Wednesday, 31 July 2013

July's Wildflowers

 Spear Thistle : Rosebay Willowherb
Self-heal : Chicory

Yellow Sorrel : Pineapple Weed : Honeysuckle
Ragwort : Burdock : Hedge Bindweed
Common Mallow : Yellow Pimpernel : Nipplewort
Groundsel : Wall Lettuce
Lesser Knapweed : Yarrow

Continuing my series of spotting wildflowers on my route to the allotment and the school run.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

The White Horse of Uffington... and different butterflies!


Over the weekend we were in Oxfordshire to attend the very lovely wedding of our friend and neighbour. Before our long journey home, we went to visit The White Horse of Uffington. I've always wanted to see these hills, so it was a delight to walk them, all be it briefly. 


As you approach the White Horse, through the long grasses, you see Dragon Hill, where legend says St George slew the Dragon. The Dragon's blood apparently scarred the summit of the hill where there is a bare patch of chalk and nothing will grow.

Dragon Hill
Field Scabious
It's wonderful that the White Horse is completely accessible and not fenced off. It is carefully managed by The National Trust.
It's hard to make out which part of the horse you are looking at when you're next to it as it's so big. Interesting though to think how it was designed and marked out originally, especially as the best view you get is from the air!
Lady's Bedstraw
Tufted Vetch
Clustered Bellflower
This chalky environment is so different to the clay soils that I'm more familiar with back home. It was rather exciting to see so many different wildflowers that were quite unknown to me such as Clustered Bellflower, Lady's Bedstraw, Dwarf Thistle and Restharrow. There were also the familiar Harebells, Tufted Vetch and Birds-foot Trefoil.
And of course with different wildflowers come different butterflies! There were Marbled Whites galore and two varieties of Skipper. I have recently learnt how to identify Large Skippers from taking part in the Big Butterfly Count so it was wonderful to actually see one. Patchy patterning at the base of their wings is what to look out for! But the other type was smaller with plain wings. We get Small Skippers back home but this seemed slightly different so I wonder whether it was an Essex Skipper...?

Large Skipper feeding on Dwarf Thistle

Possibly an Essex Skipper or a Small Skipper...?
Chalk-hill blue feeding on Field Scabious
There is something quite magical about seeing a blue butterfly. I'm used to seeing Holy Blue's and occasionally Common Blue's but I think this was the first time I've seen Chalk-hill Blues. They were just beautiful, often in clusters basking in the sun on the chalky soil or feeding on the Field Scabious.
We all really enjoyed this little interlude in a busy weekend. It's always enlightening to explore a different part of the country.

Monday, 29 July 2013

A riverside walk

Llandrinio Bridge

As we are having a holiday at home this summer, I have planned a long list of walks and adventures to explore the local countryside. I'm really looking forward to this as there's so many places on our doorstep that I just haven't got around to visiting.
First on my list was to walk the Severn Way from Llandrinio Bridge to Welshpool. Much to the excitement of the boys we caught the bus (a rare treat) to Llandrinio to start our 8 mile walk back home.
Local landmarks, Rodney's Pillar and Criggion Quarry


The walk follows the River Severn which lazily meanders through this large flood plain. The walk is very easy going as it's flat. The path runs along an embankment so it was perfect with the boys to keep them safely away from the river's edge.


It was interesting to see the flood management systems in place to prevent towns further down the Severn from flooding. On a baking hot day it was hard to believe these parched fields would be submerged when the river bursts its banks.

The riverside wildlife was interesting. Son #2 spotted lots (27 to be precise!)  of newly emerged frogs crossing our path. I don't think I've ever seen so many Small Tortoiseshell butterflies in one day. A delight to see.


Green-veined White butterflies having a drink by the river

Great Willowherb

Purple Loosestrife

Lesser Knapweed

After stopping for the most refreshing cool drink in a very convieniently located pub on the way (we were so happy that it was open!) we followed the canal to complete our journey back home. 

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Our little butterfly meadow

On our way to the allotment, we pass an overgrown gate that leads into a steep grassy field. Last week we had a little explore over the gate as I noticed lots of wildflowers growing on the other side. The grasses and thistles had grown really long, in places taller than the boys which was a wonderful sensation for them!

