, I had taken to printing the address on any envelopes that I sent. After a few days the reply came, addressed to 'Miss A. Bull' - quite a flowery letter too. When I responded, I pointed out that I was not 'Miss'. There followed a somewhat terse apology which implied that the mistake was my own fault as 'In my experience, only young ladies print the addresses on envelopes.' A month or two later I had reason to write to the Secretary again, and addressed the letter t o ' M r . C. Morley, F.E.S., F.G.S., F . Z . S . ' T h e response this time was irate. 'Dear Bull, will you please address my future letters to "Claude Morley E s q . , " I'm not a Socialist!' Alec Bull

Trans. Suffolk Nal. Soc. 25



Old Ivy The C o m m o n Ivy (Hedera helix L.) is described as a woody-stemmed climber, but books in my library do not indicate the size to which the stems can grow or their potential age. We frequently see old Ivy stems cut on trees, especially now that chain saws are widely used, although Ivy does not kill trees and only seeks Support. A short time ago the stems of an old Ivy growing high into the branches of an ancient O a k at Great Bealings were cut and I was able to cut off a section of the largest stem. Including the very rough bark it had a circumference of 2 ft. 11 in. From a count of the annual rings it had been on this Oak tree for 170 years. Is this a record? When stems are cut on old specimens of Ivy they always die and the plants have never been seen to send out new growth from their base. Ivy wood is hard and closely grained and, I have been told, was once used for carving and making bowls and beakers. Francis Simpson

A Hybrid O a k In my flora (Simpson, 1982) I omitted records of suspected hybrids between the C o m m o n and Turkey Oaks (Quercus robur L. x Q. cerris L.). At the time there was some doubt among botanists over the verification of the hybrid. I had noted possible hybrid oaks at Butley, Bawdsey and Yoxford. It is now generally recognised that this hybrid does occur. On the Thornham Estate I was told that woodmen recognise this hybrid when felled by its poor timber quality. References Simpson, F. W . (1982). Simpsons flora of Suffolk. ists' Society.

Ipswich: Suffolk Natural-

Francis Simpson

Ferns on Coralline Crag The upper surface and sides of a small, hard boulder of Coralline Crag which I collected f r o m a pit at Gedgrave was partly covered with moss and many prothalli of a fern. These prothalli developed into the Hart's-tongue (Phyllitis scolopendrium (L.) Newm.). The boulder was wedge-shaped, with maximum dimensions of 11 x 5 x 4 in., and on its hard surface the ferns have grown slowly, but there are about 120 specimens in various stages of development on it. I have also seen Hart's-tongue Ferns growing on a small exposed vertical section of hard Red Crag at Purdis Farm, near Ipswich. Francis Simpson

Trans. Suffolk Nat. Soc. 25


Suffolk Natural History, Vol. 25

Abnormal Flowers of Round-Ieaved Fluellen On 25th October 1988, whilst being shown round an extension of the seed-growing area at Suffolk Herbs of Little Cornard, I was interested to see Round-Ieaved Fluellen, Kickxia spuria (L.) Dum., as a common weed among the rows of other plants, one plant of which looked decidedly odd. Closer examination showed it to have about half the flowers normal, towards the ends of the branches, while those further down the branches were all peloric, with the same type of 'inside out' flowers seen rarely on Common Toadflax, Linaria vulgaris Mill., another member of the Scropulariaceae. It would be worth examining other populations of K. spuria to see if this unusual form is widespread. Alec Bull A Bramble New to West Suffolk In July 1988 while stopped for a family picnic at the Forestry Commission picnic site at North Stow (TL 824753) I strolled along the forest margin looking at the Brambles. Some years ago I had found Rubus radula Weihe ex Boenn, R. dasyphyllus (Rogers) E. S. Marshall and R. vestitus Weihe & Nees there. On this occasion I discovered several bushes in one small area which were obviously R. hylocharis W. C. R. Wats. This is the second record for Suffolk and the first in West Suffolk (v.c. 26). As the bushes were grouped together within an area of 5 - 6 yds. across I suggest that this species is a fairly new arrival at the site, especially as I did not notice this distinctive species on my previous visit. The most likely explanation is that the seed was bird sown, during the autumn Thrush migration southwards by birds which had fed in east Norfolk where R. hylocharis is quite widespread. Alec Bull A Meal for a Thrush On the morning of 20th June 1988 I noticed a sudden commotion in a group of three Mullein (Verbascum spp.) plants in our garden. It was a Thrush. It had just discovered that the dozens of Mullein Moth caterpillars (Cucullia verbasci L.) were ripe for picking. For the next two hours or so it hopped or flew from leaf to leaf, pausing only for brief rests on the garden fence. Not a single caterpillar survived! Mullein Moth caterpillars are very colourful (white with a greenish tinge, banded with yellow, and with black dots on the back and sides) and they are found quite exposed on Mullein plants. It seems likely therefore that they are distasteful to most predators, but clearly the Thrush did not find them so. The caterpillars also fed on a species of Figwort (Scrophularia scopolii Hoppe ex. Pers.), which I grew from seed collected in the central Appennines in 1978, but they prefer Mulleins, of which we have a large number of species and hybrids. E. M. Hyde

