Damselflies are voracious predators of insects, both in the underwater larval stage and the adult stage. They can easily be distinguished from Dragonflies, as Damselflies fold their wings against their bodies when at rest, while Dragonflies rest with their wings open. Two common forms visit our garden and ponds: the Large Red and the Common Blue Damselfly, both very widespread either near slow-flowing or still water, also making feeding-forays into gardens and grasslands away from water. The Large Red Damselfly has black legs and black and red bands on its thorax, (unlike the Small Red which has reddish legs, a red body and is much less common). The female Large Red tends to have more black or even some yellow bands on its thorax. The Common Blue Damselfly is by far the most frequently seen of all Damselflies and often visits gardens, with or without a pond. The female is paler, or greenish, as can be seen in the photo. The empty nymph-skin could be from either species. Conditions: The hot, dry spell continues. Temperature: Max 22- Min 14 C.
The Large Red Damselfly
The male (blue) and female (greenish) Common Blue Damselfly in tandem position, during pairing (They can fly in this position).
Empty larval case of Damselfly.
We are now into the phase of the year when days begin to get shorter. However, due to the length of Britain, from 50 degrees north in the South to 60 degrees north in the North, these ‘longest days’ vary from a maximum of 16 hours 40 minutes in the South of England to 18 hours 50 minutes in Lerwick, Shetland! All over Britain, except for the far north, the Common Ragwort is flowering and so the bright, day-flying moth the Cinnabar Moth (named after the mineral of the same red colour) is around. The pupae overwinter underground, and the moth adults emerge to lay up to 300 eggs in spring on its main food-source, the Common Ragwort. Walking last night we found many of the caterpillars which emerge around now a pale yellow, becoming deep yellow and black. The caterpillars absorb toxic alkaline substances from the highly toxic Ragwort. (Cinnabar Moths have been introduced to North America, New Zealand and Australia in an attempt to control the Ragwort, whose tox
Cinnabar Moth caterpillar.
Mass of Cinnabar caterpillars, showing the paler recently hatched and the older, yellow and black ones.
Adult Cinnabar Moth- showing its red stripe and two dots per side.
icity is a problem, especially to horses). Few caterpillars survive to adulthood, mainly due to starvation, through stripping the foliage on their host plant. This partly explains why they can also be cannibalistic. As with many things in nature, the bright colours of the moth and caterpillar are to warn of their toxicity and thereby deter predators. The only likely confusion in identifying the Cinnabar Moth is to confuse it with the Burnet Moth, so I’ll include a photo of that moth in today’s blog. Conditions: Hot and dry day. Temperature: Max 21- Min 14 C.
Adult Six-Spot Burnet Moth, another day-flying red and black moth which can be confused with the Cinnabar
And for anyone with withdrawal symptoms from Minsmere Bittern, here is one we spotted a couple of years ago there….
After posting the Bullfinches, and with a short break coming up, I am just going to post the beautiful summer plumage of the other finches we have visiting us through the summer months. Back soon!
Male Greenfinch on the feeder.
Male Chaffinch in bright summer plumage.- blue cap and all!
Male and female Goldfinches often feed together.
It can be tricky to tell the lovely Hornbeam from the equally lovely Beech sometimes so this is the best time of year to confirm it if you’re unsure. Hornbeams have smaller, more deeply furrowed leaves whose length is three times their width. They both make good hedges and both keep their leaves into winter, (Beech go
Hornbeam winged seeds
bronzy and Hornbeam a golden yellow), providing good shelter for birds and small mammals. However, at this time of year the seeds are showing and the Beech mast is very different to the Hornbeam winged seeds, known as samaras (see photos). Hornbeam seeds are eaten by Tits and Finches in autumn. Hornbeam is native in southern England but has been introduced into the north and does well. Individual trees can grow to 30 metres high and, if coppiced, Hornbeam can live 300 years. Its name derives from its qualities- Beam meaning Tree in Old English, and Horn meaning hard. The creamy wood is hard and strong, giving it its common name of ‘Ironwood’, used in the past for ox-yokes, poles, gear-pegs for Windmills, chess pieces and still for furniture. It also makes good charcoal. Hornbeam leaves are favoured by some wonderfully named moth caterpillars, including Common Emerald, Walnut Sphinx and Svenssons Copper Underwing. I am in the process of trying to make a rather Heath-Robinson-style Moth Trap so I will then face the terribly difficult task of identifying some of these sorts of moths!
Hornbeam leaves and seeds.
Conditions: A still, cloudy day with sun breaking through later. Temperature: Max 20- Min 15 C
Bullfinches were on the Red List of endangered species for several years, due to loss of woodland margins, hedgerows and loss of habitat through over-grazing by deer, but more recently their numbers have been increasing and they are now on the Amber List. Rather than visiting gardens in winter they are now more likely to visit and feed all year round. They usually have two broods a year and lately a pair of adults have been feeding a couple of fledglings here. They have been so deep in the trees, for cover, that I haven’t been able to photograph the juveniles being fed, just fleeting glimpses and hearing the beautiful low whistles between them and the adults. Today, the juveniles were feeding themselves on the Amelanchier berries so were much more visible. Juveniles, both male and female, have similar markings to the adult females, but without the black cap, until their first moult. I’ll include a photo of the adult male and female taken today to show the difference in plumage. They stay as a family group much of the year so you will often see them together, in the wild or the garden. Conditions: A mostly cloudy day with a gentle breeze. Temperature: Max 19- Min 15 C so we are in for a very mild night.
A juvenile Bullfinch feeding on Amelanchier berries.
Juvenile Bullfinch. Male and female juveniles have the same plumage until the first moult.
Adult male Bullfinch
Adult female Bullfinch
Foxgloves abound in the wild and the garden, though the native ones attract more pollinators. Garden varieties tend to have less pollen and Bumblebees are especially attracted to purple flowers. Biennials (taking two years to flower), Foxgloves are especially well adapted to pollination by Bees. They have very noticeable Bee Guides, usually in the form of dark spots, lips evolved as platforms for Bee-landings, and long flowering seasons, from late May to September, with the flowers opening over a period of weeks on each stem from bottom to top. This increases the chances of flowers being out during good weather, when Bees are more actively feeding. Being on tall stems, the flowers are very visible among other growth. What is more, when each flower opens it has guard-hairs near the entrance which both deter smaller flies and insects, and help bees climb up into the food source and pollen. The fact that the flower hangs down also deters smaller insects from climbing in. The Foxglove further increases its chances of propagation by having seeds which can lay dormant for many years, until either the ground is disturbed or light is increased. Coppicing, where trees are cut down in rotation every few years, leads to great flowerings of many woodland species, including Foxgloves (see photo) which lay dormant until the trees are cleared. Every part of the Foxglove plant is very poisonous and, despite being the source of powerful medicines for treating heart disease, even a nibble can be dangerous. Somehow, none of us who played with foxgloves as children, putting the flowers on our fingers like gloves, seem to have suffered unduly! Conditions: A day of dull weather, still and cloudy with some drizzle. Temperature: Max 18- Min 12 C.
A glade of Foxgloves, two years after chestnut was coppiced.
Two Bumblebees, a Buff-tailed and a Carder, feed on and pollinate a native Foxglove in the garden.
Bumblebee about to land on a garden Foxglove’s ‘landing lip’.