Six on Saturday – Summer Butterflies

It is not just the flowers that make the garden a beautiful place to be. Today is a scorcher. For me this simply means keeping cool with a long drink sitting in the shade of a large tree. The butterflies however love it and it is so lovely to feel that we have created an environment where they can flourish.

The weather this year seems to have been perfect for them giving us a large number of individuals and a great variety. Here are six that I have captured on camera in the last week or so.

One: Red Admiral

P1040508 Red Admiral

The Red Admiral is a migrant coming in waves from North Africa and continental Europe throughout the spring and summer. Increasingly however there are reports that it is over wintering here in the UK. The migrants lay eggs in the UK which subsequently produce a fresh new generation of butterflies.¹

In Britain and Ireland, the most important and widely available larval foodplant is Common Nettle (Urtica dioica). However, Small Nettle (U. urens) and the related species, Pellitory-of-the-wall (Parietaria judaica) and Hop (Humulus lupulus) may also be used.¹

Two: Gatekeeper

P1040532 Gatekeeper

The Gatekeepers in our garden seem to be quite feisty little creatures and seem to spend a lot of time time chasing off other larger butterflies that come close. They like the same habitat as Ringlet and Meadow Brown butterflies which we also see in the garden and close by in the countryside.

The caterpillars feed on various grasses with a preference for fine grasses such as bents (Agrostis spp.), fescues (Festuca spp.), and meadow-grasses (Poa spp.). Common Couch (Elytrigia repens) is also used.¹ At least something is eating the couch!

Three: Small Tortoiseshell

P1020163 Small Tortoiseshell

A very common butterfly but no less beautiful for that. It has been rather scarce in our garden in recent years so I am delighted that it is back in some numbers this year. The caterpillars fee on common nettle (Urtica dioica) and small nettle (Urtica urens).¹

Four: Comma

P1040540 Comma

The Comma butterfly has very characteristic scalloped edges to its wings which allow the hibernating adults to be almost invisible amongst dead leaves.

The caterpillars’ most widely used foodplant is Common Nettle (Urtica dioica). Other species used include Hop (Humulus lupulus), elms (Ulmus spp.), currants (Ribes spp.), and Willows (Salix spp).¹

Five: Peacock

P1040542 Peacock

Another unmistakeable butterfly which loves the Lysimachia and Buddleias in the garden. We have huge numbers across the garden this year which is so lovely to see.

The caterpillars feed on Common Nettle (Urtica dioica), although eggs and larvae are occasionally reported on Small Nettle (U. urens) and Hop (Humulus lupulus).¹

Six: Silver-Washed Fritillary

P1040584 Silver-Washed Fritillary

This might be stretching the rules of this meme a little as this Silver-Washed Fritillary was not photographed in our garden but in nearby Hampton Wood. These are large woodland butterflies (wing-span c. 72-76mm). They do not sit still very long so I was delighted to get a chance to get this one in a sunny clearing. As they fly they flutter almost like tissue paper in the dappled sun of the woodland glade. The caterpillars main foodplant is Common Dog-violet (Viola riviniana) growing in shady or semi-shady positions on the woodland floor.¹ My next challenge is to entice them into our woodland garden.

Well that is it for this week. We share the garden with a host of other creatures and certainly my enjoyment of our garden is not all about the flowers. This post is a contribution to the Six on Saturday meme which is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to be inspired by what other plant lovers are enjoying this weekend.

Further reading

¹ Butterfly Conservation Website – There is a wealth of information about all of these species on this website including further details of their lifecycle, when they fly and distribution maps across the UK.

Marbled White Butterfly

A week or so back (26 June 2020) I was lucky enough to come across this beautiful Marbled White butterfly on a warm sunny morning whilst walking our springer spaniel in local fields.  It was warming itself in the sun and was kind enough to stay still long enough for me to catch this photograph.

The Marbled White butterfly usually flies from late June through to early September in areas of unimproved grassland ¹.  According to Patrick Barkham ² it is relatively common in midsummer woodland edges and rides in south-west England but rarely occurs in the east or north of the country.  The Marbled White ( Melanargia galathea ) is in the family Nymphalidae which includes the striking and often colourful  butterflies like Peacocks, Red Admirals and Small Tortoiseshells.  The Marbled White is in a sub-family of the Nymphalidae call the Satyrinae which are commonly called the Browns.  The Marbled White is a Brown that is in fact white!

On the food plants for the caterpillars, Butterfly conservation ¹ state that “Red Fescue (Festuca rubra) is thought to be essential in the diet of larvae but Sheep’s-fescue (F. ovina), Yorkshire-fog (Holcus lanatus), and Tor-grass (Brachypodium pinnatum) are also eaten. It is thought that several other grasses may be used, but the full range is not known.

