Sunday, 29 May 2016

Military fly-by

We visited Homefield Wood today as part of a BBOWT guided walk with Peter Creed. We were there to see the fabulous military orchids, although Bug Mad Girl's orchid enthusiasm only last about 20 minutes, so she was also hoping for plenty of bugs.

The military orchids are large, statuesque orchids, that stand tall above the grass, making them easy to spot. They're listed as vulnerable and are one of our rarest orchids, with only a handful of sites in the country. They were thought to be extinct until they were rediscovered at Homefield Wood in 1947 and the site was kept secret for many years for fear people would dig them up.

The upper petals form a pointed hood that looks like a helmet and the lip forms the shape of a soldier with outstretched arms. Tufts of purple hairs form dots down the centre of the lip that are said to resemble the shiny buttons on the soldiers uniform.

There was a small amount of variation in colour in the flowers from pale pink to a deeper violet. Many of the flowers were caged to protect them from being eaten and trodden on.

As well as the military orchids, there were some wonderful fly orchids in flower. I've only ever seen them with 1 or 2 flowers on where they've been hiding in grass and scrub, but these were out in the open and were much taller with 7 or 8 flowers on.

They're much more delicate than the military orchids and you could very easily miss them completely as you walked around. They resemble flies sitting on a stalk, with folded wings, glistening eyes and antennae.

We also found several common spotted orchids starting to flower, a single white helleborine and plenty of twayblades.
Common spotted orchid
White helleborine
As for the bugs ... we didn't do too badly, despite it being quite overcast and chilly. We saw a soldier beetle with pollinia from an orchid stuck to its head. Presumably it was helping with the pollination, which is unusual as these aren't one of the insects that usually pollinate military or fly orchids.

There were a few common blues flying and we saw a speckled wood in the
dappled shade of the woods

Garden chafer with a metallic green head and copper coloured body

Orchid beetle - they eat the roots of the orchids

Nettle weevils - as they get older, the green scales rub off and they can
look almost black

Spider eating a fly

We spotted a lovely little crab spider

Bug Mad Girl got a close up photo of the crab spider

Bug Mad Girl's photo

Back at the car park we spotted a caterpillar in one of the trees.
It may be a hawk moth caterpillar, as it has the distinctive hawk moth tail.
I'm not sure about that though!

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Yoesden blues

Yesterday I went to Yoesden with a friend to see if the Adonis blues were flying. They're one of our most stunning butterflies, but quite rare as they have some very particular habitat needs and live in small colonies that don't seem to spread far. Luckily Yoesden is a known site for them and it was a warm sunny day, so we were hopeful.

While I waited for Claire to arrive, I had a look around the beautiful meadow that leads down to the reserve. It was full of buttercups and the swallows were swooping around, darting in and out of the cowshed to their nest in the roof.

There were lots of little soldier beetles in the buttercups and the hedges were full of fluffy hawthorn blossom. What a lovely place to spend a few minutes before we set off in search of the Adonis blues.
Beetling around in the buttercups

Fluffy clouds of hawthorn blossom
I spotted a holly blue, which I took as a good omen for our blue butterfly hunt ...
Holly blue
 ... but then I stumbled across a grizzly scene. A roe deer was lying in amongst the buttercups and daisies in the wonderful meadow. It looked like it had possibly been hit by a car on the road the other side of the hedge and crawled through into the meadow where it had died. Such a gruesome reminder that nature isn't all pretty sights, but it had been well eaten and will have fed plenty of creatures and their families.

When we got to the steep slope of the reserve, we immediately saw lots of small heaths flitting around. Then we caught sight of our first flash of brilliant blue and headed off down the slope after it. Finally it settled and we were both delighted to see our first Adonis blue of the afternoon.

Adonis blue
 We were quite happy to have seen one, but then we saw another and another. There were lots of them, chasing each other around to defend their territory, but thankfully settling occasionally so we could photograph them.

They can be quite tricky to tell apart from a common blue, but when you see them together you can really see how bright the blue is on an Adonis, while the common blue is a slightly deeper, greyer blue. The Adonis also has black lines crossing through the white outer edge on the wings.

Common blue on the left and an Adonis blue on the right

It's really hard to tell the Adonis and common blue apart from their underwings as the spot pattern and colouring is very similar, I think this is an Adonis though as it has the black lines through the white edge of the wings.

We also saw common blues and tiny small blues while we were there, which meant we saw 4 types of blue during our visit.

Common blues (I think)
Small blue
I stumbled across my first common spotted orchid of the year in flower while I was trying to photograph the blues. What a fantastic place!

Common spotted orchid

Friday, 27 May 2016

Oxford Festival of Nature Photography Competition

I'm thrilled and very proud to have two of my photographs picked out by the judges in the Oxford Festival of Nature Photography Competition.

Playing in the stream was runner up in the My Wild Life category. It's a photo of my husband and two children's wellies dangling over the edge of a small bridge that crosses the stream behind our house. A family welly photo!
Playing in the stream
Daydreaming in the Chilterns was awarded commended in the My Wild Life category. It shows Bug Mad Girl sat on a tree stump, gazing out over the fantastic view from the top of Chinnor Hill.
Day dreaming in the Chilterns
You can see all the brilliant willing entries here and they'll be displayed at the Wild Fair at the Oxford Natural History Museum on the 4th June.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Monkeying around

We've been on a real adventure today, to a reserve we've never visited before. Hartslock is near Goring by the river Thames and is a bit further away from home than we usually travel. We were there for something very special today though ... to see the very rare lady and monkey orchids that grow there.

