We’re Going on a Butterfly Hunt…

Please click on this link to read my May 2017 “Nature Notes” in the Herts Advertiser: Nature Notes – 18th May 2017

Feature photo: The rare Small Blue Butterfly by Andrew Wood

img_1674.jpg

Andrew Wood’s new book “Butterflies of Hertfordshire and Middlesex”

 

Let Ivy Create A Buzz

Featured Image: Photo of an Ivy Bee by Tom Speller

Please click on this link to read my October “Nature Notes” in the Herts Advertiser:  Nature Notes – 6th October 2016

the-shed-that-needs-a-haircut

The “Haircut Shed”

Leaving Our Shores – The Last Days of Summer

 

willow-warbler-05

Willow Warbler – photo by Steve Round

Please click on this link to read my September “Nature Notes” in the Herts Advertiser:  Nature Notes – 8th September 2016

Nature Notes – On the Verge of a Natural Breakdown!

Verge Picture

A St Albans Verge – photo by Rupert Evershed

common blue 13

A Common Blue butterfly that favours grassy verges – photo by Steve Round

Please click on this link to read my June 2015 ‘Nature Notes’ column in the Herts Advertiser:

Nature Notes – 18th June 2015

Endurance & Rest

IMG_4987

Out walking this month and I have been pondering how the land feels spent, as if it has given all it can and is now resting. The grassland where, only a few months ago butterflies danced, now lies fallow, devoid of movement and down-trodden by both walkers and rain. The Skylarks have left their nests for the ploughed fields and the ground where they raised their young is water-logged with the recent downpours. Similarly too for the Moorhens whose nests are now submerged a foot or so under rising, muddy river waters. They must now clamber worriedly through the more exposed levels higher up the bank.

It is as if all is exposed and laid bare. The ploughed fields, the wind-stripped trees, the torrent washed riverbanks and the shrunken undergrowth. With this laying bare there comes a sense of nature having resigned itself, not unwillingly but inevitably, to the onset of winter. There is nothing more the land can give and there is nothing more to be done by its inhabitants other than seek food and shelter and hope that the fat reserves of the good times will see them through. Even the remaining leaves must know their imminent downfall as they feel the sap rise no more.

Wind and rain, and harsh cold days will come, maybe even snow. In this knowledge the land rests and waits for come what may. It will endure but it will suffer loss and change. Already the footpaths are worn wider and instead of having to push gingerly through nettle and bramble overhangs I walk through, free from scratches and stings. My feet add to the churned up mire of hoof and walking boot, of bike track and dog paw.

Jackdaws are swept across the steel grey skies only wheeling away briefly to harry a lone Sparrowhawk. The predator’s cold stare searches for the unwary in the retreating foliage and adds harsh intent to the changing season. Woodpigeons sit huddled in the trees and herons hunch around the edge of the bleak gravel pit waters. It is a time for endurance and rest. Growth and new life will come, as will busy-ness and song, but for now only the Robin trills his melancholy commentary, an ode to the summer past.

*          *          *

I wonder at our part in this scene and can’t help feeling somewhat out of sync with this season. Instead of resting having given, we work and spend to give more! Our season seems instead to be an ever-accelerating tunnel of frenzied shopping and work. Hopefully rest will come at the end but I fear the New Year will be upon us before then

Maybe it is our detachment (for the most part) from the land and our successful self-isolation from the seasonal elements that permits us to manufacture a second spring, albeit with evergreens and glowing bulbs. ‘Harvest Thanksgiving’ pops up on my phone calendar but for most I would imagine this is a cultural memory, harking back to a time when we were properly spent, like the land, and could rest with the land and the livestock until the coming of spring. It is not necessarily an idyllic scene but maybe it was a healthier one and less at odds with nature around us!

Arrivals & Departures

Throughout June and now into July the seasonal tide has yet again been turning. It would be easy to feel sad as the flowers wither and the birds fall silent but it is this steady march of the seasons that makes nature observation so interesting. Each stage has its own beauty too, even in death and decay.

Walking through the now dry, brown grass, so different from the lush green of spring, there is a sense of nature having spent herself – flowers fading, pods popping and the wind carrying the seeds away like ashes in the breeze. I came across a lifeless form – a shrew – and wondered at its demise. Maybe in the heat of the day it had failed to find water or maybe its 14 months of life were simply up. I left it in the dying grass on parched soil, its final bed.

IMG_2019 IMG_2018

But fluttering over this solemn scene of weary stems and finished life there rose a myriad of butterflies, delicate and beautiful, fresh from the cocoon – like other-world nymphs or Valkyries attending the slain. I watched dancing Marbled Whites, Ringlets, Meadow Browns accompanied by the occasional Common Blue and Tortoiseshell as they rose on the breeze coming back to settle for a second before flickering away over the grasses again. I could not help but marvel at the combination of their humble origins, their exquisite beauty and their ephemeral existence – barely touching the earth except to delicately sip sweet nectar. You get a sense that you are watching life beyond death, something extra special, a promise of another spring.

Of course, while all too easy to romanticize the spectacle, this plethora of insect life also supplies the hungry mouths of the growing flocks of swifts and hirundines gathering in the skies in anticipation of their journey south. The skies and telegraph wires become a great departure lounge as fledging birds join the adults feeding and resting before the long flight ahead. I noticed a still active nest of Swifts on our road a couple of days ago and empathized with the sense of parental stress as the adults tore in and out at break-neck speed, no doubt rushing to meet the migration deadline as one would rush to get all the family to the airport on time!

While there is a sense of departure in the air there still continues to be a lot of new arrivals. The adult bird song has been replaced by the raucous and squawky calls of young interspersed with the worried tut-ting of the parent birds. Many resident birds are on their second or third brood – I noted two families of new ducklings last week and have encountered countless baby Blue and Great Tits on my rambles. One particularly pleasing encounter was a family of Little Owls, the fluffy juveniles crashing around in some trees as they got the hang of their new freedom.

Today the heightened activity and calling of the Wrens indicates that their young too have fledged and are now no doubt precariously perched in various bushes as their parents flit back and forth with tasty morsels. I was also surprised to find an unopened Blackbird egg on the ground – evidence of yet another brood on its way. This is in addition to the three young birds that fledged successfully in our conservatory – a safe place but with one oversight by the parent bird: no easy exit for new fledglings! I obliged and the young birds can now be seen around the garden so far having avoided run-ins with cats, Magpies, foxes and whatever else might challenge their existence.

IMG_2029

Blackbird Egg

For some birds the fight to survive means they get to stay put and enjoy the garden throughout the winter. For others, like the Swallows, it means they get to go far abroad for a long winter holiday the other side of Africa. Others, like the family of Blackcaps in our garden, will maybe choose either to go or stay: staying being the increasingly popular option for this species. Either way, the changing seasons elevate this island land once again into a great transport hub as avian summer visitors prepare to leave and winter visitors begin to arrive. Some, of course, are just passing through, maybe even making an unscheduled stopover, and it is these more unusual and sometimes exotic species that get the pulse of every birder racing!