Final Fritillary Makes Fifty

As 30 Days Wild draws to a close for another year, we are managing to go out with a bit of a bang.  Having already had a very successful June, seeing our first ever Marsh & Heath Fritillaries, we set off to Wales in search of our final fritillary and 50th butterfly species – the High Brown Fritillary. Some of the land we went on was private, so I can’t disclose the exact location but we were in the Alun Valley area, courtesy of an organised and escorted trip by Butterfly Conservation.

The High Brown Fritillary is apparently the UK’s most threatened butterfly species, remaining in only a few sites in England and only one in Wales. It happened to be the hottest day of the year so far for our walk – challenging conditions for an unfit middle-aged couple!

For the first site we visited we parked (I say “we parked” but we got a lift there from the very kind Mike) next to a dried up river bed. There were a few pools remaining and it was great to see loads of what we think were toad tadpoles wriggling in the shallows. They’d got their back legs but no front ones yet; fingers crossed they complete their metamorphosis before their pool dries up completely.

We headed up a slope to an open area of bracken that is being managed for fritillaries. Loads of large fritillaries were visible darting about the bracken – a mix of Dark Green and High Brown. The High Browns were a really rich dark orangey brown colour, the Dark Greens being a bit more muted, but at the speed they all flew, it was difficult to tell which was which. It soon became apparent that the fritillaries had little intention of stopping to get their photos taken. A ready rule soon came into practice – if a large fritillary landed it was a Dark Green one; if it flew past you like the clappers, it was probably a High Brown. Despite repeated attempts to chase them down, the High Browns escaped our cameras at this site. Thankfully the Dark Greens were a bit kinder to us. This one posed nicely for Chris on a thistle flower.

Then Mike spotted a pair of mating Dark Greens and we all rushed to get a photo of something!

Having had enough baking in the heat at the first site, we moved onto another site a mile or two away. This also had lots of High Browns with perhaps fewer Dark Greens. Apparently some other lucky butterfly spotters had got plenty of good photos of the High Browns earlier in the day – our timing was not so good.  The cloud cover meant a lot of the fritillaries had gone down into the bracken and weren’t flying, making them virtually impossible to spot.  They do particularly like thistle flowers and a local guide pointed out a thistle that had had High Browns nectaring on it in the morning. It seemed worth a shot, so I staked out this thistle for a few minutes. Having limited patience, I soon got bored of looking at a butterfly-less thistle, so reached into my bag for some water. No sooner had I done so than a High Brown Fritillary landed on the thistle. Water bottle cast aside, I grabbed the camera again and managed a few frantic shots before it flew off. None of my photos would win any awards, but they are at least identifiable as High Brown Fritillaries – on the first photo you can see an extra row of brown spots between the outer edge and the silver spots – the Dark Green Fritillaries don’t have these.

We saw lots of other butterfly species during the day – Small Heath, Comma, Red Admiral, Meadow Brown, and Skippers – most of which were also bombing around in the sunshine too fast to photograph. Heading back to the car we saw a patch of nettles covered in Peacock caterpillars – the next generation in the making and a lot easier to photograph than fast flying butterflies.

So we’ve “bagged” our final fritillary species and our 50th butterfly species in total. Only 8 more species to go (9 if we count the Cryptic Wood White over in Northern Ireland). It was a really great day in Wales, with a lovely bunch of people.

And to finish the day – a bottle of Wood White beer – a new beer produced by Wood’s brewery with part of the sales going to Butterfly Conservation. Always happy to do our bit for conservation!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Marsh Fritillary – Butterfly No. 49.

Our final blog post from our holiday in Somerset/Devon and we set out to see and hopefully photograph our next butterfly species – the Marsh Fritillary. From our base on Exmoor we headed across north Devon to the Dunsdon National Nature Reserve. We were reliably informed by the local Wildlife Trust that this would be a good place to see the Marsh Fritillaries and with the weather forecast looking better than it had all week, we set off. The reserve took a bit of finding as it is tucked away, but it was well worth the visit. There was only one other couple there – also keen butterfly spotters, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

The marsh fritillary likes damp grassland and given the weather we’ve been having recently there was certainly plenty of the damp element around. We left the car and followed the boardwalk through the trees until we got to the first field. Within yards we’d spotted our first ever Marsh Fritillary – our 49th species was ticked off the list!

