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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Stunning creatures. It was a species I didn’t know existed until this summer. Marvellous.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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…
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..
…was growing in a field next to the river, upstream of the campsite, a particularly happy hunting ground.
Every trip seems to bring something new. I didn’t know, for example, that there was such a thing as a Pale 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.
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….
…they’re quite different.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If anything, grasshoppers were even more abundant, more elusive, more variable and more difficult to identify than the butterflies.
Some of the larger ones have very striking red or blue wings, sadly only visible in flight.
There are thousands of species of Assassin Bug apparently, of which this may be one.
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.
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.
I saw a few of these large and strikingly ugly black and orange flies.
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…
…with a fritillary. And something similar, but yellow and black…
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…
And what I thought was an unusually hairy, stunted and unglamorous dragonfly…
…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.
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…
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..
I have to confess that I was fascinated by them.
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.
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…
This one, it turns out, is no more at home in the region than me, being native to North America.
I was struck by the way the seedpods form in the nodes, where the stems branched, which seems unusual.
Don’t be fooled by the presence of the word ‘apple’ in its name, because apparently the whole plant is poisonous.
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.
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.
Unfortunately, I have no idea what this plant is, with its striking red stems, tiny white flowers and colourful berries.
It was growing by the cycle path at the edge of the village, and I suppose might have been introduced.
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.
This last is on the wall of the Chateau we visited, so definitely a different lizard!
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.
April is not the time for garden tiger caterpillars, which this at least resembles, so I’m not sure what it is.
On my birthday, I climb a hill. I’m not sure when this became a routine, but probably in my twenties, when I usually spent Easter in the Highlands with friends, my birthday conveniently often falling into the Easter break. I can remember climbing Liathach on my 27th, half a lifetime ago, and by then it was definitely already a confirmed idea. I’m not precious about it; sometimes it’s the day before, sometimes a few days after, but at some point I climb a hill to celebrate another passing year. It’s as good an excuse as any other.
There have been some cracking excursions in recent years, shared with the family, and it has become as much a fixed idea with the kids as it has with me: dad, predictable in every way, wants to climb a hill on his birthday. They fall in with this ritual, so when it came to this year’s big day, we didn’t need a three line whip, as I had feared; everyone knew that we would be going for a walk and nobody complained. They may even have enjoyed themselves.
Options, obviously, were a bit limited. Should we go back to Coniston Old Man? Helvellyn? Pen-y-ghent? Or should we move on, try pastures new?
Another Old Post Box, opposite Hollins Farm
Unsurprisingly, we eventually settled on Arnside Knott.
Common lizard. Well, the tail of a common lizard. Apparently, it was sunning itself on the path and, according to B, I almost stood on it, poor thing.
Crow with nesting material.
Arnside Knott view. A bit hazy, but still pretty special.
Wood ants nest.
Marsh tit on ash flowers.
‘Little’ S on the trig pillar.
Blackbird with lunch!
I’ve know for years that herb paris grows in this area, but it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I actually saw any. I didn’t know whether to be pleased or dismayed by my poor of powers of observation, when I spotted this large patch of it, growing right alongside the main path which climbs the Knott from Silverdale Road in Arnside, and which I must have walked past hundreds of times.
It’s an odd plant with four broad leaves symmetrically spaced at the top of a single stem. The flower is also odd, but none of them were flowering, so you’ll have to wait for that pleasure. Since then, I’ve found it in several more places, including right by the principal path into Gait Barrows and by Inman’s Road in Eaves Wood. There’s undoubtedly a moral to this story, but I’m not sure that I can see what it is yet!
We dropped down the path which runs along the boundary of Hagg Wood (this is a different Hagg Wood to the one I often refer to, which is beside Bottoms Lane in Silverdale).
As we started along Black Dyke, we saw lots of butterflies, chiefly small tortoiseshell, and our first swallows of the year. Later, I saw that Cumbria Wildlife Trust were reporting the first sightings of Swallows, in Cumbria, this year, on that day. I’m not sure why I was chuffed to be amongst the first to see the returning swallows, but I was. Maybe it’s my competitive streak.
Willow catkins at Middlebarrow Quarry again.
Honesty on the Coronation Path. Still flowering in April, even though the first flowers appeared at Christmas.
Most of my presents didn’t arrive until later in the week, so I won’t mention them for now, but I did get several pairs of socks, a newish custom of which I thoroughly approve.
It being my birthday, I’m going for two tunes. Firstly, for obvious reasons:
And then, my all time favourite tune, of all time, which, for some reason, I don’t think I’ve posted before:
Hercules by Aaron Neville, written by the amazing Allen Toussaint.
