30 Days Wild – Day 13 – Harvest Time

 

It’s Day 13 of 30 Days Wild and I really don’t know where the time has gone today! I haven’t ended up doing any of the things I intended to, but have done a few things on the spur of the moment instead. Nothing monumental, just a quiet, pottering kind of day.

It started off well (albeit at 04:30 in the morning) when I found a Ghost Moth in the trap. I’ve wanted to find one of these for ages, especially after I saw a couple on a Wildlife Trust “moth breakfast” last year. This is also one of the few species where I can say with confidence that I’ve caught a female one. The females are yellow like this and the males are a more ghost like white (although they both have the same Trump-like yellow wig on the head!).

After that the day seemed to slow down a bit, partly due to a couple of trips to the vet with our elderly diabetic cat Bert (all well, just routine check up).  Hanging around waiting to pick Bert up again gave me time to finally get round to starting the elderflower champagne, with the now slightly elderly elderflower heads I’d picked last week. Many thanks to Christine Lucas for her recipe (https://redpanda08.wordpress.com/2017/06/07/30-days-wild-2017-week-1/) which I’ve tweeked only slightly because we happened to have an orange in the fridge! Fingers crossed it produces something resembling the stuff I remember from childhood.

Feeling like I was on a roll, I checked the fridge to see what else needed using up. We’ve got a glut of strawberries & raspberries from the allotment at the moment and there’s only so many bowls of them you can eat just straight. So in a rare fit of baking enthusiasm (although this was actually a no-bake recipe) I made a strawberry cheesecake. There’s something really satisfying about making something with fruit you’ve not only picked but grown yourself! Although by the end of the summer when we’ve had strawberries every night, I might not be quite so enthusiastic about them!

Once Bert was safely back home, I headed down the allotment to do a bit of the never ending weeding. Things are really coming along down on the lottie now. Latest addition were these pak choi – I seem to be incapable of going into a garden centre (or in this case a certain well known DIY store) without coming out with more vegetable seedlings – hence the tub of these.

We’ve also got a couple of tubs of mixed salad leaves, grown from seed and doing remarkably well. No idea what any of it is, but there’s plenty so it’s a bowl of side salad again for dinner tonight!

Back from the lottie and into the greenhouse to water the motley assortment of plants I’ve got in there. I spotted this wasp’s nest that has clearly been there some time, but for some reason I’ve never noticed it before.

If the weather’s still OK by the time Chris gets home from work, we may manage to eat our salad and cheesecake outside, otherwise it’s dinner in front of Springwatch as usual! It may not have been the “wildest” of days, but spending a few hours in the fresh air pottering down the lottie and tinkering about in the kitchen using things I’ve picked myself, is a great way of recharging the batteries.

 

 

30 Days Wild – Day 12 – Lower Smite Farm

It’s Day 12 of 30 Days Wild and I headed to Worcestershire Wildlife Trust’s headquarters – Lower Smite Farm. It is, as its name suggests, a working farm  – but  one that is managed with the wildlife in mind in everything that’s done. The Trust have created a nature trail that encompasses a range of habitats and that’s what I followed today.

The trail started in the wildlife garden, which was an absolute delight. There were lots of ideas for wildlife gardening and plenty of information. I loved the little blackboards that were dotted around explaining things, like this one about solitary bee nests.

Not too surprisingly the whole site was a-buzz with bees, both in the garden and in the fields beyond. Every time I see a bee or a butterfly on the bird’s foot trefoil, it makes me think – we really must plant some of that in our own garden!

From the wildlife garden, the trail took me to the Granary; a 300 year old barn that is apparently full of bats.

The building had these wonderful ironmongery lizard and frog on the doors – don’t know if they are original features or later additions, but if I’m ever lucky enough to own an old house, I want a pair of these!

The trail led from the Granary past a pond and wetland area. I thought I got a glimpse of a reed bunting, but it was too fleeting to get a photo.  After the pond the path turned into a field and followed the hedgerow. The margins of the field were full of wildflowers, such as these stunning poppies.

