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.

 

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.

Scilly Isles – Tresco

Here’s the second bloggy instalment from our recent trip to the Scilly Isles – this time covering Tresco. Tresco is the second largest of the islands and was just a short boat ride away from where we were staying on St Mary’s. As with all the Scilly Isles, you can’t really move for beautiful beaches and stunning views.

I particularly liked some of the rock formations which looked like they’d come out of a Flintstone movie!

Tresco is perhaps the most touristy of the “off islands”, but within minutes of getting off the boat we were all by ourselves on a butterfly filled lane crossing the island. I’d visited the Scillies as a child with my parents and one of the things I remember most vividly was the abundance of butterflies (of course there were generally many more butterflies around everywhere back then in the 1970s).  So it was a delight to walk down lanes and be surrounded by them again. Meadow Browns were by far the most common species.

We saw lots of Red Admirals all over the Scilly Isles – far more than we ever see in Malvern. This is probably because most of them are migrants that get blown or fly over to Scilly from mainland Europe.

The lanes had plenty of the other common species too like Speckled Woods, Large Whites and Holly Blues.

My favourites though on Tresco were the Small Coppers and Common Blues – both small jewel like butterflies. It was blue butterflies in particular that I remember from childhood, so seeing those here was lovely.

Tresco also supplied us with another new bird species – the stonechat (thanks to Neil for the identification). We saw lots of these little birds and heard even more.

Tresco has a very tropical feel to it, with lush vegetation pretty much everywhere. There were loads of these absolutely massive Echium plants – many of them at least twice as tall as me, although admittedly I am only about 5 foot 1!

Many of the stone walls were covered in large succulent plants, like something off an alien movie. They are Aeonium plants and there were several different varieties around the Scillies.

Tresco seemed to have far more of these bright yellowy orange flowers  (Gazania – thanks Neil!) than the other islands.

Blue (and white) agapanthus were common everywhere; whether in gardens and verges like this,

or seemingly naturalised on open ground.

The areas further from habitation tended to have more natural, as in more British looking flora. Lots of the island was covered in gorgeous purple heather which was teeming with insects.

Bees were abundant everywhere – Tresco and indeed all the Scilly Isles must be bee paradise with all those flowers. Most of the ones I saw looked fairly familiar, but Tresco had a lot of these ones which seemed a bit different. The good people of the Facebook bee group suggested they might be Cliff Mining Bees (Andrena thoracica), although apparently we can’t be sure about this one as it had collected so much pollen it has obscured the vital bits for identification!

Tresco is famous for its tropical Abbey Gardens. Unfortunately we spent so much time dawdling around the island looking at butterflies (and admittedly eating a very good lunch at the Ruin Beach Café) that by the time we got to the Gardens there wasn’t really time to go in. So the entrance below is as close as we got.

Although it would no doubt have been nice to look round the gardens, there was so much tropical plant life all over Tresco that I don’t feel we missed out too much. And it’s always nice to leave something new for the next visit!

 

 

Scilly Isles – St Mary’s

After the rush of 30 Days Wild in June, I thought July would be a quiet month and I’d be able to blog at a leisurely pace. Somehow that doesn’t seem to have happened and we are now two thirds through the month! The good news is that we managed to squeeze in a fantastic holiday in the beautiful Scilly Isles. We took so many photos (over 2000!) that I’ll split them (not all of them obviously!) into blog posts for the different islands we visited.

So first up are some of the many things we saw on the main island – St Mary’s. We were staying on St Mary’s, so spent our first full day getting to know it (via some crazy golf buggy driving thanks to my brother-in-law), before taking boat trips to the other islands later in the week.

The Scilly Isles are off the southern tip of Cornwall and have a much more tropical climate than we get back home in Malvern. This was immediately apparent from the lush vegetation – palm trees, giant Echiums and Agapanthus everywhere.

The rocky walls were generally covered in all manner of stunning flowers and the hedgerows were overflowing.

No idea what these massive yellow and orange flowers were, but they were like pina coladas hanging everywhere. (now known to be Angel’s Trumpets or Brugmansia sanguinea, thanks to Neil Anderson and Jo at Me and My Hats)

As we trundled around St Mary’s at the breakneck speed of 12mph on the buggy, the views were pretty much stunning from all angles. Beautiful beaches and some amazing rock formations.

I tried one of my usual shaky videos to give some idea of the panorama of islands all around us:

View from St Mary's

Normally Chris and I focus on the natural history, but the Scilly Isles have been inhabited since Neolithic times, so it would have been rude not to pay a visit to at least one site.  This is Halangy Down; a village inhabited from the Iron Age through to the early Medieval period when it was abandoned as the area got buried in sand.

And this is me inside Bant’s Carn – a 4000 year old burial chamber, just up the hill from the ancient village.

Fascinating as the ancient history is, Chris and I always end up looking for the wildlife. The islands are of course full of birds, who have not only adapted to island life but to tourist life as well. The sparrows in particular had learnt that tourists were easy picking and wherever we went to eat they were there – greedy opportunists, making the most of us greedy visitors. So here I am doing my sparrow whispering bit – sacrificing a bit of my lunch to my new friends. If only I could get the robin on our allotment to do the same, I’d be very happy.

