The Bug Hotel

P1340183
Copper Underwing.

The day after my Hawes Water wander. Another attempt to replicate the fun I had in the meadows of the Dordogne. It started, in rather gloomy conditions, in our garden.

P1340185
Long-tailed Tit. Not all that blurred!
P1340190
Possibly the same Long-tailed Tit. But they’re usually in groups, so it could just as easily be another.
P1340201
Mating flies in the beech hedge.
P1340207
Speckled Wood butterfly.
P1340223
Hoverfly on Montbretia.
P1340233
Common Carder Bee on Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’.

When the weather brightened up, I set-off for a short wander, taking in Lambert’s Meadow, my go to spot when I’m hoping to see dragonflies in particular, and a wide selection of insect life in general, and a trip to the Dordogne is not on the cards.

P1340276
Lambert’s Meadow.

In my post about the meadows around the campsite we stayed on in France, I began with a photo in which I’d caught five different species all in the one shot, which I was delighted by, because it seemed to represent to me the sheer abundance and variety of the wildlife to be seen there.

I’ll confess, I was bit shocked that Lambert’s Meadow could match that tally…

P1340236

So…what have we got here? I think that the two black and white hoverflies may be Leucozona glaucia. I think the bug closest to the middle could be the sawfly, Rhogogaster Picta. I wondered whether the tiny insect at the bottom might be a sawfly too, but the long antennae and what looks like an even longer ovipositor have persuaded me that it is probably some kind of Ichneumon wasp. But that’s as far as I’ve got (there are apparently approximately 2500 UK species). I think the social wasp at the top is probably Vespula Vulgaris – the Common Wasp. And about the insect on the top left I have no opinions at all – there isn’t much to go on.

P1340243

I always assume that very pale bees like this are very faded Common Carder bees, but I’m not at all sure that’s correct.

P1340245
Large Rose Sawfly?

I think this might be a Large Rose Sawfly, although surprisingly it seems like there might be several UK species of insects which have a striking orange abdomen like this. I’m also intrigued by what the funky seedheads are. I suspect that if I’ve written this post back in August, I probably would have had a pretty fair idea because of where they were growing in the meadow.

P1340246
Crane Fly – Tipula Paludosa Male?
P1340247
Crane Fly – Tipula Paludosa Female?

There’s around 300 species of cranefly in the UK. Me putting names to these is essentially a huge bluff – I have even less idea than usual. I’m reasonably confident that they are at least craneflies and that the first is a male and the second female, but after that I’m pretty much guessing, based on a little bit of internet research.

P1340254
Volucella Pellucens on Mint.

This is a hoverfly which I often see and which is sufficiently distinctive that I can actually be confident about my identification. Especially since I found this very helpful guide. The common name is apparently Pellucid Fly, which is odd; pellucid means translucent or clear, as in a pellucid stream, or easy to understand, as in pellucid prose. I’m not sure in which sense this fly is pellucid. The females lay their eggs in the nests of social wasps like the Vespula Vulgaris above. The larvae grow up in the nest, from what I can gather, essentially scavenging – so a bit like wasps round a picnic table. Even wasps get harassed!

P1340261

I am going to have to bite the bullet and shell out for a proper field guide to hoverflies I think. They are so fascinating. Well, to me at least! These two, at first glance both black and yellow, but then so differently shaped and patterned, but I don’t have a clue what species either might belong to.

P1340269

This, on the other hand, also black and yellow……

P1340272
Tachina Fera

…is clearly not a hoverfly. Don’t ask me how I know. Well, go on then: it’s extremely bristly, and it has a chequered abdomen. At least it’s quite distinctive. My ‘Complete British Insects’ describes it as ‘handsome’ which even I can’t quite see. It’s a parasitoid, which is to say that its larvae will grow up inside a caterpillar.

P1340278
Possibly Eristalis arbustorum.

Apparently Eristalis arbustorum “can have quite variable markings on its body and some can be almost totally black”. (Source) Which makes my heart sink a bit – what hope do I have if members of an individual species can vary so much? At least this genuinely is handsome.

P1340280

A couple more unidentified bees to throw in.

P1340286
P1340292
The Guelder Rose hedge.

Up to this point I’d been slowly pacing around the meadow, snapping away. I hadn’t walked far at all. As I approached the large area of Guelder Rose in the hedge, my pulse quickened a little, whilst my pace slowed even more. This is an area in which I frequently spot dragonflies. And the area just beyond, of tall figworts and willowherbs, is possibly even more reliable.

