30 Days Wild – Day 26 – Our Garden Bees

It’s Day 26 of 30 Days Wild and we have a friend coming to stay, so I somehow had to fit in something wild before the wine started to flow (on a Monday!). I’ve been concentrating quite a bit this month on the butterflies and am always looking at the moths, so decided it was time to have a look at our garden bees again.

I got up early to have a look round the garden before work. First thing I noticed, which really pleased me, was that something has finally been using our bee hotel! One of the canes is clearly blocked up with bits of leaf – so putting 2 and 2 together, I assume we’ve got a leaf cutter bee. It was beautifully sealed up; it looks like some of the leaves had been chewed up to make a paste to stick it all together. Another cane is also being used but has not been sealed up yet.

The other thing I discovered was I’d got up before the bees this morning! Normally when I get up earlier than this for the moths, the garden already seems to be buzzing with bees. Today nothing at all to start with, although it seemed like a perfectly decent day. Eventually a few started to appear on the lavender – first a Common Carder bee and then a couple of honey bees, but it was generally slim pickings this morning.

In view of the paltry selection of bees that I could find during this morning’s spot check, I decided to dig out my complete list for garden bees and review that. At the end of last year, our total for the garden stood at 25 – which I was pretty pleased with. It currently stands at 31, which is obviously even better! Admittedly not all of these have been identified to species, some have only got to genus level, but if it’s a genus we’ve not had before then whatever the species is, it must be a new one, so I’ve counted it. So here are the 6 new ones; they’re not all great photos, because often I only got a glimpse.

The first one is the Early Bumblebee (Bombus pratorum) which I think we did see last year, but somehow it got missed off the previous list. It’s a really pretty brightly coloured little bee.

Next up is Gwynne’s Mining Bee (Andrena bicolor). I find these Andrena bees very difficult to tell apart, but thankfully there are always some very helpful people on Facebook.

The next one I could identify myself – a Tawny Mining Bee (Andrena fulva). They are so distinctive with bright ginger fur all over their bodies. I’m sure I saw some last year, but it took until this year to get a photo good enough to confirm.

The next one is a nomad bee, but it can only be identified as one of the Group E species of Nomada, unless you catch one and dissect it, which I don’t want to do.  We do get another Nomada species (N. goodeniana), but since that’s in a different ID group, this must be a different species.

Then we have the Blue Mason Bee (Osmia caerulescens). If I’d managed a decent photo, it would presumably have looked more blue!

And finally our 31st species of bee is some kind of Yellow Faced Bee (Hylaeus sp.). Unfortunately I didn’t manage to photograph the key bit – i.e. his yellow face, so can’t get it down to species. I’ll know next time to get a head shot.

So that’s my bee round up for Day 26. I’m really chuffed we get so many species.  It will get harder and harder though to increase the total, unless I want to go down the line of dissecting them, which I don’t. But maybe if we keep adding more bee friendly plants and more places for them to nest, we can stretch our tally by a few more yet. Fingers crossed.

30 Days Wild – Day 25 – Marbled Marvels

It’s Day 25 of 30 Days Wild and after recent visits to canals, wetlands and woodland, I thought a walk through a meadow might be nice. They’re usually good places for butterfly spotting, although it was a bit windy so getting good shots was going to be tricky wherever I went. Being a bit short of time today, I headed to one of our local ones and a particular favourite – Boynes Coppice just outside Malvern.

Boynes Coppice and Meadows reserve is made up of 4 fields, plus a wooded area and is rich in plant and insect life. It was nice and sunny as I arrived and the butterflies were bobbing about over the fields in great numbers. Initial thoughts were that it was going to be easy to get some good shots; that was before I realised the butterflies were in frisky mood and just wouldn’t stop moving!

The fields have a diverse flora and looked lovely today. They are deliberately managed to maintain this, being cut for hay only after the seeds have set.

The two most abundant butterfly species I saw today were the Meadow Brown and Marbled Whites, both of which were present in large numbers and neither of which stopped flying to start with. Occasionally I’d see one land, but always too far away for a photo (you have to stick to the path to avoid trampling the plants, so can’t go chasing through the grass to get closer to a butterfly).

Eventually though a couple of Meadow Browns deigned to land close enough for me to get some photos of both wings up and wings down.

The marbled whites proved trickier at first – there were plenty of them, but I couldn’t get close. As I walked along the path, I occasionally looked back to see several dancing in my wake; but if I turned back they all flew off again. Eventually though, either I got my eye in, or they got slower (probably the latter) and I managed a few photos. The marbled whites look great from any angle, having beautifully patterned wings both from above and below.

Of course the trouble with taking photos of butterflies on grassland, is the grass! Nearly every time they landed, there was a bit of grass in the way of the perfect shot – like this one below.

