The Insect Glade

Or: Fleeting Moments of Wonder V

Looking over Leighton Moss.

For Father’s Day TBH and the kids bought me ‘The Butterfly Isles’ by Patrick Barkham. I haven’t read much of it yet, but I’m fairly confident that I’ll enjoy it. It details an attempt to see in one year all of the British butterfly species. There’s a map and a list showing all of the places visited where butterflies were seen. Of the 35 sites listed 3 are in this immediate area: Latterbarrow, Meathop Moss and Arnside Knott.

Meanwhile I also read:

If you ask anybody where is the best place to watch butterflies in Britain, they will probably say ‘down south’ somewhere. Those really in the know would say that there are a few areas in the north that are pretty good too! East of the Pennines, the North York Moors have some excellent butterfly habitat and there are several good areas in Scotland, too. But to my mind, there is no doubt that the limestone hills on both sides of Morecambe Bay constitute the butterfly watching capital of the north.*

And yet I know that I have only ever seen a small fraction of the 35 species which live in this area. Reading Patrick Barkham, in the introduction to ‘The Butterfly Isles’ describing himself, aged 8, and his father scanning for butterflies with binoculars and then haring after them with their cameras has given me a new resolve to try to catch up with at least a few more of that elusive 35.

It was in part for that reason that I had changed my mind about following my usual route over the crag and was now heading into Yealand Allotment. And at the first opportunity I turned up one of the rides through the trees, kept open to provide a habitat for butterflies.

And before long I saw a butterfly, off to the side of the path, something orange, I thought perhaps a skipper. I left the path to try to get a closer look, but lost sight of it, partly because I was distracted by the great numbers of damselfly and grasshoppers which my every step was sending into the air.

I think that these are blue-tailed damselflies.

I think that this is… an azure damselfly. Apparently, the key to differentiating this from numerous similar species is the mark on the second abdominal section.

A common green grasshopper. Perhaps.

Something large and blue whirred past – a male broad-bodied chaser, but was gone too quickly. Then another butterfly, orange and brown, which disappeared into the trees, but led me to these busy hoverflies…

I decided to sit down and eat a banana. Perhaps the wildlife would come to me. It didn’t quite happen that way, but I did see another butterfly on the path below me. I followed. It led me on a merry dance, but eventually I got some photos…

A fritillary!

It kept moving on – sunning itself, but off again if I got at all close. But then, as shade crept across the glade, it found itself a grass stalk, folded its wings and apparently settled down for the night. Do butterflies do that? It was quite happy for me to get as close as I liked…

I struggled, from my books, to work out whether it was a pearl bordered fritillary or a small pearl bordered fritillary, but it’s the latter – the patchwork of white on the undersides of the wings is the clincher. (Find an excellent identification guide here.)

I took lots of photos, since the spbf was being so obliging, but then caught another movement in the corner of my eye…

…a small skipper (I think).

One of the same hoverflies I saw before? Possibly helophilus pendulus.

The spbf hadn’t moved. I took no end of photos – I’ve never got close enough to any of the many fritillary species which are resident here to get photos before.

More grasshoppers…

A final word to Patrick Barkham:

A journey in search of every species of butterfly is about our need to celebrate and capture fleeting moments of wonder as we fly through our lives.

Leighton Moss again. (Like the top photo, taken from further up the hill than where I saw all the insects).

*Sam Ellis in ‘The Best Butterfly-Watching in the North’ collected in ‘The Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ edited by Terry Keefe

The Insect Glade

The Road Less Travelled

Or: Fleeting Moments of Wonder IV


Leighton Hall Farm

As I came out of the woods around Deepdale a buzzard flew overhead, disappeared over the trees, but then briefly wheeled past again. I almost got a photo. I tend to use the photos I take as (lazy) notes for the blog: things that don’t end up in the camera often don’t make it into my posts either. A case in point would be the ravens I saw on my Swindale walk recently. As I walked along the valley bottom, photographing meadow pipits and wheatears, I heard a strange soft gurgle behind me and looking back and up towards the crags I saw three ravens. They were stalling and swooping: dropping like stones and then pulling sharply out of the dives and coasting steeply back up again using the momentum of their falls. Playing. Later, as I approached Scam Matthew (a minor top near to Wether Howe), a raven took off from a spot which had been out of sight, but which was very near by. Sadly I didn’t, for once on this walk, have my camera in hand. As it flew away the raven twice barrel rolled. As before in similar circumstances I had the feeling that the acrobatics were for my benefit.

