The Butterfly Expert

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We have bought a pair of rustic Oak seats to go in amongst the new Oak trees in the second meadow which we think look rather fine. Good for summer evenings with a chilled glass of wine.

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I went on a butterfly walk at Knepp yesterday, guided by the famous and flamboyant butterfly expert, Matthew Oates. Of course I took the opportunity to ask him about our Small Blue Butterfly colony here. The Small Blue population is usually all to do with the abundance of their larval food plant, the Kidney Vetch. Last year, we had loads of Small Blues but hardly any Kidney Vetch. Therefore, only small numbers of eggs would have been laid. So this year, even though we have masses and masses of Kidney Vetch, there are no eggs from last year and so no butterflies. Kidney Vetch is effectively a biennial and so really needs to have some reseeding every year to stop this boom and bust. In order to be able to reseed, we need bare patches of soil in amongst the sward of grass and these bare patches can be produced by animal grazing or summer drought.

So, food for thought there: we need to think about how to allow the Kidney Vetch to reseed naturally but also I could gather some of the seed and germinate it in the greenhouse and then plant the seedlings out.

Some more weird and wonderful insects have been spotted over the last few days:

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Oedemera nobilis. The Swollen-thighed beetle or another name is the Thick Legged beetle.
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A currently unidentified parasitic wasp.
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The wasp from the side showing its remarkable mouth parts.
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A Kite-tailed Robberfly. Machimus atricapillus. 12-15mm long – double the length of a Housefly. Catches and eats other insects, particularly flies.
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Another angle of the Robberfly.

IMG_1428Lots of these Ringlet Butterflies have arrived in the meadows.

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The underside of the Ringlet, showing the ringlets.

June has galloped past and is coming to a close.Is it 6 weeks since we have had any rain now? The Ragwort season is just about to start here, with the distinctive yellow flower heads just appearing above the grasses. Pulling Ragwort will be the no. 1 job for July.

The Butterfly Expert

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We have bought a pair of rustic Oak seats to go in amongst the new Oak trees in the second meadow which we think look rather fine. Good for summer evenings with a chilled glass of wine.

IMG_1423

I went on a butterfly walk at Knepp yesterday, guided by the famous and flamboyant butterfly expert, Matthew Oates. Of course I took the opportunity to ask him about our Small Blue Butterfly colony here. The Small Blue population is usually all do do with the abundance of their larval food plant, the Kidney Vetch. Last year, we had loads of Small Blues but hardly any Kidney Vetch. Therefore, only small numbers of eggs would have been laid. So this year, even though we have masses and masses of Kidney Vetch, there are no eggs from last year and so no butterflies. Kidney Vetch is effectively a biennial and so really needs to have some reseeding every year to stop this boom and bust. In order for it to be able to reseed, we need bare patches of soil in amongst the sward of grass and these bare patches can be produced by animal grazing or summer drought.

So, food for thought there:  we need to think about how to allow the Kidney Vetch to reseed naturally but also I could gather some of the seed and germinate it in the greenhouse and then plant the seedlings out.

Some more weird and wonderful insects have been spotted over the last few days:

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Oedemera nobilis. The Swollen-thighed Beetle or Thick Legged Flower Beetle
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A currently unidentified parasitic wasp

 

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The wasp from the side showing its remarkable mouth parts
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A Kite-tailed Robberfly. Machimus atricapillus. 12-15 mm long – double the length of a Housefly. Catches and eats other insects, particularly flies.
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Another angle of the Robberfly
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Lots of these Ringlet Butterflies have arrived in the meadows
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The underside of the Ringlet, showing the ringlets.

June has galloped past and is coming to a close. Is it 6 weeks since we have had any rain now? The Ragwort season is just about to start here, with the distinctive yellow flower heads just appearing above the grasses. Pulling Ragwort will be job no. 1 for July.

 

Horsefly Horror

Large Marsh Horsefly

This was a monstrous fly hawking over the hide pond this afternoon and I actually thought it was a short-bodied dragonfly, such was its size. I tried to get one of my body parts in the photo to give you more of an idea of its size, but it flew. For those of us that are a magnet to any biting insect, this fly is the stuff of nightmares – it’s the Large Marsh Horsefly (Tabanus autumnalis) which grows to 22mm long and its body mass had to have been eight or more times that of a normal horsefly. Much as I try to celebrate any British wildlife, its hard to have warm feelings about this one.

