Big Garden Birdwatch 2019

It’s that time of year again – the Big Garden Birdwatch. I think every year I write a similar post about that mixture of anticipation and frustration that this fantastic bit of Citizen Science brings. The usual feeling of “where have all my regular birds gone” followed by the joy a pair of blue tits bring when they appear in the nick of time to make the cut. The red kites last week were undoubtedly magnificent, but when you’ve been sitting freezing your proverbial off for an hour, the sight of a pair of blue tits can be just as rewarding.

I did our garden count on Sunday, an unfortunately blustery day, which I presume is what put a lot of our birds off; rather than just sheer wilfulness to avoid being counted. In the end I only recorded 27 birds of 7 species – way below our garden norm and less even than I can see just glancing out now.  But data is data, so I hope our paltry count will still be of use. So all I saw was:

  • 14 sparrows – there may actually have been double that but, they were in the bushes and impossible to count more for certain.
  • 2 collared doves
  • 1 wood pigeon
  • 2 magpies
  • 1 blackbird
  • 5 jackdaws
  • 2 blue tits

I did try to take photos of those that landed on the bird table, but our overgrown teasels were flapping about in the wind in my line of sight, so I only managed one of the jackdaws.

The blue tits were a bit easier as they were feeding in the apple tree closer to the house.

While, I watched a mainly empty garden, Chris took himself off to his workplace and did the Birdwatch there. Bird envy is a terrible thing, so I tried to be pleased for him when he came back with these photos of a Grey Wagtail and Chaffinch.

So that’s it over for another year. Apparently this year was the 40th anniversary of the Big Garden Birdwatch. It started as a survey just for children to do, but thankfully us adults are allowed to join in now too. Our garden birds often seem to make themselves scarce during this annual count, but it still gives me an enormous sense of satisfaction to know that we’re contributing to a really useful bit of science. And sitting just quietly watching the wildlife in your garden for an hour, with no interruptions or distractions is no bad thing either!

 

Barcud Coch & Cwm Elan – A Welsh Day Trip

Barcud Coch & Cwm Elan – well I hope I spelled them right (now I’m also worrying that I’ve spelled “spelled” wrong – should it have been spelt?) – or in English, red kites and the Elan Valley for a fantastic day out. We headed over to the Elan Valley first as several friends had recommended it as being well worth a visit. We somewhat underestimated how much was there and only had time to drive around about half of it, but the half we did see was amazing. The Elan & Claerwen valleys have been dammed in 6 places and the result is beautiful reservoirs set in even more beautiful countryside.

Our visit was on a bit of a dreary day weather-wise, but it had the advantage of giving everything a beautiful misty (bordering on foggy) atmosphere.

There was snow on some of the highest peaks, but nothing to hamper our exploration. In places the road was lined by avenues of tall trees, but elsewhere the views were pretty breath taking.

None of the dams were actually flowing on our visit, but hopefully next time we go back they might be. We found a well-kept (and surprisingly empty) bird hide, from which we could just about make out some ducks in the distance – too far away to get decent photos, but just close enough to identify them as a male (bottom) and female (top) goldeneye.

After the dams, we headed back through the small town of Rhayader to go to the Red Kite Feeding Station at Gigrin Farm. We’d pre-booked spaces in their photographic hide and had to be there by 2pm for the feeding. Gigrin Farm have been feeding red kites since the early 1990s. Having started with just a few pairs, they now regularly have over 300 red kites coming to the feeding station. So we were expecting a lot of kites, but have honestly never seen anything quite like it.

As we approached the hides, we spotted a huge white bird in the distance across the field.  Turned out it was a leucistic red kite; leucistic birds are not the same as albinos as they still have pigment in their eyes. Apparently up to 1% of the Welsh red kites are actually white or partially white.

As 2pm drew closer we could see more birds amassing in the surrounding trees. They clearly all knew what time the food was due.

2pm on the dot and a tractor appeared to dish out the meat for the birds. Within seconds the sky was full of swirling kites – literally hundreds of them. Chris took a video just with his phone which gives some idea of the sheer number of birds filling the sky.

Red kite phone video

I then tried to film them as they swooped down to pick up the meat. They are so fast it looks as if the film has been speeded up, which it hasn’t.

