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!

 

 

 

 

 

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!

Birding in Bewdley

Since the New Year I’ve been suffering (rather pathetically even by my own low standards) from the flu, but by last Sunday I’d finally had enough of my sick bed and was keen to get out and see some wildlife. While spluttering round the house, I’d kept seeing on Twitter that there were lots of Hawfinches in the UK this year and that in particular there was a group of them in Bewdley, which isn’t far from us. People were still tweeting sightings of the Bewdley birds there on the Saturday so we set off on Sunday with fingers crossed.

Bewdley is a lovely little town, right by the river Severn. We’ve passed through it a few times on the way to the Wyre Forest, but never stopped before. So this time we parked down by the river and set off to find Jubilee Gardens where all the Hawfinches were apparently hanging around waiting for their photos to be taken. Since there’s never any guarantee of spotting your target species, we always take photos of other things as we go and the Severn was full of birds as we walked along the towpath.

There were quite a few of these small pretty gulls, several of whom seemed content to perch on the bollards. A quick check on Google when we got home later confirmed they were Black Headed Gulls – in their winter plumage though, so no actual “black heads”.

Another bird that we more commonly associate with the sea is the Cormorant, but there was at least one happily paddling up and down the Severn in Bewdley. It was totally undeterred by the Canada Geese that not only outnumbered him, but were much larger too. The Cormorant faced down at least one goose to get the resting spot he wanted near the steps.

We found Jubilee Gardens tucked away behind the riverfront houses. It is really a small park completely surrounded by the town of Bewdley, but with some large mature trees and a small pond.  There were plenty of small birds flitting around, including a small flock of the lovely long-tailed tits.

A splendid Grey Wagtail was patrolling, with tail wagging, up and down near the pond. I always have to think twice about these, not to call them Yellow Wagtails, despite their obvious yellow colouring.

We knew we’d found the right spot though, when we turned a corner and were confronted with at least a dozen birders with cameras/binoculars/telescopes all pointed up at some of the tall trees. Clearly I’m not the only one who follows the reports on Twitter! There were also a few other, slightly bemused looking, non birders trying to enjoy a Sunday stroll through the gardens and wondering what all the fuss was about.

Anyway we followed the direction all the lenses were pointed in and sure enough there were a small group of Hawfinches, high up in the trees. They may have been distant glimpses, but we had found our first ever Hawfinches. Their powerful beaks were clearly visible even from a distance and they are have to my mind quite quirky, curious faces. We spent about an hour pottering round the gardens, hoping they’d come lower down. Not surprisingly, given the large number of people staring at them, they chose to remain high up in the trees. So these were the best shots we managed, but they are at least recognisably Hawfinches.

I don’t think we’d ever have spotted them on our own, but the combination of helpful Twitter feeds (thank you @WorcsBirding) and of course a large flock of Twitchers made it possible. We just need the equivalent combination for some Waxwings now!

30 Days Wild – Day 28 – Cruising down the Severn

It’s Day 28 of 30 Days Wild and I tried something totally different today. We have a friend staying, so decided to do one of those things I’ve been meaning to do for the 10 years we’ve been living here. My friend and I took a waterbus from Upton on Severn down to Tewkesbury (and back obviously). The trip is just over an hour each way, with a couple of hours to explore Tewkesbury in the middle.

As usual with any of our trips I set out with certain expectations, some but not all of which came to fruition, but then we saw other things that were total surprises. My friend and I sat at the back of the boat so we could look out for the wildlife. This was when I realised that being too lazy to check your camera bag was not a good thing. I must have still been in insect mode this morning when I packed, so took a macro lens instead of something for far away birds. So apologies for the following set of blurry photos – I could blame the camera, but really it is the numpty who forgot to change the lens.

We’d joked that it would be great to see a kingfisher, but didn’t really expect one. So when my friend said she’d spotted one I thought she was joking! But it was real! So here’s a blurry wrong lens photo from a great distance (since I was so slow to react thinking she was having a laugh).

I could have gone home happy after that, but of course we were on a boat! Fortunately the wildlife kept on coming. Next up was a couple of herons.

