Final Fritillary Makes Fifty

As 30 Days Wild draws to a close for another year, we are managing to go out with a bit of a bang.  Having already had a very successful June, seeing our first ever Marsh & Heath Fritillaries, we set off to Wales in search of our final fritillary and 50th butterfly species – the High Brown Fritillary. Some of the land we went on was private, so I can’t disclose the exact location but we were in the Alun Valley area, courtesy of an organised and escorted trip by Butterfly Conservation.

The High Brown Fritillary is apparently the UK’s most threatened butterfly species, remaining in only a few sites in England and only one in Wales. It happened to be the hottest day of the year so far for our walk – challenging conditions for an unfit middle-aged couple!

For the first site we visited we parked (I say “we parked” but we got a lift there from the very kind Mike) next to a dried up river bed. There were a few pools remaining and it was great to see loads of what we think were toad tadpoles wriggling in the shallows. They’d got their back legs but no front ones yet; fingers crossed they complete their metamorphosis before their pool dries up completely.

We headed up a slope to an open area of bracken that is being managed for fritillaries. Loads of large fritillaries were visible darting about the bracken – a mix of Dark Green and High Brown. The High Browns were a really rich dark orangey brown colour, the Dark Greens being a bit more muted, but at the speed they all flew, it was difficult to tell which was which. It soon became apparent that the fritillaries had little intention of stopping to get their photos taken. A ready rule soon came into practice – if a large fritillary landed it was a Dark Green one; if it flew past you like the clappers, it was probably a High Brown. Despite repeated attempts to chase them down, the High Browns escaped our cameras at this site. Thankfully the Dark Greens were a bit kinder to us. This one posed nicely for Chris on a thistle flower.

Then Mike spotted a pair of mating Dark Greens and we all rushed to get a photo of something!

Having had enough baking in the heat at the first site, we moved onto another site a mile or two away. This also had lots of High Browns with perhaps fewer Dark Greens. Apparently some other lucky butterfly spotters had got plenty of good photos of the High Browns earlier in the day – our timing was not so good.  The cloud cover meant a lot of the fritillaries had gone down into the bracken and weren’t flying, making them virtually impossible to spot.  They do particularly like thistle flowers and a local guide pointed out a thistle that had had High Browns nectaring on it in the morning. It seemed worth a shot, so I staked out this thistle for a few minutes. Having limited patience, I soon got bored of looking at a butterfly-less thistle, so reached into my bag for some water. No sooner had I done so than a High Brown Fritillary landed on the thistle. Water bottle cast aside, I grabbed the camera again and managed a few frantic shots before it flew off. None of my photos would win any awards, but they are at least identifiable as High Brown Fritillaries – on the first photo you can see an extra row of brown spots between the outer edge and the silver spots – the Dark Green Fritillaries don’t have these.

We saw lots of other butterfly species during the day – Small Heath, Comma, Red Admiral, Meadow Brown, and Skippers – most of which were also bombing around in the sunshine too fast to photograph. Heading back to the car we saw a patch of nettles covered in Peacock caterpillars – the next generation in the making and a lot easier to photograph than fast flying butterflies.

So we’ve “bagged” our final fritillary species and our 50th butterfly species in total. Only 8 more species to go (9 if we count the Cryptic Wood White over in Northern Ireland). It was a really great day in Wales, with a lovely bunch of people.

And to finish the day – a bottle of Wood White beer – a new beer produced by Wood’s brewery with part of the sales going to Butterfly Conservation. Always happy to do our bit for conservation!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bees, Bats, Butterflies and Birds at Bridge Cottage

We’re just back from a holiday in Exmoor and as usual have returned with hundreds of wildlife photos, having spent the week in our usual glamorous manner. Most people probably take swimming costumes, flip flops and suncream on holiday; we took a moth traps, bat detector,  underwater camera and trail cameras! We stayed at a lovely cottage by the River Barle in Withypool, Somerset – an absolutely idyllic location, with plenty of wildlife potential.

Our holiday coincided with the start of 30 Days Wild, so the perfect excuse for wildlife watching, not that we ever need an excuse. The cottage had loads of bird life including sparrows nesting around the guttering. A pair of blue tits were nesting in the apex of the shed. They were really devoted parents bringing food constantly despite the rain (hence dishevelled photo below) and removing the faecal sacs to keep the nest clean.