Red kites at Gigrin

Initially we thought this was great and we were going to get loads of amazing photos as they were all so close. Then we discovered the problem – there were so many and they moved so fast, it was impossible to focus on just one and get a nice sharp photo. We can now understand why small birds flock together in large numbers to confuse predators; this massive flock of kites had the same effect confusing us photographers. So although we took over 750 photos between us, I don’t think a single one is as crisp and clear as we would have liked. In our defence we weren’t helped by the dull overcast weather and it may have been better on a sunny day.

Having said all of that, it was still an absolutely stunning spectacle. Once we stopped worrying about the photos and just stood back and watched, it was just incredible. We have seen red kites before of course, but never so close up. I hadn’t realised how huge they are; their wingspan is pushing 2 metres!

The numbers swooping down at any one time were incredible.

This next photo looks like it is a composite shot of 4 birds, but is actually 4 in a row, all swooping down and off again one after another.

When viewed in the sky they almost formed an abstract pattern silhouetted against the sky, wings pointing in every conceivable direction.

Their aerial acrobatics were phenomenal, twisting and turning as they dived. They’d scoop up a piece of meat in their talons, then bend over to transfer the prize to their mouths to eat.

Here are a few more photos of them for no other reason other than they are really photogenic birds.

The white kite that we’d seen as we arrived put in several appearances, easy to spot amongst the more usual coloured ones. He/she appeared to have a number tag on his wing, so may be part of some study.

Red kites of course weren’t the only birds of prey making the most of the meaty picnic. We saw several buzzards watching from the trees. Perhaps because they are slightly smaller than the red kites, they are content to wait their turn.

We didn’t see any come down while we were there (although to be honest there may have been some amongst the melee of red kites), but we did see this one glide beautifully into the tree, displaying its gorgeous fan shaped tail.

And of course there were large members of the crow family making the most of the opportunity too. Initially we thought they were all carrion crows, but I think there were a few rooks lurking in there too – distinguishable by their paler beaks and pointier looking heads.

Final treat of the day – a heron flew lazily (in comparison to the kites at least) across the field and landed in a tree.

Hopefully we can go back to see the kites again in the summer when the light should be better and we can perhaps get crisper photos. But in the meantime we’ve got the memories of one of the most amazing wildlife spectacles we’ve ever seen.

 

 

2018 – Some Highs, Some Lows

Every January I tend to do a review of our previous wildlife year, so here goes. 2018 was a mixed year for us to say the least, with some difficult family issues and the loss of our beautiful Norwegian Forest Cat – Puddle. It’s been 9 months and I miss her every day. Family problems have meant we haven’t managed to get out and about as much as normal and consequently the blog posts have been a bit thin on the ground. Hopefully 2019 will bring happier times. I can’t think of any better therapy than getting out and enjoying the wildlife both in our garden and beyond, so hopefully 2019 will bring more of that.

Having said all that, there were a lot of positives too. 2018 started well with some birdy highlights. We saw our first ever Hawfinches at Bewdley and also a pair of Peregrine falcons up on the Malverns less than a mile from our house. Hopefully the peregrines will return this year and we’ll get some better photos. We “rented a nest” through Worcestershire Wildlife Trusts scheme at Knapp & Papermill and “our” nest box was found to have blue tits with 8 chicks hatched in the spring.

The Beast from the East weather front blew in during March, bringing the most snow I can remember for a good few years. It may have been cold but we had the bonus of fieldfares and redwings in the garden, which was great. We also had another day in a photography hide, this time overlooking a reed bed full of buntings and warblers and the occasional lightning flash of a kingfisher.

 

There was delight in spring, when the pond which we’d put in at the allotment the previous year had its first clumps of frog spawn. With the help of our new GoPro camera we watched the spawn turn to tadpoles and then to mini frogs. Hopefully at least some of these will have survived and will return to their ancestral pond to mate this year.

At the end of May we headed to the Isle of Wight for a long weekend. Our main aim (other than to sample the local hospitality) was to see 2 more species of butterfly – the Glanville Fritillary and the Adonis Blue. Thankfully despite an unpromising foggy start, we managed both of these, plus a few precious glimpses of some red squirrels.  During the year we also managed to see a Large Heath and some Clouded Yellow butterflies, taking our tally of British butterflies to 47.

The trail camera was of course out almost full time during the year and with it, we were really excited to get our first glimpse of a fox in the garden. Hedgehogs of course featured heavily, with both feeding the wild ones and fostering a few rehabilitating ones. We were really worried in the summer when our neighbours announced they were replacing the fence. Thankfully they are lovely neighbours and readily agreed to have 3 gaps put in their new fence specifically for hedgehogs to come and go. The hedgehogs soon found the new gaps and as can be seen in the video clip below have been making good use of them.

