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.

Profusion of Pollinators

It has been a mixed week for us, but one thing that is definitely doing well is the population of pollinators in our garden. I’ve been meaning to do an update on our “Plant a Pot for Pollinators” pot for a while now. I started this post yesterday morning, but it’s taken until this afternoon to finish, as I keep spotting things buzzing round the garden and dash out to take more photos!

When I planted the pot for pollinators back in June, the plants were all small and everything was neat and tidy (the only things in our whole garden that could be described thus). Now, just a month or so later, everything has gone a little bit wild and crazy and to  be honest is fitting in with the rest of the garden much better for it. The flowers are all overflowing the pot, but the main thing is that it is buzzing with life – result! Being organic and unkempt our garden is generally not short of a pollinator or two, but it’s nice having a pot specifically planted with colourful flowers for them. The hoverflies in particular seem to be making good use of the pot. I am very much a beginner when it comes to hoverfly identification and there are an awful lot of species. Fortunately with a helpful guide book and the even more helpful people on the hoverfly Facebook group, I’ve managed to establish that we’ve had at least 6 species visiting the pot over the last week. No doubt there have been more and hopefully I can add to that tally eventually.  But here, in no particular order, are the 6 hoverflies.

First up Britain’s most common hoverfly – Episyrphus balteatus aka the Marmalade Fly. The stripes on its abdomen are supposed to look like the orange shreds in marmalade!

Next up is one of the Syrphus species – difficult to get to species level without a microscope, so I’ll have to stick with the genus.

Another common one next – Eristalis tenax, one of the bumblebee mimics. Their larvae live in water and are commonly known as rat-tailed maggots. 

A much smaller more subtle one next Syritta pipiens – identifiable by the swollen segment on its hind legs.

The next one is colourful but delicate one – Sphaerophoria scripta.

And finally my favourite of this set of 6 – Chrysotoxum festivum. I love the markings on this one – they are known as wasp mimics for obvious reasons.

Of course lots of other things besides hoverflies have been using the pot. I couldn’t resist a photo of this cute little juvenile shieldbug sitting pretty in the middle of the flower.

Not everything is all sweetness and light though – this crab spider may have been tiny but it was definitely lying in wait for any unsuspecting pollinator to come close enough for lunch.

The star prize for visiting my pollinator pot goes to this Common Blue butterfly. We’ve never knowingly had them in the garden before, so I was thrilled that the pot had attracted one. It didn’t hang around –  hence the hastily grabbed photo, but just seeing this one insect alone makes it all worthwhile for me!

While on the subject of butterflies – it is Big Butterfly Count time of year. I’ve been doing counts both in the garden and down at the allotment, plus one at my Dad’s house. There’s still time to do a count if you haven’t already done so. Besides the one-off sighting of the Common Blue, we have also been getting Meadow Browns (in the meadow that’s supposed to be a lawn!) and Gatekeepers, plus the usual Whites, Holly Blues and the occasional Comma or Red Admiral.

Last time I checked the Big Butterfly Count website they’d received over 40,000 counts. Here’s a snapshot of their map for the Malvern area – good to see I’m not the only one who’s been counting around here.

Enthused by the pollinator pot, I went hunting round the garden for other insect attracting plants. We’ve got a fair sized patch of Knapweed which seems to have seeded itself in one corner. The bees were loving it. There were quite a few leaf-cutter bees which was great to see, but almost impossible to photograph. So I gave up and concentrated on bigger bees that were more slower and more obliging.

Aside from the usual bees, butterflies and hoverflies, I found this unusual looking insect. I had no idea even what group it belonged to, but turns out it was a Thick-headed Fly (Sicus ferrugineus). Unfortunately for our bees it parasitizes them, so not such a welcome visitor to the garden.

While stumbling around the garden chasing bees and flies, I came very close to treading on a frog. Fortunately his reflexes were quicker than mine and he hopped out of the way into our feral strawberry plot, but not before I managed to grab a photo.