P1340256
Guelder Rose berries.

There were a few dragonflies patrolling the margin of the field. And a some Common Darters resting on leaves quite high in hedge, making them difficult to photograph from below. But then…result!

P1340298
Migrant Hawker.

Sometimes hawkers visit our garden, but it’s rare that I spot them when they aren’t in motion, hunting.

P1340305
And again.

An absolutely stunning creature.

A little further along…

P1340321
Migrant Hawker on Figwort.
P1340338
And again.
P1340325
Honey bee, I think.

Our friend P has hives in Hagg Wood, not too far away. Minty honey anyone?

P1340345
A very tatty Skipper.
P1340353
Small White.
P1340367
Common Darter on Figwort.

Views from the walk home…

20210822_152618
Looking a bit black over The Howgills.
20210822_152346
But the sun catching Farleton Fell.
20210822_152447
Rosehips.

Well, I’ve enjoyed choosing this selection of photos from the hundreds I took that day. I hope you did too. I don’t know why I didn’t spend more time mooching around al Lambert’s Meadow last summer. I’m looking forward to some brighter weather already.

The Bug Hotel

August: Garden Wildlife + Foot Golf.

P1340035
Blurred Long-tail Tit. All Long-Tail Tits are blurred.
P1340037
Blue Tit.

Some plants in the garden are fantastic value, not just in themselves, but for the wildlife they attract.

P1340048

I think these tall yellow daisies are Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’. Related to sunflowers, they’ve spread like mad in our garden, giving a long-lasting bright splash of colour in mid to late summer.

This is what the BBC Gardener’s World website has to say about them…

Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ is known for attracting bees, beneficial insects, birds, butterflies​/​moths and other pollinators. It nectar-pollen-rich-flowers and has seeds for birds.

The long stems seem to be good places for dragonflies to rest. And they are certainly attractive to pollinators.

P1340039
Hoverfly. Possibly a Drone Fly.
P1340053
Brown-lipped Smail.
P1340057
Greenbottle.
P1340050

Marjoram also seeds itself quite freely around the garden and seems to be particularly attractive to bees. I hope this is a Garden Bumblebee, seems appropriate, but the white-tailed bumblebees are difficult to distinguish between.

P1340043
Peacock.
P1340046
And another.
P1340082
A pair of fawns, their spots beginning to fade. They came right up to our windows, seemingly unaware of the people watching on the other side of the glass.
P1340069

And, completely unrelated, TBH booked us all in for a family session of Foot Golf at Casterton golf course. As you can see, the views there aren’t bad at all.

20210813_141942

We were all a bit rubbish at the golf, but we had a good giggle.

August: Garden Wildlife + Foot Golf.

Foulshaw Moss by Bike

20210605_144338
Whitbarrow Scar on the left, Eastern Fells on the right.

The day after our Morecambe jaunt. A Saturday. TBH had other things to do, and wanted a rest, but I was hooked and keen to get out again on my bike. The weather was glorious. I decided to take the Morecambe Bay Cycleway in the opposite direction and visit Foulshaw Moss.

The photograph above is taken from a minor lane which runs from close to Dallam Hall almost to Levens Hall. I’ve walked this lane, many years ago, it’s part of the Cumbria Coastal Way. On foot, on a dull day, I found it a bit of a tedious experience, but on a bike it was a revelation – nice and flat, huge open views. Marvellous.

20210605_151115
Whitbarrow Scar and the River Gilpin.

From the village of Levens, the MBC follows minor lanes, and one short section of track, paralleling the busy A590. I’d taken a leaf out of Andy’s book and used satellite images looking for a connection to take me to Foulshaw Moss, which is on the far side of the main road. I found a track which was perfect, directly opposite. In the event, it was clearly somebody’s driveway – I still used, trespassing for a matter of seconds, but I did have the decency to feel guilty about it.

20210605_151141
My trusty steed.

I’d been a bit concerned about getting across the A590, which is a dual carriageway at this point, very lots of very fast moving traffic, but I just had to be patient and eventually I managed to get across without feeling I’d risked life and limb.

P1330857
Whitbarrow Scar from Foulshaw Moss.

Since I usually visit in the evenings, I wasn’t quite prepared for how busy the reserve would be. The car park was full. (Admittedly, it is quite a small car park.) I chatted to a Wildlife Trust volunteer who told me it had been even busier earlier in the week.

