Saturday, 9 June 2012

Yellow Wagtails and Green-winged Orchids!

A couple of weeks ago we visited a local wildflower meadow in the hope of seeing some orchids but found we were slightly too early for the ones which grow there. About the only thing found of interest was this Sloe Shield Bug also known as Hairy Shield Bug due to the fine hairs covering its abdomen.

Sloe Bug

However, while we were there we met a couple who asked us if we had heard of Draycote Meadows as they had been the week before to see the Green-winged Orchids and that it was well worth a visit. We said we knew Draycote Water well but that although we had heard of the meadows we had never been sure where they were. They gave us directions but cautioned us that they were not easy to find. As we realised we were cutting things fine in terms of seeing the orchids at the peak of their flowering period we decided to go the next day. To say it was a difficult place to find was an understatement! A journey which should have taken around thirty minutes took twice that time, it was extremely difficult to find and we made many wrong turns and if I hadn't eventually spotted just one other car in the gateway we would have sailed straight past!

Anyway, having finally tracked down this SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) we had no trouble finding the flowers and what a lovely sight they were! Incidentally, isn't it sad that what fifty or so years ago would have been considered just a typical flower filled meadow is now seen as quite unusual and in need of special management and protection? 

'And 'tis good to go forth among scenes like these,
Amid music and sunshine, and flowers and trees,
If 'twere only to waken the deep love that springs
At the sight of all lovely and innocent things.'

Although the orchids would have looked a little better a week before, they were still very pretty. As is so often my luck though the minute we stepped into the meadow the sun disappeared so I took some photos but decided to do a little exploring and follow the bridleway for a while. Thankfully, it wasn't long before the sun returned :-)

So we retraced our steps and returned to the meadow to try and get some sunnier photos. On the way we saw this little fellow.


'Some rabbits have bright shiny noses
I'm telling you now as a friend
The reason their noses are shiny--
Their powder puff's on the wrong end'

Once widespread, there has been a steady decline of the Green-winged Orchid since the 1950s due to agricultural 'improvement' of its grassland habitat. It is sadly, very scarce in some areas of the UK such as the south-west, and in Scotland can only be found in one small area on the west coast of Ayrshire.

Green-winged Orchid (Anacamptis morio)

The green 'wings' of this lovely flower are not always obvious but at least a hint of green can usually be seen in a few plants. The flowers can vary from a paler pinkish mauve to deeper purple and sometimes even white. Here's a closer view.

Orchids are dependent on a fungus which allows them to germinate and obtain nutrients and to compete with other plants. Therefore they are extremely vulnerable to fungicides, fertilisers, lime and ploughing. The Green-winged Orchid depends on infertile or nutrient poor grassland.

 'Flowers, lovely flowers! ye are to me
Most dear and precious things;
Nature's soft pencil over ye
Its brightest colouring flings.
Ye seem to me, though blooming here
Bright beings of another sphere.'
(Mary Ann Gray)

After we had taken our fill of these lovely flowers we decided that as we were so close we would round off our trip with a visit to Draycote Water. It was a Sunday and a nice day so I knew it would be very busy there and I wasn't surprised that there wasn't much to be seen in the way of bird life. There are, however, always plenty of Pied Wagtails flitting around hunting for insects.

Pied Wagtail

These Canada Geese allowed me to try an in flight shot which I usually tend to avoid.

Canada Geese

I am not overly knowledgeable when it comes to gull ID especially with all the various stages of plumage they go through but I think this is a first Winter Common Gull which, by the way, in my experience is nowhere near as 'common' as the far more often seen Black-headed Gull. Mind you, whoever named the different gulls could have done a lot better I think especially when they named a gull with a brown head the Black-headed Gull ;-) But I digress! If my identification is correct I am slightly confused as to why it would still be at the 'first Winter' stage at the end of May! Could it be due to the poor Spring weather this year?

EDIT: Thank you very much to Warren and John for establishing it is a Common Gull in 1st Summer plumage. And no John, your info wasn't at all boring, I found it very helpful. Both of your contributions were much appreciated!

Common Gull (Ist Summer plumage)

There is always an abundance of small flies at Draycote sometimes to the extent that it makes a visit very unpleasant, however, they are very attractive to many of the birds particularly the wagtail family and consequently the lovely Yellow Wagtail can often be seen there and this time was no exception.

