Sunday, 25 July 2010

Buzzards and Badgers

After a weekend of cyan skies and cotton wool clouds, Sunday gradually clouded over, with a warm stiff breeze stirring the trees in the valley. In the late afternoon I thought I would take a walk up to the new pond I had found last winter and sneak around in the hedgerow to see what was about. I took the widened path up through hanging wood and as I reached the top heard the call of buzzards playing in the blustery wind. They had taken up station in the high trees, occasionally lifting off to circle and tumble.
The pond, unsurprisingly was dry but its sandy banks were now softened by early colonizing plants and grasses. Looking south down the Rib valley a tractor scoured a recently harvested rape field, clouds of dust rising in the wind.
I sat for an hour in the hedgerow, enjoying the sound of the wind in the trees and the gambling buzzards who came quite close overhead, before retracing my steps. As I descended I remembered walking the same way back in the snow, the unleaved tree bows picked out in against the powder snow.
Six months on and the scene was completely different, now a woodland nave dressed in green. Right on cue to complete the summer vista, three badgers crossed the path in line; two adults and a growing youngster.
Having crossed the path they headed out into the bare field, and I took chase, relying on their poor eyesight, my camouflage and the wind direction not to disturb them.
A hundred yards across the field and they separated. I followed the pair, in my mind the mother and cub, as they arced further out into the field and across to the hedge-line to the west.

It was great seeing the group, certainly from a different sett to the badgers of my usual encounters, suggesting a healthy local Melinae population in the valley.

A saunter round the meadow

A terrible admission, but I've been struggling to put a blog post together over the last couple of weeks. Time in the evening and at weekends has been scant as I'm frantically busy at work setting up my new business. I also decided to have twice weekly sessions of pre-season training for my now U13 Girls football team, which is great fun but takes another evening out of the schedule. However I have made it out into the fields on a few occasions and tonight had the rare sighting of a male Bullfinch working its way along the tree line of the lane.  
The continuing bright sunshine has brought many  butterflies to the wing and a saunter round the meadow last weekend produced a good sprinkling of varieties. 
The Large White butterflies were the most prolific, spinning in twos and threes in their mating dance before breaking off above the swaying grasses. Over by the east facing field edge field thistles were breaking from their tightly compact buds, opening nectar bars to the insects partial to its flavour. Above Old Man's Beard clematis vitalba smothered the elder and hazel, its tender stems and fronds showing buds, flowers and down covered seeds ready for release to the wind, all stages of its reproductive cycle present. Another name for it is Traveller's Joy which my Flora Britannica tells me is a name first coined by the 16th Century writer John Gerard. He wrote - 
'it is called commonly Viorna quasi vias ornans, of decking and adourning waies and hedges, where peoplerauell, and thereupon I haue named it the Traueilers Ioie... These plants haue no vse in Phisicke as yet fount out, but are esteemed onely for pleasure, by reason of the goodly shadowe which they make with their thicke bushing and clyming, as also for the beautie of the flowers, and the plleasant sent or sauour of the same',
The name stuck. Two hundred years later, Gilbert White wrote in his journal
'The downy seeds of traveller's joy fill the air, & driving before a gale appear like insects on the wing.'
'Father Christmas' is a newer vernacular name and, like old-man's beard, refers to the fluffy seed-heads. This was interesting to discover as I had thought the name had derived from the down's ability to readily takw a spark for fire lighting. Another, 'Woodbine', is a general name applied to all species of native climbers. Apparently the dry winter stems can be smoked (giving other vn. names of 'boy's bacca' and 'shepherd's delight') and so this may be the origin of the brand name of the cigarette my Grandad smoked.
The thistles were proving popular with the butterflies; first I found a Ringlet Aphantopus hyperantus, that wouldn't open it's wings for a photo, though close examination of the ringlets themselves helped me identify it most likely as a female.
Further on a Soldier Beetle, most likely Rhagonycha fulva was busy on another thistle flower head while a Gatekeeper Pyronia tithonus rested on it's leaves.
Soldier beetle - Rhagonycha fulva

Gatekeeper Pyronia tithonus

Back in the garden and the insects were equally prolific. A beautiful Wool Carder Bee and rather exotic looking Sphaerophoria scripta rested on the leaves of an Aquilega.  
Wool Carder Bee
I had first discovered the Wool Carder through Val Littlewood's wonderful bee paintings, which can be found on her blog Pencil and Leaf. It is often heard before being seen as it loves to chomp on the garden plant Lambs Ears Stachys byzantina, balling the collected fluff from the leaves under its abdomen. The elegant Sphaerophoria scripta  is another welcome garden visitor as its larvae feed mainly on aphids. 
Sphaerophoria scripta
The brightly colourful Californian poppies worked their magic, attracting hoverflies, bees and beetles to their radiating flower cup.
a hoverfly Eupeodes nitens homes in on the landing pad

