Urban Butterflies

One of the many things I love about Hastings is its large green spaces, with their surprisingly rich habitats.

Four-spotted Chaser, just outside Hastings town centre, July 2019

I’m talking here about parks and woods that are part & parcel of actual urban Hastings & St Leonards, not Hastings Country Park or any of the other scenic surrounding areas.

Hoverfly on Oxeye Daisy, edge of Summerfields Woods, July 2019

This week, for the first time that I remember, I saw a Ringlet on the edge of Summerfields Woods (a 5-minute walk from the town centre): a butterfly I’d normally associate with the countryside. I don’t have a photo to show you as I didn’t have my camera with me…

But it prompted me to post a slightly nerdy list of the butterflies I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in urban Hastings & St Leonards over the last few years, interspersed with a few photos I’ve taken in these areas. I’ve left some of the rarer treats till the end of the list:

  • Speckled Wood (probably the most prolific butterfly in Summerfields Woods)
Speckled Wood, Summerfields Woods
  • Meadow Brown
  • Ringlet
  • Gatekeeper
  • Small Copper (quite a few in and around Summerfields Woods and White Rock Gardens)
Small Copper, Summerfields Woods, July 2018
  • Comma (lots on bramble flowers especially)
  • Painted Lady (also around the brambles)
Painted Lady, edge of Summerfields Woods, June 2019
Painted Lady, edge of Summerfields Woods, June 2019
  • Red Admiral
  • Peacock (I used to find their caterpillars as well, but haven’t done in recent years. I think this butterfly has declined here.) †
  • Small Tortoiseshell
  • Orange-tip
  • All the usual Whites (Small, Large, Green-veined)
  • Brimstone
  • Large Skipper
Large Skipper, Summerfields Woods, July 2019
Large Skipper, edge of Summerfields Woods, July 2019
  • Holly Blue
  • Common Blue
Holly Blue, on the wall of Bohemia Walled Garden, Summerfields Woods
Female Common Blue, edge of Summerfields Woods, July 2019
  • White-letter Hairstreak (a very special treat, last July)
White-letter Hairstreak, edge of Summerfields Woods, July 2018
  • Purple Hairstreak (just one at the end of the season a few years ago, again on the edge of Summerfields Woods)
  • Clouded Yellow (a few in White Rock Gardens, where I guess is a first stopping point after crossing the Channel)
  • White Admiral (just one fairly ragged specimen at end of season, in the woods at the top of Alexandra Park)

There may be one or two others that I’ve forgotten.

Hopefully there will be a few more to add to the list as time goes on.

Longhorn Beetle (Rutpela maculate), edge of Summerfields Woods, June 2019

In the meantime, it’s good to remember not only that Nature is unstoppable even in the face of humanity’s urbanisation, but also that humanity is in fact part of Nature.

We do well to acknowledge this oneness and thus rediscover our divinely-ordained harmony with all things.

Cockchafer (aka Maybug) on my hand, Briscoe’s Walk, June 2019
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Maybugs

Last night we saw 2 Cockchafers – aka Maybugs (or Melolontha melolontha) – on Briscoe’s Walk, just up the road from our house, where we walk Gorka, our dog, in the evening.

Again today I saw 2 or 3 of these scarab beetles as I was walking back home with Gorka just after 9pm, as the sun was setting.

I stuck around to see if I could get a photo or two. As I waited, more and more Maybugs appeared out of their slumber, until about 20 of them could be seen whirring around the tops of the trees.

Unfortunately they weren’t coming down low enough for me to get a photo. And the light was fading fast.

I eventually discovered that Gorka was sniffing at the occasional one that did land on the ground, so I was able to pick one up and photograph it on my hand.

The light by now was very low, and the pictures not that great. †

But a wonderful sight, to see this little swarm of bumbling beetles on this warm June night.

Beetlemania

The other day, in Small Is Beautiful I wrote about a particular, magnificent patch of wildflowers on the edge of Summerfields Woods, that had thankfully escaped the clutches of various municipal lawnmowers.

The same patch that had provided inspiration for Champion Campion and Weed or Wildflower?

Today, in the very same area, I had the delight of watching and snapping this Rutpela maculata (aka Black and Yellow Longhorn Beetle).

Longhorn Beetle on Oxeye Daisy

I love this next view of the beetle peering into a foxglove flower in search of nectar.

This tiny patch of flowers is so dense with wildlife – it just keeps on producing more surprises and delights. I’m sure there will be even more to come….

Small is Beautiful

While land conservation efforts are usually, understandably, focussed on relatively large areas, sometimes just the smallest local patch of wildlife takes on what might seem to be disproportionate significance.

When our local Council cut the grass verges around the law courts here in Hastings recently, I was so relieved they didn’t stray over on to this little area on the edge of Summerfields Woods that was delightfully overgrown with long grass and wildflowers.

This is where I photographed the Red Campion for ‘Champion Campion’, and the Ribeye Plantain for ‘Weed or Wildflower?

It’s also saturated with all manner of other wildflowers, including Oxeye Daisies, Horseshoe Vetch, Foxgloves (pink and white), and Clover (red and white).