At the beginning of this post, I said it had been a mixed week for us. The good news was that Too Lazy To Weed has been shortlisted for the 30 Days Wild Blogger Awards 2017. I’ve read quite a lot of the other blogs and there are some great ones out there, so I’m really chuffed that Too Lazy was shortlisted. It’s nice to think that this means there are other people who are interested in the same things that we are. Good luck to all the other nominees – just participating in 30 Days Wild was a win-win thing, so none of us can really lose.

The very sad news for us this week though was that we had to say goodbye to our beautiful old boy Bertie. He was the factory cat at Chris’s work for many years, but came to live with us (his retirement home) two years ago. A great big cat with an even bigger personality and we miss him terribly. xxx

 

Scilly Isles – Annet and St Agnes

So this is the final blog post from our trip to the Scilly Isles – this time visiting both Annet and St Agnes. In terms of wildlife, this is maybe saving the best until last – that is if you like puffins! If you’re not into puffins, maybe better to stop reading now. There are a lot of photos in this post, but it could have been worse. We took over 600 that day alone, but I’ve managed to whittle them down to 24!

This was a two island trip – we spent an hour or so boating around Annet before being dropped off on St Agnes to be picked up again a few hours later. The whole island of Annet is a bird sanctuary and an important breeding ground for seabirds. Because of this we were not allowed to land on Annet, so we could only view the birds from the boat. This wasn’t a problem, as in many ways, watching the birds from the boat was the best way to see them.

As befits a bird reserve, there were birds everywhere. One of the prettiest species we saw was the Common Tern. When you see them flying it’s fairly obvious why they are also sometimes known as the Sea Swallow.

We’d had drama on a previous boat trip when a gull killed a cormorant. This time we saw a gull meet its match with a crow. I don’t know if the gull was trying to catch the crow or the crow was mobbing the gull, but in the end they both gave up and flew off.

Of course the birds we all really wanted to see were the puffins. We’d feared we might be too late in the season, as they move away from the coast after breeding and head out to sea. But we were in luck and we saw puffins – loads of them! Chris and I got a bit carried away taking photographs, but who could resist with puffins all around.

At first we saw them near their burrows on the low cliffs of Annet.

Seeing them by their burrows was great, but then they started flying and it just got better and better.  They flew all around the boat, up to a dozen at any one time. When trying to take a photo you realise just how small and how fast they really are – it’s not easy focussing from a bobbing boat, but take enough photos and at least some turn out OK!

At first we only managed fairly distant shots, but then Chris must have got his eye in and started getting better close up ones.

Like a lot of iconic wildlife, when you see them close up they can seem almost too good to be true – but they are absolutely beautiful birds and it was a dream come true to see them like this.

After flying around for a bit they started to land on the water. So again after many, many fuzzy attempts, here are a few of the best ones of them bobbing about.

Puffins rely extensively on sandeels for much of their diet and one of the classic images of them is with a mouthful of fish. At first I thought we’d not got a photo of this, but after a second trawl through our pics, I found I’d got one – and it was actually one of my photos for a change – hence the slightly blurry effect! Still I was very happy to get a picture of a puffin with his lunch.

After watching them fly and swim around for a bit, our guide spotted some on a rocky outcrop and we managed to get close enough (without disturbing them) to get some more photos.

I did try and cut back on these photos (honest), but in the end they were just too adorable to watch – so here’s a few more.

We could happily have spent the whole day watching the puffins, but our boat eventually took us on to St Agnes. Not that this was a bad thing either, because St Agnes was lovely too. The Turks Head pub was just as I remembered it from childhood (I started young!) and we had an excellent lunch there sitting out by the sea. The pub is in the perfect location, just a few yards from the quay.

As with all the islands, there are beautiful views in all directions.

After an excellent pub lunch, we took a stroll across the sandbar to Gugh island, which is only accessible on foot at low tide. I’ve always fancied staying on an island like that, where you are completely cut off when the tide comes in. There weren’t many houses on Gugh, but plenty of wildlife. This male stonechat was a nice addition to the day’s photos.

We headed back to St Agnes (thankfully we’d judged the tide OK and not got cut off) and continued round the island. We found a lovely café (Coastguard Café) with yet more amazing views and equally good cream teas. We had one very delightful teatime companion – a particularly inquisitive (i.e. greedy) thrush. I think it was a Song Thrush. We saw loads of thrushes on the Scilly Isles – way more than we ever see at home, there must be something about the islands that agrees with them (besides the scones).

