Writing this blog has produced a number of unexpected bonuses. I have always been fascinated by wildlife but writing about it regularly has given me a heightened awareness of the many natural wonders unfurling around me as I go about my day. It is unlikely that more stuff is happening although it definitely feels that way. Instead I guess I’m just much more conscious of it because I now think of it in terms of capturing it in some way.
To give you a couple of examples; yesterday whilst stretching on my driveway after a run through the woods, a buzzard flew past carrying a still writhing snake/slow worm. Whilst I felt sad for the hapless creature being borne away to certain death, not least because it clearly hadn’t been instant, it was still an incredible spectacle to behold and one that I have never seen before. A few weeks previously whilst taking my favourite back lane route to work, I rounded a bend to find a young badger contentedly snuffling about on the road. When he finally noticed me waiting for him he momentarily debated his best course of action and then spent some time scrabbling in ungainly fashion up the steep bank next to my car. He was so close I could easily have reached out through the open window and given him a helping hand although I doubt he would have appreciated it. Such moments are an amazing reminder (if one were needed) of how lucky I am to live and work in the British countryside, a feeling that has been strengthened by this blog by forcing me to register and consider these moments more deeply.
A perhaps less obvious and more mysterious natural spectacle is shown below in this photograph of some burrows that have been puzzling me for some time.
Having walked past these several times and pondered the likely nature of their occupants, I finally decided to investigate. Assuming that the burrows were some sort of pitfall trap, my first approach was to try to entice the occupant out with a blade of grass. Unfortunately the slightest touch caused the sides of the pitfall trap to collapse completely, no doubt leaving some extra construction work for the still mysterious and now perhaps slightly disgruntled inhabitant. Next I tried quiet observation. From a distance I could see a tiny head filling the base of each pitfall trap but as soon as I loomed into view the heads would disappear. Eventually by stealth I managed to photograph one of the heads although I was still none the wiser, see below.
Seems like good inspiration for a creature straight out of science fiction! Eventually I noticed a number of tiny wasps flying back and forth between the burrows so I can only assume that they are perhaps a species of digger wasp. With over 110 species that doesn’t really narrow it down very much so I’m afraid the mystery prevails!
Less mysterious is this lovely group of lizards basking next to one of the main gates onto Rudge Hill Common. I confess I actually took this photograph last year when I first discovered an adult female and three juveniles. I was amazed to find that they were completely unbothered by the gate opening and slamming shut just a few inches away and was delighted this year to discover seven individuals next to the same gate. Below is a picture of one of them.
Continuing the reptilian theme, I managed to find a couple of hours to go out addering last week and, although it is much harder to find reptiles at this time of year given the long grass and higher temperatures, it turned out to be a surprisingly rewarding day. The first thing I saw was a polecat which blew me away as the closest I have I seen one to the Cotswolds was some years ago in the Cotswold Water Park near Cirencester. I am pretty sure that it was a polecat rather than a polecat ferret and aim to go back to the area I saw it to try and get a better look. We then went on to find several adders including this beautiful and almost certainly gravid female under Poirot’s usual mat. I haven’t had time to try to identify her yet but she does look familiar so I think we have probably already given her a name (perhaps a sign that I am spending too much time thinking about adders when briefly glimpsed individuals start to look familiar!).
From reptiles to moths, at the start of July I ran a moth trapping evening with two colleagues. We could all be described as a bit geeky about moths but they are definitely super-geeks who set their moth trap most evenings at home and even go on moth holidays. An evening mothing with the two of them is always extremely enjoyable and it is rare that we manage to tear ourselves away before 2-3am. Part of the reason for this is that you tend to get two peaks of moth activity in the traps, one at about 11pm and another one around 1am, each consisting of different species. Consequently it is always worth sticking around until after the 1am peak to see what turns up. The evening on Juniper Hill was fascinating as always and, although the species list was not that long, 33 species compared to over 60 last year, there were enough interesting species to keep us very happy.
Highlights were an unbelievable number of drinker moths -so cute and furry and happy to sit on the end of your finger that it is all but impossible not to want one as a pet – and, just as we were checking the traps for the last time, two spectacular privet hawkmoths, one of which is pictured below.