An Orchid Hunt

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Female Broad-bodied Chaser in the garden again.

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The final day of our Whit half-term holiday. TBH and I were out for a turn, looking for various kinds of orchids: I’d heard the previous day that there were Fly Orchids flowering at Trowbarrow Quarry, and felt that there would probably be Bee Orchids too, TBH wanted to see the Lady’s-slipper Orchids at Gait Barrows.

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The Elder was in flower and TBH had been busy making cordial, as she habitually does at this time of year. Very nice it is too.

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Trowbarrow.

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Comma butterfly.

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Fossilised coral at Trowbarrow.

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Common Spotted-orchid and Quaking Grass.

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Common Blue Butterfly on Bird’s-foot Trefoil its principal food-plant.

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Northern Marsh-orchid. Possibly.

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Bird’s-eye Primrose by Hawes Water. At the southern limit of its range.

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Common Spotted Orchid again.

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Northern Marsh-orchid or maybe a hybridisation of same with Common Spotted-orchid.

I didn’t find what I was looking for at Trowbarrow and at Gait Barrows the Lady’s-slippers were rather dried-out and exhausted looking.

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It was a very pleasant walk though.

 

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An Orchid Hunt

Sunshine in the Garden.

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Bank Holiday Monday was another glorious day. We spent the morning sunning ourselves in the garden again and then most of the afternoon taking an interminably long time to prepare for an overnight trip (of which more to follow).

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We’ve regularly had a female Broad-bodied Chaser in the garden over the last fortnight. I had convinced myself that it was the same one each time, since it seemed to be quite small of its kind, but then, a couple of days ago, I saw two close together, both of the same size, which has obviously put a huge dent in my conviction. Whether or not it was the same one each time, I’ve really enjoyed taking photos.

 

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I took some photos of flowers too. This must be a knapweed of some description. TBH has planted them in the garden in several places. The bees seem to like them too…

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Large Red Damselfly.

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Peony.

I’ve been noticing the sounds of Starlings a lot whilst out and about, since coming across the nest on the Lots. B and I spotted some Starlings which were surely visiting a nest in a hedgerow beside Moss Lane. There have been a lot of Starlings on the feeders in our neighbour’s garden too.

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Here they are perched in the top of our Silver Birch.

 

Sunshine in the Garden.

Gloucester Old Spot

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Half-term! Astonishingly, the good weather hadn’t given up the ghost just as we broke up, but was set fair and would continue to be pretty good for most of the week. On the first Saturday, TBH took A to Manchester to see ‘Blood Brothers’*, Little S joined a friend’s birthday outing to the flicks to catch the new Star Wars spin-off, leaving B and I to our own devices.

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I persuaded him that a walk would be a good idea and whilst his enthusiasm for the project was a little lukewarm, he soon perked up after demonstrating some fairly gymnastic tree-climbing and really came alive when he spotted this female broad-bodied chaser…

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On the totally unscientific basis of how many I’ve seen so far this summer, this has been a good year for broad-bodied chasers.

We were heading for Hawes Water…

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Where the Irises…

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…had come into flower.

Common Blue Damselflies were seemingly everywhere, mostly in mating pairs…

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B hadn’t seen the new boardwalk.

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Somewhat optimistically, we hoped that the Common Lizards, which on a hot day like this might well have been sunning themselves along the edges of the old boardwalk, might have already adopted the new structure. But I think that will take a while. There were still plenty of damselflies though….

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…if not on the new boardwalk, then very near to it.

At Hawes Villa they keep a small number of Gloucester Old Spot Pigs…

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They seemed to be happily eating dirt and it’s only subsequently that it has occurred to me that this field might once have hosted Pignuts, a common enough plant locally, which might explain their relish.

B was very taken with the pigs and having admired them for a while then wanted to read the sign right through (reading is not usually one of his favourite pastimes).

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“Eat them, to keep them.”, I read. “Do you want to try some?”

