Nature Notes – August 2015

There is so much to see at this time of year that it is hard to know where to start. For many of our insects this is when they are at their most abundant. For the birds which visit us for the summer, however, it is getting towards the end of their stay. House Martins and Swallows have broods of flying young, but both may still have further broods and so, weather permitting may be around for a couple of months yet. Others have come to the end of their stay – the Swifts for example. We don’t actually see them leave, but suddenly one day they are no longer screaming along above the village streets. The Cuckoos have already gone. Although they were to be heard in the valley this summer, I got the impression that they were not as much in evidence as in previous years.

Sunny days this July have been very good for butterflies. I was particularly pleased to see numbers of the Small Tortoiseshell, one of the best known and colourful of the garden butterflies, which for some reason has not been common in recent years. This year there seemed to be a lot more. I saw literally dozens on Lavender bushes around Rendham village hall, and heard of many more in Rendham, again on Lavender. This augurs well for numbers in the next generation, which emerges in August and September. These will spend the winter in hibernation.

The amazing Hummingbird Hawkmoth has also been showing up this summer – so much so that there has been an article in the East Anglian commenting on their numbers. Although they are moths, they are day-flying and so can be seen visiting garden flowers. We have seen them on Buddleia and especially on Salvias. When feeding, they hover in front of the flowers, just like the birds after which they are named. The wings are a blur, showing a patch of orange on the hindwing, with black and white marks on the tail. Movement from one flower to another is often sideways, and so fast that the moth is very hard to follow. It is amazing to think that these small creatures have migrated from as far as southern Europe. With luck there will still be some around in August.
Earlier this year I was given in a matchbox a batch of small beetles that I haven’t seen before. They had been feeding in a garden on Rosemary plants. I could see that they belonged to a family of beetles which I got to know as a student. These are smallish and with brilliant metallic colours, so their boring name of Leaf Beetles hardly does them justice. (One of them is the famous Colorado Beetle, with its black and yellow stripes, a potential scourge of potato crops.) The ones I was shown are also an invading species, also from America but this time as recently as 1994. They are about 1cm long, dark and metallic with purple and green stripes and called – you’ve guessed it – the Rosemary Leaf Beetle! Look out for them during the summer on Rosemary. If they do too much damage just pick them off.

Just room for one more bird, the Stock Dove, much less well known than the common Woodpigeons and Collared Doves. Stock Doves can be seen out in the fields, often with Woodpigeons. They are smaller, a pretty bluish grey, and without the white patches that Woodpigeons have on their necks and particularly on their wings. Instead they have on their necks a patch of vivid iridescent green, although this does require a close view. Unlike the others, they nest in holes in trees, and I have mentioned them making use of Barn Owl nesting boxes.

By Geoffrey Abbott