30 Days Wild – Day 21 – Summer Solstice

It’s Day 21 of 30 Days Wild and it is the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. So for today’s act of wildness I thought I’d make the most of the daylight hours by getting up to take photos at dawn and doing the same again at dusk. Between 04:48 and 21:34 (the official sunrise and sunset for Malvern according to the BBC!) there are 16 hours and 48 minutes of daylight, if I’ve done my maths right!

So I got up in plenty of time to capture sunrise – unfortunately there was thick fog over the hills. Glad I hadn’t climbed up there to wait for the sun to come up, as I’d have seen nothing. So instead I took this photo of what should have been the hills at exactly 04:48. It looks like it should have been cold and gloomy, but it was actually just hot and humid and quite cheery with the birds singing.

Although the official sunrise was 04:48, it was light for quite a while before that. When I first got up at about 04:30 I took this photo through the patio doors of the Verbena growing in a pot outside – the sky looks blue here, although I think this was a trick of the light refracting through the glass as it didn’t really look like that outside. I love the look of the plants though silhouetted against the sky.

Once outside I took this shot of the hanging basket about 4 minutes before “sunrise” – the light is bright enough that it could easily be a photo from much later in the day.

Although I regularly get up at odd hours to empty the moth trap, I’m always busy sorting out the moths and don’t really look at the quality of the light. So it was an interesting experiment to get up purely for the purposes of looking at the light and the sky and just to get a feel for what dawn is really all about.

I filled the hours between sunrise and sunset today with my regular Wednesday visit to see my Dad. It being such a gorgeous day, we had our pub lunch outside by the River Lugg at the Riverside Inn at Aymestrey, Herefordshire. Always a delight there, with the river gently flowing by and demoiselles darting around us. We ate lunch at about 1 o’clock which was almost perfectly half way through today’s supposed 16 hours 48 minutes of daylight!

So in the evening I once again took the camera out into the garden to experience “sunset” at 21:34. The hills were at least visible this time, although after a day of sunshine, they were starting to haze over again. This time I could really smell the lavender and buddleia – a day of sunshine must have released all their essential oils!

I also took a photo of the verbena again through the window; the sky was more mottled this time, but they still looked beautiful in silhouette.

Malvern remained light still well after the allotted sunset. Even now as I type at nearly 10pm everything in the garden is still quite visible. I guess sunset is a fluid thing. I could however hear a hedgehog moving about, perhaps he at least considered the sun had gone down.

In scientific terms, the summer solstice can be explained as simply the result of the way the earth tilts on its axis towards the sun – being the most inclined towards the sun at this time of year. And of course the opposite applies at the winter solstice and in the southern hemisphere. But there are less pragmatic more ethereal concepts to the summer solstice. It has long been a time of worship for many religions. By some it was considered the time when the veil between this world and next was at its thinnest & when fairies might cross over and be seen. While not normally given to such notions, at 04:48 this morning, with Malvern shrouded in mist, perhaps I could have been tempted to imagine fairies snuffling in the garden – or was that just our hedgehog?

30 Days Wild – Day 20 – Chasing Admirals

It’s Day 20 of 30 Days Wild and the day started early and hot. I got up at the crack of dawn to empty the moth trap and the temperature had only dropped to 18.3C – at 4 o’clock in the morning! Not surprisingly it had been a great night for moths and the trap was stuffed with them including 7 elephant hawkmoths! Prize for me though were these 3 gorgeous Scarlet Tigers (hawkmoths were so last week!).

Next surprise was a racing or homing pigeon, which turned up outside the patio doors, while I was planning what to do for the day. It had rings on its legs, which I presume would be traceable. It didn’t seem injured or unduly bothered and eventually flew off, although it returned in the afternoon.  If it reappears, I’ll maybe see how you go about reporting a stray homing pigeon.

Anyway, clearly having learnt nothing about how hot it was from yesterday’s trip, I headed out again – this time to Monkwood Nature Reserve near Worcester. Chris and I went there a couple of years ago and saw our first ever White Admirals, so I hoped for a repeat performance.

As on the previous trip I was amazed to spot some White Admirals as I got out of the car. There were a couple flying high in the trees around the carpark, too far away to get a photo though – this turned out to be how they behaved all morning. The butterflies of all species were very flighty in the heat (unlike myself!) The only White Admiral I saw land was this one, which flew off before I could get any closer.

So in a kind of “this is what you could have won” way – here’s the photo I’d hoped to take – one from 2 years ago!

I had a bit more luck with a Red Admiral that landed delightfully on  a dog poo.

There were lots of Skippers about, I had thought I’d seen both Large and Small ones, but on examining the photos at home, I decided they were all Large ones.