We managed a few photos before it started pouring with rain again and we retreated to the car. Thankfully the rain didn’t last too long, so we headed back out again and were rewarded with plenty of butterflies. We must have seen at least a dozen fritillaries during our visit. The first few we saw were all sitting with their wings open to reveal their beautifully patterned uppersides. Here are some of our better photos.


Of course having got the upper view, we wanted some side on shots. Luckily we found a few feeding on thistles, nicely displaying their gorgeous undersides.

Most of the fritillaries we saw were settled on the thistles or amongst the grass, but we did see a few in flight, dancing over the meadow – a really lovely sight.

The marsh fritillaries may have been our main focus, but other insects kept side-tracking us as well. I can never resist a moth and spent a large part of the visit chasing a particular species around until I could get close enough to identify it – a Burnet Companion as it turns out.

We had hoped for some dragonfly action, but apart from a brief glimpse of an impressive dragonfly in the distance, the only one we got close enough to was this female large red damselfly.

Scorpion flies always fascinate me, so after a bit of the usual chasing I managed to get a photo of this one. I think it must have been a female, as there wasn’t much sign of the scorpion like tail.

We do try to enjoy any interesting plants we see too and not focus solely on the insect life. Dunsdon reserve also had some lovely spotted orchids. No idea what species they were, but guessing they were not the same as the Heath Spotted Orchids we’d seen the day before as the habitat was different.

The reserve had a fair number of dainty Ragged Robin flowers which prefer damp meadows like this. Not only are they gorgeous little flowers, they are great for wildlife too.


But my favourite remains the Forget-me-not. I’ve loved these flowers since I was a child and the holiday cottage we stayed at had a whole meadow of these gorgeous sunny blue flowers. The image has stuck with me for over 40 years and I still love the sight of them today.


So that’s the final blog post from our trip down south and our 49th species of butterfly photographed. Only 9 to go now (10 if we decide to include the Cryptic Wood White in Northern Ireland). We’ve got one more species we are hoping to see this year – the High Brown Fritillary – watch this space!

 

Bees, Bats, Butterflies and Birds at Bridge Cottage

We’re just back from a holiday in Exmoor and as usual have returned with hundreds of wildlife photos, having spent the week in our usual glamorous manner. Most people probably take swimming costumes, flip flops and suncream on holiday; we took a moth traps, bat detector,  underwater camera and trail cameras! We stayed at a lovely cottage by the River Barle in Withypool, Somerset – an absolutely idyllic location, with plenty of wildlife potential.

Our holiday coincided with the start of 30 Days Wild, so the perfect excuse for wildlife watching, not that we ever need an excuse. The cottage had loads of bird life including sparrows nesting around the guttering. A pair of blue tits were nesting in the apex of the shed. They were really devoted parents bringing food constantly despite the rain (hence dishevelled photo below) and removing the faecal sacs to keep the nest clean.

There were plenty of mayflies hatching while we were there and the swifts made good use of them flying low over the water and snatching them out of the air. Best of all we could hear a cuckoo calling every morning around dawn. The sound of a cuckoo combined with the sound of the river is a great way to wake up in the morning.

Not surprisingly the abundant insect life attracted bats too. We got the bat detector going and were rewarded with clicks and chirp noises that sounded different to our usual Pipistrelle bats at home. The clicks were closer to the 47-48kHz frequency than the 45kHz we get at home, so perhaps these bats were either Daubenton’s or Natterers? Unfortunately we didn’t manage to record the noises to be sure and it was too dark to actually see the bats.

The first day we arrived at the cottage we had glorious sunshine and a warm night – perfect conditions for an evening glass of wine in the garden and to put the moth trap out! We couldn’t believe the abundance of moths we got in the morning. Many of the moths we caught were species we’d seen before but never in such numbers – buff tips, white ermines, brown silver lines – all species which we see occasionally in Malvern, but rarely more than single individuals. There were 2 species though that we’ve never seen before – Nut Tree Tussock and Campion – nice to add to our life lists of species.

As usual an Elephant Hawkmoth stole the show, but it did have competition from this stunning Puss Moth!

