June 2019

Red hinds
Sheila Sims

This month is right in the middle of the birthing season for Red deer which runs from mid May until mid July; usually one fawn is born but occasionally there can be two. The hind will hide away to give birth and leave the fawn well hidden to where she will return periodically for it to suckle. Even though she hides the fawn and its spotted coat ensures that it is well camouflaged it will, never the less, be vulnerable to predators at this time; foxes and dogs will find it easy prey.

Garden urn – good nursery!
Sheila Sims

Birds are nesting at this time of year and some find extraordinary places to rear their young. I’ve written before about the hollow, metal gatepost in which Great tits nested, right at the bottom. We have a terracotta urn in the garden and Great tits have decided to make this their nursery. The adult birds are flying into the top opening with food for the chicks and flying out with the faecal sacs; baby birds deliver their droppings conveniently wrapped in a membrane. We are wondering how the chicks will leave, when the time comes, because of the curved shape of the sides of the urn. We think we’ll put it on a chair or table and turn it on the side when the young show signs of fledging, which hopefully will deter rats and snakes. I would be interested to hear from you if you have come across unusual nesting places.

A juicy grub for chicks
Mike Sims

Removing faecal sac
Mike Sims

Grass snakes will also be giving birth this month, or rather laying their eggs, and will be searching for warm places to do this. Compost heaps are good places for them and it is best not to disturb yours at this time of year.

Female bats will gather together to form maternity roosts where they will have their young. Usually a bat will have just one baby and early summer is birthing time. As with all mammals the young rely on their mother for milk and keep warm by clinging to her; warmth is also generated by the other females which group together. Baby bats are not born with fully developed wings but when they can fly the maternity roost will start to break up, this will be around mid-July; the young will be able to catch their own food once their wings are functional. If you see bats flying, the earlier in the evening they come, the closer to you they will be roosting during the day and this could be in an outbuilding, a hollow tree, under a bridge, in a tunnel or even in your attic.

Common nettle-tap
Sheila Sims

An insect which is unlikely to be on the menu for bats is the Common nettle tap, because this little moth flies by day; it is common throughout England. The larval food is nettles and these moths can often be seen in groups flying around the plants. The caterpillars make a tent from a nettle leaf to hide away from predators. There are many caterpillars which feed on nettles, so this is a good reason to leave a small patch of them in your garden. You will be repaid by visits from beautiful butterflies.

Woody nightshade
or Bittersweet
Sheila Sims

Woody nightshade, also known as Bittersweet, is also a food plant for the caterpillars of some moths including the one which featured in the film ‘The Silence of the Lambs’, the Deaths-head hawkmoth, so called because of the skull-like marking on its back. Woody nightshade is a vine related to the potato and the tomato, a sprawling plant which will wind its way up the stems of other plants. It has pretty purple and yellow flowers and berries which start off as green, then turn orange and finally become red; they are very poisonous and children may be attracted to them because of the colour. They are also poisonous to livestock, however birds are not affected by the toxin and eat them with relish, in particular thrushes. This plant is often confused with Deadly nightshade which is even more poisonous but has very different flowers and black berries. This is also known as ‘Belladonna’, which means beautiful lady; it contains atropine which has the effect of dilating the pupils and ladies used to use drops made from the plant to make them appear more seductive. I imagine they must have been constantly banging into the furniture as it does rather blur the vision, which you will know about if you have ever had an eye examination where atropine was used to enable the back of the eye to be easily seen by the doctor. In the days when people believed in witchcraft, bunches of Woody nightshade used to be tied around the necks of cattle to ward off the evil eye.

Sheep sorrel
Sheila Sims

There seem be very few wild plants that aren’t eaten by something, and that includes  Rhododendrons, which we talked about last month and is not liked by other plants, has its own gang of pests. A plant that is liked by the caterpillars of the Small copper butterfly is Sheep sorrel, closely related to Dock. This plant has many medicinal uses including as a relief for sinusitis; it contains oxalic acid which has the effect of reducing mucous. The leaves are also used as a culinary herb, their tartness complimenting fatty meats such as lamb, pork and duck.

There are lots of wild plants we can eat but it is a wise precaution to make sure you identify them correctly; there are many poisonous plants out there. A good book about foraging is Richard Mabey’s ‘Food for Free.’

Events to get involved in this month include:

  • Weave a willow bird house/Plant walk – both at Cley Marshes.

  • Evening water trail & supper/Butterfly walk – both at Hickling Broad.

  • Marvellous moths – Weeting Heath.

  • Flora walk – Ranworth Broad.

© Sheila Sims 2019. Email: sheila@norfolknaturediary.uk

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