Liz Earl has produced a nature diary for Winsham Web Museum each year since 2016. In 2019 she also produced in collaboration with botanist Henk Beentje, another Winsham resident, a Butterfly Diary which can also been viewed on this website.
Despite experiencing a serious cycling accident at the beginning of the year, she continued with this diary, which clearly reflects a true nature lover's interest in what goes around her in rural Somerset, close to the River Axe.
As I write this wildlife diary for 2019 I am staring out of the window in January 2020 looking at pouring rain and raging winds – storm Brendon. It was much calmer this time last year. An over-riding theme in 2019 has been climate change and the perilous state of our wildlife. Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough have dominated the headlines even pushing Brexit into the background – no mean feat! Certainly I have noticed a decline in certain insects and birds and some mammals and invertebrates in our garden and the surrounding area. But is that a trend or is it just on account of the weather in a particular year?
Interestingly a programme on Radio 4 called ‘Costing the Earth’ broadcast two quotes from a former American president and a former British prime minister. Here is George Bush in 1993 – “If we don’t look after the earth, the earth won’t look after us.” And Margaret Thatcher in 1980 (that is 40 years ago!) talking to the Royal Society about carbon dioxide emissions said that climate change is the biggest challenge we have ever faced.
As some of you know I was in hospital and out of circulation for all of February and half of March. When I returned home the birds were busy building nests and the primroses were looking beautiful.
The blackthorn blossom has been very prolific this year but is going over now on 18 April. The flowering period can vary greatly from year to year between February and April. Our cotoneaster horizontalis is buzzing with bumble bees, honey bees and wasps. Sadly I can’t identify many of the bumble bees but there is a good app available to help me.
I made a note that on 3rd May the following wild flowers were in flower: vetch, speedwell, bluebells (going over), stitchwort, violets, cow parsley, campion, herb robert, comfrey, buttercup, daisy, dandelion, cowslip, lady’s smock, pink clover and ramsons. This is about the same timing as last year.
Clapton Village Hall held a Somerset Day on 11th May, celebrating all things ‘Somerset’. Our very own Brian Goodland was there with a honeycomb of live bees and a very good display.
We are hearing a lot about rewilding and so I have left “weeds” to grow in my border, chiefly campion and stitchwort. Soon there will be oxeye daisies and foxgloves. I am pleased with the result! Hogweed is generally unloved but I have discovered why it is called hogweed – pigs absolutely love it.
The end of May and we have not had a drop of rain for weeks. Some of the apple trees in our orchard look as though they are suffering
This young thrush, not long fledged, somehow got into the greenhouse. It allowed me to pick it up and I set it down in the grass. Thrushes are few and far between in our garden now.
Opium poppies. I am captivated by them and let them grow wherever they will – usually among the vegetables.
Painted Lady Butterflies
16th July. There was a fascinating programme on BBC4 last night about Painted Lady butterflies introduced by Martha Kearny. They have an amazing life cycle.
In March each year they fly 3 thousand kilometres from Morocco to Britain or Spain or France. They fly at up to 40 miles per hour. They fly over high mountain ranges, and navigate by the sun. Scientists have done a lot of research into this phenomenon at Rothamsted, in Harpenden.
Painted Ladies only live for 3 weeks. They mate towards the end of their 3 week life span and lay their eggs on a variety of plants including thistles and nettles.
Why do they migrate so far? In Morocco they have an enemy, a small parasitic wasp which lays its eggs in the caterpillar and when the maggots hatch they eat the caterpillar from the inside out. Many Painted Lady caterpillars are attacked in this way.
At the Natural History Museum in London they have thousands of Painted Ladies pinned in boxes and also a pressed one dating from the 16th century.
Do look out for them in 2020. The males are bigger than the females and more brightly coloured.
The end of July was extremely hot. 38 degrees was recorded in Cambridge. Given the dry weather we have not seen too many slugs and snails although there are plenty around judging by the state of some of my lettuces. I managed to snap these two in the garden mating. Snails are hermaphrodite so it must be easy to find a mate!
There has been a notable absence of slow worms this year. There are usually plenty in the compost heaps but none this year nor any grass snakes.
After the silence of the birds throughout the latter half of June and July and August the robins are singing again and I’ve heard a tawny owl in the evening. It must be a female because it is a twit or keewit call. It is the male who responds with a twoo or hoo-oo. Unfortunately for her, call as she might no male is responding.
The weather has become wet and miserable, and although we didn’t know it when it started, it was to continue through most of November and December. The fields are sodden and on 8 November there was serious flooding in Doncaster and East Yorkshire. However, amidst all the doom and gloom the blossom and the berries have been truly magnificent this year and the Autumn colours are striking especially the yellows of hazel, field maple, ash, hornbeam and lime.
In November I went to hear Isabella Tree give an illustrated talk at the Bridport Literary Festival on the rewilding experiment at Knepp Farm in West Sussex. If you haven’t yet read her book “Wilding” then I urge you to do so. It is a bold experiment but based on scientific evidence, and now they have so many species of birds, like turtle doves and nightingales for example, which are highly endangered.
I have made no mention of butterflies in this diary apart from Painted Ladies because we have a page all about butterflies on the Winsham Web. However, I will just mention that I recorded my last Red Admiral of 2019 on 14 November.
I will also mention what a beautiful day Christmas Day was – one of the very few!
Finally, please can anyone identify this butterfly photographed near Winsham?