Trips and Activities
Pupal case of a large white butterfly on our water barrel - one way or another, the occupant seems to have left.
Early morning walk - foxgloves in the hedgerow; a (sadly blurred) photo of a raven on a rooftop again; an - as yet - unidentified caterpillar but I have found a great website - http://www.wildlifeinsight.com/guide-to-british-caterpillars/help-with-caterpillar-identification/ which I am hoping will bring an answer. Webs carpeting meadow area... Ox-eye daisies are doing well at the moment and the sun seems to be giving them something to smile about. Worth looking for swollen-thighed beetles on them. The males have the swollen legs that give them their name. Tortoiseshell butterflies everywhere today, checking out the nettles for egg-laying opportunities. Best of the moth trap was eyed-hawkmoth. Not caught one for ages. Spectacular when settled but even more so when disturbed -it flashes two large 'eyes' to distract attackers.
The seasons are moving on and so is lockdown, allegedly. I hope everyone is getting out enough now to look for wildlife themselves - it may soon be time to finish the blog but for the moment...Young swallow - can tell by the muted colours, especially on the chin. Worryingly, this was the only one whereas usually we would see several. Hoped, after a poor number of returning adults, that there would be a good number of youngsters.
Occasionally, we have seen mink along the canal - an unwelcome invader. Found another tonight...signal crayfish, a killer of the much smaller British crayfish both through violent and viral means. First I have seen in the canal - a big one! About the length of my hand! Technically should have taken it out and killed it but I struggle with that - let's hope we have otters!
Think this is branching bur reed - had to look it up but always good to learn something new. Lily pads, too!
Yellowshell moth in a hedge at the visitors' centre. 7 badgers including a tiny cub and a big male at our regular spot tonight. Trying to identify a mystery bat sound as well
28th and 29th May
Sparrow chicks are investigating everything including the allium stems at the moment. Ladybird larvae hunting greenfly on an ox-eye daisy at school and an exercise in skimming the blanket of duckweed off the pond surface with the captive workforce exposed some pond residents we weren't expecting. Technically, newts shouldn't be handled without a licence but we removed them to a safe place for a few minutes for their own safety and then carefully put them back with the minimum handling. Interestingly, none of the children present, including the older ones, knew it was a newt, let alone a smooth newt and even my colleague had never seen one! Campion moth in the trap today and got an adult and three badger cubs along the canal tonight. The badgers are out early and look very hungry - think the hard ground may be an issue at the moment.
Morning walk - swallow sprucing up on the wires. A coal tit checking out the pine cones which were bigger than it was - look out for the small size and the stripe down the back of the head. Ox-eye daisies and clover flowering. Some form of spider with its ominous web - tickled the entrance with a piece of grass and had a brief glimpse of something quite large inside! Song thrush singing - easy song for the beginners as, although it changes its phrases every few seconds, it usually repeats each phrase a few times before it gets bored and tries something new. Coxcomb prominent moth plus notocelia trimaculana, one of moths which imitates bird poo. Some form of hoverfly that I am trying to get identified and larvae on a foxglove - checked foxglove pug, not that - could be hoverfly!
Great start to the morning as I heard a distant barn owl when I brought the moth trap in at stupid o' clock. After I had emptied it, I stopped for breakfast and got distracted by a flash of black and white - I was just in time to see a male great-spotted woodpecker sat on the back of a garden bench with one of the bigger, juicier moths that I must have missed.
The moth trap was productive with over 130 moths - quite a few orange footman. I have a theory that, as they feed on lichen on trees, they may have done well because of lower pollution during Lockdown. Also in the trap were: grey pug (proud that identified another difficult pug by myself); a minor species, probably marbled; large nutmeg completed the set.
Peacock butterfly gave great views...
Weevil going for a walk - I would guess vine weevil but that's because it's the only one I know.
Beautiful sunsets as ever and the bat spotter got to work. Last photo has a large bat in it that we think may have been a noctule but there was also a smaller unidentified bat operating at 20khz as well - not sure what that was. Also first Lockdown fox tonight.
On a hot day, we made the right choice by starting our walk in the cool of the early morning. Our first sighting was a male pied wagtail, looking for insects for its family amongst the cow pats - hope it washed them before it fed them to the babies.
Tortoiseshell butterflies were everywhere today - reassuring as they are nowhere near as common as they used to be. The caterpillar was a welcome sight - they start life in a communal tent spun at the top of the nettle plant. As they get bigger, they move away and begin to feed by themselves.
Harlequin ladybirds have the opposite trajectory to tortoiseshell butterflies, being very successful invaders. Although pretty, they have a bad reputation as they eat our own native ladybird species. In winter, they often clump together in a protective ball to hibernate, sometimes in houses or outbuildings.
The nettle plants are flowering at the moment and look extremely pretty with their frothy tassels. It also helps to separate them from their non-stinging relatives, the dead nettles.
Several bird species were active today, calling loudly to keep the family group together. Bullfinches proved too elusive to photograph but the young long-tailed tit in the picture finally sat still long enough to get a snap. The head pattern is very different to the stripy one of its parents.
Many of the barge-owners carry pets as passengers - it must take a lot of careful planning to decide when to let the cat out if you are going to move on that day!
The hedgerows were full of two things: dog roses and common whitethroats. The latter were loud and obvious with their scratchy, tuneless calls - often high up on hedgerows and trees.
The sheep seemed to be dropping a big hint to the farmer that they need shearing, hardly any were out in the sun but, instead, were following the shadows of the trees.
Pugs are never easy - these two looked kind of different - subject to confirmation, I think they are angle-barred and white spotted varieties.
The magpie nest at the top of the tall conifers in a neighbouring garden erupted into life yesterday. A local carrion crow has been checking them out ever since they built the, apparently heavily-fortified, roofed structure. During the afternoon, it staged a raid, trying to get at the nearly fledged youngsters. The magpies put up the expected stiff resistance but the crow was too muscular and bulky. The cavalry arrived in the form of 30 jackdaws who have their own nests nearby. What followed was like a scene from the Hitchcock film with the trees swarming with birds but the crow was determined to tough it out. Eventually, it emerged with one of the chicks and despatched it in the fields next door, still being hammered by the black cloud of jackdaws.
Walk today brought 7 male mandarin ducks sat together but they flew off before I could take the photo! Also had the moorhen formation diving team surprise me again - this time a chick disappeared with a plop and swam the whole width of the canal underwater.
Nice to see an unusual clump of ragged robin next to the canal and a common whitethroat on a wire gave me a chance to show the brown back and uneven chin stripe that separates it from the lesser.
Now you see it...(peppered moth in both pictures, honestly!). The peppered moth is famous as it has a dark and a light form. In highly polluted areas the dark form is commoner so that it can hide on soot-covered trees. In the Industrial Revolution, the dark form became much commoner!
Dark sword grass was a good catch - a migrant moth that probably came in from somewhere in Northern Europe.
The baby sparrows - actually triplets - are trying to keep a low profile!
Heard a few reports of cuckoo along our regular walking route, something I haven't heard for years locally. Sadly, it's staying quiet when we walk! Grey clouds still allowed some stunning shafts of sunlight through tonight. Finally caught up with some local badgers, two cubs and an adult! A friend sent me a picture from the Melton Mowbray Neighbourhood Watch, believe it or not, who had found a very large moth fitting the description of a privet hawkmoth on some garden furniture (bit jealous as I have never even seen one). I managed to identify it and I assume the police helicopter and a dog team did the rest!
The baby house sparrows are out. Several in the garden today. Lupins and aquilegia flowering nicely. Moth trap was humming last night and not just because of a couple of wasps in . Over a hundred moths of about 50 species. Clouded silver and small magpie pictured. Cockchafer beetles are harmless but a little unnerving when you find them in the trap. Three mystery moths to work on but thistle ermine is more distinctive with its black spots on a white background. Treble-lines - fairly obvious how it got its name. The herald is one of those moths you always want in the trap - very beautiful and looks as if it should have been out in the Autumn as it looks more like a fallen leaf. Argyresthia trifasciata is almost invisible to the naked eye but its shiny golden scales catch the eyes. The first of the grass moths is out - crambus lathoniellus and I got the shock of all shocks when I found this spider in the house this morning! That's a big lid it's sat on - that's all I will say! Wondering how the boat got there since last night! Same could be said about the pine cones!
Strange morning in the school garden today. Heard a familiar call in an unusual location. Loud insistent kleep-kleep-kleep sound. Just managed to see it before it disappeared - oystercatcher. Within a few minutes irritated crows alerted me to a low-flying heron and, as I watched it, a cormorant flew in the other direction. Weird list. Thought I had a merlin yesterday as well but couldn't prove it.
Small but beautiful aethes smeathmanniana in the moth trap - second night running that I have touched 100 moths and over 30 species.
I've had a mission at school over the lockdown. Nature has been fighting back in the garden so, every week I have been in, I have got there half an hour earlier every morning and dug out part of the path or weeded one of the raised beds. Didn't feel like it was working at first but now, suddenly, it's beginning to look good with the first picture showing the bit that hasn't yet been done and the second showing the bit that has! Goes to show that every little helps and that big things are achieved by little actions. Elephant hawkmoth in the trap this morning along with flame shoulder. Flies swarming over the canal again. Injured Canada goose has lost contact with its flock but seems to be surviving. Green woodpecker and a peeping rabbit. Nature also seems to be taking back the rails as at Shenton station. Lovely sunset yet again.
Large poppies in the garden started to emerge this morning but still had a silly hat on early on. Good night for moths - 2 gold spots, 5 pale tussocks, scalloped hazel, setaceous Hebrew character, a moth that needs a little more research, the neatly camouflaged pale prominent, poplar grey, and a plum tortrix (another bird poo mimic). Flag irises have just erupted into life and we were introduced to some furry and very energetic friends by one of the barge owners. Duck on a roof and an unusually photogenic garden spider.
Close to, even the drabbest moth can look pretty - agonopterix arenella. Rustic shoulder knot; white ermine and buff ermine; solitary bees at work. Both stems are from the same plant (Purple toadflax) in the last photo - looks like the lower one has been virused which has made the stem broad and flat. Quite a surprise when I found it!
Willow warbler singing beneath a 'mackerel' sky this morning near Ambion Wood.
Finally got a picture of one of my favourite birds - lesser whitethroat - today. They are quite common along the canal but sing from deep inside the hedges usually. This one gave us just enough of a peek to get a shot. Third picture is the common whitethroat from yesterday as a comparison. Common has browner back and less defined contrast between the head and the throat. Lesser is much greyer. Best way is the song however - worth learning.
Mystery for birders here. A lot of mallard in the adult here but what else is in the mix? Aylesbury ducks are usually bulkier so I wondered if it was something else? Pretty certain it's not just a white mallard as they don't usually have yellow ducklings! My walking partner thinks all ducklings should be yellow - think someone took away her rubber duck as a kid - got to admit they were cute though!
Seems like even the postal workers are finding lockdown hard to fathom. Most people think that the road sign below is for a school but actually it's warning that me and my wife may be walking in the road ahead!
The Yorkist rose is flowering at Bosworth Visitor Centre - although it has blush of Lancastrian about it! (And some greenfly if you look really closely!)
More unusual moth this morning - orange footman. Male blackcap singing in the neighbour's garden and taking a bow!
