You may have seen my previous post about the importance of wildflowers, continuing that theme today I am looking at another small but vital habitat close to home.
Just above the high tide line of the harbour is a small patch of rough ground, usually strewn with small rowing boats used by seafarers to reach their larger boats moored out on the water.
This scruffy patch of overgrown grass is largely ignored and nothing remarkable to look at, but each year as summer reaches it’s peak it bursts into life with an untidy bloom of wildflowers, which many would consider as problematic weeds.
Exploring the patch in more detail I have discovered a small but vital ecosystem teeming with life.
Mallow flowers framing Aberystwyth harbour
A tiny caterpillar wriggling along the edge of one of the wooden boats
The tall pink mallow flowers stand tall and sway gently in the breeze, their scent drifting on the winds and attracting bumblebees to feed on their nectar.
During just one brief visit I found three different species, the red tailed-bumblebee, tree bumblebee and buff-tailed bumblebee.
The mallow also appears to be a favourite perch of the painted lady butterfly which is a regular sight here.
Painted lady on mallow flower
Nearby a dense patch of water dropwort grows in the shelter alongside the harbour wall. It’s white flowers emerging in distinctive umbrella like clusters at the end of long projections, these are known as ‘umbelliferous’ flowers.
Water dropwort with distinct flower clusters
The water dropwort is in fact the UK most poisonous plant and can be fatal to both grazing animals and humans if consumed. Despite this the plant is harmless to many insects and the flowers are often swarming with bees as they delicate probe for nectar with their long tongues.
Solitary bee – exact species unknown
These flowers also appear to be a favourite breeding ground for many smaller insects!
A pair of mating red soldier beetles
A tiny male mason wasp mating with a larger female
During a few weeks in summer these dropwort flower heads were covered in fine threads of delicate silk threads weaved among the foliage. A closer look with my macro lens revealed the tiny culprits, not spiders as you might think, but these minute caterpillars.
A dingy flat-bodied moth caterpillar
The ding flat-bodied moth larvae use these flowers as a scaffold on which they can construct their silk cocoons where they will eventually pupate and emerge as adult moths.
Weaving a silk cocoon
Cocoon under construction
Spear thistles thrive in disturbed ground and also grow abundantly here, their spiny outer casing protecting the bright purple flowers within.
Spear thistle spines
Once the flowers bloom these also provide food for many insects and even the occasional passing goldfinch, able to pick seeds from between the spines with it’s fine beak.
Leaf cutter bee on a thistle flower
The thistles and mallow flowers seem to be a particular favourite for the migrant painted lady butterflies which appear each summer in significant numbers over this small patch of ground.
Closer to the ground, large daisies (I am unsure what variety these are) capture the sun on their open flower tops and provide the perfect feeding platform for larger insects.
It is on these daisies that I have found and photographed two new species which I haven’t captured on camera before!
Small copper butterfly
Ivy mining bee
Even the grass here is full of life if you take the time to stop and look, or in this case listen. On a hot summer’s day you can often hear repetitive buzzing sounds coming from deep within the vegetation. This sound is known as ‘stridulation’ and is created by grasshoppers as they rub their legs against their wings.
Here is a very brief video loop where you can just make out the sound these insects create.
After a lot of careful listening and straining my eyes I found two different species of these brilliant camouflaged insects among the drying grass blades.
The excellent camouflage of a field grasshopper
Fortunately this area, unlike the grass verge featured in my previous blog is left to grow wild and so can continue to provide food and shelter for numerous tiny creatures year round.
All photographs copyright of Claire Stott/Grey Feather Photography ©
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