30th November 2019

Kestrels: Once our most numerous bird of prey, Kestrels have declined and Buzzards have increased and are now number one! Yesterday when, taking our van out for a run, it broke down (sorted by rescue). We were therefore delighted when this one flew in near the lane we parked up on. Kestrels use high perches to hunt from, especially in winter when they need to preserve energy, as their characteristic hovering uses far more energy. This one didn’t stay long, so we occupied ourselves waiting for roadside rescue by playing scrabble we had in the van, but it was lovely to watch this one, probably looking out for a small rodent, like a vole, by far their most frequent food source, though they will eat earthworms, large insects, even sparrows in cities. Kestrels were

Kestrel

Beady eyed Kestrel

Kestrel

reserved for the lower status Knaves in medieval falconry, larger hawks being reserved for Knights. Hieararchies have been around for a very long time! Conditions: Another frosty, bright, dray day. Temperature: Max 2 Min 0C.

4th July 2019

Heartease, or Wild Pansy-  one of my mum’s favourite flowers, and mine, so it was lovely to come across patches of them on one of their favourite settings- sand dunes- recently. They also appear on cultivated, sandy soils. The colour-patterns vary and it is easy to see why they are also called ‘Viola Tricolour”.  ‘Pansy’ comes from the French, “pensee”, “to think” and Louis the XV decorated the coat of arms of his favourite advisor, Francois Quesnay’, who he called his ‘thinker’ with these little gems. Heartease has long been used in herbal remedies, for skin conditions, chest complaints, as an anti-inflammatory and a diuretic. It also has a long association with grief. Shakespeare, in Hamlet, has Ophelia strewing herbs after the death of he father, saying ” And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts”. Conditions: Warm, with sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 22 Min 12C.

Heartease

Heartease, or Viola Tricolour

Heartsease

10th September 2018

The Painted Lady Butterfly is one of our largest species, and its capacity for strong flight is  truly extraordinary. They migrate every year  from their native home in North Africa. Some individuals arriving here from late May may have flown all the way, while others will have bred in Europe and it is the second or third generation which we see. This amazing Butterfly can breed several generations while here, and can fly as far as Shetland and to our highest mountains. The Painted Lady is the only Butterfly that reaches Iceland. However, it cannot survive our winters, and while a few may fly back to Europe, most die here by autumn. These, seen this week, are fading from their bright colour when they first emerge. Feeding here on Buddleia, their favourite food plant is Thistle. I have seen very few this year- it is thought that they migrate north when a critical level of density in their population in North Africa is reached, and sometimes this is in their thousands. Conditions: Still and grey. Temperature: Max 17 Min 15 C.

Painted Lady

Painted Lady in flight

Painted Lady feeding. Its long proboscis allows it to feed on the tubes of Buddleia

Painted Lady, fading by late summer.

22nd July 2018

Six-spot Burnet Moth

Burnet Moths – the Six-spot Burnet moths can be seen wherever their caterpillars’ food supply- trefoils and vetch- thrive ( see photo). Cyanides in these plants are passed from caterpillar to adult moth stage, deterring bird- predators. However, in Ireland last month, on the wonderful Burren limestone, we saw ( a first for me) these Transparent Burnet Moths on the gorgeous deep mauve Tufted Vetch. You won’t see these in England but the Six-spots ( see one of the photos) are pretty common and flying now. Conditions: continuing parched dry, hot weather. Temperature: Max 24 Min 16 C.

Transparent Burnet Moth on Tufted Vetch

Transparent Burnet Moth

29th June 2018

The Marbled White Butterfly can appear in large colonies on chalk and limestone on flower-rich grasslands, which is why we saw these beautiful individuals on Old Winchester Hill in the South Downs National Park today. They are more closely related to the Browns than the Whites and love basking in early sun during July and August. Marbled Whites are the only black and white butterfly remotely

Marbled White Butterfly

Marbled White Butterfly

Marbled White Butterfly

Marbled White Butterfly

Marbled White Butterfly

like this in the UK, which explains why I could identify it despite never having seen in before, except in books i poured over as a child! Conditions: A cooling breeze eased the very hot, unrelenting sun. Temperature: Max 25 Min 11 C.

25th June 2018

Meadow Pipits are one of the most widespread birds in Britain and Ireland, found on seashores, heaths, meadows and uplands, though their actual numbers have plummeted by 40%. Meadow Pipits have many predators and this one looked round nervously, as they often do, from its perch, as it preened. They eat moths, insects and spiders and can be confused with the larger, less streaky-chested Skylark,

Meadow Pipit preening

Meadow Pipit, singing from its perch

Meadow Pipit

Meadow Pipit preening.

soaring up and singing their (very different, piping) song before parachuting back down to ground or perch. The colour of their back varies from olive green, through buff to grey. A look at a video on the BTO site will help you separate them out from Skylarks and Rock Pipits. Conditions: Very hot, still sunny day. Temperature: Max 27 Min 13 C