Yellow Wagtail

'Oft, in the sunny mornings, have I seen
Bright-yellow birds, of a rich lemon hue,
Meeting in crowds upon branches green,
And sweetly singing all morning through.'
 (Denis Florence MacCarthy)

Finally, another look at the lovely wildflower meadow.

Until the next time...enjoy the beauty of Nature, wherever you are.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Butterflies, Birds and the Beautiful British Countryside

After the rather gruesome tone of my last post this one returns to my gentler style. It has been so nice to be able to get out and enjoy the warmth and sunshine in the last couple of weeks but sad that we seem, in the last few days, to have returned to dull and rainy weather once again, such are the delights of living in the UK!

The following photo is one which was left over from a walk on one of the few decent days we had in April. I wasn't the only one who was enjoying a brief spell of sunshine.

Great Tit

Bluebells are well past their best now but were still looking lovely here just a couple of weeks ago when I photographed some lining each side of an old bridleway.


'There is a silent eloquence
In every wild bluebell
That fills my softened heart with bliss
That words could never tell.'
(Anne Bronte)

As regular readers will know, I love butterflies and with the spell of very early good weather in March my hopes were high that this year would be much better for them than last. However, with the dreadful weather throughout April and much of May those hopes were soon dashed. The sunshine and warmth of the last couple of weeks though has seen a rise in fortune for these little jewels of the air and, although I have not seen as many in my area as I would have liked, I have seen a few such as the lovely Orange Tip, one of the first butterflies to be seen in the Spring which hasn't overwintered as an adult. One of its main food sources is the Bluebell.

Orange-tip Butterfly (male)

And this lovely creature is the female, isn't she pretty?

Orange-tip Butterfly (female)

The countryside is looking beautiful after all the rain.

Another photo left over from the end of April is this one of a Blue Tit  with a caterpillar in its beak, I just managed the one quick snap before it flew off to feed it to its nestlings.

Blue Tit

'The little Titmouse! the little Titmouse!
What a comical fellow is he!
With his head awry, and his half-closed eye,
As much as to say "I see—
I see the maggot within the green bud;
You cannot, although your sight may he good.
I'm sharper than you, for I'm searching for food,
And I'm hungry very—chee! chee!"'

Everywhere I go at the moment I seem to flush Pheasants, sometimes I don't know who is the most startled! Just occasionally though I see them before they see me. It was nice to see this pair together but unfortunately they were at a distance and in poor light.

Pheasants (male and female)

This male was a bit closer. What a handsome fellow he is!

Pheasant (male)

A bird I don't see very often and which is on the red list of 'birds of conservation concern' is the Grey Partridge. I saw this one at the very end of a walk, I flushed it and its mate and they flew to the end of the field where I managed to get this quick photo just before it disappeared after its mate under a hedge.

Grey Partridge

Buttercups may be a common sight in the British countryside but no one can deny they are a cheerful sight especially on a sunny day with their golden heads nodding in the breeze.


'The buttercups with shining face
Smile upward as I pass.
They seem to lighten all the place
Like sunshine in the grass.'
(Sarah J. Day) 

The Speckled Wood is unique among British butterflies, it can overwinter in two stages as both a larva and pupa. This means there is a mixed emergence with adult butterflies on the wing from April to September, with a few adults being seen as early as March or as late as October, especially in the south. I saw this one appropriately, given its name, in woodland.

Speckled Wood Butterfly

I was hoping to get some photographs of the Brimstone Butterfly but although I saw several I couldn't persuade them to stop and have their photos taken. I did see this pretty little Green-veined White though.

Green-veined White Butterfly

'But lo! a white and spangled thing
Was sporting there on tiny wing;
In haste from flower to flower it flew,
And sucked from each the honied dew.'
(Louisa Segrave)

Finally another butterfly and this time one I had never seen before, the Dingy Skipper and in my opinion looking not at all dingy.

Dingy Skipper

Well that's all for now except to say that on the 23rd of May I heard my first Cuckoo of the year, they are so much less common than they used to be here so it was a real thrill to hear and get a brief glimpse of it in a tree just yards from me.

Until the next time...enjoy the beauty of Nature, wherever you are.