Friday, 30 August 2013

A Trip To Marwell Zoo, And The Case Of The Extremely Small Shorts

L goes back to school next week so this morning I treated him and his mate W to an outing to Marwell zoo.

I suspect L has more or less outgrown zoos now, judging from the way he and W talked of nothing but minecraft and creating castles all the way round, zipping past most of the animals with barely a cursory glance and then spending ages exploring the delights of the high-rise wooden towers and ropes of the adventure playground.

Ah well, we have made the most of it being on our doorstep over the years and we can still visit it ironically, even if serious visits are now beneath us.

Marwell has an interesting history. The land was granted to Winchester by the then King of Wessex during the 10th century and the manor house was built in 1320 by a relative of the Bishop of Winchester. During the 1550s it was inhabited by Sir Henry Seymour, brother of Jane, and Henry VIII was a regular visitor (local rumour has it that Marwell was the setting for King Henry VIII's marriage to Jane Seymour). Their son Edward's initials are emblazoned above one of the fire places in the hall. In 1644 it was the setting for a Civil War skirmish, and by 1972 had become a zoological park, one of the earliest in Europe to place an emphasis on conservation, a theme it has continued to expand on and today is well known for. It is now home to a wide range of animals from leopards to leaf cutter ants.

 Marwell Manor House, with many 19th c additions

 In 1999 the park's entire penguin colony was wiped out by avian malaria. It was restocked and everyone was looking well today.

 Terrifyingly fast Cheetahs.

 A Frilled Lizard

Can you guess what this is? It's the underside of a lizard's foot.

Poison Dart Frog
(which connects neatly to the story I was reading yesterday about a young American man trekking through the Amazon to find his mother, a tribeswoman. Fascinating story and worth looking up if you haven't already seen it)

The park's two White Rhinos

The boys preparing to see whether they can run faster than a tortoise. It turns out they are midway between a tortoise and a road runner, but no-where near as fast as a human being, which made them scratch their heads a bit.

These lovely murals are outside the shop. I thought they were great, really cheerful.

Our minds are turning towards Autumn here, with the start of term just round the corner and cooler nights drawing in. I like the turn of the seasons and would not want to live in a land that didn't have them. My college course starts towards the end of Sept too, which is something else to think about and manage. I suspect it will mean fewer blog posts but we'll have to wait and see how the days pan out in that regard. I will also be jiggling my healing work around study and family life which may prove to be a challenge, but not one I'm overly worried about. Life has always been full to the brim regardless of what I'm doing with it so there's nothing new in that!

I'll end today's post with some pictures taken in and around the garden this afternoon. We have vegetables aplenty, despite the best efforts of caterpillars and blackbirds, and the hedgerow harvest also looks to be a good one, so jam and jelly making will start soon.

Corn on the cob

 M's Black Pearl Chillies
(great name)

The drying seed head of a Hollyhock

I think this is a Ruddy Darter Dragonfly up by one of the ponds, but my DF ID skills are shaky to say the least so if anyone knows any different please feel free to correct me.
*Update- Margaret ( has kindly done some investigative work for me and confirms this is in fact a Common Darter. Thank you :-)

I'll leave you with a pic of the Faithful Hound who accompanied me on my Garden Perambulation.

Said hound is currently sitting at my feet with a very expectant look on his face indeed. This has been caused by his Arch Enemy our postman, (who is actually three different people but Ted doesn't know this - to him all posties are the same and are treated with identical ferocious woofing regardless of any facial or bodily difference that may temporarily exist beneath the fluorescent tabard), delivering a new pair of running shorts. Teddy therefore, not unreasonably, suspects this means we will soon be Going Out For A Run. 

I, however, am uncertain about this because the shorts are a good deal tighter and more skimpy than I had bargained for, and as I am now the wrong side of forty I am not entirely convinced it would be fair to let them loose on the world with me in them. This is particularly the case since we played host to a gaggle of almost-but-not-quite-eighteen-year-old-girls over the weekend, all of whom were (as Boris Johnson would doubtless put it) as sleek and slender as young otters emerging from water, and believe me, that kind of thing really brings home the fact that you are a member of the younger generation no more, and that tiny shorts are no longer a birth right and will quite probably look ridiculous on you.

