Monday, 22 May 2017

Bird's-nests and common blues

After a few days of much needed rain, it was very green and lush as I walked around Pulpit Hill this morning. I decided to scrabble down the hillside to check on the bird's-nest orchids, to see how many there were this year and if any were flowering yet. They grow well off the beaten track, on the side of a steep slope, so it's always a bit of an adventure to visit them. I was pleased I did it though, as there were at least 30 plants flowering in one small area.

They're very unusual plants. With very small, stunted leaves and no green chlorophyll, they look almost like the dead stems of flowers that you're more likely to see in the autumn. They're very much alive though and form a relationship with fungus to get their nutrients, which in turn get their nutrients from the roots of the beech trees.

They're quite tricky to photograph, as their cream colour is hard to pick out and they grow in the deep shade of the beech trees, so it's usually quite gloomy. Occasionally the sunlight breaks through the trees in just the right place and puts one in the spotlight though.

There were plenty of white helleborines flowering at the same site. It seems like a good year for both the bird's nest-orchids and the helleborines. I was quite surprised the slugs hadn't eaten more of them, especially after all the rain we've had recently.

White helleborine - you can see how steep the slope is that they were growing on
I got back onto the path and made my way down the hill and into Grangelands and the Rifle Range. The first buds of the chalk scented and common spotted orchids are showing, with just the slightest hint of colour to them. It won't be very long now until the reserve is covered in glorious orchids again!
Chalk fragrant orchid
Common spotted orchid
I had a look for the musk orchids, but there's no sign of them yet. They are so tiny though that you can only really see them when they have sent up their buds. I'll keep an eye out for them over the next few weeks.

I spotted my first common blue butterflies as I walked around, 2 males and a female. The males are such a brilliant bright blue and a sure sign that summer is almost here.

I also saw a green-veined white and there seemed to be female brimstone butterflies flying everywhere, looking for places to lay their eggs.

Green-veined white

Brimstone laying an egg

The precious egg

Friday, 12 May 2017

#30DaysWild excitement

30 Days Wild is a campaign run by the Wildlife Trust each year to get everybody doing something wild for every day in June. This is the third year it's run and our third year taking part and is something we all look forward to. The excitement ramped up a gear this week though, as an article that BBOWT asked me to write about our experiences last year was published in the Bucks Examiner.

Then this morning, this year's 30 Days Wild pack was delivered by the postman. It includes a wall chart, that we'll complete each day, as well as some wildflower seeds and some stickers. The kids have already started planning what they want to do, but I think we'll do a lot of stuff at home this year. We moved house recently, so we have a whole new garden to 'wild'. Should be a lot of fun!

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Green-winged orchids at Bernwood Meadows

Bernwood meadows puts on a fabulous display of green-winged orchids at this time of year and this mornings stroll around these ancient hay meadows was my first orchid 'wow' moment of the year. It was a wonderful way to kick off my orchid season.

They're such beautiful little orchids, coming in a range of purples, from deep amethyst, to pale mauve, lavender and even the occasional pale pink one.  In the past we've seen white flowers, but couldn't see any today.  Each plant seems to be unique, with different colours and patterns on the petals, almost like a fingerprint. All have the green veins on their 'wings' that give them their name though.

A meadow full of orchids is such an unusual site these days that it feels like you're stepping into the past as you walk around. At one time meadows like this were commonplace, but these days it's such a privilege to be able to visit somewhere like this.


Some of the orchids had made their home amongst the cowslips, putting on an even more dramatic show.  

We had a good look around for marsh orchids and found a single plant that was just starting to flower.  We also found lots of adder's-tongue fern growing in amongst the grass, which is another indicator of ancient grassland. This is a strange looking fern that I always think looks like a little green rabbit ear, with a single grooved spike growing out of it.

Adder's-tongue fern
There's not much that can beat a sunny spring morning spent walking through an ancient meadow full of orchids!

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

From blue jays to bluebells

We had a brilliant Easter holiday in North Carolina, where we saw some amazing wildlife and spent a lot of time just playing on the beach. It was such a treat to discover some new colourful characters and enjoy the sunshine.

