Ennerdale, Herdus, Great Borne and Bowness Knot (c) Duncan Hutt
View into upper Ennerdale (c) Duncan Hutt
The rolling fells to the south-west of Ennerdale just sneak into the edge of the Lake District National Park but lack the rugged nature of much else in the area. A long finger of forest used to stick into these hills, with the wonderful name of Heckbarley, most of the trees have now been felled and the hills are once again open to the elements. This patch of moorland used is still quite quiet but is visited a little more often than it used to be with those bagging the Wainwrights, the hills mentioned in Wainwright’s guide books of the area.
The walk up to the wonderfully named Grike isn’t that striking though the views out to the coast are good. A short walk beyond takes you to the top of Crag Fell, a dull name but a hill with a fantastic view into Ennerdale and straight across to Bowness Knot and Herdus and Great Borne.
Fox Moth caterpillar (c) Sally Hutt
Stagshorn clubmoss (c) Sally Hutt
There were quite a few red admiral butterflies flying south over the hills making the most of the warm sunshine. On the moorland a few large hairy caterpillars of fox moth were also to be seen. There were a variety of fungi though most will remain unidentified to us with the exception of some shaggy ink caps on the side of a forest track. In the shade of some remaining conifers, still too small to be worth felling, a heather bank was covered in dew festooned spiders’ webs and along the path edge were a few sprawling stagshorn clubmosses, a closer relative of ferns than of true mosses.
Dew covered webs (c) Duncan Hutt
Watson’s Pike view northeast (c) Duncan Hutt
This year seems to have been a good one for red grouse on the managed moors of Northumberland. A walk up Watson’s Pike, a couple of days ago, took us out on to the well-tended heather above the green valley of the Devil’s Water. The clear air of early October gave us long views out towards the coast and north to Simonside. The heather on these hills has been a carpet of colour but only scattered sprigs were still in bloom, being visited by a few hardy bumblebees. However it was the red grouse that were the most prominent feature of the walk, their distinctive call was to be heard near and far over the hillsides and they shot up from under our feet in groups of up to twelve at a time. Even as we dropped off the hillside into the pastures surrounding the farms red grouse were still to be spotted on the walls.
Red grouse (c) Duncan Hutt
Spring on the hillside (c) Duncan Hutt
It has been a very dry September, particularly the second half, and the moor was dry underfoot. As we dropped down to the aptly named Grouse House the vegetation changed and the ground suddenly became divided by small flowing streams. These emerged as springs along a clear line on the hillside providing clear water to the burns that feed the Devil’s Water and then the Tyne.
Robin’s pincushion (c) Duncan Hutt
Robin’s pincushions are growths on wild roses caused by a tiny wasp. The grubs of the wasp feed on the host plant and cause it to produce the distinctive, often red, growths from where the leaves should be. The little wasp goes by the name of Diplolepis rosae and would be rarely recognised if it were not for the impressive galls it causes to be produced. The robin’s pincushion also goes by the less easy to remember name of the bedeguar gall. One rose in particular has been affected in a small area of woodland at the East Chevington nature reserve.
Speckled wood on ragwort (c) Duncan Hutt
Enjoying the September afternoon sunshine in the same wood were a few speckled wood butterflies. They found a couple of late flowering ragwort to be a valuable source of nectar. This is a species that seems to have done very well in recent years and this year has been seen in almost every corner of Northumberland except for the more upland areas; ten years ago it was barely seen in the county.
Nettle tap (c) Duncan Hutt
The pleasant days of early September have revived a little of the feeling of summer; many insects are certainly enjoying the warmth. One little moth was certainly to be seen in large numbers a few days ago. The nettle-tap (Anthophila fabriciana) is a micro-moth but one of the more recognisable of them, not particularly because it’s a striking moth but because it’s a day-flier with a fairly characteristic shape and habituates areas of nettles. This moth tends to be seen in good numbers in June but this year there has been a bit of an influx at the other end of summer. The moths were around areas of nettle but were far more focussed on the nectar to be found on the late flowers of black knapweed as well as the later flowers of bramble.
