Sunday, 12 August 2012


When I looked out onto my garden this morning I spotted this late night reveller slinking, or should I say sliding!, his way back home after, no doubt, spending the night partying (munching!) his way around my garden plants. 

 A Garden Snail  helix aspersa

Across the lawn....

...and then the patio....

...and finally up the side (how do they do that?) of a concrete flower planter and a snuggle down to spend the day under the lavender plant....  

Or so he thought!!

Yes...I removed him to a safe distance away from my garden!!!

Monday, 6 August 2012


In this second part of my account of  'a week in the hot sun'  I was 'buzzed' by a strange flying machine before, once again, finding my target species...encountered not one but two Emperors...and whilst on a picnic, got up close and personal with some dragons!!...

Day four... Incombe Hole in Buckinghamshire.

Once again a warm and sunny day, with the temperature rising to 26c, and it was back to Incombe Hole and it's surrounds  in search of the Chalk-hill Blue Butterfly.

As normal progress was slow as I stopped to take photographs of the many wild flowers that were out in bloom along the sides of the pathways...

Small Scabious

Common Bird's-foot-trefoil.  It's name is derived from the shape of the seed pods which are long and slender and splayed apart when ripe, resembling a bird's foot. The leaves have five 'leaflets' but with the lower pair at the stalk base it appears to be trifoliate. It is also known as 'bacon and eggs' from the colour of the flowers which start of as red buds and slowly turn through orange to yellow.

Spear Thistle

The area I was walking in lies directly under the flight path into London Luton Airport and on most days this is not a problem as the planes are not too low at this point and maybe fly over at about one every fifteen to twenty minutes, but this was the day before the Olympic opening ceremony and the time between planes was down to about five minutes. This was not really a problem and was soon ignored until  I was suddenly aware of a noise that I can only describe as sounding like a dozen or so out of tune lawnmowers being thrashed to within an inch of their lives...a quick search of the sky overhead and a few hasty shots with the camera (no time for setting adjustments) and this was the result!

I'll leave you to work it out but to me it looks like something that has been put together from all the bits that were left over from previous projects!

I googled the identification letters and it's an Italian designed and built!  Piaggio P-180 Avanti!!

I also came across this rather tatty, lone Dark Green Fritillary.

I finally arrived at the spot where, in previous years,  I'd seen quite large numbers of Chalk-hill Blues but today I could only find four males, and one female, who seemed to be hiding low down in the grass, I wonder why??

When you  go out looking for a specific species of bird or butterfly it's by no means certain that you'll find it, this time I was lucky I found  what I was looking for quite easily, although in smaller numbers than I'd expected. The day before a local eminent birder had recorded seeing over seventy in the same area!...maybe he's got better eyesight than me!!


 Day five... King's Wood in Bedfordshire....and a 'royal encounter'!

I again met up with Keith, this time in the car park at Stockgrove Country Park ( now renamed Rushmere country park Stockgrove) which straddles the  borders of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire. Our quest, to find the Silver Washed Fritillary Butterfly.
The day started off overcast and humid as we made our way into the part of the park known as King's Wood, a woodland with records going back for over a thousand years and now a National Nature Reserve.

At first it appeared to be rather devoid of any bird or butterfly life but as the sun started to break through and the temperature started to rise, eventually topping 26c, out came the butterflies...


Large White

Large Skipper

Meadow Brown

Hoverflies and Damselflies were also busy feeding on the wildflowers...

episyrphus balteatus

Common Blue Damselfly (female)

Ruddy Darter Dragonflies were also putting in an appearance..

a female

And then, in what was the start of a very exciting and memorable royal experience, a beautiful male Emperor Dragonfly settled in the long grass right in front of us..

We eventually achieved our goal off the day when a couple (or the same one doing a circuit!) of Silver Washed Fritillaries did a quick fly by before disappearing into the trees.

The day, however,  was  unexpectedly set to turn into a super day with the arrival of 'royalty'...

After about four hours of butterfly watching we decided to call it a day and, as we turned to head home, there on the path in front of us was royalty himself....a male Purple Emperor.

Creeping up ever so slowly we managed to get close enough to take some decent photographs. This beautiful butterfly normally spends most of its time way up and out of sight in the canopies of its favoured Oak trees only occasionally coming down to ground level to indulge in the, rather un-royal!, habit of extracting moister and minerals from animal droppings and carrion.

