Hedges and Maybe Fledges?

It’s been a mixed week with the trail cam this last week or so. We’ve either had two happy successes in the garden or one success and one disappointment and we can’t work out which.  The undecided is our baby blue tits.

We’ve been filming the adults going in and out for a few weeks now. They seemed to be doing a good job feeding the babies and we could hear chicks chirping. Then suddenly about 9am last Wednesday the adults started flying back to the box with caterpillars, stopping, peering in and looking confused. We’d had the trail cam on the box continuously and this was a very marked change in behaviour. For the first couple of mini video clips I thought great – because the adults were hanging around outside, clutching the food which made for much better shots. But after the 20th clip of the same thing, we started to worry. We also couldn’t hear the chicks tweeting any more. There was no evidence on any of the films of predation (next door’s cat had been a likely candidate, but couldn’t reach the box with the chicken wire over it). Could the chicks have all fledged and the camera just missed them leaving the box? Have they just died in the box – why would they, when the parents were doing a good job with the food?  Here are a couple of clips of the confused looking adults.

The adults seem to have stopped using the box now, so we could check to see if there are dead chicks in there, but while we don’t know for sure, there’s still hope that they did fledge and it’s a happy ending. The adults are still feeding in the garden and disappear into various trees, so it could be there are chicks hiding amongst the leaves. There’s a lot of general chirping in our apple tree and next door’s damson tree, so fingers crossed they made it.

The definite happy event is that our hedgehog is back! He or she may have been around for weeks, but as we’ve had the trail cam pointed up for bird activity rather than down on the grass we hadn’t realised. So the upside of the end of the bird box activity was that I tried filming downwards at night instead of up! And lo and behold the hedgehog trundled into view.  The first film is a bit blurry – wrong lens or LED setting or something technical (blame the operator!)

Second attempt is a bit sharper and I’d added a bowl of catfood as a bit of a temptation which seemed to do the trick.

Previous years we’ve had a pair of hedgehogs (but of course no trail cam to record them), so fingers crossed we have two this year too. So hopefully more hedgehog action to come.

If anyone can shed any light on the blue tit behaviour – any thoughts would be much appreciated. It will be disappointing if they’ve fledged and the camera missed it, but not as disappointing as if they didn’t make it at all. One final happy thought though – when up this morning before 5am to empty the moth trap and check the hedgehog cam, I spotted what looked like a pair of Long Tailed Tit chicks in the apple tree – so one happy little bird family in the garden at least.


Out and About – Haugh Wood

Yesterday’s expedition produced not only the result we’d set out for, but a completely unexpected bonus. We’d set out in search of Wood White butterflies – a species neither of us had ever seen before, so one on our hit list to “bag” this year. The new Butterflies of the West Midlands book suggested a walk in Haugh Wood, Herefordshire so we ventured forth once again – it’s becoming a bit of a weekend habit this abandonment of our sofas!

Haugh Woods (there seems to be some debate as to whether it is pronounced Haugh as in Laugh or Hoff as in The Hoff!) is run by the Forestry Commission and is a nationally important wood for butterflies – in particular the Wood White. The Wood White is a nationally vulnerable species, so we’re lucky to have a colony close enough to visit.

The first white butterfly to show its wings though was a Green Veined White. Of course it took a bit of chasing around to confirm that it wasn’t a Wood White – we didn’t discover how small the Woodies were until later on. Still the Green Veined was lovely to see, even if it refused to pose its wings properly upright to see the veins.

Green veined white


It wasn’t long though before another much smaller white flapped by – again it took a bit of chasing around until it stopped long enough to confirm a Wood White. They’re really much smaller than I’d expected and not the most energetic of butterflies, which was good news for us pursuing them!

Wood White

We eventually saw several more once the showers passed and the sun came out again. I think both these photos are of males, which apparently have a white spot near the inside end of their antennae.

Wood White 2

Near the end of our walk a third white species showed up – a female Orange Tip. We didn’t spot any males, but there must have been at least one around, as evidenced by the fact that she was laying eggs! The female lays one egg at a time and if you look carefully you can just about see the egg here on the underside of the more or less horizontal stem at the point where it meets the more or less vertical stem. At least we think that’s an egg! They’re pale green to start with then go orange.

Orange Tip laying eggs

Throughout the wood we’d also been seeing Speckled Yellow moths flitting about. They are notoriously difficult to photograph, but we finally chased one down back near the carpark.

Speckled Yellow

The wood was full of ants, in places forming huge ants nests. Chris managed to get this really good shot of a couple of ants on spurge. Only trouble is we’ve no idea of the species, so if anyone can ID these, it would be much appreciated.


