Wildlife Gardening in August

N.B. If your new to David’s monthly column then please be sure to read the ‘setting-the-scene’ opening piece first.

Garden Insects

© Laurie Campbell: Dark Green Fritillary

© Laurie Campbell: Dark Green Fritillary

A flash of orangey-bronzy-brown was all that was needed to awake me from my quiet contemplation, and for my semi-comatose brain to register that high summer was indeed here. Just as the chiffchaff is often the herald of spring so the feather-light silver-washed fritillary is enigmatic of a UK summer in northwest Hampshire. I had spotted this large and magnificent fritillary butterfly (and the related dark green fritillary) on Martin Down NNR, to the southwest of Salisbury, the previous week but the first pristine specimen in our own garden is always to be celebrated.

My suspicion is that the gleaming male, that I first spotted, had been ‘borrowed’ from the adjacent oak woodland but we have established violets at the base of one of our majestic walnuts and it could just possibly have been ‘one of our own’. Reference books tell me that the female silver-washed fritillaries lay their egg clusters on tree trunks, above wild violets. This year I’ll investigate the walnut trunks in early August in the hope of spotting egg clusters, especially as flying, mating pairs have been spotted just around, and resting on, these very walnuts.

Harewood Forest is good for butterflies and some sheltered glades always attract them. Bramble flowers in sunny locations seem to be favoured and seeing five or six species in one eyeful is then easy. The least common of the local woodland species seems to be the white admiral, and spotting more than a small handful of patrolling males would be a very good year.

The white admiral favours honeysuckle for egg laying, so we have grown this aromatic and attractive climber up a few of our birch trees. Our feeling is: every little helps, so we squeeze potential egg laying plants where we can.

Harewood is noted as a venue for the purple emperor butterfly (Butterflies of Hampshire by Oates, Taverner & Green) but I still have not seen it here. Clearly such highflying butterflies are more difficult to spot but I’ve seen them in Hungary, at ground level, so if they live adjacent to Forest Edge we should have seen them. Mind you it took be fifteen years to see my first local purple hairstreak – so it could just be me lacking quick eyes!

Having been stimulated out of my mental slumber by the fritillary it seemed wise to search around for other garden insects. And what a variety there is when you look.

The bees are in good numbers this year and easy to view. Identification is not too difficult either with an interactive web site available. Mind you keeping your bee still is always a problem!

Clytus arietis - wasp beetle. Also part of the Longhorn Group

© David Beeson : Clytus arietis – wasp beetle. Also part of the Longhorn Group

The Common carder bee, a small fluffy one in my non-scientific language, is easy to spot and here was commonly to be encountered on self-heal and clover on the longer growing ‘blobs’ in the main lawn. Another five species were visible around the garden, including cuckoo bumblebees.

Now I’m new to cuckoo bumblebees and this is what Bumblebee Conservation says: ‘Cuckoo bumblebees: In the UK there are 6 species of cuckoo bumblebees. These were once like other bumblebees, but they have switched to a parasitic existence. The females kill or evict the queen and take over her workers as their own, using them to rear their own offspring. If you live in the south of England, males of the southern cuckoo bumblebee can be among the most common bumblebees in July and August.’ Well, now I know.

I think I’ll take more notice of bees now, but I need an insect net to calm them (and the butterflies) down.

One beetle that I encountered widely in the Summer Meadow is the wasp beetle (Clytus arietis) – they sit round on the umbelifer heads consuming the pollen and are very easily spotted. The wasp beetle is a brilliant mimic. It is very dark brown-black with four conspicuous yellow stripes across the wing cases. Not only does it look like a wasp, it even acts like one, moving jerkily with rapid stops and starts. This mimicry is for its own protection as potential predators will leave this completely harmless species alone. Its larvae live in hard, slightly decayed dead timber, usually of willows and birch, of which there is plenty locally.

The violet ground beetle occurs here and is easy recognised with suitably coloured edging to its abdomen. Its name of: Carabus violaceus gives it an air of professionalism. This plucky beast, being predatory, is a gardener’s friend.

Pollen beetles, various crickets and small grasshoppers also are abundant. One interesting beetle I’ve not encountered for a while is the burying (sexton) beetle with its large size and conspicuous red and black banding. [A nice practical springs to mind here!]

Insect Trapping

The two classic ways of catching grassland insect species is via pitfall traps (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pitfall_trap) and sweep netting. More general information see: http://www.le.ac.uk/bl/gat/virtualfc/217/217tech.html

Now is a great time to analyse your own garden for insect-rich plant species. Foxgloves, common valerian, any umbelifers and especially vipers bugloss are all excellent and cheap plants to add to any garden. Even seeds sown now will supply insect-ready food for next year.

Butterfly and day-flying moth photography.

