Just to the south of Virpazar, the twisting road to Gluhi Do runs alongside a stream, wet pastures and woodlands and then across the edge of a large expanse of abandoned, thorn-covered farmland. There is distant traffic noise from the fast road to the Sozina Tunnel on the slope above, as well as occasional trains from the nearby line but the area itself holds no farms or houses and is little travelled and quiet.
In the farmland, flocks of hawfinch are commonplace with up to 20 the other evening. Although I have seen them in pairs feeding high in the trees on emerging seeds of elm and willow, they are are equally often on the ground by roadsides and in fields feeding on fallen seeds. One or two black-eared wheatear are also found in the more open and drier areas but they are always elusive.
In the woodland by the stream, song thrushes and blackbirds sing and yesterday a nightingale too. A pair of long-tailed tits are now feeding young with their small beaks creamed full of insects and are even more confiding than usual.
Long-tailed tit carrying a beakful of insects to young in the nest.
Thyme-leaved speedwell (Veronica serpyllifolia) is now emerging as is purple gromwell (Lithospermum purpurocaeruleum), both preferring the sheltered woodland.
Thyme-leaved speedwell and purple gromwell.
The three-leaved water crowfoot (Ranunculus trichophyllus) formed a dense mat in places in the stream and, in the shaded slope above, the elegant but deadly round-leaved birthwort (Aristolochia rotunda), one of the food plants of the previous day’s southern festoon, is emerging. The birthwort secretes an odour that attracts tiny Chloropodid flies and these pollinate the flower whilst being trapped by inward pointing hairs. Once pollinated, the hairs collapse and the flies escape their confinement. Research just published in the New Phytologist (206: 342–351) has shown that the odour produced by A. rotunda mimics chemical compounds released by Mirids (leaf bugs and others) when being killed by predatory arthropods, such as spiders or praying mantis. The Chloropodid species attracted to A. rotunda are specialist food thieves on dying and dead bugs and are thus duped by the plant.
Three-leaved water crowfoot and round-leaved birthwort.