We had a wonderful sense of discovery as we spotted lots of butterflies enjoying this wild bit of the edge of town. The field leads down to a main road and is opposite a busy garage. The garage customers must have wondered what on earth we were up to as we were weaving our way through the thistles joyfully exclaiming 'wow... look at that!' as we saw yet another wildflower or butterfly.
Enjoying the birdsfoot-trefoil, harebells, thistles, docks and grasses, were Small Skippers, Ringlets, Silver Y, Large Whites, Commas, Six-spott Burnets, Meadow Browns and I think a Common Blue. Son #2 enjoyed taking part in the Big Butterfly Count using the handy app on my phone!

Small Skipper

Six-spot Burnet Moth

It's been a fantastic discovery, and I'm looking forward to spending more delightful afternoons there sitting amongst the grasses with the sun beating down on our faces...

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Wildflower & Butterfly Count

I recently signed up to take part in the Wildflowers Count organised by Plantlife. After registering online, I received a Survey Pack in the post, which included a map of my allocated 1km square and a wildflower identification booklet which had photographs of the 99 wildflowers they want you to look out for. This was really informative and useful. You really don't have to be an expert to do this and Plantlife make it very easy for you to take part.
The idea is to plot a 1km route through the middle of your square, preferably on a north-south line. My square had a convenient footpath running through it, which then joined a lane. When I first looked at the map in the pack I had no idea where my allocated square was, as it was in an area I was unfamiliar with even though it was only a few miles away. But it did make it really interesting, exploring a new area and I was glad of the reason to discover some new hills!

My route generally followed field boundaries and hedgerows, going through small patches of woodland and following a lane with a ditch. Luckily the footpath was well signed, but we did have to negotiate a very inquisitive herd of cows!
The grassland was generally devoid of wildflowers. The hedgerows and verges proved the most prolific.
Meadowsweet : Brooklime          Great Plantain : Hemlock
Spotting a patch of Brooklime growing on the path alongside a ditch was a highlight as it was a new plant to me and has the most lovely little blue flowers. Most of the wildflowers are easy to spot as your eye is trained to lookout for them as you're walking, but it is the common, nondescript ones that you tend to take for granted that I had to be more aware of. We stopped for a picnic lunch near the end of the path and I realised I was sitting next to Great Plantain and Silverweed, which was on the list to spot and I had previously walked past them. This process definitely opens your eyes to what is actually around you rather than just what you notice!
Spear Thistle : Burdock : Lesser Knapweed
The survey wants to know the presence of any of the 99 species on the list, but there were several wildflowers on my path which weren't on the list, such as Spear Thistle, Burdock and Knapweed. It's funny how you become focused on 'collecting' species on the list and you get a little frustrated when you spot a 'good' wildflower that isn't on the list or it's outside of your 2m wide path! We parked just outside of the 1km square and son #2 spotted Agrimony which was on the list, but not in my square! Arghhh! I had to remind myself of the scientific purpose of the survey, a snapshot of plants in a randomly allocated place, not where all the best wildflowers are!
Another aspect of the survey is to record the wildflowers in a small plot in the centre of your 1km square. I'm going to go back and do this shortly to do a more thorough job, now that I'm more familiar with the area.
Meadow Brown : Skipper : Shaded Broad-bar : Silver Y
During the survey, we came across a good verge and field which had lots of butterflies flying around, so I did a quick recording for the Big Butterfly Count. This has just started and runs for 3 weeks where you record your butterfly sightings during 15 minutes. Again this gives a good snapshot of the state of our butterflies, especially important after last year's washout and the cold spring. We saw a Skipper which I don't often see and a Silver Y moth which the Big Butterfly Count are particuarly interested in hearing about. I was previously unaware of the existance of these moths, so I was delighted to spot one flying accross our path! Participating in these surveys does teach you a lot, I love it!

It was a great morning for all of us, the boys racing across the field on the way home. They were generally very patient waiting for mum with her clipboard, constantly stopping staring down at the ground! I'm looking forward to going back to 'my square' in the years to come, recording the wildflowers and seeing if there are any changes. Next year I shall do it in the spring and again in the summer to get a better picture of what's growing there throughout the season.
So thank you Plantlife for giving us an interesting dimension to our Sunday morning walk! Thank you too to wildflower enthusiast Celia for telling me about the survey (she also writes a great blog over at Purple Podded Peas).
Please excuse the poor photo quality, as I was too busy concentrating on spotting wildflowers and butterflies rather than photographing them!