The reserve was hidden away down some lovely country lanes and we had to walk about a mile to reach it. Then we had to scrabble up a steep slope, but what an amazing view from the top of the hill!

Monkey orchids are listed as vulnerable and nationally rare. They're quite small, between 10 and 30 cm tall and are only found in three sites in Britain, this one and two in Kent. Records have been kept for the monkey orchids at Hartslock since 1792.

The lip has four lobes that form the arms and legs of the monkey (each tinged a darker pink). A short fifth lobe forms the tail of the monkey.

They're unique amongst British orchids as the flowers open from the top down, opening in quick succession so they're at their best for a relatively short amount of time.

Hartslock is the only site in the country where a hybrid of the lady and monkey orchids has grown. First seen in 2006, these flowers have characteristics of both parents, but they are much larger than the monkey orchids. They're beautiful orchids, standing tall above the grass, mostly on one sheltered side of the slope.

Lady monkeys
We'd hoped to also see lady orchids while we were there, but I checked the Harstlock website and it looks like the two flowers they were waiting to open had been eaten or possibly picked. The site is taped off to mark the paths and protect the orchids, but we could still see where people had stepped over the tape and knelt in the grass to get photos (and broken off orchids!) Seems crazy that anybody would pick the orchids or damage them, especially when you could still get very close to the flowers by staying to the marked path.

There are seven different orchids found on the site, including twayblade, which we found hiding away in the grass. The others (bee, common spotted and pyramidal) will flower in a month or so.

While we were there I saw my first grizzled skipper of the year and found a shiny green beetle sharing a buttercup with a smaller black beetle. As I was looking at it, a little moth crept up a stalk of grass and had clearly just emerged and was starting to stretch out and dry its crumpled up wings.

We walked back to the car through the country lanes lined with frothy cow parsley.

The cows were leaning over to reach the goose grass, which they were pulling up in clumps and thoroughly enjoying eating.

We had a wonderful morning exploring somewhere new. I like the reserves that take a bit of effort to reach, especially when there's something really special waiting for you when you get there.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

BBOWT Guest Blog: Why 30 Days Wild made us glow with excitement!

30 Days Wild is fast approaching, where the Wildlife Trust encourages everybody to do something wild every day for the month of June. BBOWT asked me to write a guest blog post reflecting on some of our adventures from last year and some of the things we're looking forward to this year.
You can read more about 30 Days Wild and sign up to take part (and receive a welcome pack) here.

You can read my guest post on the BBOWT blog here, or a copy of it is below.
Why 30 Days Wild made us glow with excitement!
Our senses heightened by the darkness, it felt like a thousand pairs of curious eyes were peering at us from every nook and cranny. We could see bats swooping above us, visible as they crossed through breaks in the tree cover. A fox barked its anguished scream nearby, making us freeze and hold our breath.
Seeking reassurance, my daughter slipped her hand into mine and we carried on through the woods and out onto the grass slope. We began our hunt, but even as our eyes became accustomed to the darkness we had to be careful not to trip over ant hills or fall down a rabbit hole.
We scoured the long grass, searching for a magical speck of green light. Eventually we found one, then another and another and our faces, quite literally, lit up with joy. We’d found our first female glow-worms attempting to attract a mate.
We took part in The Wildlife Trusts' 30 Days Wild challenge last June and our glow-worm hunt was an amazing way to spend an evening. All 30 days were an adventure in their own way and we relished the challenge to do something wild every day for a month.
Some days we strolled through a local nature reserve to see what treasures we could find, climbed trees in the woods or played in the stream. We were lucky enough to borrow a moth trap, so we set it up in the garden overnight. The next morning it felt like Christmas as we all got up early to open it, still in our pyjamas, to see what we’d caught.

Another day I surprised the children by collecting them from school and taking them straight to our local woods to have a go at pond dipping. What’s not to love about messing about in a muddy pond in wellies and your school uniform?

Often we just stayed at home and explored our back garden, hunting for bugs, observing the baby birds and their attentive parents or watching an orange tip butterfly lay her precious eggs. Many of our activities were unplanned and just seemed to happen as we went about our daily routine.

We had a competition to see who could spot the most birds on the walk to school, the children read their favourite books about wildlife to the dog and they had a lovely time racing snails at their school summer fair.

We kept our eyes open, enjoyed being outdoors and had no trouble finding something wild to do every day.

We’re looking forward to taking part in 30 Days Wild again this June, excited to see what Random Acts of Wildness we come up with. We’re hoping the red kites nesting in the back garden will manage to raise chicks this year. The eggs should hatch at the start of June, so we’ll be watching them closely.

We’re also planning to go on another glow-worm hunt and we’re sure to set up the moth trap again. Most of all we’re looking forward to lots of surprises and being part of something as special as 30 Days Wild. It’s easy, it’s fun and it will make you glow, so why not give it a go too.

You can read all about last year’s 30 Days Wild adventures, and see what we get up to this year, on the Bug Mad Girl blog.