My interest in recording the incredible diversity of insects in my 40 year old edible forest garden lead to a much better understanding of the importance of different key species for the biological diversity present in the garden and the goat willow (selje) is perhaps the most important species of all despite the fact it is only a very marginal edible plant for us. I was aware of the importance of the nectar provided by willow to bumble bees and wild bees in the spring, but I was totally unaware earlier of the importance of this tree for moths emerging as adults in mid-April. I have so far recorded over 30 species of moth which are dependent on willow either in spring or in the larval stage (see the amazing diversity of the moths photographed in the garden in the picture at the bottom. However, this also explains the arrival of the chiffchaff (gransanger) and other migratory species in a wave in the middle of April here…arriving to a ready supply of insect food. The videos show our chiffchaff insect catching up amongst the catkins of one of the goat willows in the garden on 21st April, often singing as he hunts. Another fascination I’ve had for many years is the incredible complexity and beauty of bird song when slowed down (like a sound microscope; after hearing a BBC radio program about this and particularly the song of the wren: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9x2rjExeW8). The second video is of the chiffchaff at normal and 10% speed as it hunts amongst willow catkins. The third video is also slowed down and shows a singing flycatching chiffchaff and a bumble bee flies past at the end (see at full screen)!
As the most important tree for insect diversity in the spring – goat willow / selje (Salix caprea) – emerges into flower, two more moths that feed on the catkins turned up in the garden this morning, yellow horned (vårhalvspinner) and clouded drab (variabelt seljefly). Just waiting now for the influx of birds (chiffchaff, dunnock, thrushes) that feed on this insect feast!
There are records of arctic peoples chewing the flowers of various Salix species for the sweet taste and, from Alaska “Indigenous children strip the catkins of this shrub and chew them. They are commonly referred to as “Indigenous bubble-gum” and are eaten before seeds ripen in June and July”. The catkins of Salix caprea taste good to me, but I don’t know of any use of this species historically.
This spring sign today went unnoticed for many years, one of many moth species that has been registered feeding on Salix caprea (goat willow / selje) in spring, soon to be in flower here: this is the satellite / bølgefly (Eupsilia transversa); it overwinters as an adult. I’ve recorded it over the last few years from 14th March to 2nd May and once in the autumn. Its larval food plants are a variety of broad-leaved trees and shrubs including blackthorn, hawthorn, hazel, field maple, sweet chestnut and elms (all of which are found in the garden). The first bumblebees have been out in the garden this week on snowdrops and Crocus, here a tree bumblebee / trehumle (Bombus hypnorum), one of the commonest species here. It will too soon move over to goat willow (selje)!
The annual large flocks of gulls are now here resting in the bay after feeding following farmers’ ploughs all day. They are mostly common gulls (fiskemåke) and black-headed gulls (hettemåke). The field below the house was ploughed today as you can see in the film below. Other things to notice are the goat willows (selje), Salix caprea, now in flower at the beginning and I zoom in briefly towards a diver/loon (lom) in the bay.