UK Distribution (live link to Butterfly Conservation Website)

Life Cycle (live link to Butterfly Conservation website)

Further reading

¹ Butterfly Conservation (butterfly-conservation.org)

² The Butterfly Isles by Patrick Barkham (ISBN 978-1-84708-127-8)

 

First cuckoo of the year

Out walking the dog this lunchtime (30th April 2020) we heard our first cuckoo of the year (Cuculus canorus) across the Warwickshire fields.  

The RSPB website highlights the rapid decline of this bird which is now considered a red list species but its sound is so evocative of early spring and summer.  It has a slim hawk- like shape with sharply pointed wingtips.  The adults typically arrive in April with the adults leaving again in July with the young leaving in September.

It is well known of course for its remarkable habit of laying eggs in the nests of other birds and subcontracting the care of eggs and young to small songbirds.

Cuckoo song:

Audio credit: David Farrow, Xeno-canto

Photo credit:  Vedant Raju Kasambe / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Goldfinch – a colourful winter resident

A decade ago Goldfinches ( Carduelis carduelis ) would have been a very rare visitor to our garden here in Warwickshire. In recent years however these small birds with their almost tropical, bright coloured plumage seem to be regular visitors and seem to stay with us all winter long.

It is reported that in the 19th century Goldfinches were often kept as caged birds with many individuals being taken from the wild. Thankfully the sale of wild birds is now illegal and their numbers have recovered well with an estimated 1.2m breeding pairs across the UK.

We rarely see Goldfinches visit our bird table or feeders but they often sit around in groups in the taller trees. In winter we see them perched together soaking up the last rays of evening sunshine before the sun sets. It is rather nice that the collective noun for a group of Goldfinches is call a Charm.

P1030663
Goldfinches in the garden soaking up the late afternoon January sunshine

Described as a “colourful bird of weedy, over grown rough ground” they feed mainly on thistle heads and teasles and other small seeds (I take no offence as to the indication this gives to the state of our garden – we garden with biodiversity in mind!),

They are very lively and sociable birds and we nearly always see them flitting around the garden in groups. Their twittering song is charming and easily recognisable:

Goldfinch song:

Audio credit: Ruud van Beusekom, Xeno-canto

I am not sure where in the garden they nest but we do see them flying in and out of some of the larger evergreen conifers. Goldfinches nest later in the year than many other garden birds so that there is a good supply of food (mainly regurgitated seeds) for their young. This late nesting may well be something worth considering when planning your hedge cutting regime for next year.

Goldfinch Nest (Photo credit: South Notts Ringing Group – real-time link)

Further reading

“The Crossley ID Guide – Britain and Ireland” by Richard Crossleyand Dominic Couzens (ISBN: 978-0-691-15194-6)

Robin Red Breast singing in the March sunshine (video)

The garden is full of bird song at the moment and it is a pleasure to simply stop and listen and watch.  I never quite seem to have the camera with me at the right time but this little robin was kind enough to sit still long enough whilst I zoomed in and caught its song on video.  The robin’s red breast and plumage is certainly at its best at this time of year as they prepare for the new breeding season.  The red in particular looks great here against the glossy dark green leaves of the holly (Ilex aquifolium)

The European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) is resident in the garden throughout the year feeding on insects, invertebrates, worms, seeds and fruit.  Although very territorial, during the winter we do see a number in the bushes waiting their turn under the bird table or to visit the seed feeder.

They may be very common throughout the whole of the UK but our garden would not be the same without them.

 

The Dunnock – singing its little heart out in the February sunshine and inspiring poetry.

I would definitely categorised the Dunnock (Prunella modularis) as a ‘little brown job’, quietly moving about in the garden under growth eating small insects, spiders, worms and seeds.

Normally if we hear colourful and melodic birdsong it is typically a robin or wren and to date we have not really associated the Dunnock (or Hedge Sparrow) as a significant part of the spring chorus.

Over the last few days of February this year (2019) the temperature has been unseasonably warm in our garden in Warwickshire and it has brought everything to life. Not only have we enjoyed the sunshine and blue skies but clearly the birds have as well.

I was lucky enough to capture this little Dunnock on camera in the afternoon sunshine. It stayed put long enough to capture its song, clearly communicating with another Dunnock that you can hear in the background responding between the phrases.

We have written in the past about how the garden has inspired a couple of artists (Jenny Lucey and Petra Rich-Alexandre) but for the first time we have inspired a poet. My friend Paul Waring on seeing this clip on Facebook was moved to verse and I am delighted that he has agreed to allow me to publish it here alongside this clip.

Hedge Sparrow sings this Spring like day,
Before the first of March,
No Willow quite yet out in leaf,
Or Oak, Elm, Birch or Larch,
Another is but a field away,
No time to waste or wait,
With food to gather,
Nests to build,
A place to rest and mate,
We’re fools to think the Winter’s gone,
While Sun hangs long and low,
This time last year the snows had come,
Before the cold could go,
But harken at the sweet bird song,
In hope of longer days,
Then marvel at the Dunnock’s voice,
With sunshine that’s ablaze.

