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High Summer round-up!

As suspected in the spring, with caterpillar numbers well down on 2016, there were fewer adults flying along Roman Road this summer.  The season started a week earlier than previously but has carried on into July.  Last week I spotted an adult moth in my garden.  It appeared on a rainy day and sat there all day till the next morning.  Nearby was a second moth but this one was dead.  Always find it sad to see the stunning insects faded and battered.

Photos show the live moth in the rain and the deceased adult, signalling an end to this year’s flight season.

This is only our 3rd year and we are learning all the time.  Recent sightings locally would seem to vindicate my feelings that this moth is doing very well.  Firstly, I was puzzled by their appearance in Stourbridge in an area which did not comply with their preferred habitat.  Their choice of food plant was also not listed, although I think Alkanet is in the same family as Comfrey.  The extraordinary numbers in 2016 seemed a rather freak occurrence.  2017 has seen similar ‘explosions’ nearby in Kidderminster and along the Severn Valley.  It is not possible to say for definite why their numbers dropped off in Stourbridge this year but I suspect that the Scarlet Tigers exploited favourable conditions in 2016 but since then, nature has found a balance.  This year has not been as spectacular but beautiful nevertheless.  People locally have got to know me and I get reports of tigers turning up all over the place, so awareness has definitely been raised.  I also like to think that many of ‘our’ adults dispersed to new locations last year.

Early days and we still have a long way to go, but this could be a success story to shout about.  Every year we are reporting declines in our lepidoptera, isn’t it nice to think that there may be some species who are bucking the trend, adapting, surviving and thriving.

We sowed the traffic island at the end of South Road/High Park Avenue with wild flowers again this year.  The effect has been nowhere near as dramatic as in 2016, mainly due to the lack of rain, everywhere is extremely dry.  However, the content and variety of flowers is much more interesting for anyone who cares about insects.  We also sowed wild flowers at the junction with Westwood Avenue.  Unfortunately there was some lack of communication and this area has been mowed by council workers and we need to re-consider our strategy next year.

Alkanet in July.JPG

This is the time of year when the Alkanet looks at its worst – not helped by the lack of rain.  The green shoots are showing through with lots of flowers but the undergrowth is brown and tangled, giving the ‘tidy gardeners’ plenty of scope to complain.  This is one of the most difficult messages to get across.

The other wild flowers we have planted and ‘encouraged’ along Roman Road are faring quite well.  It is not only the butterflies that are attracted.  The Yellow Rattle is doing its job, keeping down the grasses and spreading well.

Betony.JPG

Big thank you to Tom at Ashwood Nurseries, who donated loads of betony plants last year.  These are now in bloom and proving very popular with bees and Essex Skippers.

The skippers I have been able to identify have been Essex, not small, but we have also had Large Skipper.

Lge Skip

The 2nd brood of summer butterflies are well in flight too.  Good to see high numbers of Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and bright Commas zooming along, protecting their territory against all-comers.  Ringlets have outnumbered everything else and I have yet to see the first Gatekeeper (several seen today at Blakedown, so keep a look out).  Also no Purple Hairstreak yet.

One of the more curious plants that grows along the bridle path is a hop.  According to reference books, the Comma was almost eradicated due to its liking for laying eggs on hops.  Anyone who knows me will be aware of my passion for beer, so I have always been curious to know if the local Commas lay their eggs on the hop plant – my curiosity has not yet been satisfied but I was delighted to photograph one on a hop leaf recently.

Comma on hop

Some of the areas are overgrown and particular attention needs to be given to the saplings we planted last winter.  Consequently a few volunteers attended an impromptu work party last Friday, where we removed stubborn fronds of bracken and attempted to tackle some of the cleaver which is covering certain areas.  It’s amazing what a few people can achieve in a couple of hours.  Thanks to Steve Harper for suggesting it.

No doubt I have omitted many important items but there’s still plenty to look forward to.  2nd generation Holly Blues are on the wing – one in my garden today and Steve also spotted one along with a Hummingbird Hawkmoth – which makes 3 sightings in total along the bridle path – maybe more to come?

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