The River Barle which ran past the garden had sparkling clear water (every day except the last day when heavy rain had clouded it).  One of the first things we noticed were several dead Signal Crayfish both in the water and on the river bank.

These are an introduced species and are causing serious problems by outcompeting the native crayfish and by tunnelling into river banks leading to erosion. There are projects to actively remove them from rivers like the Barle, so it could be the dead crayfish we saw were part of this.

On a cheerier note, there were lots of presumably native minnows swimming in shoals near the river bank. So armed with our waterproof GoPro camera, I heroically waded in with my wellies. A slight miscalculation between height of wellies and depth of water, led to some wet feet, but at least I managed to video the minnows!

The river also had numerous tadpoles, who remained hidden in the plants near the bank during the day, but emerged into a sheltered inlet in the evenings. They were much darker than the tadpoles we get back home in the pond, so they may be toad tadpoles rather than frogs.

 

The cottage garden was well planted with plenty of shrubs and flowers for wildlife, including some gorgeous lupins that the bees absolutely loved.



One even got so carried away it forgot where it was and landed on my hand.

We saw a few butterflies in the garden, including our first Painted Lady of the year, but the highlight had to be this – a Green Hairstreak. To see these little beauties previously we’ve had to travel to nature reserves, so to have one virtually fly up to us in the garden was amazing. So amazing that I fumbled with the camera and only managed one rubbish photo – but it is just about recognisable as a green butterfly!

So we can highly recommend a stay at Bridge Cottage in Withypool for anyone interested in wildlife – there’s certainly plenty of it. The village itself was charming with a pub, shop and café – what more could you want from a holiday?

We did of course venture out while we were in the Exmoor area in search of more butterflies, but I’ll cover those in subsequent blog posts – watch this space!

 

 

 

 

 

Moth Breakfast & Butterfly Brunch

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

Blotched Emerald.

Large Emerald.

Peach Blossom

Rosy Footman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

A Lot Going on at the Allotment

We’re well over half way through 30 Days Wild already, but I’ve not had chance to blog much this month. This certainly hasn’t been due to a shortage of wildlife though. The allotment is particularly busy at this time of year with everything (especially the weeds) springing into life. A neighbouring plot has regular slow worm sightings, which I view with great envy. For some reason we can’t tempt them onto our plot even though it is just a few metres away. But I sneaked a peak into said neighbour’s compost bin the other day and was delighted to spot a lovely large slow worm happily sitting on top of the compost.

Unfortunately the compost bin was too high and I was too short to be able to hold the camera high enough to get the whole reptile in focus, which was a bit annoying. So I went back the next day with my GoPro camera on a stick and did a short video to fit it all in. The slow worm didn’t move so it’s not exactly an action packed sequence, but at least you can see the whole animal.

Slow worm on allotment

 

A few sunny June days have also allowed me to try out my latest moth pheromone lure – this time trying to attract the currant clearwing. We have plenty of currant bushes down on the allotment, so it seemed a reasonable assumption that we’d get the moths, but I was still amazed how quickly they came. No sooner had I put the lure out and turned round to get the camera when there was already a hopeful moth buzzing round the trap. Within minutes I had about half a dozen. They were smaller than I expected and are most unusual looking insects. If I didn’t know they were moths I don’t think I would ever have guessed. See-through wings on a body striped a bit like a wasp with a strange pompom tail. They were of course all males having been fooled into thinking my lure was an attractive female.

I did try the lure out at home later – we don’t have any currant bushes there, but I was just curious. Surprisingly I got even more moths in the garden than I did on the allotment. The currant clearwing moths are obviously reasonably abundant in our area and yet I’ve never even glimpsed one without the lure.

Next insect of interest was a large red damselfly laying eggs in the allotment pond.

I didn’t see the male, but there obviously must have been one, because the female was very busy ovipositing in the pond. You can see her in the next photo curving her abdomen round to place each egg carefully in position.

I did try and video her laying the eggs, but she managed to position herself at an awkward angle to film, so apologies for the blurry (and shaky) camera work, but you can hopefully see how carefully she positions her abdomen, delicately probing to find the right spot.