So that’s it for our trip to the Scilly Isles. 1 week, 5 boat trips, half a dozen pubs, loads of seals, butterflies, birds and beaches and 1 beautiful wasp. And it still felt like we’d only scratched the surface of what there was to see and do. I know I’m probably sounding like an advert for the Scillies, but I can’t recommend the islands enough. If you are into wildlife like us, then they are heaven, but even if you’re not so nature obsessed, the stunning scenery, sunny weather and friendly people still make them a great place to visit. We are already looking forward to going back.

The final photo from our whole Scilly Isles trip has to be this little ornamental duck, which was sitting on the wall outside our accommodation. Although it looks nothing like a real bird, every time we walked passed it, we all did a double take. Maybe we’ve spent too long looking for wildlife everywhere, or maybe we just want to believe there is wildlife everywhere. Either way, I grew quite fond of this Iittle duck and it will always remind me of a very happy holiday.

Scilly Isles – St Martin’s

The penultimate blog from our trip to the Scilly Isles – this time a splendid day out on St Martin’s. We caught the 10:15 boat from St Mary’s which dropped us off at Higher Town. We then had most of the day to meander our way up St Martin’s to Lower Town where the boat picked us up for the return journey.

Rather than heading straight for Lower Town we decided to explore the eastern side of the island a bit, partly because this beach (Par Beach) looked so fantastic.

The beach was so tempting in fact that I did something I haven’t done for years – went for a swim in the sea! Admittedly it was a very short swim as it was damn cold, but my feet left the bottom and I was afloat, so it definitely counts as a swim!

As with all the islands there were stunning views aplenty. I love the mixture of sandy beaches and rocky shores – something for everyone and everything as the variety must be great for wildlife.

For much of our walk we didn’t see anyone, just picturesque country lanes to saunter down at our own pace.

Almost every point on the island gives wonderful vistas of other islands. I tried doing one of my shaky video clips to try and convey it – not sure it does the view justice though.

St Martin's Scilly

St Martin’s has an interesting Daymark at its highest point that can be seen from the mainland. Although it looks quite modern it was apparently erected in 1683 (thanks to Wikipedia for that fact of the day!)

One of the highlights for us wherever we go is always finding a good pub and in the Seven Stones Inn we found a cracker! A cold beer, a huge sandwich and friendly staff – what more could you want?

Actually you could want  a stunning view too – and I don’t think we’ve ever had a better pub view than this one looking out to sea.!

And as if all that wasn’t perfect enough, an insect landed on our table that I’ve been wanting to photograph for ages – a ruby-tailed wasp. These wasps are tiny and are almost too beautiful to be real.

As usual I couldn’t resist taking photos of Small Copper butterflies – this time a pair that landed right in front of me on the path.

It was nice also though to get a bit of a moth fix in the form of a Silver Y. This is an immigrant moth, possibly arriving in Scilly on the winds from the continent.

Although there were of course plenty of seabirds on St Martin, it was nice to take some pics of more familiar garden birds. The flock of goldfinches we saw remained out of camera range, but a couple of Great Tits came close enough for a quick pic.

At one point there was a bit of a commotion amongst the small birds and they seemed to be trying to drive off a larger one. We thought at first it must have been some kind of bird of prey, but it was hard to tell from a distance. So it was a bit of a surprise when we zoomed in on the photos later to discover it was a cuckoo! The photos aren’t great, because it was quite a long way off, but they are still the best cuckoo photos we’ve ever taken! I thought from the first photo that there was perhaps something wrong with its wings as they seemed at a strange angle to the rest of the body, but apparently they do perch slightly oddly like this. There was certainly nothing wrong with its wings when it took off.

 

So that was St Martin’s – a really beautiful island that was possibly our favourite out of all of them. With a surprise cuckoo and ruby-tailed wasp after a perfect pub lunch, we headed back to St Mary’s very happy indeed.

