Free Lunch

Across the fields and the golf course to Leighton Moss – Free Lunch – Home via Myer’s Allotment

Silverdale has an annual food fair, a recent innovation, and this year TBH won a voucher there in the raffle, exchangeable for lunch for two in the cafe at the Leighton Moss visitors’ centre. The boys were, indeed are, still at school, but TBH and A had now finished so the three of us wandered over for a bite. When we got there, it was to find that their electricity was off due to some work being done by the suppliers, but the centre has photo-valtaic panels and they seemed to be coping remarkably well. A enjoyed her humus and falafel wrap, despite it being ‘too leafy’ and TBH and I both loved our prawn salad.

TBH couldn’t be induced to venture onto the reserve (and to be fair, we did need to get home for the boys return from school) but the promise of striking Cinnabar Moth caterpillar lured TBH and A to join me in visiting Myer’s Allotment on our return journey. Here they are…

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…enjoying the view from the top of the hill.

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There was plenty to see within the reserve too.

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Rock Rose.

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Harebells.

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Self-heal.

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A lone Common Red Soldier Beetle – must be hunting!

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Normal service is resumed! Caption competition anyone? I think that those contrasting antennae are very expressive.

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Hoverfly on Ragwort.

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Bumblebee on Ragwort.

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Meadow Brown.

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I suppose the Meadow Brown is one of or drabbest butterflies. But I have to confess that I’m still captivated none-the-less.

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Damselfly.

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Red-tailed Bumblebee.

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Gatekeeper  Butterfly and Common Red Soldier Beetle.

Ardent followers of Beating the Bounds, if such a beast exists, will have seen photographs of Gatekeepers many times before; most, if not all, taken in North Wales, where we camp each summer and where Gatekeepers are extremely common. In fact I associate them with that area, because I’ve always assumed that we don’t get them here. Oops. Wrong again. Mea culpa.

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I almost missed this Gatekeeper too. It was resting low on Ragwort, very still, with its wings folded and very close to the ground. The dark patches are apparently scent scales and are only found on males.

I was studying that particular Ragwort because of its other residents…

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Cinnabar Moth caterpillars.

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There weren’t as many caterpillars evident as there had been on my previous visit, but there were enough to make good on my promise. Not that it mattered particularly; A was very happy photographing butterflies with her iPod. Nice to see that the apple hasn’t fallen too far from the tree!

Free Lunch

ISO 3200

A walk to Myer’s Allotment with a defective camera brain.

Summer is in full swing, although you wouldn’t know that now, looking out of our windows at soft, low skies and heavy rain. But anyway, summer, of a sort, is here, which means Hogweed flowering on the verges of Bottom’s Lane and Soldier Beetles doing what comes naturally…

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Apparently Soldier Beetles hunt small insects, but I’ve only ever seen them doing one thing, they seem to be very single-minded.

The dreadful grainy nature of the photos is due to the fact that I had the ISO set to 3200. Which is very frustrating, but at least I know now that I haven’t broken it, which was my original diagnosis. I have no recollection of changing the setting, but then I only discovered the mistake when I inadvertently pressed the wrong button on the camera, or I suppose, in the circumstances, the right button.

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I’ve seen striking back and yellow bugs like this one, with their stark geometrical markings, on Hogweed before, and even tentatively guessed at what they are, but I’m now doubting my previous opinion, so I shan’t compound the error by restating it here.

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In Burtonwell Wood, and under the bracken at Myer’s Allotment, a number of fungi seem to be flourishing, probably a consequence of the abundant rainfall we’ve had of late.

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Lambert’s Meadow Common Spotted-orchid. (Probably)

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This grass seed-head was catching the sun and looked so pink that at first glance I mistook it for a flower.

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Agrimony.

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There’s a reason I haven’t given up on this walk and it’s poor quality pictures, and the reason is the treasure I found at Myer’s Allotment. There’s a fair bit of Ragwort growing in the open glades there and Ragwort is an important food plant for…

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…Cinnabar Moth caterpillars. In their burglar’s stripy jerseys they look like they will be easy pickings for predators. In actual fact I managed to walk past several plants before I noticed any of the residents, although once I’d seen one plant festooned with caterpillars I quickly realised that many other Ragwort plants were similarly busy. In any case, the vivid yellow and black get-up is intended to draw attention: it’s a warning. Ragwort contains strong concentrations of alkaloids and is highly poisonous, and since they feed on it, the caterpillars are also highly toxic and can brazenly feast with no fear of interference.

