A natural history of the Hedgerows and Gardens in Clewers Lane, Waltham Chase.
Words and pictures by Gordon Larcombe
Early in July, the Great Spotted Woodpeckers that had nested in the Oaks at the east end of the lane fledged. I watched one of the fledglings sitting quietly at the top of an Ash tree whilst a parent peeled the bark away from a branch of a nearby tree in search of insects on which to feed it:
FLEDGLING GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER, CLEWERS LANE
NEARBY ADULT GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER, CLEWERS LANE
Although some of the trees and shrubs in Clewers Lane may look tatty and unkempt to the human eye, this is no bad thing from the viewpoint of wildlife. The insects which the birds feed on often make their homes in damaged and rotting branches.
The warm weather which arrived in July has been accompanied by Butterflies and other insects. This year seems to have been a good one for the Marbled White, a medium sized black and white butterfly. This is actually a black butterfly with white markings rather than a white butterfly with black markings. It is not related to any of the white butterflies, even though it is similar in size to the more common Small White:
MARBLED WHITE, CLEWERS LANE.
As the Brambles began to blossom, they were soon drawing dozens of small brown butterflies to their flowers. These are Gatekeeper butterflies and they usually rest with their wings in a vertical position so that, at first glance, they seem to be a very dull brown, insignificant insect. Occasionally, they open their wings for a moment to reveal their top side wing markings which are quite colourful:
GATEKEEPER, CLEWERS LANE
Striking as the butterflies are, I think that none approaches the beauty of some of the Damsel Flies and Dragon Flies that are on the wing in high summer. This particular creature is appropriately known as The Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx Virgo) and its colour has to be seen to be believed, the camera does not do it justice. It is about five centimetres from nose to tail and, when on the wing in sunshine, it sparkles like sapphires and emeralds:
BEAUTIFUL DEMOISELLE, CLEWERS LANE
While some insects are strikingly coloured, a less attractively marked insect, but still worthy of a place in the blog is the Grey Daggers moth; a rather sinister but apt name which is readily appreciated when pictured. Each of the several small dark areas reminded those who named it of a dagger. The moth itself is fairly dull and harmless but its caterpillar is a brightly coloured (red, yellow, white and black) hairy beast that can cause skin irritation if messed with:
GREY DAGGERS MOTH, CLEWERS LANE
Another insect which does not set much store by bright colours is the Brimstone butterfly; this creature positively eschews gaudiness in order to stay alive. When at rest, it uses its pale greenish yellow colour scheme to advantage as a camouflage from predators. Here is a picture of one resting on the underside of an ivy leaf. Not only does the Brimstone’s colour scheme match that of the leaf, but the ‘veins’ on the insect’s wings also match the veins on the underside of the ivy leaf. Amazing!
BRIMSTONE BUTTERFLY (CENTRE OF PIC) ON IVY, CLEWERS LANE
The Small Skipper butterfly is, as its name suggests, small. It skips about rather erratically searching for nectar rich flowers such as dandelion, fleabane and thistles. They are usually butterflies of flower rich meadows where they lay their eggs on tall grasses. If hay meadows are destroyed, Small Skippers suffer too.
SMALL SKIPPER, CLEWERS LANE
One creature which takes advantage of insects that visit nectar-rich flowers is the Crab Spider. Unlike most spiders that spin webs to trap their prey, the Crab Spider does not spin webs; it ambushes its prey. The Crab Spider will sit motionless inside a flower for days, waiting for an unsuspecting prey to visit. In contrast to web-building spiders, the Crab Spider has highly developed vision and powerful, extended front legs and it uses these assets to detect and seize its prey before injecting it with a fast-acting paralysing poison and then devouring it. The spider is also able to slowly change its colour in order to camouflage its presence in a flower. Here is a picture of a female white Crab Spider shortly after it caught a Bumble Bee and began to devour it. In the process the spider’s abdomen increases in volume considerably:
CRAB SPIDER, CLEWERS LANE
During July, two plants can be seen in the hedgerow and on the verges. The first is called Enchanter’s Nightshade and is a fairly insignificant looking plant of twenty centimetres or so with small white flowers. It is not actually a member of the nightshade family, it is a willow herb. The name derives from the fact that the Anglo Saxons, among others, believed that the plant had magical properties that provided protection against spells cast by elves.
ENCHANTER’S NIGHTSHADE, CLEWERS LANE
The other plant to appear in July is Selfheal. This grows on verges and lawns where the grass is kept short. Its name gives a clue to its use in medieval times: it was used to heal cuts and grazes and other wounds. Whether or not it worked is another matter.
SELFHEAL, CLEWERS LANE
I spotted a Hawfinch lurking high up amongst the leaves of an Ash Tree in the lane. Unfortunately the light was poor and the photograph is not up to much but I include it here for completeness
HAWFINCH, CLEWERS LANE
Finally, this smart-looking bronze coloured beetle caught my eye as it was moving through the leaves in the sunlight. I think this is a ground beetle, but a beetle expert may have a different opinion.
BRONZE BEETLE, CLEWERS LANE