I’ve been working my way through ‘Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds’ by Bernard Heinrich. I picked it up from a charity shop earlier this year, very excited to find it after reading about Heinrich’s study of ravens in ‘Nature Cure’ by Richard Mabey and ‘Crow Country’ by Mark Cocker. Heinrich speculates that Ravens have an almost symbiotic relationship with wolves and possibly other predators, perhaps even man. He visits Inuit communities and learns that the Inuit believe that ravens will indicate the presence of potential prey to hunters by dipping their wings in the relevant direction. Perhaps my intuition about ravens is not so wide of the mark after all.

My route took me down to Leighton Hall farm, joining the route I had followed the week before and in the process passing by….

…the mayweed or chamomile I had photographed en masse the week before. Having a closer look wasn’t much help for identification purposes in this case.

I considered continuing across Leighton Moss as I had the week before – there’s always so much to see there that it’s difficult to resist heading that way, but this view…

..has beckoned to me every time I’ve walked past it recently, so I decided to head this way for a change. I watched a pair of buzzards flying together over the woods of Cringlebarrow. Whilst I watched, and took several blurred photos, I was joined by first one cow and eventually a whole herd, who proceeded to walk with me for the rest of the (long) way to the end of the field. Which was slightly unnerving.

The path emerges at the small hamlet of Yealand Storrs, from where I continued into Yealand Allotment. Of which…..

To be continued!

The Road Less Travelled

Deepdale Badger Sett

Or: Fleeting Moments of Wonder III

Below and to the west of the Open Field Surrounded by Woods (see above) on Cringle barrow is the mysterious hollow of Deepdale. By the pond, or marshy area, at the bottom of Deepdale is a badger sett. I usually swing by, when I’m this way on, to see whether it looks like the sett is occupied.


The areas around the entrances show plenty of evidence of recent digging and no end of footprints – though whether these are badger prints or not – they were all quite indistinct – is hard to say. I read “A Lifetime of Badgers” by Peter Hardy (badger enthusiast and labour MP, later Baron Hardy of Wath) earlier this year and apparently badgers will keep a number of setts in an area, and may move from one sett to another, at times abandoning certain setts. I don’t know where there are others in the area. Sadly I did see a dead badger on the road near Milnthorpe recently.


Many, many years ago I came this way one summer evening and sat hoping to see badgers. I didn’t, but I did see lots of roding woodcock and quite a few red deer. In the trees it’s quite hard to see the setts clearly from any sort of distance.

Deepdale Badger Sett

Sweet Chestnut Fly Tree

Or: Fleeting Moments of Wonder II

My colleague and friend S had asked me which way I would walk home and I had described the route over Warton Crag which I had followed the week before, but when I reached Warton I decided to go via Hyning Scout Wood instead. It was warm and shady in the wood. At the end of the wood I carried straight on heading for Cringlebarrow. In the field below Summer House Hill I came across a stately Sweet Chestnut tree, the rough and fissured bark of which was covered with small triangular webs. I stopped, hoping to find the spider which made the webs. The bark was a patchwork of differently hued lichens and absolutely covered by a variety of flies.

Is this a bluebottle?

Sweet Chestnut Fly Tree

Small Tortoiseshell

Or: Fleeting Moments of Wonder I 

Another Carnforth commute and another sunny afternoon, although, to my surprise, my lunchtime taxi journey over had been beneath dark and rainy skies, breaking a long uninterrupted chain of sunny Thursday lunchtimes.

As I headed out of Millhead towards the field path to Warton I spied this small tortoiseshell at around head-height  on some brambles.

It seemed to be intent on sunning itself, but, perhaps because of the strong breeze, was standing in an odd way with its wings pressed flat.

Very hairy isn’t it?

Small Tortoiseshell

Sweet Amber, Dragon’s Spittle and Wasp Imitators

Saturday was Silverdale Field Day and despite gloomy forecasts the weather managed to stay dry through until quite late in the evening and everything went off well – a great relief. On Sunday TBH was doing a little of her own beating of the bounds, helping to supervise a D of E expedition around Austwick in the Dales. I’d been planning for this all week – I would take the kids to Martin Mere to have a go at their orienteering course, although we had to be back by mid-afternoon to ensure that A could attend an event with the Brownies (a badge was at stake, arriving late could not be countenanced). But then Sunday morning was drab and damp, the kids were quite happy to chill, watch telly, have a lengthy bath, make jigsaws and well…we never got round to setting off.