Cinnabar, rather appropriately, is a toxic ore of Mercury. It is often bright scarlet which is presumably the link to these moths, because the adults are black and scarlet. I photographed adults here earlier in the year; you can see photos in this post. At that time the females were presumably laying eggs; I would hazard a guess that the caterpillars on any one plant are all part of the same brood. They were certainly all of very similar sizes on each plant, whereas across different plants their growth varied enormously: in some cases they were tiny…

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Others were relatively huge…

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The caterpillars were pretty ubiquitous, even sneaking into this photo I took of Lady’s Bedstraw..

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The Soldier Beetles were almost as pervasive…

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And completely predictable…

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This grasshopper…

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…- I shall stick my neck to and say that it is a Common Green Grasshopper – was much less of an exhibitionist, I only noticed it because I was examining the labyrinth of insect-bored canals on the large flake of bark which it was sitting beside.

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I shall have to get myself back to Myer’s Allotment now that I’ve (accidentally) sorted out the problem with my camera. Sadly, there’s no option to similarly reset my defective grey matter.

ISO 3200

Pond Life

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Most of the time the sea in the Bay is pretty placid. But once in a while we do get some waves. Here’s some evidence from one of our local walks with our American cousins.

On another local walk we visited Burtonwell Wood rift cave…

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The passage runs parallel to the cliff-face, and part way along there’s a spot where it’s possible to climb up to a ‘window’…

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From the cave we walked to Woodwell. We often visit, but this time we came prepared with nets and plastic tubs…

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The kids caught quite a variety of pond life. I think that this…

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…is probably a Three-Spined Stickleback. (But, as always, I stand ready to be corrected.)

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Pond Skaters.

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I’d call that upside down insect a Water Boatman, my field guide tells me that it is a Common Backswimmer (also know as a Water Boatman). The rather splendidly red snail is a Great Ramshorn (I think).

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This must be a Water Beetle, but I’m really not sure which kind.

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Here, the Water Boatman has a silvery sheen due to a trapped air bubble which it uses to enable it to breath.

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We were all fascinated by the contents of our tubs.

Well…almost all…

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Later that day we wandered into Eaves Wood for a bit of tree-climbing. Professor A can never resist joining the kids…

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Once again, B’s busted arm proved to be a great hindrance…

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Here we all are by the Pepper Pot…

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Pond Life

More Garden Critters

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Common Blue Damselfly

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Very common in our garden on this particular sunny day. There were a couple of larger dragonflies quartering the airspace above the garden, but they weren’t so obliging in posing for photos as the damselflies.

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Green Shield Bug.

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Bumble-bee. Bombus….Pascuorum? Perhaps.

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Flowering Currant leaf on a fern.

The flowering currant in the bottom corner of our garden doesn’t look very well. I don’t think that it appreciates the shade it sits in beneath the large hazel.

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Another Bumble-bee. Bombus…Humilis?

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And another Bumble. Bombus…Horturum? (To be honest, I don’t have much of a clue.)

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This looks like another specimen of the dapper fly that had me confused a few weeks ago. It looks quite like the Empis Tessallata in my field guide, but when I search for images on t’internet the resemblance isn’t half so strong. So I’m stumped.

Still having lots of fun with my new(ish) camera however.

More Garden Critters

A Visit From ‘Our Camping Friends’

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Sometimes it’s handy to have an abbreviated, short-hand way of referring to people or places. When we were kids, for instance, my brother always called our gaggle of cousins from overseas ‘Them Jerman gurls’. For my own kids, our group of old friends, most of whom first came together as the nucleus of the committee of Manchester University Hiking Club in the mid-eighties, will forever be known as ‘Our Camping Friends’, regardless of the fact that, although we do go camping together a couple of times every year, more often that not when we meet, we’re aren’t camping, but have congregated in some other suitable venue. Besides which, after looking at Facebook postings by the proud new owners of a shiny, new, all-singing, all-dancing folding-camper, A opined that we might have to start calling them Our Glamping Friends.

