Nature Notes – July 2017

On these sunny days it is tempting to spend time (some might say too much time) watching the sequence of dragonflies as they emerge, feed and mate around the pond. Following the so-called ‘chasers’ last month (which are still around), this month has seen several of the spectacular Emperor Dragonflies. This is our largest Dragonfly, almost 8cm long and with a well over 10cm wingspan. The male is a spectacular insect, with a brilliant blue abdomen. The female, as with all the dragonflies, is much duller in colour.

Different dragonflies have different strategies for laying their eggs in the water. Some fly around in pairs, the male holding the female by the back of her head (pictures another time). The female chasers fly singly low over the water, dipping in their tails to lay individual eggs below the surface. Emperor females land on floating water plants, and dip in their tails to lay eggs attached to the plants underwater (as in the picture).

Several of the brown butterflies are on the wing at this time. Although they are not specially colourful, they are a pleasing feature of the local countryside. Commonest is the Meadow Brown, dark brown with orange patches on the wings. In a few weeks time there will also be Gatekeepers, smaller but with larger orange patches. The caterpillars of both of these feed on grasses, so hayfields and grassy verges are very important to them. The adults are often to be seen feeding on the flowers of Bramble in the hedges. I was pleased to see another of the browns, the Ringlet, in the old part of Sweffling churchyard. This butterfly is more typical of woodland clearings, although its caterpillars still feed on grasses. The Ringlet is very dark brown, almost black. It has a row of small but distinct black and white rings on the wings (only on the underside in the male) which can be hard to see when the insect won’t keep still.

‘Our’ noisy Cuckoo finally shut up on June 16th, although some may sing later into June. Then the males especially will leave on their autumn migration. Cuckoos ringed in Britain have been found in North Africa by the first week in July. Young Cuckoos, still being reared by their foster parents (in our area either Reed Warblers or Dunnocks) will leave later in the summer or autumn. This implies that their true parents have by then long gone, and they must navigate to central Africa with no parental guidance whatsoever.

Broods of the young of many of our common birds are much in evidence. Many, such as the tits and Goldfinches will accompany their parents for some time. They can usually be distinguished by a duller plumage than the adults. Young Goldfinches, for instance, at first lack the red, black and white face pattern that they acquire later. Friends have told me about broods of Pied Wagtails appearing in the garden. Here the pattern in the adults is striking, especially in the male which is very black and white. Young birds are paler grey, with just a slight dark breast band and dirty white underside. Despite this, they are not Grey Wagtails, a name confusingly given to another wagtail which although grey, has a brilliant lemon-yellow area around the base of the tail (and reported by correspondents in earlier winters).

Geoffrey Abbott

Male Emperor Dragonfly

Female, laying eggs in the pond