Common whitethroat singing as we walked down the lane towards the canal this morning. Leaf miners and galls betrayed presence of hidden insects that I can't even begin to name. Best of the day was the mother mandarin with a dozen youngsters. Fields nicely mown! Black medick carpeting the grass in front of the church at Shenton - can't find the origin of the name - strange one for a yellow plant. Amphibian in the road...but it got 'toad-away'. Silverweed has been catching our eye for a while but has now started flowering. First of the cuckoo spit, named because it traditionally appeared when the cuckoos returned. It's home to the young, soft-bodied froghopper. When it is older, its body hardens and it is capable of jumping quite a distance. At the moment, it's relying on its unappealing frothy home for protection from the sun and predators. Shepherd's purse has beautiful heart-shaped seed pods and the poppies are coming too.
Quieter day - the sun has been out and more insects about. The solitary bees have been extremely busy again; it's been fun watching them visiting the cultivated blackberry plant in a pot outside the patio doors for pollen and taking it back to the bee boxes. Evening walk brought the usual suspects. We've noticed that our group of hares favour a part of the field where the sun hits in the evening, obviously enjoy the warmth. The mandarin was back. The ducks are particularly keen for handouts which we usually resist. We even had the moorhen whose leg I photographed race about twenty metres down the towpath to get to us. Photographed its foot as it's quite interesting in a water bird - very lightly webbed with long toes which spread its weight so that it can step across floating vegetation without sinking. Brief view of green woodpecker. Fewer bats tonight.
Sitting down on the job - sadly, our third robin has lost use of one leg and is having to lie rather than sit but, hey, it's a sunny day with nothing better to do! She has taken to sitting with us when we sit out in the garden. It's like a dog! Young robin is now learning the art of human training. Time for a bath as well.
With the property market now reopening but recession looming, looks like everyone is going to have to downsize!
Watch out - it might sting! Fortunately, its one of our solitary bees which have been unbelievably busy today...
DOES IT look big in this? Did you see its neighbour having a crafty peek in the second photo? Actually, it's layering mud around the inside of the tube to encase its eggs. Foxglove may be just what it's looking for - anthers covered in pollen and a runway strip painted out for approach! Other insects doing much the same like this small bumble bee. Nomad wasp sunning itself on a wall.
Silhouettes - spot the bat competition on picture 2.
Members' news: female blackcap sadly flew into window.
Bit of a shock for the jackdaws this morning - there's a new tough guy in town. Rooks very unusual in our garden and, by the look of the jackdaw in the picture, it would like it to stay that way. Mind you, the jackdaws are terrorising the sparrows and starlings in the boxes on the front of the house and we are woken each morning by the distressed calls of the mother starling as the jackdaws try to raid the box. Saw a jackdaw battering a chick this morning but not sure where it came from. No surprise that the juvenile blackbird is playing hide and seek in the plant containers. It now has me fully trained into bringing it mealworms by peering hungrily through the patio doors. Interesting fish kills on the edge of the canal recently - second one we have seen with heads chewed off. There are cats around; apparently otters eat the bit behind the head . Mink is also a possibility. Found the green-veined white resting by the side of the path and the mandarin nearby. Beautiful sunsets again. Yet another tawny owl flew across the road in front of us as we neared the house tonight. Big find of the day has swifts - had at least 4 amongst the sheep in a nearby field and one over the house. Possibly heard house martins as well - not sure.
Grass quiz tonight for those of you who attended the excellent grass identification course! I, however, have forgotten everything I learned so need to go away to do some research! larvae on nettles - think they are a sawfly but will keep an eye on them. Reed bunting back in its natural habitat with its very poor singing! Not noted as a songbird. At school, we would ay that it "lacks ambition!" Unlike the rabbits at the visitor centre which are having some very ambitious families in the absence of people.
Quiet night for the wildlife tonight - probably too cold. The insects had definitely vanished. Nothing in the moth trap this morning. First young moorhen on the canal, much later than the mallards who have broods of all ages on the go. My partner in crime spotted the beautifully concealed muntjac I had missed by the edge of the canal. It only wandered off when we were directly opposite. Beautiful light, enough for Action Man to go fishing. Surprised how fast the ash flowers have turned into the keys.
Moth fest last night - small rivulet, lime-speck pug, sandy carpet, water carpet, tinea trinotella, red twin-spot carpet, lime hawkmoth, poplar grey, spectacle moth (bet you can't guess where the name came from!), maiden's blush, Chinese character (the ultimate bird poo impersonator), pebble prominent, scorched wing and swallow prominent - 94 moths of 45 species last night! Sexton beetles are a common visitor to moth traps - not pretty and covered in mites. They are named because of their habit of finding a dead rodent or bird and excavating underneath it to bury it for their young. They often have a prettier orange and black form. The robin was trying to help with emptying the moth trap! Raven on a roof during our walk this morning and a wych elm leaf.
news: keep your eyes to the skies as a white-tailed sea eagle has been spotted over Diseworth today. Recently one turned up at Rutland Water. Released birds from the Isle of Wight keep popping up all over the place so it may be one of these birds.
Moths were spectacular today - poplar hawkmoth is pretty amazing in both size and shape; cinnabar moth's black and red costume to warn predators it is poisonous is very distinctive in the moth trap whilst the waved umber's camouflage is superlative...wouldn't, inexplicably, prove it by resting on a tree trunk though! Common marbled carpet can be a nightmare to identify as it is so variable but the reflected C shape below the thorax is usually present. The group of moths that have chosen to look like black and white bird droppings are hard to separate at times but this one is easier with its little yellow nose - notocelia cynosbatella. The bird poo approach is very effective though as they are often the last ones standing in a moth trap when you have an avian air raid - obviously birds avoid eating their own mess! Pugs as problematic as ever - common pugs were numerous but the mottled pug and ochreous pugs pictured were nice additions.
We took an early morning walk today - which proved to be a very good idea - got good views of nuthatch, great-spotted woodpecker, willow warbler, common and lesser whitethroats and bullfinch. Took some great photos of all of them but anyone who knows me knows that I have a weakness with memory cards - it's better to put them in! Took me a time to realise! (We call it a PICNIC - Problem In Cameraman, Not In Camera!)
Love was in the 'hare' today - saw 5 in total including 3 males in a row chasing a female who occasionally stopped to box a few ears. The female eventually popped out on the towpath to escape them and headed our way but stopped when she saw us and went back into the field - she managed to throw off her admirers and left them zig-zagging across the fields looking for her including one which not only passed within a few feet of us (wish I'd had a camera card!) but then circled a bemused heron standing in the field!
7th - 8th May
Robins always get the starring role on Christmas cards in the mistaken belief that they are angelic little blighters but they can be quite feisty. We have three in the garden at the moment, one too many if you are the resident pair. Feathers have been flying - robin number three is very persistent as robin number 1 and robin number 2 have been discovering, Robin number 2 has been trying to feed robin number 1 mealworms which suggests that the latter is a female. But Robin number 1 is too busy chasing robin number 3 (still following?) which means that it too is probably a female, trying to edge in on the territory's male. Who needs EastEnders?
Tree flower spike (raceme) caught my eye last night - think it's a sycamore. Sunset was spectacular again. The first decent moth trapping night all year - 23 of 16 species. Green carpet, garden carpet, foxglove pug and swammerdammia combinella amongst them. White-tailed / buff-tailed bumble bee queen got itself trapped inside - quite a job getting it out again!
Swallows along the canal tonight and both pipistrelle and noctule bats on the bat detector. Green woodpecker as we set off.
Had a day off walking yesterday after a hard day at work but the great thing about wildlife watching is that you can do it anywhere. Red kite a little closer at school, comma butterfly in the school garden and starling in our nestbox when I got home.
Moon spectacular tonight. As were the flies - do not adjust your set or ask me to clean my camera - those really are clouds of flies, gnats of some description as far as I could tell! Millions - I exaggerate not! Swallowed a couple! Robin was on lookout and red clover, common vetch (I think) and allium have joined the party
Ok, it's a crow but it's had a significant part to play in our evening walks. It has a nearby nest but whilst its mate is sat on it, it tries to roost in a tree by the road we walk back up into the village on...and every night, we disturb it and it flies out to the telegraph wires / pole nearby and sulks until we've gone! Recently, it's worked it out, as crows do, and delays bedtime until we go past - smart bird!
Got a feeling rats were not the target species of this person's bird feeders! Hares - as ever - were playing hide and seek in the field. Also today - first swift whilst I was on playground duty - should really watch the kids rather than look up into the sky! Hobby crossing over the road near Sutton Cheney as I drove home.
Obligatory Moon shot!
Members' news: cuckoo heard in Newbold Verdon 3rd May pm
Great-spotted woodpeckers and a leucistic (pale) jackdaw - Market Bosworth garden.
Turned the day round today with an early morning walk instead of an evening one. Moth trap produced a couple of muslin moths and the large caddis photographed - stenophylax permistus. The goldfinches locally have found a novel way of providing the grit they need for digestion. In the 14 years we have been in the village, they have gleaned the mortar from an old building next to the road. They have used it for so long, the bricks are almost entirely exposed - hope they don't fall out one day. It's only one particular area of the wall they use so it really stands out from the rest of it. The cows were particularly photogenic today - they even fancied a little taste of human - let's hope it doesn't catch on - and we had a brief view of the pictured water vole trying to sneak past us under the metal edging of the canal. Birds were singing everywhere - the song thrush is one of many we heard, a good sign for a declining species. There is one on the edge of Ambion Wood that is doing a passable buzzard impression in the middle of its song. Common whitethroats were very active, joining the dozens of lesser whitethroats which seem to be everywhere (see very poor picture of one at the top of a distant bush!). Other warblers were blackcaps, willow warblers and chiffchaffs. The swallow pictured was playing with a feather when we found it. It was flying up with it, dropping and then recatching it to attract the attention of a nearby female. It seemed to have worked by what happened next! The heron was taking the same stroll as we were. Close up of lichens is always worth a go - it was almost as yellow as the marsh marigolds (both pictured). Spent a lot of time photographing the foxtail grass - the second picture is the explosion of pollen when you tapped it - sorry hay fever sufferers! The slightest breeze made it send off what looked like a pall of smoke. Plantain (pictured) is in flower and the reflections of the canal were amazing. We also saw a male mandarin, a local speciality. 6th photo is a mystery plant - any help appreciated!
Male sparrowhawk in the garden tonight.
Beautiful evening. Hare was a little more obliging tonight. Moon was beautiful as was the sunset and, in the fifth picture, if you look carefully there's a rare species called a plane! Best moth of the day was a buff tip - it has an amazing resemblance to a broken silver birch twig - see if you can find it in all three of the last photos!
The problem with writing nature notes every day is that things don't always change fast enough to give you enough to write about and photograph! The bonus is that you start to look smaller - like moss on the front wall! Really alien-looking close to...and, no, I can't identify it to species!
You also start to take an interest in pigeons - not racing them (they're too fast, you'll never beat them!) but identifying them! Collared dove and stock doves in the garden plus a woodpigeon showing why pigeons are reputed to have a great sense of direction and homing instinct!
In the garden, honeysuckle is flowering, small snails are trying death-defying climbs up glass doors and chaffinches seem to be back in the garden after going missing lately. A pair today.
