A Lot Going on at the Allotment

We’re well over half way through 30 Days Wild already, but I’ve not had chance to blog much this month. This certainly hasn’t been due to a shortage of wildlife though. The allotment is particularly busy at this time of year with everything (especially the weeds) springing into life. A neighbouring plot has regular slow worm sightings, which I view with great envy. For some reason we can’t tempt them onto our plot even though it is just a few metres away. But I sneaked a peak into said neighbour’s compost bin the other day and was delighted to spot a lovely large slow worm happily sitting on top of the compost.

Unfortunately the compost bin was too high and I was too short to be able to hold the camera high enough to get the whole reptile in focus, which was a bit annoying. So I went back the next day with my GoPro camera on a stick and did a short video to fit it all in. The slow worm didn’t move so it’s not exactly an action packed sequence, but at least you can see the whole animal.

 

A few sunny June days have also allowed me to try out my latest moth pheromone lure – this time trying to attract the currant clearwing. We have plenty of currant bushes down on the allotment, so it seemed a reasonable assumption that we’d get the moths, but I was still amazed how quickly they came. No sooner had I put the lure out and turned round to get the camera when there was already a hopeful moth buzzing round the trap. Within minutes I had about half a dozen. They were smaller than I expected and are most unusual looking insects. If I didn’t know they were moths I don’t think I would ever have guessed. See-through wings on a body striped a bit like a wasp with a strange pompom tail. They were of course all males having been fooled into thinking my lure was an attractive female.

I did try the lure out at home later – we don’t have any currant bushes there, but I was just curious. Surprisingly I got even more moths in the garden than I did on the allotment. The currant clearwing moths are obviously reasonably abundant in our area and yet I’ve never even glimpsed one without the lure.

Next insect of interest was a large red damselfly laying eggs in the allotment pond.

I didn’t see the male, but there obviously must have been one, because the female was very busy ovipositing in the pond. You can see her in the next photo curving her abdomen round to place each egg carefully in position.

I did try and video her laying the eggs, but she managed to position herself at an awkward angle to film, so apologies for the blurry (and shaky) camera work, but you can hopefully see how carefully she positions her abdomen, delicately probing to find the right spot.

The other really interesting insects we’ve been getting at the pond are signal or semaphore flies – small long legged flies with the grand name of Poecilobothrus nobilitatus. The males have white tips to their wings which they wave about like semaphore flags to signal to each other and to females. I’ve spent ages trying to film their displays, but they are so small and so quick it is very difficult to focus on the right bit of the pond at the right time! But in this first shaky video below a male can just about be seen energetically trying to see off another male with his assertive wing display.

In this second shaky video a male (on the right) is trying to woo a female (on left) with his hopefully impressive courtship display. Not sure how convinced she was!

But the big excitement for me is the development of our tadpoles into mini frogs. We’ve been anxiously watching over them since March and spotted our first mini frogs in early June. I’ll do a full froggy update soon hopefully, but here are a few photos for now. We seem to have them in all stages of development still – many are still just tadpoles, some now have back legs only, some are starting to show front legs and some like this one below are virtually there apart from the remains of a tail.

The froglets are generally only about the size of a fingernail, but they are perfectly formed – frogs in miniature.

They can of course breathe in the air now, and some are already starting to explore beyond the confines of the pond. We have to be very careful where we tread as the grass is now full of tiny froglets.

So plenty going on down the allotment and that’s without even looking at the bees, the birds, the hoverflies and butterflies that we see regularly too. Not all the plots on our allotment site are gardened organically, but ours is and I feel we reap the benefits. So what if we loose the odd vegetable or some fruit to caterpillars or slugs or pigeons – the rewards of a plot full of wildlife far outweighs the losses. I can live without the odd lettuce or raspberry, but I wouldn’t want to miss out on mini frogs and semaphore flies!

 

Out and About – Penny Hill Bank

You know how it is, you wait a lifetime to see a Green Hairstreak, then see them two days in a row! Flushed with success of finding them at Cannock Chase the day before, we ventured forth once more – this time to a small reserve in Worcestershire – Penny Hill Bank.

Penny Hill Sign

Penny Hill is an area of grassland that has apparently never had pesticides on it, so has a very diverse flora, including several types of orchid. We were probably there a bit early in the year to see many of them, but we did spot this Common Twayblade orchid (Listera ovata) and there were lots of pretty blue Bugle (Ajuga reptans) flowers.

Common Twayblade orchid (1)

Bugle (2)

The diverse flora of course in turn attracts a wide variety of insects, particularly butterflies. We’d only been there a couple of minutes before Chris spotted a Green Hairstreak. Perhaps now, having got our eye in with them at Cannock Chase, we’ll be finding them everywhere!

Green Hairstreak Penny Hill Bank

This was soon followed by another relatively unusual butterfly, the unfortunately named Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages). The skippers look a bit more like moths than butterflies, but have the typical butterfly antennae – smooth with a slightly bulbous tip. The Dingy Skippers are actually quite pretty in a subtle kind of way. They were also quite flighty, so not easy to photograph – this was the best we could do.

Dingy Skipper

We saw several other species of butterfly – Orange Tip, Green Veined White, and a possibly Large White, but none of them stopped long enough to get a photo. A Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) was however much more obliging.

Large red damselfly

The field was generally very tidy, with thankfully no rubbish, but there were a few old bits of farm debris lying around, so we checked underneath them. The first revealed a newt, but the highlight of our day though was finding another lifetime first – a slow worm! Neither of us had ever seen one, so we were both squealing with excitement (even Chris although he probably won’t admit that!) when we lifted an old metal sheet and found the slow worm underneath.

Slow worm

We hurriedly took a few photos, before carefully lowering his “roof” back down. As we’d been walking around Penny Hill, it had seemed like possibly adder territory, but the slow worm was a complete surprise. Penny Hill is also home to glow worms – so we may be back there one night in the hope of bagging another first!

The views from Penny Hill Bank were stunning, you could see for miles across Worcestershire. The photo below doesn’t really do it justice. It’s a small site tucked away off the beaten track and not that easy to find (thanks go to a local who pointed us in the right direction), but it’s a lovely, peaceful place to just sit and enjoy the view, whether you’re interested in plants and animals or not.

Penny Hill View