Winter Evergreens

I started to feel properly Christmassy this week and that was even before the winter wonderland of snow arrived this morning. Amongst the (many) weeds in our garden we have some lovely evergreen plants, right out of a Christmas carol – holly, ivy and mistletoe too. None have been planted deliberately, they’ve all just arrived. Feed the birds and they deposit berries around the garden, which grow and attract more birds, which deposit more berries – a birdy/evergreen circle.

The ivy must surely be one of the most useful plants in our garden. Not only do the leaves provide cover for a host of insects, the flowers provide a much needed late nectar source (particularly for my favourite Ivy Bees) and the berries provide food in winter for the birds. We are doing our best to encourage the ivy to grow over as much of the fence as possible.

Our holly “tree” is little more than a small bush, but since we didn’t plant it at all, we can’t complain. We first spotted it a few years ago when it was literally a tiny seedling with just 3 leaves on it – presumably a helpful bird had either dropped a berry, or deposited it some other way in the front garden. This was our magnificent tree back in 2013, less than a foot tall. Four years later and it is the same height as me (so approximately 5 times the size).

We first noticed mistletoe growing on our apple tree a few years ago. We now have several clumps, although no sign of any berries yet – don’t know if this is because our mistletoe is not mature enough or we’ve just got male specimens?

Mistletoe may have the romantic connotations of kissing traditions at Christmas, but the actual name may have slightly less glamorous origins. Some websites suggest the name derives from two old words – mistle meaning dung (from the way in which birds may deposit it) and ta meaning twig or stick. So it’s really just a dung twig – not so tempting to kiss under it now!

Given the meagre clumps of mistletoe in the garden, we won’t be harvesting any for festive decorations any time soon. Fortunately my Dad has a garden full of the stuff, I just need to clamber up to get a bunch. Dad has always wanted to go the Tenbury Mistletoe Auctions, so last week we finally got around to going. What an amazing thing it was, no wonder people come from all over the country to see and bid on these winter evergreens.

First up was a whole shed filled with holly wreaths – presumably intended for shops rather than individuals as they were in multiple counts per lot. The auctioneer whizzed along the rows of them, with people bidding for dozens at a time.

The main attraction for most though was the mistletoe – row upon row of berry laden bundles. It really was a very impressive sight.

Once again the auctioneer made short work of the lots – each bundle going in a matter of seconds. No sooner had each one been auctioned than it was carted off and the crowd moved on. The Tenbury Mistletoe sales usually make the local news and here is this year’s report – for those with eagle eyes, yours truly appears at about the 5 second mark – dumpy little woman right behind the auctioneer!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-england-hereford-worcester-42240007/tenbury-mistletoe-auction-draws-crowds-in-bumper-year

We probably won’t put our Christmas tree up for another week, but in the meantime it’s nice to have this midwinter greenery around the garden.

Save Langdale Wood – Update

Since my last post on Langdale Wood, I have now gone back to basics and read the actual planning application and then been back for another look at the wood itself. The result – I came to the same conclusion; it would be terribly sad if developers are allowed to build 50 holiday lodges on this site.

The lodges would be interspersed amongst many of the existing trees. The trees themselves would largely survive, but the clearances in between would be ruined. A wood is made up of more than just the trees and the space and flow of air and light between them is just as important to people and the wildlife. No longer will you be able to look through the trees at open spaces and vice versa.

On my previous visit I’d counted 15 bird species in a short space of time. On my last visit I added two more to my tally.  A pretty little nuthatch was flitting from branch to branch way above me (excuse no. 1 for dodgy photography!).

A much bigger find was a buzzard, spotted halfway across the wood. I took a few distant shots, then tried creeping (ninja style in my head) closer. Unfortunately dumpy middle aged women it seems are not meant for such covert operations, and the buzzard soon spotted me and took off – so this was the best shot I managed of this one (excuse no. 2 for dodgy photography).

The wood was just as much a delight as before and I still feel it would be an awful shame if this Local Wildlife Site is compromised. So my objection to the proposals has now been added to the council’s website. Planning applications are available for everyone to read on Malvern Council’s website. The application for the erection of the holiday lodges in Langdale Wood, plus all associated documents is available to read at:

https://plan.malvernhills.gov.uk/plandisp.aspx?recno=74832

I would encourage anyone who is interested in Langdale Wood to have a look at the planning application and the various documents and comments that go with it. If you do not agree with the proposals, please voice your objections using the “Make Comments on this Application” button. The consultation period ends on 8th December.

