The Cycles of the Six Spot

This week is National Insect Week – and because some of you still find insects a little creepy (crawly), I thought I’d show you some amazing photographs of the cycle of six spot burnet moth, in the hope that you may be inspired to explore further.

We begin with the lovely little yellow and black caterpillar (or larva), which feeds on the birdsfoot trefoil and clover in our wildflower meadow.  It has been hibernating all winter, so fattens itself, growing bigger, through the month of May:

Six Spot Burnet Moth Caterpillar

Six Spot Burnet Moth Caterpillar

The caterpillar then creates a cocoon in the meadow, spinning silk from its spinneret, a gland near its mouth:

Six Spot Burnet Moth Caterpillar beginning its Pupating Process

Six Spot Burnet Moth Caterpillar beginning its Pupating Process

Six Spot Burnet Moth Pupating

Six Spot Burnet Moth Pupating

The cocoon dries and, inside it, the caterpillar becomes a pupa, transforming.  In June, it will emerge from the case in the new form of a beautiful black and red moth:

Six Spot Burnet Pupal Casing

Six Spot Burnet Pupal Casing

OK, that does look a bit creepy – that’s what the moth has left behind. The moth itself is much prettier!

Six Spot Burnet Moth on Knapweed

Six Spot Burnet Moth on Common Knapweed

And apart from feeding on the flowers of the meadow, drinking in the nectar with its long proboscis, what does the moth do? It doesn’t live very long, its main aim simply to start the cycle all over again:

Six Spot Burnet Moths Mating

Six Spot Burnet Moths Mating

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A Perfect English Afternoon

There is something idyllic about a sunny English afternoon, the temperature in the early 20s, a soft breeze, mown grass underfoot.  Add a wildflower meadow, birdsong, young trees, butterflies and dragonflies, a cup of tea or cold punch, a slice of home-made cake, and nothing to do for an hour or two …

Our Open Day, graced by the wonderful music of the Myddleton Quartet, was held last Saturday, and we were blessed in so many ways: the weather was lovely, the refreshments stall heavy with delicious fayre, and gentle easy company.  The roses around the roundhouse came into flower so perfect it could almost have been planned.

The Myddelton Quartet playing in the Roundhouse

The Myddleton Quartet playing in the Roundhouse

Thank you to all the volunteers, and the Quartet, who made the day what it was.  Nearly £650 was raised from the refreshments stall, over £550 from the raffle and tombola, and the last of our 2017 honey was snapped up, along with plenty of our new tea towels and increasingly famous ‘bunny badges’ (our Friends’ hare lapel pin).  A very positive day in terms of fundraising for The Friends, a valuable day all round.

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Cakes and Tea Towels

First of all, a big thank you to all who came along to our Cake Sale last weekend.  We raised £180 for The Friends of Sun Rising, and as importantly it was a lovely opportunity to people to meet and talk.  Thanks to all who donated cakes and helped out on the day.

The Sun Rising Tea Towel (autumn/winter)

The Sun Rising Tea Towel (autumn/winter)

As those who came along on Saturday will have found out, our new Sun Rising tea towel is now printed and available to buy.  The beautiful artwork is by Philip Bannister, and it’s all organic cotton.  They are £10 each, with all profit going to The Friends.  If you would like a tea towel or two sent by post, get in touch and I’ll let you know the postage and packing.  We are hoping Philip will do one for us with a spring/summer theme as well …

Tea towels will be on sale at our Open Day on Saturday 9 June, when there’ll be a string quartet playing in the roundhouse between 3 and 5 pm.  Do come along on the day – put it in the diary, and I’ll post more information about it in the coming week!

