Native Bluebells – a walk in Hampton Wood in Warwickshire

The English countryside certainly has its spectacular moments and a bluebell wood in full bloom in the spring sunshine is just something to behold. This week we took time out after a busy Easter weekend to have a wander around Hampton Wood. Owned and managed by the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust this ancient woodland lies close to the banks of the river Avon (OS Sheet: 151; SP 254 600 Post code: CV35 8AS).

This wood and meadow is quickly becoming one of our favourite places to walk since joining the Trust last year. It is a delight. At around 12.3 hectares the reserve is not enormous but there is plenty to see and hear and try to identify.

Here are some photographs (taken on 23 April 2019) which try to capture some of the impact of these woods at this time of year. At first sight it is the mass of blue that takes you aback. However, as you look more closely the mix of other wild flowers create a series of beautiful cameos of contrasting colours and texture. Here are just some of the flowers and ferns we spotted in a short one hour meander around the reserve.

P1020619
The bluebell wood in all its glory
P1020622 Primrose - Primula vulgaris
Primrose – Primula vulgaris
P1020607 Greater Stitchwort - Stellaria holostea
Greater Stitchwort – Stellaria holostea
P1020620 Red Campion - Silene dioica
Red Campion – Silene dioica
P1020647 Green alkanet - Pentaglottis sempervirens
Green alkanet – Pentaglottis sempervirens
P1020636 Crab apple - Malus sylvestris
Crab apple – Malus sylvestris
P1020606 Lesser Celandine - Ficaria verna
Lesser Celandine – Ficaria verna
P1020605 Wood anemone or Windflower - Anemone nemorosa
Wood anemone or Windflower – Anemone nemorosa
P1020623 Ground Ivy - Glechoma hederacea
Ground Ivy – Glechoma hederacea
P1020630 Cuckoo flower - Cardamine pratensis
Cuckoo flower – Cardamine pratensis
P1020638 Fern croziers
Fern croziers
P1020595 Yellow archangel - Lamium galeobdolon
Yellow archangel – Lamium galeobdolon
P1020593 Common Dog Violet - Viola riviniana
Common Dog Violet – Viola riviniana
P1020594 Bluebell - Hyacinthoides non-scripta
Bluebell – Hyacinthoides non-scripta
P1020618
A view amongst the trees

We will of course be visiting again over the coming months to see how the flora and fauna change and develop during the year. We would like to be much, much better at identifying birds from their individual songs and calls and to help us improve we have signed up for a spring bird identification workshop next month. No doubt we will come out of the course full of enthusiasm but will it stick. Memorising the sounds birds make seems to be so much more difficult than identifying them from their plumage. Hopefully it will enhance our enjoyment of these beautiful wildlife reserves still further. If nothing else it will gives us hours of fun!

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Sunday Garden Birdwatch – 7 April 2019

The garden is full of bird life at the moment from dawn to dusk.  A particular highlight today has been our ‘crazy’ male chaffinch who has spent the day fighting his own reflection in the kitchen window – exhausting for him and us!  A Chaffinch is usually quite a rare sighting in our garden and this spring we seem to have a pair that are present most of the time.

This post is intended to be a simple record of the birds we have spotted in the garden today (7 April 2019).   The garden is about 1 acre and located in the countryside just outside Warwick (UK).  It has a substantial number of mature trees and shrubs and is surrounded by countryside on all sides.  This is mainly grazed pasture but there are also arable fields close by (this year mainly growing oil-seed rape which is just starting to come into flower).

We have a number of bird feeders in the garden which contain peanuts or a bird seed mix.   Here are today’s sightings.  The photographs are all taken in the garden but not necessarily today.

Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)

Nuthatch

Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

P1020416_Moment

Dunnock (Prunella modularis)

Dunnock P1020370

Blackbird (Turdus merula)

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Wood Pigeon (Columba palumbus)

Wood Pigeon

Great Tit (Parus major)

Great Tit

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)

P1010831

Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus)

Blue Tit

Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Jackdaw (Corvus monedula)

P1020167 Jackdaw

Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)

P1020472

There are of course other birds that visit from time to time but they have not appeared today.  Next week perhaps!

Robin Red Breast singing in the March sunshine (video)

The garden is full of bird song at the moment and it is a pleasure to simply stop and listen and watch.  I never quite seem to have the camera with me at the right time but this little robin was kind enough to sit still long enough whilst I zoomed in and caught its song on video.  The robin’s red breast and plumage is certainly at its best at this time of year as they prepare for the new breeding season.  The red in particular looks great here against the glossy dark green leaves of the holly (Ilex aquifolium)

The European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) is resident in the garden throughout the year feeding on insects, invertebrates, worms, seeds and fruit.  Although very territorial, during the winter we do see a number in the bushes waiting their turn under the bird table or to visit the seed feeder.

They may be very common throughout the whole of the UK but our garden would not be the same without them.

 

The Dunnock – singing its little heart out in the February sunshine and inspiring poetry.

