Archive for October, 2013

October 31, 2013

Ivy flowers attract wildlife

31 October 2013

I’ve extolled the virtues of ivy as a wildlife plant elsewhere in this blog, and it was good to see a confirmation of it’s value the other day. Despite the gales and rain of the night of 27/28 October, the next day the sun shone, and up the top of the garden, on ivy flowers in the sunshine, I was amazed to see six Red Admirals.

Two Red Admirals on ivy flowers

Red Admirals on ivy flowers

I could only get two at any one time in the photo, but here’s a close-up of one of them – isn’t he gorgeous!

Red Admiral on ivy flower.

Red Admiral on ivy flower.

There were also numerous flies and what I think were small wasps (difficult to tell, as they were constantly on the move) enjoying the nectar. Once the flowers finish, the berries will develop, turning black when ripe, and attracting various birds to eat them: I’ve particularly noticed blackbirds and pigeons eating them. Yet another reason for leaving the garden be now – better to clip the ivy back where necessary after the berries have gone, than deprive wildlife of a good source of food.

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October 27, 2013

Dragonfly larvae

27 October 2013

I’ve been surprised and pleased by the number of dragonfly larvae I’m finding in the pond this year. It has been necessary  to net the blanket weed in the pond every day or two while the weather has been sunny: its growth is increased by sunlight. If you haven’t ever met blanket weed, it’s made up of hundreds of green, slimy filaments that form in the water and rapidly turn you nice clear pondwater into pea soup, although with less flavour (I presume – I’ve never tasted it!) Sometimes I pull it out by hand, and another way is to twine it round a stick or something similar, but I’ve been using the net to remove things like dead leaves at the same time, and it’s probably because I am using the net that I’m really noticing the dragonfly nymphs, as they wriggle around in the green slime.

To share them with you, I caught some and put them in an old washing up bowl. They don’t like not having places to hide, so I only kept them as long as it took to take the photos.

Seven dragonfly larva plus five backswimmers

Seven dragonfly larva plus five backswimmers

Together with the larva in the photo above are some backswimmers (also called water boatmen) – acquatic insects who have mastered the nifty art of swimming upside down; they are voracious predators, and carnivorous. I actually caught a couple of them apparently attacking the dragonfy larva, so I soon got them back into the pond.

Large and small dragonfly larvae

Large and small dragonfly larvae

The two very differently sized larvae in the photo above may be different species, but I suspect they are the same species at different stages of growth. Dragonflies, like butterflies, do all their growing in the larval stage, and the adults emerge fully grown. I think they are Southern Hawkers, as we have seen the females laying in the pond, and have sometimes seen the emergence of the adults (magic!). The large one will emerge next year, but the smaller one may be with us for another year or even two before it is fully grown and comes out of the water.

Two different species of dragonfly larvae

Two different species of dragonfly larvae

These two, however, are definitely different species, and I suspect the large one is again a Southern Hawker, while the smaller, wider one is a Broad-bodied Chaser. The differences will be echoed in the adult dragonfly: the Broad-bodied Chaser is just that: broad in the body but not so long, with a blue male, and an olive brown female. The Southern Hawker is a very long, sleek dragonfly, with the male being turquoise blue and the female green; it is a female in my husband’s hands below – she seemed to be stuck in among the reeds, so he waded in to get her out and she obligingly stopped to have her picture take.

Female Southern Hawker

Female Southern Hawker

Dorset is an important county for dragonflies, with 28 out of the 39 British species breeding. One of the biggest threats to dragonflies is the lack of (still) water for the larvae to live in, so if you can have a pond in your garden, please do: they are amazing creatures. If you want to know more, see the Dorset Dragonfly Group website.

October 22, 2013

October Butterflies – 2

22 October 2013

Well, the weather seems to have turned. It’s still very mild, but a lot of rain and fairly windy, so the only butterfly around now is a Red Admiral, who appears when I disturb him as I walk round the garden. So let’s go back and look at some more of the species I saw on 5th and 6th of this month to brighten us up.

Small Tortoiseshell on Aster Frikartii 'Monch', with Comma in the background.

Small Tortoiseshell on Aster Frikartii ‘Monch’, with Comma in the background.

I’ve now got five clumps of this aster round the garden – it’s one of my favourite plants, and the butterflies and other insects seem to like it too.

Meadow Brown on Aster Frikartii 'Monch'.

Meadow Brown on Aster Frikartii ‘Monch’.

It’s unusual to see a Meadow Brown as late as October, and this one has obviously been out for a while, given the tattered state of his hindwing.

Comma on Rudbekia 'Goldsturm'.

Comma on Rudbekia ‘Goldsturm’.

I like this shot – if you see a Comma with its wings closed like this, usually all you see is a very dark background with the while “comma”; here, the sun is shining through the wings, so you can pick up more of the colouring, and it did pose itself beautifully on the rudbekia.

