Small White Butterfly- by the crinkled, crumpled nature of this Small White’s wings, I think it must have been fairly newly emerged from the chrysalis, and nectaring on Scabious. One of the ‘Cabbage Whites’ this one does not create as much damage to brassicas as its cousin the Large White but its largely yellow-green caterpillars with pale yellow dots along its side, (lacking the black markings of the Large) do damage crops
Newly emerged Small White nectaring on Scabious
Small White, still crumpled from emerging from its chrysalis
, especially as they are so ubiquitous in their range, and have two broods per summer. An ill-informed introduction of this species to Melbourne in 1939 and its subsequent spread led lepidopterists to work out that an adult Small White can travel 100 miles its short lifetime, compared to most butterflies which travel only a mile or two. (This makes the 100 miles a day of the Painted Lady, which I looked at recently, even more astonishing). Conditions: Breezy and cloudy. Temperature: Max 21 Min 13C.
Common Darter Dragonfly- as its name indicates, this is the most common Dragonfly in the UK and can be found around almost any sort of body of water, even stagnant pools. Darter’s are a group of Dragonflies which do just that- they hover and then dart forwards to catch their prey mid-flight, before returning to a favourite perch to consume it. If you notice these Dragonflies, look out for their perches, often atop a plant or fence-post, but they can even be on wooden board-walks, heating up in the sun. Darters aren’t as restless flyers as Hawkers. The Common Darter female and juveniles are yellowish-brown bodied but the males are red-bodied. They can be distinguished from the less common Ruddy Darter by the former being smaller and having black legs. The only other thing you might confuse them with in flight is the Large Red Damselfly which has a longer, narrower body and, like all Damselflies, rests with its wings folded, while the Darter typically rests with its wings held forward.
Male Common Darter
Male Common Darter
Female Common Darter
Male Common Darter
Conditions: Too hot and sunny for words! Temperature: Max 27 Min 13C.
Late summer butterflies, like the ones in the drawing, need our flowers as much as those in the spring and early summer. This year is one of the rare years for a mass migration of beautiful Painted Lady butterflies. These amazing insects don’t overwinter here in any form. They migrate from North Africa, travelling about 100 miles a day and can reach as far north as the Shetlands. They need the nectar of Lavender, Knapweed, Thistles, Sedum and other late flowers to fill up on the way, much as we fill up a car at a petrol station. While we usually get some Painted Ladies through the country, a mass migration involves far more– the last mass migration was in 2009 when an estimated 11 million Painted Lady butterflies came and you should see them wherever you are in the UK this year.
. Conditions: Very warm and dry. Temperature: Max 27 Min 15C.
Female Southern Hawker Dragonfly: It was a treat to see this Dragonfly, one of the UK’s most widespread, back in our Sheffield garden this week. A few years ago we regularly had Southern Hawkers emerging from our small pond but lately we have seen none. I am hoping this female was resting, well camouflaged on a shrub, after laying eggs as they do in still water, in rotting wood or vegetation near the surface. It is has, it will be two or three years before the eggs have hatched and the nymphs, which live underwater for this period of time, to emerge from their carapaces, dry their wings
Female Southern Hawker Dragonfly
Female Southern Hawker Dragonfly
and bodies, and fly off to start the cycle again. The females have browner bodies than the blacker males. While these Dragonflies can be found around many garden ponds, as well as river edges etc they particularly like being near woodland. When competing for territories, they will physically crash into each other in their attempt to establish dominance. Conditions: Another very wet day in this unsettled summer. Temperature: Max 17 Min 13C.
Meadow Brown Butterfly- This brown butterfly is worth looking out for, between June and September, in any grassy patch, or feeding on summer flowers like Knapweed, Bramble, Lavender, Marjoram, Rudbeckia or Buddleia. It is probably the Butterfly you are most likely to see wherever you are in Britain, except the high mountains (and Shetland!). One reason for its success is that the caterpillars feed on a wide range of grasses, which is another excuse to leave a patch of your garden with long grass all summer. It can be separated from other brown butterflies by its spot pattern which is almost always one white spot in a dark circle, in a brown wing with orange patches. (Gatekeepers have two white spots and more strongly orange wings, while Ringlets have brown wings and several ringed spots). The orange patching is more extensive in females than males (see photo’s)
Meadow Brown on Knapweed
Male Meadow Brown scaring an intruder on its Knapweed
Female Meadow Brown
. Conditions: Cloud with sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 18 Min 9C.
The nature of nature-watching. Being able to watch, and in this case photograph, this healthy young Fox epitomises a key aspect of watching nature, for me. I went up to the top field where I am lucky to stay in Sussex, with the aim of watching Green Woodpeckers. I had heard them regularly and know from other years that, if I hide in a sheltered corner and wait, I may see them working the anthills at the crest of the field. After twenty minutes standing stock-still and quiet as a mouse there were no Green Woodpeckers at all, but what paced silently across the damp field-bottom and then steadily up the hill towards me was this beautiful Fox, listening in the undergrowth for small rodents to prey on before sloping off to another possible food-source! The guideline is, watch if you can- you may see nothing and you probably won’t see what you went for but with a bit of luck, you might see something else! Conditions: Disturbed weather across the country- storms, rain and sun. Temperature: Max 21 Min 13C.
Leaf-cutter bee gathering pollen from Knapweed
Honey bees feeding on Knapweed
Green-veined White Butterfly feeding on nectar in Knapweed
Carded bee and other insects feeding on Knapweed
Hover fly feeding on Knapweed
Knapweed or Hardheads are the best flowers in our garden at present for feeding bees, butterflies and other insects. A member of the Centaurea family, this wild flower, and its cousin, Greater Knapweed, is very easy to grow and spreads itself without being invasive, is beautiful and provides nectar from June to September, while birds eat the subsequent seeds. It is said to have been used by one of the Greek centaurs (hence its Latin name), Chiron, to heal wounds and has been used for wounds and bruising by herbalists, for centuries. ‘Knap’ is from Knob, as the heads are rounded and knob-like before they flower. If you have only one wildflower in your garden, try this one. Conditions: Cooler, with some rain forecast down south, but not as much as there has been up north. Temperature: Max 21 Min 14 c.