Most visitors seemed intent on viewing the very distant Osprey nest though, so I could still enjoy a quiet stroll around the boardwalks.

P1330814
Greenfinch and Red Poll.

With the sun shining, I was able to see some of the insect life I usually miss in the evenings.

P1330842
Four-spotted Chaser.
P1330863
Green Hairstreak.
P1330871
Large Red Damselfly.
P1330881
A blue damselfly – I can’t identify which.
P1330882
Two more Large Red Damselflies.
P1330893

After perhaps an hour at Foulshaw I set off for home. I’d been considering a different route back, which initially followed the same route to Levens village.

20210605_170400
View across the Lyth Valley from the outskirts of Levens.

From Levens a lane climbs steeply across the slopes of Sizergh Fell. I then travelled back to Milnthorpe on very minor lanes through Sedgwick and then a series of small hamlets which I’ve never visited before: Crosscrake, Stainton and Viver.

20210605_173909

This return route was much more undulating than the outward one had been, which was all well and good until the bike’s battery ran out of juice. The last three or four miles was a good reminder that riding a heavy ebike at the end of a longish day is very hard-work without assistance.

Almost 30 miles, with a little over 400m of ascent. (According to MapMyWalk which has a setting for cycling, despite the name).

The bike/walk combination is definitely something to explore further in the future, I think.

Foulshaw Moss by Bike

Duke of Burgundies, A Holly Blue, An Osprey, Iridescent Clouds, an Interloper.

20210516_101518
TBH in Bottoms Wood

A post to take me a bit further through May. These first six photos were all taken on the same Sunday. I was out for an early walk with TBH, then took B to rugby training in Kirkby, a chance for another brief wander, and finally had a short stroll, which took a long time, around Gait Barrows.

20210516_115826
River Lune near Kirkby Lonsdale
P1330537
Herb Paris in the woods at Gait Barrows
P1330557
A pair of Duke of Burgundy butterflies

Obviously, Duke of Burgundy butterflies are like buses; I’ve waited years to see one, then two come along at once. Seeing me with my camera, a fellow enthusiast asked if I was looking for Duke of Burgundies? And when I replied; ‘That would be nice’, he pointed out where I could find a pair on one of the ropes which cordoned off the path.

“Hurry,” he said, “I’ve been watching them there for 45 minutes. I don’t know how much longer they’ll stay.”

Long enough for me to take lots of almost identical photos! What surprised me was how tiny they were – this is a really diminutive species of butterfly. Perhaps that’s why I’ve found them so hard to spot? They didn’t move at all, so intent on mating were they, so I didn’t get to see their upperwings. Maybe next May.

Duke of Burgundy butterflies are seriously in decline. Here’s the distribution map:

You can see that our population is very much an isolated North-Western outpost. The wonderful Back On Our Map project (BOOM!) are aiming to reintroduce or spread a number of rare species in the area, including Dormice and possibly Pine Martens. At Gait Barrows huge efforts have been made to encourage Primroses and Cowslips which are the food-plants of the Duke of Burgundy caterpillars.

20210516_153901
Big skies over Gait Barrows
P1330567
Iridescent clouds above Farleton Fell.

Here’s a curious phenomena which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before – rainbow colours in the sky, but not in a rainbow arc. Sadly, none of the photos I took showed the colours very clearly, but you can just about see them here in this enhanced shot. Fascinating to see; due to tiny ice-particles diffracting the light apparently.

P1330572
Another view of Farleton Fell.

One evening whilst A was at a dance lesson, I made a first visit to Hale Moss nature reserve. There were lots of snails and a few Bird’s-eye Primroses dotted about the boggy open ground.

P1330578
Hale Moss.
20210518_130800
Holly Blue butterfly, photographed in the grounds at work.

Not much more to say about that one. Not the first Holly Blue I’ve seen, but the first I’ve seen locally. Probably, I think because they’re another small butterfly, and because they tend to fly quite high in the tree-tops.

P1330586
Reed Bunting at Foulshaw Moss.
P1330608
Male Great-spotted Woodpecker (the females don’t have the red patch on their nape)
P1330639
Two male Redpolls.
P1330664
Foulshaw Moss.

I was standing on the raised platform at Foulshaw Moss which gives great views over the wetland, when a large white bird flew directly overhead from behind me. By the time I’d got my camera pointing in the right direction, the bird had already travelled a long way, but it was still obviously an Osprey.

