Friday, 18 September 2009

A Peek from My Perch and Beyond

The birds in the garden are as active as ever and eating me out of house and home. The Goldfinches visit the Sunflower seed feeders in large numbers throughout the day bringing their young with them.

I always think the juveniles look like they have forgotten to put their clothes on! They look so naked without the vivid plumage of their parents.

'The beauty of Nature the joys of the Spring
In that scrubby place where the Goldfinches sing
Their twittering low notes like fairy bells ring
The wonders of Nature a magical thing.'

(Francis Duggan)

Mum and dad forgot to tell this juvenile that they don't eat peanuts!

But of course these do

Blue Tit

Moving away from the garden, we had a walk around the local reservoir recently, I should mention that trying to get photographs of anything within its perimeter is quite frustrating as observers are unable to get within a decent distance of it. There is a steep, overgrown and impenetrable slope down to the very tall wire fence which surrounds the reservoir. Consequently the following photos are very heavily cropped.

There is often a lone Heron to be seen standing quietly watching and waiting on one of the buoys and on this occasion I was not disappointed. Of course, as is usually the case, it appeared on the opposite side of where we were walking so, wanting to get as near as possible, we hurried round to the other side as quickly as we could where I managed to get this photo.

Needless to say, although I was some distance away it was aware of me and soon decided to move further away to continue its solitary pursuit.

'The grey winds, the cold winds are blowing
Where I go.
I hear the noise of many waters
Far below.
All day, all night, I hear them flowing
To and fro.'

(James Joyce)

As we walked on I spotted some small birds pecking at the water's edge. Being so far away I thought they were Pied Wagtails but on reviewing the photos later I was very pleased to find they were in fact

Grey Wagtail

It has been a long time since I saw a Grey Wagtail and I would love to have been able to get nearer to take better photos but they were still a very nice surprise.

'There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks.
Most of the time we are not patient enough, quiet enough,
to pay attention to the story'

(Linda Hogan)

Of course there are always plenty of gulls around.

It was a reasonably nice day and I was pleased to see other creatures enjoying the sunshine including this

Common Darter

and this lovely

Comma Butterfly

which was on the rather thorny hedgerow on the other side of the reservoir, beyond which is the river. In the trees on the same side I heard the familiar sound of the

Long-tailed Tit

They are such gregarious and energetic little birds and it was lovely to watch them flitting in and out of the branches, chattering to each other all the time.

'There are few birds so quick as we,
When searching for good fare:
We peck the crevice of a tree,
And dart at insects there.

Sometimes we hear them talk within
The hollow where we sit:
"Beware," they say, "draw in, draw in!
Outside there is a Tit." '

(Attributed to Thomas Hardy)

The plant in the photograph below was growing on the river bank.

Orange Balsam

As we walked alongside the canal which runs a short way beyond the other side of the reservoir

we found more of it.

It is a non-native plant which is thought to have been originally introduced into this country as an ornamental plant from North America. It is less aggressively invasive than the Himalayan Balsam.

The next two photos were taken on another walk a few weeks ago on a gloriously warm and sunny day, which, given the rapid onset of autumnal weather this last week, is already starting to feel like a lovely but sadly distant memory.

Willow Warbler

What a graceful and delicately coloured bird this is!

'I feel the grass beneath me swell,
I breathe the rapture of the air,
I hear the chimes of June that tell
Of birth and bridal everywhere.
And in their music floats along
The Willow Warbler's sunbeam song.'

(I. Henry Wallis)

Yes, the sky really was that blue! How I wish our Summers lasted longer or that at the very least they could be consistently good, not heat-waves or thunder storms and definitely not whole days of relentless rain but just pleasantly warm and sunny with some rain at night to keep our lovely countryside green and beautiful.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

More from Watlington Hill

Following my last post which featured the magnificent Red Kites at the very beautiful location of Watlington Hill (which I have seen described as a 'dreamscape') I thought I would share with you what else I saw there. I realise now that one visit to this lovely place does not do it justice at all, at the very least I should have devoted one visit to the Red Kite and another separate visit to butterflies. In actual fact this is a place of such interest that many visits are necessary to see just some of what it has to offer. We will definitely go back there many times in the future as I feel I have hardly 'touched the surface'.