All morning I could hear lots of birds, but most of the time they remained hidden. So I loved finding this tree with a bunch of jackdaws, spaced out perfectly along the branch with a single pigeon lording it above them!

The next pond area had lots of rustling noises coming from the reeds, but presumably I had made too much noise approaching and nothing would show its face.

But as I started to leave the pond, I could hear a strange bird call – almost like a squeaking cough! This little bird turned out to be the source of the strange noise. A bit of googling back home and I think it was a Whitethroat.

Apparently they make this call when they have young – if it was trying to warn me off though, it had the opposite effect as I stopped to find out what it was! As it called it puffed up the white feathers on its throat – maybe also intended to scare me off?

I tried videoing it to record the call, in case I couldn’t identify it when I got back home. The video is not a great success as mainly what you can hear is the wind (will it ever stop blowing this June?), but you can just about see the bird and make out its short staccato call.

Leaving the irate Whitethroat behind, I followed the path into some fields. It was lovely to see lots of Meadow Brown butterflies. As I walked I kept flushing them up from the path, but I never seemed to be able to spot them before they took off and were gone. So the best Meadow Brown photo I managed all day was this poor one taken from an odd angle!

I had more luck with the Large Skippers which were also fairly common today. They looked lovely fresh specimens and were bright orange, with their distinctive hook tipped antennae.

I was also really pleased to see my first Common Blue butterflies of the year, feeding on clover.

One insect which I kept spotting and which I would have loved to get a decent photo of was a Scorpion fly. The key thing about a Scorpion fly is that it has a tail like a scorpion – so guess which bit was hidden by bits of grass in all my photos?

There is a convenient bench at the top of one of the fields where you can sit and look out over the farm across Worcestershire. This photo reminded me of one of my Mum’s paintings – she often used to paint views with flowers in the foreground like this.

Heading down hill back towards the farm, the trail leaflet mentioned that you could see ridge and furrow marks in the field. This indicates that this field was farmed as far back as the middle ages, when ploughing techniques meant the soil built up into these ridges. You can just about make it out in this photo – wonderful to see a part of living history like this.

So that was my morning spent meandering around Lower Smite Farm. It’s another place that is definitely going on my return visit list – preferably on a sunnier day with no wind though (should we ever get such a day again!) I loved the mix of natural history and cultural history that this place has, with its remnants of old farm buildings and fields. Perfect place for the trust’s HQ!

 

30 Days Wild – Day 11 – Demoiselles and Damsels

It’s Day 11 of 30 Days Wild and I was out and about in search of some of my favourite insects.  This wild June weather is starting to get a bit annoying though – the wind doesn’t seem to have stopped blowing here for days – not ideal especially when you’re trying to take photos of something as flighty and ephemeral as a dragonfly!

Windy weather aside, it was a lovely day and I headed out to one of my all time favourite places – The Knapp & Papermill Nature Reserve on the other side of the Malvern Hills. I know I visited this reserve last year for 30 Days Wild, but I just couldn’t resist going again.

I hoped to see one of my favourite insects, the Beautiful Demoiselle and also if I was really lucky maybe a kingfisher. Well I got one out of two!

The reserve has a stream (Leigh Brook) running through it and does get kingfishers, just not while I was there today. The wildlife trust has built a screen overlooking a suitable patch of the stream, so that if you’re lucky you can watch the kingfishers unseen.

Beyond the screen is the water surrounded by trees and a vertical bank the other side – ideal kingfisher habitat. But just because you’ve got everything a kingfisher might want, doesn’t mean they’re going to turn up on cue. It’s still a really nice spot to wait and relax, watching the brook flow by.

Fortunately I had more luck on the insect front. I spotted demoiselles and damselflies almost as soon as I set foot in the reserve. Even without the insects it would have been lovely though. As you enter there is a pool surrounded by gorgeous flag irises.

Further into the reserve there are little pathways going off the main track, taking you on your own magical mystery tours.

Up the second of these I tried, I found these orchids – they may only be the Common Spotted ones, but they are beautiful nonetheless.  I was happy to have found 2 or 3 orchids, but when I rejoined the main track, I came across a meadow absolutely full of them – even better!