I have been known to cheat here. A butterfly net, jam jar and refrigerator are all required. I think you can guess the rest …. . Anyway once you have a cool, undamaged specimen, gently place it on some aesthetically pleasing plant background and snap away whilst it slow warms up and eventually departs for pastures new.

I’ve taken some B&B guests for dusk walks recently through the adjacent forest. The woodland is then full of all those sounds that seem to be absorbed by the daytime vegetation. It’s quite magical to hear the rustling of small mammals. Clearly, however, it is the larger beasts that one is usually seeking; happily both roe and muntjac deer are active and quite vocal around ten o’clock. The repeated single barks of the muntjac and more gutteral and longer bark-grunts of the roe deer carry well in the cool night air. I well recall the first time I heard roe deer calls – I was alone, half-lost and soon petrified! Had leopards existed locally then I would have readily believed I was about to become cat food. Now I’m older and wiser.

Hares show up well at dusk for they are less inhibited by human presence and sit bolt upright, as if commanded by some officious teacher, and preen themselves.

The Summer Meadow is now in full flower and the conservation hedges thick with leaves. The wild privet fills the air with its scent now and attracts bumblebees to its white flower heads.

Over ten butterfly species have been spotted over the last few days and numbers are very healthy.
Now is the time to distribute ripening seeds to new locations. This year I’m keen to spread our blue, wild-type aquilegias around more and to ensure that both foxgloves and deadly nightshade enliven next year’s hedgerow fringe.

© Laurie Campbell: Grey Squirrel

© Laurie Campbell: Grey Squirrel

Squirrel Slinky

My main grump with grey squirrels is that they steal all my bird food! Which I do admit is not the worst crime available. But the game of reducing grey squirrel consumption of bird food is all part of the fun of being a gardener and bird-watcher. So, having over-fed our local grey population I decided to fight back …..

So let battle commence.

Round 1.

Put up any old feeder filled with delicious peanuts and sunflower seeds.

Score: Squirrels – happy, David – frustrated.

Round 2.

Buy cheap ‘squirrel-proof’ metal feeders.

Score: Squirrels – quite content, David – still frustrated. For they can chew through some feeders that have plastic bits and just gnaw away and steal some food anyway. Birds are frightened away.

Round 3.

Buy another ‘squirrel proof’ feeder fitted with a large metal ball all around it. Expensive!

Score: Squirrels – hungry, David – less unhappy but birds, especially the woodpeckers, are inhibited and go elsewhere, so feeders do not feed the birds and are not very useful!

Round 4.

© David Beeson: Slinky?

© David Beeson: Slinky?

See innovative new product called a ‘Squirrel Slinky’. This metal tube, with inner spring, fits over the bird feeder pole. As squirrels climb the pole the internal spring scares them to near death as they are rapidly returned to ground level and, when they release their grip, it shoots back up to render them totally clueless. Seller claims 100% success. I buy regardless of cost convinced of total victory.

Score: well here I’ll include the letter I wrote to the suppliers ….

Dear X

I write a monthly column for a UK wildlife magazine / Australian site and recently purchased a Squirrel Slinky … you’ll know how it is advertised. Well the said device was fitted on an eight foot pole with food at the top. No trees were adjacent and I left it to the local, healthy, grey squirrel population to try it out.

To give your product some credit the young (grey) squirrel that first encountered it failed to climb and went off with its bushy tail at a sad angle. The resident alpha-male climbed it within half an hour.

I then added lashings of engine grease to both pole, above and below your device, and the exterior of the slinky itself. Again giving credit where it is due, the squirrel did not access the food in the first half morning ….. but every morning we now see it perfectly happily feeding from the food. Indeed I’ve now watched it shoot up the pole with hardly a thought.

Naturally I await your comments on the £ that I have invested in the product.

Yours sincerely

David Beeson

Well, I think that’s Squirrel victory, David – beaten and £poorer.

Round 5

Add chicken wire above Slinky.

David – total victory (for the moment at least). Squirrel looses lots of fur on greased pole and remains half-starved! Squirrel departs garden for easier food in the forest.

Round 6

Helpful supplier engages in ‘Squirrel Slinky’ discussion and, after the exchange of photographs, suggest that our 22mm pole is too thin for efficient working of Slinky.

Slinky refitted to new 25mm pole. All grease removed.

Sit back and wait …… but squirrels refuse to play and are now feeding elsewhere … so I temp them back with free, easily accessible peanuts.

Result?

Ah, well it’s now the end of July and I need to send my article to gbwildlife … so, as in the best TV dramas, you’ll have to wait until next month!

Can I get one of these? Well worth a watch!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NocRG3r2zBw
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X8YZIhlWpS0

David is an ex-lecturer in Environmental / Biological Sciences.
He has written for most of the UK gardening magazines, including the RHS.
Forest Edge’s garden has been widely covered in magazines and has been featured in a BBC’s Gardeners’ World special.
He also maintains a blog at https://nwhwildlife.org/