Sunday, 30 August 2015

Beautifully beige

The rain meant it definitely wasn't a butterfly sort of day today, but that gave us a chance to look at a couple of the more common things that we might otherwise have walked straight past.

The first was the carline thistle, a straw coloured thistle that at first glance looks like the flowers have gone over. In fact this is what they look like when they're in full flower, between July and September. It's found fairly commonly on dry, chalk grassland and we certainly see it regularly when we're out walking.

Look closely and they are really quite pretty with tiny purple petals. The pale papery bracts around the outside make the flowers look like stars. When the flowers go over the heads remain for a long time and you can often still see them the next spring.

The second thing we noticed was a patch of turkeytail growing all around on a tree stump.

It's a common fungus that grows all year and is very colourful, with overlapping rings of brown, black, blue, purple, grey and rust with a white outer edge. It grows on deadwood, usually beech or oak and is inedible, although it's not poisonous, just too tough.

Both things may at first glance appear beige, but they really are quite beautiful and there is so much more to them when you take a good look.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Why I love the Ragpits!

If I ever ask Bug Mad Girl where she would like to go, her reply is always the Ragpits at Aston Clinton. After a visit this morning I asked her to write a blog post about what she loves so much about it ....

The Ragpits are full of nature to discover and we always see something cool when we go! Probably my favourite thing we do when we're there is check under the corrugated sheets that are dotted around the site. If we're lucky we see slowworms and occasionally mice underneath them. Today we saw two small slowworms and one huge one that was very cute! We also saw a mouse but it was too fast for mum to get a photo.

There are always lots of butterflies and other insects at the Ragpits. Today we saw several common blues one of which sat on my finger, a lovely bright small copper and two speckled woods.

We also saw a silver y, a type of day flying moth, a great big dragonfly and lots of bees and hoverflies.
Silver y moth

I love running up and down the paths as they're quite steep and when you get to the top of a slope you get a really good view, then you can run down the other side again. I also like to explore through the wooded area around the edge and climb on the logs and trees.

While I was there today I found a big bracket fungus, some lovely shiny red berries and a thistle that had exploded! Feels like Autumn all of a sudden!
There are always lots of wildflowers to see and even when all the orchids have finished flowering there's something pretty to look at.
Thousands of orchids have gone to seed
Today we saw lots of tiny white eyebright and some purple gentian that mum thinks is autumn gentian as it's not as big as the chiltern gentian.
Autumn gentian

Autumn gentian
When we went through to the meadow there were sheep grazing the land and there was lots of sheep poo! They're there to keep the grass and plants low so the orchids have a chance to grow in the spring.

I quite often find bones in the woods or on the slopes. I didn't see any today until we came across a pigeon that had been eaten. It must have been quite recent as there were bits of flesh hanging out and it had wasps and flies on it!

Somebody's lunch

So that's why I love the Ragpits. Every time we go we find something new and exciting and always have a lot of fun (and we usually see slowworms which are really cool).

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

After the rain

It seems to have rained a lot in the last few days so when it finally stopped this afternoon we dashed out for a quick dog walk around one of our local woods. We walked past the narrow-lipped helleborines that were flowering at the end of July, so I had a quick look at them. They all seemed to have gone to seed and quite a few had been eaten! However, I did find one plant that was still in bud, but it seems very late to be flowering now, so I'm not sure what sort of helleborine it is.

Narrow-lipped helleborine now gone to seed (or eaten)
A helleborine still in bud
The minibeasts were out and about after the rain, particularly the great big black slugs that seem to hang about all over the paths. We found a tiny little woundwort shieldbug nymph, a rather dashing red and black squash bug and a black ground beetle with deep red legs called a black clock beetle.

Woundwort shieldbug nymph

Red and black squash bug

Black clock beetle
 There were very few butterflies flying, although we did see a few whites.

We also watched as a large dragonfly flew back and forth along a small stretch of the path. It's wings were glowing copper as it flew. I'm reliably informed it's a southern hawker.

There are signs that the fungi have enjoyed the recent rain. Even though it's a shame that summer's coming to an end, autumn is one of my favourite times of the year and it's definitely something to look forward to!
Baby sulphur tufts (tuftlets?)

Sunday, 23 August 2015

The Bird Fair

A blog post by bug Mad Girl ...

Today we went to the Bird Fair at Rutland Water. I was really excited to be there, but I wasn't quite sure what to expect as it was the first time I'd been. When we got there, we walked through the art tent and I bought a brilliant picture of an elephant hawkmoth from Richard Lewington, a famous artist who draws lots of pictures for the butterfly and moth identification books! It's so detailed that it really makes you wonder how long it must take to draw something as great as that!
Then we went outside and there was a huge artists mural that was being painted all weekend by lots of different artists. One of them let me paint some feathers on one of the birds. I had to be really careful and he watched very closely what I was doing, but it was really exciting to be able to do part of it!
The artists mural
There was also a Children's Mural that anyone could have a go at painting. I painted a deaths head hawk moth on it.

Then we walked around the marquees and got to look at all the stands. There were all sorts of cool things to look at! I got to hold an elephant hawk moth caterpillar at the Butterfly Conservation stand. It was really cute and I would have loved to take it home with me!
Elephant hawk moth caterpillar
We saw fen raft spiders at the spider stand, which are very rare. They also had some house spiders, which are the same as the pet spider, Sparkle, that I had last year.
Fen raft spider
I made friends with a giant model of a tansy beetle at the Buglife stand. They're also very rare and are only found in York and a couple of other places in the country.

There were lots of cool binoculars and cameras at the fair, so I tried a few out and may have to ask for some for my birthday. I used them to watch the dragonflies that were flitting around outside the stand.
We went on a bug hunt with the Wildlife Trust and had a go at sweep netting.
I found lots of interesting things including damselflies, mayflies, ladybirds, dock beetles, weevils, spiders and all sorts of little bugs and beetles.
Somebody else holding a damselfly - look at those eyes!
Dock beetle

Checking what we found in the nets
We had lunch, and another look round, then we went pond dipping with the RSPB. I caught dragonfly larvae, damselfly larvae, water boatman and some pond snails. Somebody else managed to catch a stickleback!

Damselfly larva

Dragonfly larva


Water boatman
It was loads of fun and a brilliant day! I'm not sure why they call it the bird fair though, perhaps it should be the bug fair!