I would definitely categorised the Dunnock (Prunella modularis) as a ‘little brown job’, quietly moving about in the garden under growth eating small insects, spiders, worms and seeds.

Normally if we hear colourful and melodic birdsong it is typically a robin or wren and to date we have not really associated the Dunnock (or Hedge Sparrow) as a significant part of the spring chorus.

Over the last few days of February this year (2019) the temperature has been unseasonably warm in our garden in Warwickshire and it has brought everything to life. Not only have we enjoyed the sunshine and blue skies but clearly the birds have as well.

I was lucky enough to capture this little Dunnock on camera in the afternoon sunshine. It stayed put long enough to capture its song, clearly communicating with another Dunnock that you can hear in the background responding between the phrases.

We have written in the past about how the garden has inspired a couple of artists (Jenny Lucey and Petra Rich-Alexandre) but for the first time we have inspired a poet. My friend Paul Waring on seeing this clip on Facebook was moved to verse and I am delighted that he has agreed to allow me to publish it here alongside this clip.

Hedge Sparrow sings this Spring like day,
Before the first of March,
No Willow quite yet out in leaf,
Or Oak, Elm, Birch or Larch,
Another is but a field away,
No time to waste or wait,
With food to gather,
Nests to build,
A place to rest and mate,
We’re fools to think the Winter’s gone,
While Sun hangs long and low,
This time last year the snows had come,
Before the cold could go,
But harken at the sweet bird song,
In hope of longer days,
Then marvel at the Dunnock’s voice,
With sunshine that’s ablaze.

© Paul Waring 2019

More of Paul’s creativity can be found on his Facebook poetry page .

The first garden butterflies of 2019

The weather over the last few weeks (late February 2019) has been bright and sunny and remarkably warm (over 15°C for the last couple of days). The honey bees and bumble bees have been enjoying the daphne, emerging cherry blossom and particularly the crocus flowers that have been wide open in the sunshine.

Even more delightful has been the sight of the first butterflies of the year in the garden here in Warwickshire.

On 21st February 2019 I saw the first yellow Brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni). This yellow, butter-coloured butterfly (possibly why the insects are in fact called ‘butterflies’) is particularly tough and over winters in the United Kingdom. According to the Butterfly Conservation website the larvae feed on leaves of Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), which occurs mainly on calcareous soils, and Alder Buckthorn (Frangula alnus), which is found on moist acid soils and wetlands. Although we have a wide range of native trees in the garden and in the surrounding countryside I am not aware we have any of these close by but we do see Brimstone butterflies most years.

Common brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni) male 5

Photo credit: Charles J Sharp [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

On 24th February 2019 we also spotted the first Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta). Last year we commented that we had seen very few of these colourful insects in 2018 and so perhaps this is a sign that they may have survived better this winter than they did the winter of 2017/2018 when there were a number of periods of bitterly cold weather. Normally a migratory butterfly from Northern Africa and continental Europe there appear to be an increasing number that now manage to over winter in the UK (ref: Butterfly Conservation website).

Unlike the Brimstone the Red Admiral larvae feed on the Common Nettle (Urtica dioica), something that we have plenty of! It appears that they also use Hop (Humulus lupulus) which we have both within the garden and in the local hedgerows.

Le Vulcain (Vanessa atalanta) red admiral

Photo credit: Charles J Sharp [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

Last year we kept a photographic record of the mid-summer and late-summer butterflies that we saw throughout the year and we will try and do the same again this year (see: Six on Saturday: July Butterflies and Late summer butterflies in the garden for more information and pictures)

Six birds in a bush on Saturday

The Pyracantha bush just behind the house is in its full glory, covered in bright scarlet berries and looking wonderful in the autumn sunshine.   At this time of year it attracts a wide range of birds, some come to feast on the berries each day, others like to simply sit and soak up the morning sunshine on a cold morning whilst for others it is a safe place to rest on route from A to B.

This week I have tried to capture some of the visitors to this one bush on camera.   Here are six:


One:  Redwing – an autumn and winter visitor to the garden enjoying a meal after flying in from Scandinavia

RedwingTrim_Moment

Redwing audio:

 

Audio credit: Patrik Aberg , Xeno-canto


Two:  Pied wagtail – although not an uncommon bird we don’t often get these in the garden so I was delighted to be able to catch this one on camera.

P1020226

Pied wagtail audio:

 

Audio credit: Tomas Belka , Xeno-canto


Three:  Blackbird – a very common bird in many gardens but lovely to have them nesting here and singing their hearts out all the same.

P1020225

Blackbird audio:

 

Audio credit: Niels Krabbe , Xeno-canto


Four:  A family of sparrows just sitting and enjoying the sun and chatting amongst themselves (now a very much rarer sight than they used to be)

P1020222

House sparrow audio:

 

Audio credit: Jarek Matusiak , Xeno-canto


Five:  Greenfinch – the numbers of greenfinchs have declined in recent years partly because of Trichomonosis, the name given to a disease caused by the protozoan parasite Trichomonas gallinae. It is nice to have them as an increasingly regular visitor to the garden now.