Also great to see another member of the heron family – a Little Egret.

The river banks were lined with lots of willows drooping into the water decorously. Really nice to see lots of Yellow Water Lilies in flower along the edges where it was relatively slow flowing.

We also saw some Common Reed Mace when we got to the dock at Tewkesbury. Not sure I’d ever seen them close up like this.

We saw several birds of prey, a kestrel, sparrowhawk and a buzzard; the only one of which I managed to get even a rubbish photo of was the buzzard.

Shock bird of the day was a cuckoo! I’ve heard them before but never seen one, today we saw but didn’t hear it! If only I’d had the right lens on.

The day was completed with lunch in a really old pub in Tewkesbury – nice pie and a ploughmans.

It was a really relaxing way to spend the day, pootling down the River Severn (and up a bit of the River Avon), bit of bird watching and a pub lunch. Shame that most of today’s photos are blurry due to the lens issue, but it didn’t spoil the enjoyment at the time. We weren’t the only ones to enjoy it – my friend’s dog seems to have found her river legs. She was the star of the boat, everyone loved her and why wouldn’t they?

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out and About – Symonds Yat

We had what seemed like a brilliant idea yesterday to head down to Symonds Yat to see the trees there in all their autumn splendour. As usual of course we didn’t really see what we’d aimed to see, but as is so often the case with our wildlife days out, what we did see more than made up for it. For a start the glorious autumn sunshine we’d hoped for had been replaced with a dull grey mist. Secondly the trees down at Symonds Yat must be a bit behind the ones in Malvern, as they’d not really changed colour yet. So what we could see through the mist wasn’t really the autumn spectacle we’d hoped for. Still we headed to Symonds Yat Rock which sits high up overlooking the horseshoe bend in the River Wye.  The trees below may not all have been golden brown but the view was still stunning.

river-bend

river

We could see the cliffs where Peregrine Falcons nest and thanks to some very kind people who let us use their telescopic sights, we even saw one of the birds in a hole in the rocks. It was way too far away for us to get a photo – but at least we can say we saw a falcon!

symonds-cliffs

The same helpful couple informed us that the strange noises we could hear were rutting Fallow Deer in the woods below (I’d thought the sound was Wild Boar and was arguing with Chris about it, so  good job we met people who knew what they were talking about!) We didn’t see the deer but were reliably informed by our new-found friends that they do sometimes appear and go down to the river.

We may not have managed to see the deer or get photos of the falcons, but fortunately there was plenty of smaller animals that were much more obliging. Volunteers (possibly our two helpers from above) regularly put out bird food at the viewing point on the rock. This was attracting plenty of smaller birds who were clearly used to the flocks of visitors clicking away with their cameras (actually mainly phones of course, apart from us old fogies with actual cameras!) The highlight was a gorgeous Nuthatch – the closest either of us had ever been to one.

nut-hatch

nut-hatch-2

Various members of the Tit family were also making the most of the bird food. Coal Tits, Blue Tits & Great Tits were all completely unfazed by the visitors. Apparently Marsh Tits frequented the area too, but unfortunately not while we were there.

coal-tit

blue-tit

blue-tit-3

great-tit

A Chaffinch completed the array of small birds we saw up on the rock.

chaffinch

One final surprise though was a visitor on the ground beneath all the bird seed. The Bank Vole had clearly learnt that there were easy pickings to be had here and was also relatively unbothered by all the people.

bank-vole

We could have spent a lot longer up at the rock, but we’d booked lunch in one of the pubs down by the river in Symonds Yat East, so headed back down. Symonds Yat East is on the Gloucestershire side of the river, while Symonds Yat West is in Herefordshire. You can get a tiny hand-pulled passenger ferry between the two – the lad pulling the ferry across must have biceps of steel, as he never stopped going back and forth all the time we were there!

