And On to the Tarn Gorge

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A relaxing with a book.

All good things come to an end, and eventually we had to move on from the Dordogne. Fortunately, we were only moving on to the Tarn Gorge, just as we did on our previous trip. This time, as you can see, Andy had booked plots with a direct view of the river, which was rather magnificent.

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B knows how to use a hammock.

Sitting around the campsite chilling out is surely a key ingredient of any camping trip and I certainly did a lot of that on this trip. I got through a lot of reading material. I didn’t use our hammocks, but the rest of the family all loved them and there was often keen competition to secure a berth, since we only had two between us.

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Little S doesn’t know how to use a hammock.

Regular swims in the river were also key. I’d bought a full-face mask with integrated snorkel from Aldi before the trip and it might just be the best eighteen quid I ever spent. The fish here were plentiful, varied and absolutely fascinating. I only wish I had photos to share.

The Dangerous Brothers, including Andy, an honorary DB, (ODB ?), spent much of their time climbing the cliffs to find ridiculously high spots from which to launch themselves, sometimes with a large inflatable shark in tow, which they christened DB Aquatic. I don’t have any photos of them jumping (I preferred not to watch), but there’s some slo-mo footage of their antics on Andy’s blog here.

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By contrast with our last visit, I don’t seem to have taken many photos around the campsite, which is odd because the views are amazing. The cliffs up the valley were lit at night (B was convinced it was the sunset, bless him) and although they looked huge from below, we realised, later in the week when we went up to the rim of the gorge to watch the sunset, that they were actually only a tiny portion of the entire valley side.

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I suppose wasps are always a feature of camping in the summer. This trip was no exception, but this year we had the added joy of regular visits from hornets. I can’t decide if these two photos show hornets or not. I’m not sure they’re big enough – certainly, when they were buzzing around our tent they seemed much bigger than this – about the size of Jack Russel at least.

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On the drive between the two campsites, at an Aire, we even spotted a Hornet’s nest, a football sized paper sphere hidden away in amongst some brambles.

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Common Blue – of course!
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Southern White Admiral.
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Comma.
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Dusky Heath – I think.
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Wall Brown,
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Wall Brown.
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Rock Grayling.
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Grasshopper.
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Grasshopper – possibly Red-winged.

We did quite a bit of walking whilst we were in the Tarn Gorge, so lots more wildlife and scenery photos to come, and I’m getting ahead of myself a bit, but when we were travelling back to the UK we witnessed a rather sobering event, when French customs officers found a man stashed away in a fellow holiday-maker’s Trailer Tent. I assume that the contents of the trailer had been jettisoned to make room for the man – presumably an asylum seeker trying to get to the UK. Frankly, it was all pretty alarming. We’d never been out of sight of our own trailers, and hadn’t stopped near the port, so when they were searched we didn’t have any stow-aways.

When we finally got back, after two solid days of driving and an overnight ferry, we did find one unscheduled passenger though, a shield bug…

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I don’t know if this is a species found in the UK or not, but it did demonstrate how easily you could inadvertently import a non-native species. I don’t think we’d brought any hornets back with us, fortunately.

And On to the Tarn Gorge

Wildlife Pics from the Dordogne

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Shield Bug, Pale Clouded Yellow, Meadow Brown, Knapweed Fritillary, and wasp, sawfly or ….a?

Conspicuous by their absence from my last post – I know, my last epistle was quite some time ago, suffice to say that online teaching is, despite what the gutter press seem to think, pretty all-consuming and involves spending most of the day stuck in front of a screen, so blogging has dropped out of favour as a spare-time activity – anyway, as I was saying, notably missing – notable, that is, to long-suffering followers at least – notably missing from my account of our trip to the Dordogne last summer were the plethora of wildlife photos which usually occupy around nine tenths of most of my posts. Fear not, that’s because I’ve saved them all up for one gargantuan holiday-snap snore-fest, with no people or views at all! (You can’t say you weren’t warned.)

This first photo neatly epitomises one of my favourite things about our trips to France – the sheer abundance and variety of the flora and fauna, well – particularly the insects.

Although there’s a lot of photos here – some might say too many – it’s a tiny sample of the many I took. Whilst my family and friends were floating down the river on rubber rings, or reading their books, or swinging through the trees doing their best Tarzan impressions, I wandered around the local woods and fields, camera in hand. Sorting through the vast assortment of resulting shots, choosing some favourites, and then trying, with varying degrees of success, to identify some of the more exotic species has been a highly enjoyable but fairly lengthy process. Not that I’ve restricted myself to the more exotic species here, I’m almost as happy to be photographing things which are very common at home…

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Meadow Brown on Horse Mint

I generally consider my memory to be atrocious, but weirdly, I’m confident that I can remember where each of these photos were taken. This Horse Mint, for example, grows behind the wall which runs alongside the road into the village. Whereas this thistle..

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Another Meadow Brown.

…was growing in a field next to the river, upstream of the campsite, a particularly happy hunting ground.

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Pale Clouded Yellow

Every trip seems to bring something new. I didn’t know, for example, that there was such a thing as a Pale Clouded Yellow.

