This photo, taken at the new pond, was both interesting and confusing. The beautiful dragonfly at the top of the picture is an Emperor, Britain’s largest dragonfly, laying her eggs into the pond. She is impressive and not confusing.
However, she was being repeatedly bombarded and harassed by another dragonfly. It was a noisy and aggressive spectacle, the Emperor even being pushed away a few times but always returning to this same spot.
It was this second dragonfly that I found so very perplexing. When it wasn’t attacking the Emperor, it was flying over the pond, bending its abdomen downwards and dabbing it into the water. So we could suppose it was a female and was laying eggs. There is only one species of dragonfly in the UK with a broad body shape like this, and that’s the Broad Bodied Chaser and indeed these dragonflies were emerging out of our Old Pond in May. However, females are green and yellow. Here are some photos of Broad Bodied Chasers that I took back then in May:
So, although the male Broad Bodied is a dusty blue colour, the females are green and yellow. Now here is another photo of the female Broad Bodied Chaser who was harassing the Emperor at the new pond:
I just didn’t understand what was going on and so sent the photo to the British Dragonfly Society who have now explained that elderly females can lose their green and yellow coloration and become blue like the male, although the whole abdomen never goes completely blue as a male’s would be. When they say ‘elderly’, they are calibrating their age scale using a life span of maybe three months for this stage of a dragonfly’s life cycle.
And so I now know a little bit more about Dragonflies. To thank them for their advice, I have joined the British Dragonfly Society and am looking forward to absorbing myself in all-things dragonfly in their membership magazine!
Walking through the meadows this afternoon, attention was grabbed by something flying passed that was of the most supreme scarlet. I followed – of course I did – and found that it belonged to a moth, the Jersey Tiger.
How striking is this moth? Particularly when seen with the underwings showing:
This is a nationally scarce moth and here in East Kent this one may well be an immigrant. Widespread in the Channel Islands, its lovely to have seen it here.
It has been such a hot dry Spring and early Summer that our meadows look very different to previous years. The grass is beaten right back and it is surely a poor hay year for the farmers.
Talking of farmers, our big question every year is how to get these fields cut and baled and everything taken away. Its only by removing nutrients like this do we gradually make adverse conditions for grasses allowing flowers to flourish. The cattle farmer near Sandwich who cut and baled the meadows last year has now retired and is unable to do that again now and and in the future and so we have to find an alternative solution.
We plan to ring an agricultural contractor in Ash that the farmer has recommended and hope that he can come and cut them in early September when most of the insects will have completed their life cycles. Fingers crossed that this can be arranged and at a cost that means its a feasible long term solution.
There are still plenty of meadow flowers growing amongst the grass, covered in bees, beetles, butterflies and hoverflies.
One of my favourites is Wild Carrot. The new flowers are in the shape of a bowl which opens up to a lovely white Umbellifer, eventually closing to a clenched fist of seeds.
An expert birder and accredited ringer who lives locally is using the meadows to ring birds. This ringing generates a lot of vital information about their habits and life cycles that can be used to inform conservation decisions.
On this occasion he caught 18 birds, which included 9 long-tailed tits in the net that he set up by the feeders. The long-tailed tits were all this years fledgings that had formed a little flock of juvenile birds
They were all going through their first moult and so looked a bit ragged but they were all fine and safely released to go about their business.
I also got this photo of a linnet. Never have I seen one with quite such a red breast:
I will just finish with some photos of the wonderful butterfly life going on here this month:
There is just one clump of wild Marjoram here and it is a honeypot for butterflies and other insects. At this time of the year, when it is in flower, a billow of butterflies goes up into the air on your approach. Wait awhile and they return. Here are some of the visitors it had just in one session of standing there:
And also things other than butterflies:
So it is all a bit of a wonder and I think that every garden should have a clump. This wild Marjoram, Origanum vulgare, is from the same family but has slightly less strong flavour than the Mediterranean herb Sweet Marjoram, Origanum majorana. However, the wild one is fully hardy to British weather in the way that Sweet Marjoram isn’t and can still be used in the same way for culinary uses.
It is also a beautiful cottage garden plant with the most lovely purple flowers and tip top wildlife credentials. Here is the one in the meadow:
I will be looking at ways to get more of this herb in the meadows for next year.
We found an interesting spider on the side of the shed:
We didn’t know what it was but felt sure it had to be called a Zebra Spider which indeed it is. Its a jumping spider, the Common Zebra Spider, Salticus scenicus.
I’ve just bought a really good field guide of spiders:
In this book, I discover that there are 670 British spider species which is a number that surprised me. So many. I was previously only aware of the commoner species of house spiders – there were so many of these in my childhood home because the house was old and my mother was too tender-hearted to eject them.
But this smallish Zebra Spider is a jumping spider. It sits on sunny vertical surfaces hunting for prey, which it jumps on, sometimes from a considerable distance away. In order to facilitate this, the spider has quite amazing eyes. It has four forward facing ones with the central ones much larger than those on either side. The other four eyes (yes, eight in total!) are on the top of its thorax.
The large eyes at the front are highly developed and can judge accurately the required jumping distance to get to its prey. The other eyes watch out for any movement to spot the prey in the first place.
I feel sure that, wherever man was evolving, there must have been poisonous spiders to be afraid of and that natural-selection-based fear has been written into my DNA because I have a deep-rooted horror of them that is unjustified in the UK. However, I am able to override this when the spider is small and interesting like this one.
I had the most amazing moth in the trap this morning:
It gave me a shock because at first it looked like this:
It was only when it got jiggled about a bit that it flashed those eyes at me and gave me a bit of a scare – which is exactly what it tries to do to insectivorous birds to give the moth a chance to escape.
There were also three other species of Hawk Moth on the trap: The Lime Hawk Moth
Several Elephant Hawk Moths:
And the Small Elephant Hawk Moth:
What fantastic moths these Hawk Moths are. Still waiting for the mother of all Hawk Moths to turn up in the trap – the Death’s Head Hawk moth:
This is the UK’s largest moth – 8 – 12 cm wingspan – and with a skull-like marking on its thorax. Its an immigrant and so here in East Kent we should be in a good position to one day see one.