Southern Hawker Dragonfly– (apologies for break- back on my feet again)- Hawkers are our fastest Dragonflies, able to fly forwards and backwards. Hawkers are tricky to tell apart but these are our most common and widespread- Southern Hawkers.They are large and are on the wing in woodland paths, gardens and parks, until October. They are the ones we sometimes have hatch in our garden ponds (see photo) but, alas, not this year. Conditions: High cloud and mild. Temperature: Max 21- Min 13C.
Here’s one stunning reason for growing nectar-rich autumn flowers, like Verbena Bodnantense, This tiny butterfly, the Small Copper, is a real gem but sadly in pretty heavy decline. A very active butterfly, the male is highly aggressive and territorial, but if they settle to feed or warm up you will see their beautiful burnished orange and brown markings. It is a member of the Lycaenid or Gossamer-winged butterfly family. The caterpillars feed on dock and sorrel. Temperature: Max 17- Min 13C.
Angelica, an Umbellifer (umbrella-shaped flower-heads), is often confused with the coarser Hogweed- both out for the past few weeks, similar in form and height. Angelica has purple-red stems growing from brackets, and softer, rounder flower-heads, often pinkish-purple-tinged. All parts are edible (the roots, only if cooked) and, with its unique scent and taste have been used in Gin and other Liqueurs, candied stalks and seeds for confectionary, and stewed stems and roots eaten to prevent scurvy. A distilled essential oil is still used in some toothpastes, cough mixtures, shampoos and soaps. It is a wonderful plant in the wild but also suitable for gardens- elegant and great for insects. Conditions: Calm and warm. Temperature: Max 19- Min 14C.
The Nuthatch, what Sian calls ‘The Bandit’, which
unlike the Treecreeper can run up and down a tree-trunk, is back visiting the garden a lot again and, like so many birds now, the moulting is over and the colours strong. As you can see, it particularly likes the sunflower seeds, taking them off to a nearby tree-trunk to pierce with its strong, dagger-like bill. They will use nesting-boxes, reducing the entrance hole with mud till the right size, but we have never been lucky enough to have this happen. Conditions: Glorious, sunny day. Temperature: Max 20- Min 13 C.
Willow Warblers have been flitting through our garden again, stocking up on berries and fruits as these insect-eaters do in autumn in preparation for their migration to Europe or Africa. In Spring, it is easy to separate these from the very similar-looking Chiffchaff by their very different songs (see BTO’s comparison). In autumn, when there is no song: Willow Warblers have pinkish-red legs, and longer wing-tips, and Chiffchaffs have dark legs. Unique among our birds, Willow Warblers go through two complete moults in a year, one here and one in winter
Conditions: Torrential rain clearing, down South. Temperature: Max 19- Min 13C.
Green-Veined White Butterflies are one of the most common and widespread of our butterflies, but, indicative of the poor year this has been for so many butterfly species, this one, (yesterday in the garden), is the first I have seen anywhere all year. Beautiful, and often mistaken for a Small (‘Cabbage’) White, these do not damage brassicas and they are beautiful, at rest. The veins are not actually green but an optical illusion caused by yellow scales overlaying black. Conditions: Very hot again after a storm last night! Temperature: Max 25- Min 16c.
Comparing the two Bryony’s, (Bryo- Greek for ‘I shoot’) whose ropes of toxic berries are swathing hedgerows now, here is the White Bryony. Unrelated to the Black Bryony (see 10th Sept), this climbs by extraordinary coiled tendrils (see photo’s) and has different-shaped leaves. It is our only wild member of the cucumber family but is toxic. Thought to be an antidote for leprosy in the 14th Century, when it was called ‘Wild Nepit’, the large, tuberous roots were fraudulently peddled as Mandrake. ‘Knaves’ in the 19th Century would dig into the soil, form a mould to shape the roots as they grew, and the dig them up, claiming them for the highly valued
Mandrake with its’ supposed magic properties! Conditions: Cloudy with sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 22- Min 16C.
Black Bryony: These beautiful berries, and the whole of the Black Bryony plants, our only native member of the yam family, are highly poisonous. Climbing and twining anti-clockwise through hedgerows, the Black Bryony is not related to its namesake, White Bryony (coming soon!), and has glossy, heart-shaped leaves which die back by the time the berries change from green to yellow and red. At this time of year you therefore commonly see swags of intertwined stems and berries tangled in undergrowth and hedge. Conditions: Cloudy with rain easing. Temperature: Max 18- Min 10C.
Scabious-whether you have the wild Field Scabious (shown here) and Devil’s Bit Scabious in your garden, as we do, or any of the garden varieties, these late summer flowers will attract insects- Butterflies, Bees, Hoverflies and Bee mimics, Micro Moths or smaller flies (see photos). Scabious were named under the ‘Doctrine of Signatures’ practice used by early herbalists, whereby plants with a similar look to an illness were thought have power to treat that condition. The rough, hairy stems and leaves of Scabious led it to be used in treating scabies.
Conditions: Cloud and some sun. Temperature: Max 19- Min 17C.
Conditions: Cloudy and wet. Temperature: Max 18- Min 13C.