Highway Traffic

 

As well as trying to bag as many butterfly species as possible, the moth trap has also been put to good use; one of the few things I’ve managed to keep going throughout the year for the Garden Moth Scheme. This year alone we have recorded 220 moth species in the garden. Overall since I began moth trapping I’ve found 331 species – not bad for a fairly regular (albeit scruffy) suburban garden. This year’s moth haul has included a couple of beauties I’ve been dying to find for a long time – a Rosy Footman and a Chinese Character.

As well as the regular moth trapping, we had a go with pheromone lures, managing to attract Currant Clearwings to the garden and the fabulous Emperor Moth on Hartlebury Common.

And that’s pretty much a summary of the year – very quiet in the latter half, but some really nice wildlife moments in the first half.

So of last year’s New Year’s Resolutions, I think the only one we managed to fully achieve was to see 3 new butterfly species – we actually managed 4! Of the remainder:

  1. Video the blue tits fledging in the garden – well they didn’t use the nest box with the camera, so that drew a blank. But we did support a family of blue tits at Knapp & Papermill reserve through the rent-a-nest scheme, so that is something at least.
  2. Visit 5 new nature reserves – I don’t think we managed any locally, but we did do some on the Isle of Wight and we revisited a few of our favourite ones around here instead.
  3. The pond – well the pond in the garden hasn’t progressed at all, but the one on the allotment is doing great, so that’s sort of a result.
  4. Make a hoverfly lagoon and monitor it – well I inadvertently made one by leaving a large tub of garden cuttings out by accident. It filled with rainwater and is now probably ideal hoverfly larval habitat. I didn’t do any monitoring on it, but maybe that’s something I can do in the spring.
  5. A moth tattoo – still not managed that, but a new tattoo parlour has opened up in Malvern, so my chances of getting it done have improved.

So that brings me to 2019’s resolutions, hopefully I’ll have a bit more success with these ones than last year.

  1. Photograph 3 new British butterfly species – this would bring our total to 50 out of the 58 or 59 candidates.  We’ll probably have to travel some distance for this – the perfect excuse for a holiday.
  2. Visit 5 new local nature reserves – we’ve bought Worcestershire Wildlife Trust’s book with all their reserves in, so no excuse not to achieve this one.
  3. Go and see the red kites in Wales – I’ve been wanting to go and see the red kites near Rhayader for years, so 2019 is going to be it!
  4. A trip to the seaside to find some rockpools and try out the GoPro camera in them – fingers crossed for some hermit crab action!
  5. Finally sort out the garden pond.
  6. That moth tattoo!

Happy New Year everyone!!

 

Mammals in our Garden

Great excitement in the Too Lazy world this week as our mammal tally for the garden increased by 25% from 4 to 5!  Our initial 4 were mice, grey squirrels, pipistrelle bats and of course hedgehogs.

An awful lot of our trail camera efforts are directed at filming the hedgehogs. We’ve filmed them eating, drinking, nesting and in this case having a good old scratch!

Scratch And Roll

 

We did originally video the mice in our garage (who were helping themselves to the bird seed until we invested in proper storage containers). But since then mice have also cropped up on the supposed hedgehog videos, often cheekily investigating either the hedgehog feeding station or even the hedgehog’s house. We’ve not managed to work out for sure what kind of mice they are – probably either house or wood mice. If anyone can shed any light on the species, it would be much appreciated.

mouse in hedgehog house & feeding station

 

Grey squirrels are regular visitors to our garden too. Often attracted to our bird feeders and caught on camera doing acrobatics in the apple tree like this one.

Squirrel

This last month or so we’ve been finding quite a few hazelnuts, still in their green wrappers, dotted around the lawn. It was clearly the work of a squirrel and we finally managed to catch him on camera, bringing the nuts into the garden (no idea where the nearest hazelnut tree is though).

Squirrels

 

The bats have so far proved impossible to film. We obviously don’t want to use any intrusive lights or indeed anything that might put off the bats who regularly visit our garden. With all our natural vegetation (aka weeds), there are plenty of insects at night  – although I try not to think of the bats eating my beloved moths, I know they have to eat too! We have determined that our bats are most likely Common Pipistrelles as they echo-locate at a frequency of about 45kHz and other species who use that frequency are much rarer. The best I’ve managed so far is this brief video of the bat detector picking up some of their calls.

