The Holly and the Ivy

12 Nov

(Originally published the Sherston Cliffhanger October 2014)

Autumn has well and truly arrived with many trees dropping their leaves and the bird migration in full flow.

Most of our summer residents have gone, such as the House Martins and Swallows, while not many of the winter migrants like the Redwing (a bit like a Thrush) have departed their breeding grounds in Northern Europe.

Believe it of not but some of our butterfly’s also migrate. The Red Admiral butterfly, which is quite common here in the summer, migrates north in May and then goes south again in September. In early September I was fortunate to spend a week on a small island off the coast of Wales and there were literally thousands starting to move south across the Bristol Channel.

Even more amazing is the migration of a closely related butterfly – the Painted Lady – which is quite common here in the summer. Not only does this small insect migrate from tropical Africa to the Arctic Circle, which is a feat in itself, but it takes six generations of them to achieve this. Each generation migrates only part of the way with the following generation continuing the circular journey. This was only discovered fairly recently using, amongst other things, radar data. This just goes to show how little we know about even common insects that we take for granted.

The Ivy growing over walls and up trees is another part of our natural habitat that’s easy to overlook. The Ivy flowers in October and November and has flower buds that are greenish-white and often look like small drumsticks and are in little groups. The buds open to display tiny little green flowers which smell like Elderflower and produce pollen and nectar and consequently are a really important late autumn food source for many insects. By December the Ivy is covered in black flat-topped berries which are a really important source of food for the winter bird visitors such as the Red Wing and Fieldfare as well as our resident birds.

This warm reasonably wet summer has been fantastic for many birds and insects so we may see larger than normal numbers of migrant birds arriving here in the next few weeks so a large food supply over the winter is really important.

The Ivy and other berry producing plants often live the hedgerows and consequently hedgerows are a major source of food. These, however, are often trimmed/flailed in the autumn by farmers to keep things tidy which can be a disaster for wildlife – taking away important food sources just when they are needed. As a plea is it possible to trim the hedgerows every few years rather than every year? It will start to look messy but nature really needs messy.

Finally – time to get the bird feeders out with a variety of seeds, fats etc. Please do wash them out on a regular basis as there are some quite nasty diseases that spread from bird to bird. Last winter my feeders weren’t used much (aside from the Jackdaws and Wood Pigeons) as it was quite mild. This winter may be harder so please keep the feeders topped up!!


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