P1330660
Osprey

The Wildlife Trust had webcams stationed over the nest at Foulshaw and through the spring and early summer I periodically watched the adults and then the chicks. Still special to see the bird ‘in the flesh’ though.

P1330666
Osprey being harried by a Crow.
P1330676
Perched Osprey.
P1330690
Two more views of Foulshaw Moss.
P1330691
P1330674
Sedge Warbler.

This bird was bobbing about in the reeds beneath the platform, singing enthusiastically. I think the prominent eye-stripe makes this a Sedge Warbler. I took lots of photos, but none were quite as sharp as I would have liked.

20210518_205414

And finally, this also flew overhead that same evening whilst I was at Foulshaw Moss – ironically, I think that this is an Osprey too: a Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey. The rotors tilt so that it can take off, land and manoeuvre like a helicopter, but also fly like a plane. But what is an American military aircraft doing flying over Cumbria? Well, RAF Alconbury, RAF Fairford, RAF Lakenheath, RAF Mildenhall, RAF Menwith Hill, RAF Croughton – all US run bases in the UK apparently. None of them are near here, but I guess it must have come from one of them? Good to know that we’re still living in Airstrip One. When will we be ‘taking back control’ of military bases on our ‘sovereign’ territory? Don’t hold your breath.

Duke of Burgundies, A Holly Blue, An Osprey, Iridescent Clouds, an Interloper.

Three Evening Outings

20210420_200444

I didn’t get out half as much this summer for after walk wanders as I usually do. I made excuses about the being too busy with driving A to and from dancing lessons, but these three evening walks from the same week in the tail end of April give the lie to that – so, obviously, I just didn’t make enough effort as the summer went on.

But anyway – back to the week when I was still trying. On the Monday evening, I dropped A off in Milnthorpe and drove the short distance to park in Heversham and climb Heversham Head. Bizarrely, in nearly thirty years of living nearby I’ve never climbed it before. In my defence, on the OS map there’s no path shown – I think it was Conrad who alerted me to the fact that there is actually access to the top. I followed the route in this leaflet (I think the field boundaries shown might be slightly misleading). Very good it was too, but it’s a shame I hadn’t set off earlier since the very flat light rather spoiled the extensive views.

20210420_203620

I shall have to come this way again, although I’m slightly put off by the many pinch-stiles, some of which are very tight for the more portly gentleman, and one of which had me thinking I was irretrievably stuck and contemplating having to wait there, like Winnie the Pooh in Rabbit’s burrow, until I had lost some weight.

20210420_203905
20210421_181802
Dallam Hall

The following night was brighter, and I was out earlier. This time I walked from where A has her lessons, down through Milnthorpe, through the grounds of Dallam Hall, beside the River Bela, and out to where the Bela flows into the Kent estuary.

20210421_183131
River Bela – Heversham Head prominent on the right-hand side in the background.
20210421_183556
River Bela and Milnthorpe Bridge.
20210421_184211
River Bela and Milnthorpe.
20210421_185640
Harmony Hall.
20210421_185649

It’s always very sobering to be confronted with evidence of sleepy little Milnthorpe’s past as a slaving port.

Incidentally, I’m a huge fan of both Cicerone Press, these days based in Kendal, and of Mr Unsworth.

On the Friday evening, with no driving duties to undertake, I drove straight from work to the Rigg Lane carpark, for an evening ascent of Clougha Pike.

On my way up, I was tempted away from my usual route by a path which leading up into Windy Clough. A thin path took me onto slopes of shattered stones and boulders on the left side of the valley. The path seemed to split frequently, each bifurcation leading to difficult choices between two increasingly marginal options. Eventually, there was no discernible path, so I struck uphill, finding a thin trod following the wall along the high ground. When this hit a cross-wall I followed it down into the valley bottom, where there was a gate and, once again, a path. This lead me into surprisingly tall and scratchy vegetation, but also, eventually, onto a lovely path which gradually ascended up towards the edge on Clougha Pike.

P1330294
Looking towards Caton Moor, having escaped Windy Clough.
P1330306
Looking up the edge.
P1330312

There were loads of Red Grouse about. The males were strutting their stuff and very easy to photograph, so I took lots of pictures. The females were far more discrete and only showed themselves very briefly. They’re endearing birds, if somewhat loud. It’s a shame that they’re essentially there to be shot by ‘sportsmen’.

