Redwing – a winter visitor that feasts on the garden berries

Every year we are delighted to see the Redwings (Turdus iliacus) arrive from Scandinavia. Part of the thrush family the Redwing has a striking white supercilium above the eye and a white submoustachial stripe. It is however the bold rusty red patch under the wings that allows you to identify these birds with confidence.

In our garden they tend to come for the berries. This year they seem to have started on the holly berries which they finished off well before Christmas. They are now working their way through the Pyracantha (pictured) but as yet they have not started on the Cotoneaster. In a week or so when all the Pyracantha have gone I suspect we will see them sitting in the tall cotoneaster at the end of the garden picking away at those berries as well.

These birds are rarely on their own and we typically see a small flock visiting together calling each other with a sharp ‘tseep’. Once our berries are finished they will wander off across the fields and hedgerows searching for other berries and worms.

According to the RSPB website Redwings migrate by night in loose flocks. In autumn, redwings gather along the Scandinavian coast at dusk before launching off on their single 500 mile flight across the North Sea to the UK.

Some redwings also come from Iceland to winter in Scotland and Ireland. Others come from Russia and Scandinavia to winter in southern England and further south in Europe.

Redwing call

Audio Credit Patrik Aberg Xeno-canto

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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.

Garden Ecology: Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis)

The Green Woodpecker is supposedly a fairly common bird in the UK (c. 52,000 pairs) but we see it only rarely in the garden.  The Great Spotted Woodpecker is a more regular visitor and often comes to feed on the peanuts in the bird feeders.

The Green Woodpecker is the largest of the British Woodpeckers and is the size of a large pigeon.  It typically feeds on ants probing ant nests with its strong beak and long tongue.

This individual is an adult male as it has a crimson-centred moustache.  The female has a black moustache.

P1040341

It seems that the Green Woodpecker (unlike the Great Spotted Woodpecker) does not drum.  Their song is a very characteristic loud ringing laugh (click to play)

 

Audio credit: Olivier Grosselet, Xeno-canto

Scarlet Tiger Moth – garden wildlife

Last autumn I attended a fascinating nine week course at the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust on macro moths.  I did hear the comment “what do you want to do a course on moths for?” a number of times but it was a fascinating evening class.

It has helped me appreciate the sheer diversity and number of moth species in my garden alone.  Most importantly it has helped me understand what I need to do to make the garden a more friendly habitat for both the adult moths and their caterpillars.  Of course many of these caterpillars are also food for the many birds we have nesting in the garden as well at this time of year.

The Scarlet Tiger (Callimorpha dominula) is a relatively large moth (23-27mm).  It is typically a southern moth in the UK (south of the Wash), in the south west and rarely in the south east.  It has unmistakable white and yellow spots and blotches on black on the forewing and a largely red hindwing which can just be seen in my photograph.

The adults fly in June and July by day and at night.  Its preferred habitat is wetlands, including riverbanks and ditches, grassland, coastal habitats (not applicable here!) and gardens ¹.

According to wikipedia the caterpillars mainly feed on comfrey (Symphytum officinale), but also on a number of other plants including Urtica (nettles), Cynoglossum (borage), Fragaria (strawberries), Fraxinus (ash), Geranium, Lamium (dead-nettles), Lonicera (honeysuckle), Myosotis (forget-me-not), Populus (poplar), Prunus (cherry), Ranunculus (buttercup), Rubus (blackberries et al), Salix (willow) and Ulmus (elm) species).  All of these are in plentiful supply here in the lanes and in the garden.

Further reading

¹ “Concise guide to the moths of Great Britain and Ireland” by Martin Townsend and Paul Waring (ISBN 978-1-4729-6583-7)

Scarlet Tiger Moths are in the family Arctiidae, subfamily Arctiinae which includes the tigers, ermines and footman.

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)

Peacock Butterflies

The warm weather of the last few weeks has certainly brought out the first of the butterflies in the garden.  The first to emerge are those that have over-wintered as adults.  The Peacock butterfly is one of a select bunch of hardy British butterflies that can survive the cold in the United Kingdom hibernating as adults.  Others include the Small Tortoiseshell, Comma, Red Admiral and Brimstone.

If you want these beautiful creatures to have a safe haven it is important that you don’t spend too much time clearing away and tidying up.  These butterflies need a safe undisturbed place in a shed or wood pile.  Don’t cut back the ivy and other climbers as this is also a good hibernating spot for other over-wintering butterflies and also moths.

Of course, these over-wintering insects are also food for our garden birds in the harsh winter months and we often see the tiny wrens darting in and out of the ivy collecting food and potentially making nests later.

Over the last few weeks I have had the pleasure of seeing Peacock, Brimstone and Orange Tip butterflies flying through the garden.  Rather than over wintering as adults the Orange Tip butterflies over winter as a chrysalis emerging early in the spring to lay their eggs.

Brimstone butterflies (9453720568)
Brimstone Butterflies (Photo credit:  Ian Kirk from Broadstone, Dorset, UK / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

All of these butterflies have emerged early so that they can mate and lay their eggs on the fresh spring growth of the caterpillar food plants.  The Peacock caterpillars feed on stinging nettles, the Orange Tips on Cuckooflower and garlic mustard and the Brimstones on Buckthorn and Alder Buckthorn.  Once again don’t be too eager to clear the garden of all these wild plants if you want your garden to be rich in animal wildlife.

Orange Tip butterfly (Anthocharis cardamines)
Orange Tip Butterfly (Photo credit: Charles J Sharp / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0))

As a child I remember with great pleasure collecting Peacock caterpillars, feeding them up on nettles in a jam jar until they pupated and then waiting eagerly for the butterflies to emerge and fly away freely.  The fascinating lifecycle of these creatures and their beauty continues to enthral me to this day.

Tour around the garden in late June

I have really enjoyed getting to grips with the garden this year.   Having given up our day jobs we now have much more time to work on the projects we have been thinking about for some time.

There is still a great deal to do (a garden is always evolving and changing) but I thought it would be nice to capture the end of June by offering a virtual garden tour.  I have spent many happy hours simply wandering around smelling the roses and admiring the colour combinations that appear.

The tour takes you around the garden at the back of the house, down the old rose garden to the vegetable garden and then into the orchard.  We then walk through the small woodland copse into the top of the new flower garden (now in its second year).  Look out here for the garden visitor that was caught on camera.

After a look around the new flower garden we move back towards the house to admire the magnificant climbing roses, the circular garden near the house and then finally the garden and views to the front.

I warn you now this is not intended to be a glossy video that hides all the ‘sub-optimal’ bits of the garden!  My intention is to capture the essence at a moment in time and love the way that the video picks out all the bird song.  Hope you enjoy the tour.

(You can either watch the video through the embedded video below on this page or click here to view it on YouTube itself.)