A natural history of the Hedgerows and Gardens in Clewers Lane, Waltham Chase.
Words and pictures by Gordon Larcombe
September was punctuated by periods of heavy rain; however in the few sunny spells many butterfles and other insects were observed feeding on the nectar of flowers or on the sugars in ripe fallen fruit. These sources provide energy to help the insects survive hibernation or the return trip to warmer climes. So this month’s pictures are mainly of butterflies, moths and other insects; but the Robins have been in song early in the mornings, marking out their territories, and as everyone loves a Robin, here is a snapshot of one doing just that:
ROBIN, CLEWERS LANE
Quite a few moths are day-flying and here is a picture of a Brimstone moth. Much smaller than the Brimstone butterfly, it is a weak flier and seems to waft around like a piece of confetti at the mercy of the breeze:
BRIMSTONE MOTH, CLEWERS LANE
This is a snap of another day-flying moth, the Yellow Underwing. For camouflage, its upper wings resemble a dead leaf; however the lower wings are a striking egg-yolk yellow. In this picture, you may just be able to see a glimpse of the yellow wings where the two upper wings are slightly apart.
YELLOW UNDERWING MOTH, CLEWERS LANE
This moth is a Shell. They come in a variety of colours ranging from dull yellow through brown to pied:
SHELL MOTH, CLEWERS LANE
The next day-flying moth may surprise you. In this snapshot, It is at rest on a wall and looks nothing like the creature that was shown in last month’s diary:
It is a Humming Bird Hawk moth. I have taken a short video of this amazing creature in action and Martin has hosted it on his website. (Ed: press ‘play’ button to watch it)
By now, the moth should have set off on its return journey to the South of France where they are quite common. It really is mind-boggling that something so skilled at endurance-flying, aerobatics and navigation was not much more than a large maggot just a few months ago!
And so to butterflies.
Commas hibernate in England and can often be found stocking up energy supplies by feeding on blackberry juices at this time of the year. To hibernate, the insect finds a dark, sheltered corner and folds up its wings; whereupon it resembles a tatty old leaf and is usually left alone unless, by chance, a mouse happens across it.
COMMA, CLEWERS LANE
The Speckled Wood is a fairly common butterfly of woodland and hedgerow, although there seem to be fewer around this year. They often sunbathe in pools of sunlight and you can see from the snapshot that this one is doing just that:
SPECKLED WOOD BUTTERFLY, CLEWERS LANE
The colourful Peacock Butterfly is an ideal subject for the camera. To deter predators, it overtly displays the two false ‘eyes’ on its wings to create the impression that it is a larger creature (If you stare at it through nearly-closed eyes you may see how it can look like the face of a larger animal):
PEACOCK BUTTERFLY, CLEWERS LANE
Occasionally, several species of colourful butterfly feed from the nectar-rich flowers simultaneously. In this snapshot, starting at top left and moving clockwise, there is a Small Tortoiseshell, a Red Admiral and a Painted Lady all feeding on a late-flowering Buddleia:
BUTTERFLY BALL, CLEWERS LANE
This unusual-looking wasp, which is feeding on nectar from Common Toadflax, is a kind of Potter Wasp. There are several similar, narrow-waisted wasps that either mine cavities in sandy soil in which to build their nests, or else mould them from clay. I am not sure to which specific species this one belongs. All are solitary wasps in that they do not form colonies. The female potter wasp builds about ten small clay pots, into each of which she stores a paralysed caterpillar and a fertilised egg that then develop into wasp larvae. The female’s lifespan is only about a fortnight and so she never sees her larvae develop:
POTTER WASP, CLEWERS LANE
Finally for this month, the House Sparrows are still around, as evidenced by this snapshot of a group of three that includes a juvenile:
HOUSE SPARROWS, CLEWERS LANE