Occasionally though I would get a clear shot.

Towards the end of my visit is started to drizzle and that definitely did slow the butterflies down. As I headed back to the car I could see quite a few of them sitting out the rain resting on flowers. I was really pleased when I found two close enough to get in one shot; when I downloaded the photos I then realised there was a third butterfly in the same frame – a meadow brown at the top.

Since the butterflies were a bit less flighty in the drizzle, I tried for a close up shot. Still not easy as I had to hold the camera out as far as my arms could reach, so that I didn’t stray from the path. So by no means a perfect photo, but it does show up just how furry they are, something that is not so obvious when they are flying around.

There were of course plenty of other insects around besides the butterflies, like this Red-Tailed Bumblebee and a beautiful hoverfly.

I also spotted (no pun intended) this ladybird on a thistle. The photo is by no means great, but I liked that the ladybird was so shiny that you can see my reflection in his back as I’m hunched over trying to take his photo!

I love going to Boynes meadow, it is one of the most peaceful places I know. It is only a small reserve and most times I go, I’m the only one there – as I was today. It is set back off a road, that is itself set back off any busy roads, so you can forget about the rest of the world. The perfect place to unwind and enjoy those marbled marvels dancing above the grasses.

30 Days Wild – Day 24 – Canal Life

It’s Day 24 of 30 Days Wild and we were up Stoke on Trent way visiting Chris’ mother for her birthday. Stoke on Trent doesn’t immediately conjure up nature for me, but you don’t have to go far out of the town to get into some lovely countryside. We had lunch in a quaint little pub in the village of Cheddleton, where his Mum grew up; then went for a walk along the Caldon Canal.

The canal was built in the late 18th century to carry limestone to the potteries of Stoke. The section we walked along has been restored, so we strolled along the towpath and peered into the lock.

No canal would be complete without barges. There was one moored up that you could hire some days (sadly not today) for trips up and presumably back down the canal.

And while we strolled one passed us heading down towards the lock. It looked like he’d got a box of salad leaves growing on the roof!

As always we were on the look out for wildlife; surprisingly this was one of the few places I’ve been to in June that didn’t have dragonflies! It did have this rather splendid squirrel though, clambering about on the other side of the water.

No canal would be complete without the ubiquitous duck! This male was doing a lot of flapping about, trying to impress the female probably.

There was also a delightful family of moorhens. They’d got a nest that looked more like a raft – not sure what it was attached to, but it seemed solid enough for them to walk on. You can just about make out the 2 chicks in there.

We saw either the same family or possible their neighbours later on the walk. The chicks were tiny but still swimming strongly. Having watched the latest Springwatch series, we’d learnt that birds can be either altricial – born more or less helpless, or precocial – up and running almost straight away. I’m guessing moorhens come into the latter category.

The ground the far side of the canal was mainly open farmland with some wooded areas. Most of the wildlife we saw was that side, probably because we were all the other side. Chris spotted this chaffinch singing his socks off in the trees.

And we all saw a flock of goldfinches land on a grassy bank and start pecking away at seeds or insects. There were probably about half a dozen, but they were a bit spread out, so Chris did well to get three in one shot.

Spot of the day goes to this kestrel though that landed in a large, old dead tree – the perfect vantage point for scanning for prey across the fields. Not ideal photograph conditions against the white/grey sky, but he was still a beautiful sight all the same.

I’ve never been on a canal holiday, but always quite fancied it. The idea of pootling along watching the wildlife and of course stopping at friendly hostelries along the way certainly appeals. Judging by the amount of wildlife we saw in a very short walk, the views on a full barge holiday must be amazing. Maybe next year?

30 Days Wild – Day 23 – Festival Season!

It’s Day 23 of 30 Days Wild – can’t believe there is just one week to go now! I was working today, so plan A was to stop off at a nature reserve on the way home. I picked a small one just outside Bromyard that I hadn’t been to before, not necessarily a good idea given my navigational skills! After three passes up and down the same bit of road looking for it, I gave up and carried on home. I have since googled it properly and think I can probably locate it for another time, but too late for today.

So instead it was Plan B, which formed rapidly on about the 3rd drive along the country road above. The radio was full of talk of it being the first day of the Glastonbury Festival. It was clearly a bit late to organise myself into going to the real thing, but I decided to have my own very mini festival in the back garden. Items required were a chair (tick), a couple of bottles of cider – local Herefordshire brew of course (tick) and my Kindle logged onto the BBC’s Glastonbury live coverage (tick).

The result a very chilled out hour or so in the back garden, listening to several bands that admittedly I’d never heard of. I sat next to my pollinator pot and was rewarded with a swollen thighed beetle for company. All far less tiring than going to the real festival and I don’t have to sleep in a field tonight!

