Tag Archives: Speckled Wood

The final days of May

I’m starting this post with a tribute to the privet shrub, without whose bountiful blossom this spring I would not have seen the array of beautiful insects I have recorded recently.

When we first moved into the house the privet hedge, planted in front of the garden wall had been allowed to grow to a very straggly 2-3 metres high. I’d had plenty of past battles with rampant privet hedges, but rather than dig it out I cut it right down into a low hedge interspersed with some taller trunks I clipped into various topiary shapes. I like it kept neat and tidy, but usually allow some parts to blossom each spring as I am aware some insects are attracted to it. This year I missed out the usual early spring cut as I was away in Wales, so the whole hedge was already in flower when I got back. A very happy accident as it turned out, and although it’s untidiness does bother me a bit I will definitely leave it to finish flowering before I trim it and will also leave some to fruit for the birds to pick at later on.


Privet was originally the name for the European semi-evergreen shrub, Ligustrum vulgarum and later also for the more reliably evergreen  Ligustrum ovalifolium (Japanese privet), used extensively for privacy hedging. It is often suggested that the name privet is related to private, but the Oxford English dictionary states that there is no evidence to support this. The term is now used for all members of the genus Ligustrum which includes about 40-50 species of evergreen, semi-evergreen or deciduous shrubs and small trees, native to Europe, north Africa, Asia and Australasia with the centre of diversity in China, the Himalays, Japan and Taiwan. The generic name originated in Latin  and was applied by  Pliny the Elder (23 CE – 79) to L. vulgare. The genus is placed in the olive family, Oleacea.

The flowers are small and fragrant and borne in panicles. They have four curled-back petals and two high stamens with yellow or red anthers, between which is the low pistil; the petals and stamens fall off after the flower is fertilized, leaving the pistil in the calyx tube. The fruits, borne in clusters, are small purple to black drupes; individual shrubs may produce thousands of fruits, most of which are eaten by birds.

The Privet is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera  (moth) species including Common Emerald, Common Marbled Carpet,Copper Underwing, The Engrailed, Mottled Scalloped Hazel, Small Angle Shades, The V-pug and Willow Beauty.

Source : Wikipaedia

* Not mentioned above is the Privet Hawkmoth Sphinx ligustri, a large and attractive moth, with a wingspan of 100mm.


I spotted a Painted Lady zoom in over the wall  and after a bit of flying up and down it finally settled with its wing firmly closed.

30/5/11- Painted Lady

The butterfly was at the far end of the hedge, quite high up and as I looked at it, squinting against the bright sunshine, I caught a quick glint of metallic green. The light was very bright and all I could see was part of the underside of a large insect nestled right into the flower head against the stem. I moved around, trying to find an angle that would reveal what I hoped was a Rose Chafer. After several minutes of waiting, my patience was rewarded when out it crawled, albeit very briefly, into view. What glorious insects they are; deserving of a far more glamorous name than it has been given and definitely a jewel in my list of sightings so far this year.


30/5/11-A beautiful Rose Chafer on privet

Rose Chafer – Cetonia aurata

A beautiful scarab beetle, with a body length of around 20mm. It is a bright, metallic, jewel-like green, with whitish marks and stripes across the elytra. From mid-May they may be found on sunny days in flowery places on the blossoms of rose, hawthorn, elder etc. The larvae live in the rotting wood of old trees. 

There is still blossom left on the privet that is still attracting a few insects. I can’t imagine I can top what I’ve already seen, unless of course I may be very lucky and see a Privet Hawkmoth: they do fly in June and July…

The next insect I saw along the hedge took me from the dazzling to something much more modest, a subtly coloured and patterned Long-tailed Blue, another ‘new’ species for this year, similar in  general appearance to the Lang’s Short-tailed Blue I saw a few days ago. It came to rest on a privet leaf and I was able to get a fairly close look at it, although when I saw the photo I realised it  had actually lost its tails. It obligingly half-opened its wings too, revealing the bronze -brown uppersides, slightly suffused with violet-blue. This is a female; the male’s uppersides are bluish-lilac with a dark margin to the forewing  and a dark spot at the base of the tail streamer.

31/5/11-A closer look at a Long-tailed Blue- Lampides boeticus

31/5/11-Long-tailed Blue -A glimpse of the upperwings revealed this to be a female

Not too far along I spotted another of my favourite insects, a cute-looking, furry little Bee-fly that was feeding on lantana flowers.

31/5/11-A Bee-fly -Bombylius major

The Bee-fly is an expert flyer that generally resembles a small furry bumblebee. It plunges its long straight proboscis into flowers, using it to suck out nectar often whilst hovering skillfully, but sometimes using its long spindly legs to help it balance. The insects cute appearance belies its parasitic nature; the females lay eggs close to the nests of mining bees, and the larvae enter the nest and parasitize the bees.