Actually, I’m going to be greedy. Here’s a third video. Same song, same singer, but this time live on Daryl’s House. Daryl being Daryl Hall, of Hall and Oates fame. If you haven’t watched Live from Daryl’s House, I strongly recommend it.
After our underground adventure, there was still a nature trail to enjoy in the grounds of the show cave.
The Jonte valley is perhaps not quite as spectacular as the Tarn, but it’s pretty impressive nonetheless.
The nature trail was short, on a rather rough path, but it certainly held plenty of interest.
This looks different than the other lizards we saw during our trip. I think that it might be a Large Psammodromus. B had just spotted another lizard, which he told me was really long. The Large Psammodromus has an extremely long tail, which unfortunately we can’t see here, but also the dark stripe with pale borders.
Griffon Vultures were flying around the cliffs below us, sometimes quite close, but whilst I have many photos, not one of them is in focus and sharp. We did see several birds on a nearby ledge however…
I think that these two might be juveniles.
Giant Banded Grayling.
There were more Marbled Whites about too, but my photographs didn’t come out too well.
My guess is that these are some sort of Dianthus, something like our own Cheddar Pink which flowers in July and August and likes limestone. I noticed today that we have similar flowers in our own garden, still flowering in late October, which is a nice reminder of the summer.
On our return journey we drove down the Jonte valley to it’s confluence with the Tarn, stopping to admire the views and the sight of many more vultures soaring around the cliffs high above.
Whilst we were camping in the Tarn Gorge, I’d mooted the idea of a walk from the rim of the gorge back down to the campsite, hopefully, by walking downhill, mitigating the worst effects of the heat; but when most of our party completed a walk, TBH and I had driven B to the hospital in the town of Millau instead, to get a painful ear checked out. (He’s okay now, although the problems continued for quite some time after our holiday ended.) That trip was not without it’s own interest – when we drove out of the town, onto the hillside above, we saw a great host of circling Red Kites – but I was extremely disappointed to have missed out on the walk, and so was very pleased when TBH and J agreed to an early morning foray, in J’s case for a second time.
We parked at Point Sublime, with fine views into a misty gorge.
There were plenty of distractions on hand too, with both butterflies and Wall Lizards about to keep me and my camera occupied.
I think that this is a Silver-washed Fritillary, you can perhaps see why its called that in the photo below.
Five-spot Burnet Moth.
We passed no end of these silken tents, apparently constructed by the caterpillars of the Pine Processionary Moth.
Another Blue-winged Grasshopper. I think.
The path was steep and narrow, but well worth the effort as it descended past a series of huge rock towers and cliffs.
J, you will notice, is wearing a shocking pink hat. She has pink Crocs too. Her children are appalled by both, which is, of course, entirely the point. She is making up for the sobriety of her youth. I’m sure she completely sympathises with Jenny Joseph’s poem ‘Warning’ which begins…
“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.”
I thought I saw a bird of prey alight on top of a distant tower and the amazing zoom on my camera helped to confirm that fact.
It was exhilarating to watch the raptor soaring above the hillside, in and out between the karst features, eventually landing not too far above us…
I have quite a few photos of the bird in flight, none, sadly, very sharp, but I think they show enough detail to suggest that it was a Rough-legged Buzzard, not something that I’ve seen before.
This was a terrific walk for butterfly spotting and on this steep hillside section there were a great deal of quite dark butterflies flitting through the trees. They were hard to catch in repose and generally, I think, belonged to species not found in Britain. Frankly, I’m not sure what this is; continental Europe seems to have numerous types of Grayling – I wonder whether this is one of those?
It was J’s turn to pick out a large bird on a distant rock tower – this time on the one seen ahead in the photo above.
A Griffon Vulture; soon joined by a companion….
They didn’t seem to be very busy and I continued to take occasional photos as we descended past the tower.
A Dusky Heath?
Another Grayling of some description?
Looking back up into the Cirque des Baumes.
Striped Shield Bug – less prevalent , it seemed, than in the Dordogne, but still around.
The Dryad? Love the eye-spot.
This small butterfly led me a merry dance and I only managed to photograph it from some considerable distance. Could it be a Glanville Fritillary?
Having reached the bottom of the valley, we climbed a little way back up to a point under the cliffs…
Where there was a tiny chapel…
La Chapelle Saint-Hillaire.
Sadly, the chapel was locked, but I managed to get an image of the interior through a small hole in the door…
One final look back up into Cirque des Baumes.
We were down in the valley now and walking along the road, which for me was saved by the butterflies and flowers along the roadside. We passed a garden where a Buddleia was festooned with butterflies and moths, particularly fritillaries which I took to be more Silver-washed.