If, having read the planning application and perhaps visited the wood yourself, you also think Langdale is worth saving, you might also like to support the petition:

https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/save-langdale-wood

 

Save Langdale Wood

This week I finally got round to visiting a local wood that I’ve been meaning to stop at for donkeys years. Langdale Wood is just on the outskirts of the Malvern Hills and I’ve driven past hundreds of times, often thinking “I must stop and have a look sometime”. Unfortunately it was the sad news that this wood might soon be lost that finally prompted me to get up and go.

I got down there fairly early (for me) and the wood was still lit by a pearly mist with shafts of sunlight giving it a real ethereal quality.

The area closest to the road consists of many huge trees which must be pretty old to have reached such a size. They are all widely spaced with plenty of light reaching the ground; I expect in spring and summer there are plenty of flowers beneath the trees. There are clear paths through the trees, although you could go off-piste if you fancied. Since it was my first visit, I stuck to the path and just followed to see where it would take me.

I’d picked only the second frosty morning of the autumn, and the ground was delightfully crunchy still underfoot where the sun hadn’t yet warmed it up; the ground cover twinkling with its crystalline coating.

While I meandered about, the bird song all around me just didn’t stop. No idea what most of it was, but it was clear there was no shortage of birds. In the hour or so I was there I counted 15 species and that was just the ones I could see – no doubt there were plenty more. I discovered the big problem with big trees, especially when you are of diminutive stature yourself, is that you can’t get close enough to the birds to get decent photos. So for instance, although I saw 4 species of Tit (Blue, Coal, Great and Long tail) I only managed a few poor photos.

I was really chuffed to spot a Tree Creeper, which although it wasn’t actually that high in the trees, did not stay still for an instant. Each time I just got focussed he was off round the back of the tree – so this was the best I managed of him.

There is a decent sized pond in the woods too, surrounded by trees with a patch of bulrushes at one end (I’ve made a mental note to check these for dragonflies next summer). There was a trio of moorhens picking their way around the pond weeds – we played chase for a while, I would move to one side of the pond and they would move to the other! So again a distant blurry shot.

My prize find of the morning though was a tiny Goldcrest. At least I think it was a Goldcrest – it was very, very small and moved like lightning, so I can’t really be sure. This was the best shot I managed of it and you can’t even see its gold crest! There seemed to be a couple of them in one corner of the wood, so I’ll have to go back with a better lens and photographer (i.e. take hubby Chris to do the job!)

The remaining  tally of birds spotted included robins, blackbirds, a wren, a dunnock, several crows, a pair of chaffinches, numerous pigeons, and some noisy jays. No wood would be complete without squirrels and I saw a few about – only grey ones of course, but always a cheery sight nonetheless.

It was only my first (though long overdue) visit to Langdale Wood, but it struck me as quite a magical place. Stunning huge trees with wide open walkways in some areas, but other areas with denser more scrubby natural woodland. It was clearly a popular place with dog walkers, many of whom exchanged morning pleasantries with me as I chased the elusive birds round with my camera. Unbelievably to me though, Langdale Wood is in danger – there are plans to build holiday lodges on it. Not only will this deprive the locals of a unique recreation area, but it will have a devastating effect on the trees and animals that live there.

A campaign group has been set up to try and fight the proposals. You can join the group on Facebook to show your support: https://www.facebook.com/langdalewood/

There is also an online petition – please if you live in the Malvern area, consider signing this petition: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/save-langdale-wood

I have lived in Malvern for quite a while and I honestly can’t think of anywhere in the area quite like it. There are other wooded areas of course, but none as spacious, open and calming as Langdale. Stupidly it’s taken me this long to go and see these woods, so I’ve only seen them in late autumn. I hope I get the chance to visit in winter, spring and summer, not just next year, but for many years to come.

 

Autumnwatch – Malvern Style

I’ve not managed to blog much this month, but it’s not been due to any lack of activity in the garden. We’ve both been suffering from a stinker of a cold and our wildlife watching has been largely confined to the views from the sofa. Fortunately the TV offerings have made up for the lack of outdoor activity. Blue Planet II returned this weekend and “blue” us away (sorry couldn’t resist the pun!).  David Attenborough was a huge influence on me as a child and probably one of the reasons I originally became a biologist – and he’s still got it. Inspirational as ever – false killer whales befriending dolphins, fish that leapt into the air to hunt seabirds and ones that used tools to open clams. All absolutely incredible.

