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.

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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

An Entomologist on Arnside Knott

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Another day of blue and sunny skies and an afternoon, post rugby walk up the Knott and back with B. The interest started before we left the house, with a visiting row deer in the garden. Unusually, I was in the garden at the time – most of the time deer will only visit when we are safely ensconced in the house.

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A Speckled Wood.

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On Heathwaite – a clearing on the wooded ridge which leads down from the Knott towards the sea – B and I had fun exploring the many large meadow ant hills. Most of them seemed to have at least one resident spider and B also enjoyed catching grasshoppers.

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The view South to Warton Crag and the Bowland Fells.

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Red Admiral.

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Arnside Tower.

An Entomologist on Arnside Knott

Dersingham Bog

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Dersingham Bog is a largish nature reserve hard by the Royal residence at Sandringham. You can visit Sandringham, although you have to pay a hefty fee. Dersingham bog, on the other hand, is completely free – and a much more attractive proposition. The bog is encircled, to the west, by a steep escarpment – a remnant of a former coastline. It came as quite a surprise to find this relatively wild area in the midst of rural Norfolk.

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The boys were all mightily impressed with the numerous grasshoppers we spotted.

My nephew….

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…proved to be equally adept at catching them as his cousin B.

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There are several UK species of grasshopper and I have to confess that I can’t tell them apart. I thought that this rather strikingly coloured specimen…

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…would be easily identified, but I’m not even sure that I can do that with any confidence.

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A shield bug, getting in on the action.

There are a couple of small car parks and three adjacent, way-marked routes on the edge of the bog. By joining two of those routes together we found a walk suitable for the many age-groups represented in our substantial party…

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If you ever find yourself wavering in the proximity of Sandringham, I can heartily recommend Dersingham Bog as an alternative.

Dersingham Bog

Claife Heights and Latterbarrow

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I think that this was the day after the one we spent paddling on Windermere from Harrow Slack, if not it was at most a couple of days later. I was back at Harrow Slack, but without the boats or the rest of the family, with the prospect of a free day and a chance to get out for a walk. The forecast was pretty mixed, so I’d opted for a wander around the low hills above Windermere rather than anything more adventurous. And indeed, there were a few drops of rain in the air as I embarked on the steep climb away from the lake shore.

Still, there’s usually something to brighten the way, on this occasion, these tiny….

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….but rather splendid Small Balsam flowers. Introduced from South East Asia apparently.

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Keen on shade and lime-free, nitrogen rich soils, and seeming very happy in these Lakeland woods.

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I’m finally beginning to remember to take lots of photos when I find something new I want to identify, and having a record of the shape of the leaves was very helpful here (meant I could rule out some very wide of the mark ideas I initially had).

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Growing in amongst the Small Balsam, but with much larger, more insistently showy flowers, were a relative, Touch-me-not Balsam, which is, apparently, our only native Balsam.

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It’s Latin name is Impatiens noli-tangere and both names refer to the explosive nature of the seed heads. (Impatiens – impatient or not-allowing, noli-tangere – do not touch; the Latin and popular names are essentially the same.)

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Anyway, both plants were plentiful here, and most welcome at a time when not much is flowering in the deep, late-summer shade.

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You don’t climb very far on this path before you encounter….

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…The Viewing Station. Built in the 1790s and now undergoing significant repair work under the auspices of the National Trust, this building had tinted viewing windows – with different coloured glasses meant to simulate the views during different seasons and even, through a lilac window, the moonlit view. Later, I read, dances were held here. The National Trust plan to restore the building and eventually open a cafe.

By the time I was reaching the top of the hill, the sky was clearing and it was getting quite warm. The views were only partial ones, but enjoyable none-the-less. That’s Belle Isle down there, the near shore being the one we’d paddled in the lee of.

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There’s quite a network of paths across the Claife Heights area and I had the option to turn right to head for High Blind How the highest point in these hills, but instead I went left and downhill.

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Towards Far Sawrey….

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This is the Village Institute in Far Sawrey…

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Silverdale has it’s own Institute, and after a recent coup, a new committee has been inviting suggestions about what should happen to it’s building and field and how they should be used. Ideas seem to have flooded in, some of them quite radical. My main concern is that the field isn’t too messed about with, so that the sports which take place there on our Field Day can continue. But I do like the idea of some picnic tables.

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And perhaps a sign like this one.

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I resisted the temptation to join the crowds at Hill Top in Near Sawrey, Beatrix Potter’s former home and struck off uphill once again. It was very pleasant, easy walking. Just after I crossed Wilfin Beck I paused for a few minutes to watch the antics of a pair of Nuthatches in the trees by the path.

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On the verge of the broad track, I noticed a Small Copper sunning itself…

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And when I’d taken a few photos of the butterfly, I realised that there was a grasshopper sat almost alongside…

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And then, that there were actually three grasshoppers, not just one…

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I wonder sometimes, just how much I miss when I’m out, because it’s so easy to pass interesting things by unknowingly.

