The Orange Tip

details in the dirt

Category: wildlife

Suburban Hawk

LimeHawkMoth
Every now and then one spots something in the corner of the eye when walking; something taken to be immobile, inanimate. Only, in that same moment the mind registers life, and it sends a bizarre kind of shock down the spine – this object is a living thing, despite what your eyes are telling you.

I’m fond of these moments, however unnerving the surprise and infrequently they occur. The shock is a thrill, like plunging into cold water. Spotting a lime hawk moth sat motionless in the road in front of me today brought the same chilling excitement as that which accompanied the stag beetle on my desk, the eagle in the acacia, the grass snake in the pond.

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Caldey Island

Beach 2

Three nights on Caldey Island, Pembrokeshire, West Wales. More information and images on the ‘Away’ page: away

Wood 3
Soft light

Shells *1

Collected things.

Collected things.

The Frogs Know

..when it’s spring.

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Hornet

Hornet
I found a hornet, crawled into the letter box for its final days on earth. Five pence for scale..

New Life in Dead Wood

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This is a picture of the stag beetle I found sitting on my desk two years ago. When I came in from the garden he was upside down, clawing the air with his hooked legs; an enormous insect there on my notebook. It was a bizarre occurrence, not least because of how scarce a sighting of one of these beetles has become; I actually jumped a little at the sight of it, wondering if it might even be a children’s toy.

The truth is that I should have expected to see one, sooner or later. Since I arrived at the garden I’ve been very deliberately leaving piles of stacked wood in tucked away corners in the hope of attracting the various creatures which favour such a habitat. A couple years on I’d already begun to see evidence of field mice, over-wintering hornets, solitary bees, toads, slow worms and even grass snakes. With Richmond park so close by too (with it’s contingent of largely woodland areas), stag beetles were always a possibility.

These impressive, majestic and slightly ridiculous-looking beetles depend fully on the existence of dead and decaying wood. Before the days when woodland floor clearance and tidying was deemed good practice (and more recently thrown out following the development of ecological study and the realisation of the detriment this management strategy had caused), stag beetles were a common sight in the UK. The beetles actually have a surprisingly long life, with only a short amount of it – a few weeks – spent in their completed beetle form. Development rom egg-hatch to winged insect can take between 4-6 years; nearly all of it therefore spent buried inside rotting wood or underground as larvae. This is why it is so crucial that any nesting site must be left completely undisturbed for such a long period. In a natural ecology of time gone by, fallen trees slowly decaying on the wood floor allowed for exactly this environment, and the beetles flourished.

Going back to the garden then – there’s a very small collection of two or three logs that I’ve left alone and surrounded by lawn for about four years. It’s a tiny wooden island in a sea of grass. Accidentally knocking one of the stumps over while mowing last week I was amazed to find that the inside had completely rotted away AND it contained three little stag beetle larvae. They appeared to be at differing stages of development (known as ‘instar’s), with the largest at least a year away from pupation. It’s such a good sign of the changing times therefore, that even a very small collection of wood left alone can potentially provide a home for growing stag beetles – small enough to be included in any garden no matter what the size.

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I few years ago I wrote a post on the provision of habitat in a garden here.

Tree Bumblebee

Bombus hypnorum scaling the hedge, like they do.

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