Friday, 29 July 2016

4 go wild on Kirren Island

We've spent a wonderful 4 days in the wilds of west Cork in Ireland. It's a beautiful place with some fantastic scenery and plenty of exciting wildlife to keep us busy. With no phone or internet access for the majority of the time, we had no excuse but to get out there and go wild!

Our house overlooked the sea and was very remote, accessed by a lane barely wide enough for a car, lined by fuchsia bushes, with swallows swooping overhead.

We had a very friendly stonechat that sat outside the kitchen window and several whitethroats 'played' in the bushes in the garden all day.

Whitethroat (or at least I think that's what they were!)
The beach was close by, so the kids spent a lot of time rock pooling and swimming. The weather was typically Irish, with sunshine one minute and drizzle the next, but it didn't put anybody off (especially as they had wet suits).
Serious rock pooling involves getting in with the creatures!

We even found Kirren Island (from the Famous Five) and managed to wade out to it to explore.
On the way to Kirren Island
We found all sorts of treasures on the beach, including mermaid's purses (the egg cases of sharks), crabs, two types of jellyfish and some enormous mussels.
Shore crabs - to be handled with care!

Mermaid's purse
Compass jellyfish
Huge mussels
Our best beach find was dozens of little blue 'jellies' with a sail, called by-the-wind sailors. They live out at sea, but occasionally get blown ashore when there are gales. They had the most amazing patterns on them and were all over the beach.

When the tide was out we saw little egrets, curlews and hooded crows picking through the sand.

Hooded crow
There was time for a bit of beach art as well.
Toothy the shark
We spent a few minutes watching a thrush crack open a snail for its tea...

... and found a single ragwort plant in the sand dunes with 14 burnet moths on it.
I'm not sure what the collective noun for burnet moths is
We drove out to Mizen Head, the most South Westerly point of Ireland, for more fantastic views. We were quite literally blown away!

The Irish are good at cliffs!

Even up on the top of the cliffs we found shiny green beetles called rose chafers hanging on to the ragwort.
Rose chafer, hanging on tight!
We went on a whale watching trip while we were there, but I'll write a separate post about that!

On the way home we popped into Drumbeg stone circle, because you can't visit Ireland without seeing a stone circle.

Stonehenge has shrunk!
It was a fantastic few days at the beach ... who needs the Mediterranean when you've got beautiful county Cork.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

County Cork

We're spending a few days at the beach in the wilds of County Cork, Ireland. The internet is sparse at best, so I'll have to catch you all up on our adventures when the technology allows. Lots to tell though, including these fantastic by-the-wind-sailors washed up on the beach. More soon ....

Monday, 18 July 2016

Blue and orange

Finally the sun was shining and it was steamy hot today ... perfect weather for all those butterflies that have been missing from my walks over the last few weeks. There's one in particular, the chalkhill blue, that I've been waiting for. I hadn't seen any yet this year, but today was the day!
Beautiful Grangelands in the sun
I walked around Grangelands and there they were, beautiful powder blue, flitting low around the flowers, settling occasionally to pose for a photo.

I walked over to the Rifle Range side of the reserve, but I didn't see any at all over there. They all seemed to like the Grangelands side, probably to catch the morning sun or stay out of the breeze. At one point I stood at the bottom of a slope and counted 16 male chalkhill blues flying ahead of me in a small area. I only saw the male butterflies, which are the pale blue colour, and didn't see any of the brown coloured females. Maybe they haven't hatched yet.

There were lots of marbled whites, meadow browns and ringlets flying and I saw several small skippers, a red admiral and a couple of small tortoiseshells. I also saw my first gatekeeper of the year (although I've just seen one in the garden as well).


Small tortoiseshell
I couldn't help but laugh at the little red beetles mating on the hogweed, completely covered in pollen and hanging on upside down. They looked a bit drunk on pollen!

I walked back through the shade of the woods and saw a speckled wood in the dappled sunlight.
Speckled wood
All sorts of things love hogweed, so I stopped to look at what was feeding on some growing on the side of the path. I was just trying to get a photo of a spotted longhorn beetle, when a flash of orange hurtling past completely distracted me (so I only got a photo of the beetles bottom!)
A spotted longhorn beetles bottom
Wondering what it was, I waited for it to come back and soon the most beautiful silver washed fritillary settled right in front of me on the hogweed. You can clearly see the silver lines on the underside of the wing that give them their name.

I was feeling pretty pleased with my morning already, but then a second silver washed fritillary appeared and started chasing the first one around me. They kept coming back to the hogweed, settling briefly, then setting off again. I stood there and watched them for several minutes.

They look like they're bouncing up and down on the hogweed

To top it all off, I saw a zebra through the bushes. Who needs to go on safari when you've got the Chilterns!

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Ragpits and reservoir

Bug Mad Girl wanted to go to her favourite nature reserve, the Ragpits at Aston Clinton, today. It's an amazing place, bursting with thousands of orchids, wonderful butterflies and other insects, but the thing she likes most of all is the slowworms. We found four slowworms hiding under the metal sheets put out for them, but there were a lot of people there today (which is quite unusual) and they'd looked under the sheets before us, so I suspect more slowworms had 'legged' it already.

There were lots of marbled whites flying, as well as meadow browns and ringlets. We saw one large skipper, but there was no sign of any common or chalkhill blues, which we're still waiting to see emerge. It was very hot and humid, but not particularly sunny. Even so, the numbers of butterflies around at the moment are a bit disappointing. I hope they pick up soon as the big butterfly count started yesterday!
Marbled white
The orchids at the Ragpits are wonderful. Many have gone over now, but the pyramidal orchids are still going strong and there are a few common spotted and chalk fragrant orchids that haven't gone to seed yet.
Pyramidal orchid
Common spotted orchids

Pure white chalk fragrant orchid
Even when the orchids have gone to seed they make an impressive site and you can't help but skip and dance along the paths.

On the way home we called into Weston Turville Reservoir, where we bumped into a lovely family of swans.

It's another wonderful place to visit, where you can sit and watch the birds swooping over the water and the dragonflies buzzing all around you.

I believe these are black-tailed skimmers (but I'm happy to be corrected!)

There were plenty of birds flying over the water, including swifts or house martins (I don't think they were swallows as they didn't have long tails, but I'm not sure between swifts and house martins!) and white birds that were flying over the reservoir and diving down to the water.  We weren't sure what they were (maybe common terns), so Bug Mad Girl took a video of them.
Maybe a common tern
We also watched a great crested grebe as it swam around and then disappeared under the water. 

Great crested grebe
Two very different but equally amazing places to visit. It was such a lovely way to spend a couple of hours this afternoon.