The real bonus of the trip though was something we only discovered we’d seen when we got back home and downloaded the photos. Chris had spotted what we thought was a caterpillar trundling across the path, so we’d taken a few snaps and then moved it to safety (probably a good job we moved it, as we had to double back down the path a few minutes later having got lost despite the very clear path markers – I’d hate to  have trodden on it!)

Glow worm

Looking at the photos properly back home, it didn’t look like a caterpillar at all. A quick google combined with a plea for help on Facebook and iSpot, confirmed we’d found a Glow Worm larva. It is principally the adult females that glow, although the larvae do glow a bit, but obviously not at 11:30 on a Sunday morning while tootling along a path! So it was hardly a bioluminescent spectacle (like the recent, excellent David Attenborough programme on the phenomenon), but we can still say we’ve seen a glow worm, so I’m happy with that. I feel a trip back to Haugh Woods in the dark may be coming up some time soon though!


Out and About – Wyre Forest

The sun was still shining on the righteous at the weekend, so we decided to make the most of it and headed up to the Wyre Forest in search of the Pearl Bordered Fritillaries. We took a slightly circuitous route, via one of our favourite pubs – The Live and Let Live on Bringsty Common. Fabulous pub with great food and lots of wildlife around. Lots of bees and butterflies (Small Copper, Orange Tip, fast flying and therefore unidentifiable whites!) and birds, but only this little wren paused long enough to get its photo taken.

Live & Let Live

Wren at Live & Let Live2 Wren at Live & Let Live1

Suitably fuelled we headed off to the Wyre Forest. The Pearly Bordered Fritillaries were our main butterfly target of the day as the Wyre Forest is one of their strongholds in the West Midlands. The Wyre is managed by the Forestry Commission and Butterfly Conservation to restore a diverse woodland environment, providing the right habitats for many butterflies. It’s not only good for butterflies, but is a lovely place to just go for a walk.

Within minutes walking along the old railway track, we’d reached a gateway to a more open area where we’d seen the fritillaries last year. Sure enough, just yards from the gate we spotted our first one.

PB Fritillary

Needless to say it didn’t hang around to get many photos, so we went back to the track and headed along to an area with sunny sheltered banks. Here there were numerous Pearl Bordered Fritillaries fluttering in the sunshine. We were really chuffed initially to get these distant shots of a pair getting down to business.

Pearl Bordered Fritillaries (6) Pearl Bordered Fritillaries (5) Pearl Bordered Fritillaries (2)

But then Chris spotted a pair clearly too engrossed in what they were about to be bothered by us taking photos! He managed to get a whole series of them together. In the photos you can clearly see how pearlescent the central white spot in particular is. I love the underside of their wings – like beautiful stained glass windows.

Pearl Bordered Fritillary mating

Pearl Bordered Fritillary mating 2

Of course although the fritillaries were the highlight, there was lots to see besides the butterflies. Spring flowers were abundant, attracting a variety of insects. I’m not too hot on wildflower ID, but I’m fairly sure the following are Greater Stitchwort, Jack-by-the-Hedge (aka Garlic Mustard) and Yellow Deadnettle.

Greater stitchwort

Jack by the hedge

Yellow Deadnettle

There were also a few day flying moths about, two of which we’d not seen before. The Small Purple-barred (Phytometra viridaria) was a new one, but was thankfully easy to identify.

Small Purple-barred

The other two required help from the good people of the Facebook West Midlands Butterfly (and moth obviously) Group. The Common Carpet (Epirrhoe alternata) I had seen before, but never holding its wings at this angle, which flummoxed my attempts at ID.

Common Carpet (1)

The final moth was just too darn small for my puny ID skills, but is apparently Micropterix calthella (not sure if it’s got a common name) and unusually for a moth, feeds on pollen.

Micropterix calthella (1)

So all in all a very good day out. The Wyre Forest is definitely worth a visit for anyone wanting to see the beautiful Pearl Bordered Fritillaries.

Pearl Bordered Fritillaries (10)




Out and About – Penny Hill Bank

You know how it is, you wait a lifetime to see a Green Hairstreak, then see them two days in a row! Flushed with success of finding them at Cannock Chase the day before, we ventured forth once more – this time to a small reserve in Worcestershire – Penny Hill Bank.

Penny Hill Sign

Penny Hill is an area of grassland that has apparently never had pesticides on it, so has a very diverse flora, including several types of orchid. We were probably there a bit early in the year to see many of them, but we did spot this Common Twayblade orchid (Listera ovata) and there were lots of pretty blue Bugle (Ajuga reptans) flowers.