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Pale Clouded Yellow
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Clouded Yellow

Ordinary, bog-standard Clouded Yellows sometimes appear in Britain as migrants. I saw one near Arnside once, a couple of miles from home, which really confused me at the time, because I knew what it was, but really didn’t expect to see it flying in a field in Cumbria, having only previously spotted them in France.

I don’t think that Cleopatra’s occur in the UK, I’ve certainly never seen them before.

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Cleopatra

They proved to be quite elusive, so I was quite chuffed to catch this one on my phone, although, with its wings closed, it looks very like a common-or-garden Brimstone. When they open their wings however….

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Cleopatra

…they’re quite different.

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Knapweed Fritillary

We were a few days later into the summer this trip. It’s amazing what a difference those few days made. Some butterflies have a brief lifespan in their adult phase. On our last trip we saw quite a few Swallowtails and Scarce Swallowtails, as well as numerous Silver-washed Fritillaries. Not this time.

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Knapweed Fritillary

But I did see lots of fritillaries. At the time, I was convinced that there were two different species, but looking at the photos now, it seems to me that they are probably all Knapweed Fritillaries.

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A pair of Knapweed Fritillary

I usually saw them in pairs, and often with one of the pair raising the back of its abdomen in what I took to be part of some sort of wooing process.

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A mating display?
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Wood White?
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Wall Brown
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Rock Grayling.
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Grizzled Skipper?

This little chap was compensation for a long and fruitless chase of a much larger butterfly, which may or may not have been my first, and so far only, sighting of a Camberwell Beauty.

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Common Blue.
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Common Blue
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Common Blues.
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Common Blue.

I’d already had an uncommonly good summer for spotting and photographing Common Blues around home, and they were abundant again both in the Dordogne and then, after we moved on, in the Tarn Gorge. Somehow their blue seemed even more vivid in the French sunshine.

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Holly Blue. I think.
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If anything, grasshoppers were even more abundant, more elusive, more variable and more difficult to identify than the butterflies.

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Some of the larger ones have very striking red or blue wings, sadly only visible in flight.

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Striped Shield Bug on Wild Carrot.
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Striped Shield Bugs – mating?
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Striped Shield Bug on Wild Carrot with a passenger.
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Hairy (or Sloe) Shieldbug.
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Assassin Bug?

There are thousands of species of Assassin Bug apparently, of which this may be one.

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My first thought was that this was a Carder Bee, but it has no pollen baskets, so now I’m wondering if it’s even a bumblebee at all. I’ve concluded that, not very confident at identifying bees on my home patch, I shan’t even attempt to do so with these French bees.

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I will say that this isn’t a bee, but something imitating a bee’s markings. I’m not sure whether it’s a bee-fly or a hoverfly, although I’m inclined to the latter.

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I saw a few of these large and strikingly ugly black and orange flies.

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As with the bees, I saw a number of wasps, or wasp like creatures, which don’t seem to be in my ‘Complete Mediterranean Wildlife’ guide. There were some very thin waisted black and orange bugs which I think were ichneumon wasps of some kind. But I’m not sure whether the black and white creature below, sharing a flower with a burnet moth, is a wasp or a sawfly…

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Here’s another…

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…with a fritillary. And something similar, but yellow and black…

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Last time I took lots of photos of damselflies, dragonflies and demoiselles. Not so much this time, although the demoiselles were still present in large numbers by the river. Here’s a solitary damselfly…

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And what I thought was an unusually hairy, stunted and unglamorous dragonfly…

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Robber Fly

…but which I’m now pretty sure is a species of Robber Fly. Having said all those uncharitable things, I should say I’m actually quite chuffed to have spotted this, if only because I’ve never seen anything quite like it before. That short, stout proboscis is for piercing prey and injecting venom. And the stiff hairs on its face, visible here, are called the mystax, from the Greek mystakos, also the origin of our ‘moustache’, via Latin, Italian and French. Which is the kind of trivia I find very satisfying.

All of which brings me to the last section of my insect photos, the moths.

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Six-spot Burnet Moth
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A colourful micro moth.

One of the wildlife highlights of our last trip had been the almost daily sightings of Hummingbird Hawkmoths, This time, the Meadow Clary which they seemed to favour had mostly finished flowering and to begin with I saw far fewer. Then, after my pursuit of the suspected Camberwell Beauty, I wandered into a part of the campsite I hadn’t previously ventured into. Having said there would be no views, here it is…

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It was unmown, full of wildflowers and a haven for butterflies. And in one corner, there was lots of Meadow Clary still in bloom, and loads of Hummingbird Hawkmoths too..

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Hummingbird Hawkmoth

I have to confess that I was fascinated by them.

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Hummingbird Hawkmoth

An example, I believe, of convergent evolution, Hummingbird Hawkmoths have evolved in a similar way to hummingbirds in order to occupy a similar ecological niche. Like hummingbirds, they use very rapid wingbeats to hover close to species of tubular flowers and use their long tongues to reach the otherwise inaccessible nectar.

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Hummingbird Hawkmoth on Meadow Clary
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Hummingbird Hawkmoth
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Hummingbird Hawkmoth

I guess they must land and rest sometimes? But those legs don’t look particularly practical.

