Posts tagged ‘Speckled Wood’

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.

September 23, 2013

Late wildlife in the garden

23 September 2013

We’re enjoying a late spell of sunshine at the moment, with the sun still very warm. Today it was cloudy until early afternoon, and there were virtually no butterflies to be seen, but when the sun came out, all of a sudden they appeared. Not only butterflies, but various bees, flies, hoverflies, ladybirds and dragonflies – nothing rare, but a wonderful late season reminder of the wildlife that a lot more people in the UK should be seeing, if only we weren’t mucking up this planet at such a scary rate, and if only people would be a little more wildlife friendly in their gardens. I’m going to dedicate this blog to photos of what I saw today, so you can enjoy them with me. If your garden could have this wildlife, but hasn’t, ask yourself why and see if you can do anything about it.

Comma on scabious

Comma on deep red Scabious. I like this shot because it shows both the under-wing white mark which gives the Comma its name, and its white legs, which amuse me: it looks like they haven’t got tanned yet! All the Commas in the garden today looked very fresh.

Red Admiral on buddleia.

Red Admiral on buddleia ‘Autumn Beauty’ (also called ‘Beijing’). In contrast to the Commas, this butterfly looks rather worm, so I’m guessing that it and the other four I saw are migrants, not locally bred. Five Red Admirals is the most I have seen all year, so maybe we are getting a bit of a late migration.

Brimstone on buddleia

Male Brimstone on magenta-coloured buddleia: this is one of the recently-bred buddleias which do not grow as large as most. I like the way the butterfly is backlit in this photo, so you can see the shape of the body underneath.

Speckled Wood on buddleia.

Speckled Wood on buddleia ‘Autumn Beauty’. It is quite unusual to see this butterfly nectaring: the books say it often uses honeydew in trees (which is a sugary excretion from insects which suck plant-sap, such as aphids.) I saw a Speckled Wood feeding on verbena bonariensis the other day, so maybe honeydew is in short supply this year.

Buff-tailed Bumblebee (I think) on Michaelmas Daisy.

Buff-tailed Bumblebee (I think) on Michaelmas Daisy.

Male Southern Hawker dragonfly.

Male Southern Hawker dragonfly. Not the best shot, but it was very lively: it may be around again tomorrow, so I’ll have another go.

My final butterfly count was:

Whites – about 7, definitely including Large and Small Whites.

Brimstone – 1

Red Admirals – 5

Comma – 4

Small Tortoiseshell – 3

Speckled Wood – 1

Not bad for late September.

March 15, 2013

Treat your wildlife to some ivy

15 March 2013

I hate to see a wall where well-grown ivy has obviously removed. I appreciate this sometimes cannot be avoided, but if at all possible, please keep your ivy: it is such a good plant for wildlife. The Holly Blue butterfly lays its eggs on ivy, so the caterpillars can feed on the flower buds, and sixteen species of moth are also known to use it as a caterpillar food plant. The flowers then provide nectar for late butterflies – the photo at the foot of this article only shows four Red Admirals, but there were twelve at one point, feeding on a patch of ivy about half the size of a door. Many other insects will also throng round the flowers, and when the sun is out, even if you do not know the ivy flowers are there, you will hear the humming of the insects on it and pick up a deep, honey scent. After flowering, the ivy sets seed, and the resulting black berries are food for hungry birds in late winter – I sometimes become aware of a blackbird or pigeon because the ivy appears to shudder, as the bird pulls the berries from their stems.

Left: Speckled Wood. Centre: Holly Blue. Right: an insect. All on ivy.

Left: Speckled Wood. Centre: Holly Blue. Right: an insect. All on ivy.

That’s not all, either. The tangle of ivy growth also provides a hidey-hole for all sorts of creatures. I have gone outside on warm summer nights and been able to hear the snails moving around in the cover: better they haunt the ivy than my prize plants, though they are probably on their way to do just that. Butterflies may also use it for shelter, and the Brimstone is known to hibernate in ivy. Birds also find it important cover, and will nest in it. We deliberately leave the ivy on our garage to grow very thick, and we may have blackbirds starting to nest in it this year: we’ve seen two dive into the greenery several times recently. Ivy, although everygreen, needs to renew its leaves periodically, so there will be a lot of leaf litter at the foot of the plant, and this can again be good cover: we’ve had a hedgehog make a day nest in the leaves at the foot of our ivy, and we could hear him “snoring” as we walked past – you felt you had to be very quiet!

For the human, ivy serves as an excellent evergreen in the garden – one of the few native evergreens we have. The native ivy is striking enough, with its glossy green leaves, but there are many varieties if you want different colours and leaf shapes – www.fibrex.co.uk is a nursery which has a wonderful collection of ivies to set your imagination going.

I’ve been asked why the ivy on somebody’s wall does not flower. The answer is to do with the stages the plant goes through: while it is in its juvenile stage it only develops soft growth, it flowers when it creates adult, woody, growth, and I presume it cannot do this if you keep chopping it back and forcing it to put on more soft growth. There is concern about the damage ivy can do, but I think you just need to be sensible: you can’t have it blocking your gutters or lifting your roof tiles, but just growing up a solid wall is probably not going to damage the structure.

Four Red Admirals on ivy

Four Red Admirals on ivy

If you can identify the insect at the right of the panel of three, please let me know what it is.

February 26, 2013

Gardening for butterfly caterpillars – Grass

26 February 2013

The foodplant used by more butterflies (and moths) than any other is grass. The families of butteflies that use it are the skippers – not so likely to be found in gardens unless you live near suitable habitiat – and the browns, including butterflies you might see in your garden: Speckled Wood, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown.

Left to right: Speckled Wood, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown

Left to right: Speckled Wood, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown

“Well, that’s easy, we’ve got lots of that” I can hear you say – well, yes and no. If you are the type of gardener who likes a close-cut lawn with stripes, this is no good, and even the standard lawn isn’t likely to be ideal – the majority of lawns are mainly made up of rye grass, which is tough to withstand use, but no good for insects.

Annual meadow grass (photo: internet)

Annual meadow grass (photo: internet)

What you need are British native grasses, and I’d guess you need to let them grow, not mow them short, though my knowledge in this area is limited. Looking in the book “Foodplant List for Caterpillars” by Tim Crafer, the single grass which is eaten by the most butterfly and moth caterpillars is annnual meadow grass (Poa annua). I suspect you might have this inyour garden anyway, so it could be a good excuse to leave it if you are bored with weeding….

Other grasses used by butterflies include cocksfoot, couch, tor, yorkshire fog, tufted hair, dog’s tail,  and the fescue and bent families. Couch is one which really tests my butterfly-friendliness: my husband and I have spent two years digging through an herebaceous bed, removing couch and bindweed, so I’d have to say be careful with it – it forms the most amazing root mass, which forces other plants out: I found one piece which only showed about 2″ (5cm) above ground, but the root went on for over 6′ (2m).

Native grass seed/mixes are becoming a lot more easily available these days, sometimes with native wild flowers mixed in. Keeping the grasses, and flowers, you want from becoming swamped by the stronger-growing species is another challenge….