As we stood watching the river and the canoeists braving the rapids, we spotted the unmistakable flash of a kingfisher. Of course we’d left the camera back in the car while we had lunch, so Chris legged it back to fetch it while I kept my eye on the kingfisher. I saw it dive into the water a couple of times and watched it fly back and forth across the river. Needless to say by the time Chris got back with the camera it had flown upstream and out of sight. We waited a while for it to reappear, but no joy. A lovely flock of Long Tailed Tits flew in though to complete our small bird collection for the day.

long-tail-tit

So the day may not have provided an autumn spectacle, but we saw a kingfisher, heard some deer, just about saw a falcon, met some nice people, watched a vole and got lots of birdie photos – I’d call that a result!

30 Days Wild – Day 30

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_30So it’s Day 30 and the final day of the 30 Days Wild Challenge. It’s been a fantastic month, with a wide variety of activities. I’ll probably do a bit of a review of it all in a couple of days, but for the time being, here is the final blog post of the challenge. Day 30 started for us with a kebab in the early hours of the morning – pretty wild for us to be out that late these days and we saw all sorts of “wildlife” staggering the street, but I won’t go into that here!

After the slight excesses of last night we’ve been having a quiet time for the final day of 30 Days Wild. We went out to the Bridge of Feugh on Deeside near Banchory in Aberdeenshire. This is a beautiful place where, at the right time of the year, you can see the salmon leaping as they head upstream for their spawning. Of course we were there at the wrong time of the year, so no salmon jumping, but it was beautiful nonetheless.

View

View 2

Chris had a go at taking arty style photos where you use a long exposure to blur the water. The result was pretty good for a first attempt.

View 5

The whole of Deeside is a stunning area, it was just a shame we didn’t have longer to explore today.

View 3

View 4

The Feugh is only a small river but the power of the water rushing over the rocks was incredible. The sound felt like it was all around us as we stood on the bridge watching the water – very hypnotic. The brief clip hopefully gives some idea of the sound of the rapids.

 

So that’s our last wild activity for 30 Days Wild. We may not have been very wild ourselves today, but it felt like we were out in the Scottish wild by the river. It seemed a fitting end to the month. It may be officially the end of 30 Days Wild, but we’ll definitely be trying to include as much “wildness” as we can from now on – which I guess was the whole idea – result!

This is a bit of an addendum to my original Day 30 of 30 Days Wild post, as after I’d written the original piece, we drove over to Chris’s brother’s and spotted some quintessential Scottish Wildlife. The Red Deer were actually farmed animals, but they were so beautiful and the stags so impressive, we couldn’t resist taking photos.

Red Deer family

Red Deer family 3

Red deer family 2

We then saw a pair of pheasants – the male of course resplendent next to his slightly dowdier female.

Pheasants

But the most amazing sight was this genuinely wild female Roe Deer (actually seen early morning the next day), grazing in the field next door. She stayed there for 5 minutes or so until she spotted Chris and his camera and bolted for the woods. A truly beautiful creature and wonderful for her to be the last thing we saw on our Scottish holiday and also the final thing for 30 Days Wild – absolutely the perfect ending!

Roe Deer

Roe Deer 2

 

Willowherb 30 WEEDS

The final weed for 30 Lazy Garden Weeds is this Willow Herb – I think it’s the Broad Leaved one. I’ve gone through the 30 weeds in no particular order, so it’s not like I’ve saved the Willow Herb to last deliberately. This one is more delicate than some of its showier cousins like the Rose Bay Willow Herb, but I prefer its subtlety. All the 30 weed species I’ve featured here have a place in our garden. They all provide something –  ground cover, shelter and hiding places, nesting material, colour and beauty, seeds for birds, food for insects –  even food for us in the case of the brambles. The more diverse the weed flora, the more diverse the rest of the wildlife. Seems like a Win-Win to me!

30 Days Wild – Day 15

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_15Day 15 of 30 Days Wild and we’re half way through already! Today was a first for me – a Moth Breakfast! Fortunately the only thing that was actually consumed was a very nice Pain au Chocolat, but the moth demonstration was also excellent. Herefordshire Wildlife Trust had organised the moth breakfast and had put moth traps out the night before to give us a taste of what can be found on a typical night. By typical night it turns out that meant a bit of a wet one, but there were still plenty of moths to look at. I think about 12 of us turned up and were privileged to get the benefit of two moth aficionados for a couple of hours.