Scilly Isles – Bryher

Continuing with our tour of the Scilly Isles, here’s the latest instalment – Bryher. Bryher is the smallest of the inhabited islands and has a special meaning to our family. My parents used to stay in the same guesthouse there every year for many years and absolutely loved the place.

Like all the Scilly Isles you can’t move for beautiful beaches and picturesque views. Bryher is perhaps quieter and less developed than some of the other islands and has a lovely peaceful quality (not that the other islands are exactly noisy!)

Like the other islands too, most of the fields tend to be small with high hedges to provide protection against the wind. It makes for very attractive views compared to high intensity large farms on the mainland.

Someone on the island must have been into a bit of rock art as there were lots of these neat piles of stones balanced around the Porth bays (one of which is delightfully named Stinking Porth!)

Birds were of course plentiful everywhere. It was nice to add the Herring Gull to our tally of seabirds for the trip. I’m sure we were seeing these everywhere, but this was the first time we’d got decent enough photos to get a positive ID.

Nice also to catch a photo of a Lesser Black-Backed Gull – distinguished from the Greater version by his yellow legs. (I’m learning!)

I missed the next one, but Chris spotted a Heron flying across the bay in the distance.

The ubiquitous Shags were also present (unless these are cormorants?) I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for these gawky gangly looking birds.

One bird we love and always try to photograph, although usually with limited success, is the wren.  This Bryher wren though was quite obliging and posed beautifully on some lichens.

As well as getting to grips with gull identification, I was getting in a bit of a muddle with some of the smaller birds. But I’m reasonably confident that these are linnets – with a brighter coloured male (top) and a pair of females (below). Linnets have a supposedly melodious song which unfortunately meant they used to fall victim to the caged bird trade. Hopefully that is no longer the case.

I can never resist including a butterfly photo. Although Meadow Browns were by far the most common species we saw on the Scilly Isles, we also saw quite a lot of Small Coppers. We don’t get many around us in Malvern any more (we’ve only recorded them twice in our own garden), so it was lovely to see them here in decent numbers.

This final photo isn’t me going all nationalistic and flag waving, but the latest chapter in a long running bit of fun between my Dad and his Austrian friend. My parents used to holiday on Bryher for many years and made friends with another regular visitor from Austria. According to my Dad, his Austrian friend used to enjoy sitting on the same flat rock every day enjoying the scenery of Bryher. One year my  Dad planted a small flag and sent a photo to his Austrian friend saying he had “claimed” the rock for Britain. The following year his friend sent another photo back with an Austrian flag, “claiming” it back for Austria. My sister and I thought it would be fun to claim it back again. Unfortunately we only had a rough description of where the rock was – and there are a lot of flat rocks around Bryher! So we’ve no idea whether we’ve reclaimed the right rock, but hopefully our Austrian friend will appreciate the effort and perhaps send us a photo back?

Scilly Isles – Eastern Isles

Next instalment on our recent trip to the Scilly Isles. This time we were out on a glass bottom boat tour of the Eastern Isles – small uninhabited islands with unusual names like Little Arthur and Great Ganilly. There were lots of interesting rock formations around, all covered with lichens, which provided sufficient interest until we got to the wildlife.

As it turned out we didn’t actually see very much through the glass bottom (a few jellyfish and a lot of seaweed), but what we saw all around more than made up for it. Most of our time was spent watching seals – Grey Seals to be precise. The Scilly Isles have a large and nationally important colony of grey seals and we were lucky enough to see quite a few on our trip. At first we just glimpsed them bobbing about in the water, watching us as much as we were watching them.

But our guide (and skipper) soon spotted one hauled out on a rock. He identified it as a fully grown adult male grey seal. Unfortunately it seemed to have got something stuck around its neck – perhaps old fishing gear. It didn’t seem to be causing him any problems and hopefully as he was already an adult he won’t grow any more to cause it to tighten around his neck. Chris and I both took loads of photos – he seems to have got the knack of taking photos from a moving boat, I don’t and most of mine were very blurry. So most if not all of these photos are his!

We continued round the various rocky outcrops that make up the Eastern Isles and eventually spotted another seal hauled out. All the seals seemed to be quite used to the boat and tourists and look unfazed by our visit.

