A Fabulous flush of Colour

Summer brings a fabulous flush of colour and sweet smells to the reserve courtesy of our wildflowers. Not only do they provide an idyllic backdrop for mellow musings, they are also vital feeding and nesting habitats for insects, butterflies, birds, small animals and other wildlife.

A throng of germander speedwell. Considered a good luck charm for travellers, the bright blue flowers of Germander speedwell are meant to ‘speed’ you on your way. They certainly always charm me on patrol.

Common bird’s-foot-trefoil has a wealth of names that conjure up some interesting images: ‘Eggs and Bacon’, for instance! One of the more evocative names for common bird’s-foot-trefoil is ‘Granny’s toenails’, which gives an instant, and not-so-pleasant, impression of the claw-like seed pods of this abundant and sprawling species.  Its small, yellow, slipper-like flowers can be seen in little clusters.

A rare occurrence of a colony of the white variety of heath milkwort. The family name is derived from Greek and means “much milk” – it was believed that the cattle that grazed on these plants produced a good high yield of milk. Another thought is that the flowers resemble little udders.

Hawthorn blossom

Our Hawthorn trees are spectacularly in bloom. In Gaelic this thorny shrub is known as sgitheach (pronounced SKEE-ach). In Celtic lore the hawthorn was one of the most likely trees to be inhabited or protected by the Wee Folk. Such trees could not be cut or damaged in any way without incurring the often fatal wrath of their supernatural guardians. Hawthorn is famed for its white, highly scented flowers. People historically used the blossoms for garlands. They also cut leafy branches and set them in the ground outside houses and decorated these May bushes with wildflowers. We can see why!

With this abundance of flowers comes an abundance of food and shelter for insects.

A frothy, glistening mass of cuckoo-spit on pignut. Inside is a tiny juvenile yellow-green froghopper. Despite being a sap-sucker, this small bug is is completely harmless to plants.

A male orange tip butterfly showing his mottled moss green underwings off superbly. He is using his long proboscis to reach in to drink nectar from this bluebell. You have got to admire the ambition! Females lay single pale eggs on the underside of flower buds that turn a deep orange after a couple of days.

A colourful and metallic knot grass leaf beetle with a dazzling green head and red carapace was caught up in our sweep net. These beetles are highly specialised to their host plants, in this instance, those of the deadnettle aka mint aka sage family.

Don’t get into a staring match with a two-banded longhorn beetle. You lose. The adults feed on a range of conifers and broad-leaved trees. It lays its eggs in dead wood, mostly of conifers, where the larvae bore deep, broad tunnels until they are ready to pupate after about two years. Interestingly in mountainous areas they will head to grassy summits in their thousands on sunny days – even to the tops of Munro’s.

Or indeed a Four-spotted Chaser dragonfly. Morning time – before the full heat of the day is the best time to see these charismatic insects at rest. By mid-day they are really active spending a lot of time hawking over water for insect-prey or to mark out their territories. They mate on the wing; the female then hovers over the water, dipping the tip of her abdomen in to drop her eggs on to vegetation below the surface.

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