The Corvid-19 outbreak lockdown rules have recently been relaxed. Even so at the moment I continue to be loyal to my local walks all taken within one and half or so miles from home rather than travelling further away. This has now become a very familiar landscape to me, but it is beginning to show signs it is ready to change and leave spring behind. The pristine fresh green tree leaves are now more sombre with many sycamore covered with ‘honeydew’ a sticky substance excreted by feeding aphids. The tiny caterpillars of moths blown in the wind abseil down from the tops of oak trees on fragile silken threads like miniature SAS commandos. All these insects are a timely food source for hungry young birds and their exhausted parents. Similarly, the yellow fields of oil seed rape are fading fast turning their energy to the job of seed production. Even so their narrow field margins remain a refuge for some wildflowers to shine especially flaming red poppies. Photo attached. Elsewhere yellow is intensifying around paddocks full of buttercups and young rabbits.
poppy and oil seed rape
9.rabbit and buttercups
On the 11 May I reported the progress of the small tortoiseshell butterflies caterpillars that have transformed the garden patch of nettles into their dining room. They continue to devour their host plant leaving only a skeleton. It is a reminder they will soon start to pupate and then emerge to announce a changing of the guards and summer has arrived.
small tortoiseshell caterpillars
On the 12 April I noticed a small tortoiseshell butterfly egg laying on the garden patch of nettles. These have now hatched and, characteristically, the caterpillars have formed a communal silken web around the uppermost leaves for protection whilst they continue feeding. Six days before, a comma had used the same patch of nettles for egg laying (see reported dated 13 April 2010). Comma eggs are laid singularly and the caterpillar also spins a silk web on the underside of the leaf. At this stage they are less conspicuous than the small tortoiseshell butterfly so I am not too surprised not to have found a caterpillar so far..
On the 14 April while sitting next to the nettles armed with a cuppa and a piece of cake I noticed an orange tip butterfly egg laying on the flower of a garlic mustard sometimes known as jack-by-the-hedge. I was unable to see any eggs without causing damage. However, it appears they are laid singularly. This may be a blessing, because as they grow the caterpillars may be cannibalistic and no doubt more so when food is in short supply.
On 6 May in accordance with the official Coronavirus outbreak advice of stay home stay safe I once again got myself comfortable with a cuppa and another piece of cake next to this tiny and yet action packed patch of nettles. I was soon joined by a small tortoiseshell butterfly. This time I could clearly see her carefully releasing the eggs from her ovipositor on the underside of one of the uppermost leaves. See attached photos. Eggs are normally laid in batches 0f 60 to 100 so I am not sure how many may survive particularly as the caterpillars have very large appetites. So during this very dry spell I have been busy watering the nettle bed to ensure there is a supply of fresh growth for the growing numbers of caterpillars. Not sure this is reflecting too well on my horticultural credentials!
small tortoishell eggs on nettle
small tortoiseshell egg laying
As today would have been the first of our outdoor meetings, Richard and I decided we would spend our one hour walk to Smithy Brook, between Middlestown and Thornhill, recording the species we saw.
After all the glorious sunny weather over the last six weeks, today was disappointingly overcast, breezy and quite cool, however it actually made it easier to stop and identify the plants as no-one else seemed inclined to be out and about.
We counted 59 plant species but only eight birds, as the cooler weather seemed to have dampened their spirits: we usually get skylark, sparrows and various finches and tits along the lane but today we heard chiff-chaff and yellowhammer and watched a buzzard soaring over the fields.
Because of the cooler weather we didn’t see a single butterfly. We would normally see speckled wood along the sunken lane, then peacock, small tortoiseshell and orange tips along the more open stretch.
Smithy Brook Valley
When we looked closer at the wild flowers, we spotted common vetch alongside the more conspicuous bush vetch and we almost missed a patch of ground ivy, nestling among the grass and herbage on the sunken lane. Over the last few weeks we have watched the countryside changing as the hawthorn hedges turn from fresh green leaf to frothy white blossom, giving off that wonderful musky sweet smell of spring.
Bluebells, white and red campion and Herb Robert were just a few of the species along the lane with wild garlic, white comfrey and yellow flag alongside Smithy Brook. A field dotted with meadow buttercups and the bright yellow of a patch of birdsfoot trefoil add a little brightness to the morning.
Our lockdown local walks have been drenched in warm, sunny spring weather during April with high temperatures more reminiscent of Spain rather than England, Along with alll the spring migrants arriving on these warm fronts, our own native orange tip butterflies seem to have been thriving. They are on the wing in the latter part of April and early May and depend on early flowering plants, such as deandelions and garlic mustard for nectar, and there’s no shortage of these at the moment. So it appears the orange tips wiull have a perfect season and will have chnace to lay plenty of eggs for next year.
We have been getting quite a few orange tips in the garden throughout the last few weeks and if one arrives in the garden at around 5pm, they often stay to roost presenting me with some lovely photo opportunities proving you don’t have to go for for good photo subjects.