A common blue butterfly.

A common blue butterfly.

Astronomical summer ends this month, but the sun is shining and temperatures remain high. Across the farm, fruits continue to develop, with cherries and blackberries now followed by plums, apples, and even grapes! Seeds too are forming in all shapes and sizes. A walk off any of the paths will find your covered in tiny burs, which have evolved to hitch a ride on passing animals, using them to carry the plants to new areas. Their tiny hooks inspired the invention of velcro. Another common dispersal strategy is taking advantage of the wind. Many trees have winged seeds with structures designed to help them catch the current. Dispersal is particularly important for trees, as new plants need plenty of light as well as nutrients and would struggle to compete near their parent plant.

These knopper galls have formed around the acorns.

These knopper galls have formed around the acorns.

If you take a closer look at the developing acorns, you’ll spot knopper galls growing over many of them, as well as button galls on the oak leaves. These are caused by wasps, who lay their eggs on the young acorns, triggering the plant to form a gall which protects the developing wasp larvae until they are ready to emerge in the spring.

Late summer wildflowers can also be spotted across the farm and you may notice the pink flowers of musk and common mallows and white flowers of campion as well as huge swathes of the yellow tipped spindly tangles of wild mustard. There are also large areas covered by the delicate yellow flowers of sickle medick and purple flowers of their relatives, lucerne. These stunning plants are from the pea family, like wisteria. Other striking flowers this month include common toadflax (with unusually shaped yellow flowers), the fruits of strawberry clover and the small blue flowers of viper’s bugloss.

Many birds are now coming to the end of their molt now and corvids (crows, magpies and their relatives) are starting to look a bit less scruffy than they were last month. Most of their young are now fairly independent, though these adult-sized youngsters can still be seen and heard begging from their parents around the farm.

The continuing warm weather means that insects continue to be extremely active. Grassy areas are filled with the chirping of bush crickets and grasshoppers and you can often catch glimpses of them between the blades. Dragonflies (particularly hawkers) can also be seen across the farm as they hunt on the wing for invertebrate prey. Butterflies too can be spotted across the farm, including large numbers of speckled woods, commas, small blues and large whites.


Ragwort in bloom.

Ragwort in bloom.

August has arrived, bringing the summer holidays and lots of great chances to get out enjoy our fantastic wildlife. Here on the farm, fruits are beginning to ripen on both in the trees and the hedgerows. The first of the blackberries are fully ripe, with many more to join them soon and the birds have already enjoyed the first of the cherries. These will soon be followed by crabapples, plums, elderberries, hawthorn and more. The tiny acorns which appeared last month are starting to grow too, and are nearly the size of a marble now.

Comma butterflies (Polygonia c-album) flitted along the paths.

Comma butterflies (Polygonia c-album) flitted along the paths.

The farm is filled with butterflies and moths. It is already the second generation for some of the most spectacular large species such as Peacocks and Small Tortoishells, and should the good weather continue, you might also spot the migratory Red Admirals and Painted Ladies. However, if you take the time to watch, even common species such as the Small White can be fascinating, as males defend females, constantly chasing off rivals. Bees of many species are also active at this time of year, and are joined on flowering plants by hoverflies, which mimic both bees and wasps. Near the ponds you may also spot Migrant Hawker and Southern Hawker dragonflies as well as Common Darters.

August should also see the first of the returning migrant birds passing through Mudchute. We expect to see Swallows and House Martins flying, as well as species such as Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Whitethroat and perhaps even a Wheatear or Whinchat. Swifts (which have been commoner than usual in the borough this year) will also be departing in early August to head back to Africa.

Love wildlife? We hope you will join us on Wednesday, August 21st for our Go Wild at Mudchute Day! Organisations from all over London will be offering activities, including a bug hunt, seed bomb activity, arts and crafts, tree climbing, home made pizza oven and a live band. Activities will include:

We look forward to celebrating our local wildlife with you!

 


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beetle grub

The larval grub stage of the cockchafter beetle. These grubs live underground, feeding on roots for 3 to 4 years before merging as adult beetles.

Warm weather and a late spring have brought a late influx of Common Cockchafters (Melolontha melolontha) or May Bugs to the farm. These large beetles are now emerging as adult beetles after 3 to 4 years spent under the ground as white grubs that can grow up to 40mm long. They typically pupate during the summer of their third year, not unlike butterflies, before turning into their adult form,
which remains underground until summer (now!), when they finally emerge from the soil as reddish brown beetles with feathery antler-like antennae. You can use these to tell males from females, as males have seven ‘leaves’ on their antennae while females have only six.

The adult beetles feed on the leaves of trees and live for about a month, during which they mate and feed. They spend most of the day hidden among the trees, becoming active as the sun sets. At dusk they emerge noisily, buzzing around trees as they find mates and feed. They are clumsy fliers and you can often spot them crash landing into trees and each other. Once they have mated, the females will each lay between 60 and 80 eggs at the root of the trees and these eggs will hatch into grubs to start the cycle again.

Cockchafers seem particularly abundant this year and their emergence at dusk attracts many predators. Corvids such as crows and magpies wait at dusk for beetles to fall to the ground and snatch up. We’ve also spotted gulls swooping to catch them mid-air from the tops of the trees! You can find out more about these incredible beetles from Buglife and the Natural History Museum.