Whilst the insects sometimes left me bewildered, the flora is even more diverse and confusing. I think I would have to move to France, massively improve by rusty schoolboy French, buy a comprehensive local field guide, live in the Dordogne for a decade or two, and then I might muster the same semi-confident familiarity that I’ve grasped with the plants around home.

A couple of very distinctive species did stand out however…

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Thornapple

This one, it turns out, is no more at home in the region than me, being native to North America.

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Thornapple

I was struck by the way the seedpods form in the nodes, where the stems branched, which seems unusual.

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Thornapple leaves.

Don’t be fooled by the presence of the word ‘apple’ in its name, because apparently the whole plant is poisonous.

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Thornapple seeds – highly poisonous.
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Thornapple seeds.
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Thornapple flowers.

They were growing in amongst the sunflowers and where the height of the sunflowers had forced them, they had grown to around two metres high.

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Field Eryngo?

Although I think this is Field Eryngo, I actually saw it, not in the fields, but growing in clearings in the woods. It looks like a thistle but is actually related to our own Sea Holly.

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Unfortunately, I have no idea what this plant is, with its striking red stems, tiny white flowers and colourful berries.

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It was growing by the cycle path at the edge of the village, and I suppose might have been introduced.

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Seedheads of a mallow? I liked the shapes.
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Robin’s pincushion galls.
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A Common Lizard I think.
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These four photos are all, I think, of the same lizard, which was basking on the wall one morning when I walked past on the way to the bakery and still in the same spot when I came back.

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This last is on the wall of the Chateau we visited, so definitely a different lizard!

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And finally, this toad had apparently been our lodger and was revealed as such only when we took the tent down in preparation to move on the Tarn Gorge.

Wildlife Pics from the Dordogne

Elderflower Foraging

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Eaves Wood

Well – that answers one question: the hay was yet to be cut. TBH had been making elderflower cordial, but wanted to try a new recipe (spoiler alert – it’s very nice) and asked if I could bring back 40 heads of elderflower. No problem, I said, there’s loads at Gait Barrows.

I took a circuitous route to Gait Barrows – calling in first at Lambert’s Meadow, Myer’s Allotment and Trowbarrow Quarry.

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I can’t identify this tiny fly, but I was quite taken by its orange speckled wings.

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Volucella pellucens – a striking hoverfly, the larvae of which live in wasps nests as scavengers. Even wasps get pestered in their homes: a comforting thought somehow.

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I’ve been thinking that I really must make more of an effort with grasses and the like, but now I’m looking at a page of sedges which look, to my untutored eye, practically identical. This is one of them, I think, maybe Glaucous Sedge? This is the female spike – pretty striking I thought.

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Another sedge perhaps, maybe one of the many yellow sedges?

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Azure damselfly.

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Another hoverfly.

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I thought taking photos of our wild roses might likewise encourage me to begin trying to distinguish between them, but I clearly need to make notes about the leaves and the thorns and the colour of the stems and I’m probably too lazy to do that. Having said that, since Dog Roses are usually pink, I shall assume that this is a Field Rose.

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A cowslip which has gone to seed.

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Oedemera lurida – the larger green insect on the right.

The flower here is one of those yellow daisies over which I have so much difficulty. I’ve been reading, and enjoying, ‘Chasing The Ghost’ by Peter Marren. It’s subtitled ‘My search for all the wild flowers of Britain’. Except, it turns out that actually it’s his search for the last fifty species he hasn’t seen. Excluding all of the ‘casuals’ – non-native plants which have self-seeded from a garden, or from bird-food or somesuch. And he isn’t going to try to see the many sub-species of dog-rose or whitebeam because they are too numerous and too troublesome to tell apart. Likewise the hawkweeds, of which, apparently, 415 subspecies have been identified. So far. Peter Marren is a Proper Botanist, and he needs expert help. Another comforting thought.

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Yellow Rattle – gone to seed and now showing the ‘rattles’ – the pods in which the seeds literally do rattle. 

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Common Blue butterfly.

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Oedemera lurida again, this time on Mouse-ear-hawkweed, a yellow daisy which has the decency to be easy to identify.

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Unidentified (solitary?) bee on unidentified flower.

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The view from the bench at Myer’s Allotment over the meres of Leighton Moss. 

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Tutsan. 

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Tutsan, from the French toute-saine meaning all healthy. Herbalists laid the leaves over wounds and apparently it does have antiseptic properties. Tutsan has a reputation for inducing chastity: allegedly, men should drink infusions made from the plant, and women should spread twigs below their beds.

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The leaves, when dried, are reputed to smell like ambergris and so it is also called Sweet Amber. Ambergris, known in China as ‘dragon’s spittle fragrance’, is a solid, waxy, flammable substance of a dull grey or blackish colour produced in the digestive system of and regurgitated or excreted by sperm whales. I remember a dog-walker found some on Morecambe beach year or two ago and sold it for thousands; tens-of-thousands even. It must be true, I read it in a tabloid.

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We have quite a bit of it in our garden. Tutsan that is, not ambergris. It’s a weed I suppose, but a beautiful plant which is interesting year round; the berries go from yellow through red to black. It seems that hoverflies like it just as much as I do!