Red Admirals on pink Michaelmas Daisy

Red Admirals on pink Michaelmas Daisy


This shot shows four Red Admirals – in fact, there were ten, but it wasn’t possible to get them all in the same shot. It was interesting that they seemed to stay faithful to this bright pink Michaelmas Daisy, even when it got quite shady, although there were other butterflies on other plants elsewhere in the garden. I suppose they had found a good nectar source and were happy to stick with it, rather than waste energy flying around in search of alternative supplies. They all looked to be in quite good condition, so it is possible they were on a reverse migration: that is, they had been born here, but with winter approaching, were heading south – how sensible!

October 10, 2013

Butterflies starting to hibernate

10 October 2013

I know I said I’d share more photos of the butterflies I saw in early October in the next post, but I must just show you this – it amused me.

First the close up:

Peacock butterfly wings closed

Peacock butterfly

Now, where it was:

Peacock outside back door

Peacock outside back door

I’ve got a theory that he knew this was a butterfly-friendly household and was waiting to come in to spend the winter in comfort!

That’s only a joke – the house would not be a good place for it to spend the winter, it would be far too warm. The majority of butterflies in the UK spend the winter as eggs, caterpillars or pupae, but a few go through as adults, including the Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Comma, Brimstone and Red Admiral. If you find a butterfly in your house during the winter, there is some good advice on what to do with it here.

It’s not the only Peacock looking to hibernate I’ve found this week, either. I was potting up some plants in the greenhouse recently, and got a stack of empty pots from my outside store. I took one of the (black) pots and poured a handful of potting compost into it; as I did so, my brain went “hang on a minute, that looked butterfly shaped”, and sure enough, when I tipped the earth back out, a somewhat disgruntled butterfly was revealed. It seemed unharmed, so I put it in a  sheltered spot; hopefully, in the next sunny spell it flew off and found a new hibernation site.

Moral – when you are working in the garden at this time of year, keep a good look out for butterflies and moths tucked in odd places. It’s a good idea to watch out for them on the caterpillar and chrysalis stage, too…

October 7, 2013

October butterflies

7 October 2013

What a wonderful spell of mild weather we are having. It’s not only we humans that appreciate it, either, the wildlife also responds, getting in a late rush of feeding and even egg-laying in the case of the Southern Hawker Dragonfly. It shows very clearly how important it is to provide some flowers for late nectar in your garden – I’ll do a post soon giving you a list of suggestions, but for now I’m going to spend a couple of blogs sharing what I’ve been seeing: knowing it is soon going to be gone makes it feel so precious.

The butterfly I was most excited to see was a Small Copper: I don’t see many of them here, and they are such attractive little insects. If I get them in the garden it usually seems to be late in the year, so I’m guessing that earlier in the year there are alternative nectar sources for them. They go through several broods in one year: i.e. an adult emerges, lays eggs which hatch into caterpillars and then turn into pupae, which again hatch into butterflies, and the whole cycle repeats; a lot of butterflies only go through the cycle once a year, but the Small Copper has one brood in May, another in July/August and, when the weather is good, a third in late September/early October. You rarely see many at one time.

Small Copper on yellow Evening Primrose flower.

Small Copper on Evening Primrose flower.

This is a shot of the Small Copper by itself, but it doesn’t give you a very good sense of how small the butterfly is, especially if you judge against the size of the evening primrose flower, because this one is smaller than usual, being one that has come out very late after I’ve chopped the main stem down. The photo below shows both a Small Copper and a Red Admiral, so you can get a better idea of size.

Small Copper (left) and Red Admiral on Aster Frikartii 'Monch'.

Small Copper (left) and Red Admiral on Aster Frikartii ‘Monch’.

The Speckled Wood is another multi-brooded butterfly, appearing in April/early May, June and August/September. It likes shadier places, unlike most butterflies, and can often be found on the edge of deciduous woodland.

Speckled Wood on Rudbekia 'Goldsturm'

Speckled Wood on Rudbekia ‘Goldsturm’

I’ll share some more pics from the last two days in the next post, but just to show it wasn’t just butterflies which were being tempted by the combination of sun and available nectar, here’s a bee shot.

Buff-tail bee on Michaelmas Daisy 'Little Carlow'.

Buff-tail bee on Michaelmas Daisy ‘Little Carlow’.

Finally, for anyone wondering what the caterpillar in the last blog was (like Sarah), I think it was a Knot Grass. To see what the adult moth will be like, have a look at its entry on the Dorset Moth Group website.

October 2, 2013

Mystery Caterpillar

2 October 2013

The weather is not too wonderful at the moment – still mild, but cloudy with some rain. Only the odd butterfly about, too – one White and three Red Admirals today: the latter may be heading south across the channel in a reverse migration, and I can’t say I blame them.

However, it’s given me a bit more computer time, so I’ve at last got the page about the life here that isn’t so wild finished and published – if you look at the top of the screen you will see a tab you can click to open it.

I have had an interesting caterpillar in the garden, so I’ll leave you with a photo of it, and hopefully by the next time I write something on the blog, I’ll have found out what it is!

Mystery caterpillar - brown, with orange and white markings, and quite furry

Mystery caterpillar