Foxgloves

As for butterflies, this week has seen Large Skippers, Common Blues and Meadow Browns enjoying this rich diversity of flora.

Common Blue

Then a few days ago I learned that this wild patch was left alone by the Council only because it in fact belongs to Optivo, the housing association that also owns the neighbouring block of new flats.

I’d been chatting to a fellow dog-walker who lives in the block.

Red Clover

He told me that residents had been complaining to their landlord about their communal garden area which had overgrown; that Optivo had responded and were soon to cut it back.

Large Skipper

My fear was that the housing association would mow down the wildflower patch at the same time. In my experience, Councils and other bureaucratic landowners generally have far less regard for wildlife than they do for keeping green spaces neat and orderly or concreting planet Earth.

I was genuinely worried and even considered contacting Optivo asking them to preserve this mini-wilderness.

Thankfully, however, it was left alone. Another reprieve for one of my favourite little patches of land. Phew! Another answered (unspoken) prayer.

One to watch in future years, though, I reckon.

Horseshoe Vetch

Buzzing with Life

White Rock Gardens in Hastings is a bit of a wildlife haven. Partly because it’s so close to the sea, so it’s a stopping-point for migrants like the Clouded Yellow butterfly (which I’ve seen here a number of times). But also because the flowerbeds are magnificently designed and meticulously maintained, boasting a vast wealth of horticultural colours at this time of year.

So much so, that these beds are vibrant right now with many species of bees and other insects. During a short break from work today I started photographing some of the flowers and their nectar-collecting visitors. Here are some of the best of the pics.

Busy bee in a red sea
(White-tailed bumble bee)
Take a look inside
(White-tailed bumble bee)
Corymbia rubra (I think!)
Anyone know what this insect is? Feel free to reply in the Comments.
…and another White-tail
Drone-fly (I think?)

Good to know that, in this part of the world at least, the bee population (not to mention other insects) is alive and well.

Thank you to whoever it is that maintains the Gardens, providing a rich source of food for our important friends.

Life Out Of Death

Wildflowers growing up against a gravestone

Life and death seem inextricably linked.

All the time our body cells are dying, giving way to new, living cells.

Last autumn, as I watched leaves falling and plants dying back, I reflected on the fact that it’s all a process of renewal. The fallen vegetation simply turns into life-giving compost for new shoots.

Death often means loss and heartache, but it’s also rarely, if ever, the end.

A life well-lived leaves a legacy of hope and thanks – and hearts of positive momentum.

I read an article by Richard Rohr recently, in which the Franciscan friar stated that we shouldn’t be surprised at Jesus’ resurrection, because dying and rebirth seems to be the pattern written into the very fabric of the universe.

This principle seems to be borne out in one of my favourite local nature haunts: fittingly, the grounds of an old church, whose ruined building and neglected graveyard have become a haven for wildlife.

Last summer, when I visited with my family, it was an absolute delight to see the graveyard teeming with Common Blue butterflies. Because it was evening, when the butterflies become less active, they could be picked up in my young daughter’s hands, and I could get up close with a short-range zoom and take pictures like this one:

Common Blue, July 2018, Old St Helen’s Church

Today we visited Old St Helen’s Church but the sun had gone in and perhaps it was a little too early in the year for the Common Blues. In fact, disappointingly, we didn’t see a single butterfly. However, I did spot this Common Marbled Carpet. A blurry photo (because it settled on a tree branch in very low light), but a rather beautiful and unusual moth:

Common Marbled Carpet moth
Life out of death

Read About Spirit of Nature here.

Raptor rapture

Last month, about 15th April, I had the great pleasure of watching a sparrowhawk flitting to and fro, carrying twigs to a nest high up in the trees in Summerfields Woods, our local nature haven where we walk our dog, Gorka, most days.

One thing that distinguishes this beautiful raptor from other birds of similar size in these woods, such as the magpies and woodpigeons, is the absolute silence with which it takes off.

The noise of the sparrowhawk is conspicuous by its absence. Obviously a prerequisite for a hunting bird that captures and feeds on blue tits and other small birds (of which there are plenty in these woods).

And because it spends most of its time high up in the trees, you’d probably only notice it if you were looking up, looking out for birds.

Over the following weeks I’ve spent some time trying to see her again and to take some pics. A couple of times I saw her, perched on high branches, maybe looking out for prey, and was chuffed to take these reasonable photos:

Another time, I tried to perch myself on some fallen tree trunks, waiting with my camera. I wanted to take a picture of the hawk flying to and from the nest, displaying her fan tail. But it was impossible to get comfortable on the misshapen wood. So I stood around for a few minutes, then walked on.

Within 48 hours, as I returned to the area, I was incredulous to find some woodland volunteers had constructed a bench out of the same fallen trees in exactly the right spot for watching the nest!


The new bench! The red circle indicates approximately where the nest is.

Coincidence? Perhaps. Or perhaps not. Maybe our delight in and appreciation of nature takes on the shape of prayer and worship as it reaches the eyes and ears of the One who designed, sustains and fills this wonderful world – whether or not we’ve intended those sentiments as prayer or worship.

Maybe, when we engage with nature, we cannot help but encounter the Spirit of nature, whatever we call him/her/it.

Read About Spirit of Nature here.