Hornets- what is the point of wasps and their large relatives Hornets, people wonder. These highly social creatures which operate in complex colonies are often disliked for their propensity to sting. In fact the Hornet we have (unlike the Asian Hornet) has a fairly mild sting and only attack if disturbed. They chew wood, mix it with saliva and build intricate paper nests often in trees. They eat plant matter but also often hover around plants, like these were last week, down South, predating many garden pests. So, i fact, they are helpful to us humans! Conditions: Sun and a stiff breeze. Temperature: Max 15- Min 11C.
Butterfly Conservation reports that the wet summer (11th wettest on record) proved another bad year for most Butterflies and Moths, insects which help in plant pollination. The three most common Whites, (see photo’s)- the Green-veined, the Large and the Small White all suffered, though Meadow Brown and Red Admiral did fairly well (featured in earlier blogs this year). More people than ever took part in the Great Butterfly Count they run- 60,000– but, at an average of 11 butterflies per recorder, that is the worst numbers seen since recording began in 2010. Conditions: Sun and showers. Temperature: Max 15- Min 12C.
Bumper hedgerow crops– The year’s strange weather pattern, with cold early spring, a dry April and enough sun and rain in July and August, has led to a really good crop of autumn Blackberries, Hips and Haws, Crab Apples, Sloes and Bullace (like wild Damsons), Acorns and many other seeds and berries, This is boosting Butterflies, after a late, slow start, and will enable bees, birds and mammals to stock up for migration or to survive winter. Walking the hedgerows today we saw many birds and insects feeding-Redstart, Warblers, Stonechat– it is a good time to keep your eyes peeled, especially for birds preparing to migrate. Conditions: A warm spell. Temperature: Max 16- Min 13C.
Ivy Flowers- I have posted before about the importance of Ivy flowers for late-flying and overwintering Butterflies and other insects, but nothing illustrated it better than today. Down south again, we did a circular walk by the River Ouse, ending at Rodmell, to visit Virginia Woolf’s garden and house. Over 3 miles, in good sunshine, there were virtually no insects to be seen. We passed one bush of Ivy flowers in bloom and suddenly there were Peacock and Red Admiral Butterflies, flies, bees and hoverflies in numbers, all feeding. Ivy along the ground in a garden can be a pest, but if you can persuade it to grow up into a bush or fence, where it will flower, you will have autumn nectar for insects and fruits for winter Thrushes. Conditions: Warm and sunny. Temperature: Max 16- Min 9C.
Red Bartsia- this unassuming little plant that you can find growing low, often scarcely visible, on grassland, margins of tracks and waste ground illustrates the extraordinary intricacies of evolution, as well as the vulnerabilities of interdependent species. Declining through pasture improvement and loss of unkempt spaces, it is semi-parasitic, partly feeding off grass roots, but one small bee has evolved to feed off it- the Red Bartsia Bee. Red Bartsia’s use in the past to treat toothache gave rise to its Latin Name: Odontites Verna. Now I know about the bee I will look out for it! Conditions: Occasional showers. Temperature: Max 18- Min 11C.
Parasol Mushrooms are out in fields near woodland, woodland glades, pastureland and sometimes on stable dunes, from now till November, if we are free of frosts. Edible, and best picked when just opening and cooked when very fresh, it is best to check online or in book references for similar species, unless you know your toadstools! Dramatic-looking, it is easy to spot when mature as it is a large fungus standing upright on a tall stalk. Conditions: Cloudy and mild. Temperature: Max 20- Min 16C.
Yellowhammer- these beautiful members of the bunting family, like many birds that rely heavily on farmland seeds and stubble-fields, are declining so much they are now on the red (for danger) list. Farmers who leave hedges to fruit and seed, and some field margins with seeding wild flowers, can help. Yellowhammers nest near or on the ground, in dense vegetation, and need singing posts like trees or bushes from which to call their ‘little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese’ refrain. We watched these males near the Chesterfield canal- wonderfully bright. Conditions: Sunny intervals turning stormy. Temperature: Max 18- Min 12C.