The walk provided us with briony, twisting through the hawthorns, a beautiful rainbow, mistle thrush, the pale common buzzard again and red campion...
Followed by a beautiful moon and a warm welcome home!
I always think on days like this - "If there's been a shower, you've got an hour!" Sadly, our walk was slightly longer so we got wet at the end! The start was promising with the hint of a rainbow shortly after we started off. The insects pestering us were a sign perhaps that the rain was going to come again but the swallows chasing them soon distracted us. The pale buzzard was back, to the annoyance of the local crows, but it seemed more interested in hunting for worms than anything bigger in the middle of the hare fields. Even the local hare wasn't too bothered by it. 5 slightly distressed-sounding ducklings appeared without an adult but then a female with a very timid youngster appeared. What was strange was that the duckling keeping close to her was a lot smaller and it seemed possible that the older ones had adopted this female who herself seemed to have been a little unlucky with only having the one chick. Two herons flew over and we later found one that had probably been stalking along the edge of the canal, quite unusual around here. The muntjac was in the usual place. Not quite sure what type of buttercup we photographed (creeping?) - sure someone will let me know! At least one reed bunting is still coming for snacks in the garden - not sure what his other half thinks he's doing!
After yesterday's rain, today's gloominess was actually almost a relief. The garden is beginning to look at its best despite being a little battered by the precipitation. Found a goldfinch nibbling the first dandelion heads by the side of the road. The blossom was shaken from the trees by yesterday's weather - seems to have been more of it this year if the amount on the ground is anything to go by. Focused on flowers tonight as the birds seem to be busy elsewhere, except for lesser whitethroats which seem to be everywhere along the canal. Herb Robert is often considered a weed in the garden but is one I hate pulling out as, close to, it is a lovely flower. Apparently, it was once believed to cure nosebleeds, headaches and stomach upsets and was used as a mosquito repellent. It is a kind of crane's bill as the seed pods look like the beak of that bird (seed pod next to the flower in the picture if you want to check!); the hawthorn is now flowering with a heavy scent - always seems to wait for the blackthorn to finish so it doesn't have any rivals! Ivy is also budded up and the canal edges are dotted with what I believe to be bush vetch (open to corrections). Dandelions (named after their toothed leaves in French - dents des lions, although they have some other very interesting old names based on their diuretic properties - not repeating them here!) offered some great opportunities to photograph their seed heads - people should really get a goldfinch's eye view of them from time to time. A couple of pheasants entertained us with some bantam-weight boxing. Conkers are entering their first stage of development as the flowers are now standing, candelabra-like, amongst the branches of the horse chestnuts.
26th and 27th April
Forrest Gump once NEARLY said that a moth trap is like a box of chocolates - you never quite know what you are going to pull out of it. The last couple of days have been more of a selection box than a tub of toffees with some nice moths. Yesterday brought a waved umber, an incredible moth that looks exactly like a slither of wood. However, my beautiful photo of it suffered a terminal issue when I put it onto the computer and it disappeared for ever! Will hopefully get another soon. In every box of chocolates you get the Bounty bars and the Snickers, the ones nobody seems to want. In a moth trap, it's the pugs! Pug ugly? Not quite, but a little drab and irritatingly similar. Even the experts sometimes struggle. I had 4 types last night - double-striped (fairly easy), what I think is an oak-tree pug and a currant pug, (all pictured in order). I also got a common pug. Brimstone, the yellow one, is very common and easily ignored but take a good look again - it's stunning! Yesterday, a red admiral joined our list of garden butterflies, sunning itself on the ivy. The goldcrests are building in the garden, having toyed with the fir tree across the road. They were carrying nest material as big as themselves, not easy when you are the smallest British bird. There is a constant high-pitched diddly-diddly-diddly-dee call from their chosen home. Reassuring for my hearing ability as it is often the first call birders lose!
The hares were hard to find tonight as a tractor in a neighbouring field seemed to be worrying them. It's also possible that the females are trying to keep a low profile to avoid attracting unwanted attention to young leverets. The grass is getting quite long so sometimes you can just see the tips of their ears. One, however, hadn't got the memo and was lying low (badly) in the middle of an open field closer to the towpath.
The final picture is a sign of the times! Literally.
Speckled wood butterflies have been annoying me recently! They flit through the garden without stopping so that you can't get a photo for love or money. This morning I was complaining about that very thing as another shot past, only to have the pictured specimen land on the lawn! The camera was just short of touching it! Muslin moth in the trap this morning. A beautiful male. Very rarely catch the white females! Don't understand why.
Blackcap and first lesser whitethroat of the year singing very close to our garden. Lesser whitethroat song has the rattle of yellow hammer without the 'cheeeese!' sound on the end. An alarm call alerted me to the presence of a bird of prey, I was just in time to see my first hobby of the year streak past. Within two minutes, I spotted a dot in the sky...the binoculars revealed it to be a peregrine, heading high towards Bosworth. Not surprisingly, soon after, a small flock of pigeons hurtled in the opposite direction! Added to the sparrowhawk and buzzards flying over, four birds of prey in a day - who said you couldn't birdwatch from your garden!
Evening walk brought germander speedwell flowers (pictured). Congratulations to the person who created the pine cones into a heart - it brought a smile to our faces. The bird of prey theme continued with a kestrel and one hooting tawny owl and another that seems to spend every evening being mobbed by blackbirds. The Moon towards the end of the walk was beautiful and Venus was showing above it. Only a couple of hares tonight. The duckling groups are, sadly, beginning to diminish one by one! Highlight of the night was possibly our second lesser whitethroat of the day and a good show of pipistrelle bats (we had the detector tonight!).
Two new moths for the year - a battered oak nycteoline and a yellow-barred brindle. Squirrels have featured quite heavily in my day today. First of all, one ran in front of me on my way to work and proceeded to zig-zag down the dotted white line in front of me in an attempt to throw me off! I, meanwhile, was gripping the steering wheel, screaming at it to climb a tree before I hit one! Fortunately, it ended well for both of us. When I parked on the school playground, I saw a neighbour taking her dog for a walk. She was entirely unaware that a squirrel, disturbed by her pooch, had thrown itself onto the trunk of the nearest tree and was plastered, spread-eagled and koala-like, on the trunk out of sight! I was also greeted by the calls of nuthatch and green woodpecker and treated to a brief glimpse of a great-spotted woodpecker flying past. Whilst I was working in the garden with some children, I was lucky not to decapitate a smooth newt that was hiding in the grass on the path I was trying to liberate. Both yesterday and today, we were amused to see a jackdaw sat on the backs of the cows across the road, casually pulling out chunks of loose fur for their nests. The cows looked very unperturbed, perhaps even blissful, about the whole thing!
A very hot day after a cold start - only a couple of Hebrew character moths in the trap but a common green shieldbug on the trap cable (pictured). At work we had a fly past by the one of the resident red kites, more or less a daily occurrence although they are more obliging than the one today which soared to height and vanished very quickly. I set about tidying the school garden and faced the dilemma of 'when is a nettle, not a nettle?' Pictured side by side are stinging nettle and white dead nettle. Very hard to tell apart at first glance, although easier at the moment because the latter is flowering. Didn't always get it right today though - ouch! The fun-guy from last night was identified by a more knowledgeable friend - it was, bearing in mind the date a St George's mushroom - so named because it emerges around this very special national day! It's allegedly edible but I won't be trying!
Nil by moth today. Finally, back to doing an evening walk. The number of ducklings is increasing. Cute bunch. Fun watching them huddle as we approached but, by the time we returned, mum had got them back under control under her wing. Flowers beginning to catch the eye with cowslips, bluebells and white dead-nettle enjoying the warm days. A patch of blue and white flowers made us look more closely but they turned out to be the same flower - forget-me-not. Willow is also in flower and at least three types of warbler were singing. Beautiful sunsets and dozens of bats flying. Finally, a fun-guy, although he looks a bit glum, maybe?
Work meant no walk and out all day yesterday. Today similar with click and collect replacing the evening exercise so just a couple of moths - early grey and a brown housemoth that I found on the wall inside today. Was going to go into the things that it eats but fear that would lead to the wholesale destruction of the species in the local area!
Interesting day with three ravens and a buzzard (pictured) over the house. Small white butterfly (pictured) and first speckled wood of the year in the garden. Well done to the mother mallard with 11 ducklings we found on the canal this evening (1 missing in the picture). A certain someone near to me suggested a pooh sticks game which involved guessing which duckling would pop out of the other side of the bridge first - I chose one of the small, brown fluffy ones!!! Blackcap finally posed for pictures and we had five hares in the same field, two involved in a chasing game. Briefly got the tawny owl from a few nights ago to reply to my owl impersonation but it soon rumbled me. Loads of bats as ever. Oh, a rose stem took a fancy to my hat and pulled it off my head!
A grey, miserable start to the day with heavy drizzle didn't look promising but, eventually, the sky cleared enough for a soggy squirrel and its mate to emerge from their drey and bounce around the garden. They share an uneasy relationship with the magpies in the next tree despite having a lot on common - they're not universally liked, noisy and build very similar, roofed nests. Personally, I like them both. It turned out to be a good day for the crow family - we saw rooks, jays, magpies, crows and a raven during our evening walk (the chough stubbornly refused to turn up to complete the set!). The raven was being seen off by the crow, in fact: at low level, you really appreciate how big the former is - crows aren't small but they are dwarfed by ravens. The latter are easily spotted in the area now, usually drawing attention as they fly over with their distinctive, croaky cronk call, diamond-shaped tail, heavy beak and shaggy throat. Other features of our walk this evening were a set of twittering linnets on the telegraph wires, three swallows and three muntjacs (the most we've seen of either species so far) and finally managed a blurry shot of a blackcap.
Changeable weather today. Buzzard flew low over the house and got quickly 'escorted' off by the local jackdaws! Amazing ability to roll in the air and snatch with its claws almost caught one particularly brave jackdaw out! Common plume in the trap - a strange looking moth for those who have never met the plume family - they always look as if they have rolled up their wings like an umbrella on landing. The reed buntings, our humbug-headed little feathery friends are still here in numbers - 4 at the same time today. In the absence of an evening walk due to rain, only ornamental birds and tulips offered a photo opportunity and the rain on the window and moth trap! Ah well, at least the legs will get a rest!
The garden was more productive than the walk today - the warm weather brought endless butterflies - peacock, large white, green-veined white, restless orange-tips and, at last, a photogenic holly blue which finally gave me opportunities to photograph it rather than zooming off as I approached. Crab and edible apples are blooming - just in time for the mini-swarms of solitary bees gathering around their custom-made houses. I heard once that males hatch first and wait for females to emerge. Judging by what's happening in our garden, I would say that it is probably true with bees like the one pictured hanging off the front of the bee houses and our decorative bee pole, only breaking off for periodic skybattles with others and, today, even a passing orange-tip took a dusting-down! Camassia is emerging. The streamer moth, named after the streamer-like marks running away from the main band to the wing tips, is a beautiful moth but today I had the chance to see how its elaborate markings can make it blend in when it landed on a lilac branch. They seem to select the most appropriate part to disguise themselves!
The walk had the usual suspects but the best of the night was what appeared to be a second muntjac where we saw a slightly more impressive one a couple of days before.