 

Finally this week we got a brief glimpse on camera of a much longed for 5th mammal species – a fox! We’ve seen them running down the street occasionally at night, but never knowingly had one in the garden. So it was a lovely surprise to download what I thought would be just hedgehog videos, to suddenly see a fox emerge from the undergrowth at the bottom of the garden.

Fox movie

So long as Mr Fox doesn’t have a go at our hedgehogs, he will be a very welcome addition to our mammalian fauna. I think it’s likely that we’ll stick with 5 mammal species in the garden for the foreseeable future. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever get a badger or rabbits and I’m hoping we don’t get rats (not that I mind them that much, but the neighbours wouldn’t be too happy with us), so unless we have more than one species of mouse, I think this will be our lot. But the 5 we’ve got are all more than welcome to share our little bit of Malvern for as long as they want.

For the Love of Hogs

There’s been a lot in the press this week about dwindling hedgehog numbers, so I thought it might be a good time to recap a few things that can be done to help hedgehogs in our gardens. Many urban or suburban gardens can have hedgehogs but being nocturnal animals they may go unseen. Look out for tell-tale droppings – about the size of a ladies little finger and usually a dark brown or black colour. This prime example (yes I go around photographing poo in my garden!) even shows the remains of a beetle (jaws next to red arrow) – one of hedgehogs’ favourite foods.

If you think you have hedgehogs, or even if you don’t think you’ve got them but would like them, there are several things you can do to help. The first is of course access – if a garden is completely blocked off and surrounded by a high fence or wall, no hedgehog is going to get in.  We discovered our hedgehogs were using a gap under the fence to get between us and the neighbour’s garden.

Hedgehog under fence

Having realised this was one of their entrances, we put up this little sign to mark the spot.

You can buy these Hedgehog Highway signs from the British Hedgehog Preservation Society – get two to mark either side of the fence if you can, to discourage people from filling in the gap. Try and make holes or gaps in fences (about 5 inch square is all that is needed) and encourage your neighbours to do the same to connect as many gardens as possible. Hedgehogs can roam over a mile a night so they need lots of connected gardens.

Having made it possible for hedgehogs to get in and out of the garden, providing extra food and water can really help them. A shallow dish of water (or even better several dishes) in the garden can be a life saver for hedgehogs, especially in a hot summer like the one we’ve just had. Water can be just as vital in the winter when non-frozen water can be in short supply.

08130020

Putting out some extra food will also be a big help, giving them that extra boost to put on much-needed weight before winter hibernation. The best foods to offer are either meaty cat or dog food (poultry/white meat flavours in jelly are best) or dry cat food or specialist hedgehog food. All of these foods can of course be taken by local cats, so if this is a problem, then perhaps consider building a feeding station. I built this one a few years ago (based on instructions from Little Silver Hedgehog https://littlesilverhedgehog.com/2016/06/20/build-a-hedgehog-feeding-station/ ) and the hedgehogs quickly got used to it. You can find a similar design on the British Hedgehog Society’s website  https://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Feeding_Station.pdf

08074547

 

If you can consider leaving a bit of a messy or wild area in your garden (we have no shortage of those in ours) then it will benefit all sorts of wildlife but particularly hedgehogs. Not only will it give them areas to shelter in, but the weeds will provide food for the insects and other invertebrates that will in turn feed the hedgehogs. If you’ve got a pond, please check that it is hedgehog friendly. Hedgehogs can swim, but if they get stuck in a pond with no way of climbing out they will eventually tire and drown. Sloping sides to the pond, or a few large stones or a ramp will provide safe ways of getting out for any hedgehogs that have accidentally taken a dip.

I realise not everyone wants their garden to be a total wilderness like ours, but if you do decide to do some tidying, please be hedgehog aware. Strimmers in particular can cause horrific injuries to hedgehogs, so always check an area carefully before charging in with the strimmer. A hedgehog’s natural defence is to curl up, but this won’t save it from a strimmer, so please be careful.

Similarly please check compost heaps or piles of leaves carefully before sticking a dirty great fork in – these are ideal places for hedgehogs to rest up and they can easily get spiked. If you are planning on a bonfire – please don’t pile the wood up and leave it for days. Bonfires look like perfect places to sleep for hedgehogs and so many get burnt alive in bonfires. Best to build and light a bonfire the same day. If you must gather the wood earlier then please lift it all up and check underneath before lighting.

