A natural history of the Hedgerows and Gardens in Clewers Lane, Waltham Chase.
Words and pictures by Gordon Larcombe
August has been a mixed bag of rain interspersed with some warm, sunny days. The much-heralded prediction of an influx of Painted Lady butterflies has not happened in this part of country; however, one or two have appeared and snapshots are included. These large, powerful butterflies are not resident in Britain, they originate somewhere in North Africa (Morocco) and migrate to Britain where they spend a few weeks feeding during our summer. At the end of our summer they set off on the return journey to North Africa, with most of them dying on the way; however sufficent numbers survive the journey to ensure the species continues to breed and thrive in their homeland.
A native British butterfly, the Holly Blue, also has an unusual breeding cycle. This tiny butterfly (about the size of a postage stamp) has two breeding cycles each year. In Springtime, the female seeks out Holly trees and lays her eggs in the flower buds, whereupon the eggs hatch into grubs that grow by eating the flower buds of the Holly tree. In late summer, a female will seek out Ivy plants and lay her eggs within the flower buds. The eggs hatch and the grubs develop by eating the Ivy flower buds (Ivy is in bloom during the heart of winter), emerging in Spring as new butterflies that seek out Holly buds – and the cycle repeats itself. One wonders how the creatures know this stuff. Anyway, here are a couple of snapshots of a female Holly Blue seeking out young ivy buds and laying eggs therein:
HOLLY BLUE FEMALE ON IVY, CLEWERS LANE
HOLLY BLUE DEPOSITING EGGS ON IVY, CLEWERS LANE
Here is a snapshot of a feeding Painted Lady, as mentioned earlier:
PAINTED LADY, CLEWERS LANE
The Painted Lady is large and striking and its colours are quite muted, almost as if the contrast has been turned down. Another colourful creature is the Humming Bird Hawk Moth which is a large, night-and-day-flying moth. When feeding, it hovers, with its wings beating so rapidly (80 beats a second) that they are just a blur, and it behaves exactly like a humming bird when it shoots out its long proboscis to feed on honeysuckle or buddleia flowers. The speed of the moth presents a technical challenge to my small pocket camera, so apologies for the blurry shots – but you can probably make out the orange underwings and the black-and-white striped body:
HUMMING BIRD HAWK MOTH FEEDING ON PHLOX, CLEWERS LANE
The Brimstone butterfly is not as colourful as the previous creatures because it relies on camouflage to keep it safe from predators. Its leaf-like camouflage works very well on young Ivy leaves, but not so well on dark green mature leaves. Here is a picture of Brimstone trying, not very successfully, to pass itself off as a leaf (perhaps it should have gone to a well-known opticians!):
BRIMSTONE BUTTERFLY, CLEWERS LANE
Mature speckled bush crickets are also out and about this month:
SPECKLED BUSH CRICKET, CLEWERS LANE
Large non-native Harlequin ladybirds can also be found in August. They come in a variety of colours and patterns and so these characteristics are not always a useful as a means of identification. The secret is to check the legs: The Harlequin has reddish brown legs whereas the native British species of ladybird have black legs.
HARLEQUIN LADYBIRD, CLEWERS LANE
The received wisdom is that Harlequins will have an adverse effect on the welfare of native ladybird species. If that is the case, then hopefully creatures such as this common frog will help redress the balance by predating on the larger Harlequin:
COMMON FROG, CLEWERS LANE
Fleabane, with flowers which resemble miniature sunflowers, is coming into flower and is much sought after by Hoverflies and similar insects:
FLEABANE, CLEWERS LANE
When burnt, the smoke from Fleabane is said to drive away fleas and other insects, hence the derivation of the name. The plant is also used by herbalists.
Another plant, loved by insects is the Great Willow Herb which grows to two metres or so in height:
GREAT WILLOW HERB, CLEWERS LANE
Although regarded as a weed, the Great Willow Herb is a useful addition to a wildlife garden as many insects feed on it, including the caterpillars of the Elephant Hawk Moth which eat the leaves.
Finally for August, in contrast to the size of the Willow Herb, the flowers of the ground-hugging Scarlet Pimpernel can be spotted when the sun is out:
SCARLET PIMPERNEL, CLEWERS LANE
The flowers close up when skies darken prior to rain and for this reason the plant is sometimes known as Shepherd’s Weatherglass or Poor Man’s Weatherglass.