Anyway, in the Autumn, the regular ‘suitable venue’ is traditionally our house. This year’s get-together wasn’t as well organised as previous year’s have been. In my defence, it’s a very onerous event to plan. After due consideration you have to chose a date. Then emails need to be sent inviting everyone. Then…..well, that’s it to be honest. Tricky, eh?

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Anyway, thanks to the tardiness of my invites, we didn’t have quite as many takers this time round, and some couldn’t make it for the whole weekend.

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On the Saturday we managed, as usual, to spend all morning preparing, eating and recovering from a huge fry-up (sausage, bacon and black-pudding from Burrow’s butchers in the village – highly recommended), and then washing it down with industrial quantities of tea and tittle-tattle.

In the afternoon it appears that we went for a walk and that the sun shone. I can see from the photos that we went down to the salt-marsh and round Jenny Brown’s Point again. We probably went somewhere else after that, but I can’t clearly recall; evidence, if evidence were needed, that my brain is turning to mush faster than you can say……………………erm,hang on, where was I?

In the evening, we rewarded ourselves for the gargantuan efforts of the day with another slap-up take-away from the local curry house.

We resolved that the following day, we would Do Much Better, Get Out Earlier, Make An Effort; you know, generally resist the slide into slothful lethargy. We set-off on a Really Big Walk. An expedition to the Fairy Steps, chosen pretty much on the insistence of our kids. Unfortunately, we were waylaid by a sunny clearing amongst the trees. The ground was too inviting, the sun too warm, the lure of the tea and snacks in our rucksacks too tempting: we might have resisted any one of them alone, but what chance did we stand against all three?

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So we lay down for a moment or two. Or 120. Tea was brewed and guzzled. Chins were waggled. Winks were snatched.

The children were happy because they had all the makings of a den to hand.

When Easter releases the child, in any provincial suburb, from his inveterate bondage to grammar and sums, you will see him refreshing himself with sportive revivals of one of the earliest anxieties of man. Foraging around like a magpie or rook, he collects odd bits of castaway tarpaulin and sacking, dusters, old petticoats, broken broom-sticks and fragments of corrugated iron. Assembling these building materials on some practicable patch of waste grass, preferably in the neighbourhood of water, he raises for himself a simple dwelling. The blessing of a small fire crowns these provisions for domestic felicity, and marvellous numbers of small persons may be seen sitting around these rude hearths, conversing with the gravity of Sioux chieftains  or, at the menace of rain, packing themselves into incredibly small cubic spaces of wigwam.

from The Right Place by C.E.Montague

I’ve just started reading ‘The Right Place’, having picked it up in Carnforth Bookshop recently. What a find! It’s eminently quotable, so you can probably expect more.

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This is Charles Edward Montague in person. A novelist and journalist, he worked for the Manchester Guardian, as it was then. In 1914, too old to enlist, he dyed his hair black and joined up anyway. After the war he wrote anti-war novels and a memoir ‘Disenchantment’. I shall be on the look out for them. His son was one of the athlete’s portrayed in the film ‘Chariots of Fire’.

I’m not sure why I have such a soft-spot for the tweed-suited, bravura-moustachioed, pipe-chewing outdoor-writers of the early twentieth century. Over the years quite a few have featured in this blog – Viscount Grey, Ramsay McDonald, E.V.Lucas, A.B.Austin and Stephen Graham all spring to mind. (Gary Hogg and Ian Niall are a little later, but feel to me like they fit the profile.) Using two initials isn’t essential, but it clearly helps. It’s not just walkers either – I’m a fan of H.H., H.G.,G.K.,P.G. and R.L. too (I know that there are some people out there who still appreciate a bit of a quiz, anyone going to rise to the challenge? And no – they aren’t cricketers.)

Would Charles Edward have frittered away half of the day snoozing in the long grass? I doubt it. Not that I was completely indolent…

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…a bit of motion in the bracken had me hunting for this slightly tatty Speckled Wood, but even as I took this photo, B was tugging on my arm and, were he a poker player he would undoubtedly have been telling me, ‘I’ll see your tired old butterfly and raise you one enormous beetle.’