Common Twayblade orchid (1)

Bugle (2)

The diverse flora of course in turn attracts a wide variety of insects, particularly butterflies. We’d only been there a couple of minutes before Chris spotted a Green Hairstreak. Perhaps now, having got our eye in with them at Cannock Chase, we’ll be finding them everywhere!

Green Hairstreak Penny Hill Bank

This was soon followed by another relatively unusual butterfly, the unfortunately named Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages). The skippers look a bit more like moths than butterflies, but have the typical butterfly antennae – smooth with a slightly bulbous tip. The Dingy Skippers are actually quite pretty in a subtle kind of way. They were also quite flighty, so not easy to photograph – this was the best we could do.

Dingy Skipper

We saw several other species of butterfly – Orange Tip, Green Veined White, and a possibly Large White, but none of them stopped long enough to get a photo. A Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) was however much more obliging.

Large red damselfly

The field was generally very tidy, with thankfully no rubbish, but there were a few old bits of farm debris lying around, so we checked underneath them. The first revealed a newt, but the highlight of our day though was finding another lifetime first – a slow worm! Neither of us had ever seen one, so we were both squealing with excitement (even Chris although he probably won’t admit that!) when we lifted an old metal sheet and found the slow worm underneath.

Slow worm

We hurriedly took a few photos, before carefully lowering his “roof” back down. As we’d been walking around Penny Hill, it had seemed like possibly adder territory, but the slow worm was a complete surprise. Penny Hill is also home to glow worms – so we may be back there one night in the hope of bagging another first!

The views from Penny Hill Bank were stunning, you could see for miles across Worcestershire. The photo below doesn’t really do it justice. It’s a small site tucked away off the beaten track and not that easy to find (thanks go to a local who pointed us in the right direction), but it’s a lovely, peaceful place to just sit and enjoy the view, whether you’re interested in plants and animals or not.

Penny Hill View

Chasing Butterflies

We went further afield this weekend chasing elusive butterflies – Cannock Chase for Green Hairstreaks (Callophrys rubi) to be precise. Cannock Chase is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) with large areas of heathland and woodland. Several areas within it are protected further as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Cannock Chase

We follow the West Midlands Branch of Butterfly Conservation on Facebook and had been jealously viewing lots of stunning photos on there of Green Hairstreak butterflies – a species that was on our “hit list” of ones to see for the first time. Many of these photos on Facebook had been taken on Cannock Chase, so we decided to stop off there on the way home from Chris’s Mum in Staffordshire. Clues gleaned from Facebook and Butterfly Conservation’s booklet on Butterflies of the West Midlands indicated that the carpark near the Glacial Boulder (seen below) would be a good place to start.

Glacial Boulder

So we headed out in hope and expectation, starting at the carpark just a few metres from the boulder. About a minute’s walk from the boulder we found this overgrown ditch which was warm and sheltered – an ideal spot for both us and the butterflies we hoped to see.

Hairstreak alley

Almost immediately I spotted one, then another and  we realised we’d hit gold – or perhaps green! There were maybe half a dozen Green Hairstreaks flitting around the bilberry bushes. Some pairs were chasing up into the air – presumably mating couples. The Green Hairstreaks are really small with green undersides with a white streak on. The uppersides of the wings are brown, but we only saw those in flight as they never settle with their wings open. In butterfly heaven we took loads (and I mean loads – thank god for the delete option with digital). So here are a selection of the best of our efforts – all Chris’s photos actually as he had the macro lens and also a much steadier hand!

Green Hairstreak 4

Green Hairstreak

Green Hairstreak 7

Green Hairstreak 6

Green Hairstreak 5

Green Hairstreak 3

Whilst happily snapping away at our prize butterflies, we met the very man (Terry) who had posted the photos on Facebook in the first place! He was extremely helpful (as have been all the butterfly enthusiasts we’ve met on our walks) and gave us tips as to what else we might see. Thanks to Terry we found a pond we would never otherwise have seen and subsequently spotted a new (for us) bird species too – a Reed Bunting. Apologies for rubbish photo, but they kept their distance, so this was the best I could manage. They looked like large sparrows with a white collar and were grabbing insects out of the air over the reeds.

Reed Bunting

Chris even spotted an adder, although it was too fast to get a photo – needless to say I missed it altogether!

All in all a very successful trip to Cannock Chase – far better than we’d dared hope for. The Green Hairstreaks are absolutely gorgeous little butterflies and well worth going that extra mile to see.


Simply Beautiful Bluebells

This post is going to be big on photos and for once not much rambling on from me – when you’ve got bluebells this beautiful, there’s really no need to say very much.  I went for a walk this week on the Malvern Hills to see the bluebells, which are approaching their peak right now. They grow all over the hills, but there is one area where they have really formed a beautiful dense blue carpet. They were, as always, simply stunning.

