A saunter round the meadow

A terrible admission, but I’ve been struggling to put a blog post together over the last couple of weeks. Time in the evening and at weekends has been scant as I’m frantically busy at work setting up my new business. I also decided to have twice weekly sessions of pre-season training for my now U13 Girls football team, which is great fun but takes another evening out of the schedule. However I have made it out into the fields on a few occasions and tonight had the rare sighting of a male Bullfinch working its way along the tree line of the lane.  
The continuing bright sunshine has brought many  butterflies to the wing and a saunter round the meadow last weekend produced a good sprinkling of varieties. 

The Large White butterflies were the most prolific, spinning in twos and threes in their mating dance before breaking off above the swaying grasses. Over by the east facing field edge field thistles were breaking from their tightly compact buds, opening nectar bars to the insects partial to its flavour. Above Old Man’s Beard clematis vitalba smothered the elder and hazel, its tender stems and fronds showing buds, flowers and down covered seeds ready for release to the wind, all stages of its reproductive cycle present. Another name for it is Traveller’s Joy which my Flora Britannica tells me is a name first coined by the 16th Century writer John Gerard. He wrote – 
‘it is called commonly Viorna quasi vias ornans, of decking and adourning waies and hedges, where peoplerauell, and thereupon I haue named it the Traueilers Ioie… These plants haue no vse in Phisicke as yet fount out, but are esteemed onely for pleasure, by reason of the goodly shadowe which they make with their thicke bushing and clyming, as also for the beautie of the flowers, and the plleasant sent or sauour of the same’,

The name stuck. Two hundred years later, Gilbert White wrote in his journal
‘The downy seeds of traveller’s joy fill the air, & driving before a gale appear like insects on the wing.’
‘Father Christmas’ is a newer vernacular name and, like old-man’s beard, refers to the fluffy seed-heads. This was interesting to discover as I had thought the name had derived from the down’s ability to readily takw a spark for fire lighting. Another, ‘Woodbine’, is a general name applied to all species of native climbers. Apparently the dry winter stems can be smoked (giving other vn. names of ‘boy’s bacca’ and ‘shepherd’s delight’) and so this may be the origin of the brand name of the cigarette my Grandad smoked.

The thistles were proving popular with the butterflies; first I found a Ringlet Aphantopus hyperantus, that wouldn’t open it’s wings for a photo, though close examination of the ringlets themselves helped me identify it most likely as a female.
Further on a Soldier Beetle, most likely Rhagonycha fulva was busy on another thistle flower head while a Gatekeeper Pyronia tithonus rested on it’s leaves.
Soldier beetle – Rhagonycha fulva

Gatekeeper Pyronia tithonus
Back in the garden and the insects were equally prolific. A beautiful Wool Carder Bee and rather exotic looking Sphaerophoria scripta rested on the leaves of an Aquilega.  
Wool Carder Bee
I had first discovered the Wool Carder through Val Littlewood’s wonderful bee paintings, which can be found on her blog Pencil and Leaf. It is often heard before being seen as it loves to chomp on the garden plant Lambs Ears Stachys byzantina, balling the collected fluff from the leaves under its abdomen. The elegant Sphaerophoria scripta  is another welcome garden visitor as its larvae feed mainly on aphids. 
Sphaerophoria scripta
The brightly colourful Californian poppies worked their magic, attracting hoverflies, bees and beetles to their radiating flower cup.
a hoverfly Eupeodes nitens homes in on the landing pad
I have yet to identify this bee, most likely from the Andrena family
I also discovered a couple of ladybird variants; clambering over the poppy stems was a Harmonia axyridis succinea, one of more recent Harlequin invaders from the far east,
whilst in the shade of ash tree, marching along the leaves of the Bears Breeches Acanthus spinosus this red spotted variety is either a melanic native 2 spot, or possibly another Harlequin, Harmonia axyridis spectabilis. I will be submitting both these sightings for verification to the UK Ladybird Project and The Harlequin Ladybird Survey. Both sites are interested in monitoring sightings of the Harlequin, which arrived as species to the US in 1988, where it is now the most widespread ladybird species on the continent and into the UK in the summer of 2004.
My little patch of north-east Hertfordshire is bathed in sunshine again today. Best I stop writing and get out there and enjoy it, and see what other natural marvels I can discover.

4 Comments

  1. what a wonderful series of photos, wonderful variety of insect life too though sad to see Harlequin ladybirds….

  2. Enjoyed your post and loved your close-up photos. Can I ask what type of camera you use?

  3. Hi Leigh. Thanks for dropping in on The Badger's Eye and following. I use a Pentax K200 with 18-55mm and 55-300mm Pentax lenses. I also now have a Sigma 500mm lens but take most of the pictures with the larger zoom, though used the smaller zoom for the insect close-ups.
    Luke, who also posts on the blog has better kit than me – he uses a Canon D7 & 40D with a 100-400mm zoom and Tamron 90mm macro. You can see the difference in the pictures, (the close-ups of the dragonfly for instance are his) and when I am out with him I notice that he can shoot at far lower light levels than me with a fast shutter speed. The only downside is his stuff is all REALLY expensive 🙂

  4. Hi Juliet (Crafty Green poet),
    Happy to report a sudden influx of six spotted native ladybirds to the garden over the last few days and no more harlequin sightings. Also almost literally hundreds of hoverflies. Clearly my garden is very insect friendly!

    Thanks for dropping by.

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