Of course we saw lots of other birds besides the sparrows. First new species for us was this Rock Pipit seen down on the shore near the Old Town area – please someone tell me if this is actually just another sparrow!

We saw lots of our perennial favourites – oystercatchers. I’m not sure I’d ever noticed before how disproportionately long their beaks are – although they are clearly well evolved to successfully fill the biological niche that would require such a beak!

We got this one fleeting glimpse of a gannet, although they do occur all round the islands.

I always struggle to tell cormorants from shags, but apparently the latter are much more common on the Scillies. Having said that I think this one seen bobbing about in the water just out of decent camera range was a cormorant.

Gulls were of course present pretty much everywhere. This I think is a Great Black-Backed Gull – the largest gull in the world. The Scilly Isles have over 10% of the UK’s breeding population of this gull. Apparently they can swallow puffins whole, but this one was making do with pecking at a crab shell it had probably nicked from a local restaurant.

Birds may be great, but we can’t go anywhere without looking for insects. Possibly the most interesting ones we saw on St Mary’s were these Ichneumon wasps (Heteropelma amictum – thanks to Bob on Twitter for the ID) – which were fairly common lumbering around the bracken with their yellow back legs dangling behind them.

I had been tempted to take the moth trap to the Scillies, but common sense prevailed and I was reduced to looking for day flying ones. Fortunately six spot burnett moths were sufficiently common around the islands to satisfy the mothy nerd in me.

As St Mary’s is the main island and therefore the most populous, we hadn’t really expected to see too much wildlife. We thought St Mary’s would be our foodie base and we’d use the outer islands for serious wildlife watching. But without really looking we stumbled upon loads of plants and animals that caught our interest – most of which was accessible from a golf buggy. Who knows what we might have seen if we’d got out and explored on foot!

More soon, when I’ve ploughed through the next 500 or so photos from our trip to the Scilly Isles! xx

30 Days Wild – Day 20 – Chasing Admirals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The skippers even photobombed my attempt at a Meadow Brown.

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

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

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

Dragonfly at Monkwood

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

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

30 Days Wild – Day 19 – Upton Warren Wetlands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avocet feeding

 

Avocet chick feeding

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

30 Days Wild – Day 12 – Lower Smite Farm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whitethroat calling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

30 Days Wild – Day 11 – Demoiselles and Damsels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Demoiselle & damsel

 

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

Demoiselle

 

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

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

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

 

30 Days Wild – Day 2 – Teeming Down by the Teme

It’s Day 2 of 30 Days Wild and slightly bizarrely I found myself sitting under a bandstand! As I drove home from work today, I was debating what to do for my wild fix. It had been a grey day up on the hill and Titterstone summit had been shrouded in mist for most of it. As I reached Tenbury and drove across the bridge, the sun came out and everything seemed to sparkle, so I decided to go for a walk by the river.

Tenbury is famous for its mistletoe fairs at Christmas time. I wasn’t expecting to see any in June, so was surprised to find a large heart shaped display of it on a wall. At first I thought it was dried seaweed (too many years as a marine biologist have clearly left their mark), which would have been a bit incongruous this far inland. The mistletoe had obviously been there a long time – perhaps some left over display from Valentine’s Day. Mistletoe is after all the kissing plant.

Tenbury sits on the south bank of the River Teme. On the north side you are in Shropshire, but as you cross the river you enter Worcestershire – there’s even a sign on the bridge so you can stand astride the two counties, should you so wish! There’s a big new supermarket by the river, so I parked up and went for a stroll.

 

The river is only small and wends its way lazily through the town.

It is flanked either side by lots of trees and the whole area was full of birds and insects. I don’t tend to think of sparrows as being riverside birds, but they were there in abundance. I watched them perch on branches over the water then dart up in the air, catch an insect and return back to the bushes. A wagtail was doing the same, but slightly more elegantly and on the grass park area next to the water.

The big trees lining the water must make for a splendid habitat for lots of species. I found a large Tree Bumblebee sitting appropriately on one of them.

On another tree someone had put up bat and bird boxes.

There was a lot of cheeping noises in the trees and I found a family of blue tits, with a young one still being fed by the adults. Although I could see them, they were unfortunately hidden by too much foliage to get a decent photo.

The pathway I was on opened up into a large park area, with lots of beautiful mature trees.

Baby chestnuts were forming on one of them. I don’t think I’ve ever really looked at a chestnut tree at this time of year; I’m used to seeing the chestnuts fully formed in the autumn, not as babies like these. Funny to see what felt like signs of autumn, when summer was barely beginning!

 

By this time, the sunshine that had tempted me to stop in Tenbury had given way to rain. I quite like walking in the rain by a river and the ducks of course weren’t bothered.

Although the rain wasn’t bothering me, I didn’t really want to get the camera all wet, so sat for a while under a bandstand on the green.

The only other people about were a few dog walkers braving the rain and it was lovely and tranquil sitting there with the sound of the river and the rain. I don’t normally give much thought to nationality; but it occurred to me that you couldn’t get much more English than sitting out in a bandstand in the summer rain watching people walk their dogs across a village green!

I’m not sure if this would count as “wild”, but it was the most peaceful few minutes I’ve spent in a while.