The four cream ‘shaving brushes’ on the back of the Vapourer moth caterpillar, Orgyia antiqua, make it easy to identify and presumably make predators think twice about trying to eat it.
This was nibbling away with three or four vapourer caterpillars on willow leaves by the woodland ride at Thorpe Marsh nature reserve. Larger numbers of vapourers can have a devastating effect on city trees.
12.30 pm, 23°C, 71°F: On a visit to the RHS gardens at Harlow Carr, Harrogate, I spend half an hour drawing some of the insects that are visiting the vegetable patch.
At first, it’s the fly, a house fly or one of its close relatives, basking in the sun on the arm of the garden chair that attracts my attention but apart from going through a grooming routine, as flies habitually do, it’s isn’t engaged in any interesting behaviour.
A drone fly visits a yellow tagetes flower, as does a small white butterfly.
Bee on Sweet Pea
A black bee on a sweet pea flower bends its abdomen upwards, takes the stamen between its back legs and transfers its white pollen to the underside of its abdomen. It appears to be sipping nectar simultaneously.
Moving flower pots under the bench in the greenhouse, I came across a black hunting wasp* with conspicuous white dots halfway along its antennae. There also appeared to be a white dot at the rear of its thorax. It’s been a mild day and it was even warmer in the greenhouse, even so I was surprised by how active it was. It didn’t appear to be just running for cover after I’d removed the plant pots, it appeared to be actively hunting on the surface of the damp soil. Its antennae were exploring all the time, moving independently of each other.
It was a little over a centimetre, about half an inch long, perhaps a little longer including the long antennae.
* It’s an Ichneumon – a relative of bees, wasps and ants – Ichneumon suspiciosus, a common species throughout the British Isles. Seeing it from above, I’d noticed a brownish tinge on its wings which was, in fact a broad red or orange band on its abdomen. The species also has pale spots to the rear, which I didn’t notice as it scuttled along.
This harlequin ladybird landed on the window this afternoon. It’s probably on the look-out for a suitable site to hibernate.
A map on the Harlequin Ladybird Survey website shows how this North American species, introduced to Europe in 1988, has spread from the south-east of England. From a couple of records in Yorkshire in 2003-2004, it has now been recorded across most of the county, with the exception of parts of the Dales, the North Yorks Moors and the Wolds. It’s apparent absence here may be the result of there being fewer people to record them.
Hundreds of knopper galls are scattered beneath the oaks in Nostell Park. On some you can see the way that the acorn has been transformed into the home and the food source for the larva of the gall wasp Andricus quercuscalis. The acorns have stalks, botanically penduncles, so these are the acorns of the common or pendunculate oak, Quercus robur.
It’s the asexual generation of this gall wasp that produces the knopper gall; the alternate sexual generation produces tiny galls on the male catkins of the Turkey oak, Quercus cerris. Turkey oak acorns have ‘mossy’ cups, that remind me of the furry Russian hat that Ivan the Terrible might have worn. There are several Turkey oaks at Nostell.
This species of bracket fungus is sprouting on deciduous stumps in the woods around the lakes.
The head gardener is adding wire mesh to the newly restored iron gate to the walled garden.
“Is that to stop the ducks getting in?” (It’s been a good year for the mallards on the nearby lakes).
“I worked on the film of Watership Down, so I’m always rooting for the rabbits.”
The garden is at it’s most productive so Barbara is busy in the kitchen, using a couple of pounds of split tomatoes in a Crank’s recipe for chilli bean and vegetable casserole, which also includes courgettes, onions, runner beans and potatoes from our garden.
She added some of today’s raspberries (we picked a bowl and a half of them) to a batch of muffins.
We haven’t been able to keep up with the runner beans. A handful of the slenderest are going into the casserole but I’ve stripped off all the large stringy pods that were beginning to swell to encourage the plants to put their energy into the fresh pods which are still appearing.
As I reached inside the wigwam of beanstalks, I was surrounded by sunlit foliage. With temperatures climbing into the 70s it felt more like high summer than the beginning of autumn.