As well as the meadows and the stream, the reserve has large areas of woodland and old orchards – all of which were full of birds – none of which would pose for the camera! A whole flock of long-tailed tits swooped into a tree right in front of me, there must have been at least a dozen and yet I still couldn’t get a better picture than this.

After 20 more minutes of fruitless birdwatching, I swapped back to the macro lens and concentrated on the insects. The Beautiful Demoiselles were flitting around like tropical birds – it still amazes me that you can get such beautiful insects as these in Britain. There seemed to be more males, although that may just be because they are flashier and easier to spot. The males have stunning blue wings with an emerald green body.

The females have more of a bronze colour to the wings, with a white spot near the end. I think last year we got better photos of both, but then it wasn’t so windy!

There were loads of them and I could have watched them all day. I did try and take some short video clips, but I don’t think they really capture them properly. The first clip just shows a male flexing his wings, but then a bright blue damselfly photo bombs in the top left corner!

 

I’ve tried to be clever with the second clip as I accidentally discovered a slo-mo feature when I was reviewing the clips. So this one shows the same male taking off for a short flight and the flight bit is in theory slowed down so you can see his aerial acrobatics better. Think I may need to practice this technique a bit more though!

 

Besided the demoiselles, I saw two species of damselfly. The bright blue ones were most numerous and turned out to be Azure Damselflies.

As I was heading back to the car, I spotted some Large Red Damselflies including this mating pair. The male is the one on the left and he has grasped the female on the right by her neck. They flew around the pond attached to each other like this for a few minutes while I watched. At some point the female will curl her body up and round to meet the male’s and then they will mate, but they didn’t get that far while I was spying on them!

I absolutely love this reserve, it is worth going to see the demoiselles alone, but there is so much more besides. It is tucked away in a small valley off an already off the beaten track road and always feels like such an oasis of calm.

 

30 Days Wild – Day 10 – Down the Lottie

Day 10 of 30 Days Wild and although it’s our wedding anniversary, I’ve spent most of the day down the allotment with my sister instead! We only got the allotment back in March, having e-mailed to be put on what I thought was an 18 month waiting list, only to get a plot 3 days later! Chris wasn’t too keen on the thought of all that weeding, so my sister and I are sharing the allotment instead. I have had to abandon the Too Lazy To Weed policy for the lottie, or all we’d actually grow would be weeds. Sis and I are sticking to our organic, peat free principles though, so ours is hopefully a wildlife friendly plot.

This is what some of the plot looked like when we started. Fairly overgrown with couch grass, bindweed and brambles, but it could have been a lot worse. Some of the empty plots are waist deep in weeds.

It is still very much a work in progress and probably always will be. No sooner have we cleared one patch, than the previous patch needs weeding again. And since we’re not using any weedkillers it is slow going, but worth it. Here’s the same bit a few weeks ago.

We inherited some apple trees, raspberries and currant bushes, all of which we’ve kept for the time being. The first major thing we did was put in a (very) small pond. Even one this size took some digging, which was a bit of a shock to my non-weeding/digging self. This is what the pond looked like just after it was put in.

And this is what it looks like now. The pond plants have established a bit and the water has cleared. We used one of those barley straw logs that clear the water naturally, it would have worked even quicker if a cat hadn’t kept fishing it out! There had been a large water barrel on the plot which had pond snails in, so we transferred those in.

We’ve already seen adult frogs using it – this is one from this morning.

We’ve also got at least one common newt that’s moved in and seems to be pretty much a full time resident now.

We’ve also had pond skaters and lots of midge larvae and a few weeks ago I got really excited when this red damselfly landed next to it.

We’re trying to be as environmentally friendly (and economic) as we can, so are using recycled stuff where possible. The cloches over our sweetcorn are old water bottles and we’ve turned other old bottles into plant pots that are hung on the fence.

This strange looking ring of fur may look like we’ve had some kind of ritual sacrifice, but is actually meant to keep the slugs off our courgettes. It consists of the hair clippings off my sister’s dog Pip – perhaps a bit odd, but we read it somewhere and thought we’d give it a go and it seems to be working.