It's pointless asking Ted his opinion because a) he wants to go for a run and therefore has a vested interest, and b) he is a dog, and they consider sniffing bottoms a normal form of greeting for goodness sake. Neither can I ask my husband when he gets home from work because he will just say yes, and my son will shrug and offer no opinion whatsoever. Perhaps if I wore a Very Long T-Shirt that reached just below the shorts that might work? Or I could just run so fast no-one would see me and then it wouldn't matter anyway.

Oh dear, thus running malarkey is proving to be Much More Trouble Than It's Worth. Maybe it would be easier just not to go running in the first place?  I think I'll go and look up the local swimming baths times instead.....

Have a peaceful evening all,

CT :-)

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Frosted Orange Moth, Migrant Hawker Dragonfly, Brimstone, Comma, Silver Washed Fritillary & Speckled Wood Butterflies

Back to mothing with a vengeance now, to make the most of the remaining weather before winter is upon us and all the moths vanish (more or less).

This is Orange moth time, and today I had one in the box I have wanted to see ever since I first saw a picture of it in my Moth Bible. The Frosted Orange. What a marvelously evocative name. For anyone who thinks moths are dull, one look at the incredible patterns on this moth should persuade you otherwise. I could look at it all day (and have been, in between taking L for a hair cut, searching through the school's lost property box for a single missing spiked football boot and stocking up on pens and paper for the new term). The little moth has been fast asleep safe and contented in its box all day, affording ample opportunities for admiration.

The Frosted Orange was the only new species in the box, apart from one I haven't yet ID'd. If anyone knows what this is please shout: *Update, I think it may be a slightly worn Flounced Rustic

Other lovelies include this beautiful Pebble Hooktip

A near-perfect Blood Vein with its delicate blush of pale pink

A lovely splash of yellow from this Canary-Shouldered Thorn

A delicate light emerald, freshly hatched

A Large Broad-Barred Yellow Underwing

A Lesser Swallow Prominent

A striking Copper Underwing

A Tawny-Barred Angle

One of several Square Spot Rustics

This last moth, the Angles Shades, is another of my all-time favourites and one I don't see very often. I think it has only visited once before, although its smaller cousin, the Small Angle Shades, is a more frequent guest. I think its wings are amazing and look like a softly draped cape. The darker colours on it are greens and blush pinks- beautiful.

Angle Shades side view

I'll leave you with some shots I took earlier this week in one of our local woodlands. There is a large buddleia along the path the butterflies love, but on this particular day a different visitor landed on a flower and stayed there sunbathing long enough for me to get some pictures. He/ she is a Migrant Hawker Dragonfly.

Also on the buddleia was this beautiful female Brimstone butterfly, newly hatched by the look of her.

This particular wood has a lot of Silver Washed Fritillaries living there. The one in the picture below is bit ragged and worn and has lost a fair bit of his wings.

Another Silver Washed Fritillary, taken on the same buddleia

A perfect Comma busy feeding on the flowers

And an equally perfect Speckled Wood resting on some fern.

I haven't forgotten the caterpillar/ pupa/ newly emerged White butterfly post. When time permits I will get round to putting the post together, although I may leave it now until all the Large Whites have hatched so we have a complete picture from start to finish.

Wishing you all a good evening. Golden sunlight here...


Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Knot-Tying Competitions, Garish Figureheads And Name That Caterpillar If You Can (Please)

On the basis of our ticket remaining valid for a year and there being too much to see in one sitting, we returned to the Historic Naval Dockyards this morning to finish The Victory and have a wander round the museum.

This time we got chatting to one of the Officers on board, who was a mine of information, and pointed out the difference between the original ship's timbers (uneven because cut by hand) versus those replaced after Trafalgar, where the ship sustained mucho damago (smooth and even). The lower decks were the only floors that are original because the rest was blown apart in the battle (as was the mast, a section of which is on display inside the ship, complete with peppered musket-shot damage and a massive hole where a cannon ball went straight through it. V impressive and it brought the whole battle into real focus). 

