Friday, 26 August 2016

Almost autumn at Yoesden

I recently wrote about a very special place called Yoesden and some of the wonderful wildlife that can be found there at this time of year. I was lucky enough to have it included in Autumn, an anthology for the changing seasons, which was published yesterday.

To celebrate I decided to visit this afternoon and see what treasures I could find. It was hot and very sunny, so thankfully felt more like summer than autumn (I not quite ready to give up on summer yet!) Although, the signs were all around though that autumn is well on it's way. The bank looked dry and parched, with the lush green of spring replaced by crispy browns and yellows.

The hedgerows were full of juicy blackberries and sloes ...

 ... and the dwarf thistles had literally exploded all over the slope, covering it in a fluffy carpet of thistledown.
Thistledown was eerywhere

A lot of the summer flowers had faded, giving the autumn blooms a chance to shine. The twinkly purple stars of gentian were opening along the slope and beautiful devil's bit scabious has started to turn its hide-away in the 'Hole in the Woods' into a sea of purple.

Devil's bit scabious

The butterflies never disappoint at Yoesden, especially the little blue ones. We saw common blues, one holly blue, chalkhill blues, brown arguses and the fabulous Adonis blue today.

The male adonis blue is a brighter, more electric blue than the common blue and it has black lines crossing through the white fringes to the wings. These are very rare and we are incredibly lucky to have a thriving colony at Yoesden.

Adonis blue male

The chalkhill blues are not quite as rare as the Adonis blues, but still have very specific requirements so can only be found in a few locations in the South of England. The males are fairly easy to identify as they are a powder blue with smoky grey edges to the wings.

Male chalkhill blue, looking a bit tatty
The females are much harder to identify. Both the female Adonis and chalkhill blue is mostly brown, with black lines cutting through the white fringes to their wings.

From underneath this could be either a female Adonis or chalkhill blue
When you look from above, the female adonis blue has silvery blue scales near its body and silvery blue scales around the outer edge of the spots on its hind wings. In the female chalkhill blue these scales around the spots are silvery white.

Still not 100% sure whether this is a female Adonis or chalkhill blue
Just to add to the confusion, there were brown argus butterflies flying as well. These are lovely little chocolate brown 'blues' that look a lot like the female common blue.

Best way to tell your looking at a brown argus is to look at the underwing and check for no spots near the body on the forewing. The blues can get a bit confusing and you can get a bit carried away counting spots and trying to identify what's what. Best thing to do is just enjoy seeing them, as they're all beautiful!
Brown argus
We also saw one painted lady flitting around the devil's bit scabious in the 'Hole in the Woods'. It only settled for a few seconds at a time, so I chased it around for a while trying to get a decent photo, but it was much too hot to stick at it for too long.

We also saw speckled woods, meadow browns, brimstones, one small heath and one small tortoiseshell. No sign of any small coppers and I would have expected to see far more small tortoiseshells, as well as red admirals and peacocks.


Small tortoiseshell
The crickets and grasshoppers were pinging around in the grass, but we didn't see any great green bush crickets today (Bug Mad Girl's favourite). They seemed to be enjoying sunbathing on the baked chalk of the paths.

Red Kites soared over the bank, a green woodpecker flew down the edge of the trees at the top of the slope and a family of long-tailed tits flitted through the bushes by the gate as we were leaving.
Red kite
When I was there at the end of May I found a roe deer that had recently died. I had a quick look to see what was left of it and found a few bones, including this vertebra, which I brought home to add to our collection. It's amazing that it had only taken three months for the entire animal to be almost gone.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Feeling inspired by Bird Fair 2016

We spent yesterday at the Bird Fair at beautiful Rutland Water. Last year we renamed it the Bug Fair as we spent the entire day looking at mini-beasts and even had a go at bug hunting and pond dipping. In fact by the end of the day we'd barely even noticed there were any birds! This year I'd say it was more of an Inspirational Fair, full of inspiring people, causes and places we can only dream about one day visiting.

Bug Mad Girl had heard about the WWT's Flight of the Swans project already, so she was very excited to meet the team and sit in the paramotor. Sacha, who I have to say looks every bit the intrepid explorer, plans to follow the 7000 km migration of Bewick swans from arctic Russia all the way to Slimbridge. She'll be strapped into a paramotor (which looks a bit like a dismantled shopping trolley with a car seat attached to it) and will fly with the swans, trying to raise awareness of their threats from hunting, power lines, wind turbines and loss of habitat.

Bug Mad Girl has volunteered to go on the next mission!
Bewick swan made out of lego
The Art Marquee is always a big favourite and it's lovely to walk around and get ideas. Bug Mad Girl is a bit of an artist, so she's always looking for inspiration. Last year I came home with a Richard Lewington print, but this year I resisted the temptation (just) and we made do with watching the master at work as he painted a butterfly on the art mural.