Hebrew character (pictured) and common quaker in moth trap. Male blackcap singing in the garden in full view but eluding the camera at the moment. New moth for the garden if confirmed - dyseriocrania subpurpurella.
Beginning to fall in love with evening walks, a bit of a luxury in a normal working week! The early part of our walk is just before sunset and we are treated to the last strains of birdsong - willow warbler, blackcap, chiffchaff, song thrush etc and the calls of bullfinch and green woodpecker which we saw briefly flying overhead tonight. The biggest thrill of the night was the first ducklings, joyfully catching insects. The lambs are always worth stopping to watch, especially at dinner time! We found cuckoo flowers / lady's smock by the canal and, if you look as carefully as we did, you'll see the white eggs of the orange tip butterfly, cemented below the flowers (see photo). The late part of the walk has its own rewards - the growing twilight kick-started the hares into life, chasing each other around the fields; a tawny owl responded to a rather feeble impression of a wounded rat and swooped down in front of us before realising it had been tricked and disappeared again and we were surrounded by bats (mental note: take bat detector!). The reflections and silhouettes also gave uncountable photo opportunities. Magical!
Quieter day on the wildlife front at home - two buzzards and a raven were about the best I coul do for birds. The butterfly in the photo caused me some confusion but is a Spring male green-veined white. Apparently the Summer males have a single black dot on the wings, females have two and the Spring males have none! Something new I've learned - pays to research! Lots of insects sunning on the newly painted fence with bumble and solitary bees really active plus another bee fly.
Our evening walk was quiet at first but produced numerous hares, a single lapwing, 2 red-legged partridge and several bats. The evenings also produce a muted dawn chorus to test our birdsong i.d. skills. A couple of unidentifiable sounds may have been the sub-songs of common whitethroats - hopefully, we can catch up with them in full song soon. Lesser whitethroats are due too with their machine-gun rattle of a song - watch this space! A weird moment I've only witnessed once before: we disturbed a moorhen on our side of the canal; it dived and swam the whole width of the canal fully submerged - we could track it by the bubbles like an otter! Best of all was the barn owl we discovered hunting along the canal edges as we neared home.
Something strange happens in our garden every year - some time in the first 4 months a male reed bunting will appear, followed over time by others, generally all males as well. They stay until very early May at the latest and then disappear, not reappearing until the next year. No idea why this happens but, as of today, we are up to 6 males who are all beginning to look very handsome with their black and white heads.
Another thing to look out for are bee flies. Like a small ginger bumble bee with a very long proboscis, they fly low across the ground searching out flowers to hover hummingbird-like over, at least in the example I photographed.
The moth trap went out last night but was quickly deprived of its cover by the strong winds so got switched off - hopefully it will be calmer tonight!
Evening walk brought swallow (above the tree in the blue sky on the photo), 3 blackcaps, chifchaffs, a muntjac deer and a hare. Plants included bluebell, wych elm and cowslip. Also a small flock of fieldfares!
Water carpet in moth trap this morning. Fritillaries and primroses flowering well, tulips very photogenic. Lily beetle a less welcome visitor to the garden. Goldcrest singing in the conifers. If you're at a loose end and like insects, try: 1. making a sugaring solution - lots of recipes online; 2. pouring water on the ground on a hot day - I washed out our cold frame today and was quickly surrounded by hoverflies as shown in the last photo and previously had butterflies arrive; 3. make a solitary bee home with drilled wood or canes - lots about today looking for homes.
Lockdown Diaries: April 2020 - ??????
Obviously all of our meetings, indoor and out, have been postponed until further notice but it doesn't mean we can't watch wildlife on our own doorsteps! Here are some of our own highlights:
Spring is happening despite our absence from the countryside; locally, our first swallows have arrived and there have been reports by members of garden warbler and blackcaps. We have seen and had reports of willow warblers and there are many chiffchaffs singing nearby. Overhead, we have had red kite, ravens and a peregrine whilst along the canal we met 3 quarrelling mandarin ducks which even perched up briefly in some trees. I even had a weasel run out in front of my car on the way into work (me, not the weasel!).
A number of our members have reported the first butterflies: brimstones, tortoiseshells, orange tips, comma, holly blues and peacocks to name a few. Moth numbers are also increasing with common quaker, clouded drab, small quakers and others coming regularly to the traps now.
Celandines are flowering and red campion looks ready to explode into a riot of colour as well.
Water voles - our local stretch of canal near Dadlington seems to be heaving with these furry little creatures, perhaps, with fewer barges and dog walkers, they feel a little braver than normal but it seems to be impossible at the moment to walk the towpath without seeing at least three or four.
Buzzard: pale buzzard at Ambion caught our eye but was quickly joined by a darker mate - probably common! Nice sunset too!
Purple thorn: moth trap produced this little beauty...
Tawny owl: After a bit of a rat problem in the garden, an added bonus - two tawny owls!
Beacon Hill, 29th February, 2020.
Despite the best attempts of the Spanish storm with the unpronounceable name, a few hardy perennials turned out for this windy, and potentially wet walk to the top of a local landmark. The early rain subsided as we set off and the trees along the path offered us shelter from the cold wind and we were rewarded with sightings of nuthatch and a great spotted woodpecker on the feeders amongst the blue and great tits. Unfortunately, chaffinches under the feeders stubbornly refused to turn into bramblings.
Any form of animal life after that point seemed to be hunkering down against the elements and, instead, we focused on the bracket fungi, hazel flowers and emerging bluebell leaves until, just before the top, the calls of tits and a nuthatch stopped us. As we searched, one of our members spotted a treecreeper close by which gave us lovely views. The summit gave us even more impressive views over Loughborough and the distant airport as we caught our breath before descending by the sheltered path below the rocks. As an added the bonus, the sun came out, giving us a pleasant ending to the walk, rounded off with a trip to the café!
Bradgate Park, 23rd November, 2019.
Eleven members of the Society gathered at the Newtown Linford entrance to Bradgate Park for the final outing of 2019. Having enjoyed a very comprehensive talk on the ecology of Bradgate Park by Steve Woodward the previous week the opportunity to visit the park was not to be missed. Steve Woodward and Helen Ikin led the group around the park making sure the group saw all the hidden gems, even in the gloom of a very misty November afternoon. The trip was rounded off nicely with tea and cake at the Deer Barn Tea Room.
Altar Stones, 9th November, 2019.
A cold wintery morning saw a group of 9 members joining with the Leicester Fungi Study Group for a fungi foray at the LRWT Altar Stones Reserve. The combined group ably led by Richard Iliffe, Tom Hering and Ben Devine spent a few hours successfully foraying on both Altar Stones and the adjacent Blacksmith's Field reserves. The final report gave a total of 27 species identified on the Alter Stones reserve and 22 species identified on Blacksmith's Field reserve. A very interesting morning enjoyed by all that attended.
Kelham Bridge, 14th September, 2019.
A new reserve for some in the party, we had a great day exploring this small, but perfectly formed, site. The wildlife was accommodating, too. As soon as we entered the site, we saw kestrels quartering the area with a female blackcap charging up for a long journey ahead, gorging on the ripe blackberries in the hedgerows. Red admirals were ubiquitous as were the speckled wood butterflies. In the first hide, we soon picked up two green sandpipers and 3 snipe plus a very obliging kingfisher which perched in front of the hide. Numerous small finches and other birds fed in the trees including a female bullfinch. Near the second hide we picked up on a soaring peregrine and a couple of buzzards. The woods were less productive but we were criss-crossed in the adjacent meadow by southern and brown hawker dragonflies plus common darters.
Overall, we had a great day in the late Summer sunshine and discovered a great little reserve.
Butterfly Survey, Market Bosworth Country Park, 26th August, 2019.
On a roasting day, the prospects of finding butterflies in numbers seemed good. There were a few fears in the group that it may even be a little too hot with the insects, like us, yearning for shade. However, we were soon seeing lots of large whites fluttering across the grass, the commonest species of the day. Other whites included small and green-veined varieties. In the woodland, we encountered numerous speckled woods whose dappled wings perfectly mimicked the sunlight being filtered through the canopy of the trees and we had a few brimstones and red admirals, too. A single gatekeeper added itself to the list. The meadow area, planted by the society, was a sea of blue devil's bit scabious and alive with butterflies! In total, we recorded 15 common blue and 25 small tortoiseshell, a welcome sight as this once common butterfly seems to have declined in recent years despite the abundance of its food plant, nettles. What was also nice to note was the number of painted lady butterflies whose spectacular migration this year has added much colour to our countryside. We also recorded comma and peacock butterflies. A notable addition to our list came in the form of a bird, another declining species, when we chanced upon a small family group of spotted flycatchers near the bird feeder area. These migrants are probably gearing up for their return migration and were very busy flying out to catch insects before returning to the same or a nearby perch which is helpful in identifying this species. A great day was had by all and finished off with tea and cake at a member's house - a lovely way to spend a hot summer's day!
Moths and Brunch, Barlestone, July 21st, 2019.
Every year, a number of our group gather at the house of a member with our moth traps bulging with insects from the previous night and compare notes. We also have members who turn up to learn a little more about the joys of moth trapping. This year we had traps from 4 gardens from around the area which gives us the opportunity to compare catches for similarities and differences. All of us had good numbers of chrysoteuchia culmella, heart and dart and dark arches plus the whole range of footman species - common, dingy, scarce and the occasional buff. However, there were a few notable species with one trap containing a shark moth and a black arches. Common but eye-catching species included argyresthia bonnetella, elephant hawkmoth, buff tip, anania / phlyctaenia coronata, spectacle and phoenix. Although we didn't count, we probably neared 100 species and even got a young neighbour interested in being a potential moth trapper of the future.
Bosworth Country Park, Butterfly survey, 13th July, 2019.
At last, someone told the butterflies we were coming! Usually, we struggle for observations but, today, no such problem - in fact, it was very difficult to count the butterflies at times as they were so numerous.
The commonest species was the meadow brown with 72 recorded. Also common were the ringlets and small / Essex skippers in the grassier areas. Other species recorded were large, small and green-veined whites. Moths were also frequently encountered with chrysoteuchia culmella easily disturbed from the grass along with celypha lacunana. Six-spot burnet was also frequent. A pair of bullfinches added a splash of colour in the woodland.
Grass Identification Workshop, 16th June 2019.
The second event of the weekend. For this event eight members of the Society came together for a grass identification workshop led by Steve Woodward and Helen Ikin (also Society members). The day started with an introductory talk, followed by a trip to Bosworth park to collect specimens. Next time for an excellent lunch and then a practical session identifying the grasses. In total some fourteen species of grass were identified. An excellent day and many thanks are due to Angela Davies for organising the day, Angela & Melvyn Davies for hosting the day and Steve and Helen for sharing their expertise.
Bosworth Country Park, Walk, 15th June, 2019.
This event was supposed to be the second Butterfly Survey of the 2019 season. However, the weather conspired against us and we arrived to a cold, windy park, and the rain just beginning. So, rather than a survey we took a walk to the wildflower meadow where we were rewarded with excellent views of Common Spotted-orchids. So, a good event after all!
Bosworth Country Park, Butterfly Survey, 11th May, 2019.