Many people like to provide a nest box or hedgehog house. There are lots of these available on the market – the best designs have an integrated tunnel of some kind that not only keeps out cold draughts but deters predators too. We have a couple of boxes in our garden – it’s taken a couple of years but we finally have hedgehogs using both of them, so do be patient.

Here’s one of our hedgehogs (One-eyed Tim – named for obvious reasons) collecting nesting material for his house.

One-eyed Tim the Hedgehog

And here’s some more clips of what I think is a female hedgehog at our other hedgehog house. In the first clip she seems to be trying to drag something in that is still attached as she has a real struggle with it!

Nest gathering

The slight flashing you see on this second clip is just the infrared going off – nothing that would disturb the hedgehog.

Emerging from hedgehog house

 

Please keep an eye out for sick or injured hedgehogs. As a general rule most hedgehogs seen out during the day are in trouble and need rescuing. The exception to this is a pregnant or new mum hedgehog who might take short breaks from the nest during the day to gather nesting material or food – she will generally be a large hedgehog and be moving quickly and purposefully and won’t stay out too long. If you see any small hedgehogs or wobbly confused looking ones, or particularly ones just lying out in the sun, then best to rescue them immediately and get them to your local hedgehog rescue. If you don’t know a number for a local contact, call the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (01584 890801) and they will tell you your nearest one. I found these two babies out on our lawn a couple of years ago on a baking hot July afternoon. I took them straight around to our local hedgehog rescuer Viv, who thankfully managed to save them. Fred & Freda as they were called weighed less than 100g when they were found and wouldn’t have lasted long without intervention.

The other problem to look out for is young hedgehogs that are too small to get through the winter hibernation. If you see any really small ones towards the end of October/beginning of November try and catch them to check their weight. They need to be an absolute minimum of 450g (but preferably bigger) to get through the winter. If they are too small, get them to your local hedgehog rescuer. Last year we had a small hog in our garden at the end of October. You can see how much smaller he was than the adult in the clip below.

Adult & juvenile hedgehog

I weighed him and he was only 400g, so probably wouldn’t have made it through the winter. Thankfully Viv took Tiny Tim (as we imaginatively named him!) in and he thrived under her care over the winter, before being released back in our garden in the spring.

Finally if you don’t have hedgehogs in your garden, or perhaps don’t even have a garden, there are still things you can do to help. It could be as simple as picking up rubber bands on the street. Every day hundreds of rubber bands get dropped (often sadly by postmen) and hedgehogs (and other wildlife) can easily get a leg or even head stuck in the bands which can then cause horrible injuries or even death.

You could support your local hedgehog rescuer – most of them are volunteers who are self funded and do amazing work rehabilitating sick or injured or orphaned hedgehogs. You could help by volunteering with them (help is often needed cleaning out and feeding), or donating food or other supplies (even old newspapers are useful) or a more monetary contribution. My local hedgehog rescuer Viv (http://www.malvernhedgehogrescue.co.uk/  ) often has over 100 hedgehogs in her care – a massive undertaking and amazing commitment.

Or you could support the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS)  https://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/  who work to promote hedgehog awareness, campaign on hedgehoggy issues, fund hedgehoggy research and supply hedgehoggy information to schools and other organisations.

Having hedgehogs in your garden and knowing you are doing your own small bit to help them is such a rewarding thing. They need all the help they can get at the moment and a few small changes could make a big difference locally, and if we all did it, then who knows what a difference it could make nationally.

 

Clouded Yellows & Big Butterfly Count

For one reason or another I’ve not had the chance to blog this last month, despite it being full on Butterfly Season. So to make up for lost time, this blog post is a bit of a catch up on all things butterfly in the Too Lazy world. Firstly we’re still in the midst of the Big Butterfly Count – one of the biggest citizen science projects in the world.

As I type this there have already been over 74000 counts and there’s still a few days to go. So if you haven’t done it already, get along to https://www.bigbutterflycount.org/ and find out what it’s all about.

We’ve done several counts in both the garden and down the allotment. The lottie produced, not surprisingly a lot of “Cabbage Whites” – in reality a mix of Large, Small and Green-veined Whites. In the garden, our first common blue of the year obligingly turned up in time to get counted. Similarly it was nice to count Painted Ladies and a Red Admiral to add to the tally of Whites, Gatekeepers and other garden stalwarts.