Unfortunately for much of the five or so minutes that we were allowed to invade its space it's wings were held closed tightly together  only occasionally flicking them open and allowing us to see that beautiful purple sheen from where it gets its name.

After it was spooked by a humble fly our audience with royalty was at an end and 'his eminence' disappeared back into the treetops.

We left feeling rather privileged to have had the rare chance to see, up close, one of Britain's rare and beautiful butterflies.

I suppose when you have reached the heights of meeting royalty things have to return to normal and as we made our way back through the woods we were met by an overpowering stench of rotting flesh and there standing proud in the leaf litter was...phallus impudicus

otherwise known as..Stinkhorn!


 Day Six... Picnic the weather starts to break!

As the warm and sunny weather had been predicted to last for some time it had been pre-arranged, earlier in the week, that we would be joined by Mother-in-law to go on a picnic!
So, the destination was chosen, Marston Vale Country Park in Bedfordshire, mainly for the fact that it has toilets!!  Unfortunately the weather didn't seem to be in picnic mood , and although sunny and warm at times, dark clouds were looming, accompanied by a chilly breeze.  The planners have been thoughtful and have provided a nice grass covered area (overflow car park!) just right for picnics.

After driving around in ever decreasing circles looking for a suitable spot to 'settle' (we were the only ones there!!) the tables and chairs were set up, the food and hot drinks put out, coats and a blanket (to keep the knees warm!) put on and the banquet began.
Now, this could only be England!..imagine the scene...a large grassy field, one car, three people, folding chairs and tables, daintily cut sandwiches, hot tea from a thermos flask and coats off when the sun shone and back on when it didn't......brilliant!!

Sorry, I've digressed...I left the ladies to chat! and set off to see what I could find.

First I made my way to a nearby patch of Brambles and soon located Gatekeeper Butterflies and Common Blue Damselflies, but as I was lining up to take a photograph of a butterfly I noticed something moving deep down in the long grass...tiny frogs, about an inch long!..lots of them!...everywhere!  and I was standing right in amongst them!  carefully and  trying not to stand on too many (sorry froglets !) I backed off and left them in peace. In their short lives they must have travelled some distance because the nearest water, a pond in the flower gardens, is at least 400 yards away!

There were not many butterflies around and even fewer birds, a few Mute Swans and Common Terns  on the main lake and a couple of overflying Cormorants was about it.

Wild flowers were out in abundance though...

Hedge Bindweed

Field Bindweed

And there were lots of flowering Wild Teasels...hopefully, they'll provide lots of food for the smaller birds later in the year.

There was lots of activity going on lower down in the grass...time to get the knees dirty...and wet!!

Caterpillars of the Cinnabar Moth feeding on Ragwort

Female Meadow Grasshopper

Rufous Grasshopper (?)

And finally to an area where I knew that I was almost certain to find Dragonflies resting on the handrails of a boardwalk...and I wasn't to be disappointed...

Common Darter

Ruddy Darter

These two Dragonflies can sometimes look quite similar, a quick way to separate them is that the Common Darter has a Yellow stripe running along the outside of the legs and the Ruddy Darter has completely Black legs.

I arrived back at the car picnic site, the ladies had finished putting the world to rights!, just in time to pack everything back into the car before a brief rain shower put an end to my  'WEEK IN THE HOT SUN'.

Sorry for the lengthy!! posts and thanks for sticking with it..I hope you found them interesting and I promise in future I'll try and make them a little shorter!!...[;o)

Wednesday, 1 August 2012


No,  it's not what you're thinking, I've not been spending time lounging on a sun baked tropical island  somewhere in the South Pacific. No, it was last week here, in good ol' England, when we had some 'proper' summer  weather with (mostly) wall to wall sunshine and temperatures up to 30 degrees Celsius.

So, if you can stick with it, here is my account (mostly photographic, I took over 1500 pictures during the week...and I'm still sorting through them!!) of my week in the hot sun...

Day one...Pitstone Hill and Incombe Hole in Buckinghamshire.

