Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Ards Grassland

Ards has extensive areas of grassland and dunes leading down to the estuary. As we approached the area, the sun began to filter through the clouds and insects popped up from their hiding places.

The Peacock butterfly is emerging in large numbers at the moment, no doubt helped by the warm weather in July, when the larvae were feeding on nettles:

Peacock butterfly
The Silver-washed Fritillary is a large, fast-flying species, usually seen near high woodlands. A couple were nectaring, but were very fast and flighty (as usual):

Male Silver-washed Fritillary
This specimen is a male: you can see the four long, dark open scent glands on the forewings.

New to my species list, although I had seen high-flying specimens at this location before.

I found a single Fox Moth larva crawling through grass, although they feed on Heather, Bilberry and Willow in this kind of environment.

Larva of Fox Moth
New to my species list.

Hoverflies of the Sphaerophoria family are usually quite difficult to identify in the field, but the semicircular markings on the short abdomen make this Sphaerophoria interrupta:

Sphaerophoria interrupta, male
New to my species list.

I also spotted this bee, but I haven't identified it yet:

Bee on Ragwort
It has the look of a male about it, and it might well be an Andrena male, in which case that is the id closed.

One thing I noticed about the Ragwort was the small size of the petals. In my own locality, the flowers are perhaps 30mm across, whereas these were less than 20mm, although the central portion was the same size as usual. The habitat was very sandy, so perhaps these small flowers are all that the impoverished nutrition can support. It certainly didn't affect the attractiveness of the plants in any way: there were many hoverflies nectaring on them.


The Weaver of Grass said...

Beautiful peacock butterfly photo Stuart - we certainly have a lot of them on our buddleia at the moment - they are a joy to see. I didn't realise how important the nettle was to their life cycle - we for sure have plenty of those.

What is your opinion on ragwort - I know how important it is to the cinnabar moth - but a friend's two donkeys died of ragwort poisoning as did a llama which belonged to Matthew Parris apparently. I really don't know what to think. It is everywhere along our roadsides - where I hardly think it matters because these days animals don't go there. But the farmer says it is dangerous when it is dried and in hay rather than when it is in flower.

stuart dunlop said...

Weaver: the nettle is the sole foodplant of Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and Peacock butterflies, so it's pretty important. (It's also the sole foodplant of some moths and true bugs, too).

As far as Ragwort, it's all a matter of husbandry, as far as I'm concerned. I live in a very rural and agricultural area, and my local farmers assure me that Ragwort is only dangerous after it has been cut and allowed to turn into hay: horses won't eat it while it's alive and growing. I have seen plenty of horses in fields that are yellow with Ragwort, so farmers here realise that it's ok. One cause of problems is when people (often trying to do some good) pull it up and then drop it in the same place. After it dries out horses and donkeys will eat it. Ragwort is a native species, and is the sole or main foodplant for around 35 species of moth, beetle, fly and true bug (also some fungi). It's the horses and donkeys that are the introduced aliens....;) Yet again, human preferences are endangering our wildlife.

Gill said...

Wonderful... I've never seen silver-washed fritillary (though we do get the superficially similar dark green fritillary).

I'm with Stuart on ragwort - it's a valuable native plant that should be managed correctly, i.e. make sure it does not get into hay. I'm sorry to hear of your friend's animals - were they given ragwort in hay? I'm half wondering if Stuart's small-flowered specimen was hoary ragwort - although the black-tipped bracts would tend to argue against that. I'd need to see the leaves to make a more educated guess. More likely your plants, like mine, just don't read the books.

stuart dunlop said...

Gill: the leaves were standard Common Ragwort, but the flowers just had shorter petals, reminding me of Tansy in shape and size. All plants in the area were the same. I have seen Hoary nearer home: sickly-looking thing.

Gill said...

"I have seen Hoary nearer home: sickly-looking thing." not always (but then I think it quite likes lime, so maybe round you it doesn't thrive....)