The skippers even photobombed my attempt at a Meadow Brown.

I saw several other species, none of which would stop for photos – Speckled Wood, Ringlet, Silver Washed Fritillary and Commas.

The guide book said to look out for the ponds and seeing as I seem to be getting a bit obsessed with dragonflies lately, I checked them out. They were full of dragonflies, but also lots of these adorable water boatman – flapping through the water with their built in paddles. Best spot of the day though was this Broad Bodied Chaser, which was hunting over a pond, but kept coming back to this twig to rest.

There was another large dragonfly buzzing over the pond. It refused to settle for a photo, but kept dipping its abdomen in the water – I can only assume it was a female laying eggs, but if anyone can correct me, please do. The best I could manage was one of my short shaky videos.

Final photo of the day is this Large Red Damselfly. I’d never realised before just how red their eyes are.

I could have spent longer in Monkwood and on a cooler day, I would have been happy to do so. It is a beautiful wood and full of butterflies; birds too no doubt if butterflies aren’t your bag! We are very lucky living in Malvern to have beautiful woods like this, the Wyre Forest, Grafton and Trench Wood, all within an hour’s drive.

30 Days Wild – Day 19 – Upton Warren Wetlands

It’s Day 19 of 30 Days Wild and after yesterday’s lethargy, I was determined to get out and about. So I headed out to Upton Warren Wetlands Reserve. For some reason I thought it might be cooler near water and I fondly imagined bird hides would also be oases of calm in the heat. How wrong can you be? It was of course hot and humid there like everywhere else and the bird hides were more like ovens than fridges!

Chris and I had been to Upton Warren a couple of months ago, but we’d only had time to visit the Moors section of the reserve. So this time I headed for The Flashes, which are saline pools and so attract an interesting array of birds, especially for such an inland location. Since I was expecting to photograph birds, I left the macro lens at home – with hindsight another error of judgment for today! Fortunately the lens I did take, wasn’t too bad for insects (although I couldn’t get as close as I would have liked), because the place was alive with damselfies, demoiselles and dragonflies.

The sailing pool was absolutely awash with Common Blue damselflies – they were everywhere. They certainly lived up to their name today – they were very common and very blue. There were so many I was afraid of treading on one.

Then I spotted something bigger, which fortunately settled on a landing platform. I think it is a Black Tailed Skimmer. It was certainly skimming low over the water.

Next up was a Banded Demoiselle; my second demoiselle species of the year.

The final one was this huge dragonfly I spotted as I finished up for the morning. I say spotted, but actually I heard it first. It was so big that when it flew off, its wings made such a noise, I actually thought I’d disturbed a small bird and turned round to see what it was. I think it is some kind of hawker dragonfly.

Anyway on to the birds – there were of course plenty there, despite me being distracted by the dragonflies. First happy sighting was this mother duck with her ducklings.

Moving on, probably the most common bird I saw this morning was the Black Headed Gull – again it does what it says on the tin – a gull with a black head! This one is an adult in breeding plumage.

Although this one looks completely different, I think it is also a black headed gull, but a juvenile this time.

And to confirm the difference in plumage, here is a poor photo of an adult feeding an even younger one.

My favourite bird from today, and the one I went hoping to see, was the Avocet. Absolutely stunning black and white birds with long curved bills. I couldn’t help but take loads of photos! They seemed very territorial, chasing off anything that came within their patch, regardless of size of the intruder.

And this I think is an avocet chick. It’s not got the adult plumage yet, but the beak is the same and it was behaving the same.

Both adult and young avocets behaved the same way – poking about through the water with their long bills looking for food. I managed a couple of shaky videos of them doing this. You can tell from the noise in the background, just how many birds were around today.


There was a real cacophony of bird sound all morning, most of which was unidentifiable to me, although I did think that perhaps there were some warblers near the hides – something definitely seemed to be warbling! Although there were birds everywhere, the only other species I really took photos of were this Shelduck and some Canadian Geese.

I no doubt missed lots of other species. Someone in one of the sweltering bird hides told me they’d seen a Mediterranean Gull from the next hide. I don’t think I saw one of those, but then I’m not sure I’d have been able to tell the difference if I did! Although it would be nice to be more knowledgeable about the birds, I don’t really mind going to places like Upton Warren as a novice. Just seeing so many birds, species I’d only ever seen on the telly (thank you Springwatch), is glorious. Upton Warren is a delight and I’m already looking forward to going back so Chris can see it too – although we might wait for a cooler day!


