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)

 

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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)

Native Bluebells – a walk in Hampton Wood in Warwickshire

The English countryside certainly has its spectacular moments and a bluebell wood in full bloom in the spring sunshine is just something to behold. This week we took time out after a busy Easter weekend to have a wander around Hampton Wood. Owned and managed by the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust this ancient woodland lies close to the banks of the river Avon (OS Sheet: 151; SP 254 600 Post code: CV35 8AS).

This wood and meadow is quickly becoming one of our favourite places to walk since joining the Trust last year. It is a delight. At around 12.3 hectares the reserve is not enormous but there is plenty to see and hear and try to identify.

Here are some photographs (taken on 23 April 2019) which try to capture some of the impact of these woods at this time of year. At first sight it is the mass of blue that takes you aback. However, as you look more closely the mix of other wild flowers create a series of beautiful cameos of contrasting colours and texture. Here are just some of the flowers and ferns we spotted in a short one hour meander around the reserve.

P1020619
The bluebell wood in all its glory
P1020622 Primrose - Primula vulgaris
Primrose – Primula vulgaris
P1020607 Greater Stitchwort - Stellaria holostea
Greater Stitchwort – Stellaria holostea
P1020620 Red Campion - Silene dioica
Red Campion – Silene dioica
P1020647 Green alkanet - Pentaglottis sempervirens
Green alkanet – Pentaglottis sempervirens
P1020636 Crab apple - Malus sylvestris
Crab apple – Malus sylvestris
P1020606 Lesser Celandine - Ficaria verna
Lesser Celandine – Ficaria verna
P1020605 Wood anemone or Windflower - Anemone nemorosa
Wood anemone or Windflower – Anemone nemorosa
P1020623 Ground Ivy - Glechoma hederacea
Ground Ivy – Glechoma hederacea
P1020630 Cuckoo flower - Cardamine pratensis
Cuckoo flower – Cardamine pratensis
P1020638 Fern croziers
Fern croziers
P1020595 Yellow archangel - Lamium galeobdolon
Yellow archangel – Lamium galeobdolon
P1020593 Common Dog Violet - Viola riviniana
Common Dog Violet – Viola riviniana
P1020594 Bluebell - Hyacinthoides non-scripta
Bluebell – Hyacinthoides non-scripta
P1020618
A view amongst the trees

We will of course be visiting again over the coming months to see how the flora and fauna change and develop during the year. We would like to be much, much better at identifying birds from their individual songs and calls and to help us improve we have signed up for a spring bird identification workshop next month. No doubt we will come out of the course full of enthusiasm but will it stick. Memorising the sounds birds make seems to be so much more difficult than identifying them from their plumage. Hopefully it will enhance our enjoyment of these beautiful wildlife reserves still further. If nothing else it will gives us hours of fun!

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)

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

 

Six on Saturday: July Butterflies

There is so much movement in the garden on these very warm sunny days.  It is just lovely to see the butterflies flitting from flower to flower and amongst the long grass.

Photographing them is more of a challenge but here are six that I have managed to capture in the last few days.


One:  Comma (Polygonia c-album) (Family: Nymphalidae)

Comma butterfly on grape vine
Comma butterfly on grape vine

This second picture shows the very characteristic white comma on the underside of the wing that gives it is common name.

Comma butterfly on grape vine showing distinctive 'comma' on underwing
Comma butterfly on grape vine showing distinctive ‘comma’ on underwing

Two:  Large white (Pieris brassicae) (Family: Pieridae)

Large White butterfly on Verbena bonariensis
Large White butterfly on Verbena bonariensis

Three:  Peacock  (Inachis io) (Family: Nymphalidae)

Peacock butterfly on Lysimachia Clethroides
Peacock butterfly on Lysimachia Clethroides

Four: Small White (Pieris rapae) (or possibly Wood White) (Family: Pieridae)

This white butterfly is very much smaller than the Large White and seems to rarely land to have its photograph taken.  I am not entirely sure which species this is so happy to be corrected.

