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Monday, 3 September 2012

My weedy scruffy lawn (again)

Has turned into a wildflower meadow! Actually it does this every year, when the grass stops growing. August has been dry and hot so the weeds/wildflowers finally get a chance to grow. We've mown them off in most of the lawned areas but decided this year, at least for a little while, to leave the main bit of lawn that's enclosed by the gravel drive which sweeps round behind the house to the barn and back round again.

In some respects it looks a mess; other times I think it's quite pretty. For some reason the plant Lesser Hawkbit which has tall flower stalks with yellow flowers on closes up soon after lunchtime. So mornings it looks prettier than the afternoon. This next photo was taken early afternoon yesterday just as the flowers were beginning to close. By the way not all of my grass is as brown as this - it's very patchy and varied depending on shade and sun, tree roots sucking up moisture and I think some of the worst patches are where the granite outcrops are close to the surface.

Weeds or wildflowers. Lesser Hawkbit is the yellow flower with the fluffy seedheads,
which are loved by finches and also moorhens!

The reason for touching upon this topic is that I wrote an article about my weedy lawn some months ago entitled "101 uses for a weedy, scruffy lawn" (which ended up being by far and away the most popular posting on this blog - and keeps getting hits from google searches for 'weedy lawns' - I imagine from people wishing to find out how to get rid of the weeds in their lawns rather than rejoice in them for wildlife or aesthetic reasons..... lol).

Anyway. Since the wildflowers have started to flower, I've noticed a new butterfly I'd never seen before. It is a tiny, wee thing called a Small Heath, which is very similar looking to some of the other brown butterflies, such as the Meadow Brown and the Gatekeeper, only much smaller. Now this is a real little flitterer and hard to photograph, but the interesting thing about this butterfly is that it seems to have absolutely no interest in feeding upon any of my cultivated flowers at all. Yet I've seen it on all the wild flowers now flowering in my lawn.

(I should at this point mention that most of the following photos are not great quality - half dead grass doesn't make for a good background; many species I haven't been able to get close to and others are very well camouflaged against the grass and weeds!).

Small Heath butterfly (Coenonympha pamphilus)

Small Heaths mating.
First time I've seen any butterflies doing 'it'!

By contrast, a Meadow Brown, which is about 4 times the size of the Small Heath, can be equally well camouflaged against brown looking grass, especially when they close their wings up. The Small Heaths seem to disappear completely when they settle and unless I follow them with my eyes to see where they settle, I just can't find them again unless I walk towards them, which will make them fly off again. I did eventually get some good photos of a Small Heath when it decided to settle on a beetroot leaf in the veg patch one day - but I'll save that for my next veg patch update!

Meadow Brown butterfly (Maniola jurtina). They do feed on my cultivated flowers too
so I've plenty of much better photos than this.

Some of the flowers that come up in the lawn are just plain pretty for their own sake, like this wild Verbascum/Mullein. I hadn't even noticed the beetle whilst I was taking the photo. This was a couple of weeks ago when the grass was greener. It's over now but there are other Verbascums sending up flower shoots.

Verbascum (possibly V. nigrum)

I'm not entirely sure what this next flower is; it is similar to Wild Carrot/Queen Anne's Lace but seems a bit smaller. It is however an umbellifer and thus like all the others, very attractive to pollinating insects.

A beetle and some really tiny flies

Loadsa flies! Also I think this plant is slightly different from the one above.
Maybe this one is Queen Anne's Lace.

Some insects are so well camouflaged I only notice them when they move, such as the grasshoppers!

Green grasshopper camouflaged against the grass

Well camouflaged brown grasshopper in amongst the weeds

I always used to think that grasshoppers were green and crickets were brown. How wrong I was! The main difference is that grasshoppers have short antennae and crickets have long ones, so the two above are both grasshoppers, and I've seen both green and brown crickets!

There's also a moth that I see very often which seems to spend most of its time in my lawned areas, as I only see it when I disturb it walking near it. Again it needs to be continually followed to see where it settles to ever see it again. Here it is imitating a dead leaf with its head pointing downwards. I affectionately call it (them) "Snouty" as they have a long snouty 'nose' (I'm not very knowledgeable where moth anatomy is concerned but I know they don't really have noses!).

Unknown moth perfectly camouflaged in the weedy grass

Sometimes butterflies think my shoe is one of those white flowers in amongst the brown grass!

Speckled Wood butterfly (Pararge aegeria)

Yesterday was a great day because I spotted 13 different kinds of butterfly - including the ones on my cultivated flowers. I was really happy to see the first Clouded Yellow of the season - last year none arrived at all and this is a late season butterfly. They aren't the kind that feed on the cultivated flowers but flit about in the wilder areas, and I've never got a photo of one before. This is the best I could get (from quite a distance) before it flew off.

A very distant Clouded Yellow butterfly (Colias croceus), feeding on Knapweed

I also had the opportunity to photograph a Wall Brown for the first time - again it was sitting on the grass! I've only seen three of them this year. At least I was able to bend over slowly to get closer to this one which was not far away from me, but didn't dare move to change the angle for the photograph. Usually when I squat down to their level, that's when they take off!

Wall Brown butterfly (Lasiommata megera)

So, whilst a swathe of green lawn without tickly seed heads may look nice, at least there is a benefit to both insects and me (as a wildlife and butterfly lover), whilst it goes through its annual grotty brown phase.

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