The day started at 5am when I met Keith at the Ivinghoe Beacon car park, our quest for the day was to see if we could find Corn Buntings and the Dark Green Fritillary Butterfly. after a quick coffee, (thanks Keith, our catering  manager for the day!) we set of for the walk to Pitstone Hill.

These two, along with their recently shorn compatriots, looked rather bemused to see a couple of strange looking beings traipsing through their field at such an early hour!

As we arrived at the base of Pitstone Hill the sun was up and the temperature had started to rise. It wasn't long before we heard the jangling call (it's been likened to the jangling of a bunch of keys) of the bird we had come to see...a Corn Bunting was singing from the overhead power lines, our first objective soon achieved!

And now the butterflies had started to appear from their overnight resting spots.


Meadow Brown

After a couple of hours watching the Corn Buntings along with the numerous other birds that had  put in an appearance (18 species in total) we started to make our way back to the car for breakfast. Again we heard that jangling call and soon spotted a Corn Bunting sitting on a fence post.

After breakfast,  no sooner than we had started to make our way to Incombe Hole,  we came across our second objective of the day... a pair of Dark Green Fritillaries were feeding on some thistles.


Satisfied that we had easily found  our objectives for the day we continued our walk taking in the sight of the butterflies and wild flowers along the way. 

Marbled White

Large Skipper


Cut-leaved Selfheal (apparently quite rare!)

Clustered Bellflower

I thought I knew what this was but cannot find any reference for it. can anyone help?

Field Scabious


 Day Two.....Hitchin Lavender in Hertfordshire.

Again I met up with Keith, athough this time not so early!!..10am, for a trip to Hitchin Lavender where I'd previously found Essex Skipper Butterflies. The temperature had already reached the high 20's when we arrived.

The rows of lavender looked stunning in the sunshine...

.....and were 'humming' with the sound of lots (and I mean LOTS!!) of Honey Bees and  various types of Bumble Bee.

Honey Bee

Red poppies conrasted well with the purple lavender...

Long-headed Poppy (no black spots on the base of the petals)

Unfortunately we didn't find the Essex Skipper, in fact birds and butterflies were largely noticeable by their absence...the heat of the day sending them too cooler spots maybe?

One butterfly that did put in an appearance was this Ringlet.


Day Three......RSPB The Lodge, Sandy in Bedfordshire.

This time I left Keith at home!! and instead took my wife Claire to the headquarters of The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds..her choice by the way!

Another hot, 30c and sunny day as we started our walk around the reserve and again not that many birds showing in the heat....or maybe they had 'gone to ground' at the sight of a patrolling Hobby...

Further on we found a shady spot to sit and have a drink and something to eat (thanks for carrying it Claire X X ) when I heard a 'mewing' sound coming from some distant trees...Buzzard, I thought as I saw a bird silhouetted against the sun, appear out on a branch with some prey held firmly in its grasp, which it promptly started to eat. I fired off a few hopeful shots...

However on looking at the images later and with a great deal of help from Photoshop this is what I discovered...

Now, I don't know if there was a family of Hobbies in the trees, there was certainley lots of noise, but I ever only saw this one out in the open!

Further on and we came to a small pond ( famed for its breeding Natterjack Toads!) where another photographer was busy taking pictures of a lone male Banded Demoiselle, we got chatting and it turned out that we live no more than a mile away from each other! (it's a small world, as they say!!). If you're reading this 'other photographer' I'm sorry but I omitted to ask your name.

Also flying around the pond were a pair of Ruddy Darter Drangonflies.

 Ruddy Darter male

Also spotted in the vegetation was this emerging dragonfly larva... 

 ...does anyone know which dragonfly this is about to become?

Back to the visitor centre for much needed cool drinks and ice creams and a chance to take a few photographs of the Spotted Flycatcher pair that have returned to nest here for another year.

Also seen around the visitor centre...

A resting Rock Dove/Feral Pigeon

Small Skipper

So, a good three days out in the sun doing the thing I like best... taking pictures of our beautiful and varied wildlife.

If you've stuck with it to the end..thank you, you deserve a medal ( I hear they're giving them away at the moment just a few miles down the road, perhaps I could borrow some for you!!)

In part two of this epic I have a chance meeting with 'royalty' and get up close and personal with some dragons... as soon as I've sorted through all the photo's that is!!