A Pootle Round Poolbrook

This weekend we had a couple of lovely walks around nearby Poolbrook Common in search of butterflies. I say walks, they were really more of a pootle – a gentle meander through the grass. Poolbrook Common is so close to us there was none of the usual “pressure” to see things, as we could always go back the next day, or even later the same day. The butterflies were also so abundant that getting photos was a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. So we pootled happily for an hour or so just enjoying being surrounded by so many butterflies.

The butterflies in question were mainly Marbled Whites, although there were also Meadow Browns, Ringlets, Small Skippers and one Gatekeeper. Poolbrook Common seems to be well managed in that the grass & meadow flowers have been left to grow, then cut later in the year and the butterflies have benefited. We met a walker who told us one of the reasons the Common is managed this way is due to the presence of Skylarks. And sure enough we saw several of these rising high above the grass or flying past with beaks full of large insects.

We didn’t really care whether the Common was managed for butterflies or birds, the end result was lovely. We’d seen on the Malvern Butterfly Facebook Group that the Common was well worth a visit right now and they weren’t wrong! There must have been literally hundreds of Marbled Whites – neither of us have ever seen so many. We both tried getting photos to convey the abundance, but none of them really did it justice.

So I did make this little video, just panning around to try and show how many there were in just a small area. Not sure it was really any more successful than the photo – I think you just have to go and see them for yourself.

Marbled Whites are beautifully photogenic butterflies (not that there are really any butterflies that aren’t photogenic), both from above and from below.

Males and females look similar on the upperside of the wings, but can be differentiated by the undersides. The males have completely black and white patterning.

Whereas the females have a more sepia tone going on.

Mr and Mrs Marbled White.

We saw a few bits of flirtatious butterfly behaviour, but only found one properly mating pair.

None of the ringlets would pose for photos, but fortunately the sole Gatekeeper sat still long enough for one.

The Meadow Browns were quite flighty on Saturday, but on Sunday we’d got up really early and were down on the Common before the butterflies had really woken up. The Meadow Browns were still roosting in the grass and much easier to photograph.

There were plenty of Small Skippers about too; I always think they look cheery little butterflies, I don’t know if it’s their colour or their buzzing flight.

And of course I can never resist a moth, particularly one as dashing as this Five Spot Burnet (possibly Narrow-bordered Five Spot Burnet?) moth.

One final photo, just because we don’t often get the chance to be so face to face with a butterfly!



Blowing in the Wind

At the weekend, we finally got to go and see the Snake’s Head Fritillaries at Lugg Meadows near Hereford. I’ve been wanting to see these for ages now, but something always seems to crop up to stop us (last year the meadows were flooded for a start). So this year we booked on a guided walk with Herefordshire Wildlife Trust to go in search of these nationally scarce plants. Lugg Meadows are part of a very old system called Lammas Meadows, where the meadows are left through the summer to grow hay, which is then cut in late July (in time for Lammas Day 1st August), then animals allowed on to graze until the following year. In places like the Lugg Meadows, this practice has been going on for hundreds of years, possibly back to Roman times. So the history of these meadows predates Hereford Cathedral itself; they were even recorded in the Domesday Book.

Lammas Meadows were once much more common, but now very few remain in as good a condition as those by the river Lugg. The meadows were divided into strips of land, the hay from which would then be harvested by different people. These strips were marked by “dole stones” like the one below.

Our guide Peter was very entertaining and knowledgeable and despite the efforts of Storm Hannah trying to blow us over, took us straight to the relevant patch of the meadow to see the Snake’s Head Fritillaries. The meadows flood regularly, resulting in a rich soil and diverse flora. The fritillaries are nationally scarce, but are still doing well here. In most other similar sites, the Snake’s Head Fritillaries tend to be predominately purple, with just a few white ones. For some reason in the Lugg Meadows it is the other way around – the white flowers dominate with just a few purple ones.

With Storm Hannah blowing, it was perhaps not ideal conditions for taking photos of delicate flowers that were literally blowing in the wind, but we did our best.

The Latin name for the fritillaries Fritillaria meleagris apparently refers to the chequerboard pattern of spots on the normal purple variety.

I made a brief video clip to show how much the wind was making life difficult for steady photography.

Once we got our eye in, there were actually quite a few of the flowers nodding around in the wind. Apparently they had peaked a week or two before, but since the walk was pre-booked for today, we were happy to catch them at all.

While we oohed and ahhed over the flowers, we heard our first cuckoo of the year, which was a nice surprise. We couldn’t actually see the cuckoo, it was behind us somewhere in the trees. But we did see lots of these cuckoo flowers – one of the favourite food plants of the Orange-Tip butterfly – not that any butterflies were flying while the wind battered the meadows.

