Saturday, 28 May 2011

Wantage Downs

A short but profitable walk down a steep chalk dry valley near Wantage with the local natural history group. Weather overcast and cool for once - long may this continue! One of the first plants at the top of the slope were large thistles, after a little debate these were considered non-typical nodding thistles (Carduus nutans) in bud. For a report on all that the group found please look here.

Carduus nutans,nodding thistle

There were a number of butterflies sheltering from the stiff cool breeze, including in places dozens of male Common Blues (Polyommatus icarus).

Common Blue Butterfly,Polyommatus icarus

Later a brief spell of sunshine quickly caused them to start flying around and showing off their wings.

Common Blue Butterfly,Polyommatus icarus

We saw ten or so Tiger Moths (Arctia caja) sheltering often in rabbit burrows out of the breeze

Tiger Moth,Arctia caja

And also the rarer, and much better camouflaged, Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi).

Green Hairstreak,Callophrys rubi

Also sheltering in the clumps of nettles was a distinctive insect, which I can not identify... it may be a wasp or sawfly.

Wasp beetle

The nettles were clearly a magnet to insects. One clump had caterpillars of three different species feeding on it. These are I think peacock butterfly caterpillars munching away.

Peacock catterpillars

A couple of the distinctive Burnet Moths were also seen, this could be the five spotted version (Zygaena lonicerae).

Burnet moth,Zygaena lonicerae

There were some milkworts in flower, I spotted this one which is I think a 'pink' version of the common milkwort (Polygala vulgaris).

Common Milkwort,Polygala vulgaris

Then surely the highlight of the walk, a few isolated plants of the seriously poisonous Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) in the 'potato' family (Solanum) along with the Nightshades.

Henbane,Hyoscyamus niger

Near one of the henbanes, we saw an Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor).

Henbane,Hyoscyamus niger

Finally on the way back a reminder that the orchid (common spotted?) flowering season is upon us.


Sunday, 22 May 2011

Garden and Beetles

Another warm, dry week so no wish for a long walk. My garden has coped with the drought reasonably well. It was the sighting of this creature yesterday that prompted the posting.

Cetonia aurata,Rose chafer beetle

Much more of these beetles later in this blog... The daisies (Anthemis cupaniana) did well, the silvery leaves helping them retain water. The few aubretia flowers set them off nicely.

daisy,Anthemis cupaniana

And en masse they can be dramatic.

daisy,Anthemis cupaniana

I heavily pruned a berberis (Berberis darwinii) two years ago and it is still taking time to regenerate. The bees love the flowers and these are followed by blue berries, a good value shrub.

Berberis darwinii,bersberis

A 'weed' is just a plant in the wrong place, I do not mind these cornflowers that came in somehow, particularly as the bees like them so much. This bee is probably a tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum). They only flower briefly in Spring and die back.


My crab apple tree (Malus transitoria) has grown very large over the years, it is spectacular in spring and autumn.

crab apple tree,Malus transitoria

Aquilegas (Aquilega vulgaris) have seeded themselves around widely, which I don't mind, the flowers are vary widely in colour too.

Aquilega vulgaris

The 'Chinese Beauty bush' (Kolkwitzia amabilis) lived up to its name again

Kolkwitzia amabilis,Chinese Beauty bush

With the presence of stone walls snails have a host of good hiding places so I have take extreme measures to protect Hostas (Hosta montana 'Aurea Marginata'). I find two copper bands spaced two inches apart have proven quite effective.

Kolkwitzia amabilis,Chinese Beauty bush

The warm, sunny spell has brought plants to flower earlier than usual, including these Californian Poppies (Eschscholzia californica).

Californian Poppy,Eschscholzia californica

Enough of the ordinary and back to those beetles, these are large (half an inch) and were feeding on Pyracantha (firethorn) flowers. Here is one from the side

Cetonia aurata,Rose chafer beetle

I went scurrying for my insect book with no luck, but the Internet quickly supplied an identification. It is a Rose chafer beetle (Cetonia aurata) a species making its way northward into the UK.

Cetonia aurata,Rose chafer beetle

The bush had three of them, and two of them decided that nature must have its way...

Cetonia aurata,Rose chafer beetle

And another prurient shot.

Cetonia aurata,Rose chafer beetle

It took a little patience to wait for the sun to catch the emerald iridescence. The Rose chafer beetles are in the Scarab beetle family but not the same ones that the Egyptians venerated so much.

Cetonia aurata,Rose chafer beetle

Apparently these are not a pest at all, the grubs do a good job of processing compost. Finally a detailed shot of its head.

Cetonia aurata,Rose chafer beetle