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Seasonal Notes from Dr David Sheppard

September Note As the winds turn and come from the north, the smell of autumn is in the air. Most of the sights and sounds of summer have now gone and everywhere there is preparation for winter.

There is still some activity on the few wild plants that are still in flower. The Large White, Greenveined White, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Red Admiral butterflies can still be found searching for nectar from marsh and creeping thistles. The Green-veined White will not survive the winter as an adult but its progeny will survive as pupae to emerge early next spring. The Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock, along with Comma and Brimstone, will hibernate as adults, sometimes inside the church itself. The Red Admiral, being a southern European species, does not hibernate but has a dormant phase during cold weather and can sometimes survive one of our mild winters. Mostly, though, the local populations of this and the Large White rely on immigration from mainland Europe during the early summer. There are still a few Brown Carder Bees, Bombus pascuorum, collecting pollen and nectar from the White Dead-nettles so there is still at least one active nest nearby. With these late generations it is always touch and go whether they can rear a brood of queens and males before the cold weather closes in. Some queens of other bumble bees, such as the Bombus terrestris and Bombus hypnorum can still be seen searching for nectar to build up their fat reserves ready for hibernation, probably in nearby north-facing hedges and cool woodlands. In general though, there is little activity amongst the vegetation.

Turn now to the church walls and there is a different story. The sunlit walls warm up quickly and are used for basking by a variety of insects. Most obvious are the bluebottles, probably Calliphjora erythrocephala, which hides away during cold spells but is active at any time during the milder spells of winter and the Harlequin Ladybird (Harmonia axyridis) and Golden-haired Cluster fly, probably Pollenia rudis, which both hibernate, sometimes in huge numbers, in cool cavities such as empty houses and loft spaces. Surprisingly, there are still a few solitary bees nesting in the holes in the stonework and the usual Ruby-tailed wasps hunting for their burrows. Here and there are Black-lipped banded snails, which have cemented themselves to the wall to pass through dry spells out of the reach of predators. Some snails are more active as seen by the slime trails up to the roof of the church. Perhaps the lime mortar provides the calcium carbonate which they need to build their shells. Other animals on the walls were Drone flies, parasitic wasps and a Red Underwing moth (Catocala nupta) trying very hard to make its wing patterns blend in to stonework.

Overall though, there is now a stillness in the air. The sounds are mostly those of grain driers and distant agricultural machinery, punctuated with the cries of a pair of Buzzards over Pitchmoor Plantation and the alarm cries of Pheasants, Wrens and Robins sheltering in the nettle beds and hedges around the churchyard.

As a final note, if anyone has lost a black wrist strap with a grey fastener, please get in touch. I found one on the path during a visit last week.

David Sheppard 24 September 2014

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