Ascending to the lower deck, the difference in the original floorboards was apparent by their sheen - the polish of a two hundred year's worth of feet. I had noted a change in the atmosphere on the lower levels when we visited last time and had wondered what it was about. As a healer I pick up on atmospheres and after talking to the officer it made sense: that part of the ship is the old part, and the echoes of a thousand people's stories, their triumphs and tragedies, are contained in its planks and beams. If you close your eyes you can almost hear them.

L had scampered on ahead as is his wont, and when I finally found him he'd attached himself to another family who were being taught how to tie nautical knots by a salty-looking white-bearded ancient-mariner type, who might well have been on board since the battle of Trafalgar judging by the look of him. 
The other family left, their children having been thoroughly terrified by the cranky old sea-dog's ferocious and dictatorial approach to knot-tying, and as I got within earshot I realised that, far from cowering away in terror as per the other kids, L was, in fact, giving the old mariner an informed and precise lecture on the use of slip-knots for tying up horses. Judging by the rather perplexed look on the old seafarer's face I suspect he wasn't used to children being anything other than awed and silent in his presence, and as a result he was uncertain how to react.

L can be pretty direct and not remotely twelve-year-oldish when he is in full steam, so I stood by quietly prepared to rescue the seafarer when the tell-tale glazing over of the eyes occured. However, it seemed that if the sea dog had met his match in L, then L too had met his match in the old sea dog. The beardy one wasn't having any of L's superior knot-tying-knowledge-in-the-horse-department-area, and challenged him to a knot-off by handing him a length of rope and gesturing at one of the rings hanging on a nearby cannon.
"Tie it there boy and show me what you mean," he instructed.

I wondered distractedly whether that was strictly speaking the proper use of an ancient cannon that had survived one of the most important battles in British history, and was now, by all accounts, revving up to play a central part in what might well turn out to be another.
L performed his knot, explaining the process as he went, and completed his example by tugging the rope free "so the horse doesn't hurt itself, you see?" he finished.
"Can't see," muttered the old boy. "What d'you want a knot that comes undone that easy for? Stock ropes are made for people to undo boy, not horses. Like this." And he performed a complicated and unnecessarily lightening fast twirling of the fingers to tie his own impressive knot on the poor unfortunate cannon ring. He gave it a hard tug at the pretend horse end and then got L to do as well for good measure. 
"See? Won't come undone," he said in a satisfied voice. "But if you grasp this end-" he gave the non-horse end a tug and the knot evaporated as if it was made of powdered silk. He grinned broadly in what I felt was a rather triumphalist way, given that he was 75 and L 12, but then L can have that affect on people. "Now that's a stockman's knot," said the sea dog, flourishing his knot-free rope proudly.

Clearly thinking he'd had the best of the argument and displayed sufficient knot-tying-knowledge to regain top-knot position, he glanced at me to see whether I was impressed. I was, a bit, but I was also worried, because I know my son and he had that look in his eye, the one I am told I used to get when I was his age and an adult was failing to take me seriously. I felt a bit sorry for the old man because when twelve year old boys get the bit between their teeth they don't give up easy. 
L put his head on one side, narrowed his eyes, thought for a minute as he weighed up what he'd just seen and finally said: "yes, but that's not the way you do it for horses."

Foreseeing a lengthy battle which had the potential to become not unlike Trafalgar in both duration and levels of attrition, and knowing we had to get back for lunch so F and J could catch their train on time afterwards, I tried to prise L away by pacifying both male egos in such a way that both would feel they'd proved their point (as a Mother Of Boys I am not without practice at this, and I don't feel it would be going too far to say that I am not without a degree of accomplishment at it).
L had clearly got the white-bearded one riled by this point because he wasn't going to give up and let us go that easily, so we had several more rounds of "but that's not the way to do it, this is," followed by "no, this is the way you do it."

In the end, and with growing frustration at the circular nature of the argument, I thought I'd settle it once and for all by playing my trump card, which is 35 years experience with horses. I assumed that would be the end of it, but it seems sea-dogs don't think much more of forty year old women than they do of twelve year old boys, because I immediately found myself on the receiving end of substantial sea-dog scepticism as to whether I'd been doing it right all those years.