Spider and Wasp
It’s a time of plenty for the spiders too: a jumping spider patrols the sunny kitchen windowsill and an orb spider with a web on the outside of the lounge window fusses out of its corner to check out a tiny insect which has landed on its web but just misses it as the insect breaks away.
A garden spider at the centre of a 12 inch wide web in front of the ivy at the end of the herb bed has more success. It has swathed a wasp in silk and is slowly consuming it. Unlike the spider in the corner of the window, it doesn’t retreat to a lair: it’s been there right at the centre of its web all afternoon. Two hours later it is still clutching what remains of the unfortunate wasp.
Wasps nested under the tiles of the roof above my studio two years ago and, during the summer months and well into a mild autumn, dozens, if not hundreds, of them somehow blundered their way into the studio and I regularly had to release them by flipping open the Velux window.
A few found their way into our hot water system and for months afterwards the odd fragment of wasp carapace would appear when we ran a bath.
This year wasps have nested under tiles again but near the apex of the main roof so thankfully well away from the hot water tank.
5 p.m.: The workers of the ants’ nest under the paving slabs of our patio are getting rather excited but it’s not going to be perfect weather for the winged queens and males to take off on their nuptial flight as although it has been warm and humid we’re now getting flurries of breeze and fine, misty drizzle.
At first it was the song thrush that started anting – encouraging ants to run over its plumage – while the female blackbird hopped up the lawn and started pecking up the scurrying ants to eat them.
Now she has taken to anting too, picking up the ants and letting them run about on her feathers. She does this at first from under the cover of the leaves of the peony that overhang the corner of the patio then comes out and continues by the bird bath.
The sparrows are more interested in eating the ants. One male hops under the plastic bird bath which is supported by bricks, a space that the blackbird, which later reverts to simply eating the ants, cannot reach.
The walled garden, Nostell Priory, 10.45 a.m., 65°F, 16°C: As I draw a cranesbill in the corner of the wild flower meadow, hoverflies investigate my pen. The long thinner species is attracted to the red plunger in my transparent Lamy fountain pen while the more convincing wasp mimic, the one with the broader boat-shaped abdomen, is attracted to the circular end of the pen and later to the round face of my key-fob compass.
A third species, a small dark hoverfly feeding on the cranesbill flowers, differs from the others in the way it holds its wings when at rest. It keeps them folded parallel along its back rather than angled at 45° like the other hoverflies.
A metre of so from me amongst the tumbled grass stems there’s a wasps’ nest. The wasps tend to leave the nest in a determined, direct flight but half of those returning hesitate and perform two or three short clockwise loops, about six inches across, as if they’re checking out the immediate surroundings before touching down. Or perhaps they’re giving way to any outgoing traffic.
A meadow brown butterfly rests amongst the grass stems.
In the lakeside wood, a tiny amphibian hops across the path. I always assume that if it hops it’s a frog, if it trundles it’s a toad but when I pick it up to take it out of harm’s way, I can see that it’s a toad, with dry warty skin. It’s smaller than my little finger nail but it’s already has the gnarled and weathered look of a prehistoric creature.
Wood Pigeon’s Egg
A blackbird was pecking at this egg which looks like a wood pigeon’s. It was lying beneath a tree by the middle lake at Nostell. I suspect that a jackdaw or magpie might have taken it from a nest. The crow tribe are the usual suspects when it comes to egg crime.
2.50 p.m., 75°F, 28°C: By the time that I’ve strimmed a path around our meadow area, there’s just a tuft of tall grasses left in the middle, the size of a double bed. Knapweed, creeping buttercup and red campion (not yet in flower) are holding their own amongst the Yorkshire fog and cocksfoot grass.
In spring I added two plants of birdsfoot trefoil from the garden centre which are scrambling up amongst the grass stems and just beginning to show a few flowers.
A blackbird which is nesting in a dense holly in the hedge makes a circuit of the newly trimmed path.
A larger than average female wolf spider rests under the cover of a chicory leaf, holding her pea-sized cocoon of eggs so that it catches the afternoon sun.
A large skipper, Ochlodes sylvanus, rests in the sun on a blade of grass, its wings half open in characteristic skipper fashion. It’s a male with a dark band of scent cells across its forewing.