October 2018: Nature Watch

September 28 2018

The chatter of the local house martins can be heard all summer but one morning in mid-September their tone changed.

It was louder and more insistent than their usual amiable banter and it suddenly struck me that they were starting to discuss something more serious. They are quite late to migrate and may still be around when you pick up your October issue of Bishopston Voice, especially if they are raising a second or even a third brood. But soon they will dash away and we will be left to see what autumn has to offer without their musical witterings. 

In a fit of autumnal decluttering I decided to tackle some of our bramble. We let it have its way in many areas because it is so good for wildlife but it takes advantage and every now and again we have to show it the error of its ways. One giant stem had penetrated a tangle of fuschia and honeysuckle and was at least 6m long. It has only been growing since about April so that works out at some 4cm per day! Next year this stem would produce the side shoots that bear the flowers and fruit (except I hoicked it out before it took over the patio). 

Like Brer Rabbit, many animals are born and bred in a briar patch. Bramble supplies a safe nesting site for small birds whilst its nectar and tasty leaves support many different species of insect. Right now the bramble patch is as busy as ever. Day and night there will be all manner of birds, mammals and insects feeding on the blackberries: the mushy, over-ripe ones are particularly favoured by moths. Hedgehogs will also take them and then, full to the gills, they will curl up and sleep within the thorny depths. Several moth species, including buff arches and peach blossom, having fed on the leaves all summer, are now pupating in the leaf litter beneath. Even those cut ends that I have created will come in useful - the dead stems soon become hollow and these tiny spaces are used by some adult insects, including ladybirds and earwigs, as a hibernation hotel. 

The bramble leaf in this photo has not simply suffered from an equinoctial gale; the tracery of lines and the ragged edges have been caused by the caterpillar of a micro-moth, Stigmella aurella, which lives inside the leaf blade. As it feeds on the soft, central cells it makes these trails (called leaf mines), pale in colour from having the green tissue eaten away. Bramble rarely sheds all its leaves and even now there will be caterpillars over-wintering in their miniature mines.  

Inside that bramble patch there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of creatures sweetly sleeping away the cold months before spring comes along and warms them awake. 

And finally an urgent reminder to all gardeners – if you are having a bonfire please build it and burn it the same day and keep our hedgehogs safe.