He did, so we did. We bought both sausages and burgers. We haven’t tried the sausages yet, but the burgers were delicious. With TBH and A still sticking to their vegan October regime, even the boys and I are eating less meat than we were, and with several local farmers supplying meat directly to customers, and the news that US style stockyards are appearing in the UK, I’m keen to switch to buying meat locally, where I have a fair idea about the welfare of the livestock. Having said that, this has just been a toe in the water so to speak, I need to think about where I go from here.

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B on a Cow Parsley fringed Moss Lane.

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Star of Bethlehem.

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The large stand of Honesty on The Row has finished flowering and the flowers have been replaced by giant seed-heads which resemble thin slices of Kiwifruit.

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Looks like a carpet moth. Maybe Striped Twin-spot Carpet?

This last one is a bit of a cheat, taken the next day, which was spent in the garden cutting down two overgrown coniferous shrubs and then driving back and forth to the tip to dispose of the evidence.

*This is a Sore Point. I wasn’t invited. Because, apparently, I ‘don’t like musicals’. That’s the last time I watch ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ or ‘West-Side Story’ with A when she’s off sick. Or take TBH to the cinema to watch ‘La-La Land’. Apparently, ‘Blood Brothers’ was very good, but I expected as much: it’s a great show.

Gloucester Old Spot

Herb Paris, Lily of the Valley and more…

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A Monday evening. With A hobbling about on her dodgy knee after her long DofE training walk, dancing was out of the question for her, so there were no taxi-dad duties for me to perform. I escaped to Gait Barrows, ostensibly to see whether the Lady’s-slipper Orchids were flowering. Some of them were, as you can see above, but some were yet to fully open…

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This is another of my annual flower pilgrimages and it served as a useful excuse, but really, with the sun still shining I was hoping for butterflies. I did see some: Orange-tips, Brimstones, Speckled Woods, but generally they wouldn’t settle to be photographed. Fortunately, there was a great deal more to see, in fact the Lady’s slippers were the last pictures I took in a great haul and I was tempted to appropriate Conrad’s phrase and title the post ‘blogger’s gifts’.

Usually, having come in search of the orchids, I’m a little late for the Lily-of-the-valley. The small areas completed dominated by the broad leaves are always still in evidence…

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But I often struggle to find any flowers; this time there were far more than I’ve ever seen before…

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The tiny, white bells are still quite shy and retiring, but utterly enchanting.

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In addition to the flowers there were hoards of Damselflies about. I took lots of photos, but will content myself with just two…

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Common Damselfly.

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Azure Damselfly.

The colours look very different, but that’s a function of the light which was falling on them at the time. The easiest way to distinguish these males is the pattern on the second segment. The Common damselfly has a solid black omega  – Ω; whilst the Azure has an elongated u, like – ∏ – but the other way up. (You may need to click on the photos to view zoomable images on flickr to pick this out).

Walking through some warm glades, which act as a sun-trap and have often been good for butterflies on previous visits, I spotted something in flight which had all the colour of a butterfly, but which was bigger and more co-operative with regards being photographed…

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Broad-bodied Chaser.

In flight, I thought that it was yellow (the field guide says ‘ochre’), so assumed that it was a female, but the males also start life that colour, but then produce ‘pruinescence’, a dusty blue covering, which process has begun for this male, and is more advanced in this male…

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… which was also basking in the sun, just a few yards from the first dragonfly.

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There were lots of these…

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…Brown Silver-line moths about.

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Maidenhair Spleenwort.

I need to make a concerted effort with ferns and grasses. Hopefully, I can pick up quite a bit relatively easily, since presently I know next to nothing. I think the fern above is Maidenhair Spleenwort. It’s possible that this…

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…is another spleenwort, or Wall Rue? I’m not sure.

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Bird’s-foot Trefoil. New flowers – they will soon be egg-yolk yellow.

I did eventually manage to photograph one butterfly…

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Green-veined White on Bugle.

In pursuit of an Orange-tip, I turned onto a slim-trod along a ride which I have never taken before.

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Which, it transpired, was a very happy choice.

The path brought me to a gate, overlooking a field…

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…which helped me to reset my bearings, since I recognised it.

