Red Bartsia- this unassuming little plant that you can find growing low, often scarcely visible, on grassland, margins of tracks and waste ground illustrates the extraordinary intricacies of evolution, as well as the vulnerabilities of interdependent species. Declining through pasture improvement and loss of unkempt spaces, it is semi-parasitic, partly feeding off grass roots, but one small bee has evolved to feed off it- the Red Bartsia Bee. Red Bartsia’s use in the past to treat toothache gave rise to its Latin Name: Odontites Verna. Now I know about the bee I will look out for it! Conditions: Occasional showers. Temperature: Max 18- Min 11C.
Carline Thistle- walking on the limestone Cleve Hill, it was good to see these very prickly,low-growing thistles that always look dead but are alive, made up of brown florets surrounded by golden bracts. Still carried in some parts of Europe as protectors from harm, they are named after Charlemagne, who was said to have been told by an angel that Carline Thistle would protect his army, who were dying from plague. Conditions: cloud and sun. Temperature: Max 18- Min 12 c.
Parasol Mushrooms are out in fields near woodland, woodland glades, pastureland and sometimes on stable dunes, from now till November, if we are free of frosts. Edible, and best picked when just opening and cooked when very fresh, it is best to check online or in book references for similar species, unless you know your toadstools! Dramatic-looking, it is easy to spot when mature as it is a large fungus standing upright on a tall stalk. Conditions: Cloudy and mild. Temperature: Max 20- Min 16C.
Brown Hawker Dragonfly- A common and easily identified Dragonfly, seen into autumn in gardens, woodland rides and well away from water, as well as by still or slow-flowing water, where it lays its eggs. The bronze coloured wings and
brown body, with yellow patches on the thorax are easy to pick up as this fast, big hawker catches insects on the wing, or hovers or even flies backwards. Conditions: Sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 18- Min 14C.
Yellowhammer- these beautiful members of the bunting family, like many birds that rely heavily on farmland seeds and stubble-fields, are declining so much they are now on the red (for danger) list. Farmers who leave hedges to fruit and seed, and some field margins with seeding wild flowers, can help. Yellowhammers nest near or on the ground, in dense vegetation, and need singing posts like trees or bushes from which to call their ‘little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese’ refrain. We watched these males near the Chesterfield canal- wonderfully bright. Conditions: Sunny intervals turning stormy. Temperature: Max 18- Min 12C.
Common Blue Butterfly– I have been watching this, our most widespread but still declining blue butterfly, while down South but it can be seen on grasslands, in urban cemeteries, on dunes, and as far north as Orkney, though it avoids mountain terrain. The female has mostly brown upper sides, with a varying amount of blue, while males are completely blue on their upper wings- see photo’s. The jewel-like patterning of the underwings are beautiful but make them hard to spot- stand in a grassy area, when it is sunny, and just watch to see if any fly around- t
he best way to spot them. Conditions: Sunny intervals and showers. Temperature: Max 18- Min 14C.
Hoverflies- there are 5,000 species of these harmless, true flies, many of which mimic wasps and bees as a deterrence to predators which are misled into believing they will sting if attacked. Many are hard to identify but this large and colourful one, which mimics the Hornet, is easier than most. Volucella Zonaria turned up in the south of England in the 1940’s and is spreading north, often found in suburbs and city gardens, I watched these in a Sussex garden last week. Many hoverflies are really helpful to gardeners, feeding on pests like aphids. Conditions: Sunny intervals Temperature: Max 19- Min 12C
Brimstone Butterfly– one of the few UK butterflies which overwinter as adults, I’ve been watching this beautiful female which will have emerged from eggs laid by the overwintering generation. They will be around feeding all autumn, building up for their hibernation. Opinion is divided as to whether the colour of the much more yellow male of this species (see other photo) gave rise to the generic name of ‘butter’-fly, but male and female are both beautiful and distinctly shaped. The caterpillars rely on buckthorn and alder buckthorn so please grow either in your patch if you can (Can be bought from Ashridge Nurseries mail order) Conditions– sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 20- Min 11C.
Green Woodpeckers- I have been lucky, while down in Sussex, to watch our largest woodpecker, the Green Woodpecker, feeding in the neighbouring field. They eat about 2,000 ants a day throughout summer, diversifying to other insects and seeds during winter. They dig into anthills with their powerful bills and capture the ants with their long, sticky tongues. Males are distinguishable from females by having a red centre to their black ‘moustaches’. Nesting in holes in trees, they use their wonderful ‘yaffle’, laughing call to delineate their territory. Conditions: Cloud with some sun. Temperature: Max 20- Min 13 C.
Stinkhorn- this very recognisable, woodland fungus smells so terrible that if you don’t see it first you might be drawn to it by the smell! It so embarrassed Victorians that some, including Darwin’s granddaughter Etty, went out at dawn, (when the fungi are freshly emerged, growing quickly from an egg-shaped white dome), and bludgeoned them to pieces in a vain attempt to prevent their spread, or them being seen by young women walking the woods! The dreadful smell attracts flies
which, walking on the olive-green glabus cap, then
spread the spores via their feet. Conditions: Sunny, blue-skied day. Temperature: Max 20- Min 12C.