After Foulshaw Moss we travelled the very small distance to another Cumbria Wildlife Trust reserve at Latterbarrow. It’s a small reserve with masses of parking available on a section of the old road which was superseded by the current A590. It’s also a marvellous spot. And very quiet. In the couple of hours (or more) that we spent there we didn’t see any other visitors.
One of the striking things about the meadow here is the abundance (and in some cases size) of the meadow ant mounds.
I’d been thinking about these kind of nests after Emily’s question regarding them in a comment and so now, with TBH and A content to lounge in the sun, the boys and I took the opportunity to investigate at leisure.
They’re composed of extremely fine soil and often have a slightly different mix of plants growing on them than the surrounding turf has.
This one had a very showy display of flowers of barren strawberry (looks really like wild strawberry but the big gaps between the petals are the give away – don’t wait here for tiny, sweet red fruit, they aren’t coming).
Of course, once you start to look closely, you notice other things – like this seven spot ladybird. Many of the mounds had one or two ladybirds. Ladybirds are predatory – I don’t know if they eat the ants, but they compete with the ants over aphids (which the ants ‘farm’ milking them for sap – there’s a fascinating description of this relationship in ‘Buzz In the Meadow’ by Dave Goulson).
Look closer still and some of the barren strawberry leaves and stems have a coating of bright orange rust, a fungi, at least I think that’s what it is.
Many of the mounds have been savaged by predators a bit larger than a ladybird; both badgers and green woodpeckers are apparently fond of snacking on meadow ants.
I don’t know what did the damage in this case, but it might have been a badger. This area seems to have a large population and not too far away we found…
…a neat and tidy badger latrine. Very fastidious animals badgers.
Although the partially destroyed mound had other scat…
…on it too. Not sure what animal this is from.
Poke a couple of fingers into a mound and you’ll soon find a patrol of small defenders coming out to check you out….
With the sun shining, and lots of wildflowers on show, there were quite a few bees about. I’m aware that many bees live in burrows. I’ve even seen them disappear into them occasionally. But one advantage of grubbing around looking at ant mounds for a while turned out to be an unexpected encounter with a bee. I noticed a bee, in a particularly fetching orange coat, land nearby and when I located it again was surprised to see that it was digging…
You can see the spoil it was kicking out onto nearby leaves with its hind legs.
It had soon disappeared completely from sight. I’m going to tentatively identify this as a female tawny mining bee, which my ‘Collins Complete British Insects’ says ‘is unlikely to be mistaken for anything else’. I wished I’d watched for a while longer now because apparently, she, like the ants, builds a mound – ‘a volcano-shaped mound around her nest entrance’.
On the other hand, I don’t even have a tentative suggestion for these tiny white flowers which were growing on another ant mound. Any ideas anyone?
The blackthorn was finally beginning to blossom….
And a couple of buzzards were circling overhead.
Terrific picnic that. Will have to do it again sometime.