Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Snakes in the grass

The snake's-head fritillaries at Iffley Meadows in Oxford are stunningly beautiful. The river runs down the side of the meadows, so you reach the reserve entrance by wandering down the tow path, before heading into the meadows. You just know you're in for a real treat, then there they are, great swathes of chequerboard bells, peeping above the grass, on their elegant arched necks.

It felt like there were less flowers than last year, with some areas (like the one below) thick with blooms, but then large areas without any at all. I seem to remember there being flowers spread out across a much larger area last year. The count this year was 42,279, which is significantly lower than the 89,000 of last year, but still a fabulous number. It was very wet and boggy in the meadows so perhaps it was just too wet for them this year.

The majority of flowers were purple, but there were plenty of pink and white blooms in the mix, with the white flowers really standing out in the sunshine.



There seemed to be a lot of flowers that had been eaten by something. They all had a very distinctive patch of missing petals. Maybe it was slugs or birds, but I'm not sure.
We saw swallows flying low over the meadows and the reed beds were full of chattering warblers. It was very cold this morning, so we only saw one butterfly, a small tortoiseshell with unusual white patches on its wings.

The meadows were full of other flowers, including plenty of dandelions, cuckooflower and some cowslips.
Cuckooflower (or milk maids, as my Mum calls it)
Hawthorn in full flower already
I left with wet, muddy knees (from kneeling down to take photos), but I was so glad that I went to see them again. They really are one of my favourite flowers and such a treasure.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Rhapsody in blue

The bluebells on Brush Hill are at their best at the moment, so I took an early morning walk through the woods. It was freezing cold, but worth it, as the sun was shining and they looked beautiful.  They're over so quickly, but really do signal the start of good times.

We have about half of the world's population of bluebells in the UK and they're an iconic woodland flower. They're an indicator of ancient woodland and provide a valuable early source of nectar for bees and other insects.


There were a few white bluebells in amongst the mass of blue

Friday, 22 April 2016

Seeing spots

Very excited to see the leaves of the common spotted orchids starting to appear at Grangelands.

It won't be long now ...

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Yoesden blackthorn

It's no secret that I have a bit of a thing for Yoesden and visit a lot. Today was the last sunny day in the forecast for a few days, so I was looking forward getting out there and seeing what surprises I could find.

As usual, the view was breath taking, but today it was extra special as everything was edged with the frilly white lace of the blackthorn blossom.

I sat on an ant hill and waited hopefully for the green hairstreak butterflies to appear, but sadly they were nowhere to be seen today. I saw them there last year on the 21st April, on a sunny day that was very similar to today. Seems like it's still a bit early for them this year though and the cold weather that's on the way won't help. It's funny that earlier in the year I was worried that the mild winter was causing havoc and making spring happen too early. It feels like mother nature has sorted things out though and many things are actually a little bit behind last year.

Sitting on my ant hill, I wasn't disappointed though as I soon realised that the blackthorn was alive with all sorts of bees, flies and even the occasional butterfly. Everything looked so pretty feeding on the beautiful flowers in the spring sunshine.


It wasn't only the insects that were enjoying the blackthorn. I watched a blue tit for several minutes that was having a wonderful time in amongst the flowers.

I saw several little bee flies buzzing around, which was a real treat to see. They're such funny looking things with their furry bodies, big eyes and long proboscis.

The primroses were still flowering well and the cowslips were just starting to bloom.


To top off another wonderful visit, half a dozen swallows were swooping over the cow shed and the meadow. Hopefully they'll nest in the shed again this year.

Look very closely and you might just see a swallow sat on the roof!

BBOWT recently ran an appeal to raise £150,000 to buy land adjoining the reserve so that they could extend it. A couple of weeks ago it was announced that they'd reached their target, from public donations and a couple of grants, and the additional land could be purchased. This includes 4 acres of chalk grassland, 1.5 acres of woodland and 3 acres of pony paddocks. Brilliant news for a brilliant site!

The new land includes the pony paddocks (bottom right), woodland behind
the 'hole in the woods' (the grass area between the two areas of woodland)
and an area of chalk grassland beyond that 

Back at home, I saw my first holly blue of the year in the back garden yesterday and the first orange tip today. Feels like the butterflies are on their way at last!

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Red kites, rose moss and beautiful beech trees

Aston Rowant National Nature reserve is a wonderful place. High up on the top of the Chilterns you get wonderful views along the hills and out towards Oxford and Didcot. It can be quite noisy as the M40 cuts the reserve in half, but the motorway is down below you, so you feel quite detached from it, perched up high on the top of the chalk grassland slope.
M40 cutting the reserve in two
We were looking for early purple orchids today, hoping to find some flowers or at least some leaves. Even though we looked in the same places we'd seen them last year (under a hawthorn bush in particular), there was no sign of them. We'll have to try again in a couple of weeks, as it seems to be a bit too early for them at this site.

While we were there we decided to see if we could find the rare rose moss. We'd been shown where it was last year on a guided moss walk, so we knew where to look. It likes one small section of chalk grassland on the reserve and is very particular, growing only on the north side of the yellow meadow ant hills. With its rosette of leaves, it really does look like a tiny green rose.


Aston Rowant NR is covered in ant hills, but the rose moss only grows on a
few of them
There are some fabulous trees on the reserve, including some very old beech trees, that hang onto the steep slopes and have grown into beautiful shapes.
This one always looks like it might get up and start walking around!

Bendy branches!
The beech leaves are really starting to break now. I love the way their fur lined, deeply grooved leaves burst out of the tight leaf buds. Another sure sign of spring!


I was hoping we might see some green hairstreak butterflies too. Even though it was very sunny, there had been a frost overnight so I think it was a bit too cold (in fact we didn't see any butterflies at all). They should be appearing in the next week or two though, so I'll keep an eye out for them.

Back at the house one of the red kites was sat in a tree, so I couldn't resist taking a few photos!

Having a shake