Welcome to Wildlife Watching 4th – 18th June 2020. Good to be able to drop ‘Lockdown’ from the title don’t you think?
We are tumbling into summer after a turbulent spring which, as always, passes so quickly. It seems but an instant ago that we were awaiting the arrival of migrant birds; the scratchy song of the whitethroat, the pleasant twitter of swallows, the screaming swifts, and here we are with all of those established and part of the background noise. Our gardens that a few short weeks ago were full of birds establishing territories, singing with gusto, sparring with their neighbours, impressing the girls, are now instead full of fledgling birds making their own way in life; the urgency has evaporated, the reproductive task of the adults largely complete. Time for a breather and to take it easy for a while.
It is in summer that invertebrate and plant life comes into it’s own. The sheer variety of colours, shapes and habits of these things taking an interested party on a journey of discovery. Although the weather of late has been a touch changeable, dry and sunny windows have allowed some enjoyable nature forays. I’ve put together a short video of some of the diverse wildlife that I’ve found in the garden recently and of butterflies seen on the heathlands north of Norwich – silver-studded blues mainly. The closing slow-motion clip of a bee in flight is courtesy of Ros Burrough – thanks Ros.
Moth trapping is a constant source of delight with the ever present anticipation of discovery a major attractant. Simply put, you just never know what might turn up. My routine with this is to let the trap run overnight, get up at dawn to close it down to protect the moths from the attentions of voracious robins, blackbirds and great tits, move it all to a shaded, sheltered spot and get back to bed as soon as possible. I then rummage through the trap at my leisure later in the morning making an inventory of every species present together with the numbers of each. You can read more about that here. Over the years I’ve managed to harmlessly trap something like 250 species of macro moth and at least 50 species of micro moth in my garden. Even after 15 years the list grows, with 4 new species this year already. June is the season for the large, showy hawk moths that never fail to impress. I’ve recorded 6 species here, and the chances are you could as well – I’m still awaiting one of the really big, migrant species to blunder into the trap one night and eventually it will happen, it’s just a question of patience and persistence. When it does, you’ll be the first to know.
The availability nowadays of comprehensive reference guides opens up areas of investigation hitherto the realm of the real expert or scientist. We can enjoy excellent books on moths, butterflies, bees, hoverflies, dragonflies and flowers to mention but a few. The illustrations are superb, the text accessible and clear. Whereas in the past a hoverfly was just a small, colourful insect whose identity would be difficult to ascertain, now you can take a few photographs, maybe even pot it up (safely of course) and use these guides to put a name to the creature. Not Jack or Jenny, but Eupeodes luniger or Parhelophilus frutetorum – much better isn’t it? There is a move to allocate English names to the micro moths thereby making them far more familiar and memorable. Maybe that will extend to other insect groups. I hope so because I don’t know about you, but the Latin names just don’t stick. I found the pair below in the garden making good use of the flowers in the unmown lawn.
As can be seen in the embedded video, silver-studded blue butterflies are now on the wing. A trip to Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s marvellous Buxton Heath produced good numbers of these electric blue insects slowly flitting around bramble patches. They proved to be very tolerant of close approach and really don’t seem to stray very far from a food source. In other parts of the site we saw a pair of woodlark and a tree pipit as well as seldom being out of earshot of yellowhammers, whitethroats and willow warblers. A good display of common spotted orchids was pleasing on the eye, well worth getting soaking wet feet for.
For a spot of nocturnal distraction, I sometimes go into the garden after sunset to tap into the night shift. There’s always something different to see after dark with a whole new world opening up. One very pleasing aspect of letting the lawn go wild is to not only witness loads of insects using the flowers by day, but to see moths and beetles do so at night. If you are fed up mowing the lawn, I really can recommend just leaving part of it – or all of it – to grow. It’s surprising what flowers pop up and you will be rewarded with so much life. If I can persuade you to do one thing for nature this summer I would urge you to do nothing; that is don’t mow, don’t tidy, don’t prune. just let it be, sit back, enjoy a glass of something long, cool and refreshing and drowse in the soporific buzzing of hundreds of whirring wings.