Monday, 28 September 2009

Black-tailed skimmer dragonfly

While painting the front of our house I noticed a dragonfly sunning itself on our front path. Every now and then it would lift off, do a quick circuit and then settle in almost the same place.

The dragonfly appears to be a black-tailed skimmer Orthetrum cancellatum, which is a darter. This one is either a female or an immature male. The mature male has a powdery blue coloured abdomen with a black tip.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Froggy came a visiting

Nice sunny day so we left the door open. We were quite surprised to find a frog coming in through the conservatory door and making its way across the carpet in the living room.
Having discovered a dead dried up frog behind a chair a couple of years ago, I carefully caught the frog and took it back to the pond.

Due to the hot weather some of the frogs have returned to the pond and can be heard croaking in the evening

Monday, 21 September 2009


Now that the birds have pretty much finished rearing young, I have noticed a change in the garden. The species I see in the winter are now beginning to turn up. In particular, there has been a robin calling from the tree at the end of the garden. I have also heard the warning calls, which is not that surprising with the number of cats in the neighbourhood. In the evening when the robin was "singing" it was answered by another robin a few gardens away. Robins still maintain their territory in the winter months unlike many other birds.

Sunday, 13 September 2009


I spotted the first swallow flying west to east over our garden, returning to Africa. As a child I used to watch the swallows gather on the telephone lines over several days before flying back to Africa to spend the winter. I have not seen swallows in or around town for many years now, but they do appear to nest in farm buildings on the lower slopes of the South Downs.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Comma Caterpillar

While checking the brambles up the track yesterday for blackberries I discovered a comma butterfly on a stinging nettle. Its quite striking in colour, white back and black and orange body. From the top view it is said to resemble a bird dropping.
This is the first comma butterfly caterpillar I have seen. Comma butterflies have a small semi-circular mark or "comma" on the underside of its wings.

Comma caterpillars feeding on sting nettles. The ones up the track seem to be particularly powerful stingers. This may be because they are cut down frequently. When they regrow, they have more stings which are stronger, a reaction to grazing animals. I brushed by arm against one today and had five very large welts come up. They were particularly uncomfortable and stung for the rest of the day and into the evening. Even today I still have 5 red spots where I was stung.

I also noticed that a lot of the blackberries that have not been picked have dried out.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

House martins

I already miss the swifts screaming a couple feet above our garden every day as they fly past the nest site next door. They have now left for the return flight for Africa where they will spend the winter.


I have been noticing the odd small group of house martins over the months but they appear much more frequently now.

House Martin

Not as high flying as the swift, house martins resemble swallows without the tail fork. Like swallows they make a mud nest and I think the ones we see locally nest on the farm buildings to the North of us. Swifts, house martins and swallows are quite similar, but as you can see from the drawing below there are distiguishing features.

Picture from a book I have written called Animal Neighbours: Swallows

The house martin and swallow are most alike. The main difference is the swallows forked tail. The swift is quite different with its wide sickle-shaped wings.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009


It has been a good year for blackberries, my favourite fruit. We have a small bramble in our garden and bramble bushes that grow along the side of the track that passes our house and provides back entrances to houses further down the road.
Every few days I have been picking the fruit just as it becomes ripe. A few other local people also pick these blackberries, but even so their are always plenty that cannot be reached that the birds and otehr wildlife eat.

I have made several balckberry and apple crumbles so far. When there is a lot of fruit I pick a few extra and freeze them for later in the year. The blackberry season is often over very quickly and its nice to have hot blackberry and apple crumble in the winter with hot custard, yummy.
Unidentified caterpillar

I wash and freeze the blackberries indivdually on a tray (carefully removing first any invertebrates that I have missed, releasing them back onto the blackberry bushes)

This year we have had a mixture of very hot days with heavy rain in between. This appears to have kept the blackberries going much longer this year.