Summer’s End

I have to keep reminding myself that it is still August. The weather has been dull and grey with a chilly north-easterly for much of the week. We even felt the need to turn the heating on one evening although in my head was my father’s voice telling me to just go and put another jumper on.

Not having known much about them until the last few years, the insects of the meadows often amaze us. How about these two beasties, standing side-by-side on an Alder Buckthorn leaf and looking like Pixar cartoon characters?

They are an early instar and a late instar nymph of the Box Bug. This bug was first found in the UK at Box Hill in Surrey feeding on box plants but it has rapidly spread its distribution up as far as Yorkshire in the last decade by shifting to several other food plants, including the Buckthorn that I found them on.

I think that this must also be a Box Bug nymph in the wood because apparently they can turn red in the autumn:

And here is another very strange little animal. We actually rescued it from the conservatory but I couldn’t believe my eyes when I looked at it closely:

I don’t know if anyone remembers Gonzo from the Muppets, but it really reminded us of him:

This is probably an Acorn Weevil (Curculio glandium) although there are three species that look similar. These weevils live in Oak trees and the female uses that long snout to bore her way into acorns to lay her egg. Her larva then develops within the acorn.

Kite-tailed Robberflies are often seen here, sometimes carrying their hoverfly prey. I hadn’t noticed those really odd feet before though:

We are still in the happy position to stop and take note when we see a squirrel in the meadows. This is certainly the first one that we have seen this year, if not for longer and I suspect that the reason that we don’t see more might be fox related.

Badgers turn up and rearrange the bird feeding cages most nights and we chuckle to ourselves when we see the cages in such disarray in the mornings:

I am fairly certain that there are currently four Badgers living under the meadows

After the long and ultimately unsuccessful battle to try to save the Old Gentleman this summer, I find it heartening to see that all the other foxes are looking really healthy. The medicated honey sandwiches that I put out did cure the two vixens of mange and they are now better, with fur regrown.

From mid August, our front lawn becomes a no-go zone as hundreds of Autumn Ladies Tresses orchids pop their elegant heads up above ground:

Autumn Ladies Tresses with clockwise spirals..
..and one with an anti-clockwise spiral

These orchids grow in low Nitrogen, low Phosphorus calcareous grassland, including closely mown gardens by the coast. Although they can spread a bit by producing lateral buds from underground stems, they are mainly pollinated by visiting bumblebees and the resulting dust-like seeds are then dispersed by the wind. But there then needs to be a prolonged symbiotic association with mycorrhizal fungi. This means that, amazingly, the first leaf rosette doesn’t appear until eleven years after germination, with the first flowering stalk appearing two to five years after that! Knowing this, we can’t help but feel honoured that our lawn is somewhere that they like to be.

Last autumn there was an extraordinary movement of hundreds, if not thousands, of Lesser Redpoll, Siskin and Crossbill through the meadows. The bird ringers caught and ringed well over a hundred Lesser Redpoll and here is a lovely male from back then:

No one quite knew at the time whether these birds were arriving, departing or just moving around.

It now appears that the Redpolls, at least, were leaving the country because the bird ringer has just been advised by the BTO of two ringed recoveries. A Lesser Redpoll that he ringed in the meadows on 12th October 2020, was recaught in Limburg in the east of Belgium ten days later on 22nd October. Another Redpoll, ringed here on 30th September 2020, was subsequently recaptured in Luxembourg on 5th November. Ringing provides lots of information on size, age and health of the birds ringed. But it is always particularly satisfying when the bird is subsequently recaught in a different place and we can learn of its migration as well.

This Crow is moulting its neck feathers giving it a vulture-like appearance

In the wood, there is one area that has a large open glade rich in Marjoram which, at this time of year, is heart-warmingly filled with visiting insects. Silver-washed Fritillaries are big, woodland butterflies with a distinctive swooping flight and there are several feeding up in the Marjoram glade this year. The female is on the left below and the bright orange male is on the right with the dark lines on his forewings.

A Small Tortoiseshell was also on the Marjoram and this is the first time we have seen one in the wood. In fact we only ever see about one a year in the meadows as well so they are quite a spot in this part of the country. A beautiful butterfly with that blue margin to its wings:

It has definitely not been a hot, dry summer and birds of prey haven’t been drawn in to the water as they have in previous years. However, a Tawny Owl did visit the new pond on two successive nights this week.

The first night:

And the second night:

We hadn’t seen an Owl in the wood for many months so were really pleased to see one again. There has also been a Buzzard:

And a Sparrowhawk:

Also in the wood:

Juvenile Green Woodpecker
Rabbit on guard

As the country has started to return to normal this year, vintage aircraft are once again to be seen in the skies above the meadows as Spitfires take passengers on a trip of a lifetime along the white cliffs:

The dog can detect a 1940s Merlin engine from miles away and madly chases the planes up and down the length of the meadows, exhausting herself. This results in the need for a cool down in a pond and, inevitably, a dog that looks like this:

Although embarrassingly disreputable at times, she is very much part of the fabric of the meadows.

4 thoughts on “Summer’s End

  1. Fantastic update! I really enjoyed your post, and the way to tell the story and describe the insects, birds, flowers, etc. I thought the second bug looked like a beetle, but I don’t know my insects. I am always excited to see a fox. I am yet to see one in California. I love them because they were a common sight in my village in Uganda. The orchid was really exciting to read about, how fun!

    1. Thank you so much! I didn’t know that there are Foxes in Uganda but I know very little about African wildlife. Fingers crossed you will see one in California soon!

      1. Yes, Africa has quite a diversity of animals, birds, and insects. I will keep my eyes open. I think maybe N. California has a red fox, not sure.

  2. Very glad your fox visitors are looking so healthy. I am always reminded of Paddington Bear when you mention jam sandwiches, very similar to marmalade ones, 🙂

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