The problem with butterfly surveys is that no-one tells the butterflies that we are coming! Despite many sightings in the gardens of the assembled spotters, the butterflies in the park were keeping a low profile! We did find a green-veined white in the wildflower area and a peacock butterfly made a brief appearance in the wood but, other than that, they were keeping their heads down on a showery day. However, the walk was enjoyed by all and we noticed that the orchids were beginning to peep through and were treated to some fleeting views of both male and female blackcaps. Chiffchaffs were also heard around the wood. Hopefully, the butterflies will feel a little more sociable at the next event!
Sherwood Forest, 13th April, 2019.
Sherwood Forest has recently been taken over by the RSPB as it supports a good range of unusual breeding species. Although it was a little early too find the redstarts and would require a bit of a lengthy diversion to Budby Forest to find the crossbills, tree pipits and woodlarks, we still managed a good number of species in the forest itself. The chiffchaffs and willow warblers were plentiful throughout the woodland as were blue, great, coal and long-tailed tits. Nuthatches were perhaps the noisiest of the locals and we were treated to some beautiful views of three treecreepers. Most people were particularly taken with the ancient oaks which looked almost like some form of sculpture amongst the phalanx of silver birches. We were also treated to a distant view of a roe deer. In all, the people with teh appropriate technology agreed that we'd clocked up about 4.5miles. Perhaps next year we will investigate Budby Forest in search of the rarer species.
Leicester City Centre, 24th March, 2019
Ok, so not your usual natural history trip but don't let appearances deceive you - cities have increasingly become a new home for wildlife and this trip did not disappoint with 30 species of birds plus a few mammals, insects and lots of plants and flowers. Our city safari started with a rummage around in Castle Gardens. Here, we found numerous of the commoner birds - blue tit, great tit, long-tailed tits, dunnocks, blackbirds. robins and wrens of course but also, more unexpectedly, some of the first Spring arrivals from Africa, chiffchaffs. The river added to our list with moorhen, mallards, Canada geese, mute swans galore, a variety of gulls and coots. Not so unexpectedly, the park and the riverside provided numerous views of brown rats and grey squirrels. More excitingly, a red kite gave us good views over nearby waste ground and the male peregrine was sat high on the side of the cathedral as a sparrowhawk soared overhead.
The plant list was also impressive, including: cleavers, shepherd's purse, dandelion, red dead nettle, ivy, groundsel, bramble, nipplewort, herb bennet, stinging nettle, daisy, pendulous sedge, stinking iris, broad-leave plantain, lesser celandine, foxglove, petty spurge, chickweed, purple toadflax, forget me not, green alkanet, comfrey, herb Robert, ragwort, snowdrop, bluebell, coltsfoot, ground elder, duckweed, ransoms, snake's head fritillary, hedge garlic, white dead nettle, sow thistle, yellow corydalis, buddleja, wood speedwell, yarrow, cow parsley, ribwort plantain, common wicklow grass, elder, burdock, butterbur, spear thistle, wood spurge, prickly ox-tongue and creeping buttercup.
This was an amazing adventure into the heart of the city and shows just how many species are pushing back against the tide of concrete we inflict upon the natural world - worth looking more closely the next time you are shopping!
Rutland Water, 16th February, 2019.
A group of 16 of our members attended, this, our first outdoor meeting of the year at the Egleton Visitor Centre. We hardly needed to leave the visitor centre as we recorded an extraordinary number of species from the upper observation area: pintail, green woodpecker, a very obliging stonechat, goosander, great white egrets, red kite and curlew to name but a few.
However, we reluctantly pulled ourselves away from this productive viewpoint and proceeded onwards spotting great-spotted woodpecker, goldeneyes and Egyptian geese on the way. But it was at lagoon 4 that we had our best sightings of the day in the form of ten smew, most of which were swimming close to the hide: the drakes (looking like floating Viennetta ice-cream) were as stunning as ever and a 'lifer' for some of our members but the little redhead females were equally delightful as they tirelessly dived for food.
Lagoon 3 offered close up views again of the great white egrets, which seem to be resident and proliferating on the reserve, circling with the little egrets and grey herons over the reedbed.
Having returned to the centre, we ate our lunches together and, then, those of us who were staying on continued to the other side of the reserve and were treated to distant views of a quartering barn owl. The 360 hide also gave us a great sighting of a beautiful flock of bullfinches.
A rewarding day was had by all and we clocked up an impressive 59 species (plus a muntjac deer).
Walk at North Farm, Shenton, 10th November, 2018.
Another favourite on the 'Nats' calendar: we were delighted to be invited once again for a walk around North Farm, Shenton, with Ros and Steve Smith who farm the land there. A wonderful refuge for wildlife of all types, we were especially pleased to have the opportunity to walk the new wetland area which was recently created. This incredibly rich creation has provided an unparalleled habitat for the area which has brought in new and varied species of birds with some good breeding success for some declining species. Although there were no real rarities on the day we visited, there were numerous good sightings of impressive species such as fieldfare, redwing, kestrel, yellowhammer, meadow pipit and skylark plus a few grey partridge for some. Brown hares were everywhere. Thanks again to Steve and Ros for letting us visit this amazing site.
Fungal Foray, Burbage Woods, 27th October, 2018.
An eternal favourite, this fungal foray, led by Richard Iliffe lived up to expectations. Having secreted our expert into a central position with a folding table and the cake supplies, we scattered in all directions to find hidden treasure in the woods. We weren't to be disappointed - the woodland was full of fungi of all descriptions. Soon, the table was (metaphorically, at least) groaning under the weight. Richard sorted the samples into groups, very helpful for us novices and, at the designated hour, we all returned to learn a little more about our finds. There were many of the commoner species amongst the 30 or so species discovered - one such distinctive species was rosy bonnet, well-named with its bright carmine-pink bloom. Smell is also useful in the foraying world - fragrant funnel offered us the chance to smell its beautiful aniseed aroma whilst its bigger cousin, the frosty funnel, offered a dramatic comparison with its smell of new-mown hay. Iodine bonnet, when dried in an enclosed box, we were told, has a smell only replicated by the smell of a doctor's surgery! Rancid greyling, as you would guess, was a less appealing fragrance.
A large branch brought to the table was covered with the dense yellow spikes of the small stagshorn to break up the more uniform greys (50 shades?) of most of our other finds. Other notable finds were the deer shield, leaf parachute and candlesnuff fungi. The full list follows: thanks again to Richard for his expertise!
small stagshorn, fragrant funnel, trooping funnel, frosty funnel, fairy inkcap, hare's foot inkcap, King Alfred's cakes, common tarcrust, russet toughshank, veiled poison pie, shaggy bracket, fiery milkcap, common puffball, leaf parachute, angel's bonnet, iodine bonnet, common bonnet, rosy bonnet, deer shield, dwarf shield, bay polypore, blueing bracket, red edge brittlestem, clustered brittlestem, psathyrella prona, butter cap, split porecrust, hairy curtain crust, rancid greyling, turkeytail, candlesnuff fungus.
Cossington Meadows, 22nd August, 2018.
You know it's Autumn when you see jays! You only hear their raucous squawking all year and then, suddenly, in Autumn they're everywhere. Cossington was no exception with these attractive crows everywhere - occasionally two or three at a time. We were taking this walk as a follow-up to Tuesday's excellent talk about this site by Chris Hill. The hedges were laden with berries including a buckthorn which set the botanists in our group scurrying for the i.d. books and a tall melilot plant which was new to all of us. Scentless mayweed was another welcome flower sighting. Birds also abounded with about thirty species seen in the day. Cossington is well-known for some of its rarer visitors, none of which showed their heads on this trip but waterfowl included: teal, shoveler (including in flight), gadwall, mallard and mute swan. Other water birds included lapwing, cormorant, little egret, grey heron and snipe whilst a kestrel and a buzzard hunted over the long grass. Great-spotted woodpecker, mistle thrush and bullfinch also made the list. There were few insects except for a large dragonfly (southern hawker?). The walk (and the post-walk snacks at Goscote Nurseries) were enjoyed by all. Thanks to Mary and David for leading it and to all those who attended.
Bosworth Country Park, Butterfly Transect, 11th August, 2018.
Despite a lack of sunshine, a good haul of butterflies - good numbers of whites (large, small and green-veined) with a single speckled wood. A couple of holly blues in the woodland were vastly outnumbered by their cousins, common blues, in the meadow area. Here, we also had a great time trying to distinguish between these and the brown argus also present. A single small copper was arguably the highlight of the day. Moths included pyrausta aurata, agriphila tristella, cameraria ohridella, silver y, straw dot and udea lutealis. Other species were: aulagromyza sp (leaf mine in snowberry), harlequin ladybirds, Southern hawker dragonflies, marmalade hoverflies, 7-spot ladybird and meadow grasshopper.
Moths & Brunch, 4th August, 2018.
This is another of our annual events, once a year we put moth traps out into members' gardens and then gather the following morning to identify the catch. This year nine members gathered on a bight but cool morning. Traps had been put out in four locations around Barlestone and Carlton and a good variety of moths caught. A good morning and thank you to Angela and Melvin for hosting the event and for some delicious bacon and sausage butties too!
Sutton Cheney, Bioblitz, July 13th - 14th.
Every year, a member of our group kindly opens up their garden to us to survey for the resident wildlife. This year we would like to thank Shelley for opening up her garden in Sutton Cheney.
The sun-hardened ground and dry conditions made it harder to find the local flora and fauna than usual but, fortified by tea and cake, we did our best. On the Friday evening, we started with a moth trapping session, returning on the Saturday morning to go through the traps. These were very successful with about 400 moths of 100 species, the best being dusky sallow.
We also had local experts on fungi, beetles and other small insects plus mammal trapping and bat recording. The hedgehog tunnel proved very successful with plenty of prints and some footage of these popular but struggling mammals. The results will soon be compiled and submitted. Thank you to everyone involved, especially Shelley for her hospitality and our guest experts whose knowledge was greatly appreciated.
Bosworth Country Park, Butterfly Transect, 7th July, 2018
One of our best butterfly transects yet - lots of whites (large, green-veined and small), commas, meadow browns, ringlets, skippers (large, small / Essex). Also plenty of moths with many silver Y, endothenia sp, chrysoteuchia culmella, crambus pascuella, burnets, timothy tortrix and Bactra lancealana. Birds were not so obvious with only a lone blackcap of note. Grasshoppers were everywhere with dozens bouncing away with almost every footfall. Horseflies were also sadly noticeable!
Gresley Woods, Glow Worm Walk, 22nd June, 2018.
We have many magical wildlife encounters during our outdoor meetings but none, perhaps, quite as magical as this one. We started our evening walking towards the Albert Village Lake listening to a garden warbler singing and watching a sizeable, and perhaps unseasonal starling murmuration as they settled into the reedbeds, disturbing a lone reed warbler with their rowdiness. One of our group even spotted a hobby flash across the water.
As it got dark enough, we moved across the road and were very soon treated to our first sighting of a glow worm. Glow worms are actually small beetles, the wingless females of which use bio-luminescence, a chemical reaction, to produce a bright green light which attracts a male as it flies over. As soon as they have mated, it's lights out! In all, we counted over 30 individuals.
Thanks to both Bill, our knowledgeable guide, and David and Karen for organising everything - a truly incredible wildlife experience.
Bosworth Country Park, Butterfly Transect, 16th June, 2018.
