Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Constable Country - RSPB Flatford Wildlife Garden

Flatford Mill, painted by John Constable
We always enjoy a visit to Flatford, with its Constable connotations. The RSPB Wildlife Garden is a particular draw, especially when there are usually butterflies on the wing.

Saturday was a 'reasonable' afternoon by the standards of the summer. We entered the garden and were a bit surprised to see so many autumnal seedheads in August! 

I don't think we managed to spot one butterfly, but the volunteer staff member was very helpful and pointed out some other insects that we might well have missed.

The selection below shows these creatures and also a couple of mini-beasts that we spotted for ourselves.


Camouflaged Shieldbug instar nymph on sage

Not an insect this time, but an as yet unidentified arachnid!

The closest we came to a butterfly! A Mint Moth (thank you, RR, for confirming ID!)

A Willow Emerald damselfly

There were quite a few Bumblebees around



Sunday, 30 August 2015

Scottish Jellyfish Sightings 2015


According to the Marine Conservation Society, our smacks of jellyfish 'should not be ignored.'

There have been reports of high numbers this summer off the UK. However, you might also want to read this Guardian article by Steve Backshall.

I saw the jellyfish in this post when I was in Scotland at the end of June 2015 and have logged my sightings with the MSC

Cyanea lamarcki (Blue jellyfish), Campbeltown Harbour, Kintyre, Scotland (June 2015)

Cyanea lamarcki (Blue jellyfish), Campbeltown Harbour, Kintyre, Scotland (June 2015)

Aurelia aurita Moon jellyfish Campbeltown Harbour, Kintyre, Scotland (June 2015)

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Kestrel at NT Sutton Hoo

After the Sutton Hoo ship-burial helmet

I was up at NT Sutton Hoo this afternoon ...



... and spotted a Kestrel near the boundary with the farmer's field.


It was flying and perching ...


... flying and perching as it quartered its territory.

Presumably a female on account of head colour?

After a while I saw it take off towards the river Deben, above Woodbridge.


I sat down near the burial mounds to admire the Harebells.


It was a warm, and slightly humid, 23 degrees centigrade ...


... but an hour later when I was safely home, there was a cloudburst, followed by one of the most impressive double-rainbows I have seen.

Double rainbow, showing Alexander's band

Monday, 24 August 2015

More Moths . . .


I posted a piece last week about moths. I mentioned the Hummingbird Hawk-moth (I shall follow the UK Moths site spelling), and how I had seen a number in Greece but hardly any in the UK. Serendipidously we were sheltering from the rain this last weekend in the grounds of Helmingham Hall when what should catch my attention but ... a Hummingbird Hawk-moth, nectaring on a Buddleia bush. I apologise for the quality of the photograph: these insects rarely stay still, but they are wonderful to watch.



David was just leaving for work this morning when he noticed the moth in the photo above on the Buddleia adjacent to our drive. I think it may be a Straw Dot (Rivula sericealis). 
 


And finally, a handsome caterpillar!

I have been meaning to post this photo for some time. We came across the caterpillar earlier this summer on a sandy track on NT Dunwich Heath. It is an Emperor Moth larva (Saturnia pavonia), possibly 5th instar - and I would love to see the adult. The males fly about during the day.

Does anyone know whether the 'pavonia' bit of the name refers to the peacock-like eyes on the adult's wings?

Friday, 21 August 2015

Nasturtiums at Last!


I plant very few seeds. This year I planted Nasturtiums and Californian Poppies. The latter have done surprisingly well, but I have hardly seen a Nasturtium in flower until now. 



I suspect this is the reason! My plants are being devoured at a rapid rate by hungry caterpillars.

It would be interesting to know whether the leaf veins are intended to draw the larvae towards the centre of the plant.

The good news is that while I doubt there will be (m)any Nasturtium flowers left, at least there should be a very healthy brood of Large White Butterflies


Thursday, 20 August 2015

A Mixed Bag of Moths ...

I think this is Buff ermine (Spilosoma lutea)

It seems to be that time of year here in Suffolk when we begin to notice two particularly fluttery creatures - bats and moths. 

I have to confess that I was never very interested in moths. I liked butterflies and had a good butterfly guide from about the age of eleven. Most moths seemed a dull brown colour and did little to make me interested in them. In those days moths seemed to suggest the smell of naphthalene (now considered a possible health risk, especially to the young who might try to ingest mothballs). Some people have switched to red cedar discs as a deterrent, though the cedar may only work on hatching larvae.

I am still more of a butterfly person, but I am coming to appreciate moths as a result of seeing the wonderful photographs on your blogs. Many of you have moth traps, and while I don't use one of these, I really enjoy seeing the variety of shape, colour and particularly pattern that emerge. There is sometimes something rather kaleidoscopic about the markings on a moth.


We think this is the Straw Underwing (Thalpophila matura) ... thank you, RR!

The moth below appeared in our house on 30 June. It alighted on the mirror, as you can see.

Swallow-tailed Moth (Ourapteryx sambucaria)

Here in the UK there are three species of moth that can have a particularly negative effect on our homes. The Brown House Moth is attracted to natural fibres such as feathers, leather, sheepskin and wood. The White-shouldered House Moth prefers to lay its eggs in our food, and we all know about the Clothes Moth. Insects come in through our open windows and lay their eggs. Once the larvae hatch, the eating begins in earnest.

Moth eggs on glass

It is important to remember that most species of moths do not cause infestations in our homes. Many are exquisitely beautiful and play a key role in the food chain. I particularly like the bright red colours of the Cinnabar Moth, which flies at night and is therefore a tricky one to catch on camera (and also in the sunshine by day. My thanks to Simon Douglas Thompson for his correction here - see comments below).

The photo below was taken near Snape Maltings and shows a Cinnabar caterpillar.