Richard Lewington at work
Bug Mad Girl had a go at painting a sparrow on the children's mural...

... and we found a sculpture that was an uncanny resemblance to BMG!

When did she model for that then?
Rutland Water is famous for the Ospreys that nest there each summer. We found out a bit about the Osprey Flyways Project, which links schools across the migration flyway of the Ospreys, providing wildlife education and support for six Gambian schools. We wrote a message to one of the schools and attached it to the nest, which will be taken to Gambia on the next visit.

I couldn't resist taking a few photos of the Ospreys as I was there and I think they turned out quite well really ...

... just joking! Of course I didn't take those photos, just snapped the posters on the Osprey stand!

We met lots of people dedicated to wildlife conservation, including Butterfly Conservation, Buglife, the spider people, the dragonfly society and the badger group. All very committed to their causes and very keen to chat about their work and their creatures of choice. So many people give up so much of their time and care so passionately about wildlife. I'd say that's pretty inspirational too!

Identifying moths on the Butterfly Conservation stand
Meeting the badgers

We even met an albino and a ginger (erythristic) badger!
There were so many stands advertising wonderful birding holidays in exotic locations. Lots of them were giving away freebies and Bug Mad Girl came home with armfuls of pins, posters, sunglasses, wristbands and even a football and a swim bag!
She had quite a collection of pins by the end of the day
Top prize for marketing went to Trinidad and Tobago, for the fluorescent orange sunglasses, beautiful pin and great stand. Other places we would love to visit one day include Gambia, Colombia and Guatemala, who won us over with the lovely friendship bracelets they were handing out. When you tie it on, you make two wishes for yourself and the Guatemalan people make a wish for you as you tie the third knot, that you will one day get the chance to visit Guatemala.

We were also quite taken with the prospect of a whale and dolphin cruise in the Bay of Biscay, run by Brittany Ferries and the charity ORCA. Much more achievable than some of the 'dream' holidays we saw, so we'll just have to work on Dad now!

The Optics Tent was a big hit again this year. I must admit that it's only when you actually look through a good pair of binoculars you realise just how rubbish your own cheap pair are. We all spent quite a long time gazing out over the water actually surprised we could see something out there! Bug Mad Girl has chosen her pair, now she just needs to persuade someone to buy them for her!!

She was also very keen on the popup one man bird hide. Must admit it looked fun, but I managed not to be persuaded (although she tried very hard).

We also spent some time on the lovely Wildlife Trust stand and voted for our favourite wildlife experience.

We also entered several competitions, on other stands, to win a pair of binoculars ... favourite of those was the World Land Trust, who I hadn't heard of before, but they're a bit like the Wildlife Trust but overseas.

We had a lot of fun, the weather was good and we all came away feeling inspired in one way or another.
Watch out! Nanny Moth has turned into a pirate!

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Hell-fire, sunset and silver spots

We've been busy bees with the summer holidays in full swing, so this post is a bit of a catch up on the last few days.

I walked the dog around Grangelands this morning in the spitting rain and wind. I just thought to myself that there wouldn't be any butterflies silly enough to be flying in this weather, when a silver spotted skipper flew up to me and sat on a flower at my feet. It was the only butterfly I saw all morning, but what a great one to spot!
Female silver spotted skipper

We visited the Hell-Fire caves in West Wycombe yesterday. They're a series of tunnels and caves dug into the chalk hill, that were used by the infamous Hell-Fire club formed by Sir Francis Dashwood in the 18th century. These days it's a fun place to visit, look for ghosts and jump out and scare your parents!

Face carved into the wall of one of the tunnels

Ruins outside the caves

Moss covered lady

The river Styx
It rained almost all day yesterday, but the clouds finally cleared in the evening and the sun came out. We dashed up to Coombe Hill, one of the highest points in the Chilterns, just in time for the sun to set. Such wonderful views and a beautiful time of the day.
The monument at the top of Coombe Hill - looks like it's got a bit of a lean
but I don't think it really has!
The monument

Wonderful views of the Chilterns and out across the Vale of Aylesbury

 We played in the stream ...

Tiny dark green shiny beetles were all over the plants along the edge of the stream. As soon as you got close to them they'd ping off into the distance.

We found a tall plant with yellow flowers growing by the stream. It caught my eye because of the great big spikes underneath each leaf. Looked a bit viscous!

We checked the nettles growing along the edge of the stream for black spiky caterpillars (comma, small tortoiseshell and peacock) but didn't find any. That's a bit of a worry as we usually always see them there, so lets hope they're not going to have a bad year. We did see a lovely peacock butterfly sunbathing in the grass though.

Whistlejacket watched us from his tree as we walked back home.

And finally, a couple of beasties that we've come across in the last few days ...

A robber fly from Grangelands - love its spiky legs

A sexton beetle - this one was playing dead, but eventually lifted its head up
and disappeared into the undergrowth.  They're always covered in mites
and you can see them under this ones chin!