Damselfly ovipositing

The other really interesting insects we’ve been getting at the pond are signal or semaphore flies – small long legged flies with the grand name of Poecilobothrus nobilitatus. The males have white tips to their wings which they wave about like semaphore flags to signal to each other and to females. I’ve spent ages trying to film their displays, but they are so small and so quick it is very difficult to focus on the right bit of the pond at the right time! But in this first shaky video below a male can just about be seen energetically trying to see off another male with his assertive wing display.

signal flies males

In this second shaky video a male (on the right) is trying to woo a female (on left) with his hopefully impressive courtship display. Not sure how convinced she was!

signal flies male and female

But the big excitement for me is the development of our tadpoles into mini frogs. We’ve been anxiously watching over them since March and spotted our first mini frogs in early June. I’ll do a full froggy update soon hopefully, but here are a few photos for now. We seem to have them in all stages of development still – many are still just tadpoles, some now have back legs only, some are starting to show front legs and some like this one below are virtually there apart from the remains of a tail.

The froglets are generally only about the size of a fingernail, but they are perfectly formed – frogs in miniature.

They can of course breathe in the air now, and some are already starting to explore beyond the confines of the pond. We have to be very careful where we tread as the grass is now full of tiny froglets.

So plenty going on down the allotment and that’s without even looking at the bees, the birds, the hoverflies and butterflies that we see regularly too. Not all the plots on our allotment site are gardened organically, but ours is and I feel we reap the benefits. So what if we loose the odd vegetable or some fruit to caterpillars or slugs or pigeons – the rewards of a plot full of wildlife far outweighs the losses. I can live without the odd lettuce or raspberry, but I wouldn’t want to miss out on mini frogs and semaphore flies!

 

Isle of Wight – Part 3 Butterflies at Last!

It’s taken me a full week to whittle down the 600+ photos we took on our second full day on the Isle of Wight to a manageable number to post. We went looking for butterflies and found so many to photograph I think we got a bit carried away! Our main targets were the Glanville Fritillary (pretty much only found on the Isle of Wight) and the Adonis Blue – two new ones to add to our tally of British species. After our usual struggle getting lost before finding the right carpark, we set off on the “Paradise on the Isle of Wight Butterfly Trail” over Compton Down. The walk was only supposed to take 2 to 2½ hours, but we spent so long taking photos, it took nearly 5! But it was well worth it, not only for the butterflies, but for the fabulous views of the white cliffs.

The day started sunny and bright, but then the fog rolled in incredibly quickly and the cliffs (and butterflies disappeared). It was amazing watching the fog come, it seemed to chase us along the path until we were completely enveloped. Fortunately it didn’t stay too long, the sun came out again and we resumed out wildlife watching. There were butterflies and moths everywhere. Although our main targets were the butterflies, as usual we couldn’t resist the moths either. There were Silver Y moths everywhere (when we got home to Malvern the next day there were well over a dozen of them in the garden too, there must have been a big influx of them from abroad that weekend).

One we don’t see so often is the Burnet Companion – a subtly pretty day flying moth.

A more showy day moth was the Cinnabar – flashes of red underwings catching our eyes as we walked over the downs, although we never managed to catch one in flight to show this.

But on to the butterflies – the walk certainly lived up to its name, they were everywhere. In total we counted 14 species of butterfly, which maybe our highest count ever for one walk.  Some were fairly common ones we were familiar with, but a couple of others we’d previously only seen on one occasion. The Wall butterfly we’d only seen for the first time last year up in Shropshire, but Chris spotted one here – I missed it unfortunately.

But then I got my own back by spotting a Grizzled Skipper, which he missed. This was another species that we’d only seen for the first time last year in South Herefordshire.

Grizzleds weren’t the only Skippers around though, one of the most common butterflies we saw here was the Dingy Skipper, a species we’ve seen in a few places before, but is always nice to see again. We were almost tripping over them as they seemed to like sitting on the path.

Another find was a Large Skipper. We saw a few of these, but not nearly as many as the Dingys.

Small Heath butterflies were also reasonably common. Not as showy as some of the others, but a lovely butterfly nonetheless.

