Country diary: a ragwort feast for these very hungry caterpillars

Country diary: a ragwort feast for these very hungry caterpillars

St Mary’s, North Tyneside: In the late-summer scrub, fibrous plant remains show where the cinnabar caterpillars have been

The summer greenery hangs heavy on the trees. It’s hot and the air is wet. By the heath edge, where low cliffs slope to the beach, there is a lick of a breeze. Here, amid the stiff grass, gorse, hawthorn and wild rose a little way inland, it’s a still day, a stagnant day – a good day for sitting and watching small things.

Stout Helophilus hoverflies come humming to the textured white hemispheres of the umbellifers that sit in the grass like golfballs in the rough. In addition to the bee-like lateral striping on their abdomens, Helophilus also sport three smart longitudinal stripes on the thorax, like the insignia of a naval commander (or the strip of a Hull City player: these are also known as “footballer flies”). Craneflies stumble across the paths, tripping over their own feet. Dragonflies in silhouette zip back and forth across the wetland, forward-tilted like attack helicopters. A red darter pauses mid-flight to eyeball me close up.

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