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The Trough.

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Trowbarrow quarry – there were quite a few people climbing.

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Maybe I should have asked them to fetch me down some elderflowers?

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I couldn’t resist another visit to the Bee Orchids…

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…to try to catch them whilst the sun was shining on them…

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A Gait Barrows view.

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An unusually tall and prolifically flowered Elder. Most of the flowers would have been out of reach, but I didn’t even try, so confident was I that I knew of a plentiful supply of Elder up on the limestone pavement.

There were plenty of other distractions in the grykes up on the pavement. For instance, now that it has just about finished flowering, I spotted several more patches of Angular Solomon’s-seal…

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Tutsan grows in the grykes too, but the red leaves are a sign that it is not exactly flourishing, presumably with little soil or water to thrive on.

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Bloody crane’s-bill.

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Eye bright.

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Field Rose?

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Female Large Skipper. (Large compared to a Small Skipper, but still quite diminutive).

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I watched this bird circling far overhead. Everything about it – size, shape, the way it flew – convinced me that it was a raptor, but if it was I now can’t pin it down to any particular species. I thought it might be another Peregrine, but I can’t see any sign of the moustaches a grey, male Peregrine might show in any of my, admittedly rather poor, photos.

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When I arrived at the spot where I was convinced I would find an abundance of elderflower, I found two stunted shrubs growing from grykes – each with a handful of unopened  flowers, neither use nor ornament for making cordial I assumed.

I eventually found another area of pavement, with a handful of small specimens, which did have almost enough flowers for our purposes.

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With those stowed away in my rucksack, I headed home via Hawes Water. On the disturbed ground there, after last year’s work, there were several tall Mullein plants growing…

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I had to have a closer look because the leaves often have interesting residents. This isn’t what I was expecting however…

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A pair of mating Green Shield Bugs!

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Green Shield Bugs live on the sap of a variety of plants. I didn’t realise that they used to be confined to the south of the country, but have been progressing steadily northward with climate change.

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Best not to pick up Shield Bugs since they can release a noxious smelly liquid, giving them their alternative name of ‘Stink Bugs’.

Incidentally, I picked up my copy of ‘Bugs Britannica’ to see what it had to say about Shield Bugs and discovered that it was co-written by Richard Mabey and Peter Marren. I think mainly by Peter Marren, because I believe that was when Richard Mabey was suffering from the depression which he would go on to write about in ‘Nature Cure’.

Mr Marren is, it seems, a pan-lister, a phenomena which he discusses in ‘Chasing the Ghost’: pan-listers are spotters who are like twitchers on steroids – they have tick-lists for all living things larger than bacteria apparently – fungi, plants, insects, birds, slime-moulds, lichens, etc. Even in the UK that’s tens of thousands of species.

It occurred to me that I might fit into that bracket, except I’m much too lazy. I don’t keep lists and I only very rarely travel to see something in particular. Although, I’ve always enjoyed myself on the few occasions that I have done that – I’m thinking of the saxifrage on Pen-y-Ghent or the gentians in Teesdale.

Anyway, what I was actually on the look-out for were caterpillars of the Mullein Moth…

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Once you get close, they are quite hard to miss!

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Years ago, when we lived on The Row, some Mullein appeared in our garden and, although I suppose they are weeds, they’re large and quite striking, so we left them to flower. Then the voracious caterpillars appeared and completely stripped the plants of leaves and flowers.

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Bird’s-eye Primrose.

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When I reached the meadows near Challan Hall, I realised that there were perhaps a dozen Elder trees here, all of them plastered with blossom.

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I didn’t need much more, but I cam back a day or two later to discover that the trees were mostly on steep banks, leaving most of the flowers out of reach, and even where they weren’t, the trees were well protected by an understorey of brambles and nettles.

The cordial is well worth it though.

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The verge of the railway line had a fine display of Oxeye Daisies.

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This should have been my first stop for elderflowers – a small elder growing behind our garage.

Elderflower Foraging

Lacy’s Caves and Long Meg

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A Saturday afternoon and we decided to dragoon the boys into coming out for a walk with us. In honesty, I can’t remember how we arrived at the decision to repeat a walk along the River Eden, taking in Little Salkeld Watermill, Lacy’s Caves and the Long Meg and her Daughters stone circle, but it was a good choice.

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We began with lunch in the cafe at the mill, which was delicious, then set off towards the river. There was a paper notice tacked to the signpost indicating that some part of the footpath had been damaged by flooding and then closed, but the notice looked quite old, so we decided to ignore it.

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TBH and I have done this walk three times now, and each time we’ve seen lots of Buzzards in this first part of the walk. Closer to hand, there were flowers and insects to admire and a tree heavily laden with rather tart apples.

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Small White Butterfly on some sort of Hawk’s-beard, possibly Rough Hawk’s-beard.

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Tachina Fera.

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Forest Bug.

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More fungi.

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Earthballs.

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A weir on the Eden. Force Mill opposite.