When we were almost back at the campsite we paused by the ‘Mushroom Rock’ to take in the view and wave to friends and family below, then J and TBH rushed ahead to get out of the full glare of the sun and to get a cool drink, but I was distracted again by more butterflies and moths…
This is a new species to me, a Jersey Tiger Moth, there had been several on the Buddleia earlier, but they were a bit too far away to be photographed very successfully. Unfortunately, you can’t see the stunning red underwings in this photo.
When I took this shot of another Five-spot Burnet Moth I didn’t even see the two rather striking shield bugs nearby. I wish I had; the purple one in particular looks like it was stunningly patterned.
Perhaps not surprisingly, this striking insect is not in my ‘Complete Mediterranean Wildlife’. It will have remain a mystery.
The underside of a Jersey Tiger Moth.
Small Skipper and Silver-washed Fritillary.
Jersey Tiger Moth.
When we’d been kayaking on the Tarn and had pulled our boats onto a shingle beach to jump into the river and swim, a Scarce Swallowtail landed on the end of one of the kayaks. I managed to get very close to it with my phone, but none of my photos came out well. I was really pleased, then, to get another chance for some photos.
Only a mornings stroll, but the views and the wildlife will stick with me for a long time I suspect.
Each morning I walked into the village to buy the day’s bread, sometimes with Andy, but usually on my own. The bread was delicious, but I enjoyed the walk too. These photos are from those walks and also from other times when we had occasion to walk into Castelnaud-la-Chapelle. That first photo is looking back towards the campsite from a very misty morning, although the mist was rapidly clearing.
This is the same view…
…on a relatively cloudy day and this…
…is a panoramic view from a little further along the road, in more typical weather conditions.
The view in the other direction was very much dominated by the village and the Chateau towering above it, and often, in the mornings, montgolfières rising above that.
Here’s part of the village…
…when the mist had just about dissipated.
Not only were the views excellent, but the meadows along the route held lots of interest too. These blue flowers dominated…
I think that the flowers are Meadow Clary, a relative of Sage, which has a very limited distribution in Britain, but seems to be abundant in France. The insect is a Hummingbird Hawkmoth which is only seen as a migrant in Britain, although by coincidence I saw one today whilst out for a local wander. I also often saw Hummingbird Hawkmoths flying along a wall which bounded part of the road, seemingly investigating nooks and crevices, although I’m not sure why they would do that.
…is a Broad-bordered Bee Hawkmoth, which can, apparently, also be found in Britain, but not in our area and I’ve certainly never seen one before.
One of the things I loved about our visit to France was the profusion of butterflies, although they weren’t always cooperative in posing for photos.
This Scarce Swallowtail was kind however, and moved a little closer after I took that first photo…
Wild Carrot flowers were also very common in the meadows and where the flowerheads had curled in on themselves and gone to seed there was a very good chance that you could see Striped Shield Bugs…
…they were hard to miss!
Spider’s webs, on the other hand, only became obvious when the mist washed them with silver droplets.
The wall alongside the road was home, appropriately enough, to Wall Lizards.
These two are my favourites from the many photos I took.
The area around the wall also seemed to be the territory of some small orange butterflies which eluded my camera at first, but then turned out to be Gatekeepers which we see at home.
I think that this first one is on a Hemp Agrimony flower and that this one…
…is on Horse Mint.
The road crossed a bridge over the Céou which was a good place for spotting fish and also more Beautiful Demoiselles…
Right at the end of our stay, we came down to the bridge because some of the party wanted to emulate some swimmers we had seen by leaping from a high branch into the water.
In the event, only E managed it, not because of the height of the jump, but because of the difficulty of climbing the tree – there was a crude ladder of planks nailed to the tree-trunk, but one of the rungs was missing. Here’s E just before she jumped…
The rest of us had to content ourselves with jumping from the bridge itself or from a small wall beside it…
The Dordogne region, at least the area we visited, is characterised by low, wooded hills (only just creeping above 200m above sea level) cut by steep-sided valleys, often with limestone cliffs and edges. The slopes above Maisonneuve were topped with cliffs and Andy had been told by his Dutch neighbours (based on our limited survey, all European campsites seem to be mostly populated by the Dutch) that a path led from the campsite up to the base of those cliffs and that there were caves to explore in the cliffs. Indeed, we could see one large cave opening high in the cliffs above.
Looking down the valley to Castelnaud-la-Chapelle and its Chateau.
It was a steep, sweaty (for me anyway) climb up through the trees, but well worth it when it brought us to the honeycombed, honey-coloured rocks.
