Do you have willow or poplar trees in your garden? If so, it’s worth searching for the fascinating caterpillars of the Puss Moth. They are frequent visitors to a local garden on the Rowley Hills where the residents have regularly studied their progress from eggs through to adult moths.
Once mating has taken place the female moths deposit small batches of brownish-coloured eggs on leaves of their food plant, in this case two small willow trees in their back garden.
Upon hatching the young caterpillars feed almost constantly for around four weeks and pass through several stages until fully grown.
In some years predation by birds, wasps and even Harlequin Ladybirds takes a heavy toll, but generally enough of them survive to maturity, ensuring there will be moths again the following year.
They spend the winter in a tough cocoon attached to tree trunks or wooden posts, then the newly-emerged moths seek out the food plant, and the cycle begins again.
Although summer is over and autumn is now well and truly with us, there are still plenty of fascinating flora and fauna to be seen in the Rowley Hills. Here’s a round-up of recent sightings; don’t forget, if you’ve seen something interesting, let us know!
Bird migration is continuing apace, and taking on an autumnal flavour, with the first Redwings of the season being spotted. This member of the thrush family breeds in northern Europe and migrates south in autumn, escaping the cold weather to spend the winter in the UK and other central and southern European countries. Other migrating species seen recently include Meadow and Tree Pipits, White and Yellow Wagtails, House Martin, Chaffinch, Siskin, Redpoll, Swallow, Spotted Flycatcher, Chiffchaff, Golden Plover and Cormorant. Many thanks as always to Ian Whitehouse for keeping us up to date with his Rowley Hills sightings!
We’ve had more good news following Sandwell Council’s decision to delay cutting the grass on Bury Hill in response to our request. Not only has this allowed the Harebells there to finish flowering – enabling us to collect seed from them to sow elsewhere in the Rowley Hills – another scarce wildflower in Birmingham and the Black Country has been discovered in the same area which would probably never have come to light had the grass been cut as normal. The flower is Trailing Tormentil (Potentilla anglica); it is very difficult to identify as it hybridises with two other members of the Tormentil family, Creeping Cinquefoil (P. reptans) and Common Tormentil (P. erecta). The two hybrids and Trailing Tormentil all look very similar, having flowers with both 4 and 5 petals; however 2 experts have verified that it is Trailing Tormentil. The diagnostic feature confirming this is fully fertile flowers – hybrids are not fertile.
Elsewhere on the hills Mike Poulton photographed a Broom Moth caterpillar feeding on Red Bartsia, and another new botanical record for the Wildlife Trust’s Portway Hill site was a large patch of Sneezewort, so named because its pungent smell supposedly causes sneezing.
Mike and Doug also found an enormous spider whilst working on the Wildlife Trust’s site, which turned out to be a Four Spotted Orb Weaver. This spider holds the record for the heaviest spider in Britain!
It’s turning out to be a great fungi season too. These two species were photographed last week; Blackening Waxcap was near the Wildlife Trust’s Portway Hill site and Verdigris Agaric was on Massey’s Bank.
It’s not just the wide open spaces here on the Rowley Hills that contain wildlife. There’s plenty to see in your own back garden if you take the time to look – if you’ve seen anything interesting let us know in the comments below or via our Facebook or Twitter pages!