So on to the blue butterflies – there were blues flying everywhere almost as soon as we set off, but it quickly became apparent that there were several species. So in an effort to ensure we didn’t accidentally miss the Adonis, we took photos of virtually every blue thing moving! In the end we got 4 of the “blues” including a few of these Brown Argus which aren’t really blue at all but fall into the same group.

Of the true blues, we got 3 species. The small blue is as its name suggests very small – Britain’s smallest butterfly in fact. They may be small but they are very quick, so it took a while to get a half decent photo. They’re not as blue as the other species, but there is a definite dusting of blue scales near the body.

Perhaps not too surprisingly, the most common blue butterfly was the Common Blue Butterfly! We saw loads of these and photographed many of them in the hope they would turn out to be Adonis. The males are a beautiful bright blue with a plain white fringe around the edge of the wings.

The females are duller – more of a brown colour but with a row of orange spots around the wings.

We even saw a pair of these mating, although at the time we weren’t sure which species they were as its hard to tell from the underside (a kind soul on Facebook confirmed them as Common Blues).

Although obviously only 2 can mate, a third one (a male) did try and get in on the act, perhaps hoping to drive the first male away so he could have his way with the female.

But of course the blue we really wanted to see was the Adonis. Adonis Blues are found other places than the Isle of Wight, but this was the first time we’d been to a site with the right habitat, so while we were here we were keen to see one. We took a lot of Common Blue photos before we got one we were sure was an Adonis. Thankfully there was another couple of butterfly enthusiasts on the same walk as us and they confirmed we had finally bagged our target photo. The Adonis can be distinguished from the Common Blue by the presence of black marks crossing the white fringe around the wings. They also seemed to us to be a much more vivid, azure blue than the common ones.

The real priority for us that day was to see a Glanville Fritillary. Restricted to south facing chalk downs, it is now only found on the Isle of Wight, although it used to be more widely spread. They only fly when it’s sunny, so were lucky the weather was good and we saw one almost immediately as we set off on the path. It was a bit of a scruffy specimen, but we didn’t care – it was a result!

Fortunately as we walked on we saw lots more, most of which were in much better condition. They are small but beautifully patterned butterflies with orange and brown chequered markings on the uppersides of the wings.

The underneath of the wings are even more striking with a stained glass window effect of cream , orange and black markings. We had hoped to get the classic shot of one posed with its wings upright to show this off, but none of them would oblige. The best we managed were these two shots partially showing the undersides.

So that was it, two more species added to our list to bring us up to 45 out of the 59 British species seen and photographed.  Only 14 more to go, although I think they may get harder and harder to find.

Other species seen that day included Large Whites, Speckled Woods, a Peacock and a Painted Lady to make up our total of 14 species in one day. The walk certainly lived up to its name, as the area was a complete paradise for butterfly enthusiasts – the perfect end to our mini break to the Isle of Wight.

Isle of Wight – Part 2 Thwarted By Fog

Our first full day on the Isle of Wight coincided with the first day of 30 Days Wild – the Wildlife Trusts’ annual event to get people to engage with nature.  Perfect day then to go looking for our next two species of butterfly – the Glanville Fritillary and the Adonis Blue. Unfortunately the weather had other ideas and a thick blanket of fog seemed to have covered most of the island. No self respecting butterfly was going to fly in that, so our chances of seeing them were virtually nil. We did make a short half-hearted attempt and had a bit of a wander around the chalky slopes on the southern coast. Fortunately we like all sorts of invertebrates besides butterflies and many of these are fog tolerant.

Snails of course don’t mind a bit of damp weather and we found two new (to us) species in the hedgerows. This beautifully coiled one is a Kentish Snail (Monacha cantiana).

This tiny pointy snail is in fact called a Pointed Snail (Cochlicella sp.). It was only about a centimetre long, but still managed to have at least 8 whorls on its shell.

The other group of invertebrates that braved the fog in reasonable numbers were moth caterpillars. We saw several species, but these two were particularly striking. We’ve never seen them before either in caterpillar form, nor as adult moths. The top one is the caterpillar of the Lackey Moth and the bottom one of a Dingy Flat-Body Moth (thank you to the good people of iSpot for identifying the second one for me).

