Orb spider-webs: Orb webs have existed for at least 100 million years, as evidenced by remains found in Early Cretaceous amber in Sussex and I saw these on my last morning in Sussex. The process of building orb webs is so complex I can only precise it here: The spider casts a thin thread into the air across a gap and when it adheres to a stem, strengthens it several times by walking across it laying down more thread. It then makes a y-shape, and adds the radials to this. They it works on non-sticky spirals so it can manoeuvre without getting stuck itself, before laying down sticky spirals which trap the insects. Commonly, spiders eat their webs each morning as the stickiness does not last and they need to recoup some of the protein they have expended in the web itself. Conditions: Fairly cool and cloudy. Temperature: Max 18- Min13c.
Common Fleabane: This beautiful and often overlooked flower, as beautiful as a garden flower, is to be found at this time of year in all but the very north of England, and Scotland. It thrives in damp areas and ditches, spreading by rhizomes to form large patches when in ideal conditions. Its name tells the story- it smells pretty acrid and it was used as an insect-repellant, hung in bunches in houses, or burned to drive out infestations of fleas. The foliage is grey-green and downy and the flowers form a valuable source of late summer nectar for many species of butterfly, being the primary nectar source for the Small Copper. Conditions: In the south a supposedly dry day was actually infiltrated by heavy showers and lovely, late rainbows. Temperature: Max 17- Min 12c.
Ruddy Darter: There are several similar-looking Darter dragonflies, which all rest on vegetation, scanning for prey and rivals, which it zips off at speed to catch or chase away. This is the gorgeous but less common Ruddy Darter, local in South East England, though extending its range more recently. You can distinguish the Ruddy Darter from the Common Darter by its all-black legs and wings, and the ‘waist’ broadening to a club-shaped abdomen. The female Ruddy is smaller and golden-yellow, though I haven’t spotted one yet. They like ponds with dense vegetation, like the one nearby. Conditions: The 40 mph gusts and absolutely torrential rain has returned down in
the SE, with hail due and no respite till early evening. Thank goodness the harvest is in down here. Temperature: Max 18- Min 14c.
Holly Blue Butterfly- This pale Blue butterfly is common in parks and gardens (including ours in Sheffield), but due to the fast way it flits about higher than other Blues, it is hard to photograph. Females have wide, dark bands on the upper wing and both male and female have tiny, black spots on the underwings. Holly Blues have two broods in the south and one in the north (they rarely appear in Scotland), but their
numbers vary widely from year to year. It is thought this is due to the parasitic wasp, which I saw in the same patch- Listrodomus Nicthemerus. This wasp lays its egg only in the larvae of the Holly Blue. Holly Blue caterpillars and adults feed on several plants, including Snowberry, as they are here, Bramble and Ivy. Conditions: Sun giving way to more heavy rain. Temperature: Max 18- Min 17c.
Clearwings- back down South after a few busy days, and it is raining in torrents so I thought I’d post this day-flying moth I saw last time I was in Sussex. I don’t ever remember seeing anything like it before and still can’t decide which of the 15 species of Clearwings it is. The most common Clearwing is the Currant Clearwing though even this is declining and hard to find, apparently. This could be the Currant Clearwing but I’m not sure. (Those wonderful moths, the Hummingbird Hawk Moths are also clearwings). Many Clearwings, like this one, have evolved to look like Wasps, as a means of deterring predators. Conditions: A cloudy day becoming extremely wet, as were a couple of recent days in Sheffield! Temperature: Max 18- Min 13c.
Charms of Goldfinches, or as they were appropriately named in Anglo-Saxon times, ‘Thistle-tweakers’, are flitting through the garden at present, up to 15 at a time, and competing to get on the feeder together. Some adults are in moult, as you can see from the photo. The young, sometimes called ‘grey-pates’ as they lack the red head of adults, also have a speckled chest. Conditions: Sun, with cloud building and rain coming in for the evening. Temperature: Max 20- Min 14c.
Young Goldfinches and Bullfinches have been learning the hard way the last few days. Some, like this juvenile Goldfinch, have been begging to be fed, by fluffing up their chests, moving their tails up and down, cheeping and fluttering their wings very fast. Earlier in the season this would have stimulated the adults to feed them, but lately they have been studiously ignored, turned away from and are, what looks like, being told to get on with it themselves. This little one was so desperate it turned, unsuccessfully of course! (Juveniles have the yellow wing pattern but not the black, red and white head markings). Conditions: Cloud with some showers,and a cool breeze. Temperature: Max 17- Min 14c.
Willow Warbler- I’m feeling lucky. I’ve tried to get a good photo of Willow Warblers for ages- Sian’s done much better than me.
They are so quick and usually stay up among the trees but after doing that for a while this one became interested in where all the other birds were feeding. Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers sing differently but look similar. They aren’t singing at present so the wonderful BTO site had a great video to help me tell the difference by sight. Willow Warblers have brighter eye stripes, longer wing-feathers (because they migrate further) and definitively, if you get a good look, reddish legs compared to the Chiffchaffs dark legs. At last I got a good look! Conditions: Cloud with sunny intervals and little breeze. Temperature: Max 20- Min 13c.
Large Yellow Underwing moth- This is one of several similar moths but I’m pretty sure this photo’s are this species, though typically the colours and patterns vary a lot, making it harder to identify. However the Large Yellow Underwing comes out at night, (unlike the Orange Underwings!) and rests with its wings closed, (unlike some other species), and is the most common large moth to be found in gardens all over the UK. It also has a black fringe to its yellowish-orange underwing. They flash their wings when disturbed, probably to scare predators with the sudden colour. It is certainly the most common in our garden, and as they say, it scuttles along the floor ike a mouse, once it has landed. Conditions: Sun becoming cloud on this still, cool day. Temperature: Max 17- Min 11c
This beautiful Brimstone Moth paid my moth light-box a visit the other night but you might equally well see it against your window if your light is on. The caterpillars of this common, night-flying moth enjoy the Hawthorn and Rowan we have in the garden. This Brimstone Moth is widespread through the UK, in gardens, woodland and grassland but it has up to three broods a year in the south, while only one in the north. There are a few yellow moths but the Brimstone is the only one which has orange and brown marks, with a white mark inside one of the brown marks on its upper wing- you can see this in the photos. Conditions: A dry day, with cloud and sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 17- Min 11c.