As we head through the middle of July, and the middle of Summer, Swaines Green is at its peak of natural ebullience. All the wildflowers have either set seed or are flowering now, and are at the fullest extent of their growth; trees and bushes are nearing the end of their summer growth spurts and are heavily laden with leaves and growing fruits and seeds, the bushes are burgeoning with young birds, and there are still lots of flights of butterflies, bees and other insects everywhere.
Amongst the butterflies, some species have more than one ‘flight’ a year. The Common Blue and Holly Blue, for example, were easily found in May but have now disappeared: the first generation has mated, laid eggs and perished, but the next generation should now be emerging and soon more Blues will be on the wing. Similarly, the Peacock is currently between ‘flights’ and should be re-emerging soon.
Commonest butterflies now at Swaines Green are the Meadow Brown and the Ringlet, two fairly large butterflies. The Meadow Brown is as its name suggests mainly brown; it can be hard to see the upper wings, as it flits busily around the meadows, and when it lands it tends to shut its wings. Look then for a plain brown underwing, but with a flash of orange on the exposed part of the forewing with a distinctive black circle near the tip. The Ringlet is a rich, chocolate brown, with a little group of black rings that give it the name on both upper and lower wing surfaces – the Ringlet is more likely than Meadow Brown to leave its wings spread when it lands.
Also now look for the Skippers. The Large Skipper and Small Skipper are now flying: like all skippers they don’t close their wings above their backs when they land, but more usually sweep them back like a moth. Both are largely a rich coppery colour with brown edges, but the Large Skipper is more likely to have some brown blotches in the orange. Both are small, and can be hard to tell apart on size alone. There should any time now be some Essex Skippers on the wing too: these are very similar indeed to the Small Skipper, but best told, if you can get close to one at rest, by the colour of the ends of the antennae: the Small Skipper’s are orange, but the Essex Skipper’s are black. If you have trouble remembering which is which, imagine an Essex girl with black mascara!
The butterflies are of course enjoying the abundance of summer flowers in the Meadows. Particularly abundant now is the Common Knapweed, which has a thistle-like flower but no prickles. The word ‘knap’ is an old English variant of ‘knob’, which describes the hard round flower buds. Also common in the grasslands are the Red and White Clovers, and the yellow notes are mostly from Buttercups and from Bird’s Foot Trefoil, a relative of the Pea with pea-like flowers and rounded leaves in threes.
Coming out now round the pond is Hemp Agrimony, a tall herb covered in frothy pink flowers. The ‘hemp’ part of its name is because the leaves are very like those of the Hemp, but they are not related. Another tall herb, often reaching six feet, is Hogweed, the commonest umbellifer now in flower now that the cow-parsley is over, with broad heads of small white flowers. It is easily told by its large broad, heavy, dark matt green leaves which are deeply indented and seem three dimensional, like green folded paper. These are all over the open areas of Swaines Green in the tall grasses and herbs at the hedgerow margins. They are called Hogweed because pigs like to eat them, especially the roots – Hogweed is a relative of the Parsnip.
The sounds of birds are everywhere at the present time, with newly fledged juveniles still pestering parents for food, and tits now banding into family groups and larger flocks. Not many birds are still nesting, although there will be a few second broods from birds like Blackbird, Robin and Chiffchaff. Woodpigeons are nesting now, though, since as plant eaters their food supply is at a peak. In Lovelocks in particular, there are post breeding flocks of House Sparrows, Linnets and Goldfinches. The Sparrows and Linnets will temporarily leave soon to forage the wheat fields for grain around harvest time.
It’s always fun to wander round Swaines Green, there’s always some Nature to look at!