'And autumn tells of joys that fly;
And summer's charms in languor die:
If ye would have all hope would bring,
Take the first morn of early spring!
If ye would warm your life-blood chill,
Go course on Watlington's fair hill!'

(Mary Russell Mitford)

Watlington Hill is a magnificent area of chalk downland. It is a wildlife site of national importance and home to a large collection of wild flowers, butterflies, birds, mosses, lichens and fungi, many of them rare or scarce. The short chalk, grassland turf was originally created by sheep grazing but is now maintained by rabbits. Ant-hills, some of which are quite ancient, lend additional interest and areas of woodland and scrub complete the scene. The whole area is a protected 'Site of Special Scientific Interest' and owned by the National Trust. Incidentally, on one of our days out recently we decided to join the National Trust but were slightly concerned that we might not make enough visits to their properties over the next twelve months to justify the annual charge. Well, this place has no charge but we both said the pleasure we obtained from Watlington Hill more than justified our membership fee.

So, the other reason, apart from seeing the magnificent Red Kites, I wanted to visit this special place was to see the butterflies of which there are an abundance, indeed the National Trust's butterfly expert Matthew Oates has 'butterflied' at Watlington Hill almost every year since 1967 and spotted his first ever Silver-spotted Skippers there. As I mentioned before we really needed a separate visit just to see them. Butterflies commonly seen there include the Green Hairstreak, Brown Argus, Marbled White, Small Blue and Brimstones. There have also been sightings of the Chalkhill Blue, Dark Green Fritillary, Grizzled Skipper and Dingy Skipper. There is also a large colony of the rare Silver-spotted Skipper. Also, Yellow Ants are a rare species to be found there. Due to the limited time we had to study the butterflies we only saw a few of what Watlington Hill has to offer. Given the amazing influx of the Painted Lady butterfly in the UK this year it was not surprising to see them there.

It has been heartening this year to see more of the Small Tortoiseshell which has been struggling to survive in recent years.

The next two are

Meadow Brown Butterfly

This is the lovely

Brimstone Butterfly

The next one is too, I did wonder if it was the Clouded Yellow at first but it is just the way the light is falling on a Brimstone, I do think it looks beautiful.

Now, the next ones I have a problem with. Where I live if I see a blue butterfly, which isn't very often, I can be pretty sure it is the Common Blue but in an area where other blues can be seen I find it very confusing to identify them. I am fairly sure all the following butterflies are, indeed, Common Blues, both male and female but if I am wrong I'm sure someone will be able to put me right.

EDIT: Thanks to the extremely knowledgeable Greenie I now know all the following butterflies are Common Blue other than where specified. Thank you very much for that Greenie and also for confirming the Meadow Browns and the second Brimstone.

Male (bottom) and female Common Blue

As you can see some are rather the worse for wear!

Brown Argus (female)

Brown Argus (female, top) Common Blue (bottom)

'I love not man the less,
but nature more.'

(Lord Byron)

(probably) Brown Argus

Common Blue (male)

'I love all beauteous things,
I seek and adore them.'

(Robert Bridges)

Common Blue (male)

Common Blue (female)

An interesting find of a different kind was this ancient sunken trackway which was recently restored by volunteers principally to relieve a path where the rare chalk-land grass habitat was being eroded. This restored trackway would once have been the main road!

'And if I should live to be
The last leaf upon the tree
In the spring,
Let them smile, as I do now,
At the old forsaken bough
Where I cling.'

(Oliver Wendell Holmes)

Apart from butterflies we saw this

Lesser? Treble-Bar Moth

and this

Marmalade Fly

Well, I still haven't shown you all we saw at Watlington Hill and I definitely haven't seen all there is to see at this beautiful place which is why I will be going back next year, there are rare flowers to see, Muntjac Deer and all sorts of other goodies but I will leave you with a butterfly which I was thrilled to see and which is very rare in the UK and restricted to chalk downland in southern England.

Silver-spotted Skipper

I hope you have enjoyed seeing some of the delights of this beautiful place, it has been a pleasure to show them to you.