It is not too late to do the Big Butterfly Count! For anyone who has a job identifying the most common brown butterflies, this may help. The Ringlet is distinctive for its velvety dark background and for having several circles, though the number and size can vary. Meadow Browns have one circle on their forewings, with one white spot, and in most habitats is the Brown most frequently seen, and Gatekeepers (declined 44% since the 1970’s, largely due to intensification of farming) have two white spots in their single dark circle. Conditions: Cool breeze and occasional shower ut the welcome spell of rain seems over too soon. Temperature: Max 22 Min 12 C.
It is time for the Big Butterfly Count, and wildlife guru’s from David Attenborough to Chris Packham are urging people to take part. It is easy- there is a phone app and identifying pictures and it matters as much if you see nothing in your 15 minute survey as it does if you see a lot. I was lucky to see these male Common Blue Butterflies at the weekend, which shows what a small patch of wild flowers can do, as there were several other species in a small garden patch. Round the corner, where an industrial site has pulled out a species-rich verge and hedge, there was devastation-
where once I saw 40 Common Blues at a glance, I saw two. Every wild space counts. Common Blue caterpillars exude a sweet substance which attract ants, which then deter predators- such evolutionary finesse. Conditions: Still dry hot days with crops and vegetation visibly damaged. Temperature: Max 25 Min 14 C.
Burnet Moths – the Six-spot Burnet moths can be seen wherever their caterpillars’ food supply- trefoils and vetch- thrive ( see photo). Cyanides in these plants are passed from caterpillar to adult moth stage, deterring bird- predators. However, in Ireland last month, on the wonderful Burren limestone, we saw ( a first for me) these Transparent Burnet Moths on the gorgeous deep mauve Tufted Vetch. You won’t see these in England but the Six-spots ( see one of the photos) are pretty common and flying now. Conditions: continuing parched dry, hot weather. Temperature: Max 24 Min 16 C.
Rose Sawfly Larvae- these 15mm munchers look superficially like caterpillars but they are one of 8,000 Sawfly species worldwide, named after the saw-shaped ovipositor of the females, with which they cut a slot in the host plant in which to deposit their eggs.sHarmless, except when in such numbers that they defoliate whole plants (which then recover), the larvae go through eight different developmental stages. Caterpillars never have more than five pairs of legs but Sawfly larvae have six or more. Sawfly larvae often feed on gregariously, like these, and when threatened take this classic ‘S’ shape. Conditions: Sun and cloud. Dry again. Temperature: Max 24 Min 13C.
Juvenile Long-tailed Tits have been in short supply on our feeders this summer, which may be because of the wet spring (remember?!) which adversely affects their survival. This small group turned up though- I love the red ring round their eyes. More closely related to Indian Babblers than to Tits, they often appear in mixed flocks with Blue and Great Tits. Long-tailed Tits have such small bodies that they stay in small flocks in order to help keep each other warm, sitting close together on branches through the colder nights. Overall, their numbers are increasing, especially in urban areas. Conditions: cloud and sun, with light rain forecast for a while. Temperature: Max 22 Min 13 C.
Robins are strongly territorial all year, which is why they sing all year round, rather than just around breeding times. It is also the reason their young remain in juvenile plumage for several months -to avoid being attacked by the adult males, which would attack even their own young if they saw a red breast. This one has been feeding close to us as we gardened this week, so we got a good view of its distinctly speckled breast, which distinguishes it from other young birds like Dunnock at this time of the year. Conditions: cloud after heavy rain, clearing to another hot day. Temperature: Max 27 Min 11 C.
These wild Honeysuckles, as well as those you grow in the garden, are brilliant for wild-life, including ten species of insects which feed exclusively on them. The wonderful scent, strongest in the evening for attracting their pollinator Moths, can be detected a quarter of a mile away by the Hummingbird Hawkmoth. The caterpillar of the increasingly rare White Admiral depends on the leaves. Dormice use the bark for nest material for their young, and get nutrients from eating the nectar rich flowers. Thrushes nest in them, and eat their bright red autumn berries, as do Warblers and Bullfinches. Clearly, if you haven’t already got some in your garden, it is worth considering. Conditions: Cloudy and humid. Temperature: Max 23 Min 13 C.
The Beautiful Demoiselle is the only other large Damselfly with brightly coloured wings in the UK (See the Banded Demoiselle featured on the blog on the 4th July). The male (petrol-blue metallic colour) flits around more like a butterfly, from May to August, dancing to attract the female, which has bronze-metallic wings and a bronze tail-tip (see photo’s). These stunning Demoiselles are fairly common along flowing streams, west of a line between Liverpool and Folkestone. (Damselflies fold their wings at rest while Dragonflies hold them open). Conditions: Cloud and sun. Still no rain for weeks. Temperature: Max 22 Min 12 C.
Round-headed Rampion or ‘Pride of Sussex’: at last, on one of its’ dwindling habitats high on the South Downs, I have seen the Sussex County Flower, once common on chalk grasslands and, in Shakespeare’s time, grown frequently in kitchen gardens, for its root, used as a pot-herb (a bit like parsnip), as it still is in parts of Europe. A deep, azure blue, the heads are not a single flower but made of a cluster of
flowers, curling inwards like claws. Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP for Brighton is its ‘species champion’. She is one of a network of MP’s who work to raise awareness of specific threatened wild-flower species. Conditions: Very hot and dry again. Temperature: Max 28 Min 13C.
Elephant Hawk-moth: Although this is a common nocturnal moth, with sightings in Sheffield, I have never seen one before this week. I was delighted when I opened the moth-trap in Hampshire to find this stunning individual peacefully resting, before flying off into a nearby bush. Named because the caterpillar is thought to resemble an elephant’s trunk, the adult moth feeds from tubular flowers like Honeysuckle, while the caterpillar eats bedstraws, Enchanter’s Nightshade, Himalayan Balsam and Fuchsia. Such a beautiful
, large moth. Conditions: This heatwave continues, with little or no sign of rain. Temperature: Max 28 Min 14 C.