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Natures Ups And Downs

2nd of October 2001

The first chill winds of autumn greeted me this morning as I went around the sheep. Where has the summer gone? As I walked under the apple trees a Speckled Wood butterfly fluttered up from a rotten apple that it was feeding on and I suddenly realised how few butterflies we have seen in the garden this year. I do spray some of the nettles in the garden, we would be on huge nettle bed if I didnt, but I always leave some in the middle of the sheep run in the sunshine for the Peacocks and the Small Tortoiseshells, and some in a sunny sheltered spot by a tall hedge for the Commas. I only saw one lot of black shiny Peacock caterpillars in the sheep run and no Comma
caterpillars at all. It does seem to have been a good
year for nettles though, they have popped up
everywhere! The Comma caterpillars take
a bit of spotting as they are camouflaged to look like a bird dropping. When small they are dark brown and crusty with white patches, but as they grow they become spiny and tan coloured, with a splash of pure white down most of
the back.
It has not just been a lack of caterpillars, the Buddleias have had very few butterflies feeding on them: no Painted Ladies, one or two Red Admirals, hardly a Small Tortoiseshell, mostly Meadow Browns and a few Peacocks. On the plus side we did see a couple of Marbled Whites early on, a more common butterfly in the south west than around here. It has been nice to see so many Swallows at the farm this year. Five pairs nested in the barns, the most for quite a few years. We were afraid that they would stop coming at all after a couple of years when only one pair arrived! They have all managed two broods and two pairs are trying to raise a third but I am afraid they may run out of time before their long flight back to South Africa.
Nature always has its ups and downs, one sort of conditions suiting some more than others. I think thats what makes life so interesting! Wendy Bathurst

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