Blue jay

Northern cardinal

Green anole

Playing on the beach
It was still nice to get home and we found so much had changed while we were away. The hedgerows had turned green and the trees had started to uncurl their leaves. In the back garden, our huge apple tree was covered in frilly white blossom, the honeysuckle was about to flower and the weeds had started to take over!

Apple blossom


Goldfinches enjoying the feeder in the apple tree
After two weeks away, I was keen to take a walk around some of my regular haunts. Grangelands was beautiful in the sunshine and it felt like it had started to wake up after the long winter (and at last all the mud had dried up!) . This is such as exciting time, and makes me look forward to summer walks through flower-rich grassland, surrounded by orchids and butterflies.
The view from Grangelands, looking up at Pulpit Hill
The first spotty leaves were just poking through the short grass. It won't be long now until the reserve will be covered in common spotted orchids and fragrant orchids!

Spotty leaves of the common spotted orchid, just starting to appear
It's bluebell time, so I headed up the road to Brush Hill. You'd be hard pressed to find anywhere more special than a bluebell wood at this time of year!

There were a few white bluebells in the sea of blue
Cowslips were flowering out on the chalk slope

Even the dog seemed mildly impressed by the bluebells
 From blue jays to bluebells ... we live in a pretty blue-tiful world!

Monday, 10 April 2017

Sand dollars, huge shells and wild horses

Written by Bug Mad Girl ...

Today we went to Shackleford Island to look at the wild horses and to go shelling. We took a trip on a boat, and saw dolphins jumping around in front of us. There even seemed to be a baby one! Later, we arrived at the island, and walked round to the side which is apparently best for shelling, and lying on the sand in front of us was a complete whelk shell! We continued walking, and that's when Mum spotted something in the water.. so I dived in to grab it, and our prize was a HUGE shell, bigger than any we'd found so far.
Our biggest shell so far!

We had a quick lunch on our island beach ...

... then decided to wade deeper into the sea and have a swim. While we were out there, we spotted more shells in the water and started to build up a collection of huge lightning and knobbed whelks. We also found complete sand dollars (a type of flattened sea urchin), which are really pretty and quite hard to find whole as they're so fragile. 

All our prizes
Sand dollars
Just as we were leaving, I spotted an unusual shell in the shallow water. It was smaller than the huge whelk shells, but had a distinctive pattern on it and it turned out to be a cowrie shell. Something completely different to our other finds and a little bit special.
Cowrie shell
The island is home to wild horses, that are said to be the descendants of Spanish horses shipwrecked from galleons in the 1500's. We saw a couple of them as we were waiting for the boat to come back to the island and pick us up.

We found a few more treasures on the beach ...

A bone, but we're not sure what it's from. It's very light though and is full of
little holes, so maybe it's from a bird
Portuguese man-of-war

Horseshoe crab shell washed up on the beach - they were around 450 million
years ago so are considered living fossils
A tiny starfish on the shell of the horseshoe crab
A great egret (left) and a tricoloured heron (right)
On the boat back to the mainland, we saw some more dolphins and spent a few minutes watching them. They were Atlantic bottlenose dolphins.

We had a brilliant day on the island!

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Beautiful back yard birds

North Carolina has the most amazing back garden birds. All of these have been seen on the feeders around the grounds of the lovely hotel that we're staying in.

Northern cardinal - this is the state bird of North Carolina and is absolutely
beautiful. They have a very distinctive call and you can hear them singing from
the trees and rooftops 

Blue jay

Carolina chickadee - very cute little birds

Carolina chickadee

House finch

Red-winged blackbird
Not a very good photo, but they hold out their wings, flashing their red and yellow
shoulder pads to attract their mate

Even the house sparrows have luxury digs here!

Common grackle

Eastern towhee

Mourning dove
They also have a bird that they call a robin, but it's very different to our robin. It looks and behaves like a blackbird, dashing about lawns, but it has a rust red chest.

Not quite a back yard bird, but you see lots of large birds circling high as you drive down the highway. I asked somebody what they were and they said buzzards, but they're much bigger than our buzzards. It turns out they're turkey vultures!