Not only Blue Planet, but we had Autumn Watch last week too. Not quite the same wow factor, but great stuff all the same. The beauty of Autumn (and Spring) Watch is that it is British wildlife, so we’ve either seen the animals featured or can at least hope to see them one day. They often have projects or surveys that the public can contribute to and last week’s series was no exception. They launched a project called Seabird Watch which aims to get the public to analyse thousands of images of seabird colonies. So I’ve been having a go; it’s not as easy as it first seems, but it is very addictive! Here’s one of my efforts – lots of kittiwakes and guillemots.

If anyone wants to have a go there are still thousands of images to analyse – go to

https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/penguintom79/seabirdwatch

Autumnwatch of course featured all sorts of mammals and birds and all manner of fancy equipment for recording them. We don’t exactly have the same budget as the BBC, but I did go wild this week and bought a new gadget – this mini camera. It’s not much bigger than a 2 pence piece!

It’s so small we can fix it to twigs in the apple tree like this:

Of course like all new gadgets it’s taking a bit of getting used to. First few attempts turned out to be upside down. Second set were the right way up, but not exactly pointing in the right direction. I did get these starlings; although they’re not really taking centre stage they do at least demonstrate that it works and has the potential to get some decent footage.

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I have now managed to fix the date, so it doesn’t look like we’re in a time warp from 2 years ago, but I still need to work out the night vision and motion detection bit. It’s made a bit difficult by the badly translated instructions, but hopefully I’ll get there in the end. In the meantime here’s some nice footage using the good old trail camera – not quite the majestic owls from Autumnwatch, but a cute blue tit having a bath instead.

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Again we may not get the badgers and foxes of Autumnwatch, but we do have hedgehogs! I recently built another hedgehog feeding station (the last one having gone for a burton when a magpie knocked the trail camera over onto it and smashed it!) Fortunately the hedgehogs seem quite happy with mark II and this fairly large one has been a regular visitor.

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I was surprised though to see this much smaller one here for the first time. Hedgehogs need to be at least 450g by now to have enough fat reserves to make it through the winter. So if I can find this one again I will try and weigh him to check that he’ll be OK.

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The garden is definitely feeling very autumnal now and we even had our first frost yesterday morning with a chilly 0.1C overnight. The leaves have nearly all gone from the apple tree and my beloved moths are now few and far between. Marking the season though it is Halloween tonight and our allotment produced 3 whopping great pumpkins – the biggest of which here is seen with wine bottle and lemon for scale rather than some weird recipe I’m concocting.

Last year I carved the pumpkin into a bird feeder, but this one was a bit big to hang  up, so it’s just a regular scary pumpkin face. There’s something very satisfying about having grown our own pumpkins.

Finally from Halloween to Bonfire Night and a plea for everyone to look out for hedgehogs (and other small mammals and amphibians). If you’re going to have a bonfire – ideally build it on the day it’s going to be lit. If that’s not possible, then please check it thoroughly before lighting – lift up the base and look and listen for signs of hedgehogs. And please just light it from one side to give any hoggies in there a chance to escape from the other side.

Moth (and Mouse) Night

This weekend is Moth Night (it troubles me every year that Moth Night is actually a weekend!). It was supposed to be a fairly windy night and the various moth groups I follow were abuzz with prospects of exciting migrant moths being blown in from the Continent. One of the themes for this year’s Moth Night was the importance of ivy as an autumn food source. I cleared a path to our patch of ivy, so I could get close up for nocturnal photos and out my moth trap went in hope and anticipation. As anyone who reads my blog, or indeed anyone who has ever tried photographing wildlife knows, things rarely go to plan.

So the moth trap attracted just a measly 10 individuals of 8 species. October is getting near the end of moth season, so I was never going to get hundreds of moths, but I had hoped for a bit more of a selection. There are some lovely colourful autumn moth species, but none of them fancied my moth trap last night. I did get two migrants – both Silver Y moths – seen here with their distinctive y or gamma (hence their latin name Autographa gamma) marks on the wings.

The remaining 8 moths were made up of 2 Common Marbled Carpets, 1 Light Brown Apple Moth, 1 Blair’s Shoulder Knot, 1 Lesser Yellow Underwing, 1 Setaceous Hebrew Character, 1 Black Rustic and 1 Shuttle-shaped Dart. All lovely moths in their own right, but not the most exciting selection.

