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 11 – Demoiselles and Damsels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Demoiselle & damsel

 

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

Demoiselle

 

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

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

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

 

30 Days Wild – Day 15

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

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

WT House

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

Moth Selection

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

Burnished Brass

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

Leopard Moth

Buff Tip

Blood Vein

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

Poplar Moth

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

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

Lugg meadow sign

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

Meadow

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

Lugg

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

Trees with flood mark

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

Banded Demoiselle

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

Snail

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

Fungi

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

 

Petty Spurge 30 WEEDS

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

30 Days Wild – Day 8

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_08Day 8 and I’m still ploughing my way through the IDs from the weekend’s bioblitz – maybe shouldn’t have taken quite so many photos! But it’s all good and discovering some new species for the garden list. It being Wednesday though, I dragged myself from the computer and headed over to take my Dad out for our weekly pub lunch – no hardship there!

Dad by riverAs it was a lovely hot day we decided to head to one of our favourite pubs The Riverside at Aymestrey in North Herefordshire – the pub is by the river Lugg and you can sit outside right next to it for your lunch. Today they had Herefordshire snails on the menu, so I went for those (with a big pile of chips of course!), while Dad went for some smoked salmon.

It is a fantastic spot and we go there quite often in the summer to watch the dragonflies, butterflies and once a kingfisher that darted down the river under the bridge and away. Sadly today all you get is a photo of the bridge!

River

The little river has fish and lots of insects, which in turn attract plenty of birds. Today we saw nuthatches and yellow wagtails, plus lots of sparrows chirping non-stop. Today’s real prize was the Beautiful Demoiselles. Having chased them around for ages on Sunday at Knapp & Papermill reserve, here they were landing within feet of me, while I tucked happily into my snails. Not only that but there were mating pairs (the Demoiselles, not my snails!)

Beautiful Demoiselles Aymestrey

Feeling full and happy after lunch, I took Dad home, then decided to stretch my legs to work off those snails! I headed to Bodenham Lakes, which are about a mile from where I grew up, but once again I’m ashamed to say this is somewhere I’d never visited. Funny how you often don’t visit the things that are on your own doorstep! That’s one of the great things I’m finding about 30 Days Wild, that it’s getting me to do some of these things – finally!

Lake

Bodenham Lakes are actually old gravel pits that have been flooded and are now managed by Herefordshire Wildlife Trust. They are apparently very good for bird spotting and even have otters – not that I saw any of those today. I did though hear my first cuckoo not only of the year, but probably the first one I’d heard for about 30 years! I then managed to find the bird hide which has splendid views, in this case of the Canada Geese.

Geese

The meadows by the lake were full of flowers including these beautiful Common Spotted Orchids and the whole place was buzzing with bees, most notably these Red Tailed Bumblebees.

Orchid

Red tailed Bumblebee

But the stars for me today of Bodenham Lakes were the damselflies and demoiselles. They were everywhere! It felt like I could hardly take a step without disturbing them – I kept seeing flashes of blue all around me. As at Aymestrey there were even mating pairs. I thought all of these below were Common Blue Damselflies, but I’ve already found out from the very helpful people on iSpot that the bottom ones are Blue-tailed Damselflies instead!

Common Blue Damselfly

Mating Damselflies 2

Mating Damselflies 1

Not only damselflies, but I also saw Banded Demoiselles (thereby completing the set of Demoiselles in one day – I think there are only 2 species – Beautiful and Banded). Didn’t manage to get a brilliant photo – I need to drag Chris back to Bodenham with his steadier hand for photography, but hopefully it is at least recognisable.

Banded Demoiselle

There weren’t that many butterflies around today, although I did see another Painted Lady, some speckled woods, what can only be described as a “brown one” and some Common Blues. The Common Blues were flighty as ever, but I did pursue one long enough to get this just about identifiable shot.

Common Blue Butterfly

So all in all a particularly good day today. I shall definitely be heading back to Bodenham Lakes soon and also no doubt back to the pub too!

 

Ladys MantleAnd finally as always the latest weed in my 30 Lazy Weeds from our garden – Lady’s Mantle. I like the subtlety of this gentle looking plant. I love the soft wavy pleated leaves, especially the way they catch droplets of water like this. They provide lots of ground cover and are quite happy in the shade as well as in sunnier spots, so suit pretty much any garden. Time to give room to less showy plants like Lady’s Mantle!