30 Days Wild – Day 18 – Flaming June

They say be careful what you wish for – last week I was wishing the wind would drop and it would get warmer. Well it’s certainly flaming June now and I’m regretting last week’s wishes, as we swelter here in Malvern! It’s Day 18 of 30 Days Wild and it’s so hot it’s hard to find the energy to do anything. I haven’t ventured further than the garden, so today’s post is pretty much restricted to what is going on there. All I really managed was a gentle bit of garden bird watching, but there are worse ways to spend your day!

We have assorted feeders all over the garden, but I was restricted to photographing those I could see from the shade! I think perhaps it was too hot even for the birds as not that many showed themselves, despite me putting out several bowls of water. I even poured a load of water into the wheelbarrow to give them an impromptu pond (our other pond being more silt than water).

The old faithfuls the jackdaws did of course appear when I put out some suet shreds. They are always first down to the bird table – they must have good eyesight to spot me putting out food from wherever they are. I know they get a bit of a bad press, but they are beautiful birds really.

Next down to the table was this blackbird – more cautious than the jackdaws.

The only other birds I saw in abundance while I watched were the sparrows. They were everywhere, but too nervy to get a good photo. I kept seeing adults feeding fledglings, it looks as if it’s been a good year for sparrow babies in our garden at least. I never seemed to be able to get a clear shot though and in the end the best I managed was this blurry one – from a distance and through our grubby patio doors, so not ideal.

Of course you can put out all the intentional bird food you like, but sometimes the birds are just canny enough to help themselves to things you don’t want. This morning a Great Tit found the box full of egg trays that I’d put the moths in from last night’s trap, ready for them to fly off when it gets dark. He must have thought Christmas had come early until I moved it inside the boxes inside the old hedgehog hutch. Even then he managed to squeeze through the bars to get more until I blocked it up. Hard to be cross though, as he needs to feed his family too.

So not my most productive wildlife day, but very enjoyable all the same. Chris was more adventurous than me and did go for a walk (more heat tolerant than I am obviously) and came back delighted that he’d seen a Hurricane (previously misidentified as a Spitfire – thanks to Dave for the correction). Must have been perfect flying conditions over Malvern today.


30 Days Wild – Day 17 – Blue is the Colour!

It’s Day 17 of 30 Days Wild and with blue skies above we went in search of the Large Blue Butterfly. The Large Blue is probably Britain’s rarest butterfly. It actually went extinct here in the 1970s, but thanks to great efforts by conservation bodies, it was reintroduced to a few sites in 1984. One of these sites is Daneway Banks in Gloucestershire and that’s where we headed today. Butterfly Conservation’s Gloucestershire Branch had an organised walk on and very kindly let us tag along.

Large Blues have a really intriguing life cycle. The eggs are laid on wild thyme or marjoram. The tiny caterpillars hatch and secret a substance that attracts a particular species of red ant. The ants carry them to their nests, where the caterpillars feed on the ant grubs. Eventually the new adults emerge and have to crawl out of the ants’ nests before they can open their wings!

Daneway Banks consists of limestone grassland that is carefully managed by the Wildlife Trusts, to support the Large Blue butterfly, which of course has the side effect of supporting lots of other wildlife too. It is up a steep bank and looked stunning today in the sunshine, with wildflowers and butterflies galore!

Apart from the chatter of excited would-be Large Blue spotters, the predominant sound for me was the chirruping of grasshoppers. There must be hundreds there judging by the noise, which I love – it is one of the true sounds of summer for me.

So two whole posses of us set off in search of the Large Blue. There is quite a camaraderie about going out with a bunch of people all interested in seeing the same thing! Over the day we saw about 13 species in total, but initially the Large Blue remained elusive. But there were other blues to tempt our fancy. There were several Common Blues, including this particularly tatty one.

Small Blues were also reasonably common, although very difficult to get a decent shot of.

While we searched for our elusive target we saw plenty of beautiful orchids, which at least don’t fly off! Most were these ones (possibly Common Spotted Orchids).

There were a few of these pretty purple ones, which I think may be Pyramidal Orchids?

We spotted this one perfect white one – not sure if it was a different species or just a colour variant.

Prize of the day went to this Bee Orchid though – absolutely gorgeous and unlike any we’d seen before.

But back to the butterflies – Meadow Browns & Marbled Whites were present in abundance, but none would pose for a photo. This Ringlet and Small Heath were more agreeable to it, although still a bit flighty.

Chris and I eventually spotted a blue butterfly that looked larger than the rest. It flew off towards another enthusiast who was much more knowledgeable than us and confirmed it was indeed a Large Blue. All three of us set off after it, joined by others as we hurried, only to lose it over a grassy bank. But at least we’d seen one, so that was progress!