I switched the music off after a while to listen to the sounds of the garden instead. A lone buff-tailed bumblebee was buzzing around the nearby lavender. The birds were giving their best evening chorus, I could make out the sparrows and blackbirds and the pigeons were cooing loudly. And then our hedgehogs came out or at least woke up and started snuffling about in the undergrowth. I could hear two and just about see one of them. I guess I don’t need to recapture my youth with a wild and crazy festival, I’m just happy listening to the snuffling of wildlife in my garden on a beautiful Friday night.

30 Days Wild – Day 22 – Summer Moths

It’s Day 22 of 30 Days Wild and by the time I got home from work (via the allotment to pick yet more raspberries and blackcurrants!), it was a bit late to get out and about to do something wild. So for today’s act of wildness, I decided to do a much needed update and review of this year’s moth records. I’ve been so busy with other things, that I’ve not updated my spreadsheets for the Garden Moth Scheme and I’ve still got loads of photos taken but not identified. So sitting on the sofa with the laptop may not be the conventional idea of wild, but anyone who knows me, will know how much I love my moths – so I think I can get away with this as my nature fix for the day.

So far this year I’m just short of 100 species; this is about 10 less than the same time last year. It does feel like it’s been a generally quiet year for the moths, maybe because the weather hasn’t been great. The hot weather this last week though has started to bring them out in numbers, so hopefully things will pick up. For the Garden Moth Scheme I have to trap at least once a week in the same spot in the garden and submit the results quarterly. No great hardship as I love doing this and often trap more than once a week (although I do like to give the moths a rest so they can go about their business most nights!)

Most of the moths have been the larger macro ones, but about 20% have been the micros. I’m not so good at identifying the micros – much harder usually because they are just so small. But some of them are easy and also really beautiful, like this pretty Small Magpie moth.

Moths come in all shapes and sizes – for some reason the most striking ones tend to be the less common in our trap. The current most numerous visitor is the Heart and Dart – a relatively plain moth apart from its dark markings that are supposed to look not surprisingly like a heart and dart. There is a 3rd blob, but I guess calling it the Heart and Dart and Blob would be a bit much!

They also come in all sorts of colours; this one is an Orange Footman

and this one is a Ruby Tiger. If these ones are really fresh specimens and the light catches them right, they really do look bright red.

The rubies are not the only tigers I’ve had recently, these 3 Scarlet Tigers turned up in the trap a couple of days ago. They are supposed to be day flying moths and we have occasionally seen a group of them flying round the garden in bright sunshine. These 3 also flew off soon after I photographed them. I think the “scarlet” bit comes from their underwings, which you can just about glimpse peaking out from under the black upper wings.

Another favourite that turned up in the last week was this exotic looking Swallowtail moth. These are large moths with thin, delicate wings that seem to flap slowly, although they put on a fair turn of speed when they are trying to escape me and my camera!

With a completely different body form is this Pale Tussock moth, with its furry legs sticking out in front in characteristic pose. This species is generally much less flighty and happy to pose for photographs.

I’ve had a couple of “new for the garden” species (or NFG as us mothy nerds call them) this year. I was thrilled to get this Ghost Moth a few weeks ago.

I was really excited to see a Hummingbird Hawkmoth on the red valerian flowers a couple of weeks ago – needless to say it wouldn’t stop for a photo shoot. These 2 Lime Hawkmoths were much more obliging and were also NFG.

I couldn’t do a mothy post without mentioning everyone’s favourite the bright pink Elephant Hawkmoth. Normally I’d post a photo, but I recently had a go at videoing one as it warmed up its wings – so here’s a short film instead.

Elephant Hawkmoth

Last year I got 211 species of moth, it would be lovely to top that this year, but I fear it might be a struggle. I’ve never made a definitive list of all the species I’ve ever recorded in the garden – some turn up one year only to never be seen again. I suspect the total list would therefore be much higher than 211. A project for a quiet winter night perhaps to tally them all up.

I love the surprise element of moth trapping. I never know what I’m going to get (if anything) when I open the trap in the morning. There’s always that sense of anticipation – maybe I’ll find something new, or an old favourite will appear. Until I started trapping, I had no idea of the diversity of moths we got in our average garden, I suspect most people are the same.

30 Days Wild – Day 21 – Summer Solstice

It’s Day 21 of 30 Days Wild and it is the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. So for today’s act of wildness I thought I’d make the most of the daylight hours by getting up to take photos at dawn and doing the same again at dusk. Between 04:48 and 21:34 (the official sunrise and sunset for Malvern according to the BBC!) there are 16 hours and 48 minutes of daylight, if I’ve done my maths right!