We returned to the car by crossing the meadows and walking alongside the river. We got the very briefest glimpse of a kingfisher as we walked. Such a brief glimpse, I’ve had to blow up the section of the photo just to prove there was really one there!

Herefordshire Wildlife Trust do a great job of managing these meadows. There is an area that has curlews nesting – access to this is restricted during the breeding season to try and help this struggling species. So all in all a very pleasant way of spending a Saturday afternoon.  Next year we can maybe go back under our own steam, now that we know the right area to look for the fritillaries and we can hopefully pick a weekend without a storm blowing!

Out and About – Prestbury Hill

It’s taken me over a week to write this latest post, partly because I’ve kept getting side-tracked by things in the garden and partly because we’ve had friends staying – so I had to spend time tidying the house (although I doubt they could tell that) and drinking Prosecco! But over a week ago now, Chris and I headed down to Prestbury Hill, near Cheltenham in search of the Chalkhill Blue and Dark Green Fritillary butterflies. Prestbury Hill is, as its name suggests, high up, with stunning views over Cheltenham racecourse.

View 1

The reserve is run by Butterfly Conservation and consists of 2 areas of limestone grassland. The sloping grasslands are full of wildflowers and insects and would be a lovely place to walk even if you weren’t into butterflies. I particularly liked these Cotton Thistles, with their huge spiralling flower heads.


Thistle 2

Although we went looking for butterflies, the first insect of interest we spotted was this beautiful Brassy Longhorn moth – I’ve no idea how they manage to fly with such long antennae?

Brassy Longhorn moth

Although on these walks we tend to be looking down, or at least across for butterflies, Chris did look up long enough to spot this Red Kite soaring above us. Not a great photo as it was difficult to do against the bright sky. There were buzzards too, but as we see those fairly regularly at home, the kite got all the attention.


Kite 2

We followed the paths for quite a while, spotting lots of Marbled Whites and Large Skippers, while we searched for the blues and fritillaries.

Marbled White

Large Skipper

Eventually though we found the first prize of the day – a Dark Green Fritillary. It then took about 20 minutes of chasing about to get a photo to confirm that it was indeed our target photo. And then longer still to get another photo of it with its wings open, but it was well worth the hunt as it is a gorgeous butterfly.

Dark Green fritillary

Dark Green fritillary open 2

The reserve is divided into 2 sections, so having “bagged” our fritillary we headed over to the other half to look for the Chalkhill Blues. Turns out though our researcher (i.e. me) had got a bit ahead of herself as we were apparently a couple of weeks too early for these. Fortunately we met some butterfly enthusiasts who put us right before we spent hours pointlessly searching for them.

We did see some more fritillaries though, which we initially assumed were more of the Dark Green ones. It was only when we got back and downloaded the photos, that we realised these ones were actually Silver Washed Fritillaries. They look very similar when they’re flying around.

Silverwashed fritillary 2

Silverwashed fritillary

One final treat was finding several Small Heath butterflies. This had been a new species for us a few weeks ago and now they’re popping up everywhere!

Small Heath

So another great day out and another butterfly species ticked off the list. We will hopefully make it back to Prestbury sometime soon to see the Chalkhill Blues – so watch this space!

30 Days Wild – Day 25

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_25


Day 25 of 30 Days Wild and I was up at the crack of dawn to empty the moth trap (thrilled by the way to get my first ever Shark moth, but I’ll do a moth blog another day). Since I was up and about on a Saturday morning long before the other half surfaced, I decided to spend an hour or so watching our wildflower “meadow” to see what if anything was using it. I did blog about our mini meadow a week or so ago, but I focused then mainly on the flowers, so this time I thought I’d look at the insect life. After all the whole point of it was to attract the insects.

So I watched for about an hour until the skies opened and it started chucking it down – I am a fair weather naturalist, so I retreated indoors at that point. I did pop out again later when the sun came out again and snapped a few more just to finish off.

So not too surprisingly the bees were the most abundant visitors and several species as well which was great. The Phacelia flowers were probably doing the most business, including both a Red and a Buff Tailed Bumblebee. I love the way the red one has co-ordinated his pollen sacs with his red bum!

Red tailed bumblebee

Bee on Phacelia

But the borage too was getting a fair few visitors. I think this is probably a Tree Bumblebee coming in to land.

Bee on Borage

I did at one point start to get “bee envy” when I noticed that this plant (no idea what it is?) in the neighbours garden was actually getting more bees than my patch. But then since it overhangs our fence, many of the bees were technically in our garden – so I’m counting them as ours!