We’re also trying out companion planting to distract the pests, so we’ve got marigolds amongst the runner beans, mint amongst the carrots and nasturtiums all over the place!

It must all be working because there are loads of bees, butterflies and hoverflies. We’ve put up a bird feeder too, so the sparrows are also doing well. We’ve even had moths – found this Small Magpie moth today trapped in the shed. A bit of chasing round with an old toilet roll and I caught him and released him – my good deed for today.

I do have to watch when I’m down the lottie that I don’t get totally distracted by the wildlife and forget to do the gardening. Today I spent an awful lot of time staking out a foxglove to try and get a photo of the bees going in and out. Unfortunately they’re so damn quick, this was the best I managed.

Finally no allotment would be complete without a resident robin. We have a pair that come down – I live in hope of getting them to trust me enough to take food from my hand, no luck yet.

By gardening organically we’ve accepted that some of our lettuce will get munched by slugs and some of the fruit will be eaten by birds, but there’s still more than enough for our two households.  This was today’s harvest – good to know that it is all pesticide and guilt free!

It is lovely and peaceful down the lottie and both my sister and I find it really relaxing. If I didn’t already know that getting in touch with wildlife and gardening organically was good for the soul, then taking on the allotment would have convinced me. Growing our own produce in a wildlife friendly plot – to me that epitomises the whole ethos of 30 Days Wild – and I couldn’t be happier!

30 Days Wild – Day 9 – Factory Fields

Day 9 of 30 Days Wild and it’s Friday night! As I was working again today, I needed something to do after work. As I’d already looked at some of the wildlife around my work (Clee Hill), I decided to meet up with Chris and we’d have a look around his workplace in Malvern instead. He works at a factory on a business park, which may not sound too promising, but actually has an amazing variety of wildlife. Chris often takes the camera to work and comes back with all sorts of exciting finds (gold crests, nesting woodpeckers, White Letter Hairstreak butterflies to name just a few).

Of course it was about 6pm by the time I got there – not ideal, but still plenty of wildlife around. The factory is set in large grounds, bordered by a small wood. There are several large mounds of excavated earth that have been left to go wild and look like great habitats.

The first thing we noticed in abundance was Harlequin ladybirds, both adults and larvae.  There were several colour morphs of the adults, including the two below. I know Harlequins are the bad boys of the ladybird world, but it’s hard not to like their cheery little bodies.

There were also lots of clumps of frothy cuckoo spit – the home of froghoppers. I don’t know which species as I didn’t want to destroy their home just to find out. The frothy mass acts not only as insulation/water retention, but hides them from predators as well.

Despite it being relatively late in the day, there were loads of bees about. The factory has lots of wild areas still, with brambles, wild roses, red dead nettles and assorted other wildflowers.  All were buzzing with bees.

The bees and ladybirds weren’t the only insects we found. Once you get your eye in, they are of course everywhere. Many of the wild roses had small beetles in the centre, as did the thistles (albeit different types of beetle).

There was a patch of large daisy like flowers, many of which had beautiful green bugs resting in them.

And at the less glamorous end of the insect spectrum you can always find aphids! They actually look much better and far more interesting viewed close up like this.

Lots of birds were audible in the woods nearby, but the only ones we saw well enough to get even half decent pics, were a wagtail and a thrush. The thrush didn’t turn round, so I’m not sure if it was a Mistle or a Song Thrush.

We did get a tantalising glimpse of some kind of bird of prey, just as we were leaving. We may not have got a photo, but it’s good to know that the fields around the factory support enough wildlife that they attract not just us, but a bird of prey too!

30 Days Wild – Day 8 – Back To My Roots

It’s day 8 of 30 Days Wild and today I managed to combine my two favourite pastimes – looking for wildlife and family history.  Since we moved back down south from Scotland 10 years ago, I’ve been meaning to go and visit the village of Thornbury in Herefordshire, where my Rowberrys started out in the 16th century.  My 9xgreat grandfather Richard Rowberry married Izott Smyth there in 1575! If you’re good at reading old handwriting, you can just about make it out in the extract from the parish register below.

