The big butterfly count 2018 is now well underway with records from all parts of the UK being invited. The count is organised by Butterfly Conservation and runs until the end of August and is open to everyone and is easy to take part in. It only takes 15 minutes during bright weather and full details are available at www.bigbutterflycount.org. The count is an annual check on changes in butterfly numbers, which is important in helping to identify how various butterfly species are reacting to changes to their environment and potentially may flag up early warnings for other wildlife losses.
The garden is proving to be an ideal place to sit each day with a cup of tea for 15 minutes and watch visiting butterflies. So far small white butterflies occupy top spot with holly blue holding onto second place, which is surprising for a species once uncommon in the Wakefield district. Some of the same individuals appear to stay in the garden for several days patrolling a long hedge, which contains plenty of ivy looking for suitable egg laying sites. Images of a female holly blue feeding on common fleabane and a tiny egg placed just below a developing ivy flower bud are attached. There are generally two broods each year. The holly blue overwinter has a chrysalis with the adults emerging in early spring when the first eggs are generally laid on holly. These form the second brood of adults at this time of year, which lay eggs on ivy although other shrub species may be used.
Other species continue to visit the garden, but not necessarily in the 15 minute recording time. These include large white, green veined white, speckled wood, ringlet, meadow brown, gatekeeper, comma, small tortoiseshell and a single small copper.
Holly Blue egg on ivy
Today we had some beautiful warm October sunshine which not only tempted me out for a walk but brought out plenty of red admiral butterflies as well as a few speckled wood and large white. It’s great to see butterflies still on the wing and the local ivy patches on the edge of Ryhill are in full flower and very attractive to these late insects. There were around 30+ red admirals on one strecth of ivy alone, plus the odd late speckled wood basking in the sunshine on the nettles lower down. The hawthorns are looking good too being laden with berries as well as having superb autumn colour
Red Admiral butterfly on ivy flower
Red Admiral butterfly
Speckled wood on nettle
Red Admiral butterfly
Chilly evenings and shortening daylight hours remind us that summer is now slipping away and autumn is here. This is confirmed by a bounty of sloes and elderberries, together with a good crop of acorns. A further sign of the changing seasons are fewer wildflowers in the surrounding countryside. Even so, this remains a good time to enjoy watching butterflies, especially comma and the other species that overwinter as adults rather than eggs, larva or chrysalis. They now gorge themselves on life giving nectar offered by flowers in many of our local ornamental parks and gardens to help them survive the winter and breed next spring. This also includes red admiral, which can currently be seen in very large numbers around Wakefield. This species can be seen flying during milder days well into November and sometimes beyond. This may suggest it overwinters in a reduced state of dormancy compared to our comma, peacock, brimstone and small tortoiseshell. Indeed, there is growing evidence to suggest this butterfly is beginning to be accepted as a resident, especially in the south of the UK.
Photos of red admiral feeding on Buddleia x weyeriana and comma feeding on Sedum spectabile at a Wrenthorpe garden during the past week are attached. In addition, to our garden flowers look out for our native ivy. This is starting to flower now and is a magnet for a wide range of insects searching for nectar at this time of year. This important plant is one of our few native evergreen plants sheltering many wildlife species during the winter months.
comma on sedum
Red Admiral butterfly
A few more photographs from our field meeting at Potteric Carr earlier this month: an emerald damselfly resting on a rush stem at the dragonfly ponds.
A more unusual angle on one of the dragonflies.
In close up, you can see that perennial sow-thistle is covered with orange-tipped glandular hairs.
Green-veined white on bramble leaf.
Last week Wakefield enjoyed a mini heat wave, which was encouraging for our local butterflies. This week we have seen an abrupt and very wet change in our weather with any sunshine in short supply; a real dampener for any butterfly activity. However, today just after 3p.m. after the main showers, I called into Nostell Priory. It was still gloomy with occasional spots of rain as I walked around the wildflower meadow and orchard in the gardens. Despite the weather there were several ringlet butterflies flying amongst the tall grasses and occasionally some would rest to open their wings to bask (see attached photo) even though there was no direct sunshine. However, this behaviour is not unusual for this species which is not deterred by overcast drizzly days. Happily, ringlets appear to have extended their range throughout much of the Wakefield district over recent years.
ringlet butterfly at Nostell Priory
On the edge of a large nettle bed close to Engine Wood I watched a male small tortoiseshell butterfly establish a courtship territory. It was basking in the morning sunshine and suddenly taking flight high into the sky to investigate every passing small tortoiseshell butterfly. Other males were chased away before eventually, a female was attracted back to the nettle bed where I managed to take the image below. It appears mating takes place well inside the nettle bed and afterwards the female goes off in search of suitable nettles to lay her eggs. Sadly, nettles are often cleared away as part of clean ups in the garden and countryside. My encounter shows how valuable nettles are to wildlife. Indeed, they are vital food plants for the caterpillars of small tortoiseshell, peacock, comma and red admiral butterflies. The other image is of a roosting male orange tip butterfly that I found earlier in the morning
small tortoiseshell mating
orange tip male roosting
During a quick trip to the former colliery site at Haigh, I came across my first dingy skipper of the year and managed a few images.
To many people, our garden at home in Wrenthorpe would appear to be an ideal candidate for a TV rescue programme. The lawn is full of ‘weeds’ and there is a lack showy non-native plants elsewhere in the garden. Indeed, at the moment the centre piece of the garden is a large clump of tansy and fleabane. To some it might not look pretty, but it is an awesome magnet for bees, hoverflies and butterflies. Indeed, on 28th July there were two holly blues and one comma butterflies feeding on the tansy, together with peacock, gatekeeper and green-veined white feeding on the fleabane. Other butterflies to visit the garden during July include ringlet, meadow brown, large white, small white, small tortoiseshell and small skipper, which was seen egg laying. A photo of one of the holly blues is shown.
Holly Blue in Wrenthorpe
If anyone is thinking of visiting Brockadale for the marbled whites, they are absolutely at their peak just now. Many have only just hatched and are in immaculate condition and are on the wing with ringlet and meadow brown. I had a very productive photo session there today. More photos over at Wildscenes