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Only a couple of days before, I had been reading, again, about Herb Paris. A highly unusual plant, which has been frustrating me, because I know that it grows locally in many locations, but I have never stumbled across it. Anyway, I read that it often grows alongside it’s close relative Dog’s Mercury, a very common plant hereabouts, and when I saw Dog’s Mercury blanketing the woodland floor, I optimistically thought: maybe there will be some Herb Paris nearby.

And was then very surprised when my wish-prophecy came true..

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It’s an odd plant with quite a strange flower, but after years of waiting, I was very pleased to see it.

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From this point, the path seemed to peter out and though I continued doggedly for some time, I eventually admitted defeat and turned to retrace my steps. Except, then I was distracted by another, even slighter tread which was heading into the woods. Almost immediately, I was confronted by a pile of feathers…

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Then another, and another…

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And then several pairs of bird-less wings…

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The wings were all busy with flies, but also with several of these rather striking orange and black beetles – oieceoptoma thoracicum. They aren’t here feast on the carrion, but on the other insects which are attracted to the wings.

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The last time, and the first time, that I saw one of these was on another warm spring day, on Yewbarrow above the Winster Valley, when B joined me for a fabulous walk. It was eight years ago, which I think says something about the power of blogging as an aide memoire; my memory is generally pretty dreadful, but although I didn’t remember their latin name, I did instantly recognise the insects and recall their predatory lifestyle.

That walk was a good one, and the post has a much better photograph of this actually rather handsome beetle. That day we found several badger setts, but these wings were untidily strewn around a Fox’s earth. I found a dead fox cub not so very far away from this spot last year and one summer saw a fox, late one evening, running along the woodland fringe near here. B is quite keen to see the earth, I don’t know whether there is any mileage in bringing him late one evening in the hope that we might see the resident foxes too.

The path which I had diverted onto was clearly a path made by the foxes. It soon forked and forked again. It was difficult to follow, but I persisted and eventually it brought me to a ‘proper’ path, which I recognised, and which was close to where the Lady’-slippers flower.

Down at Hawes Water, work was still continuing quite late into the evening…

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Having started with the last photo I took, here are the first two:

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Stacked timber and…

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planks from the old boardwalk, by the Gait Barrows carpark.

Herb Paris, Lily of the Valley and more…

Middleton Nature Reserve

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Migrant Hawker.

Being the continuing adventures of a taxi-driving Dad.

Last Saturday, B had a rugby match, playing hooker (he’s suitably bonkers) for his school team away at Morecambe High (where, many moons ago, I used to teach). Unlike some of his contemporaries, B doesn’t seem too concerned about whether his team win or lose, just so long as the result seems fair, and at the end of the game declared: “That was fun!”, despite his team having taken a bit of a hammering.

Afterwards, we dashed home, but, in my case, only for a quick turn around, as I took Little S to a nerf gun birthday party in – guess where – Morecambe. I realise that the rational thing to do would have been to take both boys to both events, but it seemed easier at the time to do it this way. With S dropped off, only a few minutes late for his war game, I had the best part of two hours to kill and decided to go hunting for one of the three Wildlife Trust reserves which I knew to be somewhere around Heysham. Idiotically, I hadn’t checked the exact locations in advance, so resorted to driving around, with more hope than confidence, until I spotted a likely looking car park and found that I had stumbled upon Middleton reserve.

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After a bite of lunch, and whilst walking around the reserve, I met a man who told me that he remembered when this was the site of a petrochemical plant. Now it has two large ponds and a mixture of meadows and scrub.

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Hoverfly, possibly Helophilus pendulus, on an Alder leaf.

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Fox and cubs.

This patch of waste ground maybe a tad unprepossessing at first glance, but look a little closer and there is a great deal to enjoy. I was very much put in mind of Richard Mabey’s marvellous book The Unofficial Countryside, which is about how nature, left to its own devices, can reclaim scraps of once industrialised land like this.

The sun was warm and there were no end of dragonflies about, although few of them would pose for a photo.

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Female Common Darter.

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Speckled Wood.

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Blackberries.

There were lots of flowers still in bloom and it was obvious that, had I had been here earlier, in the summer, there would have been even more to see.