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The Pinks of Nature

When creating and tending a nature reserve, there are surprising gaps in colour.  When it comes to choosing a memorial tree for a woodland burial area, those more used to garden flowers and trees than native species will often ask for a tree with pink blossom, but there are very few.  The native bird cherry and wild cherry are white, as are the service tree, blackthorn and viburnums.  Hawthorn can have a pink tinge, and now and then the wild crab apple …

Crab Apple in Blossom

Crab Apple in Blossom

A wonderful element of the native species trees is that they have such a wide gene pool.  The field maple can be have soft smooth bark or be very ridged and craggy.  The same is true of the crab apple: some are almost thorny with tiny hard fruits, while others are far closer to the domestic apple.  Some have pure white open flowers, and others have smaller pink blooms.  The tree in the photo here is one planted back in 2006, and at nearly 12 years old is, I think you’ll agree, just glorious.  Being in the heart of the growing woodland only adds to its charm, the flower-laden branches reaching through the neighbouring dog rose, oak, cherry and birch.

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When I Was A Lad

Standing looking out over the wildflower meadow at Sun Rising, when someone says to me, “I’ve not seen a sight like that since I was a lad” or ” … a girl”, I know we’re doing something right.

As the cowslips reach their best – and there are more of them every year – it’s an expression I often hear, and it warms my heart as much as it does the person who says it.  They are usually somewhere over 70, and what they recall is an England before the war, before every scrap of land was ploughed for food and sprayed with chemicals.  We have lost so much of our native wildflower meadow, blinkered attitudes prioritising food production over the health of land and its inhabitants.  Conserving what is left of our ancient meadows is one important task, but creating new meadows of wildflowers is as crucial.

Cowslips near the Roundhouse

Cowslips near the Roundhouse

I’m looking forward to seeing our much larger new area of meadow in a few years’ time.  It’s still bare seeded soil now, but in the seed mix there are cowslips, and when they establish they will be even more brilliant than these.

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The Place for a Daffodil

Daffodils are a true delight.  In a dreary grey spring, when bright days are uncommon and for the most part there is drizzle, mud underfoot, and damp in the bones, the joy of these golden yellow flowers is enormously appreciated.  They bring sunshine down to earth.  It is no wonder that growers want to create so many varieties, with myriad hues of cream white to vibrant orange.

Native Daffodils in Memorial Woodland

Native Daffodils in Memorial Woodland at Sun Rising

At Sun Rising, the daffodils are all the native Narcissus pseudonarcissus, the Lenten lily, the old wild species.  Or, they should all be – each year we dig up bulbs of cultivars that families have put in, by mistake, or hoping to sneak them in, but for the integrity of the nature reserve can’t be kept.  The Lenten lily is a soft lemon yellow daffodil, with a richer yellow  trumpet. Although they are beautiful in clusters out in the meadow, and indeed they are native to grassland and woodland, somehow I think they always look more at home beneath the trees.  Perhaps it is simply that they look wilder there, amidst strands of last year’s dried grasses and old leaves – they look peaceful and at ease.

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Caring for Trees

Yesterday we held our spring volunteer day, mulching all the little saplings – both those planted in memory of a loved one, and those planted as part of the nature reserve.  Around 30 lovely people came, full of energy and enthusiasm, with wheelbarrows and buckets, and around 700 little trees were mulched.

Volunteers at the Mulching Day

Volunteers at the Mulching Day

With climate change, while we may grumble at snow and grey skies, actual rainfall has decreased over the last ten years.  Indeed, for the first time at Sun Rising, last summer some of the youngest trees suffered from drought.  The mulch of composted bark will help retain moisture in the soil, while also suppressing some of the grasses and other plants around the base of the trees.  It looks very smart for a while too, especially with the spring flowers coming through – the wild daffodils, primroses and cowslips, and the first lesser celandine.

Saplings Mulched along Eastern Boundary

Saplings Mulched along Eastern Boundary

A big thank you to everyone who came along, and to all who contributed to the refreshments table too.  As one of the volunteers said, the whole place looks very ‘smart and loved’.  It is loved – very much indeed!

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Melting Snow

Compared with many around the country, we’ve had it fairly easy with regard to weather over the past week.  By Friday evening there were impassable snow drifts along the main A roads, the hill roads closed, cars abandoned here and there, even 4WD vehicles upturned in ditches.  The birds at Sun Rising were emptying our huge feeders in less than 24 hours.  But by Sunday evening the melt was fully underway.

