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Friday 26 June 2020

And Now For Something Different! - on 15th, 17th, and 21st June, 2020

Last week was a bit of a difficult one, weatherwise, for photographic outings. We had a lot of rain, but with some sunny periods accompanied by breezy conditions for much of the time. I did, however, manage some short outings, two of which were somewhat different to what  you might expect of me. I will explain!

Monday, 15th June

I had a call late morning from a good friend to say that the previous day he'd been to see 'The Leicester Lizard'. The Lizard Orchid is very rare, usually associated with south-east England but there has been just one plant recorded in Leicestershire, having been found around 5 years ago by someone who didn't know what he'd seen, and only officially recorded (I think) two years ago. My friend suggested that I went to have a look, giving me directions.

I set off, and found the orchid with comparative ease, as it stands quite high above the surrounding vegetation. It certainly is a truly remarkable orchid.

Lizard Orchid (Himantoglosssum hircinum) - undisclosed site, Leicestershire
There was further excitement this year when a second plant of this species was found over the other side of the road. This is a young plant and still quite small. The flowers had not yet fully developed.

Lizard Orchid (Himantoglosssum hircinum) (young plant) - undisclosed site, Leicestershire
I'd been told that nearby were Bee Orchids, and was given a very specific location. It seems, however, that these had mysteriously disappeared in the past 24 hours. 

There were many Meadow Brown butterflies flying around.

Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) - undisclosed site, Leicestershire
I was also delighted to see a Burnet Companion day-flying moth - sadly, it was a little the worse for wear.

Burnet Companion (Euclidia glyphica) - undisclosed site, Leicestershire
As I had rather a lot at home that needed attending to, I headed directly home again.

Wednesday, 17th June

I had another call, again late morning, and from the same friend, who had that morning been to Cloud Wood in Leicestershire to see the somewhat uncommon, although not rare, Greater Butterfly-orchid. Heavy rain was predicted for later, and there was a breeze blowing and photographing a flower in a wood seemed to have a more promising outcome than looking for dragons, so I set off, following directions that had kindly been given to me by a lady on the Monday, supplemented by my friend's information.

Arriving on site, I thought I was going to be in trouble as it started raining. Thankfully, however, it was a light shower which soon passed. I was soon seeing Common Spotted Orchid along the rides.

Common Spotted-orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) - Cloud Wood
This magnificent bracket fungus caught my eye. I believe it to be Dryad's Saddle - an edible species, but I shan't be putting it to the test!

Dryad's Saddle (Cerioporus squamosus) - Cloud Wood
A little further on, I noticed a couple of beetles working on the next generation. On checking, I get the impression that these are quite a speciality of Cloud Wood.

beetle (Rutpela maculata) - Cloud Wood
I found the Greater Butterfly-orchids with no trouble at all, and was busy photographing them when I was accosted by a lady asking where she could find the Greater Butterfly-orchids. I told her that they were right in front of me and if she cared to step back to a safe distance I would come away and let her in. She was happy to oblige and we had a pleasant conversation before I left her to it. Here are a couple of shots of the orchids. Now I knw a bit more about them I realise that I could do with another visit to take better shots of an individual flower to show the defining ID features.

Greater Butterfly-orchid (Platanthera chlorantha) - Cloud Wood
On my way back, I noticed a Bee Orchid. I wasn't surprised that I'd missed it on the way in as it was on an exceedingly short stem (probably no more than 4 inches (10 cm) long, almost hidden in the undergrowth, and in a rather poor condition. I confess to clearing around it slightly in order to get a record shot.

Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera) - Cloud Wood
Further on, I spotted a Swollen-thighed Beetle lurking in deep shade - hence the relatively poor photo. I believe this was a female due to the un-swollen thighs.

Swollen-thighed Beetle (Oedemera nobilis) (female) - Cloud Wood
In a sunny spot, before I got to the entrance, I photographed a hoverfly. Lindsay gave me a Hoverfly field guide as a Fathers' Day present on Sunday, but I have not yet fully got to grips with it, so please correct me if my ID is wrong!

hoverfly (Helophilus pendulus) (male) - Cloud Wood
From here, I had a quick session at a location near Tonge, but only photographed another couple of hoverflies. I'm not certain about the species of the first, but a little more confident on the ID of the second.

hoverfly (Eristalis sp.) - near Tonge
hoverfly (Sphaerophoria interrupta) (female) - near Tonge
Sunday, 21st June

This was Fathers' Day, and I took a trip over to our daughter's home on the outskirts of Leicester. We had a lovely conversation sitting in chairs at opposite ends of the drive in front of her house. Sadly, I could not stay long as I was a long way from a convenient 'comfort stop' in this rather built-up area of the city. This meant that I had to call in at one of my strategically placed locations on the way home. Fortunately this one had a lake a few hundred metres up the path. I'd been to this lake a couple of weeks earlier in cold windy condition, seen nothing of interest, but felt sure that it should be productive for Odonata.