31/5/11-Bee-fly using its long legs to help with balance as it probes a flower

Ilex Hairstreak butterflies continue to feed on the thyme flowers, but this afternoon there were also two on the yellow button flowers of the santolina (cotton lavender), which is where I have seen one or two in previous years.One of the butterflies was missing part of a hind wing, probably as a result of a bird attack, maybe one of the Spotted Flycatchers. 

31MAY11-Ann Ilex Hairstreak & a tachinid fly feeding on santolina

A closer view of the small Tachinid fly - Phyrxe vulgaris

Tachinid flies are useful rather than beautiful insects: a species that help greatly to control various forest and agricultural pests: the larvae are internal parasites of numerous butterflies & moths.

31MAY11-A pretty view of a Speckled Wood on santolina flowers

Butterfly species recorded in and around the garden this month:

Large White, Small White, Cleopatra, Clouded Yellow, Ilex Hairstreak, Common Blue, Holly Blue, Lang’s Short-tailed Blue, Long-tailed Blue, Geranium Bronze, Speckled Wood, Meadow Brown, Small Skipper

(13 species)             

Sunshine and butterflies

May 22nd-28th

A wonderful few days for butterflies, including two that are new to this blog. Most were familiar ones and most were not numerous, but several different species were represented none-the-less. Friday (27th) was an exceptional day, hot and sunny with very little breeze and I saw more butterflies in one day than I think I’ve ever seen here in this garden.

It’s only right that I start my list with a Speckled Wood, our most consistently-present butterfly, which has been particularly numerous this week. I’ve seen them all over the garden, in dappled shade, in full sun, fighting amongst themselves and chasing off other intruding species. They’ve also been taking nectar from the privet, and one I saw, from thyme flowers. There is always one in the part of the garden on either side of the entrance gates that regularly patrols the shrubbery and hedge, defends its patch vigorously and takes siestas on ivy leaves, so I chose to photograph him.

22/5/11-Speckled Wood- Pararge aegeria - resting but alert on an ivy leaf

On Monday I caught  sight of what I thought was a Large White dipping down to flowers at the bottom of a lantana shrub. It was a lovely female Cleopatra that was so perfect it must have been newly emerged and that stayed feeding for at least half an hour.

23/5/11-Cleopatra - Gonepteryx cleopatra on lantana

There are a mass of flowers on my thyme plant now that have been attracting a few little hairstreak butterflies. These are Ilex Hairstreaks that I have seen in the garden in ones and twos in previous years, when they have been attracted to the yellow button flowers of the santolina (cotton lavender).

27/5/11-Ilex Hairstreak - Satyrium ilicis

27/5/11-In the sunlight the butterflies have a bronze sheen to their wings

I have not had a very good look at their uppersides as the second they land they snap their wings shut. I have seen individuals moving their hindwings back and forth, passing one over the surface of the other,  giving glimpses of only the edges of the upperside surfaces of the wings. I’ve seen this behaviour in other species too and have wondered why they do it. I’m sure it will be something to do with mating; maybe the change in air current it makes wafts pheromones into the air, or makes some kind of high frequency sound audible only to another butterfly. Maybe it lowers their body temperature a little, circulating air around their furry bodies.

Whilst photographing the hairstreaks a little blue butterfly passed close by and landed on one of the little yellow flowers that populate an area of my lawn. A male Common Blue.

27/5/11-Common Blue - Polyommatus icarus

I came across another blue that had dropped in to sample the marjoram flowers, this one a little butterfly that originates from Africa but that is a common migrant here and may have become resident, a Lang’s Short-tailed Blue.

27/5/11 - Lang's Short-tailed Blue - Leptotes pirithous on marjoram

A butterfly I was surprised to see was a Meadow Brown. It was flying very low to the ground in the shady strip of garden between the boundary wall and the house, pausing to rest first on a violet leaf which it was probing with its proboscis and then on a dry leaf on the ground.

27/5/11 -Meadow Brown- Maniola jurtina on a dry leaf on the ground

Other species I saw but did not/could not photograph were Small and Large Whites, almost constantly on the wing and too fast for me, clearly energized by the sunshine. Holly Blue(s) that I have had several sightings of as it fluttered along the tops of the hedges then up to the tops of the trees. A Clouded Yellow that popped in over the wall, raced along the hedge then popped back over the wall.

The Nightgales are back and much more

Monday, 28th March

A sad sight greeted me this morning – a mole had somehow managed to fall into the swimming pool and whether as a result of the fall or from the sheer shock to its system, had died.  Moles are quite troublesome to many a gardener here, just as in the UK, and can wreak havoc to a lawn overnight. I would rather not have their company in my own garden, but they do like it here, perhaps because they know I won’t deliberately hurt them.