So I got up in plenty of time to capture sunrise – unfortunately there was thick fog over the hills. Glad I hadn’t climbed up there to wait for the sun to come up, as I’d have seen nothing. So instead I took this photo of what should have been the hills at exactly 04:48. It looks like it should have been cold and gloomy, but it was actually just hot and humid and quite cheery with the birds singing.

Although the official sunrise was 04:48, it was light for quite a while before that. When I first got up at about 04:30 I took this photo through the patio doors of the Verbena growing in a pot outside – the sky looks blue here, although I think this was a trick of the light refracting through the glass as it didn’t really look like that outside. I love the look of the plants though silhouetted against the sky.

Once outside I took this shot of the hanging basket about 4 minutes before “sunrise” – the light is bright enough that it could easily be a photo from much later in the day.

Although I regularly get up at odd hours to empty the moth trap, I’m always busy sorting out the moths and don’t really look at the quality of the light. So it was an interesting experiment to get up purely for the purposes of looking at the light and the sky and just to get a feel for what dawn is really all about.

I filled the hours between sunrise and sunset today with my regular Wednesday visit to see my Dad. It being such a gorgeous day, we had our pub lunch outside by the River Lugg at the Riverside Inn at Aymestrey, Herefordshire. Always a delight there, with the river gently flowing by and demoiselles darting around us. We ate lunch at about 1 o’clock which was almost perfectly half way through today’s supposed 16 hours 48 minutes of daylight!

So in the evening I once again took the camera out into the garden to experience “sunset” at 21:34. The hills were at least visible this time, although after a day of sunshine, they were starting to haze over again. This time I could really smell the lavender and buddleia – a day of sunshine must have released all their essential oils!

I also took a photo of the verbena again through the window; the sky was more mottled this time, but they still looked beautiful in silhouette.

Malvern remained light still well after the allotted sunset. Even now as I type at nearly 10pm everything in the garden is still quite visible. I guess sunset is a fluid thing. I could however hear a hedgehog moving about, perhaps he at least considered the sun had gone down.

In scientific terms, the summer solstice can be explained as simply the result of the way the earth tilts on its axis towards the sun – being the most inclined towards the sun at this time of year. And of course the opposite applies at the winter solstice and in the southern hemisphere. But there are less pragmatic more ethereal concepts to the summer solstice. It has long been a time of worship for many religions. By some it was considered the time when the veil between this world and next was at its thinnest & when fairies might cross over and be seen. While not normally given to such notions, at 04:48 this morning, with Malvern shrouded in mist, perhaps I could have been tempted to imagine fairies snuffling in the garden – or was that just our hedgehog?

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 18 – Flaming June

They say be careful what you wish for – last week I was wishing the wind would drop and it would get warmer. Well it’s certainly flaming June now and I’m regretting last week’s wishes, as we swelter here in Malvern! It’s Day 18 of 30 Days Wild and it’s so hot it’s hard to find the energy to do anything. I haven’t ventured further than the garden, so today’s post is pretty much restricted to what is going on there. All I really managed was a gentle bit of garden bird watching, but there are worse ways to spend your day!

We have assorted feeders all over the garden, but I was restricted to photographing those I could see from the shade! I think perhaps it was too hot even for the birds as not that many showed themselves, despite me putting out several bowls of water. I even poured a load of water into the wheelbarrow to give them an impromptu pond (our other pond being more silt than water).

The old faithfuls the jackdaws did of course appear when I put out some suet shreds. They are always first down to the bird table – they must have good eyesight to spot me putting out food from wherever they are. I know they get a bit of a bad press, but they are beautiful birds really.

Next down to the table was this blackbird – more cautious than the jackdaws.

The only other birds I saw in abundance while I watched were the sparrows. They were everywhere, but too nervy to get a good photo. I kept seeing adults feeding fledglings, it looks as if it’s been a good year for sparrow babies in our garden at least. I never seemed to be able to get a clear shot though and in the end the best I managed was this blurry one – from a distance and through our grubby patio doors, so not ideal.

Of course you can put out all the intentional bird food you like, but sometimes the birds are just canny enough to help themselves to things you don’t want. This morning a Great Tit found the box full of egg trays that I’d put the moths in from last night’s trap, ready for them to fly off when it gets dark. He must have thought Christmas had come early until I moved it inside the boxes inside the old hedgehog hutch. Even then he managed to squeeze through the bars to get more until I blocked it up. Hard to be cross though, as he needs to feed his family too.

So not my most productive wildlife day, but very enjoyable all the same. Chris was more adventurous than me and did go for a walk (more heat tolerant than I am obviously) and came back delighted that he’d seen a Hurricane (previously misidentified as a Spitfire – thanks to Dave for the correction). Must have been perfect flying conditions over Malvern today.


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!