I found a comfortable spot on a huge boulder and sat down for a brew and a rest and to contemplate the view. It was warm, but very windy, so I was surprised to see this tiny Green Hairstreak clinging to the rock.

P1330320

Because I’ve previously seen these butterflies in woodland I’d incorrectly assumed that they are woodland creatures, but apparently they are well adapted to a number of habitats, including moorland.

P1330329
Another male Grouse.
P1330330
Along the edge.
P1330333
Who you looking at?
P1330335
P1330337
Meadow Pipit (I think).
P1330338
The top!
P1330339
Looking over to Hawthornthwaite Fell.
P1330342
Morecambe Bay.
P1330345
Hunkered down for another brew and a ‘meal deal’ tea.
P1330346
Looking along the edge.

After my earlier misadventure, I wasn’t dissuaded from taking another new route – I’d spotted a thin path traversing the ground just below the edge and decided that would give an interesting new perspective.

P1330347

It proved to be a very pleasant alternative to retracing the edge path, although I suspect that in winter it may well be very boggy.

Three Evening Outings

Birds, birds, birds…and Primroses

P1330064

Early April, when the branches are mostly bare and the birds are busy mating and nesting is a great time to spot and take photos of birds. This Bullfinch photo is a bit of a cheat, since it wasn’t taken on a walk, but through our window, by where I was sitting on a Thursday evening.

On the Friday, when I got home from work, having finished for the Easter break, I headed out for a wander round Heald Brow, to the south of the village.

P1330098
View of The Howgills.
20210402_151805
Forsythia catching the sun.
P1330068
Hazelwood Hall.

I think someone had been doing some major pruning, because a better view of Hazelwood Hall had opened up from the adjoining Hollins Lane. My interest in the hall is due to the gardens, which I believed to be designed by Lancaster architect Thomas Mawson, although the current Wikipedia entry is slightly confusing on that score and seems to imply, in one section, that in fact Mawson’s son Prentice was responsible, only, later on, to state that it was Mawson himself who designed the garden working with another son Edward.

Hazelwood Hall 1926

Certainly the tiered terraces, the loggia and the use of stone pergolas are very similar to other Mawson gardens I’ve visited.

P1330069

On Heald Brow, I noticed a Great-spotted Woodpecker in a very distant tree. I’ve included the photo, rubbish though it is, just to remind myself that I saw it, because, quite frankly, I was chuffed that I could pick it out in the tree-tops.

P1330092

Likewise this Bullfinch. I know that it’s the second of this post, but I don’t seem to have seen many this year.

The Saturday was a glorious day, a great start to our holidays, so I set-off for Gait Barrows in search of birds and butterflies.

P1330099
Violets

I did take no end of photos of butterflies and other insects and even more of birds, but above all else I took pictures of Primroses which seem to have proliferated all around the reserve.

P1330103
P1330104
Primroses with Bee-fly.
P1330105
Blue moor grass – typical of limestone grassland.
P1330107
Hazel catkins catching the sun
20210403_145354
All that’s left of one of the former hedgerows. Still need to have a proper look at what’s grown back.
P1330122
A Drone Fly, I think, but it’s the texture of the wood which I really like.

There were Drone flies everywhere and I took lots of, I suppose, quite pointless photographs of them, but then occasionally what I took to be another Drone Fly would instead transpire to be something more interesting, like this Bee-fly…

P1330139
20210403_153206

I was quite surprised to see this machinery in the woods by Hawes Water, but the path from Challan Hall around to Moss Lane, which is supposed to be wheelchair friendly, had been getting increasingly muddy and Natural England were having it widened and resurfaced, so bully for them.

P1330142
Cherry blossom?
P1330143

I can’t really identify lichens and, I think because I can’t, I don’t always pay them the attention they merit. I think this is Ramalina farinacea, but I wouldn’t take my word for it, and, looking again, I think there are probably at least three different lichens in the photo above.

P1330144
P1330154
Honeysuckle leaves, some of the earliest to appear, catching the light.
P1330166

Although it was months ago, I remember my encounter with this Comma butterfly very vividly. It was sunning itself on some limestone, as you can see, and I slowly edged toward it, taking a new photo after each stride. Eventually, I upset it and it moved, finally settling on a nearby tree-trunk, at which point I started edging forward again.

