Wednesday 31 August 2016

Dragonfly Days ~ Southern Hawker

Butterfly numbers are said to be down, but it seems to me that this has not been a brilliant summer for Dragonflies or Damselflies either. We were delighted to see our first Southern Hawker on Dunwich Heath last week. 

The close-up below shows the characteristic yellow triangle at S2.

Friday 19 August 2016

A Walled Garden of Wildflowers at NT Ickworth

Hoverfly on an umbellifer

NT Ickworth, here in Suffolk, has a walled garden, currently boasting a superb display of Dahlias around the edge. However, it is the huge expanse in the centre that catches the eye for it has largely been given over to a mass planting (by Urban Forestry) of wildflower seeds. These were sown in April.

This post comprises a scattering of the photos I took when I was there last weekend. The wildflower petals were beginning to fade and seedheads were becoming prominent. There was still plenty of pollen about for the insects ...

The seed mix, which has apparently been on sale at Ickworth, includes Cornflower (a particular favourite of mine), Poppy, Borage (a hit with the bees), Golden Tickseed, Red Flax, Corn Marigold and other species.

My understanding is that the 2015 and 2016 seasons of wild flowers will give way to other kinds of planting once the flowers have helped to prepare the soil. But for now it is a walled paradise, and in a summer that has not seen many insects, a veritable haven for bees and hoverflies.

Bee on Golden Tickseed

I love the complementary blues and golds ...

The view from the bench

Another pollinator at work ...

... and another Hoverfly

Looking up to the 200+ year old wall and the church beyond

... and looking across to the far side of the garden


Umbellifer (which one?)

More Poppies (see the 'pepperpot' seedpod)

This reminds me (in a small scale way) of the swathes of Sunflower fields on the road to Edirne from Istanbul!

More Cornflowers ... and 'pepperpots'!

The Royal Horticultural Society offers advice on its website - here - for those who may be considering a wildflower meadow (or patch) of their own. The RSPB site also has suggestions.

My homepatch is a suburban garden so it will not be sowing a meadow, but I plan to plant a wildflower seed mix next spring in our 'wild corner' of grass and nettles, in the hope that it may add colour and help to give wildlife a home.

NT Ickworth, Horringer, Bury St Edmunds

Wednesday 10 August 2016

(What seems to be a) Red Underwing Moth at NT Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk

A flint-faced wall provides the perfect camouflage

We were having a picnic lunch last Saturday by the church wall in the Oxburgh Hall car park when we noticed this fine but camouflaged creature. It was large and although it remained pretty still, we observed some small movements.

I looked and looked at moth pictures on my return home without much success. Eventually my eyes alighted on a photograph of a Red Underwing, and I felt fairly confident that this was the species in question.

Sadly we never saw even the tiniest flash of red which is there to warn predators, but the outer markings alone seem to make this a likely ID when considered alongside the identification offered on the iSpot site.

Just look at those stripes on the legs! But what a shame we failed to see a parting of the wings.

Apparently this species frequently rests on walls. It is just one of the 300 varieties of Noctuid Moths, the largest family of macro-moths here in Great Britain. We noticed the moth near the trees in the background of the photo below. The churchyard of the 14th century church of St John the Evangelist lies beyond.

Oxburgh Hall lies in the Breckland village of Oxborough. You can read about it here.

NT Oxburgh Hall

Postscript: on the subject of moths, I found this extraordinary article about camouflage, genes and pigment adaptation to surroundings. Do take a look!

Tuesday 9 August 2016

Butterflies at NT Oxburgh Hall

The Big Butterfly Count finished on 7 August, although records can still be submitted until the end of the month. We did a count on 6 August at NT Oxburgh Hall, and you can see the results in the chart below.

We were particularly thrilled to see the Painted Ladies drawing nectar from the Heliotrope in the parterre garden.

NT Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk - parterre garden

This is our list, but, of course, we continued to see other butterflies (which were not counted) after the allocated 15 minutes. The photos below the chart show a mix of the counted butterflies and the ones that escaped the survey.

Painted lady

NT Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk

Brimstone in the flower border

Plants on which to feast the eye

A Comma in the wood

These magnificent Large White larvae were feasting on the Nasturtiums

Peacock on the Buddleia

Gatekeeper, to match the wall

We also saw a large moth, which I shall try to identify before posting its photo. Watch this space. I have posted it on iSpot, but think I have now worked out what it is ...

Monday 8 August 2016

Tree Following for July and Early August 2016

 Welcome to my Tree Following post for July and early August 2016. 

These tree posts form part of a wider project initiated by Lucy Corrander from the Loose and Leafy blog and continued by Pat at The Squirrelbasket. 

I am based in Suffolk, UK, where I have been keeping an eye on a Silver birch, B. pendula. I have added in a small Cherry sapling,
Prunus avium Sylvia, for my second tree.

You will find the other Tree Follower links by clicking through to the Mr Linky button here ... so do take the chance to have a look at the new posts!

Every so often something inspires me to write a short diary post about my trees, so here is one about the Silver Birch ...

Diary for 21 July 2016
Time: 12.46 (afternoon)
Conditions: warm, dry and cloudy

I looked out and saw the mother Magpie with her single offspring. They made their way together to the base of the feeder on the Silver Birch and began pecking around beneath it, giving out the occasional squeaky call. Suddenly a Jay flew in, and landed on the coconut and proceeded to feed. After a few moments, perhaps disturbed by the Magpies, the bird flew off over our fence towards a large oak tree that borders the local nature reserve. I was about to return to my desk when I realised that the Jay had now been joined by a mate (or adolescent offspring), and the two birds disappeared together.

