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.
Reed Bunting- These lovely long-tailed, sparrow-sized birds traditionally nest in damp areas and reed beds but lately have spread to drier habitats, probably due to the loss of wetlands, and are becoming pretty successful nesting in the shelter of Oil Seed Rape fields, although these are usually cut before they can get a second brood in. The strikingly bold patterned male finds a suitable nest site and the more muted female builds the nest. This female was finding plenty of insects, which the young and adults eat in spring, before adding seeds to their diet in summer. She was dropping down into the nest in the bottom of the grasses, but if a predator is around, as with some other birds, including the Lapwing, the Reed Bunting will feign injury and move away from the nest to draw the danger away.
Male Reed Bunting
Female Reed Bunting
Female Reed Bunting with insects for her young
Female Reed Bunting with insects fro her brood, down in the grasses
Heartease, or Wild Pansy- one of my mum’s favourite flowers, and mine, so it was lovely to come across patches of them on one of their favourite settings- sand dunes- recently. They also appear on cultivated, sandy soils. The colour-patterns vary and it is easy to see why they are also called ‘Viola Tricolour”. ‘Pansy’ comes from the French, “pensee”, “to think” and Louis the XV decorated the coat of arms of his favourite advisor, Francois Quesnay’, who he called his ‘thinker’ with these little gems. Heartease has long been used in herbal remedies, for skin conditions, chest complaints, as an anti-inflammatory and a diuretic. It also has a long association with grief. Shakespeare, in Hamlet, has Ophelia strewing herbs after the death of he father, saying ” And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts”. Conditions: Warm, with sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 22 Min 12C.
Heartease, or Viola Tricolour
Orange-tip Butterfly – as a follow-up to an earlier post on these lovely, and quite common, butterflies here is a drawing I did a while ago about their life-cycle as it is worth looking out for their distinctive chrysalis at this time of year. Orange-tips lay their eggs singly (because the caterpillars are cannibalistic!) on the stems of plants like Ladies Smock, Jack-by-the-hedge (Garlic Mustard) and, in gardens, Honesty, (though
Orange Tip Caterpillar on Jack By the Hedge
Annotation of Orange-tip life cycle
young survive less well on this). The eggs turn orange as they develop and the caterpillars, starting out orange, turn blue-green as they mature (see photo). By the late stage of the chrysalis the orange tips of the male can be seen through the increasingly transparent casing. Conditions: Warm and many dry days. Temperature: Max 17 Min 9C.
Passing an old Ash tree along Broomham Lane, Catsfield (Sussex) today I heard some nestling birds calling for food so I waited and watched this pair of Great Tits carrying insects at frequent intervals into the hole in the trunk (and poo sacs out!.) Both male and female feed the young on protein-rich caterpillars, beetles, aphids and spiders. Later, when they have grown more, they will be able to introduce seeds to their diet as well. Great Tits are the most studied birds in the world, and will use nest-boxes in your garden. May and June are their busiest months, having an
Pair of Great Tits, one leaving and one approaching their tree-hole nest full of noisy babies.
Great Tit calling its mate from the nest
Great Tit leaving nest with faecal sac
Great Tit leaving tree-hole nest
Great Tit male with insect-food for young
often large clutch of eggs to lay and hatchlings to feed up. The worry for this pair, and for other tree-nesting birds is that most of the mature Ash in these parts, including this one, are succumbing to Ash die-back. Though the tree will last a few years yet, where will future nest sites for Woodpeckers, Nuthatches and Tits come from when these valuable trees fall- unless we all put up more nest boxes, in gardens and woods. Conditions: Blue sky and gentle breeze. Temperature: Max 16 Min 5C.
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.