Grasshoppers– There are over 25,000 species of Grasshoppers and Crickets world-wide and around 30 species of Grasshopper breed in the UK. This is the Common Green which isn’t as common as it was. They eat grasses, leaves and cereals, and prefer dampish grassy areas. They are the prey of a wide range of creatures, including small rodents, birds, spiders, beetles and snakes. Their long, strong rear legs mean they can leap long distances, the human equivalent of us being able to jump the length of a football pitch. They sound they make, called ‘stridulations’ are made by rubbing peg-like growths on their
hind legs against their forewings and of course it is the sound which often alerts us to their presence beneath our feet. The simple way to distinguish grasshoppers from crickets is that grasshoppers are usually solitary, and have short-ish antennae while the antennae of the more gregarious Crickets are very long (see photo). Conditions: Cloud and sun, very warm. Temperature: Max 24 Min 17C.
Teasel: This is a common, easily recognisable and easily grown wild plant of dampish wayside, field-edge and disturbed ground. This plant is valuable for wildlife and has been used by humans for hundreds of years. In its first year this biennial consists of a rosette of dark green leaves covered with bumps and spines. In the second year, the stems grow quickly and the distinctive flower-heads appear from July, with a ring of mauve flowers around their centre. As these die, circles of flowers open up both above and below them, providing food for many bees over a long period. They are good flowers on which to identify and photograph bee-species because bees take time methodically
Goldfinch on Teasel
feed on the circles of flowers. In autumn the seed heads provide food for birds, including male finches.The seed heads last all winter, looking attractive and great during frosty weather, or cut to bring inside. If you have the space, they are good for wildlife gardening, though prolific self-seeders so either cut the heads before they seed or dig up the rosettes of first-year plants, easy to spot. The use of the heads in the wool industry, for ‘teasing’ (carding, combing) wool fibres to clean and arrange the strands before spinning are what gives us the name ‘Teasel’. The fine hooks on the seed-heads were so effective they weren’t replaced by steel combs until the 20th century. Their ability to create a fine, even nap on baize and similar wool-based materials also led to them being used in making the cloths for snooker tables, hats etc. Nothing has ever been designed to match this ability and they are still the chosen ‘tool’ for some fine, specialist material. Napped cloth was important also for drivers of horse drawn coaches, as the nap guided the rain don the cloak and away, helping keep the driver dry in heavy rain. Conditions: Very hot and sunny. Temperature: Max 33 Min 11 C.
Longhorn Beetles: There are over 4,000 species of Beetle in the British Isles, making up 40% of our insect-life so they are very valuable in themselves and in the food chain for mammals, birds, bats etc. The Longhorn beetles largely use wood for laying their eggs and as food for the hatched larvae, which emphasises the value of leaving wood-piles and rotting wood around our gardens and woods. The adult Longhorns feed on different things though, some on wood, some on invertebrates and some on pollen. This wonderful Spotted Longhorn feeds on pollen and you may well see it now on Hogweed, Angelica etc though in our garden this one has been feeding on our Oak-leaved Hydrangea, as pictured here, alongside bees and hoverflies. I noticed it because it has an unusual hovering and bouncing flight with wing-cases (elytra) held open. The Spotted Longhorn is one of the few Longhorns that is easy to identify– the other pictured here is less easy but still fascinating to look out for and of course, having hard wing-cases helps identify it as a beetle, and having very long antennae, as a Longhorn. If you are stuck with nature identification, you can always download a photo onto I-spot nature and some of the many nature enthusiasts will suggest an identification for you. Or you can brows the site to learn what is around- very interesting site. Conditions: Sun and cloud. Temperature: Max 23 Min 13 C.
Betony: This beautiful wild flower of drier grasslands and meadows grows up to about 1 foot high, depending on the soil. The magenta flowers are held in a cluster at the top of a straight stem but the easiest way to identify it is by the leaves growing from the stems.They are long, quite tough, dark green, a bit crinkly and with scalloped edges (see photos). Still used in modern herbalism, this was one of the ‘all-heal’ herbs in medieval times and Culpeper advised to always have it in the house. Betony was commonly grown in monastery and physic gardens to treat a range of conditions, including arthritis, gout and dog-bites. Tea made from the leaves was reckoned to prevent drunkeness on the day you took it!. The ancient Romans believed it protected against sorcery and an Anglo-Saxon herbal recommended it to stave off “frightful nocturnal goblins and terrible sights and dreams” echoed in a Welsh charm advising people wear a leaf round the neck to prevent dreaming. The 16th Century botanist, Gerard, more prosaically stated “it maketh a man to pisse well“! Whether it had the same effect on women he didn’t say but Bees love this elegant flower which makes it a great addition to a wildlife garden. Conditions: Cloudy and dry. Temperature: Max 19 Min 13C.
