Clewers Lane Nature diary


August 2013.

A natural history of the Hedgerows and Gardens in Clewers Lane, Waltham Chase.

Words and pictures by Gordon Larcombe

August has been warm and sunny, which is ideal weather for insects, and there have been many on display in the lane and its gardens.

Butterflies seem to be everywhere – Brimstones, Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers, Small Tortoiseshells, and Whites (both Large and Small) in large numbers, as well as the occasional Peacock, Red Admiral, Blue and Skippers. Many of these insects would seem to be easy prey for birds and similar; however, some of them use a selection of tactics to avoid being eaten. Camouflage, Mimicry and Warning Messages feature quite often in the insect world. Here is a Peacock butterfly which uses mimicry – it has false eyes on its wings which are supposed to confuse and deter potential predators by implying that the insect is actually the face of a larger animal:


PEACOCK BUTTERFLY, CLEWERS LANE

To complete its defence, when the peacock is resting with its wings folded shut, the dark brown and black underside of the wings make the insect resemble a dead leaf.

Gatekeeper butterflies use similar tactics when their wings are open:


GATEKEEPER, CLEWERS LANE

However, the Gatekeepers also have a single eye on the underside of their wings which enables a pair of Gatekeepers to combine to mimic a larger face when the pair is engaged in mating activity – a particularly vulnerable time:


MATING PAIR OF GATEKEEPERS, CLEWERS LANE

Other insects use camouflage to avoid being eaten. Here is a picture of a Brimstone on a honeysuckle plant – the butterfly resembles the leaf even down to the veins in its wings:


BRIMSTONE ON HONEYSUCKLE, CLEWERS LANE

Some moths are day-flying, and they also have to take measures to avoid being the next meal for a hungry predator. One of our most common day-flying moths is the ‘Silver – Y’ moth and, at just over an inch long, head to tail, you can see how well it is camouflaged as it rests on the ground amongst the dead leaves and twigs:


SILVER – Y MOTH, CLEWERS LANE

The moth also rests on tree trunks. Presumably the excellence of its camouflage contributes to the fact that it is one of most common moths!

The Speckled Bush Crickets can be found in the hedgerow, if you look carefully. At just over one inch long from nose to tail, their green bodies and slow movements are their form of camouflage; however, like grasshoppers, they can leap quite a distance if they are in danger:


SPECKLED BUSH CRICKET, CLEWERS LANE

Another defence used by insects involves sending out obvious warning signs that they are not good to eat. To be effective, the warning signs have to be obvious and easily seen. As a rule of thumb, Red and Black or Yellow and Black colour combinations usually signify poisonous or hazardous. For example, Ladybirds exude a nasty-tasting liquid, while Wasps and Bees will sting. As mentioned last month, some insects can be extremely dangerous to predators. The five spot burnet moth which flies by day and is just less than two centimetres from tip to toe is packed with cyanide –


FIVE SPOT BURNET MOTH, CLEWERS LANE

Some insects are clever and take advantage of the protection afforded by appearing to be hazardous without having to invest in the production of poisons. Several hover flies and moths imitate wasps and bees but are actually harmless.

Two less-common butterflies which you might see at the moment are the Small Skipper and the Holly Blue, neither of which has any particular defence mechanism other than that of being small and with jerky erratic flight. Perhaps they are just too hard to catch for such a small meal:



SMALL SKIPPER BUTTERFLY, CLEWERS LANE


FEMALE HOLLY BLUE BUTTERFLY, CLEWERS LANE

Some of the wild plants presently in flower are the two metre tall Great Willow Herb and Fleabane. The fleabane was once a valued plant because its leaves were dried and burned in houses so that the fumes would drive fleas from the rushes and grasses which covered the floors of houses in olden times.

FLEABANE, CLEWERS LANE

GREAT WILLOW HERB, CLEWERS LANE

The second brood of birds are fledging now, here is a young blackbird waiting for its parents to visit with its next meal:

BLACKBIRD FLEDGLING, CLEWERS LANE

As the days begin to shorten, the many bats appear earlier, snacking on the many moths and lacewing flies on the wing. There seem to be fewer ‘Daddy Long Legs’ this year – good news for BBQs, but not for the bats who love to catch the insects.

To conclude on a ‘high’ note, here is a picture of a Goldfinch singing from my TV aerial in Clewers Lane on a high summer’s day:



GOLDFINCH IN SONG, CLEWERS LANE

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2 Responses to Clewers Lane Nature diary

  1. Lorrie Smith says:

    WONDERFUL!!!
    Thanks Graham for sharing these fantastic pictures.
    Lorrie

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