Eventually we saw Andy – the group leader – waving us over. Unbelievably a mating pair of Large Blues had been found! Chris and I hurried over to join the excited throng. None of us wanted to get too close to disturb the loved up pair, but we did manage to take some photos at least. So here are our Large Blues.

We saw a couple more Large Blues over the next hour, but despite our spirited pursuits, none stopped long enough to be photographed. So unfortunately we never got a shot of one with its wings open  – perhaps that’s something for next time.

As we headed back towards the entrance though, Chris managed to grab a shot of one of the Large Skippers we’d been seeing all morning.

But the final surprise came right near the end – Chris spotted a Green Hairstreak! I didn’t believe him at first, but sure enough there it was –  a very definitely green butterfly.

I’d say seeing the Green Hairstreak was the perfect end to the trip, but actually the cold drink in the very nice pub (Daneway Inn), finished off a boiling hot day just perfectly too.

So we’ve bagged our 42nd species of butterfly and one of the most interesting ones to boot! Huge thanks to Butterfly Conservation Gloucestershire for letting us midlanders tag along. I hadn’t really dared hope that we’d ever see a Large Blue, but to see a mating pair is simply amazing. Fingers crossed it was a successful union and that Daneway Banks is blessed with many more generations of blues to come!





30 Days Wild – Day 16 – Plant Pots for Pollinators

It’s Day 16 of 30 Days Wild and this evening I’ve been Planting a Pot for Pollinators. This isn’t just me randomly planting up a pot with more flowers, but part of a nationwide scheme to encourage people to do their bit for pollinating bees, hoverflies and butterflies etc.

It’s being organised by the Butterfly Conservation Society – for more information go to: http://www.plantpotsforpollinators.org The aim is simple – to get as many people as possible to plant up at least one pot in their garden with flowers that are good for our insect pollinators.

If you go to their website you can download instructions, but basically all you need is a big pot, some peat-free compost and some flowers. There’s a list of 6 suggestions – calendula, catmint, cosmos, French marigolds, Shasta daisies and dahlias (but only the single flowered varieties as these have pollen that is easy for the bees to get at).  You can of course choose others, provided they are good for pollinators.

Of the 6, I bought, Cosmos (left), French marigolds and a Dahlia – all of which had bees on in the garden centre when I bought them – a good sign! I also supplemented these with some wildflower plants that I’d had sitting waiting to plant on for a while – Verbena bonariensis, Anthemis and Achillea.


It only took 5 minutes to fill the pot with compost and stick the 6 plants in. With hindsight I could probably have squeezed a couple more in and I may well do so at the weekend. Even if I don’t buy more, hopefully those that are there will bush out to fill the pot up a bit more. Hopefully the mix of different colours and shapes will attract a variety of pollinating insects.

So here is the (sort of) finished article, nothing fancy, but hopefully the bees will appreciate it. Ideally I would have liked to include some photos of insects actually on the pot, but since I did this after work, it was getting a bit late and there was not much buzzing about. Assuming I get something on them, I will add more photos when I can.

Having planted a pot, the website encourages you to plot your pot on their map. Butterfly Conservation hope to cover the UK in pots for pollinators. So being a good citizen scientist, I plotted my pot on the map. It is reassuring to see that ours isn’t the only one in Worcestershire!

Of course our garden being a weedfilled paradise for insects, you could argue that it didn’t really need another pot of flowers for pollinators. But you can never have too many, so why not? And by participating in a scheme like this, we are hopefully helping to spread the good word.



30 Days Wild – Day 15 – Mother’s Day

It’s Day 15 of 30 Days Wild and once again my plans for today’s theme took an unexpected turn. I had intended to do a review of the wildlife picked up on my trail cam that I’d left in my Dad’s garden overnight. His garden is packed with wildlife, but typically none of it chose to walk in front of the trail camera in the last 24 hours. However yesterday at Dad’s I’d found a little sketching notebook belonging to my Mum. One of the Random Acts of Wildness suggestions for 30 Days Wild is to “Unleash Your Inner Artist”. Well I’m not sure I’ve got an inner artist, but my Mum certainly had. I’d been thinking about her paintings on Day 12 of 30 Days Wild, when I’d taken a photo of a view with flowers in front which reminded me of her.  Then to cap it all I watched Springwatch tonight which had a couple of features from the Scilly Isles. My parents loved the Scillies and Mum painted a lot there. So today’s Act was reconnecting me with my Mum’s paintings and the Scilly Isles and through them with my mother herself.

The notebook is full of little sketches and watercolours of flowers. They are all just simple little pictures, intended I presume to jog her memory for the details when she later wanted to paint full paintings. But to me they are beautiful in their own right.

