Saturday, 2 April 2016

Dancing around Dancersend

The sun was shining and the brimstone butterflies were bombing around (we saw 7 just on the way to the reserve), so it was the perfect day to attend a spring flower walk at Dancersend. It's a large BBOWT nature reserve that was once owned by the Rothschild family. It was established as a nature reserve in 1940's in remembrance of Charles Rothschild, a pioneer of nature conservation in the UK. 

We met up at the Waterworks, which is a fabulous old building in the
middle of nowhere
I've visited Dancersend a few times (it's a great site for fly orchids, greater butterfly orchids, butterflies and fungi), but never quite managed to find my way around. I was looking forward to getting the guided tour and maybe picking up a few site secrets from the warden, Mick, on the way round.
Mick, the warden, looks out over his beloved reserve
We arrived a few minutes early so had a look around the meadow by the car park. There were several brimstones, all bombing around too fast to photograph, and 3 or 4 commas that were much happier to rest in the sun. They're such beautifully coloured butterflies, with that unusual jagged wing shape. When they close their wings you can see the white comma marking on the underside which gives them their name.

The white marking which gives them their name
There was a wonderful old fruit tree covered in moss and lichen by the gate. I spent some time admiring it, while Bug Mad Girl had a go at climbing it.

Capillary thread moss

Moss and lichen covered the twisted branches
We walked through the woods, around the meadow and across the chalk grassland, looking at the flowers as we went. There were primroses, bluebells, common dog violets and early dog violets in flower. There were also a few hairy dog violets that Mick was going to show us, but the sheep in the meadow ate them just as we got to them!
Naughty sheep - due to be moved out of the meadow soon before they can
eat any more of the flowers!
At one point we headed off the path into the trees to take a look at a stinking hellebore that was in full flower. The name seems a bit unfair as it didn't seem to smell too bad to me. A pretty green flower, edged with deep red, it's poisonous and a member of the buttercup family.

Bug Mad Girl amused herself hunting for bugs, finding several ladybirds, a millipede and a tiny bee that was crawling through the grass.


A tiny orange ladybird

7-spot ladybird
Hairy yellow legs or is that pollen?
We even found some unusual fungi, including a scarlet elf cup and an earthstar, which was a bit past it's best but still great to see.
Scarlet elf cup

A dried up earthstar
As for secrets ... Mick pointed out a small patch of wych elm where there are sometimes white letter hairstreak butterflies and showed us the area where the 100+ fly orchids grow. We hunted for them last year and found about 6, so we'll have to have another go at finding them this year.

It may have been a spring flower walk, but the sunshine, butterflies, bugs, fungi and of course the flowers made it a really wonderful afternoon. To top it off we met up with a facebook/twitter friend (putting a face to the name) and enjoyed a cup of tea and some cake. Bug Mad Girl made sure she tasted each of the cakes, just to make sure they were safe for everyone to eat.

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