Agapanthus in August

It’s August and the agapanthus has once more burst into flower at the entrance to the meadows:

But this was the the sight that would have met you in August last year. How different every year can be:

Photo from 2022. Agapanthus is a native of southern Africa and is well adapted to water shortage

New to the meadows this year is the butterfly bank, created back in February from chalky soil dug out for the foundations of our new garage:

Photo from February

Native seed was sown onto it and our latest habitat feature is looking pretty good at the moment. We often stop to admire it and can already see holes drilled into its slopes by invertebrates.

A very cheering sight
Cornflowers, corncockle, corn chamomile and corn marigolds – I spot a bit of a theme

This floral buffet on the bank is the only place in the meadows where these agricultural weed annuals are growing and the butterflies are loving it:

Female large white on wild mustard
Gatekeeper on corn marigold
Male common blue

Although we normally see brown argus butterflies here in May, we are yet to see one this year. So I was excited to see this butterfly on a cornflower, looking for all the world like a brown argus at long last:

However, after looking at a photo of her underwings, she turns out to be the brown form of a female common blue instead:

A female common blue. So the brown argus remains elusive for us this year

We really want to get on with cutting two large areas of wild parsnip before there is any chance of them seeding, but we have been beset with tractor problems.

The tractor has stalled once more whilst surrounded by a sea of wild parsnip

A mechanic has come out to look at it and diagnosed a blockage in the fuel line and the tractor has now gone back to the workshop with its tail between its wheels to have its pipes flushed through with hot water.

Apparently bioethanol is now routinely added to diesel fuel as a climate protection measure. The problem with this is that it encourages the growth of microbial colonies within the engine which can cause clogging

Once the tractor returns, we will then finally be able to complete the parsnip job.

As the tractor was being tested out in the meadows to try to reproduce the fault, an enormous cricket was displaced from the long grasses. When I say enormous – it was all of 7cm long. How can something as large as that be living in the very meadows that we observe so closely and yet we didn’t know?

It is the great green bush cricket, this one missing a back leg:

These crickets are carnivorous, eating flies, caterpillars and other larvae and, although they can fly, they prefer to jump around.

The ovipositor at the end of the abdomen tells us that this is a female:

The bumblebees of the meadows have probably been quite sodden for most of the week. This red-tailed bumblebee was soaked and sluggish one morning after a wet night:

That burnt umber of her tail is such an intense hue against her black fur, but I now notice that she has flashes of that same colour around her feet. How beautifully coordinated she is.

This is another beautiful insect although its name is less so. It’s the flesh fly, unusual in the fact that its eggs hatch within the body of the female fly and she then lays live larvae into manure or flesh.

These mating predatory flies are probably kite-tailed robberflies, although there are several similar species:

A chunky hoverfly, Myathropa florea:

I only got a fleeting glimpse of this parasitic wasp, but what a long ovipositor she has. Its one and a half times the length of her body:

This is a very sweet little thing, its a nymph of the green shield bug:

Green shield bug 3rd instar nymph

Spotting and identifying invertebrates and learning how they fit into the ecosystem is one of my favourite things to do these days – I think I should have been an entomologist rather than an accountant.

As we approach late summer, goldfinch start gathering in small flocks in the meadows to feed off the thistle, knapweed and wild carrot seed heads:

If you look carefully at this next photo and you can see that the crow has exposed its preen gland which produces oil. The bird rubs this gland with its beak and head and then preens its feathers, transferring the oil over them and making them waterproof.

Another unusual view of a crow:

One afternoon we heard a hullabaloo and looked up to see a magnificent buzzard flying low over the meadows:

Unfortunately squadrons of crows and herring gulls had launched to chase it out of their airspace. We despair of ever properly getting to see birds of prey here.

Crows and herring gulls buzzing the buzzard which is at the bottom of the picture

A tawny owl visits the meadows again this week:

The wood gets a bit wild and overgrown at this time of year and it is impossible to drive a car in without its sides rubbing against trees and brambles and its tummy being tickled by plants growing high in the middle of the track. Sadly no car of ours ever remains pristine for long. One day I was relocking the gate on leaving the wood when I spotted a beetle that had been transferred onto the side of the car from the trees:

What an amazing beetle

It’s a black-clouded long horn beetle. I had seen these in my insects books and had hoped to spot one some day because they are fairly common.

Those ridiculous antennae must make moving around quite difficult

The pond we dug in the wood last winter is settling in and proving very popular. The water doesn’t look very appealing though:

This hasn’t deterred pond skaters from flying in and taking up residence, utilising surface tension so that the water becomes a floor. The pond is now their amphitheatre in which they await hapless invertebrates to make a fatal error and fall in. As the drowning invertebrate struggles, the pond skater senses the vibrations through its feet and quickly moves in to take advantage of its plight.

One pond skater has bagged itself a fly, as another looks on in case there is an opportunity to steal the prize

An area we coppiced two winters ago has now got such dense ground cover that it is difficult to walk around. There is a patch of two metre high thistles there and, one sunny afternoon as we fought our way in, these were being monopolised by a group of large bumblebees. I generally find bumblebees difficult to identify, but I could tell that these were different to the bumblebees that we see working hard collecting pollen in the meadows:

Very large bees with darkened wings and boxy-shaped heads

They also had long white tails:

These are cuckoo bees, possibly the southern cuckoo bee, Bombus vestalis. Cuckoo bees are parasitic on other bees and the female cuckoo will enter the nest of its host and sting the queen to death. It then lays its own eggs in the nest and the resulting larvae will be nurtured by the host worker bees. Because of their lifestyle, there are only male and female cuckoo bees and there is no need for queens and workers. Six of the UK’s twenty-four species of bumblebee are cuckoos, each often mimicking the appearance of their host bee species – it’s all very interesting and I am now on the look out for some of the other species.

Fox cubs at a pond
A tawny owl takes a night-time bath

I finish today with another photo looking out over the meadows this morning. The grasses have grown very tall this year and in another three or four weeks we will be thinking about getting this cut and taken off the land, although as always we will leave about a third of it uncut on a rotational basis.

It’s going to be an especially big job this year and that tractor will need to be in tiptop working order by then. It is essential to get these meadows cut once a year to keep them as grassland and continue to remove nutrients from the soil to favour flowering plants rather than grass. But this is always at a cost to the wildlife in the short term and I hope that by then the great green bush crickets and all the other invertebrates currently making merry amongst the tall waving grasses will have finished their life cycles and be safely tucked away for the winter.

One thought on “Agapanthus in August

  1. Congratulations on your butterfly bank, a great initiative that’s evidently paying dividends already. And that Great Green Bush Cricket is a stunner. Wow!

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