It was hopeless, so I gave up, asked the old boy to finish by showing L how to do a figure-eight knot, which he did in such an impossibly complicated and fast to follow showing off way that I knew L must have well and truly rattled him. We thanked him and left the ship quickly before he could make a lasso and drag us back for further knot-related arguing.

As we walked down the gang-plank L said "I don't think he believed us mum."
"No darling," I said. "I don't think he did either. But on the other hand I expect you will feature quite heavily in his knot-tying related tales from now on, and that's probably something to be proud of."

The museum was peaceful and non-combative by comparison, and Full Of Very Weird Indeed Figureheads From Ships Of Ancient Times. Here an selection. They gave me the willies and I do not think I would like to be on my own with them at night. They look like they might come alive and start leaping about the place looking for their ships and the sea.

 HMS Grampus 1810-1897
(Formerly the Battleship HMS Tremendous launched in 1784)

HMS Asia 1824-1908
Built in Bombay of Indian Teak. I feel this one wouldn't entirely disgrace himself in a gay bar

HMS Carnatic 1823
A Battleship built in Portsmouth. The figurehead is an Indian Prince.

 HMS Malacca 1853-1869
A Frigate built in Burma, sold in 1869

HMS Centurion 1892-1910
Fleet flagship built in Portsmouth, saw action in the Third China War in 1900, broken up in 1910. It was the largest British Battleship to be fitted with a figurehead. He looks to me like he's seen something he would rather not have.
 HMS Warrior 1789-1857
This is the oldest figurehead in the museum, and one of the oldest in the world. I think it is my favourite. The others all have a slightly constipated look, but to me this one looks fierce and inspiring, which is what you want from a figurehead surely?

Back outside the museum we had a look at Monitor 33, which is one of only two surviving British Warships from the 1914-1918 conflict. She was built to bombard coastal positions from the sea, and was painted with "Dazzle Paintwork" which was supposed to make it hard to pin-point her through a view finder. Interestingly, it sparked a fashion craze for similar patterns in fabrics in the 1920's. How unlikely a place to find inspiration.

This is a view of Portsmouth Historic Dockyards taken from the roof of the museum building. You can just make out a watery patch in front of the large chimney. This is called the "Great Basin" and was built in 1698. The ships for Nelson's Navy were constructed in the dockyards around it and the Victory itself is just out of shot on the right, as is the Mary Rose in her smart new museum area.

The other side of the dockyards, with the Spinnaker Tower just visible in the left hand corner.

By way of a comparison, these are today's Navy Ships moored in the harbour

There was a display on slavery in the museum. Above are leg irons, and below, neck irons. Can you imagine having these awful things attached to you?

We've still more to do at Portsmouth and luckily because we don't live far we can go back as often as we like for the next 11 months. I want to do more of the Mary Rose exhibition without grumbling kids in tow, and there are various other displays which look interesting too.

On an entirely different but perhaps more in keeping with what you may have come to expect from this blog note, can anyone identify this caterpillar for me? I have looked and looked to no avail. The two white spots are on the tail end, he measures around 3cm in length, and I discovered him feasting on the leaves of one of our many cucumbers which are doing exceedingly well in the greenhouse this year. Pity I can't really eat them. Doubtless M will be taking them to work to hand out to his colleagues!

I have the pillar in a box with his favourite leaves so if no one can tell me what he is hopefully he'll survive and it will only be a matter of time before he emerges as something which will presumably be rather pretty and have wings. Alternatively he could turn out to be something else altogether, but I will be surprised if that's the case. Will keep you updated either way...

Wishing you all a peaceful evening,

CT :-)

Monday, 26 August 2013

Hedgerow Harvest And The Return Of Moths

I've been keeping an eye on some wild plum trees that grow near here and yesterday the lane was yellow with squished fallen plums. Luckily there were plenty of unsquished ones on the verge, so we collected them up and carried them home in a Teddy Poo Bag (necessity being the mother of invention and us being out on a walk anyway. It was an unused poo bag, I hasten to add), along with a few red ones.