In spite of a stiff breeze that was building up ahead of a storm it was warm, and as I walked along the path through the long grass, clouds of damselflies were rising up in front of me, mostly tenerals. Just before reaching the lake I saw a dragonfly fly away from the lake and into the trees. I have no idea what it was but it appeared to be dark red in colour.

The thunder started rumbling as I reached the lake, and dark clouds were rolling in quite fast. I did manage to get a shot in poor light of one of a pair of Red-eyed Damselfly that I saw. 

Red-eyed Damselfly (Erythromma najas) (male) - near Cropston
This was one of many Azure Damselfly seen.

Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) (male) - near Cropston
All other attempts at photographing damselflies (I saw no more dragonflies) failed, mainly due to black clouds killing the light, but I did manage a shot of a butterfly before heading back to the car.

Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) - near Cropston
I got back to the car just in time to avoid the deluge that then accompanied me for most of my journey home.

It had been a week with a difference, but enjoyable, none-the less.


I may be having to take a break from blogging for a while as we are now in a period of turmoil here, and there's no telling what the future might bring. What I do know is that we are scheduled to have three events happenening next week, each one of which is going to take us way out of our comfort zone, considering the Covid situation, and we're expecting to be severely distracted.

1.) They are replacing the gas main network in our area, and on Monday they are going to replace the feed from the main pipe to the meter in our house. Depending on what they find, at best this will entail them coming into our house to turn of the gas, slide a new pipe up the centre of the existing pipe, connect it to the meter, then go into all five of our downstairs rooms (snug, my study, kitchen, dining room, lounge) to check the gas appliances when they turn the gas back on again. At worst, it will entail them digging up our drive, to put the new pipe in, and moving our gas meter from under the stairs to an ouside wall, and running new gas pipes through two of our rooms - this in addition to the 'at best' scenario.

They will then need to do the whole 'turn off', and 'turn on and check the appliances' procedure again after they replace the gas main.

2.) At the weekend we developed a leak in our mains water supply. At first the water company thought it was on 'their side' of the system, but it now turns out that it's on our side. At best this will entail them digging up our drive to get at the leak. At worst, if it is under the property, it probably means digging up the floor in our tiled entrance lobby. Fortunately, it looks as if , other than the possibility of them having to enter the entrance lobby, they won't have to enter the house.

3.) One of our phone lines has developed a fault to the extent that it is virtually impossible to hear the person on the other end of the line. We have an engineer coming on Tuesday. Whether or not he needs to enter the house remains to be seen.

Until the next time, take great care, and stay safe!

Tuesday 23 June 2020

The Lockdown Garden - Week 25, 15th to 21st June, 2020

It feels good to be able to start this blog post on a cheery note - this has been a somewhat remarkable week in the garden from an avian perspective, as will be revealed below.

Monday, 15th June

I started the day by photographing a female Bullfinch from my study window. I find myself amused by the raptor-like approach in the first image.

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (female) - garden on 15/06/2020
The day then got very exciting with the arrival of a Jay. Whilst not a rare bird, it's a rare visitor to our garden and this was the first since July, 2018!

Jay (Garrulus glandarius) - garden on 15/06/2020
The excitement continued shortly afterwards with the arrival of two Nuthatch. I believe that this is the first time that we've ever had two in the garden. Here's one of them.

Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) - garden on 15/06/2020
I did spend a little time in the garden that day, photographing insects.

hoverfly (Scaeva pyrastri) - garden on 15/06/2020
Here's a bee that I have not identified - note to self:- bee fieldguide is next book on wanted list.

bee sp. - garden on 15/06/2020
As I wandered round the garden with my camera, I was struck by the sight of the centre of a poppy flower!

Poppy flower - garden on 15/06/2020

There had been no sign of Hedgehog or Fox on the cameras from that night.