Windy and not that warm - not the best omen for a butterfly transect and there was not much to see as we set off. Moths were a little more obvious than their day-flying cousins - argyresthia trifasciata was our first observation along with a male swollen-thighed beetle followed quickly by a speckled wood butterfly. Small froglets, still with their tails, crossed the path where we had seen a huge number of tadpoles a month ago. Chiffchaffs and song thrushes were singing but there were no more butterfly sightings until we reached the wildflower meadows. There, we discovered a number of meadow brown butterflies and a few large skippers. A burnet moth and a few burnet companions soon made the list along with common blue damselflies. The flowers in the meadow continue to thrive with spotted orchids, yellow rattle and devil's bit scabious very abundant. A lone straw dot moth was also spotted.
Bosworth Country Park, Butterfly Transect, 12th May, 2018.
You can feel quite pessimistic about these transects when you start as we have had several visits that have yielded exactly zero butterflies. This one, however, started with a sense of more optimism as the weather was good and the temperature reasonably high. We soon spotted what was to be the first of many green-veined whites and an orange tip, followed by large whites. The darker butterflies were noticeable by their absence but we did add one or two speckled woods along the way and a nettle tap moth near the car park. Also near the car park was a four-spotted chaser dragonfly and an orange-tip egg on the flower of a lady's smock plant.
Birds were singing in earnest with blackcap and chiffchaff prominent and the first signs of plants such as orchid, yellow rattle and knapweed in the meadow.
Bagworth Heath Woods, 21st April, 2018.
A glorious morning saw seven members of the Society gather at Bagworth Heath for a walk around the reserve.
First stop was the lake where we spent some time watching the newly arrived Sand Martins busily exploring the specially created Sand Martin bank. Moving on we walked up though the woodland listening to, and looking for, Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps, all successfully seen by the end of the morning. At the highest point of the reserve we explored the heathland area, descending the far side of the hill to the second fishing pool where we could see many Common Carp in the water. Eventually we returned to the car park thorough the wood.
In addition to the 28 species of bird identified, we also saw 5 species of butterfly, Comma, Orange Tip, Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock. Yes, spring has definitely arrived! Thank you to Nick & Prue for organising the event and lunch afterwards at the Bricklayers Arms.
Sence Valley Park, 24th March, 2018.
The Sence Valley is a 60 ha country park belonging to Leicestershire County Council on a former colliery site near Heather. It was named by local schoolchildren and incorporates the River Sence, three lakes and large areas of trees including Corsican pine, larch and poplars which will provide an income when they are thinned after 20 years. There are also areas dedicated to broadleaf trees and a wildflower meadow which meant that there were a variety of habitats to explore on our visit.
The first noticeable thing about this trip was the bird song: song thrushes, great tits, blue tits, blackbirds, robins and many more were in full song whilst, on the lakes, great crested grebes, coots and a variety of other wildfowl were gearing up for the breeding season. From the bird hide and the path beyond, however, we had more notable sightings - willow tit, chiffchaff, goldcrest, buzzard, singing skylarks and, at the side of the lake opposite the bird hide, we had great views of male reed buntings and an unexpected flock of lesser redpoll.
Although insects are not yet fully on the wing, there were several sightings of bumble bees whilst celandines and coltsfoot punctuated the footpaths along with alder catkins and the first buds breaking on a variety of bushes - let's hope these early signs of Spring are not too premature with the forecast of more cold weather ahead!
Attenborough Nature Reserve, Notts, 24th February, 2018.
An amazing day! First of all, despite the cold weather, the sun shone all morning and the 16 people who attended were immediately treated to a fine selection of birds eagerly accepting hand-outs from visitors at the centre. Although this may constitute cheating in birding circles, it offered a selection of some more unusual wild / semi-wild species for those amongst us who were, perhaps, less familiar with them. Egyptian geese and red-crested pochard were the first to make the day's list amongst some commoner species. As we crossed the bridge near the centre, we watched gadwall and picked out other water birds when, suddenly, one of the group spotted a very relaxed and beautifully lit kingfisher sat on a branch below us, totally unconcerned by the dozens of visitors passing by. We watched it for several minutes, joined by other birdwatchers, including a very young boy who had just purchased his first pair of binoculars - not a bad first bird!!
As we moved on, it became quickly obvious that it was going to be hard to get all the way round as the birds came thick and fast with some stunning views - snipe, reed bunting, goosander, shoveller, wigeon, teal, grey heron, kestrel to name but a few. As we approached Tower Hide, a familiar call made us turn and we were just in time to see a raven sweep through.
The next hide slowed the pace a little with not much to be seen but a walk along the river in the Spring-like sunshine gave us great views of a great-crested grebe trying to swallow a fish the size of a shark, an endeavour it eventually gave up on! (Lucky fish!). As we watched it, we got a tip-off about the so-far elusive female scaup and, after a lot of searching, we found it, giving us a chance to compare it to the confusing female tufted ducks swimming with it. Two of us were even lucky enough to have the briefest view of a water rail scuttling past.
As we continued, we added small birds including goldcrest along with thrushes (song thrush, mistle thrush, fieldfare, redwing, blackbirds and some incredibly tame robins) plus an amazing couple of nuthatches, always impressive. The village offered us goldfinch and one brief view of a siskin.
By now, it was getting colder but still very bright and we were glad to get back to the centre for the usual post-walk refreshments. For those who sat outside, there was the additional bonus of the kingfisher darting past again and an oystercatcher. The total for the day was an incredible 57!!! A fantastic trip!!!
Draycote Reservoir, Warwickshire, 25th November, 2017.
The early morning snow which greeted us as we looked out of the window was not a good sign; nor was the freezing cold wind! But, by the time we arrived at this very accessible reservoir with a good path all the way around it, those of us who had braved the low temperatures enjoyed a good day's walking, chatting and birdwatching. It did not take us long to be distracted by wildlife - a female goosander shared the shoreline with a little egret (a bird which has spread its range so much now that, once uncommon - perhaps twitchable, it is now often disregarded because of the frequency with which it is seen). Other shoreline and water birds included oystercatcher, goldeneye. tufted duck, little grebe, great crested grebe, wigeon, teal and shoveler.
A beautiful kestrel perched on an exposed branch, giving us a great opportunity to enjoy its immaculate plumage and some blackbirds were joined by a redwing in a nearby field. The bird hide offered more of an opportunity for a coffee break than birdwatching but the tree lined path beyond produced a lot of small birds, the highlight of which was a stunning goldcrest.
The final stretch of dam on the far side produced more of the same as far as water birds went but three buzzards and a big flock of tree sparrows added to our day's list. By this time, the cold and the need for the facilities added speed to our journey and we piled into the excellent café for dinner.
For a couple of members, there was an added bonus. Having received a tip-off from the local bird recorder they had fortuitously bumped into in the foyer, they had managed to briefly locate the reported long tailed duck for which we had been hopefully searching as we wandered around. Sadly, by the time the rest of us joined them, it had vanished - all you need: a bird with a sense of humour!
Fungal Foray, The Outwoods, 28th October, 2017.
Everyone is interested in fungi but very few people have the confidence to identify them accurately. Our group, however, is particularly blessed in having the skills of Richard Iliffe to count on and it was he who was leading this foray into the Outwoods near Loughborough.
We were all relieved to leave the car park as a cutting wind was whipping across it but, as we descended into the woods, the trees screened us and we began to search for the fruiting bodies of various toadstools and mushrooms. it was not long before we found the first, soon identified as Clouded agaric by our leader. The clouded agaric is named after the colour of its cap which resembles the colour of a storm cloud and explains its Latin name of clytocibe nebularis. It was quickly followed onto the list by the abundant and distinctive sulphur tuft, and then the clustered bonnet and common earthball with its thick skin and black spores.
The finds continued to come in thick and fast as eager eyes scanned the ground and trees. Bracket fungi were particularly easy to find (the bracket group are a type of fungi which attach themselves to the trunks of trees, often forming a kind of shelf perpendicular to the bark) with the aptly named turkey tail featuring highly, its alternating light and dark bands looking just like the tail feathers of that particular bird.
Amongst the more dramatic finds were those fungi with more garish colouration - fly agaric (the archetypal red toadstool with white spots), the golden fingers of yellow stagshorn and the beautiful purple of amethyst deceiver. And, in the expert hands of Richard, some, otherwise less intriguing species revealed bizarre secrets - one branch on the ground was covered in a hard, ugly skin of fungus which, when scratched, began to 'bleed', red liquid seeping from it - this, Richard informed us, was bleeding broadleaf crust.
Most bizarre, perhaps, was the slime mould found on a fallen conifer branch. At first sight, it appears as an extremely unappealing jelly, our example being made up of bright orange spheres attached together like frogspawn. This strange organism defies categorisation, however, being neither truly animal or plant, beginning its life as a single celled micro-organism which can detect food sources but it then congregates with other others of its type and starts to move as a single organism hardening off to produce spores like a fungus. Incredible!
Thanks to Richard for his superb insights - everyone agreed that the day had been a great success and that they had a learned a huge amount. An excellent day!
Outing to Breedon Hill, 6th August, 2017
Our outing to Breedon Hill, led by Steve Woodward, was primarily to find plants but also offered those who had never visited, an excellent opportunity to explore the amazing church on the hillside that is so often just an eyecatching landmark from the A42. On arrival, we were struck by the potential the area around the car park had as a stop-off point for Autumn migrants with its high vantage point and larder full of elderberries. However, today was obviously a quieter day and little was stirring so we set off along the road down to the SSSI. Along the route, Steve pointed out interesting and unusual plants such as wild basil and we examined the difference between various hogweeds under eyeglasses. The plants, mainly being past flowering, needed careful examination but the list steadily grew. As we reached the SSSI, the scenery changed with grazed grassland and steep slopes becoming the order of the day. One of our party was lucky enough to see and photograph a spotted flycatcher and a white campion provoked a lot of debate as to whether it may have simply been a white version of the commoner red variety. Escaped stachys plants were a surprise and were obviously not on the menu of the small group of loaghtan sheep which originate from the Isle of Man.
After our walk, we were lucky enough to have within our group Andrew Swift, an expert on local churches, who gave a talk on the amazing history of the Church of St Mary and St Hardulph with its outstanding Anglo-Saxon carvings and incredible alabaster representation of mortality on the tomb of Sir George Shirley in the form of an extremely anatomically exact skeleton.
Thanks to Steve for his leadership and expertise on this trip and Andrew for the added bonus of the church tour!
Butterfly transect at Bosworth Country Park, 12th August 2017
On August 12th we conducted the last butterfly survey of 2017. The weather conditions were good and we had an excellent count recording 14 different species of butterfly. Peacock butterflies were the most numerous and, as usual, most were recorded at the Society’s wildflower meadow where Devil's-bit Scabious was in full flower giving an amazing display which is now extending into other areas of the County Park.
Outing to Brindley Heath, Cannock Chase, 29th July 2017
On a grey and slightly drizzly day a small but enthusiastic group of MB Nats members met at Brindley Heath, Cannock Chase for an outing. The group set off from the visitor centre to explore the heath and soon after setting off the weather improved to become a very pleasant day. The main target for the outing was to see the various members of the Bilberry family present on the heath; Bilberry, Cowberry and Cannock Chase Berry. Cannock Chase Berry being a hybrid of the other two and occurring only on Cannock Chase. We were in luck finding examples of all three.