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Here is his find. A Violet Ground Beetle. Very fast-moving it was. Predatory apparently.

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Eventually, and with some reluctance all round, what with the children wanting to furnish and decorate their wiki-up and the adults mostly content to loll about like the occupants of an opium den in the London of Fu Manchu, we summoned up the energy from somewhere or other to continue our walk.

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This is our merry band, breaking camp and leaving our bivouac spot, to cross the fields…

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…and eventually make it to the path which slips stealthily through the first line of crags on Beetham Fell…

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…before reaching the Fairy Steps themselves, which are altogether more difficult to negotiate, especially if you’re a bit short for your height like I am.

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Beetham Fell.

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Homeward bound.

The last part of our walk, alongside Silverdale Moss, held a bit of a surprise for me regarding another old friend, but that will have to wait for another post. (See how I’m cranking up the tension there, you’ll be on tenterhooks now, possibly for months!)

As ever, it was a great pleasure to see everyone, catch-up, re-tell old jokes, rehearse ancient yarns, indulge in a little anecdote bingo etc. The boys spent the entire weekend talking exclusively, some might say obsessively, about Minecraft, but we can hardly fault them for living cosseted in their own little world, now can we?

A Visit From ‘Our Camping Friends’

Another Interlude

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“I like work: it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.”

Jerome K. Jerome

Another instance of the boys finding something fascinating in the garden and fetching me and my camera to enjoy it.

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Watching this spider deftly spin this wasp, well half of a wasp I think, and neatly wrap it in silk was really something.

Here’s one which was already hanging in the larder to season….

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Of course, once one thing has attracted my attention and has me gleefully snapping away, I’m inclined to start to look to see what else I can find. There were lots of hoverflies about, but I was more interested in this harvestman….

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…mainly because, until quite recently, I didn’t know that they existed. Not a spider, but related, it doesn’t produce silk, so can’t spin a web, nor does it have fangs, but it catches small prey using hooks on its long legs.

This forest bug, photographed on a different day, had a lucky escape – I was pruning a hazel which grows a good deal faster than the beech hedge it has invaded and so can often look a bit like a straggly cuckoo-in-the-nest when I spotted this bug on the underside of a leaf, just as I was about to shove it into the shredder.

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Another Interlude

Virginia, plain?

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So. Back in the summer – yes, we really had a summer, seems a long time ago now doesn’t it? – back in the summer, when the weather was, for the first time in living memory, genuinely summery, we went away. Can you guess where we were?

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Now you know!

We went to visit my in-laws: the Professor (hi A!) and the Rocket Scientist – how fulfilling must it be to work in a place where you can say: “It is rocket science!” But I digress, both from the truth* and from the story of our holiday. We were staying in Virginia, close to Alexandria, which in turn is close to Washington DC – hence the photo with good ole Abe.

We did many of the things you might expect tourists to do – the presidential memorials, the Smithsonian’s many museums etc, (try the Native American museum’s cafe – superb!), Mount Vernon (George Washington’s house), and some less obvious ones – Fort Washington on the Maryland bank of the Potomac, Chicago live at Wolf Trap (an interesting experience – my sister-in-law was given tickets, she thought at first for a production of the musical Chicago – when she realised that in fact it was the band Chicago, I think she thought they might be more age-appropriate for TBH and I. You know Chicago – all the hits, like ‘If You Leave Me Now’, and, erm, er…..Well anyway, TBH liked the singing, but hated the musical interludes (“Too many notes”). I felt the opposite – a bit Jack Spratt and spouse).

It was a great trip –  a fabulous family get together, great to meet two nephews who we’ve only ever spoken to on Skype before.

And….all the wildlife! Who knew? Not me certainly.

Close to where we stayed was a fabulous place called Huntley Meadows. The land here once belonged to George Mason (one of the Founding Fathers) and was farmland, but it’s now a wetland surrounded by forest.

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The wetland is amazing, with an incredible diversity of flora and fauna. The first striking thing was the number and variety of turtles around. These were relatively small specimens, but we also saw much larger ones swimming out in deeper water.

