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.
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.
Yarrow and Sneezewort.Yarrow is a very common wild plant, and a ‘pioneer species’, which means it is one of the first plants to colonise waste ground. Unless you keep a very tidy lawn, you are likely to have the fronds of young leaves in your grass, too. Its Latin name “Achillea Millefolium” refers to two aspects of this plant. Achillea references the legend that claims Achilles used the plant to staunch the wounds he receives in battle. Millefolium refers to the ‘thousand-leafed’ highly cut leaves that are so distinctive. The fact that this plant has been used for millennia as a healing plant is also shown by its presence in 60,000 year-old burial sites of Neanderthals. The plant is strongly scented when crushed, is rich in oils
and has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, being used in herbal medicine treat a wide range of conditions, especially intestinal and ulcer-related. It produces a yellow-green dye and the young leaves can be used in salads. The plant attracts many insects which makes it, or its different coloured garden varieties (‘Achillea’) very useful in wildlife gardens.The closely related but much rarer Sneezewort (see photo) has larger flowers and uncut leaves, but is also frequented by many species of insects. It was used to induce rather than prevent sneezing! Conditions: Cloud, light rain and strong breezes. Temperature: Max 19 Min 12C.
Wild Angelica, one of the most attractive of he Carrot family, can reach a height of 8 feet and is loved by many insects. You can, of course, get a garden variety too. In the wild, Angelica loves damp places, stream edges, and woods. The only thing it could be mistaken for really is Hogweed but the leaves of Angelica smell sweetly. The umbels are often pink-tinged and are more delicate and ‘frothy’, and often more rounded than the flatter Hogweed. Angelica stems are virtually hairless, ridged and hollow and of course the garden variety can be crystallised and used on cakes and sweets. The stems are usually purplish and have big sheathes where the leaves emerge ( these occur on Hogweed too). The plant yields a good yellow dye and the seeds can be dried and used like fennel or aniseed, or to flavour liqueurs. The 17th Century botanist and herbalist Culpeper of how a liquid made like a tissane
from Angelica “applied to places pained with the gout or sciatica doth give a great deal of ease”. Just to find a great patch of this majestic plant is a pleasure. Conditions: Humid and cloudy. Temperature: Max 27 Min 15C.
Juvenile Finches of all our four regular Finch visitors to the garden feeders are turning up now. In case you aren’t sure how to identify them, here are photos. The young Greenfinch has a slightly speckle chest and the yellow wing-bar like the adult but both male and female juvenile Greenfinches are pale coloured. Later, as you can see, the males especially will become much stronger green, the female slightly olive-brown. Young Goldfinch already have the black and white ‘ladder’ marking on their wings and the gold wing-bar but lack any of the striking head colours- male and female adult Goldfinches are hard to tell apart, unless you see one feeding on Teasel seeds later in the year- only the male has a long enough bill to get at the seeds. Both male and female juvenile Chaffinches are similar in markings to the adult female, except softer in tone, and the males go on to develop the adult blue, pink and green markings seen in the photo. Similarly, the juvenile Bullfinches are both similar in colour to the females but lacking the black cap of both adult males and females. The males, of course, will go on to develop the wonderful rosy chests, and grey and white backs that show in the photos. Conditions: Grey and mild with a sudden shower or two. Temperature: Max 21 Min 13C.
Young Blue Tits- after having to feed each young in the nest for up to 21 days, with the equivalent of 100 caterpillars a day, the adults don’t get any rest and begin to look very tatty, especially the females who have also taken great energy to lay the eggs. Once out, the juvenile Blue Tits look pale and fluffier-feathered that the adults, and they fluff themselves up even bigger to attract attention, demanding food until they can fend for themselves. They also flutter their wings to be noticed, and often look much bigger and healthier than the adults. Watch and listen out for gentle chirping to locate the youngsters, or watch where adults are flying fast with food from your feeders, to locate newly fledged birds of all sorts.