Ringlet Butterfly- carrying on looking at the Brown family of butterflies. The Ringlet can appear like a male Meadow Brown from a distance but closer-to is easily distinguished by the pale wing-edge and the rings on fore and hind wings. These velvety-chocolate brown butterflies, being dark in colour, absorb heat better and so are one of the few butterflies which can fly in duller weather. They feed on Knapweed, Bramble and other mid-summer flowers. I saw some today at the lovely Potteric Carr nature reserve. Sandwiched between retail parks, the M18 and major rail routes this Wildlife Trust reserve near Doncaster is a wonderful mix of woodland, scrapes, scrub, meadows and pools. Conditions: Sunny and cloudy with a breeze. Temperature: Max 20- Min 13C.
Meadowsweet, like Willow, contains salicylic acid, first synthesised into Aspirin in the 1890’s: in fact aspirin is named after Meadowsweet from its scientific name ‘spiraea’. A lovely, scented plant of damp places it is one of the 50 plants in ‘Save’, a drink mentioned in Chaucer’s ‘A Knights Tale’. The common name is probably from ‘Mead’, as it was often used to flavour mead, wine and beer. Before herbicides it sometimes could be tasted in cows milk. Unusual in having flowers smelling differently to its leaves (rub and see), Gerard, in the 16th Century, wrote: “The leaves and floures ..far excel all other strowing [strew] herbs for to decke up houses, to strow in
chambers, halls and banqueting-houses”. Conditions: Cloud and light rain. Temperature: Max 18- Min 13C.
Swallow-tailed Moth. With15 more times large Moths than Butterflies in the UK, and hundreds of Micro Moths, we pay much less attention to Moths. Here is a very common one in gardens up and down the UK. Four came to the light of my ‘Heath Robinson’ home made moth trap this week, but you could also attract them with a white sheet lit by a bright light. They fly mostly from late June to early August so this is a good time. They just settled near the lamp, by about 10.30. At 2 inches across they are easy to see and identify. The caterpillars eat common leaves like Hawthorn, Sloe and Honeysuckle but their favourite is Ivy. Conditions: Sunny intervals. Temperature:Max 21- Min 13c.
Juvenile Bullfinches, male and female, have a light brown cap– here is one being fed by the adult male– usually happening deep inside a bush, I was lucky this sequence happened near our back window, the adult masticating seeds from the feeder before regurgitating for the juvenile. Bullfinches have two broods, staying in pairs and family groups all year round, and within a small territory. Though they eat buds from fruit trees, and were killed by the thousand by orchard-keepers in the past, research now shows that fruit trees can lose half their buds without it affecting yields. Conditions: Cooler and cloudy. Temperature: Max 19- Min 14C.
Meadow Brown: It can be hard to tell the Meadow Brown from the Gatekeeper– as you’ll see from the sequence, even they find it hard, with this Gatekeeper trying to mate with a Meadow Brown and being rebuffed. Here are photos that show the most obvious difference- both male and female Meadow Browns have one white ‘pupil’ in the black ‘eye’, while Gatekeepers have two. More on the difference between male and female Meadow Browns soon. Conditions: Cloudier and cooler but still no rain. Temperature: Max 24- Min 17C.
Gatekeeper Butterfly- a shortage of insects around but this butterfly was out in numbers in Sussex this week. The Gatekeeper is spreading its territory further northwards- we get it in Sheffield sometimes. A dimorphous butterfly (male and female differ), the male has a dark brown half-crescent on the forewing. This is a scent brand, which gives off pheromones to attract the female. Easy to distinguish from other Browns by the two white
‘pupil’ dots in the eye. Named the Gatekeeper as the grasses, favoured by the caterpillars and wild flowers like bramble enjoyed by the adults, tend to get left by gateways, even if the fields are in crop or are cropped by stock. Conditions: Cooler and cloudier. Temperature: Max 23- Min 17 C.
Centaury- another flower of mid-summer, the Centaury is a pink, starry flower found on dry, short grasslands, coasts, chalky and sandy soils. The flowers open in sun and close when it is dull so they are easy to pass by unnoticed in cloudy weather. It has long been used for many remedies, including as a revitalising tonic and an antiseptic. In the Bach Flower remedy system it is given for people who find it hard to say no. Perhaps there is no more extraordinary use for this lovely flower than that in a French Herbal of 1619, where it is included in the ’15 magical herbs’: “This here hath a magical virtue… for if it be joined with the blood of a female lapwing, and put with oil
in a lamp, all that compass it about shall believe themselves to be witches“. Lapwings are now too scarce to try this at home, I think. Conditions: Continual blue skies and very hot weather. Temperature: Max 31- Min 19C.
Large White Butterfly- Beautiful though, along with Small Whites they are colloquially known as the ‘Cabbage Whites’ because their caterpillars eat their way through any cruciferae family plants, including brassicas, and nasturtiums. Both male and female Large White Butterflies have long black markings on the forewing-tips. This, as well as the size, distinguish them from Small Whites, which have smaller black wing-tip marks. These are females, having two black spots on their forewings. Large Whites are widespread, and one of the butterflies that can be seen along coasts, drawn by Sea Kale. Strong flyers, they extend as far north as the Shetlands. I love their creamy hindwing. Conditions: Very hot with a welcome, gentle breeze. Temperature: Max 30- Min 20C.
Yellow Agrimony- this lovely, common plant, a member of the rose family (the flowers of which all have five petals), flowers on long stems up to one metre tall, in high summer. Also known as sticklewort, because the hooked seeds cling to fur and clothes of passers-by, it was used as a wound-healer and is still used in parts of France to heal sprains and bruises. An old English herbal says “If it be leyd under mann’s heed, he shall sleepen as he were deed’ and the Greeks used it for eye problems. It attracts bees and other insects and represents thankfulness. Conditions: Hot and sunny. Temperature: Max 24- Min 16C.
Today sees the launch of the 2016 Butterfly Count amid fears this year could mark the lowest numbers of butterflies since the count began. In our Sheffield garden and, down in Sussex now, numbers have certainly been down. The golden-brown Small Skipper, named for the speed and agility of its low flight through its favoured rough grassland (where the caterpillars feed), was about in small numbers today, feeding on thistles and Self Heal, and basking low in the grass, as they do. Small Skippers rest with their wings half-open, the forewing at an angle to the hindwing. Usually common in the south, their range is extending northwards. The male has a scent brand
, a thin dark line, on its forewing. Conditions: Breezy, dry and bright. Temperature: Max 20- Min 12C