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 – 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 – 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!

 

 

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!

 

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 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 17 – Blue is the Colour!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

30 Days Wild – Day 16 – Plant Pots for Pollinators

It’s Day 16 of 30 Days Wild and this evening I’ve been Planting a Pot for Pollinators. This isn’t just me randomly planting up a pot with more flowers, but part of a nationwide scheme to encourage people to do their bit for pollinating bees, hoverflies and butterflies etc.

It’s being organised by the Butterfly Conservation Society – for more information go to: http://www.plantpotsforpollinators.org The aim is simple – to get as many people as possible to plant up at least one pot in their garden with flowers that are good for our insect pollinators.

If you go to their website you can download instructions, but basically all you need is a big pot, some peat-free compost and some flowers. There’s a list of 6 suggestions – calendula, catmint, cosmos, French marigolds, Shasta daisies and dahlias (but only the single flowered varieties as these have pollen that is easy for the bees to get at).  You can of course choose others, provided they are good for pollinators.

Of the 6, I bought, Cosmos (left), French marigolds and a Dahlia – all of which had bees on in the garden centre when I bought them – a good sign! I also supplemented these with some wildflower plants that I’d had sitting waiting to plant on for a while – Verbena bonariensis, Anthemis and Achillea.

 

It only took 5 minutes to fill the pot with compost and stick the 6 plants in. With hindsight I could probably have squeezed a couple more in and I may well do so at the weekend. Even if I don’t buy more, hopefully those that are there will bush out to fill the pot up a bit more. Hopefully the mix of different colours and shapes will attract a variety of pollinating insects.

So here is the (sort of) finished article, nothing fancy, but hopefully the bees will appreciate it. Ideally I would have liked to include some photos of insects actually on the pot, but since I did this after work, it was getting a bit late and there was not much buzzing about. Assuming I get something on them, I will add more photos when I can.

Having planted a pot, the website encourages you to plot your pot on their map. Butterfly Conservation hope to cover the UK in pots for pollinators. So being a good citizen scientist, I plotted my pot on the map. It is reassuring to see that ours isn’t the only one in Worcestershire!

Of course our garden being a weedfilled paradise for insects, you could argue that it didn’t really need another pot of flowers for pollinators. But you can never have too many, so why not? And by participating in a scheme like this, we are hopefully helping to spread the good word.