Bluebells on Malvern 4

Bluebells on Malvern 5

Bluebells on Malvern 3

Bluebells on Malvern 2

Bluebells on Malvern

Bluebells on Malvern 6

We went to the same spot last year too. We were a few days later in May and I think the bluebell show then was possibly even more spectacular, so I’ve included a couple of photos below from 2015.

Bluebells 2015

Bluebells 2015 2

We are so lucky to live in this beautiful part of the world.

Garden Moth Scheme

It’s the end of the first quarter of my first year participating in the Garden Moth Scheme. It’s not exactly been a flying start (no pun intended); the moths have been few and far between this spring. But I’m consoling myself with the fact that all data is useful, even if it shows disappointing numbers.

On the 9 nights the moth trap has been out for the scheme, only 46 moths have deigned to make an appearance. On two of the nights nothing showed up at all! The 46 moths represented individuals of 9 species. These 9 species were dominated by the Orthosia – 5 species of this genus; all typical spring moths.  I was particularly chuffed with the Twin-spotted Quaker record, as it was a new one for our garden. With the exception of the Hebrew Character, they are generally quite plain looking moths – see photos below.

Small Quaker (Orthosia cruda)

Small Quaker

Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi)

Common Quaker 2

Clouded Drab (Orthosia incerta)

Clouded Drab

Twin Spotted Quaker (Orthosia munda)

Twin spot quaker (6)

Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica)

Hebrew Character (2)

The GM scheme records 6 species of Orthosia  and the final species, Powdered Quaker (Orthosia gracilis), did indeed turn up in the trap, just not on a GMS night.

Powdered Quaker

 Besides the Orthosia moths, the other 4 species making up the 9 for the GM scheme were Common Plume (Emmelina monodactyla), Double Striped Pug (Gymnoscelis rufifasciata), Early Grey (Xylocampa areola) and a Brindled Beauty (Lycia hirtaria).

For the year to date though I’ve recorded 22 species – it’s just that most of them seem to appear on nights that aren’t official GM scheme nights so don’t get logged for the project, which is a bit of a shame. For some reason as well the non GMS nights seem to attract the more striking moths (not that they aren’t all lovely to my eyes!), such as the Herald, Oak Beauty and this Angle Shades and Early Thorn.

Angle Shades

Early Thorn

Hopefully the next quarter will bring a greater variety and abundance of moths. The trap is out again tonight – it’s not a GMS night so I’ll probably get something huge and spectacular  – Mothra perhaps?

Hungry Mouths to Feed

Hooray the robins in our garden have successfully fledged!! Two juvenile robins have been flitting around our garden all week, with the parents never very far away. They may be able to fly, but they still seem determined to sponge off Mum & Dad (typical teenagers) for as long as possible. So I’ve spent the week chasing them around the garden trying to get the perfect shot of them being fed by the doting parents. The results were mixed to say the least – if I got a perfectly focussed photo then they weren’t doing anything very interesting. If they started feeding the chicks, then in my excitement the photos came out blurred!

The adults were as always pretty easy to photograph – they seem to love the camera and pose happily on any available perch.


They’ve always taken a keen interest in whatever was out on the bird table and of late I’d seen them flying off with their bounty rather than eating it there and then, so I’d suspected chicks might have hatched. We’ve never spotted the robin nest, so perhaps they’re nesting in one of the neighbours gardens and just using us as a buffet?

Robin (3)

The fledglings appeared a week or so ago. Initially they were shy, keeping to the bushes, but have gradually got bolder. At first I thought it was just one – perhaps one fledged before the other. The one below looks particularly dejected as if it’s been told of by the adult, although it’s probably just fed up with the bank holiday weather like the rest of us!

Juvenile robins (7)

This weekend though, I started seeing two of them together (although this photo only shows one and a half fledglings!)

Juvenile robins (1)

Despite seeing the parents feed them several times, it took ages to catch them doing it somewhere where I could get a relatively clear shot with the camera. Of course when I did, the photos came out blurred – the excitement must have got to me! But you can at least see the parent is feeding a suet pellet to the eager juvenile.

Robin and baby (5)

Robin and baby (2)

They seemed to use this corner of the garden regularly to feed the young – perhaps the thorny Berberis twigs offer some protection from the neighbours cat? So I tried setting up the trail cam to capture the action – 163 videos of twigs blowing in the wind later and I got a few brief snippets of the young. They were indeed still using this area to feed them, but always it seemed just out of camera shot.

So I may not have got the perfect photo or perfect video, but the main thing is that we seem to have 2 healthy (and very greedy) fledgling robins in the garden. Fingers crossed we get the same success with the blue tits.