Friday, 15 August 2014

Blue Butterflies, Foraging For Food, Surveying For Daubenton's Bats, and Teddy Has A New Hair Cut


I went to Magdalen a few days ago and in the Chalk Pit discovered lots of Blue Flutters. Mostly Commons, who were having furious quarrels with the minute Brown Argus which involved a lot of angry spiraling up in the air. The Chalkhills were flitting about staying out of the row but not especially wanting to settle.

There are fewer butterflies about now that the weather is cooling so I am eager to get pictures while I still can...

Male Brown Argus (the yellow dots don't go all the way to the top of the wings in the male). This flutter really is tiny wee- 25-31mm.

Male Chalkhill Blue. 33-40mm

Male Tattered Common Blue. 29-38mm

Common Blues mating (female on the right of the pic)

Female Brown Argus (spots go all the way to the wing tips)

Female Common Blue

Female Common Blue (Mariscolore variety, which is a colour form more common in Scotland and Ireland, so I was pleased to see her. Female Cbs are usually browner, as in the other pic above, although Ma recently saw a Mariscolore in her fields as well so they are clearly about)
Back home and we are still getting New Visitors to the garden to add to my species list (which now stands at over 500 for this year). Below is a Common Darter dragonfly who appeared yesterday. I've not seen one in the garden before, despite them being the most widespread lowland species. They're a late dragon and can sometimes be found flying well into December. This one hovered in front of me for ages giving me a very thorough check-out before deciding to land on this blade of pond greenery....



The World's Most Expensive Buddleia Ever (if you remember, it was ordered as a white patio version at 15 quid and when it turned up was the size of a 5p pence. It has grown, but it is not, as you can see, white) is starting to be visited by flutters, (thank God)....
 
Late generation Female Small White

Small Tortoiseshell


Incidentally, I have heard recently that some small Torts are already starting to hibernate, so if you come across one asleep in your house or shed or garage, please do leave it where it is!

Autumn's approach means Wild Harvest Time here. We've just finished the last batch of M's delicious Blackberry Ice Cream (I will post the recipe again this year for those of you who missed it last year), and the berries are fattening up nicely in the hedges so he's set to make some more.

Chickpea, whose blog can be found here wrote a post this morning about how people don't seem to get out collecting blackberries any more, and she's right: I fear increasing numbers of people are becoming more and more disconnected from the real world (the natural one) and consider food that comes on hedges somehow less appealing as a result. I remember taking L and one of his mates out blackberrying years ago when the boys were six or so. The friend had never seen a blackberry before and didn't know what it was. 

Our food bill goes down dramatically at this time of the year because we grow our own veg and collect things from the fields and hedges. Waitrose, on the other hand, was selling a handful of blackberries for four quid a punnet last autumn.....

My Lovely Friend Mrs Massey gave me a huge bag of walnuts from a friendly tree earlier in the year and I've just got round to making a walnut and cinammon cake with them. It was scrummy. Part of the joy is in preparing the wild food that goes into these meals. I'm a bit agricultural when it comes to cooking, I base things very loosely on recipes and generally make the rest of it up as I go along, chucking in whatever I've got to hand. I think you probably get the confidence to do this when you cook frequently so you know what flavours work and what don't.

Cracking walnuts with a hammer
 
Inside the shell...
Ma popped over with a basketfull of mushrooms she'd picked from her fields this morning. M ate them chopped up in his salad for lunch (which all came from the garden- toms, cuc, sorrel leaves). Don't they look lovely?

 
Fresh Mushies
The other side of wild foraging for me is seeds, which are abundant at this time of the year. I'm making a conscious effort this year to gather as many from the wild/ our garden as I can (obviously making sure there are enough left for the birds and insects and asking permission of landowners where needed too). It'll be fascinating next spring to see what germinates. I love how different they all are.....



Looks like Lesser Trefoil but for the black seed heads and the tiny sharp point on the apex of the leaf.

Calendula, which has done well this year

Kidney Vetch (sole food plant for the Small Blue Flutter). We are going to put a pile of chalk in the wildflower area and experiment with some chalk-loving plants to see what will grow. With any luck we'll get the accompanying insects. Kidney Vetch is one such plant.

Mallow

Chocolate Scabious (love their little spikes)


Red Campion seedhead

Red Campion seeds

Common Vetch
Corncockle seeds- be careful with these as they are poisonous.



Otherwise in the garden....