© Paul Waring 2019

More of Paul’s creativity can be found on his Facebook poetry page .

The first garden butterflies of 2019

The weather over the last few weeks (late February 2019) has been bright and sunny and remarkably warm (over 15°C for the last couple of days). The honey bees and bumble bees have been enjoying the daphne, emerging cherry blossom and particularly the crocus flowers that have been wide open in the sunshine.

Even more delightful has been the sight of the first butterflies of the year in the garden here in Warwickshire.

On 21st February 2019 I saw the first yellow Brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni). This yellow, butter-coloured butterfly (possibly why the insects are in fact called ‘butterflies’) is particularly tough and over winters in the United Kingdom. According to the Butterfly Conservation website the larvae feed on leaves of Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), which occurs mainly on calcareous soils, and Alder Buckthorn (Frangula alnus), which is found on moist acid soils and wetlands. Although we have a wide range of native trees in the garden and in the surrounding countryside I am not aware we have any of these close by but we do see Brimstone butterflies most years.

Common brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni) male 5

Photo credit: Charles J Sharp [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

On 24th February 2019 we also spotted the first Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta). Last year we commented that we had seen very few of these colourful insects in 2018 and so perhaps this is a sign that they may have survived better this winter than they did the winter of 2017/2018 when there were a number of periods of bitterly cold weather. Normally a migratory butterfly from Northern Africa and continental Europe there appear to be an increasing number that now manage to over winter in the UK (ref: Butterfly Conservation website).

Unlike the Brimstone the Red Admiral larvae feed on the Common Nettle (Urtica dioica), something that we have plenty of! It appears that they also use Hop (Humulus lupulus) which we have both within the garden and in the local hedgerows.

Le Vulcain (Vanessa atalanta) red admiral

Photo credit: Charles J Sharp [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

Last year we kept a photographic record of the mid-summer and late-summer butterflies that we saw throughout the year and we will try and do the same again this year (see: Six on Saturday: July Butterflies and Late summer butterflies in the garden for more information and pictures)

Six birds in a bush on Saturday

The Pyracantha bush just behind the house is in its full glory, covered in bright scarlet berries and looking wonderful in the autumn sunshine.   At this time of year it attracts a wide range of birds, some come to feast on the berries each day, others like to simply sit and soak up the morning sunshine on a cold morning whilst for others it is a safe place to rest on route from A to B.

This week I have tried to capture some of the visitors to this one bush on camera.   Here are six:


One:  Redwing – an autumn and winter visitor to the garden enjoying a meal after flying in from Scandinavia

RedwingTrim_Moment

Redwing audio:

 

Audio credit: Patrik Aberg , Xeno-canto


Two:  Pied wagtail – although not an uncommon bird we don’t often get these in the garden so I was delighted to be able to catch this one on camera.

P1020226

Pied wagtail audio:

 

Audio credit: Tomas Belka , Xeno-canto


Three:  Blackbird – a very common bird in many gardens but lovely to have them nesting here and singing their hearts out all the same.

P1020225

Blackbird audio:

 

Audio credit: Niels Krabbe , Xeno-canto


Four:  A family of sparrows just sitting and enjoying the sun and chatting amongst themselves (now a very much rarer sight than they used to be)

P1020222

House sparrow audio:

 

Audio credit: Jarek Matusiak , Xeno-canto


Five:  Greenfinch – the numbers of greenfinchs have declined in recent years partly because of Trichomonosis, the name given to a disease caused by the protozoan parasite Trichomonas gallinae. It is nice to have them as an increasingly regular visitor to the garden now.

P1020215

Greenfinch audio:

 

Audio credit: Sander Bot , Xeno-canto


Six:  Bullfinch – this stunning male bullfinch has been a regular visitor this week and has been joined towards the end of the week by two female bullfinches as well.

P1020209 (2) Bullfinch

Bullfinch audio:

 

Audio credit: Niels Krabbe , Xeno-canto

To complete the record I have also seen Goldfinches, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Robins on this Pyracantha during the week but have not managed to capture them on camera.


The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to see what other plant lovers are chatting about.

Late summer butterflies in the garden

As the year progresses we see a notable change in the butterflies that visit the garden.  Early in the year I posted a selection of pictures from July but whilst the ‘whites’ continue to flutter around the flowers there are a number of others that I have captured with the camera during September.   Here are my ‘Six on Saturday’ for this week


One:  Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)

Normally the Small Tortoiseshell is very common in the garden always gracing the buddleja.  This year however we have seen very few and only in the last few weeks have we seen a couple enjoying the pink Phuopsis stylosa blooming for a second time this year.