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Wild Carrot, the ancestor of all domestic carrots.

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When the flowers turn into spiny seeds, the umbel curls in on itself.

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More hoverflies on what I assume are Michaelmas Daisies.

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A willowherb?

I could hear the contact calls of small birds from all sides and, with lots of teasels and other tall seed-heads about, I wondered whether they might be Goldfinches. Eventually, they flew across the path ahead of me, then settled above me, on teasels growing on a high bank. Here’s some of them…

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The photo didn’t come out brilliantly and only a small part of the charm are here, but the flocks of Goldfinches which gather at this time of year are delightful, so I wanted to include the photo anyway.

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Common Toadflax.

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Mute swans – could they still be nesting in mid-September?

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There were plenty of half-hidden reminders of the areas past – the remnants of tarmac covered surfaces, these huge tyres, odd bits of buildings here and there, but they mostly seem to be slowly disappearing.

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Abundant Haws.

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Crane Fly.

A blade of grass apparently dancing in a way completely contrary to the direction of the wind alerted me to this spider, which was busy constructing a web.

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Male Common Darter.

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As I came to the end of my walk and was running out of time before needing to head off to pick up Little S, I came to a really sheltered spot where, not only were there even more dragonflies, but, in addition, the Common Darters were sunning themselves in obvious spots, as seems to be their wont.

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Male Common Darter.

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Male Common Darter.

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Alder cones.

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Male Common Darter.

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Mating Common Darters. I’ve been confused in the past by the colour of females like this one, expecting the females to be yellow, but this pale blue colour is apparently typical of older females.

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Drone fly, or something similar, on Evening Primrose.

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Guelder Rose berries.

Middleton Nature Reserve

A Different World.

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Peacock Butterfly on Hemp Agrimony.

When I finished my last post by musing about the origins of the name of the Scotch Argus butterfly and a possible link to the mythical giant Argus, I didn’t anticipate that the first photo in the subsequent post would be of a Peacock, whose Latin name recalls the same story. The Peacock was known at one time as the Peacock’s Tail. It’s Latin name is Inachus Io, recalling the Greek nymph Io and her father (variously a King, a Giant or a River God depending on which version you read). I’ve referred to this myth before, but here’s a slightly different version taken from Robert Graves ‘The Greek Myths, Volume One’:

“Io, daughter of the River-god Inachus, was a priestess of Argive Hera. Zeus, over whom Iynx, daughter of Pan and Echo, had cast a spell, fell in love with Io, and when Hera charged him with infidelity and turned Iynx into a wryneck as punishment, lied: ‘I have never touched Io.’ He then turned her into a white cow, which Hera claimed as hers and handed over for safe keeping to Argus Panoptes, ordering him: ‘Tether this beast secretly to an olive-tree at Nemea.’ But Zeus sent Hermes to fetch her back, and himself led the way to Nemea – or, some say, to Mycenae – dressed in woodpecker disguise. Hermes, though the cleverest of thieves, knew he could not steal Io without being detected by one of Argus’s hundred eyes; he therefore charmed him asleep by playing the flute, crushed him with a boulder, cut off his head and released Io. Hera, having placed Argus’s eyes in the tail of a peacock, as a constant reminder of his foul murder, set a gadfly to sting Io and chase her all over the world.”

Trickery, lust, infidelity, duplicity, jealousy, deceit, murder, revenge – the Greek Gods seem all too human in this tale, as in many others.

Here’s Hermes slaying Argus, from an Athenian vase now held in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Argus seems quite awake in this pictorial version of the story. In some tellings, Io is irresistible even after her metamorphosis into bovine form, which is hard to imagine; her portrayal on this ancient pot doesn’t really help in that regard.

Panoptes, incidentally, means ‘all-seeing’, an attribute to which I can definitely not lay claim…

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Skullcap.

Skullcap is apparently a very common plant, but this is the first time I can recall spying it in flower. I found it in the increasingly wet meadow at the end of Hawes Water.