The Baby Rat Pair are still with us. M growls at them whenever he sees them, Ted chases them and Poppy follows Ted. There are only two of them so I don't mind them :-)


Poppet, our one-legged Dunnock, is still with us. This will be her fourth winter, so she's getting on. She does actually have a second leg, but it is withered and useless and has been since birth. I think she has done amazingly well to survive all this time as a result. I have watched her closely over the years and her behaviour is different to the other Dunnocks- she doesn't waste energy on flicking her wings (typical Dunnock behaviour) or in moving unnecessarily and has learnt to judge risks, predators and threats accordingly. I watch the others flee at the first hint of a crow approaching while she merely hops beneath the bird table and ducks her head down, keeping watch all the time. I am full of admiration for her. She is a clever bird.


I recently signed up to do a Waterways Survey for Daubenton's Bats with the Bat Conservancy Trust. I took the detector (which has been dubbed 'the Bat Mobile' in our house. L now calls me 'Bat Mummy', although he (rather inevitably) soon revised it to 'Batty Mummy', which he finds highly amusing) on holiday, and got the other kids staying on the farm to listen. One parent astonished me by saying to his children (and I quote): you know what bats are don't you? They're birds with no eyes. I was speechless. There was also the inevitable teenage girl who squeaked and covered her long hair with her hands as she cast her eyes wildly up towards the sky and squealed Bats! You mean there are bats flying over our heads?! Don't worry (I said, in a not terribly sympathetic voice) they're hunting insects, not hair.

Daubs are water-loving and have adapted accordingly. They have large feet that allow them to scoop up water while hunting and looking for insects. Their main prey is chironomid midges. They have a wingspan of 230-275mm so they are medium-sized bats, and are members of the Myotis family which includes Brandt's, Whiskered, Natterer's and Bechstein's. Population studies are being carried out to try and build up an accurate picture of their numbers because they, like so much else, are under-recorded.

Our survey involved walking a 2km stretch of the Test stopping at ten designated points along the route and recording GPS grid refs as well as the number of passes that occurred during four minutes. I set the bat detector to 35 kHz to be able to hear them and minimise the likelihood of hearing other species of bat (such as pips), and we shone a torch intermittently across the water to count them as they flew low looking for mozzies. Daub's don't like light so the intermittent torch is important. 

You learn to distinguish the Daub's call from that of other bats by the tone (it has a dry even rattle, a little like marbles hitting a roof, whereas Pip's warble and plink all over the place and fade out at 35 kHz). After nearly two hours in their company I felt I understood them better and was able to predict when they'd be low over the water according to the noises they were making, something that was rather pleasingly born out by the torch's beam.

Most of our route was straight-forward, apart from two sections where we had to cross channels that feed the main river. Both of these were traversed in the pitch black (with head torches) and both involved scampering unsteadily over decidedly narrow, old, wobbly planks while the water raged and churned below. It all added to the fun.

Daubenton's are fantastic creatures and I am now very fond of them. We were thoroughly inspected by the bats at the various sections along the way. Contrary to popular opinion, bats will not try to fly into your face- they are masters at flying and locating things in the dark, if they come close to you to have a look that is all they are doing; they don't want to fly into you and if you stay calm they won't. Each one who came close flew just in front of us and then up and over our heads once curiosity was satisfied.

The moon was full and fat and orange when we went to see them and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. M saw shooting stars and at one point three owls flew low over our heads and across the moonlit river. Even a heron went over at one point, silhouetted against the moon. It was a magic night to be out and I counted over 400 bat passes for the survey. This doesn't mean there were 400 bats present, but it does mean the population of Daub's on that section of the river is healthy, which is great news. There were 90 alone in the section just below their nursery tree roost. We're back again at the end of the month to complete the survey for this year and I'll report back again after we've been. I will try and remember to take the video along and hope to get some on camera for you to see and hear.

Finally, I've leave you with Teddy, who has had a new Hair Cut, Pops, who was grumpy that T was getting all the attention, and then the pair of them, with T giving P a kiss because he loves her....




Happy Days!

CT :-)

ps- be dears and ignore any spelling mistakes, I haven't time to go through and check it all.

26 comments:

  1. Teddy looks like he could be my ~Wombles~ brother, peas in a pod. I like the little plastic bag idea I have a few so will pop my seeds in them. x

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    1. Westies are soooo lovely- teddy is the kindest dog in the whole world :-) You can also get little brown envelopes (ebay) which work well for seeds that need to be kept in the dark ;-)

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  2. Your dogs are too cute for words! We have been having a little rat problem. The house a couple of doors up is empty and infested. There was one the size of a small dog in the garden yesterday. Urgh.
    Have a lovely weekend.
    Leanne xx

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    1. They do look especially sweet when they've been shorn. Pops has her lady operation next week (which I am already worrying about) :-(
      Don't envy you huge rats- we had the same problem with the hens here last winter. xx

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  3. Stunning butterfly photos! What a good idea, I hadn't thought of collecting seeds. I have onion seeds in the garden I will collect them and see if I can get them to grow x

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    1. Thanks, Chickpea :-) You'll have to let me know how you get on sowing the onion seeds. M is our veg grower here, I think I will suggest he tries harvesting the seed too xx

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  4. Teddy's ears are too cute. My dog is going for a trim tomorrow. She'll probably have to be shaved down to the wood because she got all matted when we were away. I dread to think what she'll look like.