The Small Tortoiseshell can spend the winter hibernating as an adult.²  Hibernating with their jagged wings closed shut they are well camouflaged looking just like a dead leaf.

The caterpillars feed on nettle (Urtica dioica).

P1020163 Small Tortoiseshell


Two:  Painted Lady (Cynthia cardui)

The painted lady is a migrant species to the British Isles coming from North Africa and southern europe each year. It is reported to have a worldwide distribution existing almost everywhere accept South America. ¹  In his charming book, “The Butterfly Isles”, Patrick Barkham reported seeing swarming of these migrating butterflies in 2009. ²

The caterpillar feeds on thistles (Cardus), burdock (Arctium) and other plants. ¹

P1020127 Painted Lady


Three:  Small White (possible – rather than Large White!) (Pieris rapae

The ‘whites’ have to be included here simply because they enjoy the garden throughout the summer and are still present into the late summer.  Although clearly a bit of a pest in the vegetable garden I do love to watch them on a still summer day working their way around the flower beds.

I am certainly not an expert at distinguishing between the various white butterflies but there is a very helpful guide on the Butterfly Conservation website  ³.  The caterpillars feed on Brassica species along with the wonderfully fragrant mignonette (Reseda) and nasturtium (Tropaeolum). ¹  This adult is soaking up the late evening sunshine on the hornbeam hedge.

P1020164


Four:  Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

As with the Small Tortoiseshell this is usually a common butterfly in the garden but this year we have seen very few.  Possibly the long cold winter took its toll on the overwintering butterflies and hopefully they will get a chance to recover their numbers this year.

The Red Admiral’s are interesting to watch when you sit out with a glass of wine on a summer evening.  If you sit in their perching spot they will continually pester you until you move.

According to David Carter ¹ the Red Admiral is a migrant species with the first butterflies arriving in Britain during the spring but does not normally survive the winter.  However Patrick Barkham ² indicates that the Red Admiral is one species that is already a beneficiary of climate change as it can now increasingly survive the winter in southern England where it once perished.

The caterpillar feeds on nettles (Urtica).

P1020128


Five:  Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)

I have written a longer piece on these but they have increased in number over the last few weeks and have emerged from the woodland edge into the rest of the garden.  They seem to particularly like sunning themselves on the large leaves of the grape vines.

The caterpillars feed on various grasses such as couch grass (Agropyron repens) and cock’s foot (Dactylis glomerata). ¹

P1020020


Six:  Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas)

This is such a small but beautifully formed butterfly.  It seems to particularly like the bed with the late summer asters and perennial rudbeckias.

The Small Copper is a species of meadows, hedgerows, roadsides and downlands and enjoys a similar habitat to the Meadow Brown, Hedge Brown (Gatekeeper), Orange-Tip and various blues.  The Small Copper caterpillar feeds on various species of dock and sorrel (Rumex) and also knotgrass (Polygonum). ¹

P1020072 Small Copper


For the record we have also seen a smallish blue butterfly around the garden but I have not yet had a chance to capture it on camera and identify it precisely.

The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to see what other plant lovers are chatting about.

Further reading

¹ “Butterflies and Moths of Britain and Europe” by David Carter (ISBN:  0 330 26642 X)

² “The Butterfly Isles” by Patrick Barkham (ISBN 978-1-84708-127-8)

³ https://butterfly-conservation.org/news-and-blog/how-to-identify-white-butterflies

 

 

Garden Ecology – Speckled Wood Butterfly

When I wrote about butterflies visiting the garden in July we had seen the Speckled Wood in the copse and amongst the orchard trees but I had not managed to capture it on camera.

The Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) is a relatively common British butterfly that frequents the dappled shade of the woodland edge.  Although I had seen them in the garden they were so well camouflaged that as soon as they landed they seemed to just disappear!  Finally however I have managed to have some success.

It is reported¹ that both sexes feed on the honeydew in the tree tops and are rarely seen feeding on flowers except when aphid activity is low.  The butterflies are on the wing from May until October².  It appears this butterfly is unique among the butterflies of the British Isles⁴ as it can hibernate and over winter either as a caterpillar or a chrysalis³.

The food plants¹ ² of the caterpillars include various grasses including Cock’s Foot (Dactylis glomerata), Yorkshire Fog (Holcus lanatus) and Couch Grass (Agropyron repens).  I knew there was a reason why I should have couch grass growing in the garden!

Family:  Nymphalidae

P1020032 Speckled Wood
Speckled Wood Butterfly – 14 August 2018 – Warwickshire

Further reading

¹ https://butterfly-conservation.org/butterflies/speckled-wood

² “Butterflies and Moths of Britain and Europe” by David Carter (ISBN:  0 330 26642 X)

³ “The Butterfly Isles” by Patrick Barkham (ISBN 978-1-84708-127-8)

⁴ https://www.ukbutterflies.co.uk/species.php?species=aegeria