Friday, 8 May 2015

General Election, Planting 1500 Plug Plants, Shearing Sheep And The Butterflies OfThe Hill

I had a day out on The Chalk yesterday helping plant 4000 plug plants. The main focus of these was Dark Mullein, which is the food plant for the caterpillar of the rare Striped Lychnis moth who is teetering on the brink of extinction, has a stronghold up on The Chalk and is the focus of a National Project to try and prevent any further losses. It's a rare moth, the adults are never normally seen, so the population is surveyed by the larva. You may remember I was involved with this last summer.
Four of us made reasonably light work of 1500 plants in a couple of hours, which was gratifying- the rest are being put in today, while I am at home revising and watching the outcome of the General Election, which can be summed up thusly: Conservatives get shock-horror unexpected majority and Dave pops off to visit Queenie to get her rubber-stamp of approval on his solo-party Government (must have been all that pumped up sleeve rolling action last week that did it eh?); SNP dominate Scotland under the fearsome Nicola Sturgeon; Labour drops down and the Lib Dems drop away; Three Party Leaders resign; Several Big Scalps are claimed, including the instigator of 'National Ed Balls Day', Ed Balls himself.... It's all been Quite Exhausting ;o)

Here are some snaps of our Hard Work yesterday....

I had made some Rhubarb Shortbread the night before (thanks CJ for the delicious recipe), as our rhubarb is threatening to take over the entire world (see how giant the leaves are? They are bigger than Poppy, not that that's particularly hard- everything is bigger than Poppy. They certainly made the basket I had taken outside to collect them in look ridiculous), and I took a box full of the resulting goodies along for the volunteers....

It went down well (as did the box M took to work for his colleagues, so I shall be making it again). 

After we'd devoured the cakes, I took myself off for a rewarding wander down The Hill to look for flutters (and at the same time burn off the fat and sugar just consumed) while the others went to help with the sheep shearing (more on that later). I'd had it on Good Authority from Colin (the keeper of The Hills' secrets) that the Brown Argus was out and about in numbers.

Now, you know I am keen for Everyone to be able to enjoy the delights fluttery folk have to offer and to understand why their continued existence is of paramount importance to us all, but I have to confess to a spot of Blatant Hypocrisy here, for when I reached the bottom of the hill where the Brown Argus were, I discovered to my dismay that an enormous (by the standards of The Hill) crowd of men with long lenses were all staring avidly at the grass pointing and clicking away.

My heart sank: I much prefer my wild places to be wild and unoccupied by people, you see?

I got a pic of this Orange Tip female ovipositing (egg laying) on Jack In The Hedge (can you see her? She's hiding behind the plant).

And then I was assailed by a flash of silvery blue as a Holly Blue shot in front of me and plonked down on the Jack In The Hedge... I was pleased, because it's only the second Holly Blue I've seen this Spring and time is a-ticking. Lovely, aren't they?

It was at this point, just as I was focusing the camera and willing the flutter to stay still long enough for the shot, that a man bounded up to me in a way reminiscent of an over-excited Tigger. 

What kind of Blue was that? he asked breathlessly, without so much as a 'Hello'.

I'm not sure how a shared purpose conveys tacit permission for the breaching of the social etiquette that governs 'respecting other peoples' personal space', but apparently it is OK if two people are watching butterflies for one to breath down the neck of the other, even if they haven't been properly introduced. Put it this way: had I been a Victorian Lady I would have been Jolly Certain that a marriage proposal was imminent.

The offence was compounded in a not inconsiderable way by the fact he had clearly consumed enough garlic the night before to fell the butchest of vampires at twenty paces (can vampires be butch, actually?).

Trying not to choke to death, and at the same time move out of fume-range, I replied that I thought it was a female Holly Blue. 

He actually leant over my shoulder to look down my camera lens.

I think it's a male, he stated.

OK, I said, in the kind of tiny voice that comes out when you're trying to talk through a small hole in your mouth and not breath at the same time (which is a hard thing to do as it turns out).

Desperate to repopulate my fast-withering lungs with good old-fashioned fresh air, I risked instant asphyxiation by breathing in order to utter what I hoped was an obviously final goodbye. Walking quickly away, his cries of 'all we need now's a Grizzled, eh?!' echoed after me.

In my haste to find clean air I very nearly tripped over his wife, a small silent creature who was sitting so still among the grasses I almost didn't see her.

I also nearly bumped into this Green Hairstreak who was perched on his flower in that quietly assertive way they have.

I thought I'd made good my escape, and was just settling down to take a pic of my first Brown Argus of the year (I'd forgotten quite what tiny wee flutters they are) when he bloomin' well reappeared. Shoving his camera under my nose he declared he'd been right and I wrong, as the Holly Blue was a male and not a female as I had thought, and this was owing to the small amount of black on the wing margins, See?

