Autumn, time for fungi, hedgerow fruits, autumnal insects, and a slug; plus, the results of the Big Butterfly Count.
Local and distant fungi enthusiasts descended on the verge outside Petersfield’s Aldi earlier this month to view the sudden appearance of these rare, and very strange Devil’s Fingers fungi
Related to the more common Stinkhorn but far smellier, they arise from soft egg-like structures, and develop a really awful rotten meat smell to attract flies to spread their spores. Native apparently to New Zealand the Australia and first found in the UK in 1914, Devil’s Fingers appear to have arrived with wood and wool at military bases in Europe and the UK such as those in the New Forest and has since spread locally in contaminated nursery plant stock (and which could perhaps have been the source at Aldi).
Autumnal fruits and flowers
Fruiting trees and shrubs have done well this year and provide for much potential wild foraging. Our two garden Wild Service Trees are rich in their ‘chequers’ fruits that were at one time used to flavour alcoholic drinks and hence the association with the ‘Chequers’ inn sign .
They are most common in the ancient landscape of the Weald of Kent and along the Hampshire Hamble valley (where our two trees came from), but I do not know of any truly native trees in Stroud.
Walking around the village green revealed an abundance of fruiting shrubs with black Elder berries (for elderberry wine) (image 3), red Hawthorn berries known as haws (for haw jelly) (images 4 and 5), red hips of the Dog Rose (for rose-hip syrup) (image 6), abundant Blackberries (Jam and crumbles) on the Brambles (image 7), and Sloe berries (for jelly, cordial and flavouring gin) on the Blackthorns (image 8), Yarrow flowers (image 9) (for yarrow tea) while Clematis flowers have converted to their Old Man’s Beard seed heads (image 10)
Hops were once grown commercially in Stroud and can still be found in many of our Stroud hedgerows (image 11). Ivy has just come into flower with its bright yellow pollen-tipped stamens (image 12). Many of the summer flowers have long gone but White Deadnettle remains with its strange, hooded flower (image 13), although I prefer the more imaginative old name of White Archangel. Yarrow flowers continue to provide nectar for butterflies and bees. Ivy is now in full flower (image 11).
Bees and parasitic wasps
Insects are having their last fling before winter sets in. Ichneuman wasps are seeking out late caterpillars to infect with their eggs and this black ichneumon wasp Stenichneuman culpator was searching vegetation on the village green (image 14). Carder bee workers are searching any remaining flowers for nectar (image 15). The tiny Resin Bee has completed its nest tube in an old beetle burrow only 2.5mm wide and has sealed the entrance with a mixture of resin and sand grains (image 16), and Honey Bees are searching bramble flowers and blackberries for any protein and sugar-rich nectar and juices they can find (image 17). Common Wasps are looking for their own food now that they no longer have to feed the nest and seem to be everywhere and actively feeding on ivy flowers. Ivy bees have appeared and timed their emergence with the flowering of the ivy (image 18 and 19). These little bees are newcomers to the UK having been seen first in Dorset in 2001.
Sexton beetle, spiders, hoverflies, and moths
There I was standing by the north hedge on the village green when this brightly coloured beetle flew in and landed briefly in front of me and my camera. This beetle turned out to be the Sexton beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides, one of the burying beetles, no doubt hunting for a small dead animal or bird to bury and in which to lay its eggs to support the next generation (image 20). Their orange-tipped antennae are used to detect the presence of a dead animal. Amazing what turns up on the village green if you stand and stare for long enough.
I had been hoping to find some of the large orb-web spiders on the village green, particularly the Four-spotted Orb-web Spider that I have found here previously. None appeared on this visit, but potential prey did turn up in this Common Field Grasshopper (image 21). Many large orb-web spiders construct vertical webs to catch grasshoppers and crickets.
Ivy attracts many insects and here were Drone Hoverflies (image 22) and the Marmalade Hoverfly (image 23).
Turning now to autumnal moths, several of these Angle Shades turned up in the light trap and which moth distinctively folds its wings along its body (image 24). This moth is most abundant in the Autumn, peaking in early September but also has a smaller spring generation peaking in May and June. The larvae feed on a wide range of herbaceous and woody plants from nettles to oak trees. In contrast, the Centre-barred Sallow (image 25) only occurs in the autumn, peaking in early-mid September, and whose larvae mainly feed on the flower buds of isolated mature Ash trees and many of which trees are sadly being lost to Ash Dieback Disease.
Some butterflies are still flying in the autumn, particularly Red Admirals, a migratory species that sometimes overwinters in the UK. During my visit to the village green, I saw several Large White butterflies and was particularly pleased to see two Small Copper butterflies. One on the north side of the village green and the other feeding on Yarrow close to the bus stop by the roadside at the entrance to the village green opposite Finchmead Lane (image 26).
We have just had the results of the Big Butterfly Count https://butterfly-conservation.org/news-and-blog/butterfly-numbers-increased-this-summer. I see that in England, the most recorded species were red admiral (a massive 360% increase on last year), gatekeeper, and both the large and small whites and which is broadly similar to that we have seen in Stroud. Sadly, ringlet saw a reduction of 32% from last year in England and I have not seen a single ringlet on the village green this year. Other reductions this year over last year were common blue, speckled wood and green-veined white (of which I have not seen a single specimen this year). Small copper (image 22) had an 11% increase over last year which is good see.
Finally, mild wet autumnal weather brings out slugs and snails. I was pleased to find this bright golden form of the Large Black Slug Arion ata agg. at the end of our garden (Image 27). There are many different coloured forms and similar species of this slug despite the name, and these different forms and species are aggregated into the one name as they are difficult to distinguish and hence the term ‘agg’.