Parasol Mushroom– This very distinctive mushroom, fairly common up until November in well-drained meadows and grassland but less common in the North and Scotland, can grow up to 40 cm high and in diameter. Its scaly top has led to it being called Snakes Hat in parts of Europe, where it is prized for its nutty smell and flavour. This fungus emerges in an egg-shape and becomes flatter as it matures, leaving a fleshy
ring where the base splits from the stalk (see photos). It has a very distinctive ‘umbo’ (a raised knob) in the centre.
Mature Parasol Mushroom
Parasol mushroom showing umbo in centre.
It is hard to confuse with any other fungi but always be careful when trying something you aren’t sure of, and leave a piece uncooked so that it can be identified if anything goes wrong!- the flesh sometimes turns pink when cut. Conditions: Breezy with light showers. Temperature: Max 16 Min 10C.
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.
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.
Waking up each morning to the beautiful song of the Willow Warbler again, and having heard both this and the Chiffchaff singing on nearby Parkwood Springs I thought it was time to revisit these beautiful, elusive and similar-looking spring migrants. Chiffchaff arrive mid-March and Willow Warbler, migrating further, arrive in April. This difference in migration journeys also explains one of the visual differences, with Chiffchaffs having shorter wings and Willow Warblers, flying further, having longer primary feathers/wing length. Chiffchaff have dark legs while Willow Warblers have pale pinkish legs and a brighter eye-stripe. Since they are hard to see, the easiest way to tell them apart is by song- Chiffchaff singing a two note eponymous song, and Willow Warblers have a lovely long song ending with a downward trill. The BTO have a great little on-line video on telling them apart. (The photo’s of the Willow Warbler are from our garden, the Chiffchaff from Spurn).
Conditions: Milder with sun and showers. Temperature: Max 13 Min 4C.
Orange-tip Butterfly: it is so lovely to see these beautiful butterflies back in the garden. Having some damp patches in our garden, we have planted Ladies Smock, as it is one of the main food plants for their caterpillars, as is Jack By The Hedge which grows wild in many hedgerows (see photo’s) but Alys Fowler wrote recently about how the much more common garden plant, Honesty, is also a great caterpillar food source so that is an easier way to encourage them into our gardens. Conditions: warming up for the next few days. Still mainly dry. Temperature: Max 13 Min 5 c.
Male Orange Tip Butterfly feeding on wild Jack By The Hedge
Female Orange Tip Butterfly feeding in the garden on perennial wallflower
Close-up of female Orange-Tip Butterfly, both Male and female have this amazing camouflage marking when wings are folded
Ladies Smock flowering in our garden, a good plant food source for caterpillars of Orange-tip
Tawny Mining Bee – these are a beautiful species of solitary bees, so useful in spring pollination. The adults emerge in spring and are flying between March and May so this is
Tawny Mining Bee nest
Female Tawny Mining Bee emerging from nest
Female Tawny Mining Bee
the time to look out for the gorgeous amber coloured insects. Since we have made a ‘dry’ bed of pebbles with drought-surviving plants we have had several of these nesting in the garden. The females dig a burrow up to 10 inches deep, with several tunnels off the main hole, hence the easiest sign you have them- small volcanoes of dirt, which tend to become less obvious after a few days. Into each tunnel/cell the female deposits nectar and pollen as food once the single egg she lays in each, hatches. They then hibernate before emerging in spring. We are losing our solitary bee populations so creating a space where they can breed helps a little, and then you get to watch their behaviour (see photo’s). Conditions: Cool, bright weather. Temperature: Max 9 Min 2c.
We are very lucky to have a pair of Nuthatches regularly coming to our feeders near the window at present, though seldom together. Though they eat insects, foraged with their dagger-like bills from under tree bark (they are our only native species to be able to move up and down a tree) they are omnivorous and come to us for sunflower seeds and fat. Their name apparently comes from their habit of taking seeds with a hard outer case, such as sunflowers, to a tree and wedging it into the bark, hacking (“hatching”) at it to get at the seed inside, a hbehaviour we often watch as they carry seeds off to our nearby trees. Nuthatches nest in tree holes, plastering mud round any holes that are too big until the right snug, safe size. They will also occasionally nest in bird-boxes but they need bigger
Nuthatch- able to travel down and up a rough surface
than the usual boxes come in (Blue Tits- 25mm, Great Tits- 28mm.) Conditions: Nippy, grey and rain on the way. Temperature: Max 5 Min 3C.