Sunday, 22 May 2011

In search of the native Black Poplar

An hour's circular walk through Fell Edge wood was called for today to look for the native Black Poplar. The rain held off, as it did generally overnight thought it went down to 5.8C and the moth trap this morning only held 12 moths, the usual Shuttle-shaped Dart, Heart & Dart, Spruce Carpet,  Common Marbled Carpet  and yet another Pale Tussock.

Another Pale Tussock
So off we went, I dragged my poor wife with me for a change for a walk in the woods.  Time was not really with us and though I spent a fair bit looking I couldn't relocate the Royal Fern especially with the understory in the woods being  very dense now, having changed dramatically since last month. I need to spend more time here looking properly. At the south end a Grasshopper Warbler was reeling.  This is quite a different spot from the birds I have seen elsewhere here early this year.
 Apart from that it and the Jays in the wood being particularly conspicuous,  the birds were mainly the usual common warblers singing, though there appeared to be a slight movement of Common Swift passing through. There were quite a few butterflies on the wing despite the strong breeze with still good numbers of Orange-tips (including some still mating), Peacocks, and Walls with smaller numbers of Large White and Small Tortoiseshell and my first Common Blue of the year.

My first Common Blue of the year

Also flitting about, though disturbed by our walking through the grass were several Silver-ground Carpet moths, a year tick. I added both White Campion and the Pink Campion (the hybrid with Red Campion)  to the year list. I had a six figure grid reference for the  Poplar given to me by the county recorder earlier this week and to be honest I had virtually given up. Then there it was, the native Black Poplar (Populus nigra betulifolia) I must have walked past it well over half a dozen times in the past. I had not misidentified it but completed ignored it, but there it was. A very old tree though they can live to 250 years old. It's bark a grey-brown, with lots of burrs, fissures and knobbly bits, the lower branches arching down, upper branches and twigs sweeping up  and the faint balm smell.  This is the rarest native tree in the UK with the current  British population being around 7,000 and  are 95% elderly. Because they are so scattered, natural reproduction is rare.

Black Poplar

Black Poplar bark
As rain was forecast and I have already had the moth trap out two nights running I put it away tonight. As I was in the garden I heard a Tawny Owl calling but also heard something else. Listening carefully and probably because of the wind direction I head  the classic 'squeaky-gate' call of one (though probably more)  young Long-eared Owl.  They do breed close by and have on a couple of occasions visited the garden with their young in the past so here's hoping. I heard them calling several times and it was a fine end to the day.


  1. Keith, now you`ve found the Black Poplars, you`ll have to keep an eye out for any larval holes of Hornet Clearwings. Saying that though, they are rare, north of the midlands.

  2. I think I need a lot of luck for that mind you, only 3 county records, 1899, 1927 and 1962. But I have some lures for the Red-tipped which does occur here and I am keeping a look out for their larval holes and well as Currant Clearwing in the garden where it has not been found ... yet.

  3. Very interesting to read about the Black Poplar.
    Those Leos are well ahead of the birds round here, eldest young are only @ 9 days old.

  4. Steve,
    I suspect this pair to have been together for some time now so perhaps because of that they can establish territory and get down to business quicker. If the oldest young has just left the nest which they do at about 3 weeks I think, then they are about 12 days older than yours.