“Skullcap, Scutelleria galericulata, is a delicate species of fens and banks of ponds, canals and slow rivers, locally common throughout much of Britain. The plant’s English and Latin names both derive from the shape of the blue flowers, which reminded early botanists of the leather helmet or galerum worn by Roman soldiers.”

from Flora Britannica by Richard Mabey.

“Sufferers from nervous disorders might be advised to take skullcap in tablet form, for the plant produces a volatile oil, called scutellarin, which is one of the best treatments for such afflictions ever discovered. The plant is dried, powdered and infused in boiling water to make a strong tonic, which calms spasms and hysteria, and relieves epilepsy and St Vitus’s dance. However, care must be taken: it is a powerful drug, and an overdose might induce the very symptoms which, at correct dosages, it alleviates.”

from Reader’s Digest Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain.

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I wondered whether the colours of Hemp Agrimony, often somewhat washed out and insipid in my photos, might show to better effect in shade: I think it worked?

I’ve certainly had a bumper year for spotting Common Lizards. The two I met basking in their usual spot, on the edging along the boardwalk by Hawes Water, were, once again, quite different from each other in their markings and colour…

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I particularly admired the go faster stripes on this specimen…

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I wondered whether the variation in colouring might reflect the gender of the lizards and have since discovered that you can sex lizards this way, but need to see their undersides in order to do so. I suspect that I’m never going to be quick enough to get my mitts on them to find out. Never mind, I’m happy just to see them.

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Hawes Water.

I presume that these alien monstrosities…

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…are the early stages, or small examples, of Robin’s Pincushion Gall, or are something similar. They’re nothing like as hairy as Pincushion Galls usually are though, and those generally develop on the stems. You can perhaps tell from the picture that each outlandish, starfish-like protuberance is mirrored on the reverse of the leaf. Quite astonishing, even before you know about the asexual lifestyle of the wasps which develop within.

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A male Small White, I think.

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Another Bull in a field with a footpath, in fact he was walking along the path, but I was turning off in another direction and, anyway, he didn’t seem remotely interested in me.

This walk was memorable for quite an abundance and variety of butterflies. Later on, I met a number of Lepidopterists, one of whom asked me if I’d seen any Brown Hairstreaks, which is what they were on the look-out for. I hadn’t. Not that I would have recognised one if I had. I did see lots of Brimstones though…

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Brimstone on Betony.

They seemed to be patronising the purple flowers by preference, which shows off their yellow to good effect. Is it vanity, do you think?

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Bumblebee on Knapweed.

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Painted Lady.

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Red Admiral.

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Another Peacock’s-tail.

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Eyebright.

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Scarlet Pimpernel.

Scarlet Pimpernel is tiny, but not really elusive at all, unlike the character named after the flower, scourge of the French Revolutionaries. Local names for the flower included ‘change-of-the-weather’, ‘poor man’s weatherglass’ and ‘shepherd’s sundial’, due to its habit of closing whenever the skies are dull and for large parts of the day, a property, it must be said, which it shares with many other flowers.

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The mystery plant – looking increasingly like some sort of Scabious, as Simon suggested.

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Grasshopper.

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I think this might be Orpine, or Sedum telephium, the same Sedum, or Ice Plant which we grow in our gardens.

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Speckled Wood.

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A Harvestman. Definitely not a spider or a daddy-longlegs.

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I was a bit surprised to see the orange berries on the Lily-of-the-valley; I’ve never seen them before. Apparently, they rarely develop, with the plant usually spreading by sending up new shoots.

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Female Common Darter.

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Another Brimstone.

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Male Common Darter.

A Different World.

Gait Barrows Again

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Female Common Darter.

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

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Male Migrant Hawker.

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

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Bumblebee on Betony.

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Speckled Wood.

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

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Broad-leaved Helleborine.

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Hoverflies on Hemp Agrimony.

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Robin’s Pincushion Gall.

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Wall-rue (I think), a fern.

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Knapweed and St. John’s Wort.

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

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

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Hoverfly.

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

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Buff Footman (I think), a moth.

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Another Common Green Shieldbug nymph – perhaps the final instar.

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

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

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

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

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Gait Barrows Again