P1330185

What struck me was that, if I hadn’t seen the Comma land, I don’t think I would have picked it out. Whilst the underside of its wings are drab in comparison to the patterned orange of the upper wings, the underwings are beautifully adapted to conceal the butterfly in a superb imitation of a tatty dead leaf.

This…

P1330194

…is a warbler. I don’t think it’s a Chiff-chaff, they have a very distinctive song which I can actually recognise, so I can recall getting excited because this had a different song. Sadly, I can’t remember the song at all, and can’t identify which warbler this is without that additional clue.

No such confusion here…

P1330215

…this is a make Kestrel. I wish I’d managed to capture it in flight when it’s colours looked stunning.

And I suspect that this is a Chiff-chaff…

P1330222

Though I couldn’t swear to it.

Another mystery here…

P1330236

…with a bone suspended in a Blackthorn bush. I know that Shrikes impale their prey on the thorns of this tree, but Shrikes are quite small and I think that this bone is probably a bit too big for that. Also, Shrikes are very rare in the UK these days and are not generally seen this far West (although I know that they have occasionally been spotted at Leighton Moss).

P1330239
Ash flowers beginning to emerge.
P1330243
More Hazel catkins.
P1330244
And again!
20210403_183321
White violets.

I was back at Gait Barrows the following day, but the skies were dull and I didn’t take many photos. On the Monday, I had another local wander, including a visit to The Cove…

20210405_164343

The Tuesday was a bit special, so I shall save that for my next post…

Birds, birds, birds…and Primroses

Getting About

P1320655

These photos are from another end of September autumnal walk. It was the Sunday after my longish walk in the Bowland Hills, but the weather was much nicer and I was joined, at least initially, by TBH and Little S. (Who is, of course, now much taller than me).

20200927_131613

We took our usual preferred route around the coast to Arnside. I think this might have been the weekend when this usually quiet route was thronged with people, presumably all enjoying the slight relaxation in the lockdown restrictions.

20200927_133146
20200927_140649

I have to confess to being a little jealous of the three people sailing small dinghies on the Kent estuary. It looked like great fun. I’ve done a bit of dinghy sailing over the years and have always enjoyed it. TBH and I are contemplating joining Arnside Sailing Club, although I suspect she is most enthused by the fact that they own a few stand-up paddle-boards.

After an alfresco lunch in Arnside, TBH and Little S left me for a direct route home, but, it being a beautiful afternoon, I was keen to prolong the walk.

P1320657
A distant Ingleborough from the south side of the Knott.
P1320658
Looking South, Eaves Wood, Warton Crag and Ward’s Stone, where I’d been the day before.
P1320659
Looking out to The Bay.
P1320661
The Fells of the Lake District from near the Toposcope.
P1320662
Looking South down the coast from Heathwaite – notice the edge of the firm sand and the channel beside it.
20200927_164426
Pano Looking South.
P1320673
Red Admiral on Buddleia.

The hedge on the coastal side of the caravan park at Far Arnside was full of Buddleia and Bindweed and they, in turn, were festooned with bees and butterflies, which kept me distracted for quite a while. Since I was on my own, there was nobody to moan about my entering ‘Butterfly Mode’.

P1320676
P1320684
P1320677
P1320681
P1320690
P1320694
P1320698
Burdock I think.
P1320699
P1320708

The sands had looked so attractive from the Knott that I decided to drop down that way and follow the edge of the firm sand to Knowe Point.

20200927_173203
P1320711

Overhead, two people were flying powered paragliders. Apparently, this arrangement is called a paramotor. Makes sense I suppose. It certainly looked exhilarating.

P1320716

I was intrigued by the potential of this mode of transport and, as is often the case, found myself lost down a rabbit-hole of Youtube videos. I have to say that low-level flying looked like terrific fun. I’m not much good with heights though, and this feat of daring gives me sweaty palms even when I think about it.

20200927_174028
Looking back to Arnside Knott and Heathwaite.

Meanwhile, at work, a new colleague has been talking about her husband’s love of land yachting, which looks more up my street and which these great expanses would no doubt be ideal for. The problem, of course, with paramotors, land yachts and sailing dinghies, is that they all require kit and cost money. With Shanks’ Pony you can get away with a cheap cag and a pair of shoes which is why I think it’s always destined to be my favourite way of getting about (although, of course, some people do seem to rather obsess over their endless gallimaufry of expensive gear).

