Thursday, 4 August 2016

Thistles, galls and chalkhill blues

There were stormy skies over Grangelands this morning as I walked round. It was very windy on the Rifle Range side and the sun was in and out, so very few butterflies were flying, just a single small tortoiseshell and a couple of large whites. The great thing abut this reserve though is that you can walk around the base of Pulpit Hill, into Grangelands, and be much more sheltered from the wind.

It never ceases to amaze me how much can change in just a few days. The marbled whites, that seemed to be on every flower head a couple of weeks ago, had disappeared. Many of the flowers that were just starting to appear, such as the scabious and marjoram, were in full flower, making a beautiful display and aroma.

Scabious bobbing above the grass
The delicate, paper thin harebells and pretty purple stars of autumn gentian had both started to flower...
Harebell - looks almost like it has been cut out of paper
Autumn gentian
 ... but it was the thistles that had really burst into life since my last visit, popping up throughout the short turf. The purple dwarf thistles and beige carline thistles were all covered in bees and butterflies.

This bee was loving the dwarf thistles

Carline thistles
 This creeping thistle had gone to seed. I can't resist exploding thistle down!
Creeping thistle
There appeared to be some unusual 'gooseberry' shaped growths on its stem, which I've since found out were made by the larvae of the thistle gall fly, which burrow into the stem and cause this swelling or gall.
Not a gooseberry!

I was quite taken with the wonderful teasels.

Teasels, towering over the other wild flowers
I saw one red admiral and plenty of gatekeepers, meadow browns and large whites. I also saw what I'm pretty sure was a silver spotted skipper, although it didn't stay around long enough to get a photo and disappeared in a hurry.

Out of the wind, the chalkhill blues were out in large numbers, especially on their favourite slope. What you can't see from the photo is a flickering blue haze as the male butterflies flutter low to the ground. There must have been 30+ on this small slope alone. They were really enjoying the carline thistle flowers and it was good to see a few female butterflies around as well.
The chalkhill blues favourite slope


Female chalkhill blue
 I checked the small patch of dark mullein that grows there, but couldn't find any striped lychnis caterpillars on it.
Dark mullein
I also spotted a robin's pincushion gall, which is made by the larvae of a tiny gall wasp. It develops on the stems of wild roses, turning redder through the autumn. The larvae will feed on the plant throughout the winter and emerge as adults next spring.

Robin's pincushion
Another lovely walk around Grangelands and we made it round before the rain started!

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