More colour was provided by a pair of small copper butterflies while by the river a handful of common darters were busy paired up and laying eggs into the River Pont. However it was the 250 or more tiny nettle-tap moths that were the stars of the day.
Small copper (c) Duncan Hutt
View from Tokavaig over to the hills of Skye (c) Duncan Hutt
Arctophila superbiens (c) Duncan Hutt
A few showery and rainy days on Skye still gave way now and again to warm sunshine. In these sunny intervals the insects emerged to feed on the flowers of heather, black knapweed, devil’s-bit scabious and angelica that surrounded our residence for the week. A few workers of common carder-bee (Bombus pascourum) foraged for nectar and pollen in amongst the flowers alongside an imposter, a look-alike hoverfly (Arctophila superbiens). This is a western species of hoverfly with little known about its life cycle, though the larvae may be aquatic in bog pools. Also prowling on the black knapweed was a sinister looking predator; an ichneumon wasp was busy laying eggs, presumably on insect larvae deep within the flower.
Leucozona glaucia (c) Duncan Hutt
Ichneumon wasp (c) Duncan Hutt
The flowers of angelica were particularly popular with other hoverflies including wasp and bee mimics such as Eristalis species and Leucozona glaucia, a species of woodland edges in the north and west of the UK. The larvae of the Leucozona feed on aphids of the woodland floor.
Speckled wood (c) Duncan Hutt
There were a few butterflies too. Scotch argus seem to cope well with cooler conditions although enjoyed basking in the sunshine when it did appear. There were speckled wood butterflies too resting on the young birch and hazel particularly in sheltered spots out of the wind. A peacock butterfly managed to put in an appearance, feeding for most of the afternoon on the black knapweed.
And one more insect worthy of note: the midge! There were plenty of these on the mild damp evenings.
Beinn na Callich (c) Duncan Hutt
Climbing Beinn na Callich (c) Duncan Hutt
Even the lesser mountains on Skye look huge. Perhaps it’s the fact that they rise from sea level or perhaps it’s that they are craggy or covered in scree that gives them the sense of being high and impenetrable. Beinn na Callich towers above Broadford and is a large stony mass of a mountain that actually only manages to be 732m at its highest point. The climb is, however, hard going across heather slopes turning to boulder fields with small green patches between. Here parsley fern and alpine ladies mantle grow and bilberry produces food for the ptarmigan that was flying low from rock to rock.
Parsley fern (c) Duncan Hutt
Alpine clubmoss (Diphasiastrum alpinum) (c) Duncan Hutt
The route takes in a horseshoe of three peaks from Beinn na Callich, on to Beinn Dearg Mhor, with a steep descent on scree, and finally to Beinn Dearg Bheag. On the rocky tops club mosses such as the distinctive Alpine clubmoss hint at the harshness of this windswept environment. Down below, and back on the lower more boggy slopes, an occasional Scotch argus butterfly braved the relatively cool and breezy weather of the afternoon.
Beinn Dearg Bheag and Beinn Dearg Mhor from Beinn na Callich (c) Duncan Hutt
Marmalade hoverfly (c) Duncan Hutt
There are over 280 species of hoverfly in the UK. Last week Duncan attended a training day on their identification although it’s only ever going to be a brief introduction in one day. There seems to be one species of the 280 with an English name, and this, the marmalade hoverfly (Episyrphus balteatus), was hanging around on cranesbill flowers in the garden this afternoon.
At Dukesfield, just south of Hexham, there were a few more species feeding on hogweeds but most of them turned out to be the very common Eristalis pertinax. This is a large ‘bee-mimic’ hoverfly which is relatively easy to tell from its close relatives as it has yellow front and middle feet! There were both male and females of this hoverfly clearly demonstrating the key difference between the genders; the separation of the eyes. In most hoverflies the eyes meet on the male whereas the eyes of females are separated.
Male Eristalis pertinax (c) Duncan Hutt
Female Eristalis pertinax (c) Duncan Hutt