Monday, 24 September 2012

Autumn Bounty

Starling ( c. Shay Connolly)

The Elderberry trees are showing off their black clusters of fruit to the sky: an invitation that has been taken up by a selection of birds that rumage in the canopy: Blackcaps alert me to their presence by their repeated alarm call: like two stones chipping off each other: repeated frequently and faster than the similar sound made by Stonechats.  The feeding technique is to lean forward into the fruit from a perch: Starlings are particularly good at this, having noticably strong legs to support the balancing act.. Not surprisingly the birds are nervous when feeding like this, and don't generally give a good enough view to allow a photo ( so far!).

Elder berries (c. C Mac Lochlainn)

At the rate of activity and feeding in the Elders, the berry crop will be exhausted by the end of September, the October arrival of Fieldfares and Redwings will have to look elsewhere for sustenance, most likely the Hawthorns which have yet to ripen.  

Female Blackcap ( c. D Dillon)

The Blackcaps, en route to Africa very soon, are joined in the September sun by berry hunting Robins, Blue Tits, Starling, with Wood Pigeons joining in: 
(berries and juice are a nice complement to the intake of grain: what a feast, for now).

Starling in Blackberry thicket (c. R Martin)

Friday, 14 September 2012

Butterflies in a rush

Talk of winter bird song on this blog, (previous post), is a little melancholy and perhaps premature for some. Indeed, it is said that the Robins song gets more melancholy as winter progresses.. but that's just our mood!

 Well, the butterflies have made up for lost time and are appearing in great numbers right now: I counted 30 Small Tortoiseshells on the ripening Sedums, together with handfuls of Bumble bees.

Bumblebee and Small Tortoiseshell get close up on a Sedum

A Silver Y, shows off its lettering!
We also  noticed a day flying moth: a Silver Y, a common migrant, sometimes in big numbers to migration watch points, but a good enough sighting for this location.

A fine Peacock butterfly joined the party: If you don't already have a few plants like Sedum spectible and Verbena bonariensis, get down to your local Garden Centre, get planting and share in a great autumn show!

Peacock butterfly

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Autumn song

Robin in song (c. John Fox)

Autumn bird song is very unusual amongst our garden birds, with a notable exception.. Most birds sing from late winter / early spring, in order to establish a territory, attract a mate and then nest and raise young in the territory.

Robins sing in autumn, once the moult is completed.   Their sweet, controlled song is all the better to listen to with no competing song from Thrushes and Blackbirds to distract the listener. 

 The function of autumn song is presumably to establish an autumn or feeding territory.  However, the feisty defence of the feeding territory occurs at a time of plenty for food resources.  Ironically, Robins will suspend their aggression in hard weather when other birds will share what food is available before starting up singing in early spring, in advance of the breeding season. 

David Lack, a pioneer of Robin studies, writing in the classic, Life of the Robin,(1943), offered the idea that the occurrence of autumn song was a signal of the birds intention to stay the winter rather than migrate, as many other birds do at this time.  Robins do of course undertake movements: from high to low ground in winter.  The continental race of our Robin does migrate on a more regular basis and influxes of continental Robins have been noted on islands such as Cape Clear in October, leading to much territoriality from the population of indignant residents!

Robin (c. R. Martin)

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Butterflies: at last!

You wait a month.. then 3 come together! ( C.OO'S)

A plant such as Verbena bonariensis, is worthy in its own right: nearly 2 meters tall, fine and wispy , so welcome in a mixed border with various lead positions to be shared with Sedums and other performers.

Its fine delicate flowers, soft lilac and borne on the end of the long stems, sometimes in groups of three or four bracts, are further enhanced by their attractiveness to butterflies.

We went through the month of August with little or no butterfly activity, though bees and hoverflies were present in numbers (see earlier August post.) 

With Septembers coming we have at last a week of high pressure and some settled weather to enjoy. Swallows and Martins seem to be flying for fun, feeding up now in advance of the great push south.

Sedum Purple Emperor with Small Tortoiseshell & Bumble Bee (c. OO'S)

 I am delighted to report that Small Tortoiseshells were out in numbers yesterday evening:  I counted  8 in a small area of Verbena and  Sedum telephium (Purple Emperor) in a sunny part of the garden.    The bed is west facing and bathed in sunlight from mid day til late evening; drainage here is excellent and the soil light and stony..  Just as well, other plants doing well here include  Perovskia blue spire, or Russian Sage and Daisies such as Anthemis, EC Buxton.  The Perovskia is native to Afghanistan and suited to dry, arid conditions, available in this location of our garden, despite the record wet summer!