We had seen photos online of seals swimming under the boat so you could see them through the glass bottom. One of the reasons why we were maybe not lucky enough to see this was the presence of a group of snorkelers. The snorkelers were also there to see the seals and the seals in turn were much more interested in the people in the water than coming over to our boat. They were swimming all around the snorkelers – spot the odd one out in the photo below!

Maybe next time we go to Scilly we could try the snorkelling thing ourselves – it must be amazing to swim with them and they clearly weren’t bothered, just curious.

As you’d expect of a boat tour around any part of the Scilly Isles – seabirds were abundant. Fairly early on a flock of oystercatchers took off over the boat. Not easy to get decent photos of moving birds from a moving boat!

We got one of our few sightings of Fulmars while on this trip, beautiful birds albeit with slightly odd looking beaks.

There were quite a few Great Black-Backed Gulls around. I must admit before this trip I’d never been able to tell the different gull species apart. While still far from expert, I am starting to learn a few things. So I’m fairly sure this is the Great Black-Backed, since it was a large gull with pink legs, a yellow beak with red dot and of course a black back! (As always though happy to be corrected if I’ve got it wrong!)

While we were there, one of these gulls caught and killed a shag. Chris managed to get a photo of the gull with its victim and another shag looking on (hope it wasn’t his or her mate). The gulls of course have to eat too, so although it was a bit sad to witness, it is all part and parcel of life. The unfortunate final outcome though was that the gull then managed to drop the dead shag down amongst the rocks, where it didn’t seem to be able to reach it. So the poor thing died for nothing – although I suppose something else probably ate it in the end.

The biggest surprise of this boat trip came in the shape of birds I’d never associated with the sea – Peregrine Falcons! Our guide mentioned that there was a pair nesting with chicks on one of the islands, but we hadn’t really expected to see them. But sure enough they were there. We couldn’t get a proper look at the adults but the two chicks were clearly visible sitting on rocks waiting for the next feed. They were quite high up and we couldn’t get very close, but it was still lovely to see.

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 30 – Night and Day

I’m running late with the blog, so this is for yesterday’s Day 30 of 30 Days Wild! I’d thought it would be nice to push the 30 days to the limit and be looking at wildlife right up to midnight on the last day. So the plan was to set the trap for moths, the trail camera for hedgehogs and sit out looking for bats. As it turned out, with a few glasses of G&T and our friend to talk to as we sat outside, midnight came and went and it was 2:30am before we packed up. Not surprisingly then it’s taken a while to get going on the blog today!

All week we’ve been seeing bats in the garden, swooping around hoovering up our plentiful insects. They’ve come really close to the house as they circle around a large buddleia. But last night of course as we sat there waiting for them with bat detector in hand – none at all! It was a bit windy, but other than that the conditions seemed OK, but they were a no-show. Somewhere in Malvern someone else was probably enjoying “our” bat show! So all I can really say is that we normally get pipistrelles, which click on our bat detector at about 45 kHz.

Similarly with the hedgehogs, all week we’ve had a pair snuffling round the garden at night. It’s been great to be able to show our human friend our hoggy friends. So I was sure we’d pick them up on the trail camera last night – but again nothing! This absence can probably be explained though by our gin-swigging presence in the garden until 2.30. If I were a hedgehog I probably wouldn’t want to listen to 3 humans laughing loudly at their own jokes and clinking glasses either! So I’ve no video to show from last night, but fortunately I can do one we filmed earlier in the week (in true blue peter fashion) of our resident pair. It looks like the larger male is trying to woo the smaller female – with very little success!

Hedgehogs courting

So that left the moth trap to deliver the goods for our nocturnal nature-fest. But even the moths were few and far between (maybe that was why there were no bats?) A few came while we were still sitting there, but refused to actually go in the trap. This pretty green Common Emerald fluttered about and two Swallowtail moths entertained us by flapping somewhat ungracefully around us for a while. One of the Swallowtails was even still there in the morning.

My first Mother of Pearl of the year sat on the outside of the trap but didn’t go in – hence the shadowy photo lit up by the blue bulb from the moth trap.