Perforated St John’s Wort. One of 27 varieties of St John’s Wort, all good for insects with their bright, open flowers, this one is easy to identify- look at the flowers and there may be small black dots on the petal-edges, but pick a leaf and hold it up to the light and you all see many small transparent glands that are definitive. Crush a leaf or stem and blood-red sap with a foxy smell will be released. It was this last characteristic which made this plant associated with many myths and magic properties. When the pagan mid-summer feast was replaced by the Feast of ST John the Baptist, this plant was named after him, the sap representing his bloody murder. You can see the Perforated St John’s Wort along hedgerows, woodland glades and waste ground- it is still used to treat wounds, burns and skin conditions and makes a beautiful burnt-orange cream or oil. Its Latin name is Hypericum and it is used still to treat low mood and depression. However, it has long been associated with magic– A poem of 1400 includes “St John’s Wort doth charm all witches away, if gathered at midnight on the Saint’s Holy Day, Rub the lintels and post with that red juicy flower, No thunder nor tempest will then have the power, to hurt or to hinder your houses, and bind round your neck a charm of similar kind”. In Wales, families would use sprigs to assess the life
Perforated St John’s Wort
Perforated St John’s Wort
Perforates St John’s Wort
expectancy of family members. Each would hang a sprig overnight from a beam and the sprigs that looked best in the morning would have the longest life. Sir Walter Scott wrote in ‘Nativity Chant’: “Trefoil, Vervain, John’s Wort, dill, hinders witches of their will”. In the dreadful practice of accusing women of witchcraft a handful could be stuffed in the accused mouth as it was believed to force a confession. Conditions: Warm sun and cloud. Temperature: Max 21 Min 13 C.
Here is a brief introduction to a few common WillowHerbs. Rosebay Willowherb is the best known- it is also called Fireweed because, as well as all the waste ground and hedgerow sites it grows on profusely, it grows readily where fires have been. The Great or Hairy Willowherb prefers damper spots but is also common, with its larger and sparser open flowers and white centres. I like its common name, Codlins and Cream, named after the old, rosy English apple, Codlin. The Enchanters Nightshade, which has possibly my favourite name of all common wild flowers, is not a nightshade but a willowherb. The Enchanters Nightshade can become a bit of a problem in gardens but I love its delicate, tiny flowers and the whole plant is only about 6 inches/15 cm’s tall, and grows in the shade of woods, hedgerows etc. Disappointingly for something which has such an intriguing name no one can really find a reason for it to be called this, either in folklore or witchcraft, and even the great 17th century herbalist Gerard could not get enthusiastic about any uses for it- although the Austrians used to make a tea rom it! Conditions: Drizzle and cloud with some showers. Temperature: Max 11 Min 7C.
Hoverflies: There are over 280 species of Hoverfly in the UK, many of them without common names. They all do good in our gardens, farms and wild areas- the larvae eat many pests including voraciously devouring aphids, so they are a great organic pest control! The adults’ feeding habits result in large-scale pollination of crops and garden flowers. They vary enormously in size, shape and colour and many mimic Bees and Wasps. However they don’t harm humans as they mimic in order to appear to predators as though they will sting or taste unpleasant. Here are a few of the ones that are easier to identify- the ways to tell flies from Bees and Wasps are: their eyes cover almost the whole of their head, they have one pair of wings, not two, and they have short antennae. If you can teach children the difference that is really helpful, since they have no need to be afraid of Hoverflies, but rather to welcome them and enjoy learning to spot more and more varieties. This sort of mimicry is called “Batesian Mimicry”. named after Bates who identified it in 1862. Conditions: Another blustery day of sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 16- Min 12C.
Jay- we have had four or five of these over the last few days, making their characteristic screams and chatters, which gave them the Latin name ‘Garrulus”. The most colourful of our crow family members, the Jay is as clever as other corvids, tests showing they are able to use tools, plan and predict. They mate for life and both male and female build the nest and feed the young. They can carry up to 9 acorns at a time in their gullets, before hoarding hundreds of them in scatteredt areas, to supplement food supplies over winter. They remember and feed on most but it is thought those that are left unused are the reason Oak woodland spread so quickly after the last ice-age, and why we get Oaks spreading now. They started coming to garden feeders since the late 1990’s and we get them regularly, especially for peanuts.
It is thought this habit change is due to a shortage of Acorns and in our Oak at the bottom of the garden, the Grey Squirrels have most of the acorns before they are even ripe. Conditions: Cloud and sun, with a breeze. Temperature: Max 13 Min 6C.
The magnificent Red Kite, down to two breeding pairs in the UK in the 1930’s, both in mid-Wales and at less than 20 pairs when I was in Wales in my 20’s, is another conservation success story, now up to at least 600 pairs across the UK. Once persecuted by shooting and still found poisoned occasionally, these carrion eaters used to be valued in towns, the environment they favoured centuries ago, because of their habits of scavenging which helped keep streets clean, they have now been re-introduced to Scotland and England. Up a beautiful valley at Durisdeer, Dumfrieshire we watched these Red Kite sweeping the skies and swooping, in strong winds. Shakespeare mentions Red Kite in A winter’s Tale, urging people to look to their lesser linen, referring to their habit of stealing underclothes from washing lines to furnish their nests! Keep a look out in the skies for these huge, fork-tailed birds as their habitats spread across the country. Conditions: Sleet showers, strong winds and grey skies. Temperature: Max 6 Min 2C.
Red-legged Partridge: we are very lucky to have two Red-legged Partridges visiting the garden where we are staying in Scotland, feeding, as they do, on seeds (as well as roots in the wild). Red-legged Partridge were introduced, for sport, into East Anglia from France in the 1770′s and a wild population has gradually spread over Britain, but this pair are undoubtedly escapees from a local shoot. Like our native, smaller Grey
Partridge, the Red-legged is in decline in the wild, but around six million are released each year for shooting. They are now preferred for rearing to the Grey as they lay more eggs. In the wild the hen lays two clutches, one sat on by her and one by the cock bird of the pair. Conditions. An occasional bright day among the sleet and rain storms. Temperature: Max 5 Min 0C.