Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Green-winged orchids at Bernwood Meadows

Bernwood meadows puts on a fabulous display of green-winged orchids at this time of year and this mornings stroll around these ancient hay meadows was my first orchid 'wow' moment of the year. It was a wonderful way to kick off my orchid season.

They're such beautiful little orchids, coming in a range of purples, from deep amethyst, to pale mauve, lavender and even the occasional pale pink one.  In the past we've seen white flowers, but couldn't see any today.  Each plant seems to be unique, with different colours and patterns on the petals, almost like a fingerprint. All have the green veins on their 'wings' that give them their name though.

A meadow full of orchids is such an unusual site these days that it feels like you're stepping into the past as you walk around. At one time meadows like this were commonplace, but these days it's such a privilege to be able to visit somewhere like this.


Some of the orchids had made their home amongst the cowslips, putting on an even more dramatic show.  

We had a good look around for marsh orchids and found a single plant that was just starting to flower.  We also found lots of adder's-tongue fern growing in amongst the grass, which is another indicator of ancient grassland. This is a strange looking fern that I always think looks like a little green rabbit ear, with a single grooved spike growing out of it.

Adder's-tongue fern
There's not much that can beat a sunny spring morning spent walking through an ancient meadow full of orchids!

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

From blue jays to bluebells

We had a brilliant Easter holiday in North Carolina, where we saw some amazing wildlife and spent a lot of time just playing on the beach. It was such a treat to discover some new colourful characters and enjoy the sunshine.

Blue jay

Northern cardinal

Green anole

Playing on the beach
It was still nice to get home and we found so much had changed while we were away. The hedgerows had turned green and the trees had started to uncurl their leaves. In the back garden, our huge apple tree was covered in frilly white blossom, the honeysuckle was about to flower and the weeds had started to take over!

Apple blossom


Goldfinches enjoying the feeder in the apple tree
After two weeks away, I was keen to take a walk around some of my regular haunts. Grangelands was beautiful in the sunshine and it felt like it had started to wake up after the long winter (and at last all the mud had dried up!) . This is such as exciting time, and makes me look forward to summer walks through flower-rich grassland, surrounded by orchids and butterflies.
The view from Grangelands, looking up at Pulpit Hill
The first spotty leaves were just poking through the short grass. It won't be long now until the reserve will be covered in common spotted orchids and fragrant orchids!

Spotty leaves of the common spotted orchid, just starting to appear
It's bluebell time, so I headed up the road to Brush Hill. You'd be hard pressed to find anywhere more special than a bluebell wood at this time of year!

There were a few white bluebells in the sea of blue
Cowslips were flowering out on the chalk slope

Even the dog seemed mildly impressed by the bluebells
 From blue jays to bluebells ... we live in a pretty blue-tiful world!

Monday, 10 April 2017

Sand dollars, huge shells and wild horses

Written by Bug Mad Girl ...

Today we went to Shackleford Island to look at the wild horses and to go shelling. We took a trip on a boat, and saw dolphins jumping around in front of us. There even seemed to be a baby one! Later, we arrived at the island, and walked round to the side which is apparently best for shelling, and lying on the sand in front of us was a complete whelk shell! We continued walking, and that's when Mum spotted something in the water.. so I dived in to grab it, and our prize was a HUGE shell, bigger than any we'd found so far.
Our biggest shell so far!

We had a quick lunch on our island beach ...

... then decided to wade deeper into the sea and have a swim. While we were out there, we spotted more shells in the water and started to build up a collection of huge lightning and knobbed whelks. We also found complete sand dollars (a type of flattened sea urchin), which are really pretty and quite hard to find whole as they're so fragile. 

All our prizes
Sand dollars
Just as we were leaving, I spotted an unusual shell in the shallow water. It was smaller than the huge whelk shells, but had a distinctive pattern on it and it turned out to be a cowrie shell. Something completely different to our other finds and a little bit special.
Cowrie shell
The island is home to wild horses, that are said to be the descendants of Spanish horses shipwrecked from galleons in the 1500's. We saw a couple of them as we were waiting for the boat to come back to the island and pick us up.

We found a few more treasures on the beach ...

A bone, but we're not sure what it's from. It's very light though and is full of
little holes, so maybe it's from a bird
Portuguese man-of-war

Horseshoe crab shell washed up on the beach - they were around 450 million
years ago so are considered living fossils
A tiny starfish on the shell of the horseshoe crab
A great egret (left) and a tricoloured heron (right)
On the boat back to the mainland, we saw some more dolphins and spent a few minutes watching them. They were Atlantic bottlenose dolphins.

We had a brilliant day on the island!

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Beautiful back yard birds

North Carolina has the most amazing back garden birds. All of these have been seen on the feeders around the grounds of the lovely hotel that we're staying in.

Northern cardinal - this is the state bird of North Carolina and is absolutely
beautiful. They have a very distinctive call and you can hear them singing from
the trees and rooftops 

Blue jay

Carolina chickadee - very cute little birds

Carolina chickadee

House finch

Red-winged blackbird
Not a very good photo, but they hold out their wings, flashing their red and yellow
shoulder pads to attract their mate

Even the house sparrows have luxury digs here!

Common grackle

Eastern towhee

Mourning dove
They also have a bird that they call a robin, but it's very different to our robin. It looks and behaves like a blackbird, dashing about lawns, but it has a rust red chest.

Not quite a back yard bird, but you see lots of large birds circling high as you drive down the highway. I asked somebody what they were and they said buzzards, but they're much bigger than our buzzards. It turns out they're turkey vultures!

Saturday, 8 April 2017

After the storm

A big storm can only mean one thing ... big treasures washed up on the beach!

We took a walk along the beach in the evening and found several blue, gas-filled bags, that are Portuguese Man-of-Wars. They resemble a jellyfish, but are actually a colony of specialized individual animals that can only survive by living together and functioning as a single animal. They usually live out in the open ocean, with the gas-filled bladder floating at the top of the water and the long tentacles submerged below them. They get washed up in bad weather as they have no means of propulsion, drifting wherever the wind takes them. They can give a very nasty sting, even when washed up on the beach.

We found a couple of dead ghost crabs. They live in the sand, coming out at night to look for food. We're planning to go out to the beach with a torch after dark because you can see them running around all over the beach. They get startled by the light and dive down into the burrows in the sand. It's supposed to be quite a sight.

We also found lots of shells washed up on the beach, and although they all seemed to be only parts of a shell, we did find some cool ones.

Channelled Duck Clam - Paper thin and is also known as Sailor's Ear
Giant Atlantic cockles

Scotch Bonnet - The State shell of North Carolina
and quite a rare find

You can see the big lip and bumps on the shell

The top part of a knobbed whelk
Pear whelks
We're not sure, either a Knobbed whelk or a Channelled
whelk - It's the size of my hand!

Next morning we waited for low tide and searched the beach again. There were lots of great bits of shell on the beach, but if you stood in the water and looked carefully, you could spot some huge whole shells. Our best find of the day was a whole knobbed whelk, a huge conch-like shell.
Knobbed whelk - the state shell of Georgia
We collected several whole lettered olives

Calico scallop (left) and a buttercup lucine (right)

Complete pear whelk
Then we found a strange looking fish washed up on the beach. We found out later that it was a striped burrfish, which is a bit like a puffer fish because it can inflate itself when startled. It was still alive so we rescued it, putting it back in the sea and watching it swim away.

We found pieces of some huge crabs and shark egg cases as well.
It was all topped off by dolphins swimming along the beach right in front of us. What a brilliant place!