Bee next door

The bee highlight of the day was spotting this one on the chamomile flowers. It looked a bit different to others I’d seen so I stuck the photo on Facebook and someone kindly identified it as Colletes sp. for me – another new genus for the garden, taking our total to 23 this year. Colletes are known as the Plasterer bees, because of the way they line their nests with a secretion a bit like plaster!

Colletes sp.

The next group of visitors was the hoverflies. I saw at least 3 species on the mini meadow (although there were plenty of others around the rest of the garden). Afraid I don’t know the species for these 3 yet, although the bottom one looks like it might be another bumblebee mimic.

Small Hoverfly

Small Hoverfly 2

Large Hoverfly 2

The Swollen-thighed Beetles of course couldn’t miss a photo opportunity and were flaunting their generous curves at every opportunity.

Swollen thighed

There were various other small beetles usually nestled right in the middle of the flowers and impossible to get a decent photo of. But this one decided to land on my arm and after a bit of contorting I managed to get a photo of it. Must have thought my lily-white skin was some kind of giant flower – a disappointment no doubt!

Beetle on arm

Spotted these interesting flies on one of the thistle leaves. There was a pair of them – possibly a mating pair – and this one kept sort of stepping back then raising and lowering its wings at the other one. Perhaps some kind of mating ritual or signalling. There is a group of flies called Signal Flies, so perhaps that is what these were?

Signal fly

On the more gruesome side of things, the teasel leaves had formed mini pools at the point they joined the stem. These pools were full of dead and decaying insects – a bit like those tropical pitcher plants that drown animals then live off the nutrients! I don’t think the teasels were going that far, but other things were – there were clearly larvae of something (midges perhaps) in the water that were feeding off the dead insects. Sorry the photo doesn’t really capture that, with hindsight maybe I should have used some fancy polarising gizmo on the lens?

Mini pools

The final gruesome twist to my otherwise idyllic hour, was spotting this crab spider with his unfortunate victim – one of my beloved bees! The bee was still alive and I did consider rescuing it, but then I thought “What would Chris Packham do?” – almost certainly not save it! The crab spider has to eat too and it looked like he’d already got his fangs into the bee, so it was probably a goner anyway. Wasn’t expecting to witness “nature raw in tooth and claw” quite so vividly today!

Spider with bee

My hour by the flowers was very relaxing. The birds got accustomed to me sitting there and after a while came back to the bird feeders nearby, unbothered by my presence. A frog even started moving in the undergrowth near my feet. I guess I must be naturally very good at sitting still doing nothing for an hour!


Lavender 30 WEEDS

And finally the weed for the day of my 30 Lazy Garden Weeds. Lavender – not a weed in the conventional sense, but it does keep seeding itself all over the garden and I have even been forced on occasion to weed some of it out (shock horror!) The smell and the colour are of course lovely and the bees go nuts for it. It’s just coming into flower about now. I did try a few years ago making Lavender essence – not a great success, I ended up with a jar of dingy looking liquid that somehow smelled of lavender but not in a good way. I tried a few drops in a macaroon mix and they ended up tasting like soap! But apart from my culinary failures, it is a lovely plant that would be welcome in most gardens.

30 Days Wild – Day 21

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_21Can’t believe it’s Day 21 of 30 Days Wild already! Not only that, but we’re beyond the longest day of the year so winter is officially on its way! Fortunately it didn’t feel like winter today and I went for a really nice relaxing walk to Melrose Farm Meadows nature reserve. Well I say I went on a walk there, I think I may actually have got lost and been wandering round some random field instead – but it was still very nice.

SignMelrose Farm Meadows is a small reserve consisting an old orchard and 2 small meadows. I definitely found the entrance as I saw this sign, but I think I maybe took the wrong footpath as I ended up in a big field with few trees – certainly not an orchard. As you’re supposed to keep to the paths here, I didn’t want to risk straying into the wrong bit, but I do at least think I know where I took the wrong turn, so I’ll hopefully find the orchard next time. Doh!

MeadowAnyway, wherever I was, the sun was shining and there were plenty of butterflies, so it was a result in my book! The fields were full of wildflowers which I think included Knapweed, Ragged Robin (although this might have been just a ragged Knapweed), Self Heal, as well of course as the usual buttercups and cow parsley.


Ragged Robin

Self Heal

Wild RoseThe hedgerows were full of brambles and wild roses, both of which were attracting large numbers of bees and hoverflies. There was one particularly dense thicket of brambles, that was also covered in butterflies, jostling with the bees for position. I thought at first they were all Meadow Browns, but then I spotted a darker one which turned out to be my first Ringlet of the year. Shame about the thorn from the brambles obscuring part of the butterfly though!