There were plenty of mayflies hatching while we were there and the swifts made good use of them flying low over the water and snatching them out of the air. Best of all we could hear a cuckoo calling every morning around dawn. The sound of a cuckoo combined with the sound of the river is a great way to wake up in the morning.

Not surprisingly the abundant insect life attracted bats too. We got the bat detector going and were rewarded with clicks and chirp noises that sounded different to our usual Pipistrelle bats at home. The clicks were closer to the 47-48kHz frequency than the 45kHz we get at home, so perhaps these bats were either Daubenton’s or Natterers? Unfortunately we didn’t manage to record the noises to be sure and it was too dark to actually see the bats.

The first day we arrived at the cottage we had glorious sunshine and a warm night – perfect conditions for an evening glass of wine in the garden and to put the moth trap out! We couldn’t believe the abundance of moths we got in the morning. Many of the moths we caught were species we’d seen before but never in such numbers – buff tips, white ermines, brown silver lines – all species which we see occasionally in Malvern, but rarely more than single individuals. There were 2 species though that we’ve never seen before – Nut Tree Tussock and Campion – nice to add to our life lists of species.

As usual an Elephant Hawkmoth stole the show, but it did have competition from this stunning Puss Moth!

The River Barle which ran past the garden had sparkling clear water (every day except the last day when heavy rain had clouded it).  One of the first things we noticed were several dead Signal Crayfish both in the water and on the river bank.

These are an introduced species and are causing serious problems by outcompeting the native crayfish and by tunnelling into river banks leading to erosion. There are projects to actively remove them from rivers like the Barle, so it could be the dead crayfish we saw were part of this.

On a cheerier note, there were lots of presumably native minnows swimming in shoals near the river bank. So armed with our waterproof GoPro camera, I heroically waded in with my wellies. A slight miscalculation between height of wellies and depth of water, led to some wet feet, but at least I managed to video the minnows!

The river also had numerous tadpoles, who remained hidden in the plants near the bank during the day, but emerged into a sheltered inlet in the evenings. They were much darker than the tadpoles we get back home in the pond, so they may be toad tadpoles rather than frogs.

 

The cottage garden was well planted with plenty of shrubs and flowers for wildlife, including some gorgeous lupins that the bees absolutely loved.



One even got so carried away it forgot where it was and landed on my hand.

We saw a few butterflies in the garden, including our first Painted Lady of the year, but the highlight had to be this – a Green Hairstreak. To see these little beauties previously we’ve had to travel to nature reserves, so to have one virtually fly up to us in the garden was amazing. So amazing that I fumbled with the camera and only managed one rubbish photo – but it is just about recognisable as a green butterfly!

So we can highly recommend a stay at Bridge Cottage in Withypool for anyone interested in wildlife – there’s certainly plenty of it. The village itself was charming with a pub, shop and café – what more could you want from a holiday?

We did of course venture out while we were in the Exmoor area in search of more butterflies, but I’ll cover those in subsequent blog posts – watch this space!

 

 

 

 

 

A Lot Going on at the Allotment

We’re well over half way through 30 Days Wild already, but I’ve not had chance to blog much this month. This certainly hasn’t been due to a shortage of wildlife though. The allotment is particularly busy at this time of year with everything (especially the weeds) springing into life. A neighbouring plot has regular slow worm sightings, which I view with great envy. For some reason we can’t tempt them onto our plot even though it is just a few metres away. But I sneaked a peak into said neighbour’s compost bin the other day and was delighted to spot a lovely large slow worm happily sitting on top of the compost.

Unfortunately the compost bin was too high and I was too short to be able to hold the camera high enough to get the whole reptile in focus, which was a bit annoying. So I went back the next day with my GoPro camera on a stick and did a short video to fit it all in. The slow worm didn’t move so it’s not exactly an action packed sequence, but at least you can see the whole animal.

Slow worm on allotment

 

A few sunny June days have also allowed me to try out my latest moth pheromone lure – this time trying to attract the currant clearwing. We have plenty of currant bushes down on the allotment, so it seemed a reasonable assumption that we’d get the moths, but I was still amazed how quickly they came. No sooner had I put the lure out and turned round to get the camera when there was already a hopeful moth buzzing round the trap. Within minutes I had about half a dozen. They were smaller than I expected and are most unusual looking insects. If I didn’t know they were moths I don’t think I would ever have guessed. See-through wings on a body striped a bit like a wasp with a strange pompom tail. They were of course all males having been fooled into thinking my lure was an attractive female.