We did eventually see some signs of flood damage, but that had nothing to do with what happened next. I’m not sure how, but I lost my footing and fell down the steep bank towards the river. Little S was first to react, grabbing hold of my ankle as I slid down the slope, which, frankly, could have ended badly for him,  but between us we managed to halt my fall. I was a bit bruised and grazed, my camera took a whack, and I think we were all  slightly shaken, but ultimately, no harm was done.

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The view of the River Eden from Lacy’s Caves.

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Lacy’s Caves.

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These are not natural caves, but were hewn from the rock by order of the local landowner Colonel Samuel Lacy. There are several connected ‘rooms’. One of them still has some planks in it and some metal brackets fastened to the wall, as if there had been a bench or a bed here. Apparently, Lacy may have paid someone to live in the caves as a ‘hermit’, which was a fashionable thing to do for a time. There are more pictures of the caves here, from our last family visit, made at a time when Little S genuinely was still little.

The boys may be practically grown up now, but they weren’t above a game of hide and seek in the caves, which, I’ll admit, was pretty hilarious.

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I remember these wooden posts from last time too. This is one from a series erected around the Eden Valley area and designed by artist Pip Hall. They’re textured so that rubbings can be taken.

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Mixed flock of Jackdaws and Rooks.

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More fungi.

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One of Long Meg’s daughters.

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More daughters with Cross Fell in the cloud and the radar station on Great Dun Fell behind.

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The uncountable daughters.

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The Long Meg stone circle is amazing and, on the evidence of three visits, almost guaranteed to be virtually deserted.

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Long Meg.

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And again.

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There’s some more detail and folklore regarding the stone circle in my previous post about a visit, here.

We first learned about this route from a leaflet published by Discover Eden. It was available as a PDF online, but these days you have to buy it. One word of warning – the leaflet gives a longer version of this walk, including a visit to Addingham Church, as 4½ miles, but my phone app gave 6 miles for our truncated version. No wonder our original round took us 6 hours when we had a toddler with us.

Lacy’s Caves and Long Meg

An Excursion to the Jonte Valley.

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We didn’t travel away from the campsite often when we were in the Cévennes, but we did have one grand day out. The journey itself was interesting, giving us another opportunity to look down into the Tarn Gorge.

And also to enjoy some more roadside entomology.

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It seems that as well as a bewildering variety of Grayling butterflies, the Continent is also home to several similar species of Ringlets. This is one of those. It looks very like a Marbled Ringlet, but online sources refer to that as an Alpine species. I remember seeing something similar when we visited the Vosges, although revisiting my post from the time I can see that it was perhaps slightly different. And also, to my surprise, a photo of what looks very like a Silver-washed Fritillary, so that I may have been wrong about never having seen one before.

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I can’t find this tiny moth, either in my field guide or online, so I don’t know what it’s called, but I do know that it’s stunningly patterned.

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This is a Red-winged Grasshopper, similar to the Blue-winged variety which featured in a recent post. You can’t see the bright red flashes which appear, to startling affect, when the insect hops into flight, but you can see the red hind-legs…

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Marbled Ringlet?

The drive over the higher ground was pleasant without being spectacular. It brought us to Meyrueis…

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In the valley of the Jonte, a tributary of the Tarn.

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Above Meyrueis, we stopped again briefly at a small hillside chapel – Notre-Dame du-Rocher…

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I enjoyed the contrasting colours of these flowers…

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And have included this second photo because of the tiny, pale Ladybird in the top left corner of the white flower.

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Gatekeeper.

We were soon underway again, heading for the excellent Grotte de Dargilan, of which more to follow…(eventually).

An Excursion to the Jonte Valley.

Cirque des Baumes.

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Whilst we were camping in the Tarn Gorge, I’d mooted the idea of a walk from the rim of the gorge back down to the campsite, hopefully, by walking downhill, mitigating the worst effects of the heat; but when most of our party completed a walk, TBH and I had driven B to the hospital in the town of Millau instead, to get a painful ear checked out. (He’s okay now, although the problems continued for quite some time after our holiday ended.) That trip was not without it’s own interest – when we drove out of the town, onto the hillside above, we saw a great host of circling Red Kites – but I was extremely disappointed to have missed out on the walk, and so was very pleased when TBH and J agreed to an early morning foray, in J’s case for a second time.

We parked at Point Sublime, with fine views into a misty gorge.

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There were plenty of distractions on hand too, with both butterflies and Wall Lizards about to keep me and my camera occupied.

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Wall Brown.

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I think that this is a Silver-washed Fritillary, you can perhaps see why its called that in the photo below.

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Five-spot Burnet Moth.

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We passed no end of these silken tents, apparently constructed by the caterpillars of the Pine Processionary Moth.

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Another Blue-winged Grasshopper. I think.

The path was steep and narrow, but well worth the effort as it descended past a series of huge rock towers and cliffs.

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J, you will notice, is wearing a shocking pink hat. She has pink Crocs too. Her children are appalled by both, which is, of course, entirely the point. She is making up for the sobriety of her youth. I’m sure she completely sympathises with Jenny Joseph’s poem ‘Warning’ which begins…

“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.”

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Wall Lizard.