There were small caves immediately…
Irresistible to the DBs…
Of course, when you climb up to a cave you then have to get back down again; B found getting down from this one much more difficult than getting up had been and I found myself guiding his feet down into suitable footholds.
There were long lines of ants spreading across the cliffs.
Turning along the base of the cliffs we soon came across a larger cave…
…with several entrances…
…and evidence of former occupation…
I think it’s fair to say that there’s a long history of cave occupation in the area – the famous Lascaux caves with their paintings are in the Dordogne after all.
Of course the DBs found a tight little passage to crawl through…
I preferred to be outside watching a lizard expertly negotiating the rock walls…
I think that this is a Common Wall Lizard, rather than the Common Lizards we see at home, but I’m not confident about that at all.
We continued along the base of the cliffs, coming across more cave openings, this one…
…being the largest.
The path continued…
…but we were feeling ready for a swim, so turned back.
Our young friend E though had other ideas, she wanted to follow the path in the other direction up to the top of the crags to see the view. Her mum J…
…and TBH and I decided to join us. Others may have too, but the message didn’t get to all of the party. The climb was mercifully short…
And the views, when we got to them, were well worth the modest effort…
The Céou Valley
There were a couple of Hummingbird Hawkmoths flying around near the top of the cliffs, which excited me greatly since they are rare visitors to Britain. I didn’t manage to photograph them this time, but would have many more opportunities.
Céou Valley Panorama.
Castelnaud and its Chateau didn’t exactly dominate the view…
…but they certainly stood out…
…especially the Chateau…
Finally, back down through the woods for a well-earned swim.
Foulshaw Moss, with Arnside Knott and Meathop Fell on the skyline.
Foulshaw Moss, with Whitbarrow Scar behind.
Great Spotted Woodpecker, adult, female I think.
Great Spotted Woodpecker, juvenile.
Black Darter, female.
A web-tent. I couldn’t see any caterpillars within.
Reed Bunting, male.
Marbled Orb Weaver Spider (perhaps).
These photos were taken just over a month ago on an evening visit to Foulshaw Moss whilst A was at her weekly dancing lessons. Since they were taken, we’ve been away for three weeks, camping in Wales and then France, and this little outing feels like a distant memory.
I have enjoyed looking through them, however, and trying to put names to things I recorded. Not here are the many small birds which tumbled about in the trees, Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits, Linnets and Chaffinches. Also missing are the crickets and/or grasshoppers which I saw, but failed to photograph and the Ospreys, Adders and Large Heath Butterflies which I hope to see when I visit, but which have always eluded me so far.
The Black Darter, Britain’s smallest species of Dragonfly, is new to me, so that should probably be the highlight, but it was the adult Great Spotted Woodpecker, which I heard first and then picked out in flight, flying, unusually, towards me rather than away and landing at the top of a dead Birch relatively nearby, which will stick in my mind. Also, the hordes of Wasps feeding on Figwort flowers, reminding me of my observation last year that the flowers and the Wasps seem to have coevolved so that a Wasp’s head is a perfect fit for a Figwort flower.
I think it’s fair to say that this year I have seen more Common Lizards than I did in the previous fifty put together. To what should I attribute this phenomena? The fact that I’ve been making an effort to get out at every opportunity will go some way to explain it, but is far from being sufficient on it’s own. It’s hard to think what other factors might contribute. A local abundance of lizards? Good fortune? It would be tempting to think that my wits really are growing sharper, but sadly, I’m sure that the opposite is true. It has been facetiously suggested that a form of animal magnetism is in operation and that wildlife is drawn to me, which seems highly unlikely, although earlier during the same walk a Hawthorn Shieldbug did alight on my hand…
TBH and I were out for a Saturday afternoon ramble through Eaves Wood and then around Hawes Water. The lizards were in the same spot where we usually see them, on the edges of the boardwalk near the lake. We saw about half a dozen. They were all very small, tiny in fact, compared to those we have seen before. Presumably they were all from this year’s brood, born back in July. I suppose that they will be hibernating fairly soon, and it’s possible that these will be my last lizard sightings for this year, but hopefully there will be many more again next year, and other magical things to keep me occupied in the mean time.
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…
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.
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…
I particularly admired the go faster stripes on this specimen…
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.
I presume that these alien monstrosities…
…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.
A male Small White, I think.
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…
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?
Bumblebee on Knapweed.
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.
The mystery plant – looking increasingly like some sort of Scabious, as Simon suggested.
I think this might be Orpine, or Sedum telephium, the same Sedum, or Ice Plant which we grow in our gardens.