In the afternoon I decided, prompted by a message from a friend, to go on a short orchid hunt at a local site - more on that in my next blog post.

Tuesday, 16th June

The Jay was with us again this day, but this turned out to be the last time we would see it in the week.

Jay (Garrulus glandarius) - garden on 16/06/2020
The Nuthatches were also back, but I just missed getting a shot of the two together.

Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) - garden on 16/06/2020
I'd noticed that the House Sparrows had taken to stripping the bark off one of the branches that I have stuck in the ground to aid the birds in their approach to the feeders. I suspect that it's for late nest-building or refubishment.

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) (male) - garden on 16/06/2020
We don't see many Long-tailed Tits at this time of year, so it was heartening to have one in the garden this day, although no photos were obtained.

We recorded Hedgehog and Red Fox visiting that night. Grey Squirrel is with us most days, and we rather like them - they do have a certain 'cute' factor, although not so much as Red Squirrels do!

Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) - garden on 16/06/2020
Wednesday, 17th June

Minor excitement was caused by a Carrion Crow alighting in the garden. We frequently see them on neighbouring roofs, but they rarely visit. The only bird I photographed that day, however, was a Goldfinch, from my study window.

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) - garden on 17/06/2020
That afternoon, I went out on another brief orchid hunt before the rain set in.

Thursday, 18th June 

We saw both Fox and Hedgehog on the cameras from that night. As the Fox was in daylight (just!) I'll post some video of it. It still looks painfully thin and is eating the spilt sunflower hearts. I'd put some food out for it if I didn't think that the four or five cats that regularly visit our garden wouldn't be encouraged to visit more frequently and snaffle it first!
That day we had another unusual visitor to our garden, although again not a rare bird in itself, in the form of a Jackdaw. I didn't manage a photo as it was only briefly in the top of our Rowan. I was probably more pleased by the sighting of a Coal Tit. This was once a relatively common species in the garden, but has become worryingly infrequent in the last couple of years.  Please forgive me, therefore, if I post a somewhat dire record shot.

Coal Tit (Periparus ater) - garden on 18/06/2020
Friday, 19th June

Robin had, disappointingly, been absent from the garden for far too long, and so we were delighted when a juvenile visited this day.

From my study window, I had taken some photos of a Collared Dove, one of which is shown below.

Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) - garden on 19/06/2020
As soon as this Collared Dove departed, it was replaced by a male Bullfinch on the feeder, and I was just enjoying the fact that, unusually, we had two male and one female Bullfinch present at the same time, when the Bullfinch outside my window flew and hit the window with a loud thump. Stunned, it dropped into the Cotoneaster outside my window, and I noticed the cause of the disturbance - a male Sparrowhawk was on one of the upturned garden chairs just a few metres away. It looked as if it was just about to dive into the Cotoneaster and take the Bullfinch, but I managed to thump on the window, waving an arm, and frighten it off. I quickly went out to check on the Bullfinch and it was conscious and sitting on a branch and squeeking, probably in fright. I backed off, but stayed there at a distance in case the Sparrowhawk came back to investigate. Eventually, the Bullfinch departed, but I knew I'd done the right thing as far as the Bullfinch was concerned when the Sparrowhawk returned to the same place later and started peering into the Cotoneaster. This time I took some photos - a pity that it was perched on something as un-photogenic as an upturned garden chair!

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) (male) - garden on 19/06/2020
That night, the moth trap went out. It resulted in 41 moths of 20 species, but it was a visually relatively uninteresting and difficult to identify collection. I'll just leave you with one image of a species that has featured on this blog already on more than one occasion recently.

Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor) - from garden on 219/06/2020
Saturday, 20th June

We'd had two Nuthatch all week until this day, when we were down to sighting just one. The Sparrowhawk was back too, which might be why the number of birds visiting was down. We have found, in the past, that when a Sparrowhawk starts visiting regularly the other birds, sensibly, tend to stay away. This, however, has no visible impact on the insects! We had Small Tortoiseshell and Small White butterflies this day (butterflies had been 'a bit thin on the ground' lately, probably due to inclement weather). Here's a photo of a hoverfly from that day.

hoverfly (Eupeodes luniger)  - garden on 20/06/2020
Sunday 21st June

This day was Fathers' Day, and Lindsay had kindly bought me the Ball and Morris field guide to Bratain's Hoverflies, published by Princeton Press. Hopefully, from now on, my ID skills on this taxa will improve.

