Friday, 24 July 2015

The advantages of getting lost, and other stories

Continuing the theme of butterflies, last Sunday we headed out to Bentley Wood, in the hope of one again seeing the silver-washed fritillary spectacle. Last year they were just amazing - so many of these huge bright orange butterflies flitting through the rides and glades. This year, the weather wasn't quite as good (gusty and a bit cloudy) but it makes a nice walk anyway, so we thought we'd give it a go.

Bentley Wood is a large area of SSSI woodland - mostly conifer plantation, it has remnant areas of ancient woodland, lines of gnarled oaks, and the network of rides and glades makes it one of the top places in the country for spotting a wealth of butterflies, including purple emperors.

Now, I never usually visit my local haunts with a map, being familiar with the various loops we use. However, on this occasion, we both remarked that we had not been up this path before and set off down it. It did not take us where we thought it was going to go, winding its way through conifer plantation instead of being a straight track. Nonetheless, we found ourselves at another carpark - useful to know to explore this other part of the wood. At this point we felt we had better retrace our steps a bit, then took a path that we hoped would link up with one of the forestry tracks.

We found ourselves climbing over various stiles and passing through kissing gates, emerging into a wide meadow area with the path lined with ancient old oaks along the old Anglo-Saxon earth boundary bank. Beautiful flowers and butterflies surrounded us, including betony in the meadows, although no silver-washed fritillaries. The path took us to a confluence whereupon we thought the track looked familiar - this turned out to be incorrect but we persevered and found ourselves along another forestry track that definitely looked familiar this time! We set off in one direction, only for me to realise that we had already passed a particular earth bank before, which meant we were heading away from the carpark. Finally, we knew where we were! A short retracing of steps and we were back at the car, and next time we'll come a bit more prepared to explore this large area we weren't even aware of before.

And yesterday, on a day off, I decided to venture further afield to Kimmeridge Bay in Dorset to drink in the azure blue sea, amazing fossils and landscape, including a spot of underwater photography in the rockpools - beautiful!

Friday, 10 July 2015

Butterfly time

It's amazing how quickly the environment can change - barely two weeks ago I was up on Martin Down marvelling at the orchids and waiting on the butterflies to burst out with the knapweed. I went back last Sunday, and after a 'scorchio' period during the week, all of the fragrant orchids have withered, but the knapweed is out and with it a whole host of butterflies.

Most were marbled whites, but the dark green fritillaries were also making an appearance - I always feel that they're a bit too exotic-looking to belong here. Actually, I feel we're pretty lucky with all our butterflies!

I was out attempting to keep the plants in the garden from completely dessicating this morning, and with the privet hedge in flower, together with the wallflowers, it was abuzz with activity. Lots of meadow browns but also heaps of small tortoiseshells - absolutely beautiful and it only required a little effort to get the garden in order. I need more flowers now but what with the lack of rain, many have - poor lobelias :(

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Orchids everywhere

Yes, it's orchid time (well, actually, slightly overdue) so I headed off to Martin Down for a fix.

Typically, as soon as I stepped out of the car, it started to rain, but thankfully the floristic spectacle made this seem inconsequential. It was truly amazing - one of the best years I've seen in a long while - carpets of orchids and cloudy drifts of dropwort, together with various hawkbits, vetches and thyme.

I was lucky enough to not only see the beautiful bright pink pyramidal orchid, together with tonnes of common spotted orchids, but also many fragrant orchids with their delicate scent not dampened by the rain, together with one magnificent specimen of greater butterfly orchid.

At the moment we're still in the 'yellow season' of flowers - i.e. the hawkbits and various vetches (horseshoe, birds foot trefoil, kidney vetch), but the knapweed is on the cusp of emerging, bringing with it an explosion of butterfly life, including the amazing dark green fritillary.

Although the rain meant I didn't get to see many butterflies (apart from those disturbed by me walking!), a brief foray up to Cockey Down yesterday afternoon more than made up for it.

This is a small SSSI of chalk downland above Laverstock on the edge of Salisbury, owned and managed by the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. You pass through a small area of open access land called Laverstock Down to get to it, which was alive with butterflies - meadow brown, small heath and lots of marbled whites - a taste of things to come.

Emerging onto the SSSI, I looked back towards the Cathedral spire, over rolling countryside of ripening arable crops. The down itself had an excellent display of flowers again. There are two basic types of chalk grassland - CG2 (short) and CG3 (longer with a grass called Upright Brome frequent). Martin Down is a combination of both, but with more areas of CG3. Cockey Down is mostly CG2, with carpets of thyme, squinancywort, birds foot trefoil, together with taller spikes of ladies bedstraw and fragrant and pyramidal orchids, all alive with marbled white and small heath butterflies fighting each other for territories.

This largely made up for a week stuck inside various offices - although there was a notable and surprising encounter with wildlife in the form of a pyramidal orchid spotted on a verge whilst standing outside the office in Blandford during a fire drill!