Elephant Hawkmoth Caterpillar

The girls playing out on the cul de sac on a September evening were huddled together, excited. One of them had found this enormous caterpillar crossing the road – around two inches long. it was the biggest caterpillar any of us had ever seen, even the parents.

What on earth was it? It took some time to identify as the caterpillar of the Elephant Hawkmoth, which received its name courtesy of the characteristics of its caterpillar phase. The fake eyes are said to frighten predators off.

This picture from Wikimedia Commons shows what the adult looks like.

Photo of adult elephant hawkmoth by Gail Hampshire, via Wikimedia Commons

Small tortoiseshell 3

It’s getting towards late summer in England,and the small tortoiseshell butterflies have arrived in our garden, at much the same time as they did last year. One sunny morning, the first after a period of rain, there were an incredible 12 basking on our awning and roof, probably newly hatched. They really are rather pretty butterflies.

On white buddleia.
And incredibly hairy.

The feeding proboscis is particularly evident in the following.

Click to see more detail.

Populations are said to be declining, possibly related to habitat loss, pesticides, global warming…

Emperor dragonfly

This beautiful emperor dragonfly was ceaselessly patrolling the pond at Denzell Gardens, Altrincham. He never stopped for an instant, but hovered from time to time at a particular corner. The only photography option was to shoot him in flight, a challenge for my Panasonic ZX200 superzoom.

According the the British Dragonfly Society, they rarely settle, but there is a stunning photograph on their website. The blue abdomen indicates a male.

These are Britain’s bulkiest dragonflies, common in southern England, but their range is said to be moving northward, probably due to global warming.

Banded Demoiselle

Last week’s hot spell gave me the gift of quite a few minutes spent watching and photographing these magical banded demoiselle damselflies, by the lake outflow stream in Tatton Park. These are larger than the average damselfly, almost of a size more typical of dragonflies.

Click to see closer.

Their colours are startling blues and greens in bright sunlight. According to the British Dragonfly Society, the two genders are distinguished as follows:

  • Male: metallic blue body with broad dark blue-black spots across outer parts of wings.
  • Female: metallic green body with translucent pale green wings. (Wikipedia suggests there may also be a white patch near the tip of the female’s wings).

Most of these are pobably males, or maybe not?

Blue Green Algae

When we first move to Knutsford in 1986 there was no generally recognised problem of blue green algae or cyanobacteria. There was a small sandy beach by the lake in Tatton Park, where people would go to picnic and bathe in the lakewater. Dogs swam in the lake without problem; even daughter’s Westie put his toes in.

Then, in the early nineties, notices began to appear about blooms of blue green algae in the water; dogs should not go in and people should definitely not bathe. They appeared with increasing frequency, and are now a permanent feature. The sandy beach is long gone.

Almost everywhere you go in Britain these algae seem to have got a hold, with a detrimental effect on other wildlife. Last year we witnessed dead Canada geese being removed from Shakerley Mere because of poisoning, suspected to be the very evident blue green algae.

Close up the resulting scum can appear ugly, but can sometimes give almost beautiful effects, as in the following picture.

Ferry Meadows, Peterborough

So what causes these algal blooms and what changed?

Read More »

Small Skipper 3

At first I thought this tiny insect flapping through the garden was some sort of moth. When it tarried a short while on the lavender, it became clear that it was a small skipper butterfly.

The lavender flower gives an idea of size, less than 2cm long. These butterflies mostly appear in UK at the height of summer, mid-June to mid-August.

This photo from a previous post shows the small skipper on thistle flower, with wings extended.

2019

And here’s one on buddleia in typical half-open pose.

2017

Rapeseed sunset

The mass of yellow flowers and pungent aroma are long gone, and the rapeseed is left to ripen in the field by a favourite walk. The plants are not generally regarded as visually attractive at this stage, but the setting sun and cloudscape in the background give a helping hand, resulting in a pleasing image.

Greylags up close

Greylag geese are pretty common in UK. These two have taken up residence on Knutsford’s Moor Pool.