Getting About

Le sentier rive gauche du Tarn

P1320386

This is, I think, a Scotch Argus butterfly. If I’m right, then this is the third photo of a Scotch Argus which has appeared here on the blog. The first was from a family holiday in the Vosges ten years ago, the second taken much closer to home on Arnside Knott, which has one of only two English colonies. I assume that we call them Scotch Argus because of their rarity in England and relative abundance in Scotland, but apparently they are common across Europe. This had me wondering what they’re called in French, surely not Scotch Argus? A bit of lazy internet research failed to turn up an answer, but I did discover that France has around 250 species of butterfly, as compared to our own miserly total of 57 (or 59 if you included Painted Ladies and Clouded Yellow which both arrive regularly as migrants). No wonder I feel so much at home in France! I also discovered that France has over 30 species of Ringlet, the family to which Scotch Argus belong, so my identification may be incorrect anyway. I’m looking again at my photo from the Vosges and wondering whether it might actually be an Arran Brown?

P1320387

Andy had waded the Tarn and discovered a rough, steep path which lead up to the sentier which runs along the left side of the gorge, away from any roads. This seemed too good an opportunity to miss so, on separate days, we had a couple of out and back walks along that path.

P1320389

The slopes were heavily wooded, but every now and then gaps in the trees would reveal tantalising views of the towering rock features above or on the far side of the gorge.

P1320394
Huge toadstool.
P1320400
P1320416

It was terrific walking which had me daydreaming again about long distance walking in France in general, and about a multi-day wander through the gorge in particular. I’ve subsequently found this blog, which has further sold me on that idea.

P1320421

Unlike in the Cirque des Baumes, here in the deep shade of the trees there were still quite a few plants in flower, including some delightful tiny yellow blooms which had mauve bracts or leaves on the end of its stems beyond the flowers. I took lots of photos, but sadly none of them have come out well, perhaps due to the depth of the shade where they were growing.

P1320422
P1320423
P1320426

On the first of our two walks I saw lots of Wall Browns in the woods.

the wall brown is la Mégère – Megera, one of the Furies, which is arresting, but seems a bit of an over-the-top label for such an inoffensive basker in the sunshine.

Michael McCarthy

P1320435
P1320439
P1320443
P1320452
P1320456
The path gradually climbed, whilst the river dropped, so that we were soon high above the valley bottom.
P1320458
P1320460
A small, sunnny, open glade was very busy with Common Blues.
P1320461
P1320465
P1320481
P1320483
P1320488
P1320490
P1320496
P1320497
P1320510

For our second walk we had less sunny conditions, but since this section of the path had quite a bit of up and down, maybe this wasn’t a bad thing.

P1320511
P1320512
P1320516
Les Détroits, I think.
P1320519
P1320522
P1320524
P1320528
Southern Smooth Snake?

At the end of the walk, as I waded back across the river, I was startled to spot a snake, motionless on the riverbed. I fumbled my camera out and bellowed to the others to come and see what I assumed was a dead snake. I was even more startled when it shot off across the rocky river-bottom. I knew that snakes could swim on the surface but haven’t seen one submerged before.

That’s the last of my photos from France last summer and as I look out at leaden grey skies, I’m slightly sad about that fact. I’ve hardly been anywhere since though, so I should be able to make swift inroads into catching-up.

Le sentier rive gauche du Tarn

Cirque des Baumes Again

P1320095

Last time we came this way, we drove up to the view point at Point Sublime, left the cars up at the rim of the gorge, and walked back down to the campsite. It proved to be one of the most memorable mornings of the trip, so, naturally, we were keen to repeat that outing this time.

The views from the top of the gorge defy superlatives. I think I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves.

P1320096
The campsite is down there somewhere, in the trees.
P1320097
The top of Cirque des Baumes – looks steep. It is.

Last time we visited, I was absolutely fascinated by the vultures we regularly saw overhead, and spent quite a bit of time both watching them and photographing them, mostly producing fairly useless photos. This time, perhaps the novelty had worn off a bit and I wasn’t as engaged as I had been. Never-the-less, they are amazing to watch and from the top of the gorge we had great views.

P1320102
Griffon Vulture (I think)
P1320103

Of course, having not been so intent on getting a photo of the vultures, I actually got my best yet. Inevitable perhaps. There’s probably a moral there somewhere, for a clever person to tease out.