Unfortunately, because he'd run up The Hill to catch me (I having purposefully gone up The Hill to escape him) he was breathing hard, with the result that the garlic would now have felled an entire flock of Vampires at a distance of a mile or more (probably).

OK, I said, in a voice that probably lost in good manners what it gained in for pity's sake man, LEAVE ME ALONE! ness, a male, yes, well done.

Alas it wasn't to be.

What have you got there, a Grizzled?  he asked, apparently not registering a Cold Shoulder that could not have been more obvious had it spent the previous two hours in a freezer.
Would you believe he moved in for another too-close-for-comfort peer over my shoulder? But, Ah Ha!  I was ready for him this time and stepped gracefully backwards out of death-by-garlic range (or as gracefully as it's possible to when one is holding a camera and wearing clumpy walking boots while standing heel up on the steep sloping sides of a Chalk Downland made slippery by the night before's rain).

He peered at the grass. 

Oh yes, another Brown Argus, he said dismissively. A female, that one. There are lots of those about. But not, it seems, any Grizzleds. He let out an enormous sigh, nearly killing me on the spot, and mercifully turned round and wandered off to look elsewhere.

I clicked the shutter before he could come back, got a few hasty pics, including one with what looks like a hover fly poised to zoom in and irritate the butterfly, and quickly moved on towards another group who were all also staring avidly at the ground.


Don't forget to tell me if you find a Grizzled! He called out as I headed off.

Dodging the second group, I headed further along the track and was relieved to see there were No More People up ahead and even better that garlic-breath wasn't following me. 

I realised I hadn't taken the time I usually would to commune with the land and the flutters. Instead, ruffled by the unexpected crowds and the hard-to-shake personal-space-invader, I'd just taken pictures without pause. It left behind an unsettled sad feeling, because I much prefer to take my time and have a chat with them (the butterflies, not the people)- it seems rude just to take their picture and move on. I like to look at them properly and admire their colours and their little expressive faces, the beauty of their wings and the amazing way they survive here in what is not always the most clement or indeed flutter-friendly of climates (and let's not even begin to get into the damage done to their homes by people).

I forced myself to breath out and look around me properly, because The Hill is a very beautiful and ancient place and I feel at home there, it being on The Chalk an' all. It's rude to stride across ancient landscapes without asking permission, and this Hill has a row of Bronze Age Barrows that line the top like sentries guarding it, hints of a time when people lived with the land instead of simply on it.

I am quite certain when we're tense we project tense energy outwards and wildlife, more used to listening to instinct and using every sense it possesses, reacts to that. So if you want to see wild things close up you have to be quiet and still and above all relaxed, to let them come to you. You have to feel the heart beat of the land, to become part of it, then you aren't a threat, you're simply part of the place.

So that is what I did. I stopped actively looking; I let my irritation with all the other people fade away and I listened to the heart beat of the Hill; I asked it's forgiveness for my earlier intrusive haste and irritation, and after a little while, they appeared.....

First a Small Heath. Another tiny butterfly and the first Small Heath of the year for me. The Butterfly Wizard tells me he finds them a hard species to photograph, but this little one sat quite still on his nettle leaf and allowed the camera so close it was almost touching.

A moment later a brilliant and therefore newly emerged Common Blue flew over and rested on a bramble leaf, his wide open wings soaking up the sunlight....

And then, when I thought the generosity of The Hill could provide no more, a tiny Grizzled Skipper suddenly flitted out of no-where and landed at my feet.....(shhh, don't tell!)....:o)

I kept The Hill's secret and went on my way with a small private smile, hiking directly up the slope thereby avoiding all the cameras, back to the Sheep Pen where my fellow plug planters were by this time watching the winter fleeces coming off the Shetland/ Hebridean Flock (Amanda, these are for you :o)...).


All in all a Top Day, and one that was Much Needed after all the indoor-ness of the day before.

Hope all are well?

CT :o)


  1. Oh dear, sorry to laugh! Some people just don't have a clue about personal space. I would like to thank you for opening my eyes to such beautiful butterflies and moths. :) I just have to learn to catch them on camera now.

    1. Yup, no sense whatsoever that chap :o)

      There will be plenty more fluttery folk to come (once the weather warms up). I'm really looking forward to the more colourful moths appearing....should be any day now :o)

  2. I grinned when I saw the grizzled. The earth sent that especially for you.
    I'm pleased to know that I'm not alone in talking to animals (I include trees and plants,so they are not left out).
    Great story telling!
    Jane x
    PS Eek, that sheep is nekkid!

    1. It was a kindness, for sure, the appearance of that little flutter :o)
      I also talk to plants and trees- no surprises there huh?! xx

  3. Aren't people rude? Those sheep must feel so much better to be relieved of all that wool.

    1. Maybe he just got carried away with the old hunter gatherer instinct and forgot his manners....

      They did look very smart newly shaved :o)

  4. Wow, just amazing photos of the butterflies. They cheered me up no end after finding a dead baby blue tit in the garden today. Thank you for the birdsong phone app info, Still no cuckoo in my neck of the woods. I'm going to make that rhubarb shortbread right now.