The background of clouds and blue sky was fortuitous. You can see from the patterns on the water that one goose is turning while the other is stationary.
Close up you can see the bird has a ruff, and the beak is coloured not only orange but also pink, as is the eye liner.
From above the feathers are attractively patterned.

Spring companions

The early rape fields have been in flower for some time now, a great splash of yellow with an almost overwhelming aroma. Photographically they are rather boring; but the neat intermediate hedge gives some interest to the featured image, looking over farmed fields towards nearby woodland.

Hawthorn hedges and trees are also in full flower (‘May blossom’), giving the opportunity for the following pleasing juxtaposition.

Fresh oak

It’s Maytime and everything is bursting into life, notably Tatton Park’s oak trees.

The new oak leaves are a beautiful fresh green
As well as new leaves, the twigs are weighed down with catkins. Pollen levels are high.
You can still see plenty of sky and the major branch structure through the thickening canopy and understory.

Beech tree avenue

Tatton Park’s avenue of majestic venerable beech trees, before the leave come out, as they soon will.

The lower branches grow almost sideways, but not downward as is their wont, as Tatton’s red deer are efficient pruners.

You can still see brown leaves retained throughout the winter, typical of beech (marcescence).

Magpies in the spring

Magpies are common in UK, and can be a bit of a pest, thieving food intended for other birds. But catch them in the right light and they can be rather beautiful, like the above recent shot from Tatton Park.

They are particularly active in spring, with spells of amorous behaviour interspersed with avid feeding from what they can find in the ground.

Booths Mere

The featured image could be of a swamp in Texas, but it’s actually alongside the small lake known as Booths Mere in Knutsford. We’ve known this lake exists for many years, but only recently got to see it close up, as we discovered a short stretch of the bank that is accessible.

Otherwise, it’s private land reserved for fishing. This is a great shame, as it could be a valuable local amenity for walkers. Maybe one day…

You can see a small jetty, presumably used for fishing purposes.

There are some venerable trees around the bank, this one with magnificent roots visible.

Blackthorn

It’s spring blossom time. One of the first out in the hedgerows was the blackthorn. Contrary to the similar hawthorn, blackthorn gets the flowers out first, with leaves following later. At a distance, there is an ephemeral feeling to the vista presented by blackthorn en masse, as in the featured image from Anderton Country Park.

Closer in the individual branches have their own lacy beauty, especially set against the recent blue sky.

Blackthorn is also called sloe, and its fruits are used to make sloe gin. And the wood was traditionally found suitable for making walking sticks.

Third is the Horse Chestnut

The weeping willows by Knutsford’s Moor Pool are now well out, and trees and hedgerows are covered with new hawthorn leaves. Third in line of the big deciduous trees to come out with leaves is… the horse chestnut.

The current spell of warm sunny weather means that this was a close race for third. A sycamore was in a similar state the next day. Thus spring develops apace. What a time!

See previous posts on willow and hawthorn.

Mellow yellow

Serenaded by blackbirds on a country walk, coming up to sundown. The pattern of clouds in the luminescent sky, or archipelagoes out to sea?

Silhouettes of the living intricate skeletons of trees, soon to be bedecked with thousands of leaves.

Shot just to the left of the declining sun.

Once I was taught to write proper sentences.

Lockdown King Street

Knutsford’s King Street, early evening

The lockdown goes on. Knutsford’s King Street is full of restaurants and usually (ie pre-covid) very busy early evening as people size up where to eat or drink. Now deserted and, apart from this short stretch, largely in darkness.

My phone’s camera has made a fair go at conveying the extreme contrast in lighting, but its representation of the sky is rather optimistic, better than the real thing!

The current UK government roadmap says we return to ‘normal’ opening of restaurants on 17 May. We shall see!

And next is the hawthorn

With the lighter days, some shrubs are beginning to show leaf. Most trees are still bare, some with catkins, like the featured pussy willow. But now the hawthorn is coming into leaf, second only to the willow (earlier post).

Fresh hawthorn leaves at Shakerley Mere.

Soon all will be covered in leaves, all in the rush of the new energies of rapidly increasing light, of the spring equinox.