Saturday, 5 August 2017

Snakes in the grass at the Big Vegetable Show

Our village show was held today, or as we call it, The Giant Vegetable Show. It's usually a good show, so we dodged the thunderstorms and popped up the road for a look. There were plenty of very big vegetables and some odd looking vegetable animals, but the stars of the show turned out to be snakes! It's not every day you see a Burmese python (one of the largest snakes in the world) slithering around a field in Buckinghamshire!

The kids loved holding the snakes and would now like one as a pet. I told them that when they grow up and leave home they can have as many pet snakes as they want!



They were also quite taken with the bosc monitor!

We met a noctule bat called Rose ...

... watched ferrets racing ...

... and spotted the queen bee.

Then the bee keeper donned the outfit and opened up the hive inside a netted area. I've never seen anybody do that at a fair or show before, so it was interesting to see. He puffed smoke at the bees, which I always though made them drowsy. Apparently it doesn't though, as it makes them think there's a forest fire. Then they dive into the hive and eat as much honey as possible, ready for a hasty escape. That gets them deep into the hive makes them so full that they can't bend their abdomens round to sting anybody.


Mustn't forget the vegetables!

Very odd vegetable animals

Enormous cabbages and courgettes
We also saw some very badly behaved dogs. They were supposed to ignore the sausages and squeaky toys all around them and go to their owner when called, but almost all of them couldn't resist the tempting treats, which was very funny.

Then the little one met the mayor, which seemed to make his day. He even wiped the ice cream from his face before saying hello!

 What a great show!

Monday, 17 July 2017

A chalkhill, white-letter, dark green morning

I stood at the top of a Grangeland slope this morning and there were so many chalkhill blues fluttering through the short grass that I hardly knew where to look. I'd focus on one that had briefly settled and another would flutter past and distract me. It was such an amazing sight to see the short grass slope shimmering pale blue as hundreds of them flittered and danced! Not a bad problem to have, but it did make my head spin slightly!!

Chalkhill blue

Chalkhill blue
I didn't think things could get much better than that, but then I spotted a little brown butterfly that looked a bit different. As I got closer I almost dropped the camera when I realised it was a white-letter hairstreak. It's the first one I've ever seen at Grangelands and I was thrilled when I saw the distinctive white 'W' on it's hind wing and realised what it was. It was a bit tatty, but I don't mind!

White-letter hairstreak, showing the white 'W' on its hind wing 
White-letter hairstreak
There were butterflies everywhere, loving the wild marjoram and the sunshine. I got carried away following marbled whites, common blues and small skippers and trod in a rabbit hole, turned my ankle over and put my hand down on a thistle. It really hurt! As I sat there picking prickles out of my fingers, a dark green fritillary settled next to me. It was chased away by a meadow brown, but was back within a few minutes to almost the same spot.

Dark green fritillary
What a wonderful morning! As I walked back, there were brimstones, gatekeepers and meadow browns and I saw a comma and red admiral when I was almost back at the car park. Another beautiful morning at Grangelands!



Red admiral

Friday, 14 July 2017

Red kite tumble

We've had a bit of a drama with the red kite's nest in my parents back garden.
The smaller of the two chicks, a couple of days ago
The smaller of the two chicks fell out of the nest at some point Tuesday night or Wednesday morning (when it was very rainy and chilly). He was found sitting in the middle of the lawn, looking very wet and cold.

He looked very sorry for himself as he was soaked through and was too young to fly, so wouldn't have been able to get back up into the nest. He was a 'sitting duck' and the neighbours cats were already lurking in the bushes, so Mum carried him indoors and he sat on their kitchen table while they tried to decide what to do with him. One foot seemed to have been damaged in the fall and he wasn't using it at all. Later that morning the sun came out, so they put him on a bench on their patio to warm up and his parents both came and sat in the nearby trees and 'talked' to him.  

My parents called Tiggywinkles, which is a very well known wildlife hospital only 15 minutes away from them, to ask what to do with him. They said to bring him in and they'd make sure his foot was OK, give him pain killers if needed, then look after him until he was old enough and strong enough to be released. If he had damaged himself so badly that he couldn't be released, they'd care for him permanently.