The girls have been laying well recently (although Mave stopped laying her blue eggs while we were on holiday, which I found rather endearing. It's her nerves you see. She'll doubtless settle down now I am home again and start laying again before long) so I decided to make individual custard and plum cinnamon tartlets (homemade custard too and a completely experimental made-up recipe, I hope you are impressed). They went down a storm, which was a relief.

The harvest, both mechanical on a grand scale and hedgerow on a smaller and more artisan scale, is well and truly underway now. While out blackberrying this afternoon near the deliciously-named Owl Cottage (which incidentally has a marvellous damson tree that overhangs the path, although they are not quite ready to start falling just yet) we came across this ABSOLUTELY ENORMOUS combine working in the fields. The dust it was kicking up was phenomenal.

It was slightly incongruous when compared against our old ice cream tubs and pair of hands methodology, but we enjoyed it and came home with a goodly crop (1.9kg), even if it was a bit hot for Ted and L got bored...


There was an elusive Speckled Wood who kept landing in the hedgerow then flitting off as soon as I got the camera focused. Eventually I managed to get him feeding on a blackberry...

Talking of flying people, I put the Moth Box out last night for the first time in what seemed like ages, and was rewarded with several new species which have now taken my moth total for 2013 to 280 individual moth species. Butterflies currently stand at 24 so with the two together I have now reached over my target of 300 lepidoptera species for 2013. I would still like to get to 300 moths and there is probably still time.

Here are a selection.


 Black Arches

Splendid feathers on the Black Arches

Common White Wave

Feathered Gothic
(a new species for me and a very beautiful moth I think)

Maiden's Blush
(Beautifully named, a very delicate-looking moth. This one is perfect so must be fairly newly emerged)

White Point
(new for me)

Silver Y

Peach Blossom
(one of my favourites- I absolutely love the delicate blush of pink in the spots)

Peach Blossom with wings open

Sharp-Angled Peacock
(again, a perfect specimen so probably newly-emerged)

A quick Hornet Warning at this stage - for anyone who isn't a fan (Denise and Lou in particular) LOOK AWAY NOW! These SIX were dead in the bottom of the trap, I think they have been comprehensively mothed, judging by the amount of moth dust covering them...

As a sort-of connected aside, poor F has just trodden on a wasp who was Very Cross Indeed to be trodden on and promptly got his revenge by sticking his sting into F's nude foot. I've never heard F swear before, or seen him jump quite so high and fast, but it turns out he does know how to do both quite well. Anyway, I had to check because I can never remember, so for those of you who also need reminding, wasp stings are alkaline, so you neutralise them with acid in the form of vinegar or lemon juice. Bees (who are usually far too nice to sting anyone anyway) have acid stings so require bicarb of soda to ease the stung area.
L is convinced that the hornets above were bumped off by the Moth Bureau of Investigation (M.B.I) and has suggested we report F's wasp to them so they can take care of it for him.

Also in the trap was this rather charming Forest Shield Bug who was very friendly and spent ages walking over my hand...

  And this adorable Nut Weevil. I am particularly fond of Nut Weevils. I love their expressions. Little cutey-pie.

We have had two births today, both successful, although typically I missed the actual moment of emergence from the pupa and only realised when a brand new shiny butterfly flew in front of my nose and landed on the window and I wondered where it had come from. A search of the box revealed two papery and decidedly empty pupas. I'll post the pictures tomorrow, along with the 50 or so Large White pupas which are still sitting quietly waiting for their moment in the caterpillar box. 
Poor M has no brassicas left whatsoever, so I think he is being a Particularly Nice Husband to ooh and ahh over the newly hatched flutterby people when I call him over to admire them, rather than gnash his teeth and shake his fists and issue dire warnings of impending butterfly doom, which I rather think he is within his rights to do, given how much he loves growing veg. I am trying to help by removing as many caterpillars as I can from what is left of the cabbage. This is quite a time consuming job, especially as the small and green veined varieties are demons at camouflage and look a great deal like stalks....

Wishing you all a good evening,

CT :-)