A trip to Trench Wood in early July was prompted by reports of large numbers of Purple Hairstreaks coming down and settling low enough to get photos. Seemed too good an opportunity to miss. Trench Wood is always a delight and this year was no exception. The wood was full of the usual Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers and Ringlets, plus plenty of Whites and White Admirals.

The ever gorgeous Silver-Washed Fritillaries were also out in large numbers, tropical looking as they bombed around the open rides.

My target species for the day – the Purple Hairstreak – didn’t disappoint. Almost as soon as I left the carpark they were visible along the path, settling comfortably on the bushes either side. The reports I’d read hadn’t exaggerated – there were too many to count and I’ve never seen them settle so well at a reachable height!

A quick trip to the nearby Guarlford Straights gave me the chance to see some lovely butterflies practically on my doorstep. Common Blues were probably the commonest species, flitting about the dry grass in the sunshine.

Amongst the Common Blues I found at least one fairly fresh looking Brown Argus. It’s only a couple of years since we saw our first ever one of these, so it’s still a bit exciting to spot one.

Small Coppers were also reasonably common. Athough none would pose nicely with their wings open, I found the underside of the wings to be just as beautiful in a more subtle colour pallet.

Finally the high spot of the last few days was a trip to Venus Pools in Shropshire. It’s a small reserve (with as the name suggests, some pools) run by the Shropshire Ornithological Society, but it’s also really good for butterflies. In particular, Common Blues were everywhere – they should be renamed Abundant Blues! We’ve never seen so many in such a small area, including several courting couples like these.

Amongst the Common Blues, were the occasional Brown Argus and Small Copper.


Also present were Painted Lady, Small Tortoiseshell, Large, Small & Green-veined Whites, Speckled Wood, Gatekeeper & Meadow Browns. But the real reason we’d driven 50 miles was reports of Clouded Yellow butterflies. For two weeks prior, we kept seeing gorgeous photos of Clouded Yellows at Venus Pools on social media. Having never seen one, this seemed the perfect opportunity. We spotted our first one almost immediately – unmistakeable bright yellow, but very, very fast. Only once did one stop long enough for us to grab some quick photos.

So not the finest pics, but recognisable enough to count as butterfly no. 47 on our quest to see all the British species. Well worth the 100 mile round trip! So all in all this last month has been a butterfly filled delight. Fingers crossed all this hot weather won’t spell trouble for the caterpillars and next year’s butterflies.

 

 

The Large Heath – Butterfly No. 46!

We headed off again on Saturday in search of our next butterfly species – the Large Heath. Whixall Moss is a peat bog on the English/Welsh border and the only place anywhere near us where we might see this increasingly rare butterfly. The bog has the beautiful Llangollen canal running along one side of it. We had to stop and wait for the bridge over the canal to be hand-winched back down as a narrow boat passed through.

We’d seen reports a mere 4 days before of sightings of upwards of 30 Large Heaths at Whixall Moss, so we’d set off with high hopes of nailing this one easily. These hopes were slightly dampened almost as soon as we left the carpark when we met an exhausted looking lady (carrying her even more exhausted little dog) who’d been searching in the scorching heat for 5 hours and not seen a single one. Undeterred (while slightly deterred to be honest) we carried on, following the walk described in the Butterflies of the West Midlands book.

We’d been walking for about an hour and a half and it was starting to look as if we’d draw a blank, although we had seen lots of other lovely wildlife. But then finally, just as we were about to head back, I spotted a butterfly dancing about the path. Initially I wasn’t sure what it was as it didn’t look like I’d expected. Turns out the Large Heath would struggle to pass the trade description law – it is actually really small! It was a raggedy little specimen and it insisted on hiding behind bits of grass, but at least we’d found one. It proved to be the only one we saw that day, but after a 2 hour drive and an hour and a half walk, we were grateful just to have found one. So here it is – our one and only Large Heath.

It looks a bit like a Meadow Brown but smaller and with spots like a Ringlet.

Whixall Moss is also well known for its population of White-faced dragonflies. Despite taking lots of dragonfly photos, none of them turned out to be white-faced. But we did get a new one for us – the Black Darter. Here is a male (top) and female (bottom).

There were blue and red damselflies everywhere and love seemed to be in the air for many of them, including this mating pair of Azure ones.

Aside from the whirring of insect wings in the air, there was the chirping of grasshoppers in the undergrowth. This one hopped obligingly onto the path in front of me.

