June, 2008

Wildlife

Wildlife
We're about more than just birds (though obviously we like them a lot).

Notes on nature

We love nature... from every little bug on a blade of grass to birds, butterflies, otters and oaks!
  • Dragons in your garden?

    Like three tiny fighter planes, they cruised menacingly past, cagily eyeing each other from afar. Suddenly, they came together in a blur of wings and engaged in a furious catfight, ending with one tumbling unceremoniously into the water.

    This is no tale of Battle of Britain gallantry in the skies above Europe. This was a battle for territorial supremacy at a pond near me. At war were a four-spotted chaser, a broad-bodied chaser and a hairy hawker.

    Large red damselfly

    Those brilliantly-named and colourful creatures are among several species of dragonflies and damselflies showcasing their flying skills all over the UK. It is now peak ‘flying time’ for them, so why not get out on a nice sunny day and enjoy them!

    If you’re wondering what the difference is between a ‘dragon and a ‘damsel’, damselflies are smaller, thinner bodied and hold their wings over their backs when they're perched. The bigger, more active, thicker-bodied dragonflies hold their wings out to the sides when they are at rest.

    You can see them on most rivers, pools, ponds and lakes, but did you know that you can also enjoy these fantastic insects in your garden? A pond is a real draw for these water-loving insects and it’s easy to make one in your garden!

    Don’t worry if you haven’t got one - it’s not essential to have water in your garden attract them. Freshly emerged dragonflies and damselflies spend time away from water to let their new, flimsy wings develop in peace. They head for vegetation - a good reason to have patches of wildflowers and bushes in your garden - to mature and ‘harden off’. After a few days, they head back to water to find a mate and reproduce.

    Dragonflies like migrant hawkers come to the skies above gardens to feast on smaller insects and common darters perch on your washing line and on garden canes. You might even get a visit from the mighty emperor! Large red, common blue and azure damselflies could also be coming to your garden this summer.

    Have you seen any dragonflies and damselflies this year, or attracted them to your garden? Why not write a comment (you will need to register first - this is free - then log in). You can also be updated when something new is posted to this blog.

  • Entering another world

    Today, Lucinda and I spent our lunchtime staring into a tree. We had intended to go for a walk around the reserve, but got no further than the 'formal' gardens. 'Formal' is a bit of a misnomer; although the layout of the gardens is what you'd expect at a large, country house, they're a riot of colour and wildlife.

    We stopped randomly by the tree - I can't really remember what for. First, Lucinda spotted a strange-looking caterpillar - small, dark and hairy, but with four bright yellow blobs on its back. It clambered around the leaves and seemed to be on the lookout for a meal.

    While Lucinda went back to get her camera (the temptation was too much), another caterpillar caught my eye. This was a slightly more conventional specimen, being green. As the twigs swayed around in the breeze, it looked like it had gone into suspended animation and was paused midway through its leafy lunch.

    The more we looked, the more we saw.

    The weirdest caterpillar was the last one we found. Some of our colleagues wandered past and we showed them what we'd seen. 'Wow', said Kate, 'that looks like a Stegosaurus caterpillar!'

    And indeed it did: its body shape mimicked the birch leaves, being bright green and strangely full of spiky angles. It looked like something a child would draw if asked to doodle an alien.

    It's kind of mindboggling when you stop to think that we'd only looked at one small tree. The next one along was probably full of strange creatures too, and the whole of The Lodge is full of trees... and these fellows are what are keeping our blue and great tits fed.

    • Bumped into anything strange lately? Write a comment (you will need to register first - this is free - then log in). You can also be updated when something new is posted to this blog.