Nature Notes

Jenny Dixon

Wharfedale Naturalists Society

MR Raisins, my regular blackbird visitor, is looking rather shabby. He’s trying hard to get his final – very fat – chick to believe that it can feed itself. We’ve seen four juvenile bullfinches, welcome evidence of a successful fledging, already confidently using the seed feeder and a young goldfinch similarly engaged. The great tits in the nestbox fledged over a month ago and are now returning to forage in our crabapple and hawthorn trees. However, bird traffic is quieter as we enter the big moult. Next week we shall be able to cut our very untidy hedge.

Everywhere is overgrown and colours shift: yellow loosestrife and day lilies take over from clematis and rambler roses; marjoram flourishes as geraniums lose their petals and become spiky, “crane’s bill” seed heads. My attention shifts too. I find myself spending happy minutes insect-watching – my favourite spot the huge bramble thicket along the garden boundary. Its flowers are a washed-out mauve-white and, to my nose, unscented, but the whole area throbs with the hum of insects. It affords eye-level views of hoverflies, honeybees and bumblebees. The bumblebees, furry bundles of buzz and energy, are definitely my favourites, and I see both large queens and the smaller workers busy collecting pollen from the tired-looking flowers. I recognize lots of white tailed bumblebees and also representatives of the recently increasing population of tree bumblebees that apparently find nest boxes intended for birds make good homes for their new colonies.

Caught by the morning sun, the thicket also makes a good place for insects to warm up for their day’s activities. As we ourselves were warming up, drinking our morning coffee on the garden bench, we caught a quick glimpse of an orange and brown butterfly investigating the bramble before dashing off. It was a comma – a very attractive butterfly, its colourful wings scalloped along the edges and its underwings dark brown except for the white “comma “ on each. Resting on the ground with wings closed it is indistinguishable from a dead leaf – wonderful camouflage!

It’s a good butterfly year according to Butterfly Conservation: not round here, it isn’t! I’m afraid they take their evidence from the South of England. However, nationwide evidence is currently being collected in the Big Butterfly Count, and we can participate either from our gardens or while out walking, then posting sightings on the internet.

Meanwhile I recommend a bramble patch as a great resource providing year-round cover for wild creatures and superb nesting sites - perhaps for next year’s bullfinches, and soon there’ll be blackberries to feed the birds - and us.