Butterfly Conservation reports that the wet summer (11th wettest on record) proved another bad year for most Butterflies and Moths, insects which help in plant pollination. The three most common Whites, (see photo’s)- the Green-veined, the Large and the Small White all suffered, though Meadow Brown and Red Admiral did fairly well (featured in earlier blogs this year). More people than ever took part in the Great Butterfly Count they run- 60,000– but, at an average of 11 butterflies per recorder, that is the worst numbers seen since recording began in 2010. Conditions: Sun and showers. Temperature: Max 15- Min 12C.
Bumper hedgerow crops– The year’s strange weather pattern, with cold early spring, a dry April and enough sun and rain in July and August, has led to a really good crop of autumn Blackberries, Hips and Haws, Crab Apples, Sloes and Bullace (like wild Damsons), Acorns and many other seeds and berries, This is boosting Butterflies, after a late, slow start, and will enable bees, birds and mammals to stock up for migration or to survive winter. Walking the hedgerows today we saw many birds and insects feeding-Redstart, Warblers, Stonechat– it is a good time to keep your eyes peeled, especially for birds preparing to migrate. Conditions: A warm spell. Temperature: Max 16- Min 13C.
Angle Shades Moth– a distinctive, macro moth (wingspan 50mm) which can be seen in gardens throughout the UK and Europe, the bright green caterpillar feeding on herbaceous plants and the adult even flying in daytime sometimes. This one, looking typically like a dried autumn leaf, was one of very few species drawn to my moth trap down south last night. They raise several generations in a season but this one could have migrated as an adult from Europe. Conditions: Mostly cloudy. Temperature: Max 16- Min: 12C
Ivy Flowers- I have posted before about the importance of Ivy flowers for late-flying and overwintering Butterflies and other insects, but nothing illustrated it better than today. Down south again, we did a circular walk by the River Ouse, ending at Rodmell, to visit Virginia Woolf’s garden and house. Over 3 miles, in good sunshine, there were virtually no insects to be seen. We passed one bush of Ivy flowers in bloom and suddenly there were Peacock and Red Admiral Butterflies, flies, bees and hoverflies in numbers, all feeding. Ivy along the ground in a garden can be a pest, but if you can persuade it to grow up into a bush or fence, where it will flower, you will have autumn nectar for insects and fruits for winter Thrushes. Conditions: Warm and sunny. Temperature: Max 16- Min 9C.
Two Nuthatches, (so named because of the way they jam hard seeds and nuts into the bark of a tree and hammer them open- ‘nut-hackers’), have been making repeated trips to our feeders. If you, like us, find sunflowers sprouting in the most unlikely places, Nuthatches are the likely culprits, since they eat some seed and store some for later. They used to be mostly confined to the south but have spread further north in the 20th Century, first breeding in Scotland in 1989! Feeding from bird tables has probably helped them extend their range. Conditions: Heavy rain showers and sunny spells. Temperature: Max 15- Min 8C.
Sedums of many sorts, so brilliant for feeding numerous bees, bumblebees, hoverflies and butterflies during these autumn weeks, have been providing important nectar for many insects and three types of Bumblebees in the garden today. Here are queens of the Tree Bumblebee. I covered this species early in the year, being one of the first to emerge in spring. First colonising from Europe in 2001, in the New Forest, it has now spread north beyond Glasgow. The rest of the colony die out by now while the Queens emerge to feed up before hibernating. If you don’t already have sedums, there is a wide range of size and colour to choose from. Conditions: Sunny. Temperature: Max 16- Min 10C
Medlar: Before the availability of sugar, Medlars were a favoured winter fruit for the early Greeks, Romans and widespread in medieval England. Its importance can be seen from the number of times it is mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays, as well as by Chaucer, (The Reeves Tale) and, due to its shape, said to be like a dog’s bottom, many of the quotes are vulgar! Its characteristic of being very hard until ‘bletted’ by frost, when it quickly rots, meant it was also used as an insult, as in The Honest Whore, by Dekker, who writes, about a woman, ‘no sooner ripe than rotten’ and Shakespeare, in Measure for Measure, “they would else have married me to the rotten medlar” (these are the least offensive!) That is no reason not to grow this beautiful small tree, with a large, single white flower, attractive to insects, or to use the fruit to make ‘cheese’ and jelly. Conditions: cloud and sun, with rain later. Temperature: Max 16- Min 10c.
Moths are so overlooked and undervalued but there are probably over 100 species visiting your garden, and, while most of the 2,500 species in Britain are crepuscular (dusk or night flying) there are more day-flying species than all the Butterfly species in the UK. They greatly help garden pollination and, as caterpillars and adult moths, provide food for insects, frogs, toads, bats, hedgehogs, rodents and birds. Identifying many species is difficult, as they vary so much but they are worth encouraging in the garden and are in decline. We lost 60 species in the 20th Century, and species have declined by 40% in the south, and 26% overall. Conditions: Cloud with rain later. Temperature: Max 16- Min 10C.
Hemp Agrimony (neither related to the much smaller Yellow Agrimony nor to Hemp!) is a brilliant wild plant for late summer and autumn- attracting many insects, Butterflies and Moths. Impressive in size (3-5 feet, 1-2 metres,) with large, frothy flowerheads, this plant loves damp grassland, ditches, marshes and damp woodland edges. Nick- named ‘Raspberries and Cream’ from its appearance, there are smaller versions of these eupatoriums
– like ‘Baby Joe’– which would be great for autumn wildlife in a smaller garden. Conditions: Sun and cloud. Temperature: Max 19- Min 12C.