Speckled Wood Butterflies laying eggs; Herons; and why Stinging Nettles are so great

Another lunchtime, another fantastic walk. In my previous post I talked about all the reasons why you shouldn’t be getting rid of Stinging Nettles in your garden. A week later and I can show you exactly why:

Peacock caterpillars on Stinging Nettles copyright Steven Cheshire (WWT)
Peacock caterpillars on Stinging Nettles copyright Steven Cheshire (WWT)

These are Peacock caterpillars. As adults they’ll frequent the perhaps better loved Buddleia but for now they love your Stinging Nettles. Further down the plant you can just about see the web that they form. They stick around in big groups until their skin is spiky enough to go it alone, but while they’re still young they’ll take shelter in a web at night to protect themselves from predators. Happening across big groups like this doesn’t have to be an experience exclusive to nature reserves, you can have it in your garden as long as you’re willing to embrace the Nettle! Maybe make some Nettle Tea while you’re at it.

Another of our finds from today was a Drinker Moth caterpillar. He’d managed to get himself halfway across the footpath, possibly because he was embracing the warm sunny day and doing a bit of sunbathing. I’m not kidding – to pupate the caterpillars need to reach an optimum temperature, so basking is a must when the sun is shining. So just watch out for any under your feet if you’re taking a stroll this weekend. This guy was pretty big, so will probably be pupating pretty soon.

Drinker Moth caterpillar copyright Steven Cheshire (WWT)
Drinker Moth caterpillar copyright Steven Cheshire (WWT)

It was definitely a walk of the butterflies – a good thing really as we had Marketing and Media Officer Steve with us who’s a bit of an oracle about butterflies and moths around here. To do a bit more outrageous events promotion; Steve is the one running the butterfly taster sessions this summer. Click this link for more info. Anyway, on our travels we spotted a Speckled Wood flying low and flitting around the grass. Steve stopped us and insisted that we wait, because this is classic egg-laying behaviour. A minute later, before our eyes, the female Speckled Wood landed on a grass stem and laid her tiny egg. We shuffled in for a closer look once she’d gone, and a tiny white sphere, the size of one of those coloured pin heads, rested on the stem. Quite an incredible sight, and it shows what you can see once you know what you’re looking for.

Not that it’s all about the butterflies and moths – we also got to see a grey heron on one of the pools, always a nostalgic bird for me as we used to watch them as kids at a holiday cottage in the Lake District. There was a pool just outside the back door and almost every year there’d be a heron come to visit. Along with a large number of ducks of course.

And as promised the other day, I have indeed been to see the Bee Orchids. There are some on the top meadow at Brandon Marsh, but also some just by the path on the way up from Newlands Reedbed. Do keep an eye out if you’re here, because they are evolution at its most crafty. I’m sure even if you don’t know you can guess from the picture – they lure bees in with the promise of a very beautiful mate so that they can be pollinated. How cruel.

Bee Orchid copyright Brian Sherwin
Bee Orchid copyright Brian Sherwin

Speaking of meadows, one quick plug for our Coronation Meadow Draycote Meadows, which is by all accounts looking stunning and should be well worth a visit on what I hope will be another sunny weekend. If you’re elsewhere in the country then I’m sure there’s a very lovely meadow near you too. So happy wildlife watching, and don’t forget to look for the little details – it’s where it all happens.

Emma

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