19th August 2015

We had an extraordinary experience in the Deepdale car park yesterday. I saw a brown, very light shape flutter onto the public toilet slate roof. The ‘jizz’ wasn’t right for a butterfly or a leaf, and I was amazed to find it was a small bat, which then crawled down into the gutter. I guess it had been displaced or disoriented by the stormy night before. This was such an unusual opportunity for a photograph,  I climbed up on the gate of the toilet and, using Lynn’s lighter camera in my left hand, I managed to take a couple of photos without disturbing it! It settled down, completely out of view, and we hope it revived enough to fly again in the evening. Pipistrelles are the most common UK bat, and common in most

Pipistrelle Bat roosting in a gutter.

Pipistrelle Bat roosting in a gutter.

The way we usually see Pipistrelle Bats flying over the garden.

The way we usually see Pipistrelle Bats flying over the garden.

 

Pipistrelles fly between 5-10 metres above the ground, often near trees.

Pipistrelles fly between 5-10 metres above the ground, often near trees.

parts of the world. Each one can eat 3,000 insects in one night! They are tiny and weigh around 3 grams, less than the weight of a pound coin. They suffered a shocking decline of 70% between 1978 and 1993, are now protected, and the Species Action Plan aims to restore their numbers to the pre-1970 population. They are active from dusk between March and November, and fly fast and erratically between 5 and 10 metres above the ground, along tree-lines, over water and near hedgerows. They roost and then hibernate in trees, bat-boxes and under tiles and crevices in buildings.We often get them flying over the garden, but not a view like this. Conditions: A cool day of sunshine and cloud and a stiff breeze. Temperature: Max 16- Min 10 C.

16th August 2014

I know some people find the wild varieties of the pea family hard to tell apart, so here are the two common purple ones. The Pea Family (otherwise known as Legumes), which include many wild plants,  garden peas, Sweet Peas etc, have very distinctively shaped flowers with five parts– a large ‘banner’ or ‘standard’ at the top, two ‘wings

Bush Vetch showing the typical ladder-like paired leaves of vetches and the clover coloured petals.

Bush Vetch showing the typical ladder-like paired leaves of vetches and the clover coloured petals.

and two ‘keel’ petals at the base, the latter forming a landing stage for insects such as Honey Bees and Bumble Bees. Insects land on the keel to access the nectar sources, as can be seen in one of the photos. Legumes also all have nodules on their roots which ‘fix’ nitrogen in the soil and thus help nourish other plants in the vicinity. The two common wild purple vetches are easy to tell apart. The Bush Vetch has pinkish mauve or lilac flowers with dark purple veins, growing in small groups around the stems. Like all the Pea Family, they scramble through other vegetation, clinging on and climbing up using curling tendrils. As well as the flowers being rich in nectar, their leaves are eaten by a range of caterpillars, beetles and weevils. Bush Vetch grows easily in wild areas in the garden. The much darker purple Tufted Vetch is my favourite, and has stems of flowers which grow in long racemes  down one side of the stem. The whole plant is taller and can grow up into hedges and over banks. The leaves of both species are

Bumble Bee alighting on the keel of Bush Vetch to access the nectar.

Bumble Bee alighting on the keel of Bush Vetch to access the nectar.

A patch of the wonderfully tall, deep purple Tufted Vetch

A patch of the wonderfully tall, deep purple Tufted Vetch

ladders of long, symmetrical narrow pairs, ending in a branched tendril.Conditions: Cloudy with some sun and stiff gusts of wind. Temperature: Max 17- Min 14 C. P.S. I’ll be away from the computer for a couple of days, so back soon at the blog!

