Butterfly Conservation and the National Trust want our help recording the Common Blue Butterfly, especially if you are near the coast. This once very common Butterfly is in such decline that they want to know how numbers are doing this year and also if coastal areas, with their short turf and poorer soils, are providing a better stronghold. I had a wonderful experience with just this species this morning, back down south again. Walking in an area of rough grassland where their favourite food plant, the Birds Foot Trefoil still thrives, and around 8 a.m. I came across upwards of 40 Common Blues shining like jewels on the tall grasses, warming up in the sun in order to have the energy to fly off and feed. I couldn’t get a good photo of the dozens together, as they were scattered over a little distance but here are some close-ups to aid identification, the males and females being very different to each other. Conditions : A glorious, still, sunny day. Temperature: Max 19 -Min 12c.
Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars are getting harder to find but are so distinctive when you do. They look like a dark, spiky mass and are very visible on their host plant, Stinging Nettles. One reason for the decline in these once very common Butterflies, whose adults feed join many nectar rich flowers, like these on Scabious, is being researched at present. One of the flies which parasitise the Caterpillars, Sturmia Bella, is increasing due to climate change. The eggs of these flies are laid beside Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars and, when they hatch, the larvae rather gruesomely enter the caterpillars and feed from the inside, avoiding vital organs so that the host survives as
long as possible. Eventually the caterpillar dies and the fly lives to parasitise another day. Conditions: Sunny intervals with showers later. Temperature: Max 17- Min 11c.
Meadow Pipits – Now I’m back to the land of the internet, here’s a young Meadow Pipit we saw in the stunning hay meadows around Monyash, in the White Peak in Derbyshire. Meadow Pipits are the most common bird of upland moors and hills, but can also be seen on playing fields, parkland and agricultural areas of lowland Britain, especially in winter. Like the Skylark, they are birds which launch
themselves into the air and parachute down on upturned wings. They are smaller than Skylarks, about the size of Sparrows, and have no crest. Their call gives them their name- repeated pip-pip or zip-zip and they don’t sing as continuously as Skylarks.The BTO have a good video that helps tell the difference. Conditions: A cloudy day with occasional light showers, following the last few days of heavy showers and bright spells. Temperature: Max 15 – Min 11c
Common Blue Damselfly– I realised, though these beautiful little flying gems have been in the garden a while, I haven’t covered them this year. They are the most common Damselfly in the UK. The males are Blue with narrow black bands and dots, and the females can be either blue or a dull yellow-green. Of course, as Damselflies they fold their wings when resting, unlike Dragonflies, and they eat tiny insects from vegetation. When mating the male clasps the female by the neck and they will fly round like this until they find a site to mate, when the female bends her body round to form what is called the ‘mating wheel’. They stay clasped together while the female lays eggs onto plants just below the surface of the water– see photos. Conditions: A much-needed wet morning followed by sunny intervals and a gentler breeze.
Temperature: Max 17- Min 12c.
Butterflies along the Don today- it’s the time of year to spend 15 minutes recording Butterflies anywhere in your area, for the Big Butterfly Count. If you look up the Butterfly Conservation Society they will give you a free Butterfly identification chart and if you have a smart phone, a free app for sending in your sightings, or you can submit them on-line or by post. We had a pretty good set of sightings this morning along the inner city part of the Don in Sheffield- Green Veined White, Small Skipper, Meadow Brown, Comma and Small Tortoiseshell. Here’s a few of them. There were also plenty of fly fishermen after the Trout and Grayling that are now plentiful, showing how much the once heavily polluted river has been cleaned up. Conditions: Sun and cloud with rain due over night. Temperature: Max 19- Min 13c.
Small Skippers are brilliant and often overlooked common butterflies, certainly in England and Wales. We had several zipping round the garden today. They are really small and such expert flyers that it can be hard to identify them, changing direction speedily, in and out of the flowers and shrubs. But their golden-copper colour, catching the sunlight, gives them away. Like all Skippers they are a distinctive shape and hold their upper wings at an angle to their lower wings (see photo’s). The best way to get a good view is when they bask in sunshine on some vegetation, as these were. Conditions: Sunny morning and c,loud afternoon. Temperature: Max 21- Min 15c.
Amelanchier- or Snowy Mespilus– what one small tree can do for birds in your garden (or in this case our neighbours!). At this time of year there is a lot of wild food around for birds so, in order to get them in the garden it really helps to have a small tree like this Amelanchier, which has beautiful flowers in spring (and buds the Bullfinches love), provides shelter, has great autumn colours but at this time has berries the birds flock to. We have had at least 5 Bullfinches visiting regularly, Blackbirds and Thrushes, Greenfinches and this little female Blackcap among other species performing antics to get at the berries. Even the juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker has had a go at balancing its big body on the delicate branches. Conditions: Rain and drizzle. Temperature: Max 18- Min 14c.
Meadow Brown Butterfly– Related to yesterdays Gatekeeper Butterfly, the Meadow Brown is one of the most common UK butterflies, appearing almost anywhere except the high mountains. It is sadly disappearing from our more intensively farmed areas but dozens flanked my walk the other day. Meadow Browns only have one white spot on their eye, unlike the Gatekeepers which have two. The male Meadow Browns have much darker upper wings than the females so I include both in today’s photos. The underwings are more similar though the males are a little lighter. Conditions: Cloudy and wet. The rain is needed in the south, though not for the village cricket match! Temperature: Max 17- Min 15c.
Gatekeeper Butterfly– I’m down south again these few days, in glorious summer weather and I have seen one of my favourite butterflies. The Gatekeeper is extending its range northwards but still doesn’t make it so Scotland. The best place to see it is along field edges, hedgerows, or as with this one and appropriately, beside gateways, where the meadow flowers it loves tend to be left to grow. These are males, as they have smudge of brown on their upper wings. They often appear with other meadow butterflies like Meadow Brown and Ringlet but the Gatekeeper is more amber in colour, and likes to bask in the sun with its wings wide open. It also has two white marks on its ‘eye’ while the Meadow Brown only has one. Conditions: Beautiful sunny spell down south. Temperature: Max 23- Min 14c
Juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker continued…. later this young bird did find the confidence and skills, gradually to manage the feeder near the window. I love the way Woodpeckers use their tails to gain stability, and the way this individual kept flying to and fro until it learned how to work its way along the pole and then hang onto the wire feeder. Conditions: A mostly cloudy day with a breeze, showers and rain. Temperature: Max 15- Min 12c