Posts tagged ‘Peacock’

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…

August 4, 2013

Left holding the caterpillars

4 August 2013

I said in the last blog article that I’d tell you about the further link in that blog to butterflies, and that the clue was in what Charlotte was holding. Charlotte, by the way, was naturalist Charlotte Uhlenboek, more usually know for her work on chimpanzees. What she was holding in the photo were Peacock caterpillars.

The people making that short bit of film wanted to show the life cycle of the butterfly, and managed to get hold of a web of Peacock caterpillars: these caterpillars are very gregarious, and when they are small, they spin a web of silk round the area of leaves where they are feeding, as protection against predators. As they get older, they go it alone, and the colony spreads out, no longer protected by the web; by this stage they have spines, so they have an alternative defence against predators. Charlotte duly did her bit to camera with the caterpillars on her hand, the filming finished and the crew departed – leaving me with the caterpillars.

They were still quite small at this point, so I didn’t feel able to just put them out on their food plant – stinging nettles – but kept them in a container and fed them. This became quite an onerous task as they grew: they eat a lot, and a corresponding amoung of “frass” (butterfly poo) comes out the other end, meaning a lot of clearing up. I did eventually let some go when they were a good size, but I kept some to see them go through the next stages.

Peacock caterpillars starting to pupate

Peacock caterpillars starting to pupate

The filming was on 16 June, and the photo above was taken on 25 June, as the ones in captivity started to pupate. You can see how the caterpillar attaches itself to something – in this case the lid of the container – by silken thread. They hang there for a while, then curl up, and the transition to pupa begins.  On the left you can see a fully formed pupa.

Peacock pupae and emerging adult butterflies

Peacock pupae and emerging adult butterflies

On 8 July, they started hatching out into adult butterflies, as you can see above. One of the butterflies is still clinging to its pupal case; when they first come out their wings are crumpled and it takes some time to pump them up into functioning wings. The darker pupa you can see at the back is probably one soon to hatch – as the time draws near, you can sometimes see the pattern of the wings within the case.

Adult Peacock on buddleia

Adult Peacock on buddleia

I never did get a decent photo of one of the adults, but here’s one from another time to remind you what this beautiful butterfly looks like.

May 1, 2013

Wildlife roundup

30 April 2013. Very sorry this is late reaching you, I was convinced I’d sent it out, but I hadn’t. Blame it on the sunshine – it’s gone to my head.

Reading KiwiGav’s blog made me aware of how a list of wildlife can give a really good picture of how Spring is doing, so I thought I’d try a roundup of what I’ve seen in the garden in the last couple of days.

The weather has been really nice – today, particularly, was not just sunny but warm, which was blissful, and has obviously done a lot to bring out the wildlife:

Butterflies: Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell and male Brimstone in the garden. Still no Orange Tip, though did see one in Osmington Mills today – a very hard bit of butterfly watching, over a pub lunch in the Smuggler’s pub garden.

Peacock butterfly on aubretia - he's a rather battered specimen with lots of damage to the edges of his wings

Peacock on aubretia – he’s a rather battered specimen if you look at the edge of his wings.

Other insects. Quite a lot, though I am limited in my identification skills, so I’m not sure how many different species.

Small insect on dandelion

Small bee? wasp? hoverfly? on dandelion

Birds, in descending size: Pheasants (3 regular visitors); Crow (one); Jackdaws (several – they nest in a couple of local chimneys and particularly come down when there’s big chunks of food on the ground; Wood Pigeons (several); Collared Doves (2+); Blackbirds (sadly, I think our pair may have abandoned their nest – I don’t think anything fledged and they’ve stopped looking for multiple worms); Starlings (quite a few, though their noise makes them sound as if they are in greater numbers than they are); Chaffinches (lots); Dunnocks (2); House Sparrows (only a few: there were a lot more in winter); Robins (2); Great Tits (I particularly notice one male, who is very handsome with a solid black waistcoat, but I think there is at least one other) and Blue Tits (several: they come and go so fast, they are difficult to count). Also swallows overhead, with occasional buzzards and even a heron the other day.

Crow at foot of bird feeder. Taken from inside the conservatory, as the bird is very wary.

Crow at foot of bird feeder. Taken from inside the conservatory, as the bird is very wary.

