Monday, 10 August 2015

The delights of a sunny weekend!

What a nice change to have some decent weather over a weekend! I had to finish off a butterfly survey for a local farmer, so the warm sunshine on Saturday suited me well.

I found one particular clearing in a wood that had lots of flowering wild Angelica – the name is said to have come from the Angel Gabriel who according to myth, revealed its many medicinal uses. Angelica is extensively used in herbal medicine to stimulate gastric secretion, treat skin disorders, flatulence, and rheumatism, while it is also valued in perfumery where dried leaves are used as potpourri mix and as a bath scent.

However, I was more interested in the plant as a nectar source, because like many plant species in the umbellifer family, (or carrot family) they attract many insects to their blooms. I spent a very pleasant half hour studying the flower heads, while Silver-washed fritillaries flitted and glided around, occasionally landing on tall Marsh thistles to imbibe some nectar. Meanwhile, overhead in the trees, a family of young Spotted flycatchers were being fed by their parents.

All this insect activity had not gone unnoticed by the local Hornets who zig-zagged through the vegetation, occasionally knocking into a plant to see if they could dislodge some insect on which they could prey. They remind me so much of miniature tigers prowling through the forest in search of a victim! When they do strike, there is certainly no indecision, as they suddenly dart with great speed, grabbing the unfortunate target off a flower head and tumbling down into the undergrowth.

The prey is quickly subdued and within a minute, both wings and sometimes the head are bitten off and the “meaty” body is then carried away to the nest.

This hive of activity was all occurring here because the wood had been “opened up” by removing some of the trees and coppicing the shrubs, allowing the sunshine into the newly formed glade. Woodland flowers play such an important part in providing our pollinators with the pollen and nectar they require.

I also set the moth trap in my garden this weekend and was rewarded with one of my favourite moths – a Clouded Magpie – such a beautiful species and one that I have not recorded for some years. All in all - a great weekend!

A warm and sunny woodland glade - a wonderful place to watch wildlife

A Tachinid fly - Phasia hemiptera feeding on Angelica

A Hornet sets about removing the wings from its prey - in this case a "Flesh fly" 

A Silver-washed Fritillary sits on a tall Marsh thistle up above my head 

A Clouded Magpie - one of my favourites!

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