The sap is rising - a spring in Nature’s step

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Lee Swords emailed excitedly about one of our most striking springtime butterflies, the brimstone.

‘While sowing some wild flowers on the lower Bowden Houstead Field I saw a dozen brimstones on the ravine. They were coming out of the ivy covered trees that edge Bowden Woods and while walking home I saw two more in the woods heading out to open country. That is species 24 for the area’.

This is not bad for a site that may become an environmentally-friendly fire station anytime soon!

However, don’t worry, it will have a green roof so perhaps the butterflies will be happy – or maybe not.

Well, back to Lee’s butterflies, a nice record, especially with those numbers. The brimstone is big, and, as its name suggests, a bright, sulphurous yellow – a real stunner. In recent years, it has spread from strongholds in the south and east of our region and is worth looking out for almost anywhere. Favoured habitats are woodland edges and rides. Brimstone butterflies feed on nectar during the summer to build up energy reserves for the winter. By late August, they are already hiding away to begin their long hibernation.

The adult or imago brimstone usually rests until early spring, although a warm January day may rouse an eager male.

The eggs, and there is only one brood a year, are laid singly on the leaves of only two food plants, either common buckthorn (rhamnus cathartica) or alder buckthorn (rhamnus frangula), both species native to limestone areas.

Females wander widely in search for these particular shrubs and can smell a buckthorn five miles away.

So plant one in your garden and you have a great chance of drawing them in.

Indeed, the increase in our region must be in part, at least, due to these species planted along roadsides and in other landscaping schemes.

The larvae and pupae are both green and well camouflaged. Emerging from the pupae, they seek evergreen scrub, a favourite being dense, old ivy growth.

I had a few last Tuesday around Shire Brook and then Holbrook as I visited the sites with postgraduate students. Along with the brimstones, there were excellent numbers of peacocks doing spectacular territorial dances along the sheltered, sunny pathways.

We were also treated to great views of a common buzzard displaying over Holbrook Heath, perhaps keeping a wary distance from the piles of grey asbestos and the burnt out sofas.

One of my students, Karon Mayor, captured the bird on camera as it circled and swooped.

Close by, a pile of part-burned, part moulded LPs added pathos to the scene with Jim Reeves and others consigned to a slow reabsorption into the eco-sphere.

n Sightings: Ring ouzels and wheatears have been up on the moors and crags for some weeks. Curlews are also back over their upland breeding grounds and are displaying noisily. In lowland woods and parks, the songs and calls of innumerable songbirds confirm that spring is well on its way. Song thrushes are especially notable at present with their glorious and loud songs of three-time repeated notes. The blackbird is the most accomplished of the songsters but the thrush does have it on purity of note and on loudness.

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