Other: Slow worms (three max so far; we found one dead under the tray we leave down for them: it had lost the end of its tail, which was also under the tray and looked very battered generally); Shrew (one for sure – under one of the slow worm trays – could it have had a go at the slow worm that died? I know they are very fierce, but???); Newts (max of 19 so far – a good way to count is with a torch at night); something that looked like a small Crane fly, laying eggs on some not-quite submerged growth in the pond. And – nearly – next door’s dog, which likes to peer under the gate – you could see its tail was wagging today, from the shadow it cast!

Have you done a list of what you see in your garden? Remember there are all sorts of wildlife organisations needing records, so get on the internet and see where you can help.

PS. Three cheers for the European Union and their two-year ban on neonectonoids; three boos for our anti-Environment Secretary Owen Paterson. Bees have a right to thrive on this planet – and we need them.

April 24, 2013

Three pheasants and a miscellany of other wildlife

24 April 2013

Back on 21 February I reported the sudden arrival of a black pheasant in the garden. We are now having three black pheasants regularly visit: two males and one female. As they are getting more used to us, they are spending increasing time wandering around the garden, and though they are wary of us, they don’t become very agitated as long as we approach them slowly, they just strut off in the opposite direction. The female is noticeably smaller and plainer than the males, who are both very handsome and don’t seem to be bothered by one another, which surprises me. All three of them seem to becoming noticeably plumper, probably due the amount of wheat they are packing away! They don’t seem to be causing any problems except for the one which got inside the greenhouse the other day and became very agitated when I appeared, though he didn’t actually harm any plants, just one of the plant covers I was using.

Left: you can see all three pheasants in this shot - the female is the one closest, on the left. Right: close up of one of the males.

Left: you can see all three pheasants in this shot – the female is the one closest, on the left. Right: close up of one of the males.

We have also had two bird species in the garden which I haven’t seen so near the house before. The first was a crow, which would really have drawn my attention prior to the advent of the pheasants, but I’ve got used to seeing bigger birds now so it took a few moments for it to dawn on me that it was neither a pheasant nor a jackdaw, the latter being regualar visitors. Within a few minutes we then had a magpie arrive. I’ve always thought it strange that we don’t see magpies much here – sometimes in the trees at the far end, but this if the first I’ve seen come close – he was quite nervous, so it will be interesting to see if he returns.

The friendly blackbird continues to demand we dig bits of the garden so he can find worms, and there is a definite tweeting when he goes back to the nest with a beakful. Hopefully we’ll see fledglings soon – as long as the magpie doesn’t find them first.

The only butterfly interest was two Peacocks, flying together and sitting for a time on the bare earth of one of the vegetable beds, soaking up the sun.

There were several types of bee buzzing around. I only got a good look at one, which was buzzing angrily behind the bubble-wrap in the greenhouse, which – when rescued – looked like a small bumble bee and was all black. Looking it up, I think it was a female Hairy-Footed Flower Bee (what a lovely name!) and as they like red dead nettle and lungwort, both of which I have in the garden, this makes it all the more likely. Plant the right plants and the wildlife will come.

April 19, 2013

First swallow arrives and the blackbird discovers worms

19 April 2013 (apologies for this being a day late)

I’ve been avidly scanning the skies for the last few days, looking for swallows, as I’ve been seeing the Portland Bird Observatory reporting them in some numbers for the last few days. Today, I had several sightings, and some hearings, too (if that’s a word – it ought to be): I love the sound swallows make, I call it their “twiddly” noise, and it’s the sound of summer to me –  I always feel so folorn when it stops in September.

We spent the afternoon continuing to work on the pond surround, with the help of a blackbird and a Peacock butterfly.

Left: blackbird and worm. Right: Peacock butterfly sunning itself.

Left: blackbird and worm. Right: Peacock butterfly sunning itself.

The blackbird seems to have just realised he can eat worms that need more than one bite: before today he’s limited himself to very small ones, but suddenly, he’s tackling some quite big ones. He doesn’t appear to be flying off with them, he seems to be eating them all, and with the amount he’s finding thanks to our digging, he should be a very fat blackbird soon. The butterfly appeared for a short time, and sat on one of the stones we were using for a few minutes, soaking up what sun there was. It’s worth remembering this is a need butterflies have – a sun-warmed surface: even if you can’t supply flowers all the time, stone, pebbles or wood can all be used as a place to soak up the heat they need to be able to fly.