The ivy was also a complete wash out. Although it was in full flower, I didn’t see a single moth on it. Admittedly I didn’t sit in the bushes staring at it all night, but I did pop out for frequent spot checks. Maybe the light from the moth trap was doing too good a job attracting what few moths there were and keeping them away from the ivy? I’ll keep checking the ivy over the next few nights – it will be too late for Moth Night, but I’d like to get a photo of at least one moth on it. I did check out the ivy this morning and it was buzzing with bees (who had clearly got the memo the moths had missed about it being a good source of food in the autumn!). No sign of any Ivy Bees, but plenty of Honey Bees making the most of it.

One surprise find to finish off Moth Night was this mouse. As I was putting the moth trap away in the garage, I saw movement from the box with the birds’ peanuts in. A mouse had got stuck in there and looked just as surprised as me. A quick photo and he was running free in the garden again, although he may have preferred to stay in the garage with the bird food.

Table Manners

Our garden furniture doesn’t seem to have had much use this summer; we normally try and eat outside quite a lot, but the weather just hasn’t been tempting enough. Of course in true Too Lazy style, the garden table is still sitting out on the grass, where we left it a couple of months ago. Various things get dumped on it, including the occasional hedgehog feeding bowl, which fills up every time it rains. The sparrows had taken to using this as an impromptu bird bath, cramming themselves into the small dish with barely room to flap a wing.

Today though I looked out to see that one of the unfortunate sparrows was suffering an altogether different experience on our table – he had become lunch for our local sparrowhawk. My first thought was guilt that I’d encouraged the sparrows, only for this one to become today’s special on the sparrowhawk menu. My second thought was can I get the camera in time? And for once I did. Not the finest set of photos; there was nothing I could do about the bits of grass and weeds obscuring the view, I just had to snap away getting as close as I could before the sparrowhawk spotted me. Thankfully the window cleaner had been literally an hour before, so I could at least see out of the patio door; the photos would have been a lot blurrier otherwise.

The black tripod visible behind the table had the trail camera set up on it. Needless to say, the trailcam was pointing in the opposite direction and missed all the action!

I headed out into the garden a bit later, not really expecting much after the excitement of the sparrowhawk. It may not have been quite so dramatic, but I was chuffed to find a Common Darter resting on the table – in almost the same spot the sparrow had met his unfortunate end. I never find it very easy to get all of a dragonfly in focus, so having failed a bit on the full body angle, I tried focussing on its head and the amazing compound eyes.

The sparrows don’t actually need to be using the tiny terracotta bowl as a bird bath. Having seen them all squashed in there, I had bought them a more spacious bird bath and put it right next to the table. They don’t seem that keen on it and are a bit wary of the slippery sides. I’ve yet to see one bathing in it, although they did have a tentative paddle a few weeks ago.

Bird bath

Our robin however has taken to the new bathing facilities quite happily, maybe because he doesn’t get jostled for space by the sparrows.

Bird Bath
Bird Bath
Bird Bath

While I was gathering together these clips and photos of goings on around the table, I remembered that last year I’d videoed a wasp eating chicken on the table – not a chicken with an appetite for wasps, but a wasp tucking into some cooked chicken that we’d left out. I’d never got round to adding this to the blog before, so here are a few clips now:

Wasp eating chicken
Wasp eating chicken
Wasp eating chicken

So our garden table may not have seen much of me and Chris this year, but it’s still getting plenty of use from an assortment of winged wildlife!

Rehab Time

Yesterday must be right up there as one of the most interesting days this year. I got to spend the whole day at Vale Wildlife Hospital & Rehabilitation Centre near Tewkesbury. It was a one day course learning about hedgehog first aid, care & rehabilitation and the whole thing was fascinating!

The day started in the classroom with introductions – the other participants on the course included some experienced hedgehog carers, some planning on starting hedgehog rehabilitation and some who just loved the hedgehogs in their gardens and wanted to learn more.

Caroline, the charity founder, started with an overview of the legal issues surrounding wildlife rescue, which were much more complicated than I had realised. Then we had an introduction to some of the diseases/parasites that hedgehogs can suffer from; many of which can be transferred to humans, so careful hygiene is essential when handling hedgehogs (as it is with any animal).

