Saturday, 27 July 2013

Martin's Moorhen

I thought I'd spring a surprise today with a picture of something which is neither a butterfly nor a moth, It's a moorhen, one of those quaint birds which motor round our rivers, lakes and canals with a strange jerky motion - backwards and forwards like a rowing eight. I've often thought that a Nobel Prize awaits the physicist who can overcome that jerk in the otherwise smooth flow of a rowing crew going at top speed. Magnetic sliding seats? But I don't think the moorhen's unique style will ever change.

Look at that foot! Why in Creation was this little bird landed with that? As my bird Bible says: "It takes to the air after lengthy pattering over the water's surface and flies, rather weakly, with its legs dangling behind."

Equally irrelevant to entomology is this fungus which has attacked our plum tree, wreaking potentially great damage but in the meanwhile providing a fascinating and rather beautiful display of sap, like resin. The gardening manuals say to cut off affected bits and destroy them utterly, but I am finding this difficult because of the beguiling colour and translucency of the sap. And anyway, I don't much like plums.

Here are some dead things now. Alas, the ability of our greenhouse to attract and then suffocate butterflies is matched by the fatal effect of our windows - big and without crossbars - on birds which fly into them. This siskin - I think - is just the latest of about half-a-dozen so far this summer. Memorably in Leeds, as described in a blog post on 15 July 2009, a sparrowhawk flew into our living room window with an almighty wallop, breaking its neck and leaving a weird ghostly image on the glass.

I was talking about ants and grasshoppers the other day and complaining that Aesop had unfairly disparaged the grasshopper as spendthrift and carefree, with no scientific grounds. Here is a picture which would have pleased the old chap: ants making prudent use of a dead grasshopper. How sad.

An insect at last! See below. But also dead, one of the greenhouse victims. It is doubly on my conscience because I had a feeling yesterday that when I listed the 11 butterflies active in the garden on Thursday, I had left one out. I had and it was this one, a Speckled Wood, a beautiful butterfly whose colour and patterning is perfect camouflage in its favourite surroundings of sun-dappled shade.

I am very fond of this butterfly, which has been a big UK success story over the last 30 years. When I first reported one in Leeds back in the early 1990s, without a photograph, the local moth expert refused to believe me. Two years later, I sent him a pic of another one and by the time we moved house, they were all over the place.

Some people accuse moths of being hairy, but check out the Speckled Wood

I'm also very chuffed because a picture I took of a Speckled Wood sunbathing in a small patch of sunlight on the outskirts of Sheffield is going to be used in a report to Natural England on micro-climates. A very nice scientist found it on an internet trawl. I'll tell you more when the report is published. Yo!

A Ringlet getting a bit old, but there's nothing wrong with that

I ran the trap last night but plan a leisurely Saturday going through its arrivals without any rush. So here to end with are a few more of our current garden butterflies - plus a bonus picture of a Comma contributed by one of our neighbours who rescued it from the beak of a Spotted Flycatcher. The natural world is a cruel and dangerous place.

Large White, bane of the cabbage grower

And its deputy, the Small White

A Comma, beautiful butterfly with uniquely-shaped wings for the UK, showing the reason for its name

And another which had a narrow escape - the Flycatcher got the wing, not the body. Note my neighbour's photographic skill at getting the wing outline both in real and shadow


Countryside Tales said...

Thank goodness you ended with some live things! Congrats on the forthcoming photographic fame. Let us know the details. Are you contributing to the Big Butterfly Count? :-)

Martin Wainwright said...

Hi there! Sorry about all the death but there's a lot of it about in Nature. But not as much as all the doom people say, to my mind. For that reason, I don't know about the butterfly count. I wish they wouldn't lard such things with jeremiads, but just encourage interest simply on the merits of butterflies and moths and the fun and fascination to be had from studying them. There are certainly lots around this year and - as Phil Gates suggested in a comment on a recent post - that raises doubts about all the 'disastrous' tags applied to 2012.

all v best as ever