Since I’ve been working in Clee Hill I’ve been driving past the turn for Thornbury twice a week. So today I decided take a detour to the church and have a look round.

Interestingly they were talking on Springwatch tonight about how much wildlife you find in older villages. Thornbury is in the middle of nowhere and very old (part of the church dates back to the 13th century), so it should be rich in wildlife. It was probably  a bit late in the day for my visit and it wasn’t the sunniest, so the wildlife maybe wasn’t as evident as it might be at other times. But just looking around you can see the potential alright. The village has scattered houses and the church is just on the edge of the fields in rolling countryside.

You can tell the churchyard was old by the size of the trees, including a massive Yew tree in the middle and even bigger pines (I think) at the edge. One of the pines was so big I had to photograph it in 3 sections and paste the photos together to get the whole thing in.

The branches of some of the older trees were twisted and gnarled like something out of Lord of the Rings. They must be great habitats for all kinds of animals to live in.

The Yew is of course a classic tree of churchyards. Close up this year’s new growth was visible as vibrant paler green at the end of each twig.

Of course you can’t go to a churchyard and not look at gravestones. Unfortunately my old Rowberrys haven’t left any stones (it was too long ago and they were probably too poor anyway). But there were plenty of other old stones covered in beautiful black, grey and orange lichens.

Other stones had a gothic looking covering of ivy.

It was a bit too dark and cool, for many insects to be out. It was nice to see though, that although the churchyard was recently mown and generally well kept, the gardeners had left areas of wilderness around the edges, which I bet in the sunshine would have been buzzing with insects.

I did see a few bees – mainly Tree bumblebees, which are rapidly becoming one of the most common bumblebee species I see (especially in our own garden). So it was nice to also spot this Common Carder on some white dead nettle.

While I was there, a big flock of large black birds (crows maybe) took off from the churchyard trees and all flew out over the countryside. Five minutes later they all flew back again, cawing loudly as they settled back in the trees. Hard to count them on the move, but there must have been at least 40 or 50 individuals. (Hitchcock’s The Birds sprang to mind!)

All in all it was a lovely peaceful end to my working day and Thornbury is a beautiful village in unspoilt Herefordshire countryside. My family lived there and would have walked around that same church over 400 years ago. Rural churchyards are often great places for wildlife and today’s didn’t disappoint. The only other thing that would have made it any better was if I’d seen some hop poles – as my 8xgreat grandfather Humphrey Rowberry was a hop-planter (one of the early ones in the area probably). Hope he approved of my visit all the same.

30 Days Wild – Day 7 – Birdwatching Surprise

Day 7 of 30 Days Wild and I was at my Dad’s house in rural Herefordshire. I spent the morning doing a bit of cleaning in his kitchen and while doing so, observed that his garden was full of birds (clearly I wasn’t 100% focussed on my cleaning duties!) Since I’d got the camera with me it seemed the ideal thing for today’s bit of wildness – a spot of birdwatching in his garden. First of course we had to have our pub lunch – there are certain priorities in life after all! Needless to say by the time we got back and I got myself set up in the garden, all the birds had decided they’d got better places to be!

In the morning there had been several large black birds (too far away to see if they were crows or jackdaws) going in and out of this hole in an old apple tree. They must have been too smart to do so while I was watching, as not one appeared while I waited, although I could hear them in the trees nearby. I might take my trail cam down and leave it pointed at the tree sometime, but in the meantime I drew a blank.

In the morning I had also seen magpies, wrens, robins, blue tits and pigeons – in the afternoon – zilch, zippo, nada! Then just as I was about to give up on them all –  a total surprise. I was leaning against another old apple tree (Dad’s house was built in an old orchard) when a Gold Crest suddenly appeared just a few feet in front of me. By the time my brain registered what it was, it had already spotted me and started to move, so I only managed this one rubbish shot. You’ll probably have to take my word for it that he was indeed a gold crest, since the key bit – i.e. his crest, is hidden by a twig. Still his appearance made up for the absence of everything else. I grew up in that garden and don’t ever remember seeing a gold crest before, so it was a real treat.

