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.
Mating Damselflies are always fascinating to watch. On the Chesterfield canal we watched Common Blue and Blue-tailed Damselflies in their tandem flying mode, as well as in the ‘wheel formation’ when they are actually mating. The male Damselflies, typically more brightly coloured than the females, use their claspers, at the end of the abdomen, to clasp a special ‘shield’ on the females thorax, and the connection is strong enough for them to fly in this formation, as well as to land, rest and mate. Some species mate quickly and separate, while others remain linked for several hours to deter another Male from mating with the female. In fact, some males dig out the sperm of a previous Male In order to replace it with their own. You can watch this tandem flight and wheel along many slow-flowing streams and canals or pools. Conditions: A more normal summer day, with sun and cloud. Temperature: Max 23 Min 13 C.
Common Blue Damselflies in tandem flight
Blue-tailed Damselflies in mating wheel
Blue-tailed Damselflies in tandem at rest
Great Tit: Most juvenile birds have different plumage than adults in their first few weeks of fledging, partly for camouflage, and sometimes (especially in the case of the aggressively territorial Robin) to prevent attack from adult birds, where the sight of another adult can trigger territorial battles. The paler, less differentiated newly fledged Great and Blue Tit juveniles have moulted their body feathers and some of their wing feathers by late July. It has been lovely watching these young Great Tits learning
Young Great Tit
to expertly fly in to the feeders by our window, and the extraordinarily accurate adjustments they make as they near the perches. Conditions: This July has been yet another ‘hottest ever’ month recorded, though it has cooled a little the last few days. Temperature: Max 21 Min 15 C.
‘The female Holly Blue Butterfly has broader patches of dark on her forewings than the Male. As the Holly Blue flies fast, the patterns are hard to see in detail so here are a few close-ups from when it landed on our clematis. The caterpillars of Holly Blues live on Holly leaves, especially the tender tips, but the butterflies are frequent visitors to garden flowers. You will see them as tiny spangles of blue flitting in a mazy way through the plants, flying quite low. Conditions: At last some cooler air lefter the record-breaking temperatures. temperature: Max 25 Min 15C.