April 8, 2013

Two butterflies and a blackcap

8 April 2013

Wow, what a wonderful day we had on Saturday: the sun shone all afternoon, even if the wind remained cold. It started well, with a Small Tortoiseshell (first of the year for me), soon followed by a Peacock. The photo shows the Small Tortoiseshell apparently nectaring on a crocus which looked way past its best, but as a bee also seemed to get something from it later, I can only think that though the petals looked collapsed, there was still nectar inside. You can see in the picture how dry the ground is at the moment, so plants are having it a bit tough. I was very chuffed that the Peacock used the aubretia, as I grew them from seed last year for this exact purpose: nice to find one bit of wildlife that has read the books and does what it should.

Left: Small Tortoiseshell on crocus. Centre: Peacock on primrose. Right: Peacock on aubretia

Left: Small Tortoiseshell on crocus. Centre: Peacock on primrose. Right: Peacock on aubretia

A bit later we were sitting enjoying a cup of tea  (an essential part of gardening) when I became aware of a bird call I had not heard before, and grabbing the binoculars I could see there was a blackcap on the bird feeder! We’ve had the odd blackcap before, but never staying long and not on the feeder, so this was a great first. I see from the Portland Bird Observatory website that they recorded some blackcaps on 5th, so I wonder if this one will stay around or is just passing through. There was a chiff-chaff calling stongly too.

A good chunk of the afternoon was spent on pond clearance. I’d usually aim to do this in Oct/Nov, but it was in great need of doing, as parts of the pond were fast reverting to land. We found a couple of big and several small dragonfly larvae and six newts in the process. The chunks removed have been left on the side of the pond, in the hope of any wildlife getting back into the pond, but I think the blackbrds and robins have other plans. We’re in the process of re-laying the stones round the pond, so hopefully it will soon look a bit smarter, as the stones were getting very wonky. By the way – if anyone suggests you use loose pebbles as a ramp to allow wildlife to get out of your pond, don’t be tempted: the pebbles don’t stay where you want them, and make cutting through the growth in the pond to get it out extremely difficult.

March 4, 2013

Buddleia pruning

4 March 2013

A few posts back I spoke about hoping to cut back our buddleia ‘Blue Knight’ (also called ‘Blue Horizon’). To my delight, we have actually managed to achieve this, due to a couple of hours of very welcome sunshine on Saturday. First, let’s show you what the flowers look like; they are as blue as a buddleia gets, and the colour goes very well with the eyespot on the hindwing of the Peacock butterfly.

Peacock butterfly on buddleia 'Blue Knight'

Peacock on buddleia ‘Blue Knight’

So here are the photos of cutting it back. I forgot to take a shot of the whole bush before we started, but the left-hand shot is of the job half way through, when some of the full height branches were still in place: I estimate they must have been about 12′ (3m) tall. By the time we’d finished, about 3′ (1m) was left, and we probably should have taken it down a bit further still, but there was so many nice leaf buds on one branch, I couldn’t bear to cut them off.

Pruning the buddleia 'Blue Knight'

Pruning the buddleia ‘Blue Knight’

The cat wasn’t impressed – he stayed fast asleep.

Coburn the cat asleep

Coburn asleep

February 15, 2013

First butterfly in the garden in 2013

15 February 2013

Whoopee! The first butterfly of the year has turned up – a Peacock, which sat on our conservatory roof for a few minutes, warming up his wings. No doubt tempted out, as I was, by the unusual phenomenon of sunshine.

Peacock butterfly on white buddliea (not the one I saw today)

Peacock butterfly on white buddliea (not the one I saw today)

It’s easy to think butterflies only exist in summer, when we see the adult butterflies flitting about, but really they are there all the time.  Some butterflies, like Peacocks, spend the winter as an adult – perhaps hiding in your shed – but others overwinter as eggs, or caterpillars, or as a chrysalis.

If you want to keep up with what butterflies have been seen in Dorset (as reported to the website) go to; to see first sightings nationally, go to