Saturday, 22 August 2015

Rooks in the fading light

On the 22nd of August 2015, I spent a lovely hour in our garden experiencing the light fading away and the creatures of the day finding their way home.  I counted rooks as they flew past our house to their roost - probably Lime Tree Avenue. When I started, at 7:30pm on the sky was still blue sprinkled with little white clouds.  A gentle pink glow on the horizon was the only clue that the day was ending.  Half a dozen house martins had just wheeled overhead and a red admiral paid a last visit to our buddleia.  Tiny hints of yellow showed that the cigar-shaped evening primrose buds had just started to unroll.

In half-an-hour clouds turned from white to slate.
For the first quarter hour, there was just a trickle of rooks.  By 8pm, the trickle had turned into a flood. One group of birds was about 40 strong and they flew over too fast to count properly.

One group of rooks.
As a dragonfly feasted on evening insects, the flood slackened. By 8:20pm, they had all gone. I had counted about 400 rooks past our house in less than an hour.

When the rooks passed our house.
During that hour, the light had nearly gone, moths had started to fly and the evening primrose flowers had opened. So much had changed in such as short time.

Evening primrose flower.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

The Big Butterfly Count 2015

Between the 17th of July and the 9th of August, people all over the country counted butterflies for periods of 15 minutes. This citizen science is backed by The Butterfly Conservation people. This year’s results can be found on the web site.  

Me, counting butterflies, notebook in hand.
I was pleased with the results I got in 2014 but this year was so much better.
  • 2014: 10 counts, 10 species of butterfly, 66 records
  • 2015: 12 counts, 13 species of butterfly, 108 records as well as some moths.
Although I've done more counts, the average number of butterflies per count is 9 compared to 6.6 last year. All the numbers in this post are for butterflies only, although the moths were pretty and interesting too.
Attractive 6 spot burnet moth.
Here is a graph showing how many butterflies I recorded.

Butterflies recorded during 12 counts in our Uckfield garden.
The top three species were the same as last year:
1. Gatekeepers, which took an even more commanding lead than before
2. Meadow Brown
3. Large White.

Meadow Browns mating.
Otherwise, there were some differences. Last year, Ringlets and Small Tortiseshells were in the top 6. This year, I had no Ringlets and only one Small Tortiseshell. On the other hand, Red Admirals had held their position in the rankings.

Small Tortiseshell.
In both years, I saw one common blue butterfly. It has become less common over the last few years due to the reduction of habitats suitable for its food plant, bird's-foot trefoil. I've often found this little character clinging to a flower first thing in the morning. It is very hard to persuade it to let go of its perch. Most of the blues we see are Holly Blues.

Holly Blue.
Then I read an article about Commas, which explained that they had adapted to the decline in their formerly favourite food plant, hop, by feeding on nettles.This got me thinking about caterpillar food plants. Next year, I will be looking out for caterpillars on the following plants.

Food TypeButterflies
Meadow Brown
Small Skipper
Speckled Wood
 BrassicasLarge White
Small White
Nettle, hopComma
Red Admiral
Small Tortiseshell
Bird's-foot trefoilCommon blue
Six spot burnet
BrimstoneBuckthorn, Alder Buckthorn
Holly BlueHolly, Ivy, Dogwood, Gorse

Flying ants

Mum pointed them out first. Tiny golden angels rising in the sunlight. A closer look revealed hundreds of flying ants on and around the stepping stones at the bottom of our garden.

Preparing for take off.
There were also many small, wingless ants scurrying busily about.  This frenzy was an amazing sight in such a quiet area of the garden. I hadn't even realised there was an ants nest in this part of the garden. Maybe I should have done, as I've often seen blackbirds sunbathing down there. I understand that they like ants to run around their feathers to help get rid of parasites so they indulge in behaviour known as anting.

I imagine that it is a real bonanza for predators. Mum thought she saw a red dragonfly catching the ants on the wing.

It wasn't just our garden. I posted in the UK Bees and Wasps Facebook group (open) and people from all over the country commented that they had seen flying ants too. 

My photo was picked up in a Mirror article, which was posted in the Uckfield Talk Facebook group (closed - you'll only be able to see the post if you are a member). Several people from the town mentioned that nests of flying ants had appeared around their houses.

My photo was also picked up by West Sussex's Spirit FM for their article on the "invasion" of flying ants.