The Holly Blue Butterfly– this is the most likely of the Blue Butterflies to be seen in our gardens- it is certainly flying its high, fast flitting flight in our garden again now. If you see a small, sky-blue butterfly, almost like a petal being blown in the wind, it will be the Holly Blue, as all other Blues emerge later, and fly lower. It has dark wing-tips and pale undersides, if you manage to get a close view- see the photo’s (which, because it doesn’t settle much are very hard to get!). The Holly Blue lays its eggs, first generation on Holly buds, usually in the sun, and second on Ivy. The population levels fluctuate widely, mostly due to the occurrence of a parasitic wasp, Listrodomus Nycthermerus.
This wasp lays an egg in the Holly Blue Larva, and emerge as adults from the Chrysalis. Conditions: Sun and cloud after mist. Temperature: Max 17 Min 9C.
Lapwing are the UK birds with the most local names. We grew up with them as Peewits from their call, but maybe my favourite is Peasiewheep! I covered their flight display yesterday so today something about their behaviour on the ground. Being ground-nesting birds, their eggs and young are very vulnerable to predation by Gulls, Corvids, Foxes etc. They lay their highly camouflaged eggs on a slight rise so that the adults get the best view across the landscape, and they fly at any predators and mob them as soon as they come within range. They also feign injury, by lowering one wing so it appears broken, moving away from the nest to lure predators away and they even try to mislead human observers by making visits to false nest-sights. This behaviour led them to be called “full of trecherye” by Chaucer and, in the misogynistic language of the 17th century, ‘Plover’ was used as a word for ‘deceitful’ women. Their eggs were heavily harvested in the past and astonishingly, given the Lapwing is on the Red (Endangered) List, a licence can still be attained for egg-collection, though this
happens rarely. It is a shame more farmers don’t restore habitat for them as they eat many insect-pests. I love their punky crests and petrol-coloured backs. Conditions: Dry and cloudy. Temperature: Max 14 Min 6C.
Displaying Lapwing: We had the special joy of watching the dramatic flight displays of several pairs of Lapwing at Frampton Marsh RSPB reserve this week, and you may be able to catch this on moorland, farmland or wetland, though Lapwing numbers have reduced so much it is on the Red List for endangered species. The pairing display involves vertiginous climbs, dances on high so close the pair almost touch, and precipitous, tumbling falls back to earth, stalling just before they touch and swoop back up. This is accompanied by the female tilting her body, and the male making what has been described as a creaking-gate call. Because in these displays the primary wing feathers are outstretched (see photo’s) you can also hear a wonderful ‘whumping’ of the wing-beats- altogether spectacular. More about Lapwing in a couple of days. Conditions: Blustery showers. Temperature: Max 9 Min 6C.
Lapwing pair display-flight
Lapwing pair display-flight
Lapwing upside down in vertiginous display-flight
Downward stoop of Lapwing display-flight
Nest of Lackey Moth caterpillars
Lackey Moth caterpillars
Lackey Moth Caterpilars
Lackey Moth Caterpillars and nests– I remember seeing these some years in the Hawthorn hedges on my walk to Primary School, and also one year with mum in Devon, in an area of scrubland on the coast, both favourite habitats for this moth, unremarkable when adult but easily spotted when in larval form, like this. The eggs are laid in bands round Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Apple, Willow and some other trees and bushes, overwintering before hatching in spring. The larvae spin these dense, silky webs and live en masse, emerging and growing rapidly before dispersing and pupating. More common in the south and on coasts, we saw these, (with their orange and blue markings and hairy bodies) this weekend at Frampton Marsh RSPB reserve in Lincolnshire, emerging from their ‘tent’ silk nests. (Not to be confused with the potentially dangerous Processional Moth that can cause serious allergic reactions). Conditions: Cooler with some showers. Temperature: Max 14 Min 5 C.
Yesterday I was watching a female Orange Tip feeding on Lady’s Smock in the garden, when I was lucky to see and photograph this interesting bit of behaviour you may notice at this time of year. When a female is either too young to mate or has already mated, and is approached by a male, she
Male Orange Tip attempting to mate with female
Male and Female Orange Tip
Female Orange Tip
Female Oreange Tip
to show she is not interested in mating. The male flies off and the female continues to feed. Conditions: Unseasonably hot and dry. Temperature: Max 23 Min 8 C.