The other notable invertebrate was a cricket – there were large numbers of these Dark Bush Crickets (Pholidoptera griseoaptera) in the undergrowth. We only saw immature stages such as this nymph.

After an hour of enjoyable but butterfly-less searching, we went to Plan B. Isle of Wight is also known for its thriving population of Red Squirrels. Thankfully the grey squirrels haven’t made it across the water yet, so for the time being the reds have free rein over the island. So we headed inland to Borthwood Copse, a small woodland managed to support the red squirrels. The first interesting animal we spotted when we got to the wood, was another insect. This female Scarce Chaser dragonfly (Libellula fulva) is, as its name suggests, fairly scarce, so it was a really nice find. With its yellow veining and dark tips to the wings, it was clearly different to any dragonfly we’d seen before.

The wood was full of birds, all singing their hearts out (or all shouting warnings that we were intruding possibly). We could hear, if not see, lots of species, but the only one we really managed to photograph was this male Great Spotted Woodpecker.

After a lot of dizzying staring up into trees, we eventually spotted our first red squirrel. I think we had both fondly imagined that the squirrels would come down and somehow just sit waiting to be photographed. Needless to say, they did no such thing and remained steadfastly high up in the branches. Over the course of the next hour we spotted a few (or possibly the same one taunting us over and over) and although they were a delight to watch, they never came close enough for any really good photos. But we did eventually get some recognisable red squirrel photos, so here are our best efforts. We watched this one for a while carrying a bundle of nesting material, jumping from branch to branch.

We followed it by eye until it disappeared with its bundle of nesting material into what looked like a denser patch of leaves. It stayed in there for ages, so we wondered whether this might have been a nest or drey? You can just about make out the denser patch in the photo below.

When it eventually emerged it no longer had the nesting material, but decided to sit nearby watching us below. I know the next picture is really dark, but you can see the squirrel staring directly at us.

 

We had a few more sightings after this. In some they were again carrying nesting material, although we lost track of them in the branches so couldn’t see if they took them back to the same place.

The final photo I know is really rubbish, but I just love the way it looks like he’s just dangling there, when obviously we just caught him mid-jump.

So Plan B worked out pretty well in the end. The fog may have stopped us seeing butterflies that day (don’t worry we got there in the end – see next blog post), but there was plenty of other wildlife to enjoy. That’s one of the things about wildlife watching I love, you are never really disappointed, as there is almost always something amazing to see if you look.

 

 

 

 

2017 – The Year of the Hedgehog

It’s taken me a couple of weeks to get this written, mainly because 2017 was such an eventful year for us. I started compiling it and couldn’t believe how much we saw and did in one year; but it was lovely going through the old blog posts to refresh my memory.

First of all the successes and failures of last year’s New Year’s Resolutions. I think these definitely come under the “could do better” category, but we did at least try with most of our wildlife ones, which is more than can be said for my Cut Down on the Prosecco plan. So here’s the progress on our 7 resolutions for 2017.

1.  Build new pond. Well I did achieve this, just not in the place I expected to. The plan was to put a new pond in the garden. That didn’t happen, but I did get an allotment (with my sister) and first job we did was put in a small pond. Within months we’d had frogs, newts and dragonflies, so well worth the effort.

 

2. Get footage of the blue tits fledging. Well this didn’t happen, but it wasn’t for want of trying. We put up a new box with integral camera. Things were looking good when we caught a blue tit checking it out almost immediately. Unfortunately they then decided to nest elsewhere this year. You can lead a blue tit to a nest box, but you cannot make it nest!

3. Seeing new species of butterfly – we actually over-achieved on this one! We managed to bag 5 new species: Duke of Burgundy, Wall, Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary, Grizzled Skipper and Large Blue. This takes us to a grand total of 43 species of British butterfly seen and photographed. Only about 16 to go.

 

4. Try and find ivy bees at more sites. Not only did I not manage to achieve this, I didn’t see a single ivy bee at all. Chris saw a few, but only at sites where we’d seen them before.

5. Start compiling a list of hoverfly species in the garden. I did take quite a lot of hoverfly pictures, (including this lovely Chrysotoxum species) but totally forgot that I was going to start listing them. I could probably retrospectively go back through the photos and list them all – but what are the chances of that happening?

