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.

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.

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?

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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.

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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.

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.

Gog and Magog – ancient oaks

On a recent visit to Glastonbury we passed by two one-thousand-year-old oaks, in a lane that runs by the appropriately named Old Oaks campsite. These venerable oaks date from the time of the Norman conquests, a time when wolves and bears were still Britain’s top predators. Even the names Gog and Magog are associated with ancient myths and legends (see eg Wikipedia entry).

Gog

Sad to say, although alive when we last saw it, Gog died due to a fire in 2017. How a probably careless act destroyed this ancient being – somehow symbolic of the lack of care many modern people have for nature.

Magog still survives and flourishes, despite the decrepit aspect of parts of its trunk.

Magog, with Gog behind
Hollow in Magog’s trunk

On the Dee Estuary

I love being on the cliffs at Thursaston on the Wirral side of the Dee Estuary. When the tide is down you are basically looking out over huge mudflats with the occasional resting anchored boat, and when it is up the expanse of water becomes huge. Amid this twice daily rhythm there are often spectacular sunsets, at this time of the year round the corner up the coast towards Liverpool and beyond. Although there are few birds just here at this time of year, you are almost spoilt for choice photographically. Here are just a few.

Layers, out towards the sea
3 boats floating
Beached

Chiffchaff

Chiff, chaff, chiff, chaff, chiff chaff…

The little bird insistently called out from somewhere within the nearby hedging trees in Wirral Country Park. Eventually I managed to locate it singing away, showing just enough to take a photo. Of course, it was a chiffchaff, named onomatopoeically.

A second chiffchaff gave a better opportunity, caught in action singing away..

Then looking down.

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.