We then ran through everything associated with the successful care and rehabilitation of hedgehogs. This covered everything from initial “is the rescue really necessary”, to examination & diagnosis, first aid, rehydration of dehydrated animals, feeding, care of hoglets,  treatments of parasites and other diseases, common injuries, record keeping, rehabilitation & release and sadly euthanasia.

In the afternoon we had two practical sessions. First looking down a microscope to examine hedgehog poo for signs of parasites. Not as easy as it sounds and it must take a while to get your eye in with this. Second was practising giving subcutaneous fluids to a hedgehog. Obviously we couldn’t practise on a live animal, but we all got to have a go on a deceased individual (sad to think that not all the hedgehogs could be saved, but at least we got to learn something from a couple of those that didn’t make it). Dehydration is a major problem for many rescued hedgehogs, so learning to do this properly is vital for anyone considering their rehabilitation, but not something that should be tried without proper instruction.

The Vale Centre cares for all manner of wildlife, not just hedgehogs. As part of the course we got a guided tour of their facilities. Just seeing the scale of simple things like food prep or laundry (an awful lot of dirty animal bedding) really brought it home how much work they do. There is of course a lot of much more technical equipment, like this heated x-ray table.

Warmth is often a critical factor in the survival of the rescued animals, particularly for baby ones. Brooders such as this one, allow them to be kept constantly warm, until they are big enough to regulate their own body temperatures.

The small mammal and hedgehog wards are fitted out with row upon row of cages, each with their own patient records on clipboards, just as you would find in a human hospital.

Each animal patient has a unique identifying number and the staff record daily weights and observations, flagging up any that are cause for concern. Colour coded tabs allow instant identification of those needing fluids, or medication, or assessment, or samples etc.

While we were getting our tour a young squirrel was being syringe fed (although we were supposed to all be objective and unsentimental, a collective “awwh” went up in the room).

A more adult looking squirrel was either interested in the syringe food, or interested in us – not sure which.

Hedgehogs account for a large proportion of the animals admitted to Vale. Last year of the approximate 4500 animals admitted, over 1000 were hedgehogs. This year they look to be getting similar numbers and the wards certainly had plenty of hoggy patients. Of course being nocturnal animals most of them were fast asleep in their cages, burrowed into nests of shredded newspaper. But I did spot one venturing out of his sleeping chamber. The hedgehog cages are split into two connecting “rooms”, one a sleeping chamber and one for the food and water.

Birds account for about 70% of Vale’s admissions, many of them baby ones. A young sparrowhawk and a duck were admitted while we were there. These baby pigeons were just two in the indoor bird ward yesterday.

Outdoors there were yet more birds, from small birds like sparrows and pigeons, up to swans and gulls. All waiting to be strong enough to be rehabilitated – it is vital that they regain the strength in their flight muscles before being released.

Vale’s ethos is very much about rehabilitation. Animals are nursed back to health so that they can not only be released again, but be released with quality of life equivalent to what they would have naturally.  If this can’t be achieved, then sadly euthanasia may be the only option.

There are one or two exceptions, such as this stunning European Eagle Owl. This bird is not native to Britain so cannot be released into the wild here.

And finally an unlikely looking trio of a fallow deer, an emu and a rhea, all of which will be living out their natural days at Vale.

Although our course was aimed primarily at hedgehogs, it was great to see some of the other work the centre does too. I would recommend this course to anyone considering caring for one or more hedgehogs. This and of course getting some practical volunteering experience with an already established hedgehog rescuer if you can.

When I was a little girl I wanted to be a vet, but was probably way too lazy to study hard enough. I realise now with hindsight that I probably wouldn’t have had the emotional strength to make a very good vet, even if I had worked hard enough. People who work with animals, like the amazing staff at Vale, have to care for the animals whilst at the same time making really difficult decisions on a day to day basis. It would be so easy to make choices for an animal to make the person choosing feel better, rather than thinking what is really right for the animal. The staff at Vale always put the interests of the animals first and I have huge respect for them.

To find out more about Vale Wildlife Hospital and the work they do, check out their website: http://www.valewildlife.org.uk/     Charities like this cost a fortune to run, but do such an amazing job – any and all donations would be very welcome.