Since then my friend The Proper Birder, who at the time was exploring the dunes on the coast south of Southport (six different orchids to be seen apparently), has told me that the weather further south in the county was superb. Drat and double drat.

Not to worry: whilst we were eating lunch S suggested (well – if you know S you’ll know that demanded would be more accurate) that we go to an indoor play area in the afternoon. I offered this suggestion to A and B, but they outvoted their brother. Only a walk in the woods would do. I’m not sure whether they genuinely preferred the idea of a walk in the woods or whether they were being charitable, what with it being Father’s day, and my fondness for a walk being common knowledge. I don’t suppose that it really matters what their motivation was – it made me happy either way, and we all enjoyed our walk, even little S.

These flowers can be found on a shrub close to where we entered Eaves Wood, or, as A pointed out, also in our garden. Its Tutsan, and I’ve posted pictures of this plant, at various times of year, on several occasions before. Here’s some of what I said in May 2008:

Tutsan, from the French toute-saine meaning all healthy. Herbalists laid the leaves over wounds and it does have antiseptic properties. Tutsan has a reputation for inducing chastity. Apparently, men should drink infusions made from the plant, and women should spread its twigs below their beds. The leaves when dried are reputed to smell like Ambergris and so it is also called Sweet Amber.

One of my posts featuring this plant is one of the handful of posts which, with no apparent rhyme or reason, has a search-engine drip-fed life long past its sell-by date.

It is a plant which I find fascinating.

I like the way, as here, you can find unopened shiny yellow buds, the showy flowers and a flower seemingly becoming a berry. Also red berries and through much of the year older, dried, black berries. One day I might actually get round to drying some leaves to find what they smell like. I shan’t be able to compare the scent to ambergris. (In case you were wondering, I certainly was: a solid, waxy, flammable substance of a dull gray or blackish colour produced in the digestive system of and regurgitated or excreted by sperm whales – thank you Wikipedia.) But, assuming that there really is a similarity, it would be interesting to find out how what the Chinese called ‘Dragon’s Spittle Fragrance’ smells.

I’ve posted photographs of an insect like this before too. I think its a capsid bug, I’ve found images of the same bug on the internet labelled globiceps cruciatus, but whilst I think that this is probably a globiceps bug, I’m not sure that it’s that particular one.

Having dragged me away from the Tutsan, the kids had their own agenda to pursue – a spot of tree climbing. All wasn’t quite sweetness and light however, since each had their own idea about which characters they should imagine they were – A said Robin Hood and his merry band (soon to feature in the school musical), B said Tom and Elena (from the Beast Quest books – the height of quality literature as far as B is concerned) and S thought Mario, Luigi and Princess Peach. Whilst they ‘negotiated’, I found some peace in this speedwell…

…which I think is thyme-leaved speedwell.

But then I thought I might manage to get to grips with dandelion like flowers….


…by taking careful note of the leaves…

So…strong red mid-stem, no long hairs, but never-the-lass hairy. Slightly wavy edge. No red spots – hang on, maybe one or two – could this be spotted cat’s-ear?

Whilst I took that photo this fellow came hurtling past and alighted expertly on this grass stem. You wouldn’t see a finer acrobatic performance in any circus.  It’s a grasshopper, as opposed to a cricket, notice the short stumpy antennae…

..but which kind of grasshopper is still beyond me.

And nearby…

..another dandelion like challenge. Slightly paler flower. And…

Definite red spots, but rounded leaves without teeth. Could this be mouse-ear hawkweed again?


Along the hedgerow on Townsfield ground elder was flowering, and was busy with wasps…

And wasp imitators…

I’m reasonably confident that the near one is myathropa florae, and that the other… a drone fly eristalis tenax.

Sweet Amber, Dragon’s Spittle and Wasp Imitators

Marsh Harrier


On the way home from Milnthorpe, driving between Slackhead and Leighton Beck Bridge we came across two cars pulled onto the verge. I couldn’t see why but the kids were quite excited – “It’s a big bird of prey Dad”

We too pulled off the road as best we could and climbed out to take a better look. A second bird of prey – a buzzard -  came out of the woods and flew at the first, apparently seeming to attempt to drive it away, perhaps from a nest. The first raptor, which was quite different in shape to the buzzard – larger with longer narrower wings – flew back towards us and was then mobbed by a pair of shelduck.