P1020215

Greenfinch audio:

 

Audio credit: Sander Bot , Xeno-canto


Six:  Bullfinch – this stunning male bullfinch has been a regular visitor this week and has been joined towards the end of the week by two female bullfinches as well.

P1020209 (2) Bullfinch

Bullfinch audio:

 

Audio credit: Niels Krabbe , Xeno-canto

To complete the record I have also seen Goldfinches, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Robins on this Pyracantha during the week but have not managed to capture them on camera.


The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to see what other plant lovers are chatting about.

Late summer butterflies in the garden

As the year progresses we see a notable change in the butterflies that visit the garden.  Early in the year I posted a selection of pictures from July but whilst the ‘whites’ continue to flutter around the flowers there are a number of others that I have captured with the camera during September.   Here are my ‘Six on Saturday’ for this week


One:  Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)

Normally the Small Tortoiseshell is very common in the garden always gracing the buddleja.  This year however we have seen very few and only in the last few weeks have we seen a couple enjoying the pink Phuopsis stylosa blooming for a second time this year.

The Small Tortoiseshell can spend the winter hibernating as an adult.²  Hibernating with their jagged wings closed shut they are well camouflaged looking just like a dead leaf.

The caterpillars feed on nettle (Urtica dioica).

P1020163 Small Tortoiseshell


Two:  Painted Lady (Cynthia cardui)

The painted lady is a migrant species to the British Isles coming from North Africa and southern europe each year. It is reported to have a worldwide distribution existing almost everywhere accept South America. ¹  In his charming book, “The Butterfly Isles”, Patrick Barkham reported seeing swarming of these migrating butterflies in 2009. ²

The caterpillar feeds on thistles (Cardus), burdock (Arctium) and other plants. ¹

P1020127 Painted Lady


Three:  Small White (possible – rather than Large White!) (Pieris rapae

The ‘whites’ have to be included here simply because they enjoy the garden throughout the summer and are still present into the late summer.  Although clearly a bit of a pest in the vegetable garden I do love to watch them on a still summer day working their way around the flower beds.

I am certainly not an expert at distinguishing between the various white butterflies but there is a very helpful guide on the Butterfly Conservation website  ³.  The caterpillars feed on Brassica species along with the wonderfully fragrant mignonette (Reseda) and nasturtium (Tropaeolum). ¹  This adult is soaking up the late evening sunshine on the hornbeam hedge.

P1020164


Four:  Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

As with the Small Tortoiseshell this is usually a common butterfly in the garden but this year we have seen very few.  Possibly the long cold winter took its toll on the overwintering butterflies and hopefully they will get a chance to recover their numbers this year.

The Red Admiral’s are interesting to watch when you sit out with a glass of wine on a summer evening.  If you sit in their perching spot they will continually pester you until you move.

According to David Carter ¹ the Red Admiral is a migrant species with the first butterflies arriving in Britain during the spring but does not normally survive the winter.  However Patrick Barkham ² indicates that the Red Admiral is one species that is already a beneficiary of climate change as it can now increasingly survive the winter in southern England where it once perished.

The caterpillar feeds on nettles (Urtica).

P1020128


Five:  Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)

I have written a longer piece on these but they have increased in number over the last few weeks and have emerged from the woodland edge into the rest of the garden.  They seem to particularly like sunning themselves on the large leaves of the grape vines.

The caterpillars feed on various grasses such as couch grass (Agropyron repens) and cock’s foot (Dactylis glomerata). ¹

P1020020


Six:  Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas)

This is such a small but beautifully formed butterfly.  It seems to particularly like the bed with the late summer asters and perennial rudbeckias.

The Small Copper is a species of meadows, hedgerows, roadsides and downlands and enjoys a similar habitat to the Meadow Brown, Hedge Brown (Gatekeeper), Orange-Tip and various blues.  The Small Copper caterpillar feeds on various species of dock and sorrel (Rumex) and also knotgrass (Polygonum). ¹

P1020072 Small Copper


For the record we have also seen a smallish blue butterfly around the garden but I have not yet had a chance to capture it on camera and identify it precisely.

The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to see what other plant lovers are chatting about.

Further reading

¹ “Butterflies and Moths of Britain and Europe” by David Carter (ISBN:  0 330 26642 X)

² “The Butterfly Isles” by Patrick Barkham (ISBN 978-1-84708-127-8)

³ https://butterfly-conservation.org/news-and-blog/how-to-identify-white-butterflies

 

 

Garden Ecology – Speckled Wood Butterfly

When I wrote about butterflies visiting the garden in July we had seen the Speckled Wood in the copse and amongst the orchard trees but I had not managed to capture it on camera.

The Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) is a relatively common British butterfly that frequents the dappled shade of the woodland edge.  Although I had seen them in the garden they were so well camouflaged that as soon as they landed they seemed to just disappear!  Finally however I have managed to have some success.

It is reported¹ that both sexes feed on the honeydew in the tree tops and are rarely seen feeding on flowers except when aphid