If the RSPB had existed a few hundred million years ago, the only flying creatures we’d have been able to protect would have been insects!
They were the first creatures to take to the air around 350 million years ago, and dominated the skies until birds came along. Back then some dragonflies had wingspans of up to 2 feet long! Nowadays they are a lot smaller, but by no means less beautiful.
Hawkers are some of the largest and fastest flying dragonflies in the UK (hence the name). The brown hawker is a large species that can be found flying from the end of June through till September. It is a widespread dragonfly in the UK, and has been spotted a number of times here at Coombes, with woodland rides being a favourite hunting spot.
They can be easily identified, even in flight, by their entirely brown body with little yellow and blue markings. The wings are golden-orange in colour and the male has a distinct ‘waist’ that the female lacks.
Golden Ringed Dragonfly:
This is the longest species of dragonfly in Britain, with females (the larger of the sexes) growing up to 84mm! This is because of her long ‘ovipositor’- used to lay her eggs under the water.
Golden rings can be found flying around between May and September, one was spotted at the first bridge only a couple of weeks ago. They are easily recognisable with their yellow and black rings along their abdomen, which no other dragonfly has.
Peacock, taken by Genevieve Leaper
Out on butterfly transect surveys over the past few months, there have been distinct fluctuations in sightings of Peacock butterflies. There were large numbers around April/May time, but then there was an obvious dip. At the end of July the numbers started to pick up again; this is due to the second generation of caterpillars pupating and emerging as adults.
Peacocks are some of our most colourful species of butterfly, with their eye spots making them easily recognisable. They are particularly widespread, and can be found in a wide range of habitats.
Small copper, taken by Richard Revels
Small coppers are fast flying and can be hard to spot, especially because of their size. However, if you manage to catch a glimpse of them resting on the ground in the sun, you will instantly know what you are looking at, as their bright ‘copper’ or orange wings make them easily recognisable.
Like peacocks, populations will have multiple generations in year, sometimes having up to four in a good year! Caterpillars mainly feed on common or sheep’s sorrel as well as broad-leaved dock, and adults feed on a range of nectaring plants, including buttercups, daisy and dandelion.
Large yellow underwing, taken by Chris Shields.
Large Yellow Underwing:
This has been a common occurrence in our moth trap, frequently we find a hundred or so in the morning! This moth’s name is pretty self explanatory; it’s one of our larger species of moth, and it’s hindwing (or underwing) is bright yellow.
They are found all over the UK and are relatively common, hence the large numbers in our trap! They are night flyers and rest during the day, but are often disturbed from the undergrowth by people or animals, and will flash their yellow hindwings to startle any potential attackers.
August thorn, taken by Richard Revel
This appropriately named moth has also been caught a number of times in our moth trap over the past month, and flies during August and September. A number of similar ‘Thorn’ species that have been caught in our trap recently (early thorn, purple thorn, canary shouldered thorn), can be hard to distinguish between.
The august thorn can be told apart from its cousins by the shape of the cross-lines on its forewing. The inner line has a distinct curve, whilst the outer line kinks where it joins the wings leading edge. Caterpillars of this species feed on oak and beech, of which there is an abundance of at Coombes!
If you'd like to see some of our moths, ask at the Information Centre in the early part of the morning - if the moth traps been on overnight - we'd be more than happy to show you. Wander our meadows and trackways - to discover our other insect delights.