It took a few days for the brook to thaw, but now water is pouring through, in places making tunnels underneath heaps of snow.  Rushing out into the pond, it is overflowing into the wetland area which is now thoroughly drenched.  With the red stems of the dogwood behind, the bulrushes reflecting the water, on a calm day it is a wonderful place to be.

Melting Snow on the Wildlife Pond

Melting Snow on the Wildlife Pond

Although the ground is still soggy underfoot in some areas, there are so many signs of spring now at Sun Rising.  The alder and hazel are dressed up with their dancing catkins, the willow is budding and will be next to blossom.  There are primroses hidden in the grass, and the snowdrops are still flowering.  And perhaps most exciting of all, the skylarks are singing …

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Snowdrops and Raindrops

It is easy to believe that winter is a time when the chilly, grey landscape has no flowers at all.  At Sun Rising, though, primroses, little cowslips, gorse by the main gate, the occasional determined dandelion, ivy and hazel are all in flower.

Over the last week the snowdrops have begun to flower too.  The first you may have seen here are those that were planted ‘in the green’; these are flowering from the nourishment in their bulbs, bulbs which have not yet put down little roots to replenish themselves.  Flowering a little later and, for me, the most beautiful are those which are well rooted, having been planted a few years ago.  These tend to be scattered, rather than in clumps, the little white flowers peaking through the tatty winter grasses.  If you look carefully, you can spot their sturdy little leaves, darker and thicker than the grasses in which they are growing, before they flower.  They seem to me to have a quiet independence, a brilliant spirit.

Snowdrops in the Rain

Snowdrops in the Rain

Snowdrops don’t much like wet winters, struggling in water-logged soil, so the success rate for the little wild Galanthus nivalis snowdrops we are planting at Sun Rising is not as high as it might be if planting specially bred cultivars.  In the semi-wild environment of the nature reserve, our snowdrops can flower later than those in gardens too.  Each year more come through, though, and despite the recent rain and increasingly wet soil, let’s hope we have plenty this year.

Nor should we yet complain of the rain.  After such a dry 2017, it is lovely to have the moisture in the earth now.  Looking at the photograph here, too, the sparkling raindrops on grass beside the newly flowering snowdrops only adds to the delight and sense of hope: a first whisper of spring.

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The Snug Bedding of Tree Sparrows

One of our winter tasks at a nature reserve is checking the bird nestboxes.  Like many winter jobs that take more skill than energy, it’s one of cold fingers and noses, but with rewarding moments.

Some nestboxes may have patches of rotten wood or other damage – this may be caused by poor drainage (especially in poorly designed or badly made boxes), or because the box is quite old.  Now and then there is evidence of woodpeckers or other creatures tapping holes.  Where possible, these are carefully mended, ensuring anyone who takes up residence in the coming year can keep their clutch safe and sound.

The joy of the task comes when a box is found to be full of nesting material – mosses, dried grasses, wool, fur and feathers.  It can be such a very snug, thick wedge of material, all so carefully collected, it is a shame to empty it out.  We must do so, nonetheless, to minimise disease, the likelihood of parasites, and other problems in the old bedding.  The birds will find fresh new material and make their nests cosy again soon enough.

Nesting Material from Tree Sparrow Box at Sun Rising

Nesting Material from Tree Sparrow Box at Sun Rising

This year, 4 of our 6 tree sparrow boxes were found with good nesting material inside, confirming our observation that the boxes were being used by nesting pairs.  The other 2 boxes were damaged and have now been fixed.  If all 6 boxes are used this year, we’ll invest in some more, hoping to increase our population of this little bird. With a conservation status still at RED, it is estimated that its numbers reduced by 93% between 1970 and 2008.  Our little community is a vital part of its revival.

Note the white to beige pheasant feathers in the nesting material in the photograph. You can also see grey feathers, from a wood pigeon or stock dove. It could be that a fox killed onsite at just the right time, when the tree sparrows were collecting for the box.  There are long semiplume and soft down feathers here, ideal for keeping the nest warm and secure.

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