Small White (or possibly wood white) on buddleja
Small White (or possibly wood white) on buddleja

Five:  Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) (Family: Nymphalidae)

Meadow Brown butterfly on Lysimachia clethroides
Meadow Brown butterfly on Lysimachia clethroides

Six:  Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus)  (Family: Nymphalidae)

Gatekeeper butterfly on Lysimachia Clethroides
Gatekeeper butterfly on Lysimachia Clethroides

In addition there have been others over the last week or so that I have not yet been able to photograph.  These include the yellow Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell and Speckled Wood


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


Honey Pot Flowers are wedding and celebration florists based in Warwickshire in the United Kingdom specialising in natural, locally grown seasonal flowers. We grow many of our own flowers allowing us to offer something very different and uniquely personal.

Snake’s Head Fritillary

The Snake’s-Head Fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris) gets its common name from the delicate chequed pattern which looks like tiny reptile scales.  The nodding cup shaped flowers are said to resemble a fritillus or roman dice box hence the scientific name whilst meleagris relates to the spots of a guinea fowl.

As a native of water meadows I think this winter at Honey Pot Flowers will have suited them down to the ground.  As previously mentioned in our earlier overview of the garden (The Site) we have about one or two feet of top soil sitting on a bed of clay.  The water table is very near the surface for most of the winter with many standing puddles of water even though we are on a slight slope.

Flowering for a relatively short period in the second half of April they are so unique and such a pleasure to see.  They are most successful in the orchard and near the wildlife pond.  The delicate nodding heads also seemed to be absolutely irresistible to the playful young puppy we had staying recently (although he seems to have survived and it is not listed on the HTA list of potentially harmful plants).

Purple and white Snake's Head Fritillary growing amongst the grassland in the fruit orchard.
Purple and white Snake’s Head Fritillary growing amongst the grassland in the fruit orchard.

It is possible to cut Snake’s Head Fritillary for use in spring arrangements but for us the pleasure is seeing them growing naturally in grassland.   They are generally trouble free as long as you don’t cut the grass before the leaves have died back and the bulbs have been replenished.  As a member of the Liliaceae they do seem to get nibbled by lily beetle if you don’t keep an eye on them but the bright red beetles are easy to see and can be picked off by hand.

Family:  Liliaceae

Hardiness:  Full Hardy

Origin:  Europe (southern England to the northern Balkans and western Russia and naturalized in Scandinavia)¹

Height:  30cm

Further Reading

¹ “Bulb” by Anna Pavord (ISBN 978-1-84533-415-4)

 


Honey Pot Flowers are wedding and celebration florists based in Warwickshire in the United Kingdom specialising in natural, locally grown seasonal flowers. We grow many of our own flowers allowing us to offer something very different and uniquely personal.

Book review: “Earth to Earth, A Natural History of Churchyards” by Stefan Buczacki

In this highly readable book, Stefan Buczacki looks at the interesting and perhaps unique place that our British churchyards play in providing a habitat for our native wildlife.

The book discusses the churchyard in British history and its place in the landscape.  Often relatively undisturbed in comparison with the neighbouring countryside it is argued that these areas can provide an insight into the landscape that once surrounded these churches.  In addition, Stefan makes a strong case that the particular features provided by the gravestones, enclosing walls and the church itself all provide valuable microclimates and habitats that can support a wealth of plants and animals.

Each of the chapters looks briefly at plants and fungi, lichens, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, birds and other small creatures.  Although the argument that churchyards support a rich and varied wildlife is well made, I was a little disappointed that it did not illustrate the points by reference to real data from actual studies.  However, it certainly left me with a desire to learn more.

I found the discussion around the presence of yew trees in churchyards and the substantial age of many churchyard yews particularly fascinating.  Also, why there are so few yew trees of great age outside churchyards.  Those yew trees that are in excess of 2000 years old clearly pre-date both the building of the church and Christianity itself and the book leaves a tantalising question as to what may have been associated with these sites prior to the existing building.

I was also pleased to see that the book explored the rich lichen diversity that exists in churchyards.  Gravestones offer a unique and relatively undisturbed habitat for these very slow growing symbiotic organisms to thrive and multiply.

P1000838

The book is well written and charmingly illustrated with drawings throughout by Felicity Price-Smith.  The inclusion of historic verse is also used to illustrate the undoubted interest in churchyard natural history throughout the years.