During the walk we were also fortunate to see a good variety of birds including Whinchat, Whitethroat, Linnet, Raven, Buzzard, Green Woodpecker and Great Spotted Woodpecker. However, butterflies were in short supply as it never got sunny enough.
The walk finished with a pleasant lunch at the visitor centre café and a visit to the Brindley Heath WW1 exhibition.
Bioblitz, Spinney Hill, Market Bosworth, July 14th and 15th, 2017
This year's Bioblitz took place at Judie Buckell's garden in Market Bosworth. With its unique aspect onto an old woodland, it offered great opportunities to find something a little bit different, especially with the team of experts available. On the Friday night, two moth traps were set up along with trail cameras and several mammal traps. The moth were slow to arrive at first but soon the woodland yielded numerous carcina quercana a beautiful micro moth and a few of the more common species.
The following day, we all returned. Firstly, the moth traps were emptied revealing the following list:
- common rustic, scoparia species, dingy footman, udea prunalis, double-striped pug, uncertain, dark arches, copper underwing, light emerald, brown housemoth, small cnephasia species, silver y, blastodacna hellerella, blastobasis adustella, phoenix, large magpie, common footman, early thorn, rusic, yellowtail, scalloped oak, small dusty wave, large twin-spot carpet, crassa unitella, acrobasis advenella, peppered moth, psychoides filicivora (larval mines), barred fruit tree tortrix, carcina quercana, coleophora species, small fan-footed wave, bucculatrix ulmella (pupal case), agonopteryx heracliana, clay, willow beauty, common carpet, burnished brass, riband wave, dun-bar, chrysoteucha culmella, agapeta haman, Chinese character, straminella, crambus pascuella, bird cherry ermine, mother of pearl, buff footman, poplar hawkmoth, dark fruit tree tortrix and yellow shell.
The butterflies were slow to emerge but, as the temperature rose and the showers receded, the list increased:
- large white, small white, green-veined white, red admiral, small tortoiseshell, purple hairstreak in the treetops and holly blue.
Our fungus expert, Richard, recorded the following:
- Diplocarpon rosae Rose Black Spot garden rose on leaves of one plant
Erysiphe aquilegiae Powdery Mildew Caltha palustris plant in garden pond
Gymnosporangium sabinae Pear Rust garden pear tree rust spots on leaves
Melampsora euphorbiae Rust on Petty Spurge Euphorbia peplus rust spots on leaves
Trochila ilicina Holly Speckle fallen holly leaves
Uromyces geranii Geranium Rust Geranium phaeum on garden Geranium.
The bird list comprised of:
- house martin, jackdaw, woodpigeon, swallow, crow, magpie, goldcrest, robin, great spotted woodpecker, sparrowhawk, blackbird, swift, wren, chaffinch, goldfinch and greenfinch.
Insects and bugs:
- leiobunum rotundum (harvestman), stigmatogaster subterranea (centipede), cylindroiulus punctatus (millipede), claeon dipterum (mayfly), leptopterna dolobrata (meadow plantbug), deraeocoris flavilinea (bug), philaenus spumarius (froghopper), lassus lanio (leafhopper), eupteryx urticae (leafhopper).
The other lists are currently being compiled. Thanks to Judie for her hospitality and to all those people who gave up their time to find and identify as many animals, plant and fungi as possible.
Butterfly transect at Bosworth Country Park, 8th June, 2017.
The latest butterfly transect defied its reputation for having poor weather and few lepidoptera. Instead, there were, at times, too many to count. Overall, twelve species were recorded: Essex, small and large skipper; large and green-veined white; red admiral, comma, speckled wood, gatekeeper, meadow brown and ringlet. Other observations included: banded demoiselle, southern hawker, black-tailed skimmer, narrow-bordered five-spot burnet, ghost moth, vapourer moth larva, large yellow underwing and silver y moth. A very successful day - thank you to everyone who attended!
Yorkshire Weekend away, 23rd - 26th June, 2017.
This year, the weekend away was to Yorkshire. Based at the excellent Cober Hill Conference Centre near Scarborough which provided us with great meals, an easy walk to the sea, our own room for socialising in and, for the lucky ones, sea views, we spent an superb couple of days exploring the wildlife of this fascinating and varied region with our expert, local guides Richard Baines and Steve Race.
Our first visit, on the Friday evening, was to Harwood Forest to try to find nightjars. At first, it seemed that we were actually being taken there to feed the local wildlife, namely the midges and mosquitoes, but, soon, some more attractive insects appeared in the form of northern eggar (a huge spectacular relative of the oak eggar moth) and ghost moth. As these creatures and other nightjar bait rose from the heathland and darkness began to fall, we heard a quiet churring which grew in intensity and this was soon joined by others - NIGHTJARS! Eventually, we heard the distinctive flight call and were soon after treated to our first views as the birds flitted across the paths around us and over the heather. A magical experience, especially for those who had never met these enigmatic birds before. We even had a brief fly-past by one bird as we sat in the van waiting to return to the hotel.
It was a tired group of wildlife watchers who arose the next morning to a hearty breakfast but we were soon cheered by the hope of further adventures as we piled into our transport and headed to a raptor watchpoint looking across the Langdale Valley. Despite the multitude of optics trained on the sky, we saw only commoner species such as buzzard and kestrel, not the longed for goshawks and honey buzzard. In fact, the only early excitement came from a 'grayling' which actually turned out to be a speckled wood (er, sorry guys!) and a more dramatic horntail wood wasp which was strangely attracted to Pete's leg. For a man who has had previous issues with hornets, he showed admirable bravery as we took photos of this gigantic and imposing insect. Sadly, the hoped for raptors continued to play hard to get and we had to move on.
We arrived at Bickley Forest and walked down to the beautiful postage stamp of meadow at Deepdale searching for small pearl-bordered fritillaries. The meadow was packed with potential in the form of beautiful meadow flowers of a type long since lost to most areas through modern agriculture and construction. We very quickly thought that we had found our target species but photos proved that it was, in fact, the larger relative dark green fritillary. But, soon, we found the pearl-borders, too. A great reward after a long descent into the valley. Other plants included yellowort, square stemmed St John’s wort, fairyflax, common spotted orchid, bird’s foot trefoil, slender St John’s wort, rough hawksbit, fragnant orchid and common twayblade.
After dinner at the Dalby Forest Visitor Centre, we ventured on to the Ellerburn Bank limestone meadow. Along the paths, a variety of warblers such as garden warbler were singing as were tree pipits.The longed for adders and slow worms proved elusive but the fields made up for this disappointment with flowers such as fly orchid and twayblade, insects such as marbled white and hummingbird hawkmoth and a very photogenic common lizard. There were also distant views of goshawk and peregrine for some. Other plants included: hairy St John’s wort, enchanter’s nightshade, lily of the valley, columbine, field scabious, hoary plantain and woolly thistle.
After this, we travelled to Trout's Dale to try to find dipper. Although disappointed by the non-appearance of this species, we did have good views of grey wagtail, spotted flycatcher and, at last, a spectacular view of goshawk for everyone. We returned happy and tired to the centre.
After a slightly disappointing moth trapping at the hotel, we set off on our final morning to look at the kittiwakes and a lone but very obliging peregrine on the cliffs in Scarborough and the variety of auks in the bay. From there, we visited the amazing Bempton Cliffs SPB reserve with some of the group spotting a marsh harrier en route. The cliffs provided us with not only great views of gannet, razorbills, puffins and guillemots but an unexpected meeting with two members of the society who happened to be visiting on the same day! Small world!
Finally, we visited the meadows at the lighthouse at Flamborough Head. Burnet moths were everywhere, often fighting for position on the same flowers and we were treated to our third pipit species, rock pipit, plus a ruby tailed wasp.
Thanks to everyone who came along and particularly to Jan for arranging an excellent weekend. Also, a big thank you to our superb leaders, Richard and Steve, without whose expert local knowledge, the weekend could not have provided such great encounters with the Yorkshire flora and fauna.
Walk at Calke Abbey
Twenty members turned up for an amazing evening walk at Calke with warden, Bill Cove. This was a follow up to Bill's interesting talk at our last indoor meeting and we knew it was going to be a great evening when, during his introduction, a hobby streaked overhead amongst the foraging swallows. The ominous black cloud that had hung in the sky slid quietly on its way without a deluge and we set off. Bill truly knows every inch of the estate and introduced us to fetaures which, even those of us who visit Calke regularly were previously unaware of. Ably assisted by his tireless working collie our guide took us first past the house to the meadow areas, explaining how they were totally natural. A charm of goldfinches rose from the dandelions and settled in a red flowered hawthorn as we approached and watched as we picked out twayblade, cowslips, yellow rattle, pignut and many other species amongst grasses such as quaking grass and were entertained by the dog's relentless search for small mammals, squirrels and rabbits.
Next, we were given a privileged entry to the deer enclosure with both fallow and red deer running amongst the yellow meadow ant hills which punctuated the grassland and listened to the green woodpeckers calling. We were introduced to the 'mouse-scented' houndstongue and picked out several mandarin ducks around the small lake.
As we entered the woodland, we heard a cuckoo and buzzard and watched a great spotted woodpecker and treecreepers searching a tree guard and trunks respectively for food whilst Bill explained an ambiguous oak tree and showed us the mind-blowing survival strategy of the small-leaved lime which reproduces by plunging branches into the ground and throwing up new progeny.
An extra treat was watching a barn owl hunting as Bill explained the Old Man of Calke, an oak tree which pre-dated the Norman Conquest by at least 200 years. The owl would have been the highlight of the evening had it not been for the badger cubs! No sooner had we settled down on a bank to wait for them than they appeared, four of them, throwing each other boisterously around whilst whickering noisily! It was very hard to pull ourselves away but one last treat remained - bats! As the last light turned into a boiling, lava-like sunset through the trees we watched noctule, leisler's and pipistrelle bats hunting and listened to their clicking calls on bat detectors.
Thanks to Bill for a magical evening and to all who attended - I'm sure we'll all be a lot more attentive and knowledgeable when we visit again!!
Butterfly Transect 1, Bosworth Country Park, May 13th, 2017.
On a grey day, it seemed that no-one told the butterflies that they were due to be counted. Perhaps sensibly, they were huddled down somewhere dry and warm when we started in the drizzle of an English Summer and they continued to be elusive even though the sky softened to blue and white later in the walk. Birds offered the most respite from the lazy lepidoptera - blackcaps and bullfinch brightened the day as did a small common frog and a couple of surprising fungi finds including Agrocybe rivulosa. Flowers also offered some interest, cowslips and lady's smock being quite common as well as the first signs of the orchids the society care for. One moth did make an appearance, celypha lacunana. Hopefully, the butterflies will be more prevalent in our next visit later in the season.
Thornton Reservoir, April 29th, 2017
As we gathered beside the reservoir, we were greeted by the welcome sight of many sand martins, house martins and swallows skimming the insects from the water's surface, a suggestion that Summer was on the way; a chiffchaff singing in the car park confirmed our hopes but the chilly wind was less hopeful. A couple of herring gulls were loudly stating their presence, too.