These are definitely grasshoppers, the short stubby antennae distinguish them from crickets, but further than that I have little confidence. Grasshoppers vary enormously. These might be Field Grasshoppers I think. Maybe.

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Now that my attention was focused on the track’s verges, I realised just how many different flowers there were to see…

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Harebells.

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I assumed that this was Yarrow, but now realise that it’s a related plant – Sneezewort, Achillea ptarmica from ptarmos the Greek word for sneezing. An old medicinal plant used for colds, but also recommended by the herbalist Nicholas Culpepper for toothache.

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A vetch.

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A yellow one. (I know, I was doing quite well there for a while.)

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Eyebright.

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Devil’s-bit scabious.

Part of the reason for coming this way, was that it would take me past Moss Eccles Tarn….

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…which once belonged to Beatrix Potter.

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Apparently Potter and her husband used to come up to the tarn to row a boat and fish on summer evenings.

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Quite a mixed herd of cattle of various shades, shapes….

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…and sizes on the open ground above the tarn.

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I’m not overly fond of sharing a field with a bull. Fortunately, he wasn’t the least bit interested in me.

This….

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..is Wise Een Tarn. With a view of the Langdale Pikes behind. The higher hills were generally hidden in the clouds all day, so this was a rare view. Claife Heights feature in Wainwright’s outlying fells. He says that the tarns here are all reservoirs, none of them appearing on nineteenth century maps. Real or man made, they’re all quite attractive.

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I don’t know who owns the tarn, but I envy them their secluded boathouse and boats – what a spot to wile away the weekends in!

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Another little reservoir.

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Mint.

The next section of the walk took me into the forestry plantations, which I suppose might have been tedious, but for the fact that there was a profusion of large and colourful fungi to distract me.

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I’m afraid I’ve made no attempt to identify these. One day perhaps I’ll get to grips with toadstools, but they’re very difficult to tell apart.

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I could have done with Beatrix Potter’s company. Before she was the successful children’s author we now know she became, she made a painstaking and very thorough study of fungi and lichen. She came up against the prevailing prejudices of her time and wasn’t able to present her findings to the scientific societies because women weren’t allowed to attend the meetings. We’d seen some of her watercolour studies of fungi at Wray Castle a few days before. (She visited Wray Castle with her father when she was eighteen, her first visit to the Lakes). I believe that there are more on display at the Armitt Museum in Ambleside, which, until now, has somehow passed me by, but I intend to investigate when the chance arises.

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Whilst I was in amongst the trees, the weather deteriorated: you might notice that some of the fungi look a bit damp. So was I.

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When I left the trees to climb Latterbarrow, it was chucking it down. Latterbarrow is another one of Wainwright’s Outlying Fells, and although it’s a mere 803’ above sea level, it’s an excellent viewpoint. I know that because I’ve been here before on a better day. On this occasion there was no view.

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Just the very tall obelisk, and two other walkers huddled under a pink umbrella on the far side.

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I remember a few years ago, sitting on Jenkin Crag above Winderemere and being surprised to see a stretch of water above and beyond the Lake. I’ve wanted to visit Blelham Tarn ever since. And I’m pleased that I did, but I don’t have any photos to show for it – the rain continued and I had a bit of soggy splodge down hill past the tarn to the Grounds of Wray Castle.

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It was a bit late in the day for lunch, but I hadn’t eaten mine, so I settled on the roots of a lakeside oak, by one of the Castle’s boathouses, and tucked in. It had briefly stopped raining, but when it started again, I was nicely shielded by the branches of the tree. I enjoyed watching the raindrops puckering the surface of the lake.

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All that remained was a pleasant stroll along the lake shore back to the car – the same route I’d cycled (twice) recently.

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The weather took a turn for the better again, and the views were very pleasant.

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The island on the right here…

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….is Thompson’s Holme, which I think will be one of our first targets when we get the boats out again next summer.

Claife Heights

Claife Heights and Latterbarrow

Carn Fadryn – Birthday Hill

Male gatekeeper

Gatekeeper (male).

It’s a long old drive from North Lancs down to Tudweiliog. The children are much more patient* than I ever was in these circumstances and it’s actually fairly rare to hear a plaintive ‘Are we nearly there yet?’

Still, they can get a little restive at times. This year, as we crested the pass which takes us through the hills and onto the peninsula, we had a beautiful view along the coast and they were asking where the campsite was in relation to what we could see. As I tried to explain, little S cut in:

“Is that Birthday Hill Dad?”

It was.

Grasshopper 

He was referring to Carn Fadryn (or I notice, Garn Fadryn on new information boards which have been erected), which we do generally climb every year, and often on his birthday. This year he was adamant when we asked how he wanted to spend his day: climb Carn Fadryn and then go to the beach. Perfect day.

Spider 

I’ve written about Carn Fadryn often: the butterflies and labyrinth spiders, the amazing views, the bilberries, the iron age fort. It’s a small hill, but it punches well above it’s weight.

The horde on the summit 

The ‘camping friends’. Well, most of them.

Actually, this year the weather was a little murky and the views weren’t all they might have been. (Fortunately it rapidly cleared and by the time we got back to the cars it was scorching again, so S got his beach fix.)