Mole - Talpa europaea

It was a warm sunny day and sweeping up leaves I realised the wind had changed direction. Perhaps as a result of that I saw several returning Black Kites in the early afternoon, some quite low and passing by the back of the house, others further away at the front. Late in the afternoon I heard one of my favourite sounds of summer – the distinctive cheerful trills and calls of  Bee-eaters. I was really happy to hear them and even happier to see them as they passed by, flying low and parallel to the main road, so they may have been returning to the local nesting site at San Enrique. The flock was closely followed by a single Swift, the first one I’ve seen locally this year.

Looking out of the kitchen window later on when it was almost dark, I noticed two birds at the bird bath, two Robins out together bathed and drank.

Tuesday, 29th March – Nightingales!

I stepped outside for a few minutes at around lunchtime this afternoon and heard the sound I eagerly anticipate each spring – the first song of a Nightingale! I was so happy to hear it I just stood and listened for ages, quickly realising that there were in fact two birds singing, one from very close by and the other a distance away. I’m particularly pleased as I will be in the UK for a few weeks from next week and would have been very unhappy to have missed their arrival.

A lovely sunny day brought out a good number of insects, including bees, various species of butterfly and several Egyptian Grasshoppers.

An Egyptian Grasshopper was flying restlessly from place to place around the garden, landing briefly on a rock.The striped effect on its back is a glimpse of folded wings as the elytra are not quite closed

This was quite a dark-coloured individual, but had the diagnostic striped eyes, so definitely not a locust. It also had a wrinkled face.

A little later on, hoping to hear more Nightingale music, I stood out on the terrace with a cup of tea and the camera and something moving very fast caught the corner of my eye. It was a male Wall Lizard rapidly pursuing a female, eventually catching her by grabbing the end of her tail in his mouth.

A male Wall Lizard pursued a very fast female, grabbing the end of her tail

She continued to move away, but he held fast, progressively getting a firmer grip higher up the tail.

The pursuing lizard puts a foot on to the end of the pursued's tail to get a grip higher up, but she kept going

She clung tight to the bottom of a pillar, he clung tight to her tail

Round the pillar for lap two - he's still hanging on, gradually getting a better grip

Disappearing around the pillar

Around the other side, he's still hanging on as she makes a break for the edge of the path

She made it over the edge, but he was not letting go

The struggle continued until the pair momentarily disappeared from view; seconds later they reappeared, the female had broken free and made a dash back for the cover of the air-conditioning unit with the male in hot pursuit. I waited for a while, but they did not venture out, so they clearly wished to continue in private.

A Red Admiral butterfly basking on a sunlit leaf

Later in the evening more birds came to bathe, a female Chaffinch was first to arrive, followed by two Blue Tits, then two Chiffchaffs. The Chaffinch was not happy to share though and chased the smaller birds away several times.

Wednesday 30th March

A walk around the neighbourhood is especially enjoyable at this time of year when the air is still fresh and it’s pleasantly very warm but not hot. Blackbirds were out hunting worms for hungry young, Collared Doves were very visible, flying noisily from trees and back again, so I think they are probably beginning another mating cycle. A little bunch of mixed male and female Serins were pecking around on grass beside the road, flying up to a tree as a car passed them. Most noticeable birds singing this week have been Goldfinches. A resident species, there are usually a few about, but there have been a lot here the past few days, so the numbers have been boosted by those returning to breed and on passage back from Africa.

A Goldfinch singing from the top of a pine tree

Thursday 31st March

Warm enough to sit outside early this morning, I had the added joy of a Nightingale singing from the cork oak trees just a few metres away from me. A Robin and a Chiffchaff were out foraging on the lawn and at around 11am there were both Greenfinches and Goldfinches in the garden.

An early morning butterfly - a Speckled Wood, warming up on a leaf

An acrobatic Blue Tit

I’ve had some lovely close views of Blue Tits the past few mornings as they come to the kitchen window, to look for spiders I think.

Friday, April 1st

My makeshift birdbath has been in high demand this week and this morning as I strolled around the garden I was surprised when a Blue Tit arrived to bathe right in front of me. It stayed put when I took its picture too, so must have really needed to freshen up.

Blue tits have been regular bathers recently

The Blue Tit was once again displaced by a female Chaffinch, who just sat on the rim of the bath territorially, neither drinking nor bathing.

The female Chaffinch stood keeping other birds away

Not far away, sitting on the edge of the path surveying the garden was a  Psammodromus Lizard, another lizard passed by that I thought for a minute may have been another similar one; I saw a mating pair very close to this spot last year and thought I might be doubly lucky. It was a Wall Lizard though, and after checking each other out he moved along a bit further and also stopped to overlook the same path of garden.

A well-coloured Psammodromus Lizard

A Wall Lizard, also well coloured, showing regrowth of the very tip of his tail