The breakfast was held at Herefordshire Wildlife Trust’s Headquarters on the edge of Hereford next to Lugg Meadows. A gorgeous old building (second oldest in Hereford apparently) in a beautiful setting.

WT House

TrapThe contents of various moth traps were examined avoiding the rain under a bright orange gazebo – hence the slight orange hue to some of my photos! Our two experts talked us through the moths and were really helpful answering all our questions. I’d really recommend going to one of these events if you want to get a taster of what moth trapping is all about. The photo below shows the abundance of moths found just on the tea towel that was used to cover the trap – let alone those that were actually inside it. Just about visible are Elephant Hawkmoth, Peppered Moth, Heart and Dart and Small Magpies.

Moth Selection

Other highlights were this gorgeous shiny Burnished Brass (my photo doesn’t do his glossy sheen justice – I blame the orange reflection from the awning!!)

Burnished Brass

Also this stunning Leopard Moth (top), Buff Tip and Blood Vein (bottom).

Leopard Moth

Buff Tip

Blood Vein

The undoubted headliners though had to be the Hawkmoths – in particular for me the Poplar Hawkmoths, as I haven’t managed to trap any of those in the garden yet this year.

Poplar Moth

There were several other species in the traps that I’ve never seen at all and I could feel moth envy taking over. Ghost Moths, Dog’s Tooth, Oak Hook Tip – I can but dream of catching these in the garden!

Once we’d finished oohing and ahhing over the moths, I decided to go for a walk. The Trust sits at the edge of Lugg Meadows – ancient meadows that date back to the time of Domesday. It would have seemed rude not to have a walk around while I was there. They are rich in plantlife – I love the way the plantlife is so rich it is partly obscuring the  Plantlife information board!

Lugg meadow sign

Lugg Meadows are famous for their Snake’s Head Fritillaries. Of course I was too late in the year to see those, but there was plenty else to admire. As with yesterday’s walk along the River Severn at Upton, today I was tormented by House Martin’s swooping past me hunting for insects. Once again they were so close and yet so far in terms of getting a decent photograph – believe it or not the dark blob in the middle of the photo below is the closest I got to capturing a pic of one!

Meadow

The River Lugg itself is for me a reminder of childhood. I grew up in Bodenham close to the Lugg and remember sunny days spent mucking about in the water down by the church. I’ve had a soft spot for the Lugg ever since – the River Severn is all very magnificent and grand, but the lazy Lugg suits me better.

Lugg

The trees along this section of the river show a clear flood line marking where the muddy water must have reached during the last floods. It is several feet above the current river level, showing how much this normally placid water must swell during flood conditions.

Trees with flood mark

The river banks were aflutter with Banded Demoiselles, so of course I couldn’t resist taking yet more photos – they are just so photogenic, I wish my skills did them justice.

Banded Demoiselle

While walking back I spotted a few snails that I’d never seen before. I think they are Amber Snails – assuming they are, these snails are common in damp meadows – which these certainly were today.

Snail

And finally as I got back to the Trust HQ I spotted these pretty little fungi growing in a pile of wood cuttings. They were pale and ethereal, glistening in the rain. No idea what species they were, but they looked like they were out of some kind of imaginary fairy kingdom.

Fungi

Thank you to the Herefordshire Wildlife Trust for a really great morning. It’s got me all fired up for more moth hunting and for a trip back to Lugg Meadows next year to see the Snake’s Head Fritillaries.

 

Petty Spurge 30 WEEDS

And to finish off as always the latest weed from my garden for 30 Lazy Garden Weeds – this time the Petty Spurge. These little green flowers pop up all over the garden, but particularly for some reason on our drive (I call it a drive, but you can barely squeeze a car onto it!) I presume the Petty bit is so called because it is small rather than petty minded. I like the unusual formation of the flowers – a sort of deconstructed flower arrangement!