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    1. I keep looking at him and thinking we've got a new dog :-) Pops had to be clipped for the same reason- grass seeds and burs everywhere and her coat was really matted too. It's much easier to keep her clean and healthy with a shorter coat. You'll have to post some pics of your girl when she's got her new hair do.

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  5. Happy days and busy days by the sound of it!! The seeds you have collected will produce an awful lot of flowers next year I am sure, so I hope that they will attract lots of wildlife too. xx

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    1. I'm planning to give some as Crimble prezzies, thought they'd make a nice and different sort of prezzie. Hope you're feeling better today xx

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  6. You'll be pleased to hear that we had a 'Humming bird moth' in the garden today, I dashed for my camera but it had gone by the time I got out in the garden. It was interested in the Verbena Bonariensis, but the honey suckle is still flowering so it might be that, that was the attraction.
    Knew you'd like to know.
    Briony
    x

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    1. Excellent! I am THRILLED for you!!! Thanks so much for letting me know :-) I've been keeping an eye out for one here but so far no luck, so I'm doubly pleased you've had one visit you. You should log it with Butterfly Conservation- Hummingbird Hawkmoths are a species they are keeping track of because they're moving their homes Northward as the weather warms. xx

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  7. Love the seeds and the mating flutters best. Ted looks fantastic! x

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    1. The mating flutters sat there for ages ignoring everyone else, including the Common Blue who kept trying to get in on the act! Perfic photo op :-)

      Teddy's do was a scissors job because my clippers have officially worn out, so am relieved it doesn't look too awful. At least the dirty bits have been clipped away so he now doesn't need a bath! xx

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  8. Great photos of the blues and the seeds - particularly fascinated with the seeds you collected. I am sad to admit that I have never, ever contemplated finding wild flower seeds. Such a brilliant idea. Not sure if I know where to start though...

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    1. Now is the time :-) Just take a small plastic bag out and see what you can find. If it's a nature reserve or private land it's a good idea to ask permission first but as long as you don't strip the plants most places are happy to let you have some. Hedgerows and verges (if they haven't been cut) are also great places for seeds- be a good project with your home ed aspect I should think :-)

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  9. Have logged my sighting of the Humming bird hawk moth.
    Briony
    x

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  10. Catching up on you posts, looks like you had a good time away, I've been busy changing the garden and house, so not been posting.. back now.
    Teddy looks so cute, the weather has been very Autumny this past few weeks wet and windy...have not seen many Butterflies at all so it's nice to see your still getting to see them. Have been collecting a few seeds as well and hope to go foraging tomorrow if the rain stays away..
    Amanda xx

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    1. Will look forward to catching up with what you've been up to. Def feel Autumn on the wind now :-)

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  11. I have loved the info in this post CT and it's been great to see the butterflies close up, the Chalkhill Blue is a beautiful creature. I'm sorry to hear your white buddleia is purple after all that expense..how annoying! The bat survey sounded wonderful and you got to see so many extra things. Lots of people blackberry picking here and I forgot all about the ice cream recipe until now.

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    1. The bat survey has been one of my favourite things this summer. Magical to watch so many of them hunting along the moonlit river. Will post the ice cream recipe again this week sometime xx

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  12. Lovely to see so many butterflies in your photos - numbers have really dropped off here. Sorry to hear the buddleia is purple but if its any consolation we have a white one which gets hardly any visits from butterflies or bees whereas the purple ones are covered in insects.

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    1. Magdalen is a hot spot for flutters. Numbers are down elsewhere here so I'm making the most of the hill while I can! I did buy a normal-sized white budd when the teeny weeny one arrived- hope it is attracting moths at night :-)

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  13. Poppy and Teddy are really really adorable, and the one-legged dunnock a bit of a star. I've been trying to learn butterfly identification and see I must now turn my attention to moths - so much more beautiful than people think. - Lily

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    1. I am a bit biased when it comes to moths :-) But they are smashing little things. The moth box is shining out in the garden tonight so if you get a chance to check back in tomorrow I will hopefully have posted what I find in the morning. Ted and Pops are sweethearts- I would be lost without them :-)

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Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x