Thursday, 7 July 2016

Chasing frogs and fritillaries

I'm so glad that I decided to take a walk around Bald Hill on Aston Rowant Nature Reserve this morning. I'd looked for the frog orchids that are supposed to grow there several time last year, but with no luck, so I thought I'd give it another go today. I'd seen them on Watlington Hill already this year, so if they were there, now was the time to look for them.


The reserve is split in two by the M40 motorway and this part is much quieter than the Beacon Hill side. It's covered in wild flowers and is a real treat to walk along the top of the hill, looking out over the wonderful views. There were hundreds of marbled whites fluttering all around me, plus ringlets, meadow browns and several small heaths. It was lovely!

Marbled white

Small heath
I reached the area that I hoped would contain frog orchids and started to search. They really are the most tricky thing to find as they blend into their surroundings so well. Best thing to do is get down to ground level and hunt around on your hands and knees. Eventually I found two together


As I was photographing them, I realised there were another two very close by. I was happy to have found them and gave up at that point, but I'm sure there were lots more nearby (I just couldn't see them!)  

There are four frog orchids in this photo - that's how hard they are to spot!
There were pyramidal orchids and common spotted orchids growing along the hillside, although the common spotted orchids are starting to go over now. They're so beautiful, but you have to make the most of them while they're around, as they'll soon be gone.
Common spotted orchid
Pyramidal orchid
It really was full of wonderful flowers, but the viper's-bugloss caught my eye as it seemed very popular with the bees. The flowers start off pink, then open out to a vivid blue colour. I tried to find out how it got its name and came across several theories, including the fact that the plant can be used as a remedy for snake and insect bites, the speckled stalks look like snake skin and the seeds are the shape of a vipers head.

Viper's-bugloss

Very popular with the bees
By about 11am it started to warm up and the sun came out. I could hear the grasshoppers and crickets whirring and chirping around me and I spotted this little one on a leaf. It was small, with a very square shaped body and I think it's a dark bush-cricket, although it looks quite a lot like a frog!


About half way back to the car, the sun came out from behind a cloud and a large orange butterfly shot past me. It was flying fast and not settling and I was pretty sure it was my first fritillary of the year. Then I saw another and another and they were flying all around me, bombing about, hurtling around. As soon as the sun went in they disappeared, only to start flying around again as soon as it was sunny again. I chased them for a while hoping they might just settle, but they weren't in the mood to be photographed. Eventually I decided to plant myself next to some knapweed and see if they would come to me. Eventually one did exactly that and settled for about a second, just long enough to get one photo before it was off again. This is the only photo I got of them, enough for me to id them as dark green fritillaries.
Dark green fritillary
What a brilliant morning chasing frog orchids and fritillaries around Bald Hill!

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