Cinnabar Moth caterpillar in Suffolk

And just to end with a Humming-bird Hawk-moth that I saw near Pylos in the Peloponnese five years ago. These exquisite insects can also be found in the UK, although I have rarely seen them over here. 

Humming-bird hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum)
 I read on the Butterfly Conservation site that there are two and a half thousand moth species in the UK compared with 59 species of butterfly; but, of course, there are also the migrants to spot.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Why so few butterflies on a White Buddleia?

I have been pondering this question for the last few days and weeks, ever since our most recent visit to RSPB Minsmere, when there were masses of butterflies (particularly Red Admiral and Peacock) on the Buddleia bushes by the entrance to the reserve. These bushes, as I recall, were all purple in colour.

Peacock butterfly, Buddleia, RSPB Minsmere

Red Admiral, Buddleia, RSPB MInsmere

Painted Lady, Buddleia, RSPB Minsmere

I am now beginning to reach an answer, although it may be more of a hunch than a scientific fact. If you know about these things, I should be delighted to learn more.

We inherited a large, white (and to date unidentified) Buddleia in our garden. The bush is healthy and full of blooms. The flower heads look beautiful for a day or so, but soon turn to a less attractive 'rust' as the flowers die. I have just started to dead-head the ones within reach.

Friday proved to be a red-letter day for the bush: a single Red Admiral landed on it and spent some minutes nectaring. I grabbed my camera to record this fairly unusual event ...

Red Admiral, home patch, 14 August 2105

Red Admiral, home patch, 14 August 2105

Red Admiral, home patch, 14 August 2105


Red Admiral, home patch, 14 August 2105

So why is this bush usually so neglected? There is even a dedicated nettle patch underneath it in the hope that butterflies might lay their eggs in this part of our garden. And are all white Buddleia bushes less attractive to butterflies?

I understand from Andrew Bullock in an article in the Daily Telegraph by Mary Keen that 'davidii forms ... are much more attractive to butterflies.' In my ignorance I had assumed that all Buddleia bushes in British gardens were davidii, but this is clearly not the case.

Monty Don, writing in the Daily Mail (, says that a considerable number of davidii hybrids do not have as much nectar as the species varieties, adding, however, that this is not the case for some of the white hybrids.

So my tentative conclusions to date are as follows:
  • the white Buddleia in our garden probably fails to offer much nectar.
  • it is probably not one of the davidii.
  • it is possible to buy varieties of white buddleia that are attractive to butterflies. Perhaps we should consider adding in one of these.
  • Given that the single Red Admiral alighted on the bush yesterday, I shall continue to keep it under close surveillance to see if other insects follow suit in the next few days. Perhaps the nectar levels are still peaking. 
I should be interested to learn whether any of you have a white variety in your garden that acts as a magnet for butterflies!

* * *

A previous post ... my words on the RSPB Minsmere leaflet

Thursday, 13 August 2015

2015 Hedgehog Sighting - at last!


We were out looking for Perseid showers last night, and although it was a bit cloudy and we failed to spot any, we had the unexpected pleasure of finding a young hedgehog rootling around in a flower bed.

I was only bemoaning the sad fact earlier this week that I had not seen a live hedgehog for over a year (when I saw one in the grounds of the Cathedral of the Isles on Great Cumbrae in Scotland).

And now I have seen one in 2015! Having just joined the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, I have logged the sighting on their site.

You can read more about hedgehogs in Suffolk here


Monday, 10 August 2015

WWT Welney - Butterfly Count, Ladybirds, Longhorn Beetles and Other Insects

We always enjoy a day at WWT Welney, whatever the season. We spent Saturday on this lovely Fenland reserve on the Ouse Washes near Ely.

It seemed a good place to do the Big Butterfly Count, as you can see from our list (and certificate) below.

Our butterfly list

There were some interesting insects about, including this huge Musk Beetle below (about 3mm long), who landed on our picnic chair! The Site Manager told us that it was Aromia moschata, a Eurasian species of Longhorn Beetle. The larvae of this insect live in the wood of pollarded Willow trees, and, as it happened, we were under the shade of just such a tree.

Aromia moschata

A little further into the reserve we came across a second Longhorn, this time Leptura quadrifasciata, usually known as Strangalia quadrifasciata. This is a 'longhorn beetle' of the family Cerambycidae. It frequents areas in which there are Alder, Oak and Willow trees. This beetle feeds on pollen and its larvae bore holes in wood.

Strangalia quadrifasciata
Ladybird pupa

There were a lot of beetles about, including ladybirds at various stages of development.

Harlequin ladybird larva, Harmonia axyridis

We saw a few Harlequins

There are three different species of Ladybird on this plant. We counted twenty 7-spots on this plant alone:



The dragonflies were magnificent, but most were on the wing and hard to photograph.


I think this one above is a female Ruddy Darter ...




... and here are a couple of males.



The dragonfly below is a male Southern Hawker, and perhaps one of my favourites.



There were plenty of Teasels, and the one below had a small spotless red beetle on one of its leaves. I have not identified it yet. Any suggestions gratefully received!



The wild flowers were wonderful, with a show of ragwort, ox-eye daisy, pink campion and sorrel. 



In addition to the butterflies we counted, we also saw numerous caterpillars. I think these may be Small Tortoiseshell.


The Bewick's Swans left the reserve months ago now, but we enjoyed seeing a family of Mute Swans and a couple of Whoopers, like this one below.



Mute Swan


We were just leaving the reserve when we noticed this partridge not in a pear tree, but on a post!

We stopped for a short wander around Ely, with its lovely cathedral, known as the Ship of the Fens, before heading home.

If you would like to log any UK sightings of Ladybirds or Butterflies you have seen, here are the websites: