Late flowering sources of food for bees, hoverflies and butterflies are so important in garden and wild spaces, especially in a year like this when the exceptionally hot, dry summer had meant so many flowering plants had flowered early, brought on by the heat. It is worth planting a few perennials like Heleniums, Buddleia,or Echinacea. I love watching the Bees, especially, and how they manoeuvre themselves into and out of the tubes of Fuchsia and the ‘helmets’ of Himalayan Balsam (which has, thankfully, been checked in its intrusive spread a little this year, owing to it preferring damp places). Honey Bees especially need extra food, as many live over winter and need to build up their reserves. Conditions: Calm before the predicted winds and rain, a hangover of Hurricane Florence crossing the Atlantic in the next couple of days. Temperature: Max 22 Min 14 C.
The Painted Lady Butterfly is one of our largest species, and its capacity for strong flight is truly extraordinary. They migrate every year from their native home in North Africa. Some individuals arriving here from late May may have flown all the way, while others will have bred in Europe and it is the second or third generation which we see. This amazing Butterfly can breed several generations while here, and can fly as far as Shetland and to our highest mountains. The Painted Lady is the only Butterfly that reaches Iceland. However, it cannot survive our winters, and while a few may fly back to Europe, most die here by autumn. These, seen this week, are fading from their bright colour when they first emerge. Feeding here on Buddleia, their favourite food plant is Thistle. I have seen very few this year- it is thought that they migrate north when a critical level of density in their population in North Africa is reached, and sometimes this is in their thousands. Conditions: Still and grey. Temperature: Max 17 Min 15 C.
If you wonder why worker Wasps go for our sweet things at this time of year, it is because, up till mid-summer they have been emerging from their nests to find soft-bodied invertebrates, like caterpillars, aphids, spiders etc. They can’t digest these themselves because their ‘wasp-waists’ are too narrow, so they chew them up and feed them to the larvae, laid by the Queen in cells in the nest. In exchange, they eat the sugary excretion from the larvae, but as summer goes on the Queen stops laying, the larvae grow into fertile males and females which leave the nest, to mate, and the workers go hungry. They then feed on tree-sap and rotting fruit, which sometimes intoxicates them, causing them to act unpredictably! Of course, they also then turn up on our sugary snacks, before dying off,
but remember what a role they have had earlier in the year, preying on pests and parasites throughout the country. Conditions: Lovely warm and sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 20 Min 9 C.
At last we have a day of replenishing, heavy rain but it isn’t deterring the large, mixed flock of Tits we have had visiting our feeders for days now- upwards of 30 Great, Blue, Long-tailed and Coal Tits, heralded by their lovely twittering calls, but dominated by what seems like a successful year for Blue and Long-tailed Tits. Studies have shown the mixed-flocks enhance birds survival in several ways– there are more pairs of eyes and ears to guard the individuals from predators, and more to look out for food-sources so feeding rates are higher than for one’s and two’s. During breeding, protecting a territory is the priority, but once breeding is over, then safety and feeding
become central. So far, the mixed flock is just Tits, but other species, like Goldcrest, Warblers and Nuthatches may join in later in the year. Conditions: Long spells of rain, cloud. Temperature: Max 15 Min 11 C.
Last year we had a very ill, young Fox in the garden. After a few days we heard it had died- it had mange, probably from the most common source, the Sarcoptic mite. Yesterday, this young Fox, was briefly in the garden, thin, scratching and with bare patches on its haunches, indicative of the early stages of mange, which it could have caught from close contact with another fox. The National Fox Welfare Society does provide a free medication that sometimes helps, but involves feeding the fox, which we are usually unhappy to do. It may not return, but if it does, we will have to resolve this quandary. Other Foxes usually build up resistance- lets hope they have. Conditions: Sun and showers. Temperature: Max 14 Min 9C.
All plants in the Goosefoot family (which includes Quinoa) have edible seeds and the seeds of our most common Goosefoot- Fat Hen- have been found at every prehistoric site excavated throughout Europe. Fat Hen seeds formed part of the last meal of Tollund Man, the 2,000 year-old victim of hanging, and possibly of ritual sacrifice, found in a Jutland peat-bog. The young leaves of Fat Hen can be used like spinach and the seeds used in soups or dried and ground as flour for flat-breads. Known as ‘Melde’ in old English, this common plant was long
a staple in place of ‘greens’. Conditions: Cloud and sun. Temperature: Max 20 Min 13 C.
It is not too late to do the Big Butterfly Count! For anyone who has a job identifying the most common brown butterflies, this may help. The Ringlet is distinctive for its velvety dark background and for having several circles, though the number and size can vary. Meadow Browns have one circle on their forewings, with one white spot, and in most habitats is the Brown most frequently seen, and Gatekeepers (declined 44% since the 1970’s, largely due to intensification of farming) have two white spots in their single dark circle. Conditions: Cool breeze and occasional shower ut the welcome spell of rain seems over too soon. Temperature: Max 22 Min 12 C.