If we have Jays and Magpies rearing young in our neck of the woods, it can hardly bode well for the smaller garden birds, and yet the population of Blue tits and Great tits, in particular, seems healthy at the moment ...


This post is largely for an odd numbered month (July), so I will only post the sightings seen since the last round-up. My next Tree Following post (August and early September) will include the complete list.

Highlights this month have included the appearance of two new butterflies for my garden record, the Gatekeeper and the Holly Blue. The Gatekeeper made a beeline for the patch of garden around the Cherry Tree. The Holly Blue was spotted in the same patch - but, not surprisingly - on a Holly. I do not expect that my chosen trees had anything to do with its arrival in the garden, but I include this butterfly because it touched down within a metre of the Cherry.

We experienced a 'flying ant day' - pictures here.


Holly Blue
The season is turning fast. Daylight gives way to dusk at about 8.30pm. The first leaves on the Silver Birch are turning yellow. The seedhead catkins are a rich brown.

First of the turning leaves, Silver Birch, August 2016

Silver Birch (and part of the bird feeder)

Silver Birch seeds caught in spider's web on a post

Silver Birch - seed cases, August 2016

Cherry tree, 5 August 2016
Cherry tree, holed leaf, 5 August 2016

The patch around the Cherry has been weeded, and the little tree has had a growth spurt. I suspect a Leafcutter bee is taking rounded chunks out of its leaves. I rather fear that wasp season is about to begin, and last year we had a few hornets, too ...

Avian sightings

  • TFb1   Great Spotted Woodpecker (a male)
  • TFb2   Great tit (several, often on feeder) 
  • TFb3   Long-tailed Tit (large family, including juveniles)
  • TFb4   Blackbird (several)  
  • TFb6   Blue tit (several frequently on feeder, including juveniles)
  • TFb7   Robin (the feisty Robin has put in frequent appearances)
  • TFb8   Magpie (several)
  • TFb9   Wood Pigeon (up to ten perching around the feeder area)
  • TFb10 Dunnock (two)  
  • TFb14 Jay (two)
  • TFb21 Chaffinch (one, 5 August 2016)
  • TFb23 Collared Dove (a pair, one pecking directly underneath the Silver Birch)

Mammal sighting
  • TFm4 Grey Squirrel  [Jan/Feb 2016] [Feb/Mar 2016] [Mar/Apr 2016] [Jul/Aug 2016]
 No new mammals this month.

Insect sightings
  • TFi7   Large White Butterfly [July 2014] [Jul/Aug 2016]
  • TFi15 Marmalade Hoverfly [July 2014] [Jul/Aug 2015] [Jul/Aug 2016]
  • TFi22 Green bottle flies [August 2014] [May/June 2015] [Jul/Aug 2016]
  • TFi23 Ants [August 2014] [Apr/May 2015]  [May/June 2015] [Jul/Aug 2015] [Sept/Oct 2015 Acer negundo] [Jun/July 2016] [Jul/Aug 2016]
  • TFi28 Unidentified Moth [Nov/Dec 2014] [Feb/Mar 2015] [Jul/Aug 2015] [Sept/Oct 2015]
    [Jan/Feb 2016] [June/July 2016] [Jul/Aug 2016]
  • TFi39  Gatekeeper Butterfly *New* [Jul/Aug 2016]
  • TFi40  Holly Blue Butterfly *New* [Jul/Aug 2016]

And finally ...


Friday 5 August 2016

Ladybird with a black blotch

I am always on the look-out for unusual Ladybirds! And in my neck of the woods I have seen very few Ladybirds of any kind in recent days.

The one in these photos was making the most of the aphids on the Nasturtium leaves at the RSPB Flatford Wildlife Garden last weekend.

It looks large in the photos, but it was 7-spot-sized rather than Harlequin. The large black blotch on the elytra intrigued me. I was informed by the UK Ladybird Survey that a previous Ladybird with unusual markings was indeed a 7-spot, but that the insect in question had probably suffered from frost damage or had received its markings on account of a genetic mutation. The black blotch on this Flatford Ladybird shows up particularly well in the last photo, as the insect scuttles into the Nasturtium plant.

STOP PRESS: on the subject of collecting insect data (as opposed to the current craze for imaginary figures ...), take a look at this thought-provoking post from the Centre for Hydrology and Ecology.

Thursday 4 August 2016

Brown Hawker Dragonfly - Flatford Mill

We saw reasonable numbers of butterflies in the RSPB Wildlife Garden at Flatford when we were doing the Big Butterfly Count, but we were both feeling that dragonflies and damselflies were hard to find when this huge Brown Hawker caught our eye. It is a female, and those bronze wings look stunning when the sun catches them. The male of the species has additional blue markings.

Flatford Mill, Constable's inspiration for The Haywain

Incidentally, if you live within range of the Suffolk coast, you might be interested in one of the Poetry in Aldeburgh events (Saturday 5 November, 10-12 noon), a Poetry and Drawing Workshop. This session will take Constable's landscapes as a starting point (alongside poetry). The leaders hope to include drawing from observation and from the imagination.

Monday 1 August 2016

Two More Big Butterfly Counts - still time to take part!

Red Admiral (and bee!) - a highlight of the 30 July count

We have done two more Big Butterfly Counts since my last butterfly post. The count continues until 7 August, and sightings can be logged on the site until the end of the month, so do see if you can join in.

Whites were showing in reasonable numbers (the count lasts for 15 minutes) on both occasions; but as you can see, we failed to see either of the specified day-flying moths. Other notable omissions are the Small Tortoiseshell and the Painted Lady. 

The Red Admiral in the photo was nectaring in the glorious grounds of Beth Chatto Gardens.