It seems to have been a slightly better year for butterflies and moths this year. I have seen more that I remember in previous years, or maybe I’m just able to be out in the sun at the right time. As well as male common blue butterflies I saw a female this week. Confusingly her colouring is much more multicoloured than the male, and I thought she was a different species until I looked her up.
For the last few weeks I have noticed small black and red moths perched at the top of the gully bank in the sunshine. Taking a closer look at this one the wings seemed quite transparent. I think they are six spot burnet moths.
A bit further down the bank on the heather bush I found this cocoon, so I think these are new moths just hatching and puffing up their wings (I’m sure there is a proper name for that process!). Apparently the caterpillars feed on birdsfoot trefoil, which I have fairly widespread over the holding, particularly where the grass is slightly shorter and the soil shallower.
I was pleased to get this photo of this chimney sweeper moth. They are always quite a number of them at this time of year in the grass, but they are easily disturbed and, being small and dark, slightly difficult to focus on. You can see how they come by their name – like flecks of burnt paper blowing about the grass! The tips of the wings are rimmed with white, but the rest of the insect is sooty black. The caterpillars feed on pignut flowers and seeds – so there is certainly plenty of that for them!
This caterpillar I was also very happy to see. Especially so when I looked it up. It is the caterpillar of the emporer moth. Which is a rather impressive moth with big eyespots on the wings. The moths are usually about in April, but I’ve only seen an adult once or twice previously. At least this caterpillar proves that there are still some adults about. The caterpillars feed on heather, bramble, hawthorne as well as several other trees so should have plenty of menu options here.
Finally a little show of some of the the other moths, butterflies and caterpillars recently seen, that I’ve been able to photograph and tentatively identify. None are particularly rare, but each is a bit of magic.
I’ve not done much around the holding this week because Douglas, our dog, is recuperating from an operation. This means I am spending much of my time in the house keeping him company, since he mustn’t do any running or jumping at present. Hopefully he will make a good recovery, but at the moment has some healing to do.
I have been taking our other dog, Dyson, out for intensive runs in the tree field to make up. The summer orchids are starting again to show their impressive flowerheads, and I am marking the ones near or on the trackways with sticks, to try and avoid them being trodden on or mown. However, this post I wanted to highlight some of the little, less showy wild flowers that tend to get forgotten about. Individually the flowers may be small, but often they flower prolifically and make the trackways look like a medieval garden lawn. Not all of these photos were taken this week.
The obvious one is the pignut, but that almost qualifies as a large flower, albeit made up of tiny ones, but I have posted about it before. Another that gives most of the field a golden brightness is the buttercup. I have both creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens), and meadow buttercup (Ranunculus acris), in the tree field.
I may have the third UK buttercup, globe buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus), since it does grow on Skye, but I have not identified it here yet. When the sun catches the buttercup flowers they are a delight, even if the creeping buttercup is probably my most annoying weed in the areas I am trying to grow things. Mostly because its leaves come away from the roots, which will then regrow. The fact it can spread about 4 feet a year is also a nuisance for a rather laid back gardener like me.
I would include white clover (Trifolium repens), in the small flowers category. The pink clovers quite often have such flamboyant flowers that they stand out alone. White clover tends to be a bit smaller and lower lying, although forms large swathes of blooms on the trackways. It is a food source for the common blue butterfly as well as a nitrogen fixing plant.
Selfheal (Prunella vulgaris) is rather like a tiny purple deadnettle. Sometimes you can see the bright purple of the flowers, and sometimes just the magenta flowerheads. I found one on the mound that had white flowers, but have not seen it since the first year of sheep eviction.
One of my favourite flowers, speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys), is definitely a small flower. I love the colour, an enhancement of the sky above (if not clouded!). Every now and then I come across a good clump of it and it brightens my day. It is a food source for heath fritillary butterflies. Although the flowers are tiny, the colour is so vibrant it is difficult to miss. They also change colour from pink to blue, as they age, which I find fascinating.
When looked at in detail the flowers of eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis agg) are just a beautiful as any orchid. Pale pink snapdragon flowers have a yellow landing strip for insects but are only a few millimeters across. They also only open one or two at a time on the flowerheads. Unfortunately being so small they are easily overlooked, like those of mouse ear (Cerastium fontanum).
One of the things I like about writing up my ‘blogs is that I almost always learn something by researching what I wanted to write about. For example another plant disliked by gardeners is cinquefoil. It was quite a nuisance weed for us on the allotment in Solihull, but didn’t seem to be such a pest for me here. The reason being the Potentilla we have here is tormentil: Potentilla erecta, as opposed to cinquefoil which is Potentilla reptans. Tormentil flowers usually have four petals (rather than five for cinquefoil) and the leaves are usually stalkless unlike cinquefoils leaves. There is quite a bit of this growing in the tree field. It is actually out-competing the grass in some of the areas where the soil is thinner.
Lastly for now I will mention thyme (Thymus polytrichus). A bit like heather it is ubiquitous in the highlands and I am always breaking out into ‘wild mountain thyme’ when the sun shines! Here it grows across the rocks and scree, and I am hoping it will take on my drivebank wall with some encouragement. It makes a great cushion of purple and often is found on the banks of the burn together with heath bedstraw, a tiny cousin of cleavers that forms a cushion of white.
Over the last few years we have noticed more and more caterpillars on the trees. It wasn’t something I considered very much when we started planting them. I was thinking about the trees, growing and producing firewood and fruit, maybe doing crafty things with twigs and fibre and exciting things with tree sap. It seems daft, but I hadn’t really considered the new habitat we are creating, albeit slowly. The insects eat the trees and other things – birds and mammals – eat the insects. As well as learning more flowers and plant species I am therefore learning more insects as well. It is a little frustrating, since there is lots of information about butterflies, slightly less easily available about moths, but rather less about their larva. I spotted a new one today with a fiery bum. I think it’s a pebble prominent moth caterpillar. There were a few feeding on one of the aspen trees, which would fit. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed the moths.
We’re getting lots of looper caterpillars on the alders as well at the moment – possibly magpie moths, which are very common here. When they’re undisturbed they feed in a continuous stream of caterpillars, but when they sense danger they all rear up and pretend, rather unconvincingly to be twigs. When they are larger, and single I guess it works better, but I think they’re very cute. Funnily enough we haven’t seen many sawfly larvae on the gooseberries this year.
I’m also getting lots of caterpillars in the polytunnel. Generally they are bright green ones eating the brassica, which I don’t mind much at this time of year (although I know it’s dangerous to encourage these things or you end up with a plague). However I did find a few that had wandered onto my little apricot tree (which is still doing quite well) and were munching away, so I’m afraid they got relocated outside!
I spotted one chrysalis on a seed tray outside which I’ve left be, and I find them all the time if digging in the polytunnel.
Then there are the more glamorous adults. These are two new ones for me this year: a dark green fritillary and a common blue. Neither is particularly rare, just I’ve never seen them in Glendale before.