I think we all enjoyed the climb none the less. TBH had brought cakes, and even candles to the summit, although the strong breeze meant that it was pretty much impossible to get all of the candles lit simultaneously.

Trying to light the candles 

S didn’t seem to mind.

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Male Wall Brown 

Wall Brown (male).

The birthday boy - laden with loom bands 

Our little crowd have been captivated by the loom band craze just like the rest of the world’s children apparently have+. Here Little S is modelling the look, with, I think, everybody’s loom band bracelets.

The 'naughty nine' - well seven of them.

The kids have taken to calling themselves ‘The Naughty Nine’, which, since they aren’t at all, is very sweet. I realise that there are only seven of them here. I suppose the other two must have been getting into mischief. Putting rocks into Andy’s rucksack hopefully.**

*Audio books on the CD player are largely to thank for that I think. At the moment, the whole family is gripped by the chronicles of Skulduggery Pleasant, especially when read by Rupert Degas, who produces an astonishing range of different accents and voices. Michael Morpurgo stories are a firm favourite too, although I struggle with how decimatingly sad they often are.

“This one’s OK Dad”, they’ll tell me, and then, half-way through, when the central character dies of a brain tumour having suffered being orphaned, deported, enslaved, brutally beaten and alcoholic,  on top of losing his best friend and his adopted mother, they have to reassure me that it isn’t going to get any worse.

+Their enthusiasm may just be beginning to wane.

**An ignoble thought. He made me a cup of tea at the top with his very expensive whizz-bang stove.

Carn Fadryn – Birthday Hill

The Insect Glade

Or: Fleeting Moments of Wonder V

Looking over Leighton Moss.

For Father’s Day TBH and the kids bought me ‘The Butterfly Isles’ by Patrick Barkham. I haven’t read much of it yet, but I’m fairly confident that I’ll enjoy it. It details an attempt to see in one year all of the British butterfly species. There’s a map and a list showing all of the places visited where butterflies were seen. Of the 35 sites listed 3 are in this immediate area: Latterbarrow, Meathop Moss and Arnside Knott.

Meanwhile I also read:

If you ask anybody where is the best place to watch butterflies in Britain, they will probably say ‘down south’ somewhere. Those really in the know would say that there are a few areas in the north that are pretty good too! East of the Pennines, the North York Moors have some excellent butterfly habitat and there are several good areas in Scotland, too. But to my mind, there is no doubt that the limestone hills on both sides of Morecambe Bay constitute the butterfly watching capital of the north.*

And yet I know that I have only ever seen a small fraction of the 35 species which live in this area. Reading Patrick Barkham, in the introduction to ‘The Butterfly Isles’ describing himself, aged 8, and his father scanning for butterflies with binoculars and then haring after them with their cameras has given me a new resolve to try to catch up with at least a few more of that elusive 35.

It was in part for that reason that I had changed my mind about following my usual route over the crag and was now heading into Yealand Allotment. And at the first opportunity I turned up one of the rides through the trees, kept open to provide a habitat for butterflies.

And before long I saw a butterfly, off to the side of the path, something orange, I thought perhaps a skipper. I left the path to try to get a closer look, but lost sight of it, partly because I was distracted by the great numbers of damselfly and grasshoppers which my every step was sending into the air.

I think that these are blue-tailed damselflies.

I think that this is…

..is an azure damselfly. Apparently, the key to differentiating this from numerous similar species is the mark on the second abdominal section.

A common green grasshopper. Perhaps.

Something large and blue whirred past – a male broad-bodied chaser, but was gone too quickly. Then another butterfly, orange and brown, which disappeared into the trees, but led me to these busy hoverflies…

I decided to sit down and eat a banana. Perhaps the wildlife would come to me. It didn’t quite happen that way, but I did see another butterfly on the path below me. I followed. It led me on a merry dance, but eventually I got some photos…

A fritillary!

It kept moving on – sunning itself, but off again if I got at all close. But then, as shade crept across the glade, it found itself a grass stalk, folded its wings and apparently settled down for the night. Do butterflies do that? It was quite happy for me to get as close as I liked…

I struggled, from my books, to work out whether it was a pearl bordered fritillary or a small pearl bordered fritillary, but it’s the latter – the patchwork of white on the undersides of the wings is the clincher. (Find an excellent identification guide here.)

I took lots of photos, since the spbf was being so obliging, but then caught another movement in the corner of my eye…

…a small skipper (I think).

One of the same hoverflies I saw before? Possibly helophilus pendulus.

The spbf hadn’t moved. I took no end of photos – I’ve never got close enough to any of the many fritillary species which are resident here to get photos before.

More grasshoppers…

A final word to Patrick Barkham:

A journey in search of every species of butterfly is about our need to celebrate and capture fleeting moments of wonder as we fly through our lives.

Leighton Moss again. (Like the top photo, taken from further up the hill than where I saw all the insects).

*Sam Ellis in ‘The Best Butterfly-Watching in the North’ collected in ‘The Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ edited by Terry Keefe

The Insect Glade