I have yet to identify this bee, most likely from the Andrena family
I also discovered a couple of ladybird variants; clambering over the poppy stems was a Harmonia axyridis succinea, one of more recent Harlequin invaders from the far east,

whilst in the shade of ash tree, marching along the leaves of the Bears Breeches Acanthus spinosus this red spotted variety is either a melanic native 2 spot, or possibly another Harlequin, Harmonia axyridis spectabilis. I will be submitting both these sightings for verification to the UK Ladybird Project and The Harlequin Ladybird Survey. Both sites are interested in monitoring sightings of the Harlequin, which arrived as species to the US in 1988, where it is now the most widespread ladybird species on the continent and into the UK in the summer of 2004.
My little patch of north-east Hertfordshire is bathed in sunshine again today. Best I stop writing and get out there and enjoy it, and see what other natural marvels I can discover.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Home sweet home

I decided to stay at home today to get the pond cleared up and remove some invasive flag irises that were taking over.The recent heat wave has cooled down a bit making work much easier.

So I attacked the irises early on but was abruptly stopped by the sound of clashing wings and with the sound, a luminous green dragonfly erupted from the reeds in protest.

After much charging about the garden it finally settled and allowed me to approach to no distance at all and of course, I started firing off shots.

After a good half hour the dragonfly obviously had had enough of modelling and departed as quickly as it appeared.

After finally winning the battle with the irises and cleaning up the pond (making it look much bigger) I gave it a brief top up. Soon the damp ground around the pond seemed attractive to the local butterflies that stopped by for a drink. Including this purple hairstreak (a first for me).

All this week a Speckled Bush cricket has been lodging in my bedroom, being the lazy boy I am I have not removed it but had plans to photograph it.

So today I decided to evict it, but not before a photo shoot with the macro lens. Great little critters.

Mid shoot with the cricket I was interrupted by the sound of rustling, soon enough this fella made an appearance attempting to get to dads rat poison!!! I quickly removed it and it curled into a ball on the lawn before retreating in to the undergrowth to feast on snails.

My final model of the afternoon was this froglet, just bigger than my thumbnail!!!

He posed in various positions on the lawn till I lost him in to the undergrowth.

A productive and great day for garden wildlife. Proving you do not need to travel miles to see some great sights.

Friday, 16 July 2010

A Grey Day

After a week of full time work I managed to finally get out and about with the camera. After a late start I set up my hide at Lemsford Springs Nature Reserve. My aim was to photograph the returning Green Sandpipers that I photographed last year.

I cleared an area of cress a month or so ago in preparation and received a text from Barry Trevis (warden of the reserve) the next day that 2 green sandpipers were feeding on it.

It went from this.....

To this....

So after finally getting down to the site, I set up and was ready for them to fly in. Unfortunately there was no luck with the green sandpipers but I was kept company by a recently fledged Grey Wagtail in breaks in the rain.

Lets hope the sun shines next time.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

An Anniversary Walk

A walk around the plantation on a Friday night is a perfect way to let go of the stresses of the week. At the height of summer the grass is long around the field edges and as I discovered last year, with a bit of quiet approach work and the wind in the right direction you can get pretty close to the local wildlife.
Tonight I crossed the ditch and quietly moved around the set aside pasture that provides a winter feeding ground for our local Barn Owl, before passing on and through a break in the hedge. Immediately I became a statue - feeding a few yards away was a leveret, totally preoccupied in its victuals.

Inch by inch I moved up the gentle slope that borders the woods, taking pictures and remembering previous stalks and stake-outs that I had made here over the last year. Is it really a year ago that I first crept close to that gorgeous leveret - have twelve months really passed since that young badger filled my frame as I lent against a tree in the dappled light of the woods? Tonight those same species thrilled me with their appearance. As I watched a couple more hares, an adult badger made the short dash across open ground to the cover of the rapeseed, shortly followed by a youngster then finally a third. They headed out across the field towards the sunset, rustling the drying seed-pods as they went.

 I've really enjoyed posting the stories, reading the lovely comments and making friends with those that drop in on The Badger's Eye. Here's to the second year and all the fun of discovering the wonders of the British countryside.