Photo Shoot

Today’s post is a bit of a flash back in time to late May, when our lovely friend Anna came to stay. Anna and I have known each other for more years than I care to admit and her enthusiasm is just as inspiring now as it was when we were kids. Not only that though, but she just happens to be an amazing professional photographer.  So what do you do when you’ve got a talented photographer staying – family portraits? stunning landscapes? No you get the moth trap out! Anna’s just sent me some of the photos she took while she was here – hence me harking back to May with this post. If you can’t make the most of your talented friends and use them as a guest blog, well it would seem such a waste!

It’s not every guest that is keen to get up at 5am to inspect the moth trap (to date Anna is the only one who’s shown any inclination to do so!), but that’s what we did, with fingers crossed for some decent moths. Luckily we got a fine assortment to show for our efforts. Anna’s kindly given me permission to share some of her photos, so most of these are hers apart from a couple of dodgy ones of mine for comparison!

Anna teaches digital photography, so I was really lucky that she gave me some top tips to improve my own measly photographic skills. I’d like to think we swapped mothy knowledge with photographic knowledge, but I definitely got the better half of the deal as I learnt far more than she did I’m sure.

First up the amazing Figure of 80 moth, which pretty much does what it says on the tin – it has the number 80 clearly marked on its wings.  I think this was only the second time we’ve had one of these in the garden so it was a real treat.

Another nice find was this Swallow Prominent – not so clear how this one got its name though!

The stars of any mothy shows are usually the hawkmoths, so I was really pleased we got a Poplar one.

When photographing big moths like this, it can be really difficult to get enough depth of field. Clearly not a problem when you know what you’re doing though. The colours and definition all seem so much better than anything I ever manage.

Not content with moths we then headed out to the Wyre Forest in search of butterflies – the Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary to be precise. You can read my original post from the day here  https://toolazytoweed.uk/2017/05/31/butterfly-no-41/  Here are two of Anna’s shots of said SPBFs.

The colours that Anna’s managed to capture are brilliant. My efforts from the day look very washed out in comparison:

We were also lucky enough to see the other species – the Pearl Bordered Fritillary. Again here’s one of Anna’s vibrant photos, with my duller effort below it.

It’s amazing seeing Anna’s photos compared to our own. It really does highlight the difference between using your camera properly and being stuck on auto as I am for so much of the time. The vibrancy of Anna’s photos says it all.

You can see more of Anna’s fantastic (and award winning) photography on her website http://www.annahenly.co.uk/ or if you live in Scotland why not sign up for one of her classes on https://www.goingdigital.co.uk/photography-courses-in/scotland and get yourself off “auto” too.

 

 

 

 

Grafton Wood

Lovely day yesterday out and about at Grafton Wood, one of our favourite butterfly hunting spots. Forecast was for sunny spells in the morning so we headed over, hopeful of a good day’s butterfly spotting. The sunny spells were slow to materialise and for the first hour we hardly saw a butterfly. Nor did we see anyone else, it was as if everyone else knew the butterflies were having a day off! Eventually though the butterflies started to appear – a slightly dopey Common Blue was the first to pose for us.

After the initial dozy one, more blues arrived plus Green-Veined Whites and our first Painted Lady of the year.  All in all we tallied up 11 species – not bad after such an unpromising start.

The one butterfly we’d particularly hoped to see though, the Brown Hairstreak, eluded us. They are notoriously tricky to find and we’ve only ever seen one, right here at Grafton Wood in 2015. So it was no great surprise not to find one yesterday. We did however meet  a very helpful gentleman who gave us some top tips for spotting them and showed us some new areas of the wood to look for them in future.  So butterfly-wise we were very happy.

But Grafton Wood is buzzing with more than just butterflies, there are plenty of other insects to enjoy. We kept seeing beautiful big hornets – either Grafton has lots of them or we were being stalked by the same one everywhere we went.

There were lots of small moths flying about in the grass, but the mothy highlight was spotting a group of Buff Tip moth caterpillars that had almost stripped a young tree bare.

We also saw a few shieldbugs, including this nice specimen of a Forest Bug (Pentatoma rufipes).

In the sunnier periods we could hear crickets chirruping in the grass. We saw several of these particularly large ones, which turned out to be a new species for us  – the Long-winged Conehead (Conocephalus discolour).

Grafton is also a great place to go for dragonflies and damselflies. Darters (like this female Common Darter (thanks to Neil for ID)) were reasonably common all over the wood.

We also saw several of the much larger Southern Hawker dragonflies, particularly around the small pond. They seemed to be inexhaustible though and never once did we see one land. Both of us spent ages trying to get a photo of one in flight over the pond; this blurry shot was the best we managed.