I thought I saw a bird of prey alight on top of a distant tower and the amazing zoom on my camera helped to confirm that fact.

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It was exhilarating to watch the raptor soaring above the hillside, in and out between the karst features, eventually landing not too far above us…

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I have quite a few photos of the bird in flight, none, sadly, very sharp, but I think they show enough detail to suggest that it was a Rough-legged Buzzard, not something that I’ve seen before.

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Wall Lizard.

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Karst scenery.

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This was a terrific walk for butterfly spotting and on this steep hillside section there were a great deal of quite dark butterflies flitting through the trees. They were hard to catch in repose and generally, I think, belonged to species not found in Britain. Frankly, I’m not sure what this is; continental Europe seems to have numerous types of Grayling – I wonder whether this is one of those?

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It was J’s turn to pick out a large bird on a distant rock tower – this time on the one seen ahead in the photo above.

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A Griffon Vulture; soon joined by a companion….

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They didn’t seem to be very busy and I continued to take occasional photos as we descended past the tower.

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A Dusky Heath?

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Another Grayling of some description?

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Looking back up into the Cirque des Baumes.

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Striped Shield Bug – less prevalent , it seemed, than in the Dordogne, but still around.

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The Dryad? Love the eye-spot.

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This small butterfly led me a merry dance and I only managed to photograph it from some considerable distance. Could it be a Glanville Fritillary?

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Having reached the bottom of the valley, we climbed a little way back up to a point under the cliffs…

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Wall Lizard.

Where there was a tiny chapel…

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La Chapelle Saint-Hillaire.

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Sadly, the chapel was locked, but I managed to get an image of the interior through a small hole in the door…

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One final look back up into Cirque des Baumes.

We were down in the valley now and walking along the road, which for me was saved by the butterflies and flowers along the roadside. We passed a garden where a Buddleia was festooned with butterflies and moths, particularly fritillaries which I took to be more Silver-washed.

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Clouded Yellow.

When we were almost back at the campsite we paused by the ‘Mushroom Rock’ to take in the view and wave to friends and family below, then J and TBH rushed ahead to get out of the full glare of the sun and to get a cool drink, but I was distracted again by more butterflies and moths…

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This is a new species to me, a Jersey Tiger Moth, there had been several on the Buddleia earlier, but they were a bit too far away to be photographed very successfully. Unfortunately, you can’t see the stunning red underwings in this photo.

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When I took this shot of another Five-spot Burnet Moth I didn’t even see the two rather striking shield bugs nearby. I wish I had; the purple one in particular looks like it was stunningly patterned.

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Small Skipper.

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Perhaps not surprisingly, this striking insect is not in my ‘Complete Mediterranean Wildlife’. It will have remain a mystery.

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The underside of a Jersey Tiger Moth.

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Small Skipper and Silver-washed Fritillary.

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Jersey Tiger Moth.

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When we’d been kayaking on the Tarn and had pulled our boats onto a shingle beach to jump into the river and swim, a Scarce Swallowtail landed on the end of one of the kayaks. I managed to get very close to it with my phone, but none of my photos came out well. I was really pleased, then, to get another chance for some photos.

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Large Skipper.

Only a mornings stroll, but the views and the wildlife will stick with me for a long time I suspect.

Cirque des Baumes.

To the Bakery and Back

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Each morning I walked into the village to buy the day’s bread, sometimes with Andy, but usually on my own. The bread was delicious, but I enjoyed the walk too. These photos are from those walks and also from other times when we had occasion to walk into Castelnaud-la-Chapelle. That first photo is looking back towards the campsite from a very misty morning, although the mist was rapidly clearing.

This is the same view…

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…on a relatively cloudy day and this…

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…is a panoramic view from a little further along the road, in more typical weather conditions.

The view in the other direction was very much dominated by the village and the Chateau towering above it, and often, in the mornings, montgolfières rising above that.

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Here’s part of the village…

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…when the mist had just about dissipated.

Not only were the views excellent, but the meadows along the route held lots of interest too.  These blue flowers dominated…

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I think that the flowers are Meadow Clary, a relative of Sage, which has a very limited distribution in Britain, but seems to be abundant in France. The insect is a Hummingbird Hawkmoth which is only seen as a migrant in Britain, although by coincidence I saw one today whilst out for a local wander. I also often saw Hummingbird Hawkmoths flying along a wall which bounded part of the road, seemingly investigating nooks and crevices, although I’m not sure why they would do that.

This…

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…is a Broad-bordered Bee Hawkmoth, which can, apparently, also be found in Britain, but not in our area and I’ve certainly never seen one before.

One of the things I loved about our visit to France was the profusion of butterflies, although they weren’t always cooperative in posing for photos.

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This Scarce Swallowtail was kind however, and moved a little closer after I took that first photo…

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Wild Carrot flowers were also very common in the meadows and where the flowerheads had curled in on themselves and gone to seed there was a very good chance that you could see Striped Shield Bugs…

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…they were hard to miss!

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Spider’s webs, on the other hand, only became obvious when the mist washed them with silver droplets.

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The wall alongside the road was home, appropriately enough, to Wall Lizards.

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These two are my favourites from the many photos I took.