P1320106
Griffon Vulture. Big.
P1320116
Wall Brown.
P1320127
B nonchalantly standing much too close to the edge.
P1320132
A vulture on an even more airy perch.
P1320133
The head of Cirque des Baumes again.
P1320135
Grasshopper.
P1320137
Grasshopper.
P1320140
I suspect that this is a Common Lizard – I think the most widespread reptile species, but I’m not sure.
P1320143
Likewise.
P1320144
Descending into the cirque.
P1320148

It’s quite a sketchy path through really impressive scenery. Some of us were taking our time to save our aged knees (and take photos) and the kids raced ahead of us, only to reappear above and behind us somehow.

P1320153
P1320169

As we dropped past one of the large towers, a vulture wheeled just overhead, the closest encounter I’ve had by far. Sadly, my hasty photos, with the light behind the huge scavenger, didn’t come out too well, but it was a very exciting few moments.

P1320171
P1320175
P1320185
This looks like a Meadow Brown, except they usually have some orange on the underwing. So, I’m hoping that it’s actually a Tree Grayling which would make it another new species to me, in what was a bumper year for butterflies.
P1320187
Common Blue, I presume. There were a lot of them about.
P1320194
Actually, this might well be a Tree Grayling.
P1320201
P1320232
Silver-washed Fritillary. Possibly.
P1320235
Unidentified, but colourful grasshopper.
P1320240
Unidentified, but rather lovely moth.

Last time we visited, the Best Butterfly Moment of the holiday – surely everybody has ‘Best Butterfly Moments’ in their holidays? – was the Small Purple Emperor I spotted by the Tarn. This time it was a number of Southern White Admirals which were flitting about near to the end of our descent, where the trees started to get bigger, but there was still plenty of sunshine filtering through.

P1320243
Southern White Admiral.
P1320252
Southern White Admiral.
P1320257
Southern White Admiral.

Stunning creatures. It was a species I didn’t know existed until this summer. Marvellous.

P1320247
Looking back up the Cirque.
P1320260
A member of the Dead-Nettle family, I suspect.

Most plants seemed to have finished flowering, perhaps as a result of the tree-cover and also the heat, so it was nice to find this small but attractive flowers.

P1320264
Wall Brown.

As I approached the bottom of the ravine I met a group who asked if they were going the right way for Point Sublime. They weren’t, having taken the the turn which leads up to La Chapelle Saint-Hillaire, a tiny church nestling under cliffs. My attempts to produce “Go back and turn left” in my rusty school French met with blank looks, but fortunately one of the group spoke very good English. I didn’t envy them the steep ascent in the midday heat, but they were at least young and they all looked very fit.

Sadly, a locked gate blocked the last part of the path to the church, so no photographs this time, although there are a few on my post from our last visit.

P1320266
Almost down: looking into the steep-sided ravine at the bottom of the gorge.
P1320269
Crag Martin

My own short climb up to the chapel wasn’t wasted energy, partly because the views from near the church are superb, but also because I actually managed to catch a hirundine in flight. Not the sharpest photo, but better than I expected. Crag Martins are apparently quite similar to our own Sand Martins, but with broader wings, lacking a darker band on their chests and with ‘diagnostic’ twin white patches on their tails. I’d been enjoying watching the martins deftly skimming across the surface of the huge cliff which looms over the latter part of the descent, so was very happy to have a closer encounter and a chance to take some photos. You can see in the picture how closely they hug the cliffs in their long sweeps, a bit like watching swallows in their low sallies across a pond or field, but with the different challenge of a vertical surface to follow.

P1320274
Looking back at Cirque des Baumes from the road.
P1320279
The Tarn from the ‘Mushroom Rock’. The campsite is in the trees by the big shingle bank on the left.

Of course, one consequence of walking down and leaving the cars is that somebody has to go back later to collect them. What a hardship!

P1320282
The same view later in the day.
P1320288
P1320284
Another Vulture

More Point Sublime photos to come.

Cirque des Baumes Again

And On to the Tarn Gorge

P1320083
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.

20200827_125929
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.

P1320086
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.

P1320320

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.

P1320289

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.

P1320301<

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.

P1320297
Common Blue – of course!
P1320299
Southern White Admiral.
P1320308
Comma.
P1320313
Dusky Heath – I think.
P1320315
Wall Brown,
P1320317
Wall Brown.
P1320321
Rock Grayling.
P1320334
Grasshopper.
P1320337
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…

P1320530

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