It’s been yet another cracking week on the reserve. Yes, we’ve had some rain….enough to make the grass grow, certainly… but plenty of sunshine too. There have been loads of butterflies around and, after the scotch arguses, the peacocks have been the one you’re most likely to see.
I was also delighted to see my first painted lady of the year on the reserve. These butterflies migrate, over several generations, from north Africa, following summer through Europe and arriving here in (usually) mid -to -late summer. There are still plenty of wildflowers here but they will probably have “gone over” or been scorched off with the heat further south.
The peacocks and the painted ladies look gorgeous, almost freshly minted. But the scotch arguses are well through their season now and are starting to look a bit sorry for themselves. This one was missing several chunks from its wings and is really looking rather worn.
Although we have had some rain, the ground is still really dry. This ditch is completely dry, for the first time ever. It’s often above waist deep in the winter and we’ve never seen it with no water in it.
When we have had rain, all the frogs, toads and slugs have come out. Unfortunately, a lot of toads have been run over but their revenge is nigh … the road surface is really breaking up under the squashed corpses. Which will let in water, which will freeze and expand, which will break up the road even further … and hello, potholes!
After the rain, there are slugs everywhere. Now, they’re not most people’s favourite animal -in fact, I doubt they’d make the top 100 – but the big black ones are quite useful. They’re not the ones that munch your garden, they’re detritivores – they eat detritus, dead plant material, even poo. So they’re useful in helping recycling in the natural world.
The slugs are easy to spot but other invertebrates are easy to miss. We hosted a Scottish Countryside Rangers training day on Tuesday, with the wonderful Dr Mark Young, looking at whatever beasties we could find. Spot of the day were these two froghoppers….would you have seen them on their branch?
We also found various spiders and caterpillars and the galls left by the pine resin gall moth. I’ve been seeing these lumps on pine trees for years and never known what they are- until now.
While we were insect hunting, we couldn’t help but find craneflies. Also known as daddy longlegs, they are everywhere in late summer, and the chances are you’ll have had some in the house, blundering gormlessly into lights and windows. But, if you look closely at one, you’ll see something interesting going on with their wings. They only have one pair of “proper” wings as the front but have these strange-looking lollipop-shaped structures where you’d expect another pair of wings behind them. These are called halteres and oscillate while the insect is flying, helping it to balance in flight.
One of the main reasons we see so many butterflies and other insects at this time of year is the abundance of food for them. A lot of these insects will be pollinators and will feed of nectar from flowers. As the heather is out just now, there is a lot of nectar on offer.
There are plenty of other flowers. A couple of weeks ago we wrote about bluebells …but they don’t have to be blue. We found some almost-white ones near Meikle Kinord this week.
Another easily overlooked flower is out just now, too. This is sneezewort, a close relative of yarrow. It’s quite toxic to grazing animals but has been used medicinally for millennia. It was often dried and powdered, then inhaled like snuff … usually resulting in a sneezing fit. Hence the name!
The lochs are pretty quiet just now. All the ducks are in “eclipse” – they’ve moulted their breeding finery and are keeping their heads down. The most obvious residents of the lochs were the large family of mute swans pottering around feeding on the weed. They’ve done well to get seven cygnets to this size…as far as we know, they only lost one from the whole brood.
Another parent we spotted this week was the mum roe deer with her fawn. It’s unusual to see them with the youngsters -they’re so wary of predators they usually leg it as soon as you see them. But this female can’t have seen us and it was lovey to watch her interact with the youngster. She even cleaned its ears, resulting in much ear-flapping and head shaking. Muuuummmm! Gerroff!!!
We’ll finish this week’s blog with a small plant that should be one of everyone’s favourites. Let me introduce you to the sundew …small, red, quite pretty in close up. But nothing special, right? Wrong! This wee plant is carnivorous and, if you look closely, you’ll see that this one has caught a cranefly. And, even closer to, all those black dots or smears on the leaves are probably the remains of midgies. Any plant that munches midgies or mozzies will definitely count as one of my favourites!