 

6. Do 30 Days Wild again. Thankfully a big YES to this one. I had a fantastic time in June doing 30 Days Wild and was really chuffed to get shortlisted again for the Wildlife Trusts’ Blogger Awards. Not only that but Worcestershire Wildlife Trust were looking for someone to write about it – so I even got a magazine article published!

7. And finally my quest to get a moth tattoo has failed once again. No surprises there.

So on to the other things we got up to last year. 2017 started with the shocking realization that I’d hit 50! To lessen the pain, Chris got us a day at some wildlife photography hides in Worcestershire. We had a fantastic bird-filled day watching kestrels, kingfishers and all sorts of other beautiful birds. Best birthday present ever!

The second big event was getting our allotment. Despite my “too lazy to weed” philosophy, I have always fancied an allotment and my sister and I now finally have one.  We are gardening it organically, feeding the birds, encouraging pollinators and of course we’ve put in our pond. Neighbouring plots even have slow worms, so we’re hoping we can attract a few of those over to ours soon too.

A big change for me in 2017 was that I swapped jobs. I now work 2 days a week at the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. We also fostered a hedgehog called Meadow last winter until his release in the spring.  We’ve rescued one poorly one found during the day and one juvenile that was too small to get through the winter and taken them to our local hedgehog carer Viv. Not only that but we had almost nightly visitations from other hedgehogs in the garden and got some great trail camera footage. So all in all 2017 has been my Year of the Hedgehog.

One of the highlights in the summer was a holiday in the beautiful Isles of Scilly. We had a fantastic week there, packed full of wildlife and wonderful scenery. Although we loved it all, probably the best thing was seeing puffins. We’d thought we might have been too late in the season, but luckily they were still there waiting for us.

Not only did we get some great photos, but the one above even won us a mug in the Scilly Isles photo competition. In fact we won 2 mugs, the other being for an old photo of me, my sister and my Dad taken on St Martin’s in 1972. 

Of course we did all our usual things in 2017 – the Big Garden Bird Survey, the Big Butterfly Count, the Garden Bioblitz, Moth night and the annual pilgrimage to see the bluebells on the Malverns. We’ve visited lots of our old favourite haunts, Wyre Forest, Trench & Grafton Wood, Prestbury Hill & Brotheridge Green etc. But we’ve also found some new favourites: Daneway Banks, Upton Warren wetlands, Wenlock Edge and more.

On the home front we have of course continued to let the weeds grow in the garden pretty much unchecked. The postman may soon need a machete to hack his way through the undergrowth to the front door, but it has brought us a wealth of insects and more. I’d thought we’d done well in 2016 when we recorded our 25th species of bee in the garden, but by the end of 2017’s summer we’d hit 31 species.

Moths continued to be my particular obsession throughout 2017. Overall it didn’t seem to be such a good year for moths in the garden – I only recorded 198 species compared to 211 in 2016. This might have been due to trapping effort, as I suffered a couple of stinking colds towards the end of the year and didn’t put the trap out for the last 2 months. Overall though we have now recorded 297 moth species in the garden – not bad for the middle of Malvern! The really exciting news though was that I recorded the first ever Box Tree Moth (Cydalima perspectalis) not only for Malvern, but for the whole of Worcestershire. This species is colonising northwards, so it was great to get the first record for our neck of the woods.

The sad news for 2017 was that we had to say goodbye to Bert. He was our elderly gentleman with a big voice (the loudest miaow ever!) and a big character. He spent most of his life outdoors, but came to us for his twilight years. We still miss him terribly.

 

So New Year’s Resolutions for 2018 – we might as well aim for a few then there’s a chance we might succeed with a couple at least!

  • Butterfly species – continue on our quest to see more of the British species – hopefully another 3 this year?
  • Film Blue tits fledging – the box and camera are still all set up, so we just have to hope they deign to nest in it this year.
  • Visit 5 new local nature reserves – we have such fantastic places around here, it will be good to explore some more.
  • Sort out the garden pond.
  • Have a go at a Hoverfly Lagoon – there’s a project looking at how to promote hoverflies in your garden, so it would be nice to contribute to that.
  • Of course that moth tattoo that never seems to get done!

Happy 2018 everyone!