There were a few Heart & Darts and a couple of other species in the trap when I emptied it this morning. None made for great photos apart from this Garden Grass Veneer.

There was one final mothy visitor – our friend spotted movement in the bushes this morning and found a Common Footman.

So our nocturnal safari of wildlife round the garden didn’t quite go as planned – when do things ever? But it didn’t matter at all. We had a thoroughly enjoyable evening sitting out in the garden until all hours, making the most of just being outside.

So that would have been the end of the blog post for Day 30, except that this morning as we photographed the last of the moths, suddenly the garden filled with butterflies (maybe wanting to get in on the act as Day Moths?). We’ve had hardly any butterflies lately but today we had 7 species fly in all within the space of an hour or two.

Every year we seem to get a pair of ringlets and sure enough they turned up today. One even chased off a Meadow Brown from his patch!

Then the first Red Admiral we’ve had for ages flew in and out, stopping to feed on the buddleia for a bit.

We also saw Large Whites, one Small White and a fleeting Comma. Two Small Tortoiseshells completed the day’s sightings. They fed on the buddleia (too high up for photos), the red valerian (waving about in the wind too much for decent photos) and thankfully one settled on the stationary table for an easy photo.

So it would have seemed rude not to include the day flyers with our night time ones. So what if it extended 30 Days Wild by a few hours – why wouldn’t you want to do that? In fact why wouldn’t you want to go a bit wild and get a bit of nature into your life every day? Stay Wild!

30 Days Wild – Day 27 – Trench Wood

It’s Day 27 of 30 Days Wild and we’re back on the butterfly hunt, this time in beautiful Trench Wood, Worcestershire. Not looking for anything new as such, just hoping for sightings of some old favourites and Trench Wood never disappoints. The place was absolutely heaving with butterflies and insects of all sorts.

Most notable today were the ringlets – they were everywhere, we must have seen hundreds. I don’t think we’ve ever seen so many, every step we took seemed to scatter more off the path. It was lovely to see, as I’d been starting to worry that we’d not seen so many this year. There were mating pairs too (in one case a trio, with an overly enthusiastic extra male!) doing their thing in the sunshine.

Meadow Browns were also common, although not nearly as abundant as the ringlets.

There were plenty of skippers, most being Large like this one with its hooked antennae.

But there were also a few Small Skippers – distinguished by their orange tipped, clubbed antennae. This one is a male with a diagonal scent brand across the wing (thank you to Mike Williams on Facebook for confirming this).

Once again the White Admirals proved elusive. There were quite a few present, but as usual they refused to settle long enough for a decent photo – here’s my best but still poor effort.

The one we really went looking for today was the Silver-washed Fritillary and in this at least we were fairly successful. Initial sightings were just glimpses as they bombed past us, but eventually we tracked down a few more obliging ones. Chris got the best photos, not just because he is a better photographer, but because he is taller than me and they tended to land quite high!

Surprise “bag” of the day was a Purple Hairstreak. Chris spotted it and got just the one photo before it was off. A great find and addition to this year’s tally.

A variety of moths were out and about too. Some tiny ones like this Nettle Tap,

others slightly larger like this Clouded Border,

and others simply stunning like this Scarlet Tiger and Five Spot Burnet.

Damselflies, demoiselles and dragonflies were all fairly common around the pond. I think we saw both Beautiful and Banded demoiselles, azure and large red damselflies and these two splendid dragonflies. The top one is a female darter (either common or ruddy) and the blue one at the bottom is a male Emperor dragonfly.

There were of course bees and hoverflies everywhere, but there just wasn’t time to do those as well today – so many insects so little time! But there were a few other things that took our fancy. This Long-horned beetle was stunning, although we hadn’t noticed all the tiny beetles around it when we took the photo.

And finally I got a photo of a Scorpion Fly – I’ve been trying to get one of these for weeks now. Only trouble is, every single one we saw was a female, so none had the distinctive scorpion tail which only the males have. So the hunt goes on!

So all in all another fabulous day out and probably one of our most insect laden ones to date. Day 27 of 30 days wild and we’re still finding things that surprise and delight!