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The area around the wall also seemed to be the territory of some small orange butterflies which eluded my camera at first, but then turned out to be Gatekeepers which we see at home.

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I think that this first one is on a Hemp Agrimony flower and that this one…

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…is on Horse Mint.

The road crossed a bridge over the Céou which was a good place for spotting fish and also more Beautiful Demoiselles…

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Male.

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Female.

Right at the end of our stay, we came down to the bridge because some of the party wanted to emulate some swimmers we had seen by leaping from a high branch into the water.

In the event, only E managed it, not because of the height of the jump, but because of the difficulty of climbing the tree – there was a crude ladder of planks nailed to the tree-trunk, but one of the rungs was missing. Here’s E just before she jumped…

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The rest of us had to content ourselves with jumping from the bridge itself or from a small wall beside it…

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Which, frankly, was quite high enough for me.

To the Bakery and Back

At Swim Two Becks

Skelwith Bridge – Elter Water – Elterwater – Little Langdale – Slater Bridge – Stang End – Skelwith Bridge.

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Continuing the theme of my last post – novelty versus familiarity – this is a route I’ve walked countless times over the years, but this iteration was unlike any previous version. It was late afternoon, after work, but still very hot. Skelwith Force was a bit of a misnomer for the normally thunderous waterfall, now relatively tame. I was heading for this large pool in the River Brathay.

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Purple Loosestrife.

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Purple Loosestrife – Emily – is this what’s in your garden?

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Before I got to this point in the river, I was examining another clump of Purple Loosestrife when this Shield Bug landed on my hand and then on the path. I think it’s a Bronze Shieldbug, but I’m not entirely confident.

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Harebell.

Anyway, the reason I’d strayed slightly from the path and stuck to the riverbank, was that I was looking for a place for a swim. This looked perfect…

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And it was! The water was deep and quite warm, but cool enough to be refreshing. It was almost immediately deep, straight from the bank, but I found a place where I thought I could ease myself in, except that the riverbed was so slippery that I lost my footing, both feet sliding out from under me, and fell in anyway. It was a beautiful spot for a swim, with stunning views and a host of damselflies and dragonflies keeping me company.

A short walk upstream, past what looked like another ideal place for swimming, brought me to Elter Water…

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The lake, not the village. I’d had an idea that I might swim here too, but, as you can see, the water was very shallow close in and further out I thought I could see a great deal of weed, which I found a bit off-putting; I decided to bide my time.

If I wasn’t swimming, there were plenty of fish that were…

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I still had my wet-shoes on and paddled into the water to take some photos. The fish weren’t very frightened of me…

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I changed back into shoes more suited for walking, but retained my rapidly drying trunks; I had plans for more swimming.

In fact, before I’d left for this part of the Lakes, I’d been poring over the map, looking at blue bits which promised the possibility of a swim. As is often the case, I’d got carried away and had identified numerous potential spots and was toying with the idea of linking them together in an extended walking and swimming journey reminiscent of the central character’s trip in the film and John Cheever short-story ‘The Swimmer’, with your’s truly in the muscular Burt Lancaster role, obviously.

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Small Tortoiseshell butterflies. I saw, and photographed, loads of them.

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Silver-Y Moth. I saw lots of these too, but they were very elusive to photograph.

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Lots of Harebells too!

The short climb from the village of Elterwater over to Little Langdale was hot and sticky work, but brought the reward of views of Little Langdale Tarn and the Coniston Fells…

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This…

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…is the River Brathay again, flowing out of Little Langdale Tarn.

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Slater Bridge.

I thought that this pool…

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…just downstream of Slater Bridge, might have swimming potential, but couldn’t be sure that it was deep enough, so wanted to check the pool I’d seen before, back toward Little Langdale Tarn.

The ground beside the river, even after our long dry spell, was still quite spongy and full of typical wet, heathland vegetation, including lots of Heath Spotted-orchids.

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Good to have an opportunity to compare these with its close relative Common Spotted-orchid which I’ve photographed around home recently.

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This pool turned out to be ideal again. I dug my stove out of my bag, to make a cup of tea ready for when I’d had a swim. Whilst I was busy, a dragonfly landed on a nearby boulder. I grabbed my camera, but the photograph came out horribly blurred.  It does show a dragonfly which is exactly the same pale blue as a male Broad-bodied Chaser, but with a much narrower abdomen, making it either a male Black-tailed Skimmer or a male Keeled Skimmer, probably the latter, based on the distribution maps in my Field Guide, which makes it a first for me.

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White Water-lily – the largest flower indigenous to Britain, but it closes and slowly withdraws into the water each day after midday.

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Yellow Water-lily.

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Once again, the water was deep right to the bank, but somebody had piled up rocks under the water to make it easier to get in and out. The water here was colder than it had been further downstream, quite bracing even, somewhat to my surprise. I enjoyed this swim even more than the first. The low sun was catching the Bog Cotton on the bank…

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…and was also making reflected ripple patterns on the peaty exposed bank, which were stunning, but which I can’t show you because they were only visible from the water. In addition, the Bog Myrtle bushes growing along the bank were giving off a lovely earthy, musky fragrance.