Happy Primrose Day. Primroses are such wonderful harbingers of spring that they deserve their own day of recognition and, flowering so early, they benefit many insects. Only the long-tongued (proboscis) ones like Bee Fly, Brimstone Butterfly, Peacock, and Buff-tailed Bumblebee (see photo’s) can take advantage as the nectar is at the bottom of a long tube (corolla). Look closely and you can see that Primroses are either Pin-eyed (having a single pin-head female style visible at the top of the corolla/ tube,) or Thrum-eyed (having a ring of pollen-laden anthers at the top of the tube). If you carefully opened one up you would see that half-way down the tube sits the opposite reproductive part. This is called being heterostylous, and avoids self-pollination and ensures cross-pollination. An insect picking pollen up from the Thrum-eyed would only pollinate a Pin-eyed and vice versa because of where the pollen is situated. Charles Darwin was fascinated by the primula family for this reason. He wrote in his autobiography “I do not think that anything has given me so much satisfaction as making out the meaning of the structure of
Primrose with Bee Fly feeding
Primrose, with Brimstone Butterfly feeding
Primrose, with Bufftailed Bumblebee feeding
heterostylous flowers”. You don’t need to know or care about this to enjoy the Primrose. As children, we would pick bunch after bunch for our relatives who had moved away from the country to town, posting them in damp paper in a shoe-box! It was interesting to hear the nature-writer Richard Maybe saying this morning that Primroses have recovered so well and are now so prolific in many areas that he thought children should once again be allowed the joy that we experienced, of picking small bunches. Conditions: Unseasonably warm with blue skies. Temperature: Max 21 Min 7 C.
Orange-tip Butterfly: it is so lovely to see these beautiful butterflies back in the garden. Having some damp patches in our garden, we have planted Ladies Smock, as it is one of the main food plants for their caterpillars, as is Jack By The Hedge which grows wild in many hedgerows (see photo’s) but Alys Fowler wrote recently about how the much more common garden plant, Honesty, is also a great caterpillar food source so that is an easier way to encourage them into our gardens. Conditions: warming up for the next few days. Still mainly dry. Temperature: Max 13 Min 5 c.
Male Orange Tip Butterfly feeding on wild Jack By The Hedge
Female Orange Tip Butterfly feeding in the garden on perennial wallflower
Close-up of female Orange-Tip Butterfly, both Male and female have this amazing camouflage marking when wings are folded
Ladies Smock flowering in our garden, a good plant food source for caterpillars of Orange-tip
Tawny Mining Bee – these are a beautiful species of solitary bees, so useful in spring pollination. The adults emerge in spring and are flying between March and May so this is
Tawny Mining Bee nest
Female Tawny Mining Bee emerging from nest
Female Tawny Mining Bee
the time to look out for the gorgeous amber coloured insects. Since we have made a ‘dry’ bed of pebbles with drought-surviving plants we have had several of these nesting in the garden. The females dig a burrow up to 10 inches deep, with several tunnels off the main hole, hence the easiest sign you have them- small volcanoes of dirt, which tend to become less obvious after a few days. Into each tunnel/cell the female deposits nectar and pollen as food once the single egg she lays in each, hatches. They then hibernate before emerging in spring. We are losing our solitary bee populations so creating a space where they can breed helps a little, and then you get to watch their behaviour (see photo’s). Conditions: Cool, bright weather. Temperature: Max 9 Min 2c.
House Sparrows– The (mixed) results from the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch are in and ,sadly, small birds have had a bad season, probably due to the exceptionally cold spell in winter. Some would also say sadly, Wood Pigeon numbers are growing in gardens and we are certainly part of that trend. House Sparrows, however, are at last making a bit of a come-back after a big slump in numbers nationwide. We only get them
House Sparrow, showing striated back
occasionally in our garden, but many places in Sheffield and the Peak District have good numbers, as you will see from these recent photo’s from a local friend’s garden. I always remember the House Sparrow identification by the male’s grey head being the colour of a slate roof (artistic licence there!) Conditions: Drier and milder. Temperature: Max 12 Min 4C.
We are very lucky to have a pair of Nuthatches regularly coming to our feeders near the window at present, though seldom together. Though they eat insects, foraged with their dagger-like bills from under tree bark (they are our only native species to be able to move up and down a tree) they are omnivorous and come to us for sunflower seeds and fat. Their name apparently comes from their habit of taking seeds with a hard outer case, such as sunflowers, to a tree and wedging it into the bark, hacking (“hatching”) at it to get at the seed inside, a hbehaviour we often watch as they carry seeds off to our nearby trees. Nuthatches nest in tree holes, plastering mud round any holes that are too big until the right snug, safe size. They will also occasionally nest in bird-boxes but they need bigger
Nuthatch- able to travel down and up a rough surface
than the usual boxes come in (Blue Tits- 25mm, Great Tits- 28mm.) Conditions: Nippy, grey and rain on the way. Temperature: Max 5 Min 3C.