Basin Notes

IN EARLY May I sowed two packets of wild flower seed mixture in an island bed in my garden instead of planting my usual annuals. The result has been a riot of colour from mid-summer onwards. Bright red poppies, golden-yellow corn marigolds, the blue cornflowers and daisy-like mayweeds have been the bold stand-out flowers supplemented by field forget-me-nots and white campions

My hope was that the flowers would attract lots of butterflies, bees and other insects. However the poor summer resulted in just a few butterfly sightings of red admiral, small tortoiseshell and large white. On warm sunny days though, bumblebees and hoverflies were busy searching out the nectar-rich flowers. I will certainly sow wild flower seed again next year and not having to weed was a bonus.

Hoverflies are abundant in summer and autumn and there are more than 200 species in the UK alone. Many look like miniature wasps with their yellow and black stripes which help to deter predators. They can fly sideways and backwards as well as hover. Gardeners welcome their presence as they help pollination and their larvae consume large numbers of aphids.

The picking of black, juicy brambles in September is something country folk have enjoyed for centuries. I think the berries taste best when eaten straight off the bush. They are delicious in mixed fruit crumbles and freeze well too. The bramble bush is a common feature of woodland edge, country paths, hedgerows and waste ground. There are many different species, each having their own characteristics. This is perhaps most noticeable when the flowers are in bloom and the petals can show various shades of pink as well as white.

The bramble is a vicious grower and can form large thickets with its long and thorny arching branches. This provides a natural habitat for many insects, birds and mammals. Insects are in abundance when the bush is flowering and you will often see a buff-tailed bumblebee stopping for a moment to brush off the pollen grains from its body. It packs them into the hairy baskets on its hind legs before flying back to its nest.

In the tangled branches a whitethroat may rear a couple of broods, feeding the young with flies and caterpillars and this month they will all start winging their way to West Africa for the winter. Blackbird, dunnock, greenfinch, linnet and blackcap may also use the thicket canopy to nest in.

If you are picking brambles you may be accompanied by a second generation red admiral or small tortoiseshell flitting among the berries, stopping periodically to suck up the rich berry juice. Be on the look-out for wasps as they are more abundant now. They feed on the berries as well but will also clamp their jaws around a hoverfly that comes too close.

Blackbird and blackcap frequently feed on the berries as does the badger and wood mouse. The latter may well have an earth tunnel under the bramble bush where it hoards berries and nuts. In the winter the bramble thicket provides a safe night roost for flocks of tits and finches following their daily forages for food in the wider countryside.

A number of raptors have been seen at the Basin this month including peregrine, sparrowhawk, kestrel and buzzard. At least one osprey is still fishing on a daily basis. Any day now the first of the pink-footed geese will arrive at the Basin from Iceland, a clear sign of approaching autumn then I am afraid it’s all downhill to winter.