15th August 2014

After many garden birds have been more secretive for a few weeks, gathering insects in the wild and going through some of their moult, we have a lot back again. Many birds join mixed flocks once the breeding season is over and their young are safely raised. Before that, they are much more territorial, trying to guard their nesting and feeding areas. From mid-August and through the winter there starts to be an advantage to join with others. Finches may start to appear in small flocks, Corvids (Crows,Jackdaws and Rooks) are more likely to feed together, and over-wintering Thrushes like Fieldfare and Redwing also do when they start to arrive next month. The most likely mixed flocks to be seen and heard in our gardens, though, are Tits, which may also be joined by species like Nuthatch, Treecreeper and Goldcrest. Around 20 other species have been seen gathering into flocks with Tits after the breeding season. It is the Tits which start these mixed flocks forming. For the last few days we’ve had more than twenty Tits arrive at once, including a dozen Long Tailed Tits, several Great Tits, Blue Tits and a few Coal Tits. Occasionally all four species have been on the feeder together.  They are definitely less

A few of todays mixed flock of tits back to eating peanuts

A few of todays mixed flock of tits back to eating peanuts

The Coal Tit feeding today with a Great Tit, without being chased off the food.

The Coal Tit feeding today with a Great Tit, without being chased off the food.

One of the dozen Long Tailed Tits visiting today

One of the dozen Long Tailed Tits visiting today

competitive after breeding and, as you can see from the photos, even the Coal Tits, which are usually intimidated by the bigger Tits, will stay on the feeders more now, even with the much bigger and more aggressive Great Tits. Following breeding, it pays in several ways for birds to feed in flocks- the number of eyes and ears looking out for predators like Sparrow Hawks,  and  for food sources helps them keep safer, and better-fed. You can usually hear the tits lovely contact calls, which help keep the flocks together, before you see them arrive. Conditions: Cool, bright dry with some later showers. Temperature: Max 19 – Min 12 C

14th August 2014

Here’s another great summer butterfly – the Small Copper– that you may be lucky enough to see in your garden. We saw this one in a garden in nearby Hathersage, though they also frequent unimproved grassland. The caterpillars feed on the surface of the leaves of dock, sorrel etc and you can tell their presence by the pattern of surface scraping on

The strongly patterned, distinctive Small Copper butterfly feeding on Yarrow (Achilea)

The strongly patterned, distinctive Small Copper butterfly feeding on Yarrow (Achillea)

A female Gatekeeper, with its double white spot on the eye on the forewing, and clear orange area of forewing.

A female Gatekeeper, with its double white spot on the eye on the forewing, and clear orange area of forewing.

Male Gatekeeper with the same definitive two-spotted eye on the forewing but also the brown patch of scent-scales on its forewings.

Male Gatekeeper with the same definitive two-spotted eye on the forewing but also the brown patch of scent-scales on its forewings.

leaves. Their numbers have reduced over the past few decades. They can occur over most of lowland Britain, but in localised small colonies. The males, though small, are very active and aggressively chase off other males that enter their territory, usually returning to the same sunny patch, awaiting a female to mate with. They like warm, dry conditions so fare badly in our wetter summers. It’s worth looking out for them now after two hot, mostly dry summers. Adults feed on meadow grasses and a range of flowers. I’m also including a photo of the female and male Gatekeepers. I posted a male with its extra scent scale patch of brown on its forewings a few weeks ago but now have a photo from the garden of a female so you can see the difference. Conditions:Predicted showers didn’t arrive till after 6, following a day of sunny intervals and cloud. Temperature: Max 18- Min 13 C

13th August 2014

These beautifully patterned Dark Green Fritillary Butterflies are among my favourite local butterflies. They are the most common of a range of Fritillaries that can be seen in the British Isles but though widespread, they are localised, mainly due to their habitat preferences. We are lucky, being on the edge of the limestone grasslands of the White Peak, one of their favourite habitats. We regularly see these at Millers Dale. Their name

A Dark Green Fritillary Butterfly on grassland at Millers Dale.

A Dark Green Fritillary Butterfly on grassland at Millers Dale.

A Dark Green Fritillary showing the underside of the wings with their green sheen and silver patches

A Dark Green Fritillary showing the underside of the wings with their green sheen and silver patches

Dark Green Fritillary feeding on clover.