In actual fact, this fly has a big brother, Tabanus bovinus, the Pale Giant Horsefly, which grows up to 30mm and is not deterred by any insect repellant and thankfully has never been seen here.

On a happier subject, we are having some fun with the badgers. Last autumn, we cleared out the pond and stacked the pulled reeds close to the pond. The badgers dragged these reeds in as bedding and since then, whenever we put anything on that pile, it disappears as bedding within a day.

Like Poldark but with our shirts on, we scythed some long grasses yesterday and put them on the pile:

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A pile of scythed grass
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Last year’s cub investigates

Several loads were dragged back to the sett overnight, which involves getting it all under the fence. The badger comes through backwards and then pulls the grass after her.

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What fun!

There has been no rain here in June and everything is parched. The water levels in the ponds are so low that we couldn’t actually see any water in the wild pond through the vegetation. A trial pulling of a reed, showed that it came up really clean, without mud and hidden living things, and this encouraged us to clear some channels through:

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That felt much better. Once those reeds have dried, they can go on the badger bedding pile and provide us with more entertainment.

 

 

Mid June Round Up

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6 Spot Burnet

This week has seen the arrival of 6 Spot Burnet moths. Also new are the Essex Skipper butterflies:

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Essex Skipper, with black on the underside of the antennae. Small Skippers are similar but have purely orange antennae.

The number of Marbled Whites has increased:

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Marbled White

and they are one of the most abundant butterflies here at the moment along with the Meadow Brown:

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and Small Heath.

The flowers are covered in Pollen Beetles today:

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I remember this from last year, too, when they then disappeared as quickly as they came, causing no damage.

Yesterday we had a visit from an ecologist for a couple of hours. He is working for a developer seeking to obtain planning permission for a plot of land nearby. The plot has an estimated population of many hundred Slow Worms which are a protected species. The Council is insisting that a satisfactory plan is put in place for the safe rehoming of these animals elsewhere before they will grant permission. We have been approached to see if we would be willing to consider accepting them should our land be suitable. The ecologist came to see if our land could support these new Slow Worms without it being to the detriment of the Slow Worms we already have here, or of anything else. This is all at a very early stage and there is much to be discussed and work still to be done and no doubt this will be the subject of future blog posts.

While he was here, we also discussed things of a non-reptilian nature such as our new hide pond that was dug a year ago and now looks like this:

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Although the pond is now only fed by rainwater, including run off from the hide roof, it was initially filled using tap water which is high in nutrients. It is these nutrients that has caused this growth of blanket weed.

This will sort itself out over the next couple of years but the ecologist was of the opinion that the blanket weed is mopping up the nutrients and so, by removing the weed, we will be removing these nutrients from the ecosystem more quickly and it will reach equilibrium sooner. Also, the  weed will sink and rot over the winter which is not a good thing. He suggested that we pull the weed from the pond in about a month’s time when the tadpoles etc should be grown up and gone and collateral damage would be minimised. I wish we could do it now, it looks so terrible.

Everyone would probably know the Daddy Long Legs Spider (Pholcus phalangioides). This spider has a close association with man, living almost exclusively indoors. I had a very soft-hearted mother who wouldn’t knowingly harm any living thing which was a wonderful attribute to have in a mother. However, it did mean that you would often be sharing the toilet with many of these spiders amongst other living things and they are certainly very familiar to me. However, I have never seen them carrying eggs sacs around in their mouths before as we saw today in the hide:

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Pholcus phalangioides

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I ran the moth trap last night and got this very charismatic moth, called Spectacle because it looks like its wearing the most tiny pair of glasses:

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I also got a Privet Hawkmoth again:

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I will end this evening with a couple of photos from the trail cameras. Here is the Sparrowhawk coming in for a bath:

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And I love this one:

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A Gang of Juveniles

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This slightly sinister looking bird is actually very good news. Its a juvenile Starling. The UK’s resident, breeding Starling population, as opposed to the ones that just spend the winter here, are doing very poorly and no one quite knows why. So it’s nice to see that they have been having some successful fledging here this year. Not just one success, though. We have a big gang of successes roaming the meadows in a noisy flock – about 40 to 50 young birds, rising and falling into the long grass.

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Their parents will have gone straight on to have another brood and so they have had to leave their first set of offspring to fend for themselves. These juvenile Starlings gather together in flocks and rampage around the countryside. It’s lovely to see so many of them, especially since we haven’t seen a single Starling in previous summers here.

