Archive for March, 2014

March 26, 2014

Watch out for caterpillars, even in March

26 March 2014

It feels rather early in the year to be seeing caterpillars, but if you think about it, they’ve got to be around soon, as the birds will be having their young, who will need food, and caterpillars are a moist morsel full of goodness for a young bird. I was picking some narcissi a couple of days ago, when I realised there was a bright green caterpillar on one of the leaves.

Bright Green Caterpillar

Bright Green Caterpillar

I’m fairly sure this is the caterpillar of the Angle Shades Moth, a very pretty moth which is quite common, so you might well see it or its caterpillar. Unfortunately, some people regard the caterpillars as a pest in the garden and kill them: I think this is because they not only eat the leaves but also the flower buds. Unless they get to plague proportions in your garden, though, the amount of damage won’t be huge, and they need to eat, too.

This is how the adult moth looks:

Angle Shades Moth on a leaf

Angle Shades Moth

Isn’t it pretty – what a gorgeous, subtle combination of colours. Very good camouflage for the moth, too.

Moths are pretty impressive close-up:

Close-up of Angle Shades Moth

Close-up of Angle Shades Moth

With eyes that size, it’s no wonder they can see you coming and get away quickly. And look at that crest – looks like something on the helmet of a Roman gladiator.

So – keep an eye open for caterpillars and don’t kill them. Not only are many moth species struggling to survive, but they form a major part of a young bird’s diet. Blue Tits, for example, will have 8-12 eggs, and each chick will eat 100 caterpillars per day (wonder who counted that?). What incredible senses the adults must have to find all that food – and I feel pleased with myself when I see one!







March 10, 2014

Early nectar plant for butterflies – Honesty ‘Corfu Blue’

10 March 2013

I know the year is getting underway – I’m sitting here with the sound of my printer churning out this year’s edition of “Counting Dorset’s Butterflies” behind me. The Dorset Branch of Butterfly Conservation encourages butterfly recording by offering people a range of schemes for counting, varying from very formal methods such as transect walks to just noting butterflies in your garden. I have produced a booklet explaining them all, which I update every year – it’s available via our website if you are interested.

There are many signs of the year progressing outside, too. Several days of reasonable weather have enabled us to get out in the garden to admire the butterflies also tempted out by the early sunshine. It is important that these early risers can find something to eat, so having plants for early nectar in your garden is important. I’ve previously found honesty difficult to keep in this garden: it is supposed to self-seed, but that doesn’t seem to work here. However, there is a new variety on the market that is at least semi-perennial (despite its name): lunaria annua ‘Corfu Blue’. As you can see from the photo below, taken yesterday, it is in full flower now, and being appreciated by the Small Tortoiseshells.

Small Tortoiseshell on honesty 'Corfu Blue'

Small Tortoiseshell on honesty ‘Corfu Blue’

You can also see it is more lilac coloured than blue – why do plant breeders try to insist so many flowers are blue when they are not?

There is a truly perennial honesty called lunaria redeviva, which I’ve also got, but that’s not in flower yet.

The sunshine was making a couple of the Small Tortoiseshells feel a bit frisky: the one behind the other in the photo was definitely very interested in the one in front, and I’m assuming that’s a male interested in a female, but I could be wrong. They got a bit fed up with my camera pointing at them, and whirled off together.

Two Small Tortoiseshells together

Two Small Tortoiseshells together

There’s definitely a lot of newt activity in the pond, too: maximum count so far is 13, but there will always be some we can’t spot – when disturbed, they dive into the loose earth at the bottom of the pond so you can’t see them. Photo of two of them below.

Two common newts in the pond

Two common newts in the pond

What a wonderful time of year!