The last few butterflies and dragonflies of summer - Harry's Hog Blog

Common darter dragonfly by Harry Hog

Trust promoter Harry Hog has been out and about at Waresley Woods and Trumpington Meadows, making the most of the last flush of summer insects...

As our strange summer comes to an end, rather swiftly it seems, with temperatures plummeting in recent days, it’s a good time to get out and enjoy the last few butterflies and dragonflies of the season. At this time of year they make the most of sunny spells to get on the wing and feed. For some butterflies, this will be a much needed boost before they go into their overwintering stage. Look out for them appearing in your garden shed or outbuilding, some of their favourite refuges, and please let them rest there in safety.

At the moment our woodland margins and rides are great places to see butterflies feasting on the last wild flowers or blackberries. I visited our Trust reserve at Waresely Wood in Cambridgeshire this week and saw a nice range of different species including speckled wood, green veined white, peacock, large white and the jagged shaped comma. These commas are so well camouflaged that they look just like an old leaf when they close their wings. Butterflies in the comma's genus are often called ‘angled winged’ butterflies due to their distinctive shape. Commas get their name from the distinct white comma shaped mark on the underwing.

 

Also at the wood were lots of migrant hawker and common darter dragonflies, flitting around at high speed catching other insects on the wing. Some species of dragonfly can reach maximum speeds of around 30mph, and this equates to around 100 body lengths per second in forward flight: of course it’s much slower in reverse !

Sadly this is the final stage in a dragonfly's life cycle as they only live for a couple of months as a winged insect, some species even less. During this time they’ll hunt for food, mate and lay eggs. We then have to wait for the emergence of the young next spring.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable visit to the wood: there’s always something to take in whilst there. The weather was lovely and calm too and this just emphasised the peacefulness of this magical place. The only sounds you could hear were nuthatches high in the canopy smashing hazel nuts on the branches and a tawny owl who decided to let out the loudest of hoots just as I passed his daytime tree roost, which certainly made me jump! I'm not sure why they do this, as they’re nocturnal, but I used to have one roosting in the garden and this was quite a frequent occurrence. Maybe they just talk in their sleep.

 

Wheatear standing tall on a wooden post

Wheatear by Harry Hog

Another of my popular reserves, for me and for visitors, is Trumpington Meadows in Cambridge. The highlight of this trip, (thanks for the tip Jeremy and Jill,) was the wheatear in the short grass near the pond. One of the reasons we ask for dogs on leads in this part of the reserve is for the protection of the small birds and other creatures that inhabit the grassland around the pond and beyond. This bird was a little jumpy and gave me a right run around until it settled on a post, allowing a quick photo opportunity. These delightful birds are migrants and have a white tail rump, and at times sit wagging their rear, a bit like a wagtail.

I did have an easier time photographing the little grebes, or dab chicks as we like to call them. They were most obliging and it was good to see that this year's youngsters have learned how to catch fish for themselves and have grown quite big too! Interestingly, fish weren’t introduced into the pond so have colonised naturally: eggs were most likely brought in on birds feet or through the drainage system.

I'll be visiting Northamptonshire on Saturday for a day at our Nene Wetlands visitor centre. If you’re over that way, do come and say hello.

Whatever wild space you visit, have fun, enjoy nature and do think about supporting your local Wildlife Trust, we really do need your help.

Bye for now,
Harry

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