Birds, Butterflies and the Mint Moth

Birds, Butterflies and the Mint Moth
August 24, 2011 Adrian Walters

Every year summer’s presence seems so fleeting and although every season has so much to offer, the warmth of summer is a distinct bonus. Yet the swifts have already left our skies for the heat of Africa and it will not be too long before the rest of our summer migrants leave the Sudbury riverside.

In the meantime, however, swallows and house martins continue to feed over the pastures and raise their late broods. Young swallows can often be seen sitting out on the fencing waiting for their parents to bring a nutritious beak-full of insects. Cattle grazing ensures that there is a plentiful supply of insects which in turn attracts the birds.

The swallows have nested under the Old Bathing Place bridge for many years and a further pair took up residence under the Croft bridge a few years ago. It is good to see the summer visitors doing well on the riverside even though numbers continue to decline elsewhere. Eventually, however, this decline in our wider countryside will be noticeable on the riverside however plentiful the insect population may be.

Spotted flycatchers, which also depend on insects, have been declining for a number of years. On the Sudbury riverside, however, numbers had held up very well with at least five pairs nesting until a few years ago. This year, however, fewer birds are in evidence and if the decline continues the sad day will come when we are unable to enjoy the fantastic aerial insect-catching antics of these birds.

Butterflies have, in general, had a much better season than in recent years. Sadly there are exceptions to this with an apparent absence of small tortoiseshell and peacock butterflies. Both these species ought to be very much in evidence at this time of year and although other species have all put in an appearance, numbers have generally been rather low.

It is very noticeable that where flowers bloom in abundance there is an enormous amount of insect activity so it is clear what needs to be done in order to encourage a wide range of declining species.

At this time of year the steel-blue flowers of water mint make a wonderful show in wet meadows and along the river and ditch margins. In turn this attracts a very small but rather attractive moth, perhaps not unexpectedly called the mint moth. This moth appears with very great regularity on the Cornard riverside where part of the pasture is manged as a hay meadow followed by some late grazing. This management not only benefits numerous species of insect but also encourages the wetland flowers to set seed. In this way the habitat proves ideal for a wide range of wildlife.