Island Nature Notes

July 2005


Though we’re halfway through the year now, there are still many natural treasures waiting for our enjoyment. On Lismore we’re constantly provided with a wealth of flowers and birds, butterflies and bees, dragonflies and mosses and much more.

Harebell
Bluebell
Primrose
Primrose

Along the road by the still uncut verges there is an abundance of flowers and grasses. The primroses and bluebells have gone, the avens by the ditches are gradually declining in vigour but a host of other flowers fill the vacant spaces: orchids, bugle, knapweed, silverweed, tormentil, lady’s mantle, red campion, St John’s wort, and now the sweetly fragrant meadowsweet. And among these better known ones are little gems like yellow pimpernel, fragrant orchid and the wild strawberry.

Common Spotted Orchid
Common Spotted Orchid
St John's wort
St John's wort
Fragrant orchid
Fragrant orchid

I stop a lot when I’m out on my walks, and watch and wait. This way I first heard and spotted grasshopper warblers in the willows, and recently I was delighted to find two Drinker moths, the large, furry-bodied mustard yellow females which love the grassy area on the edge of the bog near the Hall. The special thrill was that one of them was busy ovipositing, i.e. laying her eggs, wings beating furiously as she curled her abdomen round and deposited them in an exact row on the stems of grass. The riveting Drinker story continues because, with the help of my many reference books I found out more and the six eggs I took home hatched in two weeks and are now happily munching their tiny way through fresh grass stems. I hope to see them actually drinking the drops of water I’ve provided for them before returning them to their proper habitat later.

Drinker moth
Drinker moth caterpillar

Out in the wild part of the garden, a well established stand of figwort, which I had meant to pull out in the spring, is absolutely humming with small wasps and bumblebee workers. I’m not sure what the attraction is, for the small hooded flowers don’t appear to smell sweet and the leaves, when crushed, certainly don’t. Only the briefest of visits is made to each flower before they move on to the next one. Maybe this is simply nature’s way of ensuring good pollination. I tried to identify the wasps, which I thought might be tree wasps, but understandably gave up when my captive wouldn’t stay still and, anyway, didn’t match any of the ones in my reference book. A big disappointment this year, as it was last year, is the dearth of bumblebees and hover flies. Two years ago my garden was absolutely humming and buzzing with both but, relatively speaking, there are only a few around now.

All of us who attended the ‘Butterfly Day’ run by Butterfly Conservation Scotland, with the very enthusiastic and helpful Tom Prescott, had a great time and were rewarded with several sightings of the marsh fritillary. A few years ago I was lucky enough to be at the place where Kilcheran Loch flows into the burn, and I saw several narrow-bordered bee-hawk moths alighting on the bog beans. I’ve been looking for the northern brown argus butterfly for several years now, but it remains unrecorded. Lismore has the right habitat for it with the rock rose in abundance and ants nearby, so what more could that elusive butterfly want! While sitting on the cliff top patiently waiting for one to fly by I was pleased to see honey bees feeding on the rock rose, just a momentary visit to each flower and then on to the next, pollen sacs almost overladen with bright orange pollen. It was good to know the rock rose had another important function!

Rock rose
Rock rose
B. McD
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