Much of the morning was taken up with a visit to our daughter, with a conversation while sitting socially distant in chairs on her drive. On the way back, I stopped briefly at a location to look for dragons and damsels - but more on that in my next post.

Being largely preoccupied with othe matters, little was noted that day. Nuthatch was not seen, however.

In summary (weekly maxima in brackets):-

We observed 3 species of mammal visit : Hedgehog (1) ; Red Fox (1) ; Grey Squirrel (1)
We observed 2 species of butterfly visit : Small Tortoiseshell (2) ; Small White (1)

Exceptionally good for our garden at this time of year, we observed 22 species of bird visit :   Blackbird (3) ; Bullfinch (3) ; Chaffinch (4) ; Crow, Carrion (1) ; Dove, Collared (7) ; Dunnock (3) ; Goldfinch (10) ; Greenfinch (2) ; Jackdaw (1) ; Jay (1) ; Magpie (2) ; Nuthatch (2) ; Robin (1) ; Sparrow, House (8) ; Sparrowhawk (1) Starling (16) ; Tit, Blue (5) ; Tit, Coal (1) ; Tit, Great (2) ; Tit, Long-tailed (1) ; Woodpigeon (3) ; Wren (1). 

My next blog post will probably be on Thursday and feature the two excursions for orchids and a brief look for dragons and damsels. Until then, take care and stay safe.

Thursday 18 June 2020

A Brief Dragon Hunt - on 9th June, 2020

For various reasons, it looked as if I might not get out to look for dragonflies and damselflies last week, so I decided to take a chance on it when we had a spell of warmer weather after lunch this day, although rain was forecast for a few hours later in the afternoon. I set off for Heather Lake, which is not too far from my home in normal circumstances but, due to road closures, required a significant diversion resulting in a journey of 7 miles rather than 5.

It was still rather dull, and it had been rather cold and wet for a few days, so I was not sure what I'd find. Nothing of interest was seen on my walk to the lake but, on arrival, there were a few damselflies around, although no dragonflies were immediately visible.

Reaching the edge of the lake, I started seeing numerous teneral damselflies take to the sky - far more than the mature damselflies. I did not take very much notice of the damselflies, but did take a few shots of them. However, the light was not good, and my photography was worse!

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (male) - Heather Lake
Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) (male) - Heather Lake
Heading south down the east side of the lake, I suddenly spotted an ovipositing Black-tailed Skimmer. She stayed in the area for about 20 minutes - and so did I! She was zooming about at a great rate just above the surface of the water, dipping the rear of her abdomen into the water to deposit eggs as she went - as skimmers and chasers do. I tried to get some shots of her doing this for the whole time I was with her, but failed miserably. Just in case you don't believe me, here's the best I managed to get! Part of the problem was that she was too close.

Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum) (female - ovipositing) - Heather Lake
Nearby, a Coot was fairly near the bank. I'm a little disappointed that the Little Grebes that I'm used to seeing here in the summer have not appeared this year.

Coot (Fulica atra) - Heather Lake
As I neared the south end of the lake I was surprised to find an Emperor dragonfly ovipositing as I'd seen no trace of this species out over the water.

Emperor (Anax imperator) (female - ovipositing) - Heather Lake
After she departed, I turned round to find that a Speckled Wood butterfly was behind me.

Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) - Heather Lake
At the south end of the lake, I found another ovipositing Emperor, and then a third as I walked up the western side of the lake. This third one gave me a bit of entertainment as there were two Common Blue Damselfly males acting as if one had challenged the other to do something a bit silly or dangerous - I'll let the following sequence of photos explain!

Emperor (Anax imperator) (female - ovipositing) - Heather Lake 
My visit was cut short by a call from Lindsay to say that she'd had a call from the delivery driver who was delivering my pond kit, and I should be heading homeward. I did manage a few more shots on the way back, including one of a species of moth that I have seen several times, always near water except one that I'd caught in my moth trap only two days previously!

Straw Dot (Rivula sericealis) - Heather Lake
Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (male) - Heather Lake
Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) (male + female mating) - Heather Lake
I found it strange that I'd not seen any male Emperors, and also that I'd not seen any dragonfly exuviae, although there was no shortage of damselfly exuviae. However, it had been rewarding to see my first Emperor of the year, even if the photographic results were much less than I'd wish for.

My next blog post will almost certainly be my account of my garden lockdown week which has already given some excitement!

Thank you for dropping by. Take great care and stay safe.