Friday, 29 April 2011

The joy of spring

WHAT an amazing day, and not just because it was a day off work (Thursday 28th April 2011) - although that surely helped.

Hill-side apple orchard
 Cow parsley lined lanes

 Hawthorn landscapes
I paid another visit to the wonderful Somerset Levels and as ever they did not disappoint.  The Levels are a maze of small fields, bound by hedgerows and rhynes (ditches), with pockets of wet woodland, along with large areas of both old naturalised  peat diggings and newer pockets of extraction.

Its amazing what you can see if you keep your eyes open and look beyond the obvious.  The highlights were:
  • an adder
  • fighting slow worms
  • 16+ hobbies
  • a distant marsh harrier
  • two really clear bittern fly-bys
  • hundreds of dragonflies and damselflies
  • the first cuckoo of the year
  • plus loads of warblers
  • and the glorious sun shining over a lush, springtime landscape.

I toured the area going to all my favourite spots.  I had been vaguely looking for reptiles and then heard rustling in a bramble bush.  There were two, possibly three, grass snakes in a vicious, writhing tangle.  They were doing their best to bite each other into submission.  It was hard to get any pictures through the branches but these images give you some idea of their antics:

 Fighting male grass snakes

One grass snake biting another

The damselflies and dragonflies were everywhere and looked stunning in the sunshine.  Apparently they have emerged particularly early this year.

   Damselfly sp.

 I tried to get a dragonfly in flight - this one was using a very fast shutter speed:
 Four spotted darter

Hairy dragonfly?

I wonder whether this is a dragonfly chasing a damselfly?:

This butterfly is possibly a female green-veined white:


Just when I was about to head home I found a sexton beetle rattling around in my car of all places.  These bugs are famous for burying corpses upon which they lay their eggs; the corpses providing a food supply for the larval stage.

Sexton beetle

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Swarm of bees

WHILST out walking a couple of days ago (near Chedworth in Gloucestershire) we came across this amazing swarm of bees.  I have never seen this phenomenon before and I must admit that my pictures are a bit shaky as I was a tad nervous...

The swarm had gone a few hours later.  Apparently the bees do this in spring whilst in search of a new "nest" location.  The queen bee is amongst them somewhere.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Purple, yellow and green

WILTSHIRE Wildlife Trust's Clattinger Farm is a corker - it supports excellent unimproved flower rich meadows, and is at least an annual pilgrimage for me.

Field ablaze with cowslips

Currently it's a sea of cowslips, with some going over snake's-head frittilary flowers and countless green winged orchids.  There are also many other meadow specialists in leaf making up the sward (such as great burnet, betony and sawwort) that come into their own later in May and June, before the hay is cut.
Snake's-head fritillary

This is one of the few Wiltshire sites that support snake's-head fritillary- it relies on damp, unimproved meadows which have never been ploughed - ever!

Mixture of cowslips and orchids

 The common, but lovely, self heal

Adder's tongue fern - an unusual rarity that can only be found in ancient grassland
Two stunning green-winged orchids

A lighter form of the green-winged orchid

 An overwhelming number of orchids


On one field the cowslips were showing up where the ridges and furrows in the grassland were - possibly a sign of drainage or ancient ploughing, before the days of artificial fertilisers and weed killers

The bright yellow kingcup, growing in a ditch

Friday, 22 April 2011

An ancient woodland in spring

LAST weekend saw us take a ramble around a local favourite woodland owned by Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust.  They are doing a great job with their limited resources and the woodland flora is benefiting.  However I suspect that even more coppicing would be beneficial.  Anyway here are some of my pics:

Orange tip butterfly over bluebells

Cuckoo flowers in adjacent meadow


Early purple orchid

Lesser Celandine
False-oxlip (a cross between a cowslip and primroses)

 Beautifully laid hedge on woodland edge
Yellow archangel

Wood anemone

 Wood spurge
Spot the bee

Bluebells and sunshine

Bluebell path



View from the woodland edge

Friday, 8 April 2011

Meadows, woodland, river, sun

I made the most of the amazing, sunny evening by visiting a local wildlife hotspot in Wiltshire where I was keen to capture the early spring flowers.

A favourite meadow species of mine is the cuckoo flower, which likes damp-ish old grassland, but can be found in new habitats too.  I was hoping to get the classic shot of an orange tip butterfly and was lucky enough to capture one just as I approached the only decent clump of flowers.  I waited a long time but the butterfly never returned after that single moment.

Orange-tip on cuckoo flowers

A bee-fly
Blackthorn blossom

The meadows lie next to the River Avon and the reflection in the water showed of the blackthorn blossom beautifully.  Iford Manor was also a great backdrop for other blossom bearing trees.

 Iford Manor, Wiltshire

The meadows abut a small limestone grassland slope, which is beautifully managed through careful grazing.  It supports numerous unimproved grassland specialities, including this green-winged orchid and cowslips

Green-winged orchid

Next to the grassland is a narrow strip of rich woodland, with a bridle path running through it.

Old coppiced oak

It is full of ramsons and bluebells, between the oaks and old hazel stools, along with a number of other ancient woodland indicators, such as yellow archangel.

Yellow archangel

 Orange tip on a bluebell


Cowslips along the woodland ride

Greater stitchwort sapping up the sunrays

Bluebells in the evening sun

The sun going down behind the old stone bridge