The fields themselves were full of Meadow Browns. At one point with the sun shining, they were floating up and down over the grasses as far as I could see. It was an incredibly peaceful thing to watch and was sort of how I feel meadows should be – bathed in sunlight with butterflies flitting lazily around. It felt like a taste of bygone times.

Meadow Brown

Speckled Woods tended to stick to the hedgerows rather than the open fields and I saw several patrolling the brambles.

Speckled Wood

A couple of Large Skipper butterflies were darting around the field too – they have a much faster more erratic flight than the Meadow Browns and were harder to get a photo of.

Large Skipper

The highlight of the afternoon though was spotting my first Marbled White of the year. As is always the way, I had the wrong camera lens on when it first appeared, then there was grass in the way, then I got greedy and tried to get too close and of course it flew off. So these less than perfect photos were the best I could manage.

Marbled White 2

Marbled White

Marbled Whites have always been one of my favourites. When we first started butterfly watching they were the first species we actively went out looking for. I can still remember how excited we were when we spotted our first one at Knapp & Papermill reserve – at the time I thought we’d never get a decent photo of one. Looking at today’s efforts, it seems nothing much has changed there!

Clover 30 WEEDSAnd finally today’s weed in my 30 Lazy Garden Weeds – is the Clover. If you want a pristine garden lawn then I understand that clover is probably the enemy. But why would you want a pristine lawn when you can have one full of flowers and wildlife. The bees like the clover, so it’s fine by me. Clover is actually very good for the soil – it fixes nitrogen, so is good for green composting. Clovers famously have 3 leaves, unless of course you are lucky enough to find the elusive 4 leaved clover – a real prize when I was a child to find such a thing.

30 Days Wild – Day 18

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_18Day 18 of 30 Days Wild and we’re Malvern bound as the car is in for its MOT, so no grand excursions today! So I decided to spend a bit of time in the garden and review how my “wildflower meadow” was progressing. Meadow is probably a bit of an exaggeration as it is very small – more of a meadowlet on what used to be one of our veg patches.

Back in March this is what the old veg patch looked like. We were rubbish at growing veg as we didn’t water or weed regularly enough, so we figured we might as well turn the patch into something more wildlife friendly.

Meadow before

And this is what it looks like today. Shame it wasn’t a sunnier morning for photographs, but it’s amazing what a difference a few short months have made.


Meadow 2

The “meadow” is still maturing – some flowers are at their peak and fully open, while others are still a way off. I’m not great on flower ID, but even worse when the flowers aren’t actually out and I’ve only got leaves to go on. So I’m not sure of all the species we’ve got. But here are a few I can manage. The first is the Bladder Campion with its unusual “swollen” flowers. This is supposed to attract froghoppers, although I’ve not actually seen any on it. It’s fragrance is apparently stronger in the evening and attracts moths – I must check it one night.

Bladder Campion

I think the next is Phacelia, which as you can see is already attracting plenty of bees.


Bee on Phacelia

The Poached Egg Plant is a real cheery addition to the meadow. I bought this as I read on someone else’s blog (sorry I can’t remember who, but thank you whoever you were!) that it was particularly good for hoverflies. Not seen that many of them on it yet, but it’s only just come into flower and the weather’s not been great since then, but hopefully it will live up to its promise soon.

Poached egg plant

The corn chamomile has spread and formed a large patch which has been attracting hoverflies. Sod’s law being what it was though there weren’t any on it this morning – but if you sow it they will come!

Corn chamomile

The Borage is looking good and just starting to open its flowers and will hopefully be pulling in the bees soon.


The next two haven’t really opened up yet, but I think they are a Cornflower and some kind of Poppy.

Cornflower bud

Californian Poppy

The Nasturtium wasn’t really planted as part of the meadow, but I’ve left them there as they’re good for insects too. We had a go at companion planting with them a few years ago and as they tend to produce masses of seeds, they’ve been popping up everywhere since!


There are a few other things poking up through the meadow, but I’ll have to wait until they hopefully flower to work out what they are. I’m really pleased with the results so far though, so much better than a scruffy, ill-maintained veg plot!

Poppy 30 WEEDS

And finally weed No. 18 in my 30 Lazy Garden Weeds is this Poppy. They are so delicate and ephemeral – each flower lasting barely a day, but that makes them all the more special. They pop up everywhere from cracks in the drive to the flower beds and remaining veg plot. Collecting seeds from their rattly seed heads reminds me of childhood – not that there’s really any need to collect the seeds – they’re doing a pretty good job of seeding themselves!