I am not sure why this juvenile was checking out one of the nest boxes though:

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As far as we know, this box is unoccupied (officially a Woodpecker box although it had Great Tits in it last year!)

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Oh dear, I took my eye off the Alder Buckthorn trees and now I see that several of them have been completely stripped by the Brimstone Butterfly caterpillars. I moved some of the most precarious cases, such as these two above, across to other trees that have a few more leaves.

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A rescue mission of Brimstone caterpillars of various sizes
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An Alder Buckthorn that still has some leaves….but for how long?

We planted these bare-rooted Alder Buckthorn whips last year specifically to support Brimstone Butterflies who lay their eggs only on these trees. However last year and now again this year, the small trees get such a hammering from the caterpillars that they are never going to get a chance to grow. I think we need to buy and plant some larger, more established trees this coming Autumn that might have more resilience.

I mentioned in my last post that we were yet to see Marbled White Butterflies. The very next day, they had arrived:

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I think that marks the proper beginning of Summer.

Hawkmoths and Butterflies

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Privet Hawkmoth and Elephant Hawkmoth

Its always a thrill finding Hawkmoths in the moth trap and I would defy anyone not to be impressed with this most beautiful Privet Hawkmoth. It’s really rather enormous:

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Here is another distinctive moth, called Snout for obvious reasons:

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Appearing now in the meadows are the day-flying Burnet moths. I think this one is a Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet (five red spots on each side. We also get Six-Spot Burnet here as well):

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Three new species of Butterfly have appeared in the last few days. Here is a Large Skipper:

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The Meadow Browns are starting to flap around:

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Finally, this extremely powerful flyer – the Painted Lady:

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This species cannot over-winter in the UK and this Lady will have migrated here from North Africa amazingly. She will lay eggs on Thistles (plenty of those here for her to chose from) which will become caterpillars, pupae and then new butterflies and these will travel to Africa at the end of the summer.

Still on the subject of insects, how about this Tiger Crane Fly (Nephrotoma flavescens)?

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That’s not a sting at the end of her abdomen but egg-laying equipment.

A Pyramidal Orchid has raised its head above the parapet. This appears to be the only one here this year unfortunately, its very variable:

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My favourite meadow plant is starting to come onto flower, the Greater Knapweed:

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Its also a favourite of many bees, butterflies, beetles and moths. This includes the Marbled White Butterfly that, in previous years, has seemed to time its appearance to co-incide with this plant coming into flower. Not seen any Marbled Whites yet but I’m sure they will be here soon.

Apparently Slow Worms can live for a very long time – forty to fifty years, would you believe. In fact, the record is held by one Slow Worm in Copenhagen Zoo that lived to 54. Maybe they do not reach this age in the wild but this bulky one that has been heating up under one of our reptile sampling squares for the previous few mornings has to be a fair old age to have got quite this large:

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I would like to finish today with a few photos from the trail cameras over the last little while. Here are the Grey Partridge again, still loving the seed that we are putting down on the Turtle Dove strip:

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A nice photo of a Fox cub:

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And the heart-warming sight of all five badgers contentedly munching peanuts in harmony. They stayed there for ages, all getting along together nicely:

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Round Up for the Week

The badgers continue to be enthusiastic consumers of the nightly peanuts, often visiting as a family group other than the male, who continues to live apart from them:

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The foxes, too, visit in groups:

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We also have a family of Magpies with some just-fledged young asking to be fed:

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I don’t know whether it is just here, but we do seem to be having a very poor butterfly year. Very low Common Blue numbers compared to previous years and have just seen the one Small Blue Butterfly even though early June is meant to be their peak flight season.

However, we have been seeing and enjoying some wacky caterpillars:

Yellow Tail moth caterpillar
Yellow-Tailed Moth caterpillar
Burnet Moth caterpillar
Burnet Moth caterpillar

Those two caterpillars above are obviously going for the tactic of advertising ones toxicity rather than trying to sneak under the radar. However, the large number of Brimstone Butterfly caterpillars we have on our Alder Buckthorn trees go for the camouflage approach:

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Just going to finish with this shot of the Turtle Dove strip with Linnets and fox enjoying the seeds we have put down. I’m sure all Turtle Doves will have arrived in the country by now and so this project has not succeeded in its primary purpose, but many other species such as these Linnets will be benefitting from this additional food.

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