 

 

30 Days Wild – Day 5

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_05Day 5 of the 30 Days Wild Challenge and it’s a beautiful sunny Sunday in Malvern – a rare thing indeed! After the slightly frenetic activity of the Bioblitz yesterday (I’m still working my way through all the photos for IDs), today we’ve had a much more relaxed, laid back kind of day.

We started with a walk at The Knapp and Papermill Nature Reserve, which is run by Worcester Wildlife Trust and is very handy for us – just the other side of the Malvern Hills. It’s a gorgeous reserve that’s got pretty much everything you could want – meadows, woodland, orchards, a small river running through a valley.

Meadow 1

River at Knapp

Speckled WOodYou know it’s a good place when butterflies start landing next to you as soon as you get out the car – cue Speckled Wood. We’ve been there before and walked around pretty much the entire site, but today we just did a small section of it, alongside the river near the old orchards and meadow.

Our main memory from the previous visit was of the Beautiful Demoiselles. This was the first time we’d ever seen them and were blown away by how beautiful they indeed were. They seemed so exotic flapping all round us by the river, it felt like we’d been transported to some far away tropical location. So they were our main target species for today – and they didn’t disappoint. I know I tend to gush that everything is beautiful and amazing, but these Demoiselles really do live up to their name.

The adult males are a dark iridescent and glorious blue. They are quite flighty so it takes a while and more patience that we can normallly muster to get really good shots, but we managed in the end to get these.

Male Demoiselle 3

Male Demoiselle 2

Chris even spotted this one devouring some poor unfortunate insect – only the wing remains sticking out of its mouth.

Demoiselle eating

As is so often the case in nature, the females are less showy than the males, having a more bronzy brown coloured wing, with white spots near the end.

Female Demoiselle

I honestly could have sat and watched these flying around for hours. But they weren’t the only large insects flying around – damselflies were abundant today too. We saw some bright blue (possibly Azure) ones which refused to land for photography purposes. More obliging were the Large Red Damselflies.

Red Damselfly 2

So relaxed indeed were the Large Red Damselflies, that they continued unashamedly about their business even with me taking photos like this.

Mating damselflies

The reserve is generally teeming with insect life. Here’s just a few that we snapped today – a Red Headed Cardinal beetle, hoverfly and May fly.

Soldier Beetle

Hoverfly

May Fly

Not surprisingly the reserve supports a wide array of birdlife too. The air was full of bird song as we walked around, although few showed their faces. One obvious arrival though was this Buzzard, which was being mobbed by a very brave crow.

Buzzard

On the way back we stopped at the visitor’s centre, which has lots of useful info. It also has this fantastic bat box on the wall – never seen one like it before!

Bat Box

CasablancaWe were supposed to round off our lazy day with an open air screening of the classic film Casablanca. Amazingly the sun was still shining as we settled down with our picnic on the grass. Not sure whether the organisers of 30 Days Wild had expected Humphrey Bogart to join in, but we were looking forward to seeing him on the big screen. It happens to be my Dad’s favourite film, so it ended up a family outing with my sister making up the 4 with me and Chris. Unfortunately, and I never thought I’d say this, the weather was too good! The organisers announced they couldn’t start screening the film as the evening was too bright and the black & white film wouldn’t be visible on the screen! We waited and waited (consuming our own body weights in sandwiches and scones while we did) but eventually had to give up as my Dad was getting a bit cold and still no sign of the film starting. The evening wasn’t a total right-off – we all enjoyed our picnic in the park and the crowd waiting for the film were all quite jolly. But we’ll now never get to hear Sam play it again in the open air!

 

Red valerian 30 WEEDS

Day 5 of 30 Lazy Weeds from our garden and here’s one that is taking over – Red Valerian. Fortunately it is not only beautiful but very popular with both bees and butterflies. It’s formed a flower bed all of its own at the front of the house – which looks great – one neighbour even asked whether we’d planted all these lovely flowers! These bright pink flowers look as good as anything you’d go out and buy, but are much better for the wildlife and they’re free!