It was eight o’clock by now, and I expected to have the river to myself, but a couple arrived for a swim and once they were changed and in the water, I got out to enjoy my cup of tea.

Returning to Slater Bridge…

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I watched two large dragonflies rapidly touring the area. They were so fast that my efforts to take photographs were doomed to failure. I thought that they were Golden-ringed Dragonflies, like the ones I saw mating near to Fox’s Pulpit last summer. At one point, one of them repeatedly landed momentarily on the surface of the water, or rather splashed onto the surface, making a ripple, and then instantly flew on again, only to almost immediately repeat the procedure. I have no idea what purpose this behaviour served. It was very odd.

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I still had a fair way to go to get back to the car, but also the last of the light to enjoy whilst I walked it.

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The post’s title is meant to be a punning reference to ‘At Swim Two Birds’, Flann O’Brien’s wonderfully nutty book, which some people claim is even better than his ‘The Third Policeman’. I probably should reread them both to see what I think now, after a break of a few years; if the house weren’t stuffed to the rafters with books I haven’t ever read, I would set about that task tomorrow. ‘At Swim Two Becks’ seemed appropriate when I thought I had swum in Great Langdale Beck and Greenburn Beck and before I had examined the map again and realised that in fact I’d swum in two different stretches of the River Brathay.

Of course, Heraclitus, whom I am fond of quoting, tells us that you can never step into the same river twice. You can, however, walk the same route twice, but it will never be the same each time. Previous blog-posts of much the same route, none of which involve swimming, Burt Lancaster, John Cheever or the novels of Flann O’Brien:

A walk with my Mum and Dad.

A walk with TBH.

A snowy walk with friends

A more recent walk with different friends.

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At Swim Two Becks

Magical Things

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“The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.”

Eden Phillpotts

I think it’s fair to say that this year I have seen more Common Lizards than I did in the previous fifty put together. To what should I attribute this phenomena? The fact that I’ve been making an effort to get out at every opportunity will go some way to explain it, but is far from being sufficient on it’s own. It’s hard to think what other factors might contribute. A local abundance of lizards? Good fortune? It would be tempting to think that my wits really are growing sharper, but sadly, I’m sure that the opposite is true. It has been facetiously suggested that a form of animal magnetism is in operation and that wildlife is drawn to me, which seems highly unlikely, although earlier during the same walk a Hawthorn Shieldbug did alight on my hand…

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TBH and I were out for a Saturday afternoon ramble through Eaves Wood and then around Hawes Water. The lizards were in the same spot where we usually see them, on the edges of the boardwalk near the lake. We saw about half a dozen. They were all very small, tiny in fact, compared to those we have seen before. Presumably they were all from this year’s brood, born back in July. I suppose that they will be hibernating fairly soon, and it’s possible that these will be my last lizard sightings for this year, but hopefully there will be many more again next year, and other magical things to keep me occupied in the mean time.

Magical Things

Gait Barrows Again

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Female Common Darter.

A very pleasant wander around Gait Barrows which happened almost a month ago now – how the summer has flown by! It was memorable for the large number of dragonflies I saw – although very few would pose for photos – and, rather sadly, for the dead Fox cub I came across.

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Male Migrant Hawker.

As I manoeuvred to find a good position from which take the photograph above, I almost trod on this large Frog…

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Bumblebee on Betony.

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Speckled Wood.

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The ‘mystery plant’ – flowers still not open, but showing more colour – I need to go back to check on their progress.

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Broad-leaved Helleborine.

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Hoverflies on Hemp Agrimony.

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Robin’s Pincushion Gall.

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Wall-rue (I think), a fern.

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Knapweed and St. John’s Wort.

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Grasshoppers have often been evident from their singing on local walks, but I haven’t always seen them, or my photos haven’t come out well when I have.

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Although this doesn’t have the distinctive shieldbug shape, I think that this is a fourth instar of the Common Green Shieldbug – an instar being one of the developmental stages of a nymph. This website is very helpful.

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Hoverfly.

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On a previous walk I’d been thinking that Hemp Agrimony, which is very common at Gait Barrows, was a disappointing plant in as much as it’s large flower-heads didn’t seem to be attracting much insect life, but that seems to have been a false impression, because on this occasion quite the opposite was true.

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Buff Footman (I think), a moth.

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Another Common Green Shieldbug nymph – perhaps the final instar.

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The verges of one particular overgrown hedgerow at Gait Barrows are always busy with Rabbits, which usually scatter as I approach, but two of them played chicken with me – not really seeming very concerned and only hopping on a little each time I got closer.

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Time was marching on and I was keen to head for home, but I diverted slightly up the track towards Trowbarrow because I knew that I would find more Broad-leaved Helleborines there. These were much taller and more vigorous than the single plant I had seen earlier.

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Curiously, there was a wasp feeding on the flowers, as there had been on the first one I saw. I noticed earlier this year that wasps seem to like Figwort, perhaps the same is true Helleborines.

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Figwort and Helleborine both have small, tubular flowers – it may be the case that wasps are well adapted to take advantage of this particular niche – different insects definitely favour different kinds of flowers.

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Gait Barrows Again