The final chapter deals with the current and future challenges of maintaining and conserving the rich natural history of churchyards.  In an era of diminishing congregations and limited funding the book offers some practical suggestions on how to retain these interesting environments for future generations.

Publisher:  Unicorn Publishing Group

ISBN:  978-1-910787-74-8

 

 

 

 

Autumn and winter residents – our feathered friends

Our garden here at Waverley is home for a wide range of birds, many of whom stay with us throughout the winter weather.  Some, like the fieldfares and redwings, are migratory and visit to feast on the berries.

Over the last few months we have been trying to catch as many of these on camera as we can. Not an easy task as some of them move so very quickly and many are very shy creatures.

Here is a selection of the residents for 2017/18.


Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus)

Blue Tit

Food: Small insects, larvae and other invertebrates plus seeds, fruit and buds


Wood pigeon (Columba palumbus)

Wood Pigeon

Food: Seeds, grain, fruits, vegetables, berries and some insects and worms


Ketrel (Falco tinnunculus)

Sparrow Hawk

Food: Small mammals and birds, worms and insects


Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos)

Song Thrush

Food:  Worms, snails and fruit


Blackbird (Turdus merula)

Blackbird

Food: Worms, insects, berries and seeds


Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris)

Fieldfare 4

Food: Berries, fruits, worms and insects


Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)

Chaffinch

Food:  Insects and seeds


Great Tit (Parus major)

Great Tit

Food: Mainly insects, spider and small invertebrates but also fond of nuts


Coal Tit (Periparus ater)

Coal Tit

Food:  Insects, seeds and nuts


Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)

Goldfinch 1

Food: Some insects but mainly weed seeds


Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris)

Greenfinch

Food: Seeds and insects


Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)

Nuthatch

Food: Insects, seeds, nuts and other fruits


Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)

Food:  Mainly insects and larvae but will also rob nests for young birds.  Will visit feeders for nuts in winter.


Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus)

Food:  Mainly insects and spiders but also seeds.


Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

Food: Mainly insects and spiders plus some fruit, seeds and berries


Redwing (Turdus iliacus)

Food: Berries, fruits, insects and worms


Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)

Food: Seeds, berries and fruit


Dunnock (Prunella modularis)

Food:  Insects and small invertebrates with seeds in winter


In addition there are some I have not managed to catch on camera yet. These include wrens, collared doves, sparrow hawks, magpies, buzzards, jackdaws, jays, carrion crows, sparrows and more.

By trying to provide garden habitats that offer seeds and attract insects our aim is to encourage as many of these beautiful birds as possible. They all add interest to the garden and keep us occupied with the binoculars for hours!

 

All photographs and videos are the property and copyright of Dr Stephen Lucey, 2018

Night time visitors to the flower garden caught on camera

We may be tucked up warm in bed but whilst we are asleep there are still many visitors wandering about!  Here are a few of the videos we have captured on the wildlife camera.

Badgers (Meles meles) (not entirely sure we want these in the garden but so far they have not caused any damage).

A handsome young fox (Vulpes vulpes) exploring the top copse.

Muntjac (Muntiacus reevesi) wandering along the woodland path by the compost heaps.

Ground feeding Buzzard (Buteo buteo) (hopefully having caught one of the pesky rabbits).

Two foxes competing over the fallen apples in the orchard.

And some serious scrumping going on in the night.

We do also have lots of pictures of rabbits (grrr!) but the camera is very useful to see where they may be getting through the wire barriers so you can take action.

A bit about the camera

We have used an Ltl Acorn game camera (Ltl 6210) to capture these images.  This has proved to be a very reliable wildlife camera working well in all weathers.  It takes both day and night pictures with an automatic filter that clicks over when the light dims.  It takes both still photographs and/or video and is triggered by a sensitive PIR (Passive Infra red) sensor.  The sensor angles and fast trigger speed have proved excellent at capturing fast moving wildlife travelling through the garden.

It has a very long battery life.  Although we have not had it running all the time we have had the camera 18 months now and still not had to change the batteries.  It is worth noting that you do need to use the right batteries to meet the demanding requirements of the camera but this is very well explained in the on-line manual.

I would certainly recommend this type of camera and if you are still hunting for that Christmas present it certainly provides hours of entertainment when you download the files and wait to see what you have captured!