The final insect of the day was a day flying moth and a new one for me – the Common Heath. As the Large Heath wasn’t particularly large, so the Common Heath didn’t seem to be particularly common, but I did manage to chase one down to get a photo.

As we’d walked along the path, something had scared up a pair of ground nesting birds. They took to the air for a few minutes until the danger had passed. We didn’t know what they were at first, but working on our usual principle of snapping anything that moves, we took some photos. Turned out they were lapwings.

A bit further on and we found more of them – this time looking a bit more relaxed, nesting by a pooled area. Lapwings have suffered major declines in the UK in recent years, so it’s always nice to go somewhere that has them.

So it was a long hot day at Whixall Moss, but the success of seeing the Large Heath and the bonus of the lapwings, made it all worthwhile. Butterfly species no. 46 ticked off the list – only another dozen or so to go!

Moth Breakfast & Butterfly Brunch

Yesterday we had the perfect start to a Sunday – a Moth Breakfast, followed by a brunchtime stroll for butterflies. Thankfully the Moth Breakfast was not as insectivorous as it sounds – we simply looked at moths while actually eating bacon butties!  The event was organised by the West Midlands Branch of Butterfly Conservation and took place as one of our favourite places – Monkwood. The moth traps had been put out the night before and all we had to do was turn up to see what had been caught. The great thing about an event like this is that we got to see moth species that we just don’t get in our garden. So amongst many others we saw woodland moths such as – Blotched Emerald, Large Emerald, Peach Blossom and Rosy Footman – all species that I have been dying to see for ages. So here they are:

Blotched Emerald.

Large Emerald.

Peach Blossom

Rosy Footman

Another bonus of going to this kind of event, is getting to meet a load of like minded people. It’s not often I get the chance to discuss with enthusiasm the differences between a blotched and a large emerald, or a Fan Foot versus a Small Fan Foot. I’m more used to amused tolerance rather than eager enthusiasm when waxing lyrical about the beauty of moths! So it was lovely to chat to some new people.

After we’d had our fill of moths (and bacon butties) we headed off for a mid morning walk around the wood. Monkwood is run by Butterfly Conservation and as such is brimming with butterflies. The very first time we went to Monkwood we were amazed to see White Admirals flitting around as we got out of the car. This time it was Purple Hairstreaks – there were at least 3 or 4 (and possibly many more) fluttering around the tops of the trees around the carpark. Sadly none came down low enough to get a decent photo, so this was the best distant shot I managed.

The White Admirals though were much more obliging and appeared along the path almost as soon as we left the carpark. The uppersides of their wings might not be as showy as their Red Admiral cousins, but the undersides more than make up for it. They are fast flying butterflies, but thankfully a few settled long enough to get some pics.

We also saw our first Meadow Browns and Ringlets – common enough butterflies, but still always nice to see your first ones for the year.

A couple of Silver Washed Fritillaries bombed passed us but didn’t hang around long enough to get their photos taken. Same story with a Comma and a White of some description which didn’t even slow down enough for me to tell if it was Large or Green-Veined.

By far the most common butterfly we saw was the Large Skipper. As always I love these cheery little orange butterflies, not least because they pose so nicely for photos.

Butterfly highlight of the morning though has to be the Wood White. We have seen Wood Whites once before (at Haugh Wood in Herefordshire), but it was nice to see these delightful little butterflies again. Their renewed presence in Monkwood is a relatively new thing and is all down to the hard work that Butterfly Conservation have put in. We were at the tail-end of the Wood White season, so there were only a couple around, but there had apparently been plenty of them earlier in the month. A good news story!

The Wood Whites are such ethereal little butterflies. This last photo in particular reminds me of how I imagined fairies to be when I was little – long before I’d even heard of Wood Whites.

Monkwood has plenty of other insect life to offer too. There are a few small ponds, so dragonflies and damselflies were abundant in those areas. We are used to seeing the red and various blue damselflies, but this Emerald one was a new one for us I think.

We saw quite a few beetles, including several of this splendid Black & Yellow Longhorn Beetle.

Chris managed to find our first Speckled Bush Cricket of the year,

whilst I got a male Scorpion Fly showing off his strange scorpion-like rear end and his even stranger proboscis.

Final interest for the day was this pair of mating Dock Bugs, who for some reason had chosen a spot of bird poo for the site of their nuptials, all watched it seems by a curious fly.

So many thanks to Butterfly Conservation West Midlands for getting us out of bed on a Sunday for a most enjoyable morning.