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

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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.

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River Lune near Kirkby Lonsdale
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Herb Paris in the woods at Gait Barrows
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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.

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Big skies over Gait Barrows
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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.

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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.

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Hale Moss.
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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.

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

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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.

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Osprey being harried by a Crow.
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Perched Osprey.
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Two more views of Foulshaw Moss.
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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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River Bela – Heversham Head prominent on the right-hand side in the background.
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River Bela and Milnthorpe Bridge.
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River Bela and Milnthorpe.
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Harmony Hall.
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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.

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

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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.

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Another male Grouse.
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Along the edge.
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Who you looking at?
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Meadow Pipit (I think).
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The top!
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Looking over to Hawthornthwaite Fell.
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Morecambe Bay.
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Hunkered down for another brew and a ‘meal deal’ tea.
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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.

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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

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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.

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View of The Howgills.
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Forsythia catching the sun.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Primroses with Bee-fly.
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Blue moor grass – typical of limestone grassland.
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Hazel catkins catching the sun
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All that’s left of one of the former hedgerows. Still need to have a proper look at what’s grown back.
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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…

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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.

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Cherry blossom?
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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.

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

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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…

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…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…

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…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…

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Though I couldn’t swear to it.

Another mystery here…

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…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).

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Ash flowers beginning to emerge.
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More Hazel catkins.
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And again!
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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…

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

Birds, birds, birds…and Primroses

Getting About

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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).

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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.

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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.

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

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Burdock I think.
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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.

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

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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.

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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

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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?

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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.

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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.

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Huge toadstool.
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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.

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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.

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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

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The path gradually climbed, whilst the river dropped, so that we were soon high above the valley bottom.
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A small, sunnny, open glade was very busy with Common Blues.
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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.

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Les Détroits, I think.
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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

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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.

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The campsite is down there somewhere, in the trees.
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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.

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Griffon Vulture (I think)
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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.

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

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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.

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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.
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Common Blue, I presume. There were a lot of them about.
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Actually, this might well be a Tree Grayling.
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Silver-washed Fritillary. Possibly.
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Unidentified, but colourful grasshopper.
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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.

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Southern White Admiral.
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Southern White Admiral.
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Southern White Admiral.

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

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Looking back up the Cirque.
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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.

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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.

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Almost down: looking into the steep-sided ravine at the bottom of the gorge.
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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.

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Looking back at Cirque des Baumes from the road.
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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!

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The same view later in the day.
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Another Vulture

More Point Sublime photos to come.

Cirque des Baumes Again

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

My Parents and Other Visitors

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Mum and Dad on the Lots.

My mum and dad spent a week at Thurnham Hall, on the other side of Lancaster. Very generously, they booked us a few nights there too. Little did we realise then that it would be the last time we would see them this year.

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The River Condor at Condor Green.

How nice then, to get to spend some time together. Most days we managed a bit of a walk, aiming for somewhere without contours, by the Lune Estuary near Glasson, across the Lots at home, or along the prom at Morecambe for example.

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Gatekeeper on Ragwort.

We did embark on one overly ambitious walk, from Thurnham Hall to Wallings Ice-Cream Parlour on the other side of Cockerham. The long-grass in the fields and the surprisingly sodden tracks which followed were energy sapping for all concerned. Fortunately, once we’d sampled the ice-creams, we arranged a taxi for a couple of drivers to collect our cars and then return for the rest of the party.

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The Marina at Glasson.

We played ‘Ticket to Ride’ and no doubt other games, and ate out a few times, now that ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ was in full swing. After a curry in Lancaster I had a brainwave about walking back to Thurnham Hall, basing my intended route on a hazy memory of the map. It was much further than I had thought, and it was pitch black by the time I reached Galgate. Fortunately, TBH was happy to come out and pick me up.

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Bit low in the water?
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Roe Deer right outside our back door.
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The Lune Estuary.
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Sea Lavender (I think).
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Sculpture on Morecambe Prom, ‘Love, The Most Beautiful Of Absolute Disasters’ by Shane Johnstone. Locally known as ‘Venus and Cupid’. It commemorates the 24 cockle-pickers who died in the Bay in 2004.
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The view across Morecambe Bay.

Now, though we won’t see them over Christmas as we usually would, with the vaccines being rolled out, we have the real prospect of safely meeting with my mum and dad again to look forward to. Bring it on!

My Parents and Other Visitors

Heysham Moss

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St. Peter’s Church, Heysham.

Back in the summer, when the sun was shining, and the rules changed (how many times have they changed since then?), so that we were allowed to meet five friends outdoors, all B seemed to want to do was meet his school friends in Heysham and swim with them in the Bay. Personally, I wouldn’t choose to swim in the Bay, and particularly not right next to a Nuclear Power Plant, but B is old enough and daft enough to make his own choices these days, and my own squeamishness is probably not well-founded.

Since public transport was still frowned upon, I found myself with time to kill between dropping him off and meeting him for the return journey.

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The graveyard at St. Peter’s has a stunning view across the Bay to the hills of the Lakes.

I first visited St. Peter’s church in Heysham village, the picturesque part of Heysham, hoping to look inside and see the Viking hog’s-back graves there, but that will have to wait, since the church was locked up.

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The remains of St. Patrick’s Chapel.
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11th Century rock-cut graves and the Lake District hills again.

From Heysham headland, I drove a short hop to visit Heysham Moss. It’s a Wildlife Trust reserve which has been on my radar for a while. Last time I came looking for it, I took a wrong turn, but, fortuitously, stumbled upon Middleton Nature Reserve. This time I had satnav and a postcode. Sadly, whilst these got me to the right neck of the woods, I couldn’t see the entrance – it’s just away from the road on a right-of-way – although I was parked really close to it. I spent a frustrating half-an-hour venturing along narrow, slippery, nettle-fringed paths, which I presume are the preserve of local kids and/or dog-walkers, but none of which got me into the reserve. Having returned to the car and decided to ‘have one more go’, I quickly found the entrance. I’m glad I tried again.

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Common Hemp-Nettle. Possibly.
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The reserve is very wet in places, as the name Moss implies, but it also has a large area of raised peat, quite rare I think in lowland areas.

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Small Tortoiseshell.

There were lots of butterflies and dragonflies about, not all of them very cooperative when I wanted to take photos. Also, a few Silvery Y Moths, a day-flying summer immigrant.

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Marsh Woundwort.
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Marsh Woundwort.
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Very square stems.
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Wild Angelica.
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 Ichneumon extensorius. Male. Possibly.

I had great fun taking numerous photos of what I now think is a male  Ichneumon extensorius. Apparently, this is a dimorphic species, in that the male and the female are very different.  Ichneumon wasps are parasites, laying their eggs in the bodies of moth and butterfly caterpillars. But the adults eat nectar, which fits with the behaviour of this male, which was feasting on the angelica and seemed quite oblivious of my attention.

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Common Fleabane – I think – an attractive daisy when the flowers are properly open!
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Skullcap – I think.
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Redshank. Perhaps.
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Busy Soldier Beetles.
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Purple Loosestrife.
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Meadow Vetchling?
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A pale bee – some sort of Carder? – with very full, very yellow pollen baskets.
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Bog Myrtle.
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Small Copper.
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Common Darter.
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I think this is Wild Angelica again – a very purple example.
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Great Willowherb.
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Heysham Moss

I just about had time for a circuit of the reserve – I shall definitely be back for another look.

Heysham Moss