Loitering under various trees did have the unplanned benefit of letting me admire the tree canopies. There is a beautiful large copper beech tree overhanging Dad’s garden and the leaves were stunning from below (or indeed from any angle).

The birds may have been a bit contrary today, but fortunately a few insects were a bit more obliging. I spotted several pairs of these adorable little Woundwort Shieldbugs, all feeling the love in one of Dad’s flower beds. Not a species I’d come across before and smaller than other species I’ve seen.

A rather striking fly – the grandly named Pellucid Fly (Volucella pellucens) is one of Britain’s largest flies, but was a welcome sight given the lack of birds to photograph.

Although the garden was once part of an orchard, most of the apple trees have got too old and fallen. Those that are still there are covered in ivy and mistletoe. The hedges are full of hawthorn and other native plants, notably elderflower. All great habitats for wildlife. Seeing the elderflower in bloom reminds me of my childhood and the smell takes me right back.

I think I’ve seen a few other people on 30 Days Wild making elderflower champagne. We used to make this as children too, so I picked a load and took them home. This is as far as they’ve got at the moment. I’ll have to dig out a recipe and hopefully turn  them into something drinkable over the next few days – fingers crossed.

So as is so often the case with my 30 Days Wild acts, things didn’t go quite as planned. But who cares – a pub lunch and an enjoyable hour or so spent in Dad’s garden, listening to, if not seeing a lot of birds. There are worse ways to spend your day!

30 Days Wild – Day 6 – A Bracing Day

It’s day 6 of 30 Days Wild and a wet and windy one it is too. The car is in for its MOT so I can’t really head off to find anywhere drier either! By the time I’d trudged home from the garage I was well and truly braced! There didn’t initially seem much scope for wildness today, until I considered that the weather itself was more than wild enough to be the focus of today’s activities.

I don’t have an anemometer to measure wind speed, but the BBC weather app (an app I do actually use regularly) reckoned there were gusts of up to 48mph in our area. Our weather vane thingy was certainly going like the clappers. After our photographer friend Anna stayed last week, Chris had been having a go with different settings on the camera. So in an unusually bold move for me, I thought I’d have a go off the auto setting and copied his idea of taking a photo of the weather vane on a  really slow shutter speed to capture the movement. (Of course I could have just made a short video!) Anyway I was quite pleased by the blurring effect as the wheels whirred round.

By mistake I then tried taking a photo of raindrops in a dish with the same shutter speed – the effect in this case was to make the water look sort of lumpy. (It reminded me of that shot in one of the Jurassic films where you see water in a cup shake as the T. rex approaches).

It intermittently chucked it down then drizzled for much of the morning. The thermometer said it was 12C, but it felt much colder so I retreated inside for a bit. I’m still working through the photos from the bioblitz, so it was a good excuse to sit on the sofa and carry on with them.

By the afternoon the sun had come out but it was still helluva windy. So much so that our recycling bin blew over – surprising since it was heavily weighted down with wine bottles, which were now rolling about the drive! (can’t fool the neighbours that I’m a teetotaller now)

The sky had gradually brightened during the day; by the afternoon the blanket of grey had been replaced by blue skies with picture perfect fluffy white clouds.

The buddleias in our garden were still thrashing about in wind though.

Bumblebees that had come out now the sun was shining were valiantly clinging to the red valerian. How something so small doesn’t just get battered to death in winds this strong amazes me.

The bird feeders were all bobbing about like mad, but it didn’t stop the sparrows who hung on for dear life, as if they were on a crazy roller coaster ride.

 

In the meantime from the relative calm of the sofa, I’ve now managed to ID (with a lot of help from people on Facebook, Twitter and iSpot) about 70 species from the bioblitz and loaded up 56 of them onto iRecord. Still loads of photos to go through, so final tally a way off yet. This little beauty of a hoverfly was one of the highlights so far – Eupeodes luniger.

The wind and rain may be frustrating in some ways, but like most things, you can’t appreciate the good without the bad.  It will make the next sunny calm June day all the more enjoyable.