All a big sad really, but at least he has a chance of making it back to the wild. He will probably be able to fly within about a week, so fingers crossed he makes it.

Unfortunately I missed the whole thing, as I was out all day on a school trip, so I have no photos of the drama!

The older chick is doing well and the parents have been trying to encourage him to fly around the garden. He flies from one tree to another, then goes back to the nest for a snooze and some food. He spends the rest of the time sat on one of the branches outside the nest. Won't be long now until he flies off for good.
The elder of the two chicks

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

BBC Wildlife photo of the week

I was thrilled to find out that one of my photographs is BBC Wildlife magazine's photo of the week.

We looked after some small tortoiseshell caterpillars over 30 Days Wild, that we watched pupate. This picture was taken when one of them hatched out about a week and a half later. The blog post with more photos and a video of the moment one hatched can be found here.

Thanks BBC Wildlife!

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Reptile rockery

Each month Springwatch have a Wildlife SOS (Save Our Species), which encourages everybody to do something specific to help our wildlife. This month it was to build a reptile rockery. When Little Brother had to do a project on 'habitats' for his homework, we decided building a reptile rockery in our wildlife garden would be perfect.

As reptiles are cold-blooded, they need somewhere sunny to bask and warm up, as well as somewhere shady to hide when it's too hot or when there are predators nearby. We raided Nanny Moth's garden and found a mixture of flat stones, broken pots and pieces of concrete (all flattish and warm in the sunshine), which we arranged with plenty of gaps as hidey holes. Then we planted some herbs around the edge, to provide extra shade and to attract insects for our reptiles to eat.

The reptile rockery is in a sunny spot near our new pond, so it will also be a great place for frogs and toads to hide. No sign of any basking reptiles yet, so we helped with a few from the toy box!

And the furry anaconda needed wrestling!
Homework done and Wildlife SOS done!

He wrote up a little bit about reptiles and the habitat they need for his homework
I'm not sure we have any reptiles in our garden yet, but maybe this will help some to live there. Wouldn't it be great to have a resident slow worm or grass snake one day!

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Branching out!

Big news ... the first of the back garden baby kites has left the nest and is out on a nearby branch.

Mum on the right and the larger of the two chicks on the left

It hasn't gone far. The nest is on the left of the photograph below and Mum and the chick are out on the branch on the right.

The second chick is about a week behind the first and is sitting tight in the nest, just watching what's going on. This one still has fluffy grey feathers on its head.

The chick is a bit wobbly still and fell forward before regaining its balance after a bit of flapping. Mum is staying very close by and keeping a watchful eye on it.
A bit of a wobble

Balance regained
Both parents have been doing a great job of looking after the chicks and it looks like all their hard work paid off. They're looking a bit shabby now though and are moulting their feathers, which means there are always lots of great feathers around the garden.

Looking a bit ruffled!
A tickle of red kite feathers collected from the garden
 The collective noun for a group of feathers is a tickle, which always makes me laugh!

Friday, 7 July 2017

Chalkhill blues and silver washed fritillaries

I walked around Grangelands this morning and was delighted to see the first chalkhill blues of the year out, fluttering low over the short grass on their favourite slope. They'd settle very briefly for the occasional quick photograph, but never seemed to sit still for long!

They're such a beautiful pale blue and a real sign that summer is here. One even sat on my finger for a while!

I mostly saw the blue males (as their bright colour makes them so much easier to spot than the brown females), but I did see one pair mating.

In another week or two this slope will look like it's shimmering in the sunshine as there will be so many chalkhill blues flying over the grass.  They're fussy butterflies and like short grass on a sunny slope, particularly this slope. Walk around to the other side of the reserve and you won't see any at all.

There seemed to be butterflies everywhere, including meadow browns, gatekeepers, small tortoiseshells, small heaths, ringlets and marbled whites. Many of the marbled whites had bright red dots on their bodies, which are tiny parasitic mites called trombidium breei.

Marbled white with red mites

This meadow brown also had mites on it
 The thistles were full of soldier beetles, which always seem to be having a party!

Watching me, watching the soldier beetles!
 As I walked back through the dappled shade of the trees, two silver washed fritillaries were feeding on bramble flowers. They're beautiful, big butterflies and a real treat to see.

What a beautiful morning full of wonderful butterflies!