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On our first visit, we struck lucky and this fellow….

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…swam along a channel straight towards us, then under the boardwalk where we stood and into a large beaver lodge (well it seemed large to me, though I’m not really qualified to say – it’s the first one I ever saw!). The kids were adamant that it was a beaver, and they may well be right, but if it was, it was relatively small for a beaver. Maybe it’s a muskrat? B is sure that it had the wide tail characteristic of a beaver and he’s pretty sharp where natural history is concerned. Either way – we were all very excited.

Less dramatic, but equally fascinating, several bushes nearby had been completely stripped of leaves by these large caterpillars….

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..and these too….

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On subsequent visits we spotted some smaller cousins….

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And in many places we visited we saw tent webs, some quite large…

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…which were full of little wrigglers….

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Of course, where there are caterpillars, there are likely to be butterflies and moths too. And there were. We saw them everywhere we went. In the car park of the local mall, a huge dilapidated hawkmoth. In the woods at Huntley Meadows, this rather muted and well camouflaged butterfly, which perversely, is perhaps my favourite amongst the many we saw…

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And there really were a lot. Large swallowtails were most notable, but the variety in shape and size and colour was astonishing. And all of them new and unknown to us – except, surprisingly, for a handful of Red Admirals. Here’s a small sample….

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As I say, we saw butterflies just about everywhere, but most of these photos were taken at River Farm, the headquarters of the American Horticultural Society, which is on the banks of the Potomac. A wildflower meadow there was particularly rich in insect and bird life. (Imagine a British wildflower meadow on steroids – everything way over head height, huge flowers, huge bees and wasps etc)

Huntley Meadows also had a huge variety of dragonflies. but they were even more elusive than the butterflies and so will have to be represented by just one photo…

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One memorable feature of our stay was the constant loud racket of cicadas. At Wolf Trap – which is an outdoor venue – they were louder than the band. These insects live initially underground as nymphs, but then crawl up a tree to emerge, like a dragonfly does, from their skins. Here is the exuvia (discarded exoskeleton) of a cicada….

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We saw three on the bark of a tree by the Potomac in Washington. And sheltering under the bark of the same tree…

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An adult cicada.

I suspect that this is another….

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…probably of a different species. B found it at River Farm.

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It was dead, and therefore very amenable to being photographed from different angles.

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Another River Farm tenant…

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Here’s the building at River Farm….

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…taken from one of the paths through the meadow. The gnarly old tree in the foreground had my attention because I was both interested and slightly wary of the bustle of activity around the small hollow in it’s trunk…

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I had decided not to take my ‘bulky’ camera away with me – a decision which I began to regret almost immediately we arrived. The rest of the family all had point and snaps with them and at various times I borrowed them all. Some of these photos I took, but not by any means all of them.

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One insect we took a close interest in, but didn’t photograph, were the fireflies which whizzed around the garden every evening as it grew dark. Prof A organised a hunt and the kids had soon filled a jam-jar with them. (Well – not filled, but they had caught a lot.)

Of course wherever there are bugs, there are bound to be predators.

I’m not sure whether this arachnid, photographed in the woods at Huntley Meadows, is a spider or a harvestman.

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These frogs, very green and quite large relative to British frogs, were numerous at Huntley meadows…

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I think that it may be the American Bullfrog.

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These two species of tiny frogs…

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…may have been equally numerous, but we only saw a few, and then only thanks to eagle-eyed B spotting the first of them.

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I found a helpful website on the frogs of Virginia (there seem to be many species) and I think that this may be the Spring Peeper.

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The centre of these large leaves seem to be popular with small frogs. This…

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….is a green treefrog, the pale stripe is pretty distinctive. Here’s another….

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I’ve never seen a treefrog in the wild before, but this was only one of many firsts.

We saw a couple of small snakes during our visit, and quite a few lizards.

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Including a Komodo Dragon (another first)…

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But that was at Washington Zoo!

*I’m not sure that, strictly speaking, Dr A is a rocket scientist, although she is an astrophysicist and she does work for NASA, so how much closer can you get?

Virginia, plain?