September often brings warm, sunny days which are appreciated by butterflies. The Speckled wood, however, prefers some shade and will sometimes be flying on overcast days. As the name suggests it likes a woodland habitat but will visit gardens, hedgerows and parks if there is tall grass and dappled shade. The male will rest on a sunny leaf waiting for a female to pass and will see off any other males which invade his territory. The female lays her eggs on three or four different types of grass which are the food plants for the hatching caterpillars. The Speckled wood is one of the species of butterflies which feed on honeydew produced by aphids. It also likes tree sap and rotting fruit and too much insecticide spraying will reduce a vital food source for this pretty butterfly as well as many other insects.
One insect that has been in the news lately is a member of the psyllid family. This tiny creature has been brought from its native Japan where it feeds on Japanese knotweed. The plant, which we’ve talked about before and is in flower this month, was imported to this country in the nineteenth century as an exotic and is now a major pest. It is highly invasive and almost impossible to eradicate. It was hoped that the release of laboratory-bred Japanese psyllids into our countryside would kill off the knotweed but unfortunately sufficient numbers did not survive, probably because our climate is different from that of Japan. It is planned to release more of the insects in areas which have high humidity in the hope that they will live longer and feed on the knotweed. Even if this is a success it will take years before any impact is made. Meanwhile, home owners are struggling with this invader and the cost of removal which often runs into thousands of pounds. There is talk of inflicting ASBOs and heavy fines on those who fail to control the spread of knotweed. Also, banks will require an expert’s guarantee that the plant will not return before granting a mortgage to prospective buyers. And what about the little psyllid? Could it too become a problem? As we’ve seen with the knotweed the introduction of non-native species often brings unforeseen trouble. Not all, of course but Grey squirrels, American mink, Coypus, New Zealand flatworms and signal crayfish are all animals that have had undesirable effects. So once all the knotweed has gone, which many doubt is possible, would the Japanese psyllid turn to other plants? Animals are adaptable and some will change their feeding habits to suit the situation, so maybe a nice field of tasty carrots would be very attractive. Time will tell.
Animals eating things that they are not supposed to, by our laws anyway, can cause conflict. For instance, what happened to those lovely fish you bought for your garden pond? Where have they all gone? The Grey heron is often blamed for taking an easy breakfast and quite rightly so, but he is not the only culprit. Someone in our village lost fifteen Koi carp to an otter even though he is surrounded by other houses. The thief was seen in the pond by an early working builder who thought it was a pet! Faced with a feast of plenty otters can be very wasteful feeders and will often take one bite from a fish and leave the rest on the side. Another fish nicker is the Grass snake. One was in our garden pond a couple of weeks ago but, as it was only half grown, our fish proved a bit too big for it to manage; it could also have been after newts, frogs and toads which have made their homes there. So it’s not always a heron.
As well as fish, Grey herons will also feed on insects, reptiles, amphibians, small mammals and birds. They are patient hunters, often standing motionless for long periods waiting for their prey to come within reach. Then, with a lightening stab, snatch the victim which they will swallow whole. They also, with slow, careful movements, stalk a potential dinner. Their eyes are far apart and can be directed forwards or downwards giving them a good visual range. They are unmistakable birds, tall and elegant with grey, black and white plumage and very long necks and beaks. They have a harsh, croaky call which we will often hear when the bird is flying over. Herons nest in colonies, called heronries, in tall trees by water and build large platforms of twigs and grass. Both parents share the nest building, sit on the eggs and rear the young. There will be 2 – 7 eggs which are incubated for 23 – 28 days and the young will fledge at 42 – 55 days. The Grey heron is our most common heron, the others being the rare and secretive Bittern and Egrets which, although not native to Britain, are now regular visitors, some breeding here. Lovely, watery Norfolk provides an ideal habitat for these types of birds and now that harvesting is almost over you may see Grey herons standing in the stubble looking for rodents to feed on.
Other birds will be taking advantage of autumn berries and blackberries are relished by many species, also insects and foxes, as well as ourselves. The beautiful Rowan tree also provides food and Blackbirds, Song thrushes and visiting winter thrushes – Fieldfares, Redwings and Mistles – love these berries as do the pretty Waxwings; the leaves are food for several moth caterpillars. The Rowan tree, also called the Mountain Ash, can survive at quite high altitudes and will grow in relatively hostile sites, such as cracks in rocks, but they are also happy in gardens and we see them by our Norfolk roadsides. There are a lot of myths associated with Rowans, one being that they keep witches away. We have one and I must admit we haven’t seen a single one of those spell weaving women, so it must be true! People used to carry a piece of the tree to protect themselves and twigs were attached to cattle to guard against enchantment. The wood was traditionally used to make spindles and spinning wheels, walking sticks and tool handles. It is a lovely tree in the spring, with foamy white flowers and in the autumn with its scarlet berries; it is long-lived, sometimes making up to 200 years.
Some fungi have started to appear and one of my favourites is the striking Shaggy parasol. This tall mushroom grows in grassland, is also found by hedgerows and can appear in gardens.
The squirrels are at it again! This time in a Norwich cemetery where they have acquired a taste for flowers left by people for their late relatives. The little thieves particularly like dahlias and carnations because they have a high sugar content and mourners have been asked to choose other flowers; another example of adaptable feeding.
Days are shortening, and cooler weather is just around the corner but autumn is a lovely time of year with leaves turning to beautiful colours although, as we’ve talked about before, it can evoke feelings of nostalgia.
Nature activities this month include:
- Shield bugs & Ground beetles – Sheringham Park.
- Migrant moths & shore search workshop – Cley marshes.
- Fungus foray – Bretts Wood.
- Many guided walks at various nature reserves.
www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk or 01603625540.
© Sheila Sims 2015. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org