July and August provided plenty of challenges for our wild life with the extremes of temperature and rainfall. One bird that was affected was the barn owl, their feathers are not as waterproof as most birds and on two occasions I saw one out early in the evening before it was dark. The previous nights there had been heavy rain and they had obviously not been able to hunt and were desperate to eat or feed their young. The young tawny owls have left the trees at the back of the house and could be seen on the telegraph poles and roof tops. Anthony Wright reported one flying over his garden and perching in a nearby tree. The green woodpecker was busy in the field after the rain which must have brought the ants up to the surface. Another unusual sight was the little egret perched on the top of a high hedge seemingly eating something on the branches. There must have been a hatch of some sort of insect as several swallows were diving about close over its head. I spent ten minutes or so watching some small birds flitting about at the rear of the
Severn Trent compound before I was able to identify them as reed warblers. They had probably nested in the reed beds within the compound. The milk thistle has now died but its seed heads have provided a source of food for several goldfinches that frequent that area. A pair of bullfinches are around in Munday's Close and I have seen them close to the ground feeding on small weed seeds such as orache. Gill Frisby reported another pair feeding on the honeysuckle berries in her garden. A bird not seen very much recently is the sparrow hawk. This coincides with the lack of collared doves which seem to be one of its favourite foods. The swallows had started a nest in the barn but it was very quickly taken over by a pair of wrens who covered it over with a roofgiving a whole new meaning to barn conversions. Once the young had hatched the parents became less shy which enabled me to stand and watch them backwards and forwards every few minutes with tasty insects for their brood. The young fledged successfully and spent a day in the feed storebefore disappearing into the hedgerow. There were two other surprise hatchings. After losing the first brood to the heat, as mentioned last time, the swallows fledged two young. The first time I knew they were there they were out of the nest and calling for the parents to feed them. They flew off within a day. The second surprise was in late August when I spotted a hen pheasant with five young. The young were just about able to fly so she had kept them well hidden for some time. A trip around the allotments, particularly around the edges of the plots and any that have been abandoned, is always fruitful. Several new species were recorded including large flowered evening primrose, greater knapweedand great mullein. Also seen was what might have been wild parsnipbut because it was growing on an abandoned allotment it may have seeded from a cultivated variety. A number of orange and black striped larvae of the cinnabar mothwere found feeding on a patch of ragwort. Devil's-bit scabiousand nettle-leaved bellflowerwere found in the wild flower meadow and in the woodland at the back of the field a red-leaved rose(Rosa ferruginea). There is very little chance of picking any hazel nuts in Munday's Close this year. The gateway is covered with the remains of nut shells. The squirrels have got there first!The warm days saw plenty of butterflies on the buddleias. Red admirals and tortoiseshells were the prominent species along with commas and painted ladies. I saw very few peacocks, although Nigel Webb reported he had seen plenty of peacocks but at that time no painted ladies. It seems populations can vary across a very small area. There also seemed to be fewer large white, small white and green veined white around here. Another visitor to the buddleia was a humming-bird hawk-moth. A day flying moth which, as its name suggests hovers in front of the flowers probing them for nectar with its very long proboscis. In the field there were meadow browns and gatekeepers but rather fewer in number than usual. The verge along Mickley Lane was a good place to see holly blues, ringlets and large numbers of female orange tips (which don't have orange tips to the wings!). I spent ten minutes in Munday's close watching the mating flight of a pair of speckled woods as they twisted and twirled right in front of me before they moved off into the trees.Plenty of hover flies have been about but it is difficult to get them to stay still for long enough to take a photograph. I did manage to get a picture of a brightly coloured one, (Chrysotoxum bicictum), which does not appear to have a common name. The adult hover flies feed on nectar and the larvae are useful as many of them feed on aphids. Another fly I managed to get a photograph of was a rose sawfly (Arge ochropus). The larvae, as you would expect from the name, feed on rose leaves, the adults feed on nectar and pollen from hogweed and tansy. This one was found on hogweed close to a patch of tansy. Another sawfly that can be a problem for gardeners is the Solomon seal sawfly, the larvae of which can strip the leaves of this plant in no time. This is the first year I have not been troubled by it, I think because I recently planted some pyrethrums next to it. Pyrethrums have been grown, probably for thousands of years, as, when powdered, they are a useful insecticide. Maybe just the plant alone has deterred the sawflies. A line was missed from the printed August edition that mentioned an example of an instar stage of a life cycle. The picture on the August website version shows the final instar of the red legged shieldbug.