The wonderful Hummingbird Hawkmoth is a day-flying moths that arrives from the continent in high summer, though it is beginning to overwinter in the south of England. With a 5cm wingspan, it can hover because its wings beat at 80 times a second. They are usually a blur, and when it is quiet you can hear their wings humming. As they hover they unfurl their very long proboscis and feed on the wing, sipping nectar from the base of long-tubed flowers like Buddlia and Valerian. You may get a view of their orange hindwing as they feed, as in these shots. It is the last weekend for the Big Butterfly Count and these moths are included in the species they want recorded. You just watch for 15 minutes and note the butterflies and moths you see, then submit the ones they are interested in on the app or online (Butterfly Conservation). You can do it as often as you like, in your garden, park etc and they are just as interested in you seeing nothing as seeing a lot. Conditions: Sun and cloud, with light wings. Temperature: Max 23 Min 13 C.
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
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.
Hemp Agrimony: This tall, perennial plant thrives in sun or shade in damp areas but can also live in drier conditions. Its ‘fluffy’ multiple-flower heads, ranging from pale to deeper pink/mauve are an absolute magnet for insects, especially bees, and Butterflies like Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell and its long period of flowering, July into September, make its valuable wildlife plant. It is neither related to the Yellow Agrimony or Hemp but its leaves are Hemp-shaped. There are also more decorative garden varieties of this Eupatorium, so you could choose those if you have an odd corner, or a border. Also known colloquially as ‘Raspberries and Cream’ the Latin name derives from the first century BC King Eupator of Pontus, who is said to have cured a septic wound using it. On the website ‘Nature Cure’ a man recalls visiting St Ives as a child, in the 1930’s. and hearing of a fisherman whose septic arm was unable to be treated and about to be amputated. A local person suggested a poultice of the leaves and flowers of Hemp Agrimony and it drew out the poison. When his son later suffered with boils, he successfully treated them with a similar poultice so these old remedies sometimes have valuable clues locked inside them. If you aren’t keen on trying that, and you have the space, try growing the wild or garden versions for their wildlife value and late summer colour- we have both. Conditions: Sun and cloud. Temperature: Max 18 Min 12C.
On a very wet day, in Sheffield, my mind turns to the wonderful gardeners friend, the Toad – ‘Bufo Bufo’. Toads, nocturnal feeders, after finding a pond or still waterway for breeding in spring, spend most of the rest of the warm months in damp, sheltered places like woodlands, hedgerows and ditches, coming-out at night to eat worms, spiders and slugs. Their skins are more water-absorbent than that of frogs so they can survive drier conditions a little better. Toads vary in colour from dark brown to greenish, and can be told apart from frogs by their bumpy, warty skin, their shorter neck and shorter legs on which they walk or crawl, not hop. Their eyes are copper coloured, with a very noticeably horizontally pupil. Poor persecuted Toads have long had an association with witchcraft and poisoning, although they aren’t poisonous to us. The myths come from the fact that, if threatened they puff up their bodies and exude a foul-tasting fluid from their skin, to deter predators. Also, in medieval times disease was associated with the concept of ‘miasmas’ from places like marshes, bogs and caves, all of which can be the natural haunt of Toads. Long seen as a witches ‘familiars’, Toads entering a house were seen as portents of bad news, and they were careful removed in order not to provoke a witch. Evidence from court trial of witches from the 16th Century refer to the Toads of witches. In the 12th Century, when Toads were believed to attack and poison people, there are accounts of them being left, with adders, in the cells of prisoners as punishment. WE feel lucky to have any in our gardens, eating our slugs. Conditions: Heavy rain and thunderstorms. Temperature: Max 19 Min 12 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.
