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…

Bodnant Gardens

The National Trust’s Bodnant Gardens, set in a sheltered valley near the mountains of Snowdonia, make available to the people grounds that were at one time private property. And what wonderful gardens they are, well worth visiting. Here’s a selection of photographs. Click to view as slideshow.

Monterey pine

I’m still sorting out photos from our visit to the National Trust’s Bodnant Gardens in North Wales. This stand of monterey pines (pinus radiata) is not quite as spectacular as the black pines previously shown, but they are softer and more colourful.

Monterey pines are native to California and Mexico, but are extensively planted as a wood/pulp crop.

Craggy trunk

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.

Gatekeeper

During a recent short, sun-blessed visit to the Wales/Shropshire/Cheshire border area near Whitchurch, we saw lots of gatekeeper butterflies. Although typified as ‘browns’, and with the alternative name of ‘hedge brown’, the upper wings include a colourful orange.

Gatekeepers are more typically associated with southern England, but their range is extending northward, no doubt related to climate change.

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

Black pine canopy

The black pine is native to southern Europe. We found this gathering of black pines at Bodnant garden, in Snowdonia, North Wales. Bodnant lies in a sheltered valley, enabling many exotic species to flourish within this mountainous area. What really struck me was the enormous trunks extending up far and away, with just a relatively small amount of branches and leaves in the high canopy. The effect is striking, almost monochrome.

Ringlet

We haven’t seen many butterflies so far this summer, but there were plenty of these brown ringlets in the woodland during our recent visit to the National Trust’s Bodnant Garden, North Wales. Fortuitously, one paused on a neaby leaf allowing this shot.

The two eyespots at the bottom are characteristic; there may be one, two or three eyespots on each of the outer wings.

According to the Woodland Trust, the ringlet is not a threatened species and is on the increase in many areas.

Avebury

The neolithic remains at Avebury are on an awe-inspiring scale. There were originally three stone circles, the largest having diameter 330 metres, inside the henge – a roughly circular bank with deep internal ditch. The stones are thought to have remained largely intact from around the neolithic period 3-4000BC until the late middle ages, the 14th century, when some of the stones were removed/ buried, presumably due to their pagan associations.

The stones and village of Avebury, ditch in foreground

The stones were cataloged in 16C, removed/buried in 17-18C, and substantially restored in 20C. The village you can see in the background was built in one of the circles.

The site is now maintained by the National Trust, together with the long avenue of standing stones (West Kennet Avenue), connecting the circles to other contemporary remains including the mound at Silbury Hill. The whole is on a vast scale, indicating that this was no primitive society, as we tend to think.

Read More »

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.

If we don’t love the Earth

If we don’t love the earth and nature, what future do we human beings have? We are of the earth, an integral part of it. If we don’t love it we will not look after it, and it will not sustain us. This is evidently the track we are on. With every species extinction a little of each of us dies. With every increase in global temperature the future of our descendants becomes more precarious, even less likely to complete what we have come to consider a normal life span.

Historically every civilisation has failed due to loss of soil fertility and climate change. So our global civilisation has perhaps the most difficult task humanity has ever faced. Yet it is so easy, because it is about love, for the earth, for our grandchildren and their children on through the generations. And love is free.

The peculiarity of modernity is that we have placed nature at arms length – ‘the environment’ – and treat her as an economic resource through land ownership, mining, and so on. You cannot love an economic resource; love of money is said to be the root of all evil.

We need to love the earth again, not only as individuals but through our institutions. Even with our limited economic mindset through which politics works, we can do it. But we need to every year put back more than we take out. We need the measures in place and the actions to get there. It is evident that even at this 12th hour, the politicians, supposed leaders, of today, are still not doing enough and are paying lip service, with targets ‘for 2050’ rather than tomorrow.

For example, suppose every species extinction led to a global enquiry, followed up by actions to ensure that such things do not become the daily occurrence that they probably already are…

Frogs are increasingly endangered. When we first made our garden pond over 30 years ago it became regularly populated by many frogs, often found hopping around the garden and heard croaking. This year I think we have one. I was tidying up a part of the garden today, a nice damp area with vegetation overflowing. The frog jumped out and sat on the path looking at me. I’ll swear he was saying ‘hey, enough of that, I live here’. Of course I left his home undisturbed after that.

Yes I need to leave even more of the garden in an untidy state for the many creatures that live there. I love the lot of them. How about you?

Inspired by Why Rebel, by Jay Griffiths, a true lover of the earth.

Featured image of frogs spawning in our garden, 2001.

Saint Richard Whiting

On entering Glastonbury Abbey, one of the first buildings you come to is the charming little St. Patrick’s Chapel. Here is a mural which recalls the last days of the Abbey in 1539.

At the time of the Dissolution programme which began in 1534, Richard Whiting was the gentle and respected bishop of Glastonbury Abbey, the second richest religious institution in England, with around 100 monks. The story is well told by Wikipedia here.

In essence, Whiting was conned in the early years that the programme would only affect smaller institutions. By 1539 Glastonbury was the only remaining abbey in Somerset. On being told to surrender the Abbey, Whiting refused, acting legally correctly. Naturally, the Glastonbury leaders took steps to keep the abbey’s treasures safe. This was then turned round by the church commissioners, and ultimately Thomas Cromwell acting on behalf of King Henry VIII, as evidence of treason. His defiance was simply not acceptable to the all-powerful king. There was no due process. Whiting was convicted in secret, and executed on Glastonbury Tor with two of his team.

The mural shows three gibbets on Glastonbury Tor, where the 3 men were hanged, drawn and quartered. These were savage times, and of course Whiting was not the first religious leader to be so treated.

Whiting is considered a martyr by the Catholic Church which beatified him over 300 years later.