Damselflies were also common around the pond – again another new species for us – the White-legged Damselfly (Platycnemis pennipes), which has, as the name suggests, white legs! (although to be honest the legs look more like pale blue to me)

I found one individual sitting on a flower, seemingly staring straight at me. It stayed so long and I spent so long trying to get the perfect photo, it ended up feeling like we were having a bit of a staring contest – if we were then he won!

One insect we’d been trying to get a photo of all summer, was a scorpion fly.  These are seriously weird looking insects, with a long beak like structure on the head and a scorpion style tail on the males. We’d seen lots of them at Trench Wood a few months ago, but then only the females which don’t have the scorpion bit. Grafton Wood however was buzzing with males. It still wasn’t easy to get a photo of the tail as the wings kept getting in the way, but here are our best efforts.

Final surprise of the day was a cheeky little deer face, peeking at us over the wheat field as we walked back to the car.

Grafton Wood has never disappointed us and this weekend was no exception.

Out and About – Lea Quarry, Wenlock Edge

One of the goals for 2017 was to see some new butterfly species. So yesterday we set out for Lea Quarry at Wenlock Edge, in search of the Wall butterfly. The excellent “Butterflies of the West Midlands” book recommended Lea Quarry as a hotspot for Walls in August, so off we went. As usual we nearly managed to get lost as soon as we left the carpark, thanks to someone removing an arrow sign from the path trail! Fortunately while we puzzled over which way to go, a very helpful butterfly spotter Roger (and his gorgeous Malamut dog), showed us the correct path and in fact led us straight to our targets.

Wenlock Edge is a narrow limestone escarpment and Lea Quarry is just as it sounds – a quarry.  From the path there are lovely views out over the Shropshire countryside.

The path runs along the Edge with the quarry to one side.

The butterflies congregated on a small rocky slope at the side of the path. The area may not have been very big, but it was full of butterflies – we counted 11 species. Most were common ones like Gatekeepers, Speckled Wood, Comma, Holly Blue, Meadow Browns and Whites.

There were a couple of large and fresh looking Peacocks which were jostling for position over the same flowers.

There was also one Small Heath, which was more unusual to us. It skulked about in the undergrowth a bit though and looked generally a bit tired, so we only managed this poor photo.

A Small Skipper was much more obliging, posing happily right in front of us.

Common Blues were reasonably common and the males were very blue! The poor female is of course the dowdier of the pair, but still very beautiful.

But the main attraction were the Walls. They’re medium sized butterflies and quite strikingly marked, yet were surprisingly difficult to spot unless they took off. They fly most when it’s sunny, so we were lucky the weather was kind to us and the sun shone down on the righteous! Roger pointed out our first ever one, but after that we were up and running.

We saw several basking on the bare rocks. Unfortunately they do have a tendency to take off as soon as you approach with a camera, but we did eventually get a few decent shots of them like this.

I did eventually manage to get a few photos of a Wall on a flower – only because I was trying to photograph something else and the Wall landed on the flower right next to me though – but hey, you take what you can get! I didn’t realise until I looked back at the photos, just how beautiful the undersides of the wings are too.

The stony bank was busy with insects of all kinds besides the butterflies. Common Blue damselflies were drifting about all over the place – even photobombing one of our Wall photos.

Chris also spotted this much larger Darter dragonfly (Common or Ruddy – I can never remember which is which?)

Bees and hoverflies were making the most of the summer flowers. The hoverflies were particularly numerous and included this striking Large Pied Hoverfly (Volucella pellucens).

We could hear grasshoppers/crickets almost constantly – chirruping away enthusiastically in the sunshine. It was towards the end of our visit though before we actually saw one, when it hopped out onto the path. The relatively short and thick antennae indicate it was a grasshopper rather than a cricket, and that’s about as far as my ID got. But thanks to Neil, it has now been identified as a male Meadow Grasshopper.

So the Wall takes our lifetime tally of butterflies to 43! Very happy with that, but already looking forward to adding to this. We’re probably too late to bag any other new ones this year, as we’d need to travel serious distances probably. But with a bit of luck next summer, we might manage to creep a bit closer to the magic total of 59 – the generally recognised number of British species. It’s almost certainly going to get harder and we’ll have to travel further, but it’s nice to have a goal and a great way to get out and about, so we’re not complaining.