Thursday, 22 June 2017

#30Dayswild Day 22 - Tiny musk orchids and huge Roman snails

The weather had finally broken and it felt fresh and breezy as I walked around Grangelands and the Rifle Range this morning. The orchids are always fantastic and you can find common spotted, chalk fragrant, pyramidal and the occasional bee orchid out on the chalk grassland. It was another, very special orchid that I was keen to see this morning though. The musk orchid is one of our smallest orchids and is listed as nationally scarce, being found at just a handful of sites in the South East of England.

They're tiny and green, blending in to the grass and other wildflowers. You could easily walk right past them without even seeing them if you didn't know they were there.
Using my finger to show how small they are
They seem to be having a great year this year, as I counted over 100 growing in a small area.

We'd had a few minutes of rain and a rumble of thunder on our walk to school, so I thought there might be some Roman snails around. The rain had hardly made the grass damp though and I only saw one snail braving the dry conditions. They're our largest land snail and their shells are the size of a  golf ball, making them considerably larger than a garden snail. They're thought to have been brought here by the Romans as a source of food and live on chalk grassland along the ancient Ridgeway.

Roman snail

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

#30DaysWild day 21 - Orchid and insect heaven

The Ragpits at Aston Clinton is one of those 'special' places. Tucked away behind a bank of trees next to a main road, you would never know if was there. But when you follow the path through the trees and step out onto the open grassland, it feels like you've landed on another planet. The steep slopes and craters left by the chalk quarrying are laced with paths and trails through the wildflowers. Thousands of orchids spikes grow wherever you look and the whole place shimmers with meadow brown and marbled white butterflies flying through the orchids and other flowers. Crickets and grasshoppers chirp all around you and all sorts of fantastic insects can be found. Whenever I visit, I feel like we're so lucky that somewhere like that still exists. It's beautiful!

Spotted longhorn beetle on a common spotted orchid

Marbled white
Chalk fragrant orchids growing on the slopes of the chalk pit 
Several types of orchid grow there, but the chalk fragrant orchids are the most frequent, which number in the tens of thousands. They're delicate orchids on a tall spike that range from pink to deep reddish-purple and sometimes white.
Chalk fragrant orchids

The flowers have two sepals with a rolled up appearance, that spread out like wings held out slightly below horizontal. The lip has three lobes and a long thin nectar-filled spur hangs down behind each flower.
Chalk fragrant flowers
There were plenty of common spotted orchids as well. They tend to be fuller flowered than the chalk fragrant orchids and have spotted leaves. The sepals are usually held out slightly above horizontal and the lip has three lobes, with the middle one longer and more pointed. They're usually patterned with lines and spots and come in a range of colours including white, pink and lilac.

Common spotted orchid

Common spotted orchid

There were a few flowers that seemed to be a cross between the chalk fragrant and common spotted orchids. They seemed fuller than the chalk fragrant orchids, with wings above horizontal like a common spotted orchid, but the lip looked like the chalk fragrant lip. I'm not sure, but these might be hybrids between the two types of orchid.

There are a number of other orchids growing at the site. There are usually butterfly orchids there, but I couldn't see any today. Maybe I missed them, or they may have gone over, but I wonder if they're not having a good year. There are also white helleborines earlier in the year and broad leaved helleborines later in the year.

Bee orchid

Pyramidal orchid


Twayblade is often overlooked as it is green and tends to merge into the
background. The flowers are still very beautiful though.
It wasn't all about the orchids though as the butterflies are also the stars at the Ragpits. Apart from the dozens of meadow browns and marbled whites that were flitting through the flowers (and rarely settling) I saw a stunning newly emerged comma, a small tortoiseshell and several large skippers. I also saw the flash of a large, orange butterfly whizz past me. It may have been a dark green fritillary, but I can't be sure as it was flying so fast that it was gone before I could see it properly.


Large skipper
To top off a lovely morning, I found a slowworm underneath one of the tin sheets put out around the site.
A slowworm, hiding underneath the leaves.
What a great place to celebrate the summer solstice! It certainly felt like summer had arrived today!

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

#30DaysWild day 20 - A walk through a foxglove wood

I walked the dog early this morning, through one of our local woods that's well known for its stunning displays of foxgloves. In a good year it feels like the woods are glowing pink, a true 'wonder' of our woodland. However, this year I struggled to find many foxgloves at all.
A walk through the woods
The few foxgloves that I did find, were beautiful though, especially in the dappled morning sunlight.

The plants are perfectly adapted to attracting bees to pollinate them, with their tall stems and bright flowers. When the bee gets near it's led into the narrow tube of the flower by a series of spots on the lower lip that act like a landing strip, leading the bee towards the nectar at the back of the flower. The bee crawls into the narrow part of the flower and rubs against the pollen with it's back, pollinating subsequent flowers it visits.

They're beautiful, statuesque flowers and come in a range of colours from deep pink/purple to pale pink, almost white. Their name derives from the shape of the flowers, which are said to resemble the fingers of a glove. In folklore, the bad fairies are said to have given the flowers to the foxes to put on their feet to soften their steps whilst hunting.

The dappled shade was full of speckled woods, sunbathing on the path and chasing off any other speckled woods that strayed into their territory. The open grassy areas were shimmering with meadow browns flying low in the grass. It really was very beautiful!
Speckled wood
Even in this weather the dog managed to find a muddy puddle to jump in, so she was happy!

Sadly, it seems like this year is not a foxglove year, at least not in our local wood, but it was still a lovely place to walk, especially before it got too hot.

Monday, 19 June 2017

#30DaysWild day 19 - Toad Hall and a zebra

We decided to make a frog and toad house to go by our new pond over the weekend. It's somewhere for them to hibernate in the winter, but also a place for all sorts of creatures to shelter. I had a large terracotta pot that had cracked on one side, so Bug Mad Girl set about painting it.  

I half buried it in a shady place next to the pond today and covered the soil inside the pot with dry leaves and moss. I also put some plants around it to help conceal it and add extra cover.  
Our new pond is starting to look great and the addition of Toad Hall will hopefully help our froglets to get through the winter.
There are still lots of red damselflies using the pond, which is fantastic to see. Up close they really do look like monsters!


Just because it's funny ... I took the dog for a walk this morning in the hills and we saw a zebra!  Who knew there were zebras in the chilterns!!

Sunday, 18 June 2017

#30DaysWild day 18 - Happy Father's Day

As it's Father's Day today, we visited my Dad (and the red kites that are nesting in his back garden). The chicks were very active in the nest, probably trying to get some air as it was absolutely roasting hot, which meant we got some great views of them.  
They're about three weeks old now and are growing fast. Some of the grey downy fluff on their backs has been replaced with adult feathers, although they still have very fluffy heads! 

We also confirmed that there are two chicks in the nest, as both stuck their heads up at once.

Proud Dad sat in the tree nearby and watched over them (and us).  What a Father's Day treat to see them!

 Back at home, we put the moth trap out last night and caught 6 elephant hawkmoths and 3 scarlet tiger moths. The garden really is a jungle, full of elephants and tigers!

Elephant hawkmoth

Elephant hawkmoth
The hollyhock flowers look particularly good this year!
Scarlet tiger moth
Finally, it's hot ... really hot!  This crow was sat in the top of the ash tree in the garden sunning itself. It looks a bit how I feel!
 Happy Father's Day!