As we started our walk, a willow warbler and several blackcaps soon joined the list as did waterfowl such as great crested grebes and tufted ducks. The group also got into a discussion about wych elm, with some beautiful eye-catching examples along the way and then, the probable Bird of the Day turned up, a common sandpiper. Along the opposite side of the reservoir, reed buntings and a yellowhammer added to the list plus a stunning little grebe. On a cold but bright day, insects were keeping a low profile but a diversion through the woodland brought an orange tip butterfly huddling on a leaf along with St Mark's flies and a solitary bee, yet to be identified.
Turning back towards the car park, the pace of our discoveries quickened - common whitethroat singing in the bushes and nuthatch and treecreeper near the feeding stations. From here, the group watched a pair of mistle thrushes before a kingfisher led us on a hide and seek chase around the pools - most people finally seeing it at least once.
The cold wind was now beginning to chill us and the pace quickened but the sheltered waste ground below the dam wall brought further discoveries such as lesser whitethroat, a green woodpecker and a pair of stunning grey wagtails.
For those who assembled at the Bricklayer's Arms, lunch was a warm and welcome extra! Thanks to all who attended.
Hicks Lodge, March 25th, 2017.
Hicks Lodge was a new discovery for many of the group of about 17 members who turned out on a beautiful March day for a walk led by Ben Devine who had recently given a talk about the development of the former coalfields around Moira and the project 'Black to Green'. The first chiffchaffs were singing as we started our walk and the group were soon distracted by skylarks and fungi. The diversity of habitats and the potential they offered for all types of wildlife soon had many of those who had never visited the site before making a mental note to visit again at a later date.
As we progressed to the lakeside, we were treated to a variety of wildfowl including goosander, oystercatchers, little and great crested grebes, snipe and redshank whilst reed buntings lurked in the margins. A late pair of fieldfares and a mistle thrush along with distant woodpeckers and a hare also made it onto the growing list. Ben explained about the work of those who were developing the site and pointed out where common lizards and rare moths might be seen at other times of the year before we turned back for a much needed snack at the busy cafe.
Thanks to all those who attended a really good outing and especially to Ben for leading us, offering us a great opportunity to see areas of the reserve which we might otherwise have missed.
Whitacre Heath Nature Reserve, February 25th, 2017.
Whitacre Heath is a varied reserve with a mixture of habitats including willow carr, open water, grassland and woodland. A day or two after Storm Doris blasted through, it was still a little windy and cold but, undeterred, we battled against the elements to discover its secrets. The first to appear were a group of hungry birds on the feeders by the car park - mostly the usual suspects but with a number of reed buntings swelling their throng.
After that, a large party of fieldfares and a few redwings added to the wintery feel along with a charm of about 25 goldfinches. The hides on the site have seen better days but provided a welcome vantage point to scan the fields. Although birds there were in short supply, a couple of very distant stonechats and stock doves caught the eye. As we progressed into the woodlands, great spotted woodpeckers, green woodpeckers, nuthatches and a host of common species were seen and heard and the hides overlooking pools reaped the reward of teal, shoveler, little grebe and gadwall but sadly no kingfishers or water rail.
One of the stars of the day was the stunning scarlet elf cup fungus which was everywhere and further excitement came in the form of a couple of groups of siskin and lesser redpoll.
Thanks to all who attended and to Mary and Dave for leading and organising the expedition.
Ulverscroft Nature Reserve, November 2016.
On a cold, crisp Autumn day, a hardy band of members arrived at Ulverscroft Nature Reserve near Stoneywell House in Leicestershire. The main focus of the day was the fungi with a multitude of species present - some more easily identified than others - including tripe fungus, grey coral, apricot club, butter cap, dwarf bell, sulphur tuft, wood blewitt, slime mould, dusky puffball, angel's and common bonnet, dewdrop mottlegill, bitter oysterling, liberty cap, hairy bracket and candlesnuff. Birds were in shorter supply but we were treated to good views of a grey wagtail next to a secluded pond and treecreepers, nuthatch and goldcrests in the woodland. Thanks to everyone who turned up and especially to Nick and Jan for their leadership and insights into this beautiful reserve.
Hicks Lodge National Cycling Centre 15th October 2016
A fine Saturday mroning in October saw ten members and friends of the Society meet at the Hicks Lodge National Cycling Centre for a fungi foray lead by Richard Iliffe. In total 20 species of fungi were identified during the trip.
Foxton Locks 13th August 2016
On Saturday 13th August MB Nats arranged an outing to Foxton Locks where fourteen members came along to enjoy a walk led by Steve Woodward and Helen Ikin. It was a sunny and hot afternoon, so the trip focused on waterside plants and insects. Sightings included Green-veined white and Gatekeeper butterflies, Red-eyed Damselflies and the fish in the pools included Common rudd. The venue also offered a good selection of ice-cream and tea stops, which were enjoyed by many of the group!
Butterfly Transect 12th August 2016
On Friday 12th (the glorious 12th?) a group of nine Society members met to conduct the August butterfly survey on Bosworth Park. It was the first survey of the year with ideal weather conditions and we were rewarded with nine species of butterfly including Large, Small and Green-veined white, Holly Blue, Painted Lady, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Comma and Gatekeeper. A successful afternoon rounded off nicely with tea & cake kindly provided by Mary & David Penton.
Desford Charity Fields Visit - 23rd July, 2016.
The Society's latest visit was a joint venture with the Stoke Golding Heritage Group to whom our own Nick Crowley had given an interesting and informative talk about the history and wildlife of this little known local site.
The Desford Charity Fields, situated just outside the village which give them their name, offer a variety of wildlife habitats and a plethora of history, still showing evidence of the 'ridge and furrow' technique of agriculture. The management of the site has encouraged a huge number of invertebrates and plants to make it their home and we were treated to the sight, on a sunny day, of a multitude of butterflies, mainly grassland species like meadow brown, ringlet and skippers, feeding from wildflowers such as knapweed and lady's bedstraw.
The waterway which runs through the lower part of the reserve offered tantalising hopes of otter and kingfisher for the most optimistic but, sadly, these proved elusive during our visit, but we did see a variety of birds taking advantage of the bounty the insect life offered including encouraging flocks of house sparrows, swallows and swifts - all birds which have suffered in recent times.
After the walk, we were invited by Nick and Pru back to their house for some delicious refreshments.
The Society would like to thank Nick for leading this excellent visit and to both him and Pru for the refreshments afterwards.
Bioblitz - Stoke Golding 15th - 16th July, 2016
Every year the society holds its Bioblitz event in the garden of one of its members. This year’s hosts were David and Pauline Godsell – their garden is an amazing home for wildlife; although it is relatively small, they have fitted a lot of potential habitats into it, with a thriving wildlife-friendly pond and meadow area.
The event started on Friday night with 3 moth traps and a lit sheet being set up plus, for the mammals, several bat detectors and small animal traps. All of these proved very productive with a number of bats including noctules and the first of three field mice being found.
The emptying of the moth traps on the following morning revealed a large number of species including several elephant hawk moths, a buff arches and dozens of the commoner species. The micro moths, as ever, caused much discussion but, eventually, a decision was reached on all but the most difficult. It certainly worked up an appetite for the delicious bacon and sausage sandwiches and the smorgasbord of cakes on offer.
The arrival of Steve and Helen vastly increased the diversity of the finds with numerous hoverflies, snails, beetles and bugs being added to the list whilst Richard identified a number of fungi and closely related organisms. The final list is being compiled but, as ever, the real success lay in the camaraderie of all involved and the chance to learn something new from each other.
Thanks again to Pauline and David for their hospitality and to all those who did a ‘Mary Berry’ for us or offered their natural history expertise.
Butteryfly Transect 9th July 2016
The latest butterfly transect at Bosworth Country Park this year started as the others had with very little to see. However, suddenly a beam of sunlight peeped out from behind a cloud and the area of longer grass we were looking at came magically to life, with numerous ringlets and the occasional meadow brown supported by a single green-veined white.
The rest of the transect followed this pattern with ringlets abounding but other lepidoptera joining the party – large and small skipper, large white, large yellow underwings, yellow shell, celypha lacunana and grass moths to name a few.
Ray Morris was kept entertained putting various bugs and hoverflies into plastic tubes for analysis - who knows, perhaps a rarity or two?
Thanks to everyone who attended and David and Mary for tea and some tasty scones back at their house afterwards.
Moths & Brunch, Butterfly Transect and Orchid Count 18th June 2016
A day of counting! First off was the Moths and Brunch morning hosted by Angela and Melvyn Davis at their house in Carlton. This event was well attended with numerous garden moth traps being brought by those present. Despite this year being a poor one for insect trapping in general, the traps were quite full and we had a happy hour or two identifying and recording the contents of each box.
As a reward, we were treated to delicious bacon and sausage sandwiches made by Melvyn. Thanks to all those who attended and especially Angela and Melvyn for hosting us.
The second count of the day was at Bosworth Country Park where we set out to record the orchids in the meadow maintained by the group and to complete the second butterfly transect of the year. The latter were not very forthcoming with just a few specimens of the commoner species fluttering by occasionally - the orchids, however, were a different story altogether with a total estimate of well over 7,000!! The orchids in this area have increased year on year and the abundance of yellow rattle in these areas seems to have played a large part in this, other areas of grassland in the park being too thick for the orchids to thrive.
Thanks to everyone who turned up - if nothing elase, we kept the other users of the park entertained with out amusing antics involving colourful sticks and lots of peering at the grass.
Sherwood Forest 21st May 2016
A band of 15 Merry Men and Women enjoyed a pleasant stroll around Sherwood Forest on Saturday, 21st May.
Although the scarcer species this reserve can offer proved elusive with no sign of redstarts, crossbills, lesser spotted woodpecker etc, the 4 mile walk did throw up some interesting sightings with numerous nuthatches and treecreepers plus the songs of chiffchaff, blackcap, garden warbler and willow warbler and, was that a spotted flycatcher we had a brief glimpse of through the trees? There was also a fleeting view of marsh / willow tit for a couple of the team.
The real winners of the day though were the scenery (with the trees heavy with foliage and a multitude of bluebells and plants such as greater stitchwort) and the company - everyone enjoying a great walk, a tasty café stop and a retail opportunity back at the arts and craft centre.
Butterfly Survey Bosworth Park 14th May 2016
Although sunny, it wasn’t the most promising day for the society’s first butterfly count of the year at Market Bosworth Country Park; it was probably the very cold Northerly wind penetrating the outer layers of clothing that was the cause but the merry band of Lepidoptera counters struck out gamely, despite the fear that it would be a little cold for butterflies. In fact, it wasn’t a butterfly that caught our eye first, but a bird, as we were treated to a high-speed fly-past by a hobby.
After that early treat, we ventured on and, with a further distraction in the form of a confiding treecreeper discovered that butterflies were not in such short supply as we thought with numerous sightings of whites mainly green-veined white and orange-tip with the added bonus of occasional speckled woods. In all a total of 24 butterflies, of 5 species, were sighted. The star butterfly of the day, however, was probably the unexpected red admiral discovered near the birdfeeders (probably a dangerous place for a butterfly!).
Overall, it was a good afternoon’s work, topped off with an ice cream (the temperature having risen considerably). Thanks to all the participants – let’s hope for even better weather for the next transect on the 18th June.