I wasn’t sure what I was watching – I wondered if this was a red kite, but my photos, despite their lack of clarity, showed a tail of completely the wrong shape.

I sent the pictures to my friend, who is a proper birder, and she identified it as a marsh harrier. Apparently the number of ‘fingers’ visible at the ends of the wings – i.e. 5, is characteristic of marsh harriers, where as a kite would have 6. Although I’ve seen marsh harriers many times at Leighton Moss, I hadn’t realised before quite how big they are.

The colourings just about visible in the photos – grey head, pale tail, pale patches under the wings, black wing tips – make it likely that this bird is a 2 year old male.

Marsh Harrier

From the Banks of the Bela

Needing to deliver A to a dance class in Milnthorpe, and with the boys in tow, I decided to revisit that stretch of the Bela which the boys and I walked in the spring.

Where we’d looked at butterbur flowers we now found the giant leaves of the same plant…

The bank was also clothed in a tall umbellifer…

…not dissimilar to the hemlock water dropwort I saw at Leighton Moss, and which I had originally mistaken for wild celery. But this I think was wild celery.

Although I’m far from confident. It was popular with bees…

I noticed that the polled baskets on this bee were grey – it never occurred to me that the colour of the pollen basket might be a function of the type of pollen being collected until I came across that idea here.

Whilst I was chasing bees, I noticed in the corner of my eye a movement on another flower and just managed to see the tail-end of something disappear into what seemed to be a silken tunnel…

A tantalising glimpse of….what? Shame the picture isn’t sharper.

Away from the river we found this garden, which aside from a small vegetable plot in the centre was almost entirely given over to nettles and ground elder.

Still, ground elder was once grown as a garden vegetable…

This garden weed is not a native of Britain, but more of a guest that has outstayed its welcome. It was introduced from the Continent, presumably by somebody who wanted to eat it: the young leaves, boiled like spinach and eaten with butter, were once considered a delicacy.

This is the 16th Century naturalist John Gerard complaining ground elder…

groweth itselfe in gardens without setting or sowing, and is so fruitful in its increase, that where it hath once taken root, it will hardly be gotten out again, spoiling and getting every yeere more ground, to the annoying of better herbes.’

I had partly sold this route to the boys as being ‘the way to the playground’, which was true – it’s the scenic route. Once the boys were enjoying the swings and climbing frames I found ivy-leaved toadflax and more biting stonecrop on the wall of the park…

From the Banks of the Bela

Shap Abbey

Since, a little to my surprise, it wasn’t raining when I finished my Swindale walk, I decided to make a slight detour on my way home to visit Shap Abbey. I had it completely to myself. This tower is the most complete part of the ruins and is also the most recent part to have been built – but even this part predates Henry VIII dissolution of the monasteries, making it around 500 years old. Isn’t it odd that we’ll travel half-way around the world to visit ancient temple sites in exotic locations, but in the middle of a summer Saturday close to some of the nation’s tourist hot-spots this one would be deserted.

Shap Abbey

Swindale and Seat Robert

I was planning to go to the Berwyns with a few friends.

Like my good friend the Shandy Sherpa I had been looking forward to a get together for a walk in the Berwyns – hills which I don’t know at all. It meant a very early start for me and when I saw that the forecast was dreadful – and what’s more that the bad weather would arrive in Wales early, several hours before it would hit the Lakes – I reluctantly decided to opt out. (Apparently, I was far from being the only one.) I’d packed my bag anyway, so when I was woken early by sunlight streaming through our east facing bedroom window I decided to tiptoe out of the house and get an early start. I was walking just after 7.

When I looked down on Swindale from Selside Pike a few weeks back, I renewed a promise to myself to visit this valley on the Lakeland fringe which until now had been terra incognita as far as I was concerned. I’ve been meaning to visit for many years because the walk is featured in Aileen and Brian Evans ‘Short Walks In Lakeland Book 2: Northern Lakeland’ and the walks in their books never disappoint. To prove the point – I followed their route on this walk and it was a cracker.

I’d parked where there are several signs warning ‘No Parking Beyond This Point’ and although there is a little space where it is possible to pull off the road further up, frankly the short walk along the traffic free lane, past several well-maintained barns, was very pleasant.

From near the farm at Truss Gap I crossed a small footbridge and took a path, not shown on my OS map, which skirted below the imposing Gouther Crag with woods on my left and the buttercup blushed and evidently quite damp meadows of the valley bottom on my right.

The ground was very wet and after the path leaves the trees there was quite a display of small heathland flowers.