In recognition of Dragonfly week, here is the most common and widespread dragonfly, the Common Darter. This dragonfly is successful because, like much of our more successful wildlife and plants. it is adaptable. It will breed in lakes, ponds of many sizes, ditches, canals and slow rivers, preferring still water. It will also feed and roam well away from water so you are quite likely to see it even if you don’t live right next to a water body. These are the dragonflies you are likely to see soaking up the sunshine while resting on paths, posts, leaves and fences. The males have a reddish-orange body and the females and young are more yellow-light brown in colour. There is a rarer red Dragonfly- the Ruddy Dragonfly- but this has a narrow ‘waist’ along its abdomen and completely black legs while the Common Darter has yellow stripes on is legs. Conditions: A warm, sunny dry day Temperature: Max 19 Min 9C.
Burdock: This common plant of waste ground and wayside grows to a few feet high and is very obvious by this time of year. It is loved by insects but was also used a great deal by our ancestors. The long tap root was a staple in the past, roasted like we cook parsnips, tasting nutty apparently. The root was also used medicinally, especially for coughs and colds. In addition country people would lightly ferment the roots of this plant and the even more commonly available dandelion, to make a drink which, in carbonated form, is now commercially available of course as
‘Dandelion ad Burdock’. As the flowers die back, the hooked burrs cling easily to anything that brushes past– you might be familiar with the tricky task of trying to remove the hundreds of hooks from your dog, or your jumper! However, a Swiss inventor thought more laterally and was inspired by this plant to invent the invaluable Velcro. Conditions: Light cloud and breeze. Temperature: Max 16 Min 12 C.
Newts– Newts hibernate under piles of stones, wood or in dense undergrowth for most of the winter, emerging occasionally to feed if the weather is mild. In spring they emerge and, like all our amphibians, make their way to a pond in order to mate and lay their eggs, which they wrap in underwater plants. Baby Newts once hatched, called Efts (great Scrabble word!), will stay in the pond, often into the next year, but adults emerge around this time of year to eat slugs and other pests, so they are valuable in the garden. Every pond I have ever made has been colonised by Smooth Newts, as Newts have a great ability to detect bodies of water even over some distance. This usually happens within two years of making a pond, but even if you don’t have a pond you may still have Newts in your garden in summer- you make not detect
them unless you are out rootling around in the evening, when they tend to hunt. They need to keep their skins damp to thrive. Conditions: Very heavy, prolonged rain overnight easing to cloud through the day. Temperature: Max 13 Min 11C.
Patchwork Leaf-cutter Bee– this is one of my favourite solitary bees and if you look closely you my well have it in your gardens or nearby parks or open ground.. The first thing you notice could be the neat arcs cut out of rose, birch or honeysuckle leaves (and a few other plants). You may be lucky as I was and see them flying off with the leaf section as an undercarriage (see photo). This will be the female, which makes a nest in any crevice, even a dry hollow stem. She chews up the leaves to a paste and lines each cell she makes with this mixture, laying an egg in each. She then gathers pollen and nectar and makes a larder in each cell before plugging them with more paste. The other very noticeable thing about this bee is that, like some other solitary bees that lack pollen sacs on their legs for collecting food, the female Patchwork Leaf-cutter Bee has to collect pollen on her body. She has what is called a pollen-brush, bright orange in her case, on the underside of her abdomen and you should be able to see her when her whole underside is yellow with pollen that sticks to her pollen-brush, as in one of these photos. The male only has to feed himself so doesn’t
have this behaviour or appearance and is harder to identify. Conditions: Breezy with sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 18 Min 11C.
It is Solitary Bee Week, and I have been watching these easy-to-identify Wool Carder Bees recently, feeding and working on the sage and lavender plants. Both male and female have a row of distinctive yellow dots down their abdomens. Unusually for bees, the male Wool Carder is slightly bigger than the female, and it is hairier. The female combs ‘wool-like’ fibres from plants and carries them off to line her nests. The male, which has no sting but has spikes from its abdomen, aggressively defends the plants she is using. It will even kill small insects, by crushing their bodies against a surface and piercing them with the spike. I’ve been watching the males ‘bounce’ other bees and hoverfies off the plants, flying directly at them and knocking them away, leaving the females free to go about their work. Conditions: Cloud, showers and strong breezes. Temperature: Max 16 min 15C.