Dark Green Fritillary feeding on clover.

comes from the slight green hue of their underwings, which also have silver patches, as can be seen in one of the photos. The adults love nectar from thistles and knapweed, while the caterpillars feed on many varieties of violet. Males, darker than females, can be seen flying fast over the grasses, seeking the paler females to mate. Conditions: A cool breezy day, with high cloud and some sun. Temperature: Max 19- Min 13 C.

12th August 2014

The Common Blue is just that- the most commonly seen of all the Blue Butterflies, seen on unimproved grasslands, woodland clearings and verges over most of the British Isles. The species is dimorphic, the males being very blue on the upper sides of their wings, while the female, as can be seen, is largely brown with varying patches of blue sheen. As with several of our native species of butterfly, they frequently have two broods per year in the south and only one in the north. The female, which is much more secretive

A male Common Blue Butterfly, feeding on Marjoram.

A male Common Blue Butterfly, feeding on Marjoram.

Male Common Blue Butterfly, showing its narrow white and black margin to the wings.

Male Common Blue Butterfly, showing its narrow white and black margin to the wings.

Underside of a Common Blue butterfly at rest.

Underside of a Common Blue butterfly at rest.

Female Common Blue Butterfly, showing its much browner colouring.

Female Common Blue Butterfly, showing its much browner colouring.

in its habit, flies low over vegetation, looking for a suitable food plant for its caterpillars, and lays one egg per leaf. The plant favoured by the caterpillars is Birds Foot Trefoil, but they will also feed on Clover, Black Medick, Rest Harrow and some other plants of the pea family. The adult butterflies drink nectar from plants like Birds Foot Trefoil, Clover, Marjoram, Bugle, Knapweed and Fleabane (of which more another day). The males are much more conspicuous in appearance and behaviour, flying fast and high when the sun is out. (If you see a couple of these or other butterflies in an upward spiral flight together, they are having a territorial dispute, sparring for the best patch to sunbathe or feed). In dull weather the Common Blue roosts upside down on a blade of grass, well camouflaged by their lovely underwing pattern. At night, they congregate together in roosts, sometimes with several on the same stem of grass. Conditions: A breezy, cool, sunny and cloudy day with an occasional light flurry of rain. Temperature: Max 18- Min 13 C.

11th August 2014

Willow Herbs are everywhere at the moment, but they are a bit too invasive to have in gardens, unless you have lots of wild space. They are successful, partly due to the masses of wind-dispersed seeds they generate, and also because they spread through underground shoots. There are seven species of small Willow Herb but the two easy ones to tell apart are the Rose Bay Willow Herb and the Great Willow Herb, sometimes called the Great Hairy Willow Herb. Rose Bay Willow Herb has increased over the past 150, the seeds thought to have been spread along train-lines much as Scurvy Grass has been shown to be spread along dual carriageways nowadays. Also known as Fireweed, because of this habit of taking over any cleared or burnt area, they were known as Bombweed in the UK during World War 2, as they rapidly colonised bomb-damaged sites in cities.  The pith in the stems has been eaten by Native Americans and other native people and the young shoots are also edible. My favourite Willow Herb is the Great (Hairy) Willow Herb, also known as Cherry Pie and as Codlins and Cream, Codlins being an old variety of cooking apple, or the name for any half-grown, unripe apple.With its deep rosy petals and creamy-white centre, its easy to see why it has nicknames like these.

Rose Bay Willow Herb, also known as Fireweed

Rose Bay Willow Herb, also known as Fireweed

 Conditions: Some places were due heavy showers but we escaped with a largely bright and

Rose Bay Willow Herb going to seed- which is wind-dispersed over great distances.

Rose Bay Willow Herb going to seed- which is wind-dispersed over great distances.

Great Willow Herb or 'Codlins and Cream'

Great Willow Herb or ‘Codlins and Cream’

The lovely big flowers of Great Willow Herb

The lovely big flowers of Great Willow Herb

sunny day, with a cool breeze, after a night of showers and strong breezes. Temperature: Max 19- Min 12 C.