I posted photos of butterwort quite recently, but I didn’t know then that those hairs visible on the petals are there to keep out small flies. Small flies are only invited to the leaves – where they are consumed. It’s a very educational business this blogging malarkey! (Look here for more about butterwort)

 Bird’s-eye primrose.


I’m pretty sure that this is thyme, although when I tasted the leaves to check, they didn’t have much scent or flavour at all.

I haven’t had much success in getting butterflies to sit still for photos recently. I was very impressed when this one let me take several photos, getting progressively closer as I did so. Then I realised that it was dead – but still clinging to a blade of grass. I wondered if the same fate had befallen this butterfly as had happened to the dungfly I read about on Donegal Wildlife. (See it here)

The birds were very busy in the valley. The trees had been full of tits and finches. The wall was a popular perch too. This bird…

…was flying in a regular circuit between a spot on the wall, two boulders and a dead branch. It was singing constantly – skillet, skillet, skillet – and then finishing with a descending trill. In its flights between its various stations it sometimes held its wings very rigid and then flapped them very rapidly. It’s a meadow pipit and I was to be entertained by more meadow pipits for the entirety of my walk.

There were pied-wagtails on the wall too. And wheatears…

…these are both females.


…is hobgrumble gill, which I had to include for the name alone. There must surely be some old folktale attached to this location, about the hob, the sprite, the goblin which lived in the ravine frightening unwary travellers with his blood-curdling moans?

Despite not being on the map, the path emerges at an excellent little bridge over Mosedale Beck. I opted not to cross the valley to reach the main right of way, but to pick a way up the hillside sticking as close to the beck as possible without swimming or getting into anything but the mildest of scrambling.

Sadly, the position of the sun in the sky and the fact that parts of the gill were relatively inaccessible meant that I struggled to do justice in my photos to the very pleasant stream and its many falls and cascades.

I was surprised to find a solitary meadow crane’s-bill (I think?) growing pretty much out of the rock at the edge of the stream.

A pair of grey wagtails entertained me as I climbed – this is the male.

And then, as I topped a rise, this redpoll appeared on a boulder in front of me. It flew away, but then returned, and really seemed quite unconcerned by my presence. In general, it seemed to me that the birds were less shy than I would usually expect. Is that because this is such a quiet valley? I didn’t meet another walker at all, although I think I saw two from about a mile away, later in the walk.

By this final fall the rocks were sun-warmed and dry and relatively sheltered from the wind and I stopped for a while to eat hard-boiled eggs and cold-potatoes for my breakfast. Had it been a bit warmer I might have been tempted by a swim.

 Small heath butterfly. (A live one this time.)

The terrain levelled off and the scene changed – wide-open moorland spaces.

I would guess that this is bombus jonellus a bumblebee mainly found on moorlands and heaths. There were lots of butterflies too – small heaths and some kind of white, but they were too busy to pose for photos. There were also lots of meadow pipits and now skylarks too.

 Heath spotted orchid.

As I climbed up towards High Wether Howe the view behind revealed lonely Mosedale and Mosedale Cottage (the white spot in the distance), which a quick internet search reveals to be a bothy – I shall have to investigate further.

 Seat Robert from High Wether Howe.

The top of Seat Robert has a large cairn and a crude shelter, and is the sight apparently of a bronze age burial cairn.  There’s also….

 Ordnance Survey Trigonometrical  Station.

These tiny and very odd flowers are so distinctive that I’m hoping that someone knows what they are because they have me stumped.

 Heath milkwort.



I think that this might be heath rush juncus squarrosus. Whether it is or not, the colours are fabulous.

I watched a couple of climbers on Gouther Crag (and later, when I reached the road passed two more just arriving – with the cloud gathering I didn’t think much to their timing.)

This is the same flower we saw on Loughrigg terrace a few weeks ago, growing here, as it was there, in quite a damp spot. I wanted to identify it as a stonecrop, but I now suspect that it’s yellow saxifrage. (Complete with ant.)

Bedstraw (or possibly different bedstraws) wins the prize for ‘Most Ubiquitous Flower of the Day’, narrowly pipping tormentil at the post.

I was back to the car just after midday. When I was driving back over Shap on the A6 it came on to rain.

I’m still looking forward to a day out in Wales, but this walk was highly successful as Berwyn Replacement Therapy.

(Oh – for box-tickers: Three Birkett’s, two of which are Outlying Fells to boot)

Swindale and Seat Robert