Nature Notes July 2021

Patterns and Sequences

A Pattern to Feeding

   I’ve given up using my bird feeder because there were so many jackdaws, magpies, rooks and even 2 ravens competing for the food. Instead I eat my breakfast in the porch about 5.40 am. and throw out insect filled suet pellets just outside Then the smaller birds have a chance to eat even though I am so close.  The bigger birds steer clear though I am not entirely mean to them!    There is always a sequence to the arrival of birds. It does not seem like chance because I have been feeding this way for 3 months now. First to arrive are 2 male blackbirds then 2 female blackbirds. Next 2 robins arrive followed by 2 or 3 great tits and several dunnocks and sparrows. Most interesting are the blue tits that always perch on a valerian plant or low post before jumping to the ground. Early on the activity was hectic I expect because there were young to feed and all the birds returned several times in the same sequence. One particular blue tit has a unique style as shown on the photos below,

He or she arrives on the post with one pellet which is then broken up into smaller pieces 3 pieces I think. One piece is eaten straight away. The second is possibly taken to fledglings and the third piece inexplicably is left on the post. This does not seem to be chance for it happened time after time.

Bumble bees and predators

Bumblebees have many predators, some of which are mammals and birds. These predators have co-existed with bumblebees for thousands of years and are not a cause for conservation concern – it is the human-caused problems like habitat loss, pesticide exposure and climate change which make natural predation more of an issue for bumblebee populations.

The main mammalian predators are badgers, which use their strong claws to dig up nests and eat the larvae and food stores. Badger predation seems to be more likely to happen when conditions are dry and it is harder for badgers to forage on their preferred food source – worms. Generally larger nests seem to be attacked, presumably because the badgers can smell them out more easily;

Jan Freeman who lives in Court Drive in Sandford asked me to come and see damage done by badgers in her garden. They had presumably smelt a bee’s nest and dug it out despite it being partially under a pyrocantha shrub. We were not sure whether the nest had been completely destroyed because some bees were still flying in and out. It seems probable that by this time some male and female bees had already been produced and had flown the nest but perhaps there were still tasty larvae inside and food.

Jan had also spotted a nest in her lawn (before the badgers this time) and so she had covered the entrance with a weighed down metal grid which so far has deterred badgers and bees are still able to use their nest. She is wondering when she will be able to cut her lawn in the usual way next year.

The grid protecting the nest entrance can just be seen
Bee just entering the nest

The Mullein Moth Life Cycle

The mullein moth, with the scientific name Shargacucullia verbasci, is often found in gardens in April and May. The moth has pointed dark brown wings. The caterpillars are more likely to be seen than they are. The caterpillars are generally visible from May to July and are usually seen feasting quite literally on mulleins. (Verbascum) (see above)

The mullein moth’s life cycle is similar to other moths and it goes through the egg, larva, pupa and adult stages. Eggs are laid soon after the adult moths emerge. The female moth places the eggs beneath the leaves of plants that the caterpillars will feast upon once they hatch. White in the beginning, the eggs turn grey as they mature.

The caterpillar of the mullein moth gets much more notice than the actual moth. The caterpillar, which is the larval stage, is coloured in yellow and blacks and the bright markings keep predators at bay. It will moult 3 times before it pupates.

Decimation! May be all the debris represents the various moults?

After its final moult the mullein caterpillar will enter the pupa stage. It will find its way underground and spin itself into a very tough silk cocoon just beneath the surface of the soil it is encased by particles of soil and small stones forming a very hard exterior. The cocoon may overwinter several times before the adult moth emerges. It may remain in the pupae stage for up to five years before emerging as an adult. The facts sound straight forward but HOW does the caterpillar find its way underground and spin its cocoon.


Making Life easier.: for pollinators that is

Bees are not the only pollinators. These are beetles -a ladybird and a soldier beetle

Umbellifers: These are plants with ‘bold structure’ with soft, frothy flowers that have an ethereal quality. They look rather like umbrellas hence their Latin name.

Umbellifers are the ideal flower shape for all kinds of pollinators because they have many flowers on the same stalk so that the pollinator can literally walk from flower to flower without using valuable energy flying from one to another in different vicinity

An example of a wild umbellifer is cow parsley but it crossed my mind that there are many others that we could plant so that there is an example from spring to the autumn. Most are white flowered but Angelica gigas is crimson red and very attractive. Here is a list in approximately a chronological order various Viburnums, Anthriscus ‘Raven’s Wing’, Sweet Cicely, Valerian, Angelica, Ammi majus, Ammis visnaga, Astrantias, Fennel, Lovage, Parsley, Carrots including wild carrotans various vegetables if allowed to seed such as onions and leeks.

Book recommendation

Under Your Feet produced by the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society)

Under Your Feet delves beneath the Earth’s surface and explores the diverse wonders hidden there. Encounter creatures of the deep and marvel at the mind-boggling size of the humongous fungus – the biggest organism in the world. Learn how one handful of ordinary soil contains more organisms than there are people on Earth, and carry out experiments using dirt from your own back garden.

Know Soil Know Life by David L. Lindbo

Consider this. That without soil there would be no life? Know Soil, Know Life introduces an amazing world-the world beneath our feet. Soil is the foundation that our natural living world including humans depends on. Soil is not dirt. SOIL IS LIFE!  Know Soil, Know Life is an easily accessible resource and is for all ages. Everyone interested in being more environmentally conscious – the urban dweller, the young naturalist, the home gardener – can learn about the diversity of soils and their importance in our environment.

End Piece

Nature never gives up. We need to respect that. This decimated verbascum is putting on new growth and maybe it will succeed since the caterpillars are no more.

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