Trans. Suffolk Nat. Soc. 25



Three Quarters of (the Society's) Lifetime Ago (A White Wagtail) May I correct a note which appeared in Transactions, Vol. 5, Pt. 3, 1944? On 30th July 19441 was cycling from Semer towards Ash Street and, just as I was passing the farm at Grid. Ref. (1989) 006466 there appeared before me in the road a male White Wagtail (Motacilla alba alba) in absolutely pristine plumage. I was able to study it at about 15 yds. through my binoculars and saw that it had a black head and bib, black primaries and a black line down the centre of the tail. T h e remainder of the wings and back were a beautiful pearly grey, and the underparts white. The bird was busy collecting insects and had a beakful, but was being harried by two or three Yellowhammers. I did not see where it went when it flew, but when I returned about an hour later it was again in the road collecting insects with the Yellowhammers looking on. I sent a note on this to the Editor who replied that what 1 had seen was, of course, a Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea). I did not attempt to argue but was taken aback when my note appeared in Transactions as a 'Grey Wagtail', and completely rewritten! I note that W. H. Payn in his Birds ofSuffolk refuses to accept any old records of Pied/White Wagtails breeding in Suffolk, but a new precedent was set in the B T O Breeding Atlas in which they admit to there being a handful of such occurrences each year, somewhere in Britain. In recent years I have seen White Wagtails most years on Spring migration in north Norfolk, and also on the Continent, and have remembered the Semer bird, which I saw rather better than any subsequently. A. L. Bull

Garden Aliens - Some Unusual Plants 1988 was a good year for aliens and not all of them occurred in the wild. Gardens are good hunting grounds for unusual introductions as the reduced competition from other plants and enriched soils make good germination sites for seeds transported by wind, birds or even on the gardener's boot. O n e particularly interesting plant was brought in to the Museum for identification. It was a species of Solanum which had occurred on a compost heap at Felixstowe. The owner noticed the unusual leaf a few years ago and looked after it to find out what it might be; he has no idea where the seed might have come from. I have identified the plant as Solanum laciniatum Aiton, a common plant both in the wild and in cultivation in New Zealand where it is known as 'Porro-porro'. It also occurs in Australia where it is called Kangaroo Apple but there appears to be some confusion in the literature between this species and S. aviculare. I have only found one reference to the plant being found in the wild in Britain and it seems unlikely that such a tender plant would survive for long in our climate. T h e plant is quite spectacular, about 7 ft. tall, entirely glabrous, with deeply lobed (pinnatisect) leaves up to 15 in. long. The leaf bases are decurrent giving the purple stems an angled appearance. Flowers are similar

Trans. Suffolk Nat. Soc. 25


Suffolk Natural History, Vol. 25

to those of a potato, purple/violet in colour and over an inch in diameter followed by small ovoid fruits which turn from green to yellow. Another plant brought in for identification was Adrosace chaixii Gren. & Godron ( A . lactiflora sensu Coste, non Pallas), a small rockery plant known as a "Rock Jasmine' which was found by Howard Mendel in his garden at Martlesham Heath. The plants appeared 'spontaneously' and it is quite possible seed had been blown in or been transported on shoes. The plant has a wide distribution in Europe and is also grown in gardens under the horiticultural name 'A. salicifolia\ as this last name suggests the leaves of the basal rosette are willow shaped. The plants are less than lOcms high with attractive flowers shaped like a small white Primula with a yellow eye, these are quite large for such a tiny plant and are arranged in lax umbels. Martin Sanford A New Use for Old Car Engine Oil The disposal of old engine oil can present problems, but there is a use for the thick, impure liquid. Opposite my house is a paddock which contains two oak trees. A horse in this paddock was biting the ba/k and, if left alone, would have killed the trees. The owners of the horse did nothing to stop it, so I painted the bark with old engine oil. The horse tried to continue its destruction, but soon stopped. Perhaps the taste of the oil was not to its liking. Whilst the trees may look 'unnatural', they are alive, and all naturalists would prefer a live oak to a dead one. Dr. Alan Beaumont Emperor Moth Eggs A circle of some 60 eggs was found around a dead stem of a Knapweed (Centaurea sp.) on Furze Common ( G R TM390880) on 25 May 1988. They were taken home for identification where they hatched some days later into black, hairy larvae, and were fed on Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna). It was after the first moult, when green larvae emerged, that the initial identification as the eggs of the Emperor Moth (Saturnia pavonia L.) was confirmed. Emperor Moths are our sole representative of the silk moth family (Saturniidae), although the thick brown silk the larva spins for its cocoon would not make a silk purse, but more of a sow's ear. After the adults have emerged and laid eggs they will be returned to Furze Common. Dr. Alan Beaumont A Whale in the River Stour Last year (Trans. Suffolk Nat. Soc., 24:1-2) I reported the occurrence of a 20 ft. whale in the River Stour on 6th November 1986. From excellent photographs taken by John Willis it was identified as a rorqual, Balaenoptera sp., but the particular species remained in doubt. Trans. Suffolk Nat. Soc. 25



I sent copies of the photographs to Dr. Ivar Christensen of the Institute of Marine Research, Bergen, Norway for an expert opinion. Dr. Christensen thought the whale was a Sei Whale, B. borealis Lesson and showed the photographs to an 'old whaler' who was of the same opinion. The Sei Whale has a world-wide distribution but is scarce in British waters and does not seem to have been previously noticed off the Suffolk coast. Howard Mendel An Unusual Toadstool Habitat Ornamental beds with small shrubs and other plants were beside a passage between Foundation and Lower Brook Streets, Ipswich. These were dressed with tree bark. To my surprise some False Morels (Morchella elata Fries) appeared there last spring (1988). This fungus is usually confined to Pine and Fir woods and is uncommon in Suffolk. Obviously the spores or some mycelium was introduced with the bark chippings. I do not know where the chippings came from. Francis Simpson

Trans. Suffolk Nat. Soc. 25

Notes and Observations 25  
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