    1. Thank you- the light was good for photographs :o)

      The rhubarb recipe is a good 'un- it certainly went down well here!

    2. ps - meant to add, so sorry to hear about the baby blue tit x

  5. Fantastic to share your butterfly observations CT. When you described Garlic Breaths wife, she sounded like a fawn in the grass!

    1. She did strike me as a little like a fawn, or a leveret. The complete opposite to garlic breath. Poor woman :o) x

  6. Ohh that shortbread looks and sounds delicious!!!! Not so sure about your garlicky friend though!! Gosh, manners... or not in his case!!! Fantastic to see the butterflies that you saw though. I do get ecology withdrawal when I don't read your posts. You will be glad to know that I have been identifying orange tips on other blogs - who got, dare I say, good photos of them!! Hope that you have a good weekend! xx

    1. Shortbread definitely worth trying- very easy to make and de-lich-us :o)

      Excellently well done on IDing OTs- I am proud of you! I suspect it is me they play games with, in terms of sitting still for piccies :o)

      Nice to have you back my friend xxx

  7. Totally fabulous post, a real treat, thanks.


  8. Never mind, you probably made his day even though he was so irritating for you. I know exactly what you mean about taking the time to actually experience the moment, it is harder than it sounds especially when snapping away. I have spent the afternoon making pj's acceding to your directions, so easy and enjoyable. Thanks Teach!

    1. So pleased you've given the PJ tutorial a go- I have now made 6 pairs!!!

      Have a lovely weekend xx

  9. Your butterfly photos are absolutely gorgeous, they really are. The colour of the blues is beautiful. I shall try and relax more next time I'm trying to take butterfly photos, I normally can't get close. Glad you enjoyed the shortbread. I managed to find a little more rhubarb at the plot today, so I'll probably make some more soon too. Well done on all of your plug planting. It makes my twenty beans, a dozen larkspur and seven sunflowers look rather feeble. Wishing you a good weekend. CJ xx

    1. The plug planting was probably easier because we had a square of empty ground to put them in and were literally making a line of holes and shoving the plugs in them :o)

      Shortbread is on the menu for the Grannies and Grandpa's roast dinner this Sunday (thank you- you are a life saver in rhubarb terms!).

      Have a lovely weekend xx

  10. Hahahahahahahaaa was what I was doing as the garlic death breath man wouldn't leave you alone! Love the Holly Blue! Why do I love Butterflies but am petrified of Moths?!!

    1. Some people are just lacking in basic awareness I think, don't you? I was grinning about it too, although that was some time later :o)

      Maybe it's the night time thing with moths that worries you- too many scary movies featuring creatures of the night? Come back and see my moth pics in a month or so and they might change your mind for you xx

  11. Hey CT,
    Stunning butterflies. I agree with you that some wild spaces have a distinct 'feeling.' It's not just a sense of awe and wonder at the natural landscape and the wildlife that live in harmony with it. There's something about being able to wrap that sense of belonging around yourself too. It makes me feel very emotional, and I often try to describe this feeling to my friends and family. I think they think I'm bonkers. All I know is that it provides me with an anchor and a sense of belonging. I'm aware that I'm not making much sense. But I bet you get the gist. I can picture you stood on your chalk hill, rather like I often stand on Rosewall, looking out and beyond with a continued sense of wonder at this amazing world we often take for granted.
    Have a lovely weekend, CT.
    Leanne xx

    1. A sense of awe and belonging is exactly it. Hard to put into words, I agree, but I do know what you mean. It is a kind of warm blanket to wrap up in when you find a place you feel at home in like that and part of. That probably made no sense at all, proving that feelings are hard to translate adequately into words!!
      Have a good weekend too- hope Olly is now better and Alfie's growing pains have eased xxx

  12. Did I leave a comment ? Might not of pressed publish. !
    Thanks for the sheep shot they look a lovely sheep, would have enjoyed watching them getting de fleeced. I often pick up a odd country loving chap on my outings..! Should have got a photo :)
    Loving all the butterflies you have found, did you have this many this time last year ?
    Amanda xx

    1. I was grinning to myself thinking how much you would have liked to have been there while the shearing was going on :o)

      I'm up on my totals for species this year- have seen 16 flutters so far. This time last year it was 8. I think I have got better at spotting them and knowing where to look, which may have changed things a little.

      Yes! Let's get photos of our odd country loving chaps next time - there is bound to be another one along before long :o) xx

  13. Fabulous post. Too right, election was exhausting. Too true, my rhubarb is also huge, and I don't think I've ever seen a green hair streak....

    1. Ah, CJ's recipe (courtesy of Nigella) is perfect for excessive Rhubarb :o)


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