Winchcombe Nature Notes August

Winchcombe Nature Notes – August

Winchcombe Nature Notes – August

An occasional column

As lockdown measures continue to ease, so the weather continues to be decidedly poor for summer. July has been disappointing with only the occasional brighter day to raise the spirits. It does seem as though we had our summer sunshine in April and May.

Nature, however, continues unabated. Despite the below average temperatures black fly have appeared in large numbers on my crop of dwarf beans and they have now moved across to the runners.  As other forms of wildlife can become collateral damage I am reluctant to spray.   Also, domestic sprays have been reduced in strength by EU legislation to the point where they are, more or less, ineffective.  Those plants were consigned to the compost heap.

Other forms of wildlife can help the gardener by controlling pests like aphids (black fly and green fly). Many birds will take green fly for themselves and to feed to their chicks. Ladybirds and hoverflies are also aphid predators, but with so many they can’t possibly eat them all.

There are several different species of ladybirds although the commonest now seems to be the harlequin ladybird. This species is an alien invader from Asia, appearing in this country in 2004. It was deliberately introduced to some European countries as a control agent for aphids but inevitably spread and eventually found its way to Britain. It would have flown the Channel or arrived on a plant consignment. It hasn’t looked back and certainly seems to be here to stay.

The harlequin is larger than our native species of ladybirds and is detrimental to their wellbeing, being able to consume their eggs and larvae. They appear in three colour forms from the traditional red with black spots and black with large red/orange spots.

Our commonest native ladybird is the seven-spot ladybird (red with black spots) but perhaps a little unusual is the realisation that three native species are yellow with black spots or markings.

All ladybirds go through the egg/larva/pupa stage before adulthood. Both larvae and adults consume aphids.

The commonest bird in the garden recently has been the long-tailed tit. I’ve often seen six or so at a time working the shrubbery for aphids or taking food from the fat-balls that I leave out for them.

Winchcombe Nature Notes August

Some have been juvenile birds and as they often travel in family parties these probably represent a single-family group. They are charming little birds although the youngsters look rather scruffy until they acquire their adult plumage.

At this time of the year they tend to stay in small groups but in winter are joined by other tits and finches to form small roving flocks which move on quickly from one food source to another. It’s as if they have a favourite circuit and they will often stick together as a mixed flock until spring.

Green woodpeckers have again bred locally. It’s often possible to hear the young birds calling for their parents to bring them food. They are hidden in the tree canopy and although fully fledged, rely on the parents for some time to feed them.

Winchcombe Nature Notes August

One juvenile almost came to an untimely end when it flew into the (closed) dining room window, hitting the glass with a loud thump. I’d glimpsed it from within a second before it hit the glass, long enough to identify it as a juvenile. I watched it turn in mid-air and fly back from whence it came, apparently non the worse for its experience.

Many years ago one flew into a (closed) bedroom window, unfortunately killing itself. It landed with a thump on the patio table, where my startled in-laws were enjoying an afternoon cup of tea.

Green woodpeckers are usually seen a few times each year when they visit the garden to feast on the numerous ant nests in my lawn. They are most welcome visitors both for the free entertainment they give me and for the ants they consume. However, as with aphids and ladybirds, there are more than enough ants to feed a whole flock of woodpeckers so the ants more than cope with the loss of a few individuals.

I have mentioned in previous ‘Notes’ the occurrence of the holly blue butterfly in the garden. The species is double brooded each year, meaning that they have flight periods in both spring and summer. I am now seeing the progeny of the springtime butterflies turning up in the garden.

My first confirmed sighting was on 5 July and I have seen several since. Not so many yet as in spring but there is still plenty of time. And joy of joy, one stopped long enough to have its photograph taken! Usually they pass through without stopping but for once I was in the right place at the right time and got a respectable photo that has eluded me for so long.

Winchcombe Nature Notes August

They are the blue butterfly most likely to be seen in the garden as the female uses holly and ivy plants on which to lay her eggs. Other ‘blues’ have different host plants unlikely to be found in gardens (gardeners tend to be too tidy and remove ‘weeds’!) although once I did record a common blue in the garden. A common enough butterfly, but not in gardens, as a rule.

My crop of rowan berries has already been reduced by the wood pigeons. Originally, the berries were the preserve of the winter thrushes. Blackbird, song and mistle thrush, redwing and fieldfare could usually be seen in the winter months. In two years the tree played host to that beautiful rarity, the waxwing, which goes for rowan berries big time. And on one occasion I saw four male blackcaps feasting on the berries.

No chance now, however. The pesky wood pigeons arrive, six or seven at a time, and take most of the berries well before winter; even in many cases before the berries are fully ripe. I don’t even get the pleasure of the autumn colour the berries should provide!

Undoubtedly wood pigeons are a massive nuisance. When I was young, the wood pigeon was very much a farmland bird. Nowadays it is comfortably urbanised and can be found almost everywhere.

Its feeding habits have evolved also. It takes the growing buds from the flowering crab apple tree and the nascent plums from the fan-trained Victoria if I’m not around to move it on. The joys of gardening!

Pete Rodgers
3 August 2020

More of Pete’s fabulous photographs can be viewed on his flickr site.

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