There is more to so many of them though than just a flat picture of a flower. She drew or painted them from different angles, front and back, to get the feel for the whole plant not just the obvious view.

She painted them in full flower in bud, clearly realising that in any natural group of flowers, they don’t all open at the same time.

Although not a great gardener, she clearly knew the names of a lot of the plants. The artist in her noted the subtle colour differences.

Mum made notes about the arrangements of the leaves around the stems and how they changed with age, which way they faced and how the group together might form a mound.

So many of them are dated, it looks like she was using this notebook in the early 1990s. Sometimes places were named too; my parents always went to the Scilly Isles in May, so even if it doesn’t always say, I can guess some of those dated May were painted there.

This is one of my favourite completed paintings – not taken from the notebook, but hanging on my wall. It is the view from Bryher looking across the water to Tresco. It may only look like a simple watercolour, but if you’ve ever been to the Isles of Scilly I reckon it would conjure up the view perfectly.

I know I am biased but I think Mum was rather good. Looking through her notebook and seeing not only her sketches, but her familiar handwriting and thinking of her and Dad on the Scilly Isles together was quite emotional.

It struck me looking through Mum’s notebook, that she had made these little sketches as an artist, but they could equally have been done by a botanist. Her eye for the details of the plant and the notes she made would have been perfectly at home in a naturalist’s notebook. As a child I was always interested in animals and nature and Mum was always very encouraging; but what hadn’t occurred to me until tonight was that I didn’t just get supported by her, maybe I got it all from her in the first place? So tonight’s post is for you Mum – thank you for everything. xxx

30 Days Wild – Day 14 – Stocks and Stones

It’s Day 14 of 30 Days Wild and being a Wednesday, meant that I took my Dad out for a pub lunch. Finally we had a sunny, wind-free June day, which meant we could sit outside to enjoy our lunch alfresco.  For some reason this year’s 30 Days Wild has involved nearly as much historical history as natural history and today was no exception.


Our pub du jour was the delightful Pandy Inn in Dorstone, Herefordshire, not far from Hay on Wye. The Pandy Inn is reputedly one of the oldest pubs in Herefordshire and the rose filled garden was a very pleasant place to have our lunch. Food always tastes better outside and my salt & pepper squid went down a treat! No idea why the pub had these medieval looking stocks, don’t know if they were old or replicas, but they made for an unusual garden feature!

After lunch we headed from possibly the oldest pub to possibly the oldest man-made structure in Herefordshire – Arthur’s Stone. Arthur’s Stone is a Neolithic tomb, dating from between 3700 and 2700BC. It is perched on top of a nearby hill and mythology has connected it to Arthur since about the 13th century.

The tomb consists of an elongated mound with several large stones visible on top. The largest stone capping it all, is estimated to weigh about 25 tonnes!

The stones themselves are impressive enough, but the view is absolutely stunning. I could have done with one of those maps you get that tells you the names of all the hills you can see from a given vantage point. But I think we were looking across to the Black Mountains in the Brecon Beacons.

I tried to do one of my shaky video clips to give an idea of the scope of the view:

This would have been a fantastic place for a picnic (had we not already stuffed ourselves at the pub!). It was very peaceful, the loudest thing we heard were the sheep bleating. Only one other car passed while we were there and it really felt like there was no-one else for miles around. Perhaps people have been picnicking here for centuries? The stones themselves showed signs of visitors, with bits of graffiti scratched into them. Some of the graffiti looked very old as the lichens had grown over and obscured the names. Nice to think of people enjoying the view hundreds of years ago – it would have looked just the same!

These stones seem to have been associated with all sorts of historical figures besides Arthur (his particular legend here says he slew a giant). A pair of knights were said to have had a duel here during the War of the Roses. King Charles (the first presumably) was said to have gathered his troops for battle here and even dined on the stone! But the story I like best is that when writing about Narnia, CS Lewis used Arthur’s Stone as the inspiration for the stone table that Aslan was sacrificed on. I loved those Narnia books as a child, so I really hope that one is true!

So I don’t know if looking at a bunch of old rocks counts as going wild, but we were out and about enjoying the fresh air and the countryside, so that will do for me! There are not many historical sites you can go to that feel as remote as this, untroubled by other visitors. Nor are there many that feel as much a part of the landscape – most have houses, or carparks and visitor centres near, which can detract from the natural surroundings. Arthur’s Stone just had a simple wooden fence and almost didn’t feel like a man-made structure at all. Just part of the Herefordshire countryside emerging from the hillside of its own accord perhaps!