The summer months bring butterflies flying on warm, sunny days but one that will often be active during overcast weather is the Ringlet; it is able to heat up quite quickly because of its dark, chocolatey colouring. Dark colours absorb heat more rapidly than light ones and although the female Ringlet is paler than the male she is still darker than most other butterflies; the name comes from the distinctive rings on the undersides of the wings which we will see when the insects are at rest. June is the month when these butterflies start to emerge and they will continue flying into July and some also in the early part of August. Their preferred habitat is damp, shady grassland where the female will lay her eggs on the various grasses which are the food plants for the hatching caterpillars. These larvae will hide at the base of tussocks during the day and feed at night. Although the Ringlet is a common, widespread butterfly this may change because much of our grassland is disappearing; building, agriculture and lack of management all contribute to this loss.
Other flying insects you will see in June are dragonflies and one that is common is the Four-spotted chaser. After having spent two years as a fierce, underwater nymph, feeding on insects, tadpoles and small fish, it started to emerge last month and will be flying until August. Hawkers, the large, long-bodied dragonflies, often fly late into the evening, swooping into columns of gnats and picking off their victims. Dragonflies and their smaller cousins, damselflies, will be laying their eggs in water throughout the summer.
A watery question from Ben, in Wroxham, about feeding ducks and swans. He and his friend sometimes go to the river after school and Ben has heard that bread, which some shops sell in bags to feed to the birds, is not good for them. Well, he is perfectly right. Feeding unnatural foods can result in obesity and malnutrition. If you want to give the water fowl a treat, foods they will love, which won’t harm them, are defrosted peas and sweetcorn, unsweetened, unsalted porridge oats and those outside leaves of lettuce that we often throw away; if you feel like spending some money on the birds, corn and specially formulated duck food is available to buy from agricultural merchants and some pet shops. Not too much of anything, though, as this can make the birds reliant on people for their food, interfere with natural foraging and can promote aggression as they compete for the easy takings. Swans and geese are large, strong birds and can be rather frightening when they feel hard done by! Also, any uneaten food will contaminate the water and encourage rats and mice. Thank you for your thoughtful question, Ben.
Another danger to wildfowl has been studied by researchers at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT). They have found that swans, in particular, are at risk of lead poisoning from discarded shot used as weights by anglers. The birds mistake the shot for food and lead levels in some samples of blood have been found to be significantly high.
Roadsides are rich in wild flowers this month (if the local councils haven’t been too tidy) and two related ones that are in flower from spring until autumn are the red and white Dead nettles; these plants thrive on disturbed ground and are very common. They do look a little like stinging nettles but are harmless and are not of the same family; in fact, they are more closely related to the mints. Bees love these plants which provide an early source of nectar when they start to bloom in March. The young leaves are edible and can be used in salads or stir fries and Nicholas Culpeper, the 17th century herbalist, recommended an infusion of the flowers to ‘make the head merry and drive away melancholy’ – a sort of ancient antidepressant. Obviously, double check the identity of any wild plant before you use it in food.
Luckily, the Early purple orchid is a perennial plant and those on a roadside in Southrepps have survived the chopping they received last year before they could set seed. Naturalist and wildlife photographer, Carl Chapman, who showed myself and some friends these stunning flowers, has had the site designated a roadside nature reserve which means the local council will have to restrain themselves, and their machinery, until the seeds are set. Congratulations Carl!
Don’t forget that those baby birds you may find fluttering about your garden have usually not been abandoned. The parents will almost certainly be nearby and will be feeding them as they learn about the world, so resist the temptation to ‘rescue’ them.
Our cathedral baby birds are doing well and now feeding themselves on the food brought by the male adult. At the time of writing the female does not seem to be attending the nest and it is thought that she may have been intimidated by an intruding bird, another female, who appears to be very dominant. This bird has been identified as being one that was ringed in Bath. Our young peregrines have been ringed for future identification and one received veterinary treatment.
Things to do this month include:
- Exciting Exploration and dyke dipping – Ranworth Broad.
- Evening water trail and supper – Hickling Broad.
- Wild flower walk – Neatherd Moor.
- Peregrines – Cley Marshes.
Details at www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk or 01603 625540.
- Wild flowers revealed – Catfield Fen.
© Sheila Sims 2016. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org