I did try the lure out at home later – we don’t have any currant bushes there, but I was just curious. Surprisingly I got even more moths in the garden than I did on the allotment. The currant clearwing moths are obviously reasonably abundant in our area and yet I’ve never even glimpsed one without the lure.

Next insect of interest was a large red damselfly laying eggs in the allotment pond.

I didn’t see the male, but there obviously must have been one, because the female was very busy ovipositing in the pond. You can see her in the next photo curving her abdomen round to place each egg carefully in position.

I did try and video her laying the eggs, but she managed to position herself at an awkward angle to film, so apologies for the blurry (and shaky) camera work, but you can hopefully see how carefully she positions her abdomen, delicately probing to find the right spot.

Damselfly ovipositing

The other really interesting insects we’ve been getting at the pond are signal or semaphore flies – small long legged flies with the grand name of Poecilobothrus nobilitatus. The males have white tips to their wings which they wave about like semaphore flags to signal to each other and to females. I’ve spent ages trying to film their displays, but they are so small and so quick it is very difficult to focus on the right bit of the pond at the right time! But in this first shaky video below a male can just about be seen energetically trying to see off another male with his assertive wing display.

signal flies males

In this second shaky video a male (on the right) is trying to woo a female (on left) with his hopefully impressive courtship display. Not sure how convinced she was!

signal flies male and female

But the big excitement for me is the development of our tadpoles into mini frogs. We’ve been anxiously watching over them since March and spotted our first mini frogs in early June. I’ll do a full froggy update soon hopefully, but here are a few photos for now. We seem to have them in all stages of development still – many are still just tadpoles, some now have back legs only, some are starting to show front legs and some like this one below are virtually there apart from the remains of a tail.

The froglets are generally only about the size of a fingernail, but they are perfectly formed – frogs in miniature.

They can of course breathe in the air now, and some are already starting to explore beyond the confines of the pond. We have to be very careful where we tread as the grass is now full of tiny froglets.

So plenty going on down the allotment and that’s without even looking at the bees, the birds, the hoverflies and butterflies that we see regularly too. Not all the plots on our allotment site are gardened organically, but ours is and I feel we reap the benefits. So what if we loose the odd vegetable or some fruit to caterpillars or slugs or pigeons – the rewards of a plot full of wildlife far outweighs the losses. I can live without the odd lettuce or raspberry, but I wouldn’t want to miss out on mini frogs and semaphore flies!

 

Out and About – Tiddesley Wood

The Two Lazy Gardeners went crazy today, got off our sofa and went out and about! It’s the beginning of Bluebell season here in Worcestershire, so we headed out to some woods in hope and expectation. The wood of choice for today was Tiddesley near Pershore – a Wildlife Trust run reserve.

Signpost

Bluebells were of course the main target, but lots of other spring flowers were about, such as these Lesser Celandines, Wood Anemones and Cowslips.

Lesser Celandine

Wood anemone

Cowslip

But of course the Bluebells were the stars of the show. Although they’re probably not quite at their peak yet, they were still stunning, carpeting areas of the wood in a beautiful purply blue. Photos never seem to really do them justice, but here are a few of our attempts.

Bluebell close up

Bluebells

Bluebells (10)

Bluebells (7)

The spring flowers brought out the insects too – sadly no butterflies yet, but the bees were making the most of the bluebells.

Bee on bluebell (1)

Red tailed bee on bluebell

 

Birds were of course abundant too, although very definitely camera shy. We saw and heard a lot (including woodpeckers in the distance), but the only one we managed to get a recognisable shot of was this Tit on a nesting box.

Tit on nesting box

The wood was exceptionally muddy underfoot after all the recent heavy rain. This had one unexpected benefit – we came across loads of tadpoles in waterfilled footprints on the paths.

Tadpoles

For all the bluebells were fantastic, the highlight for me was seeing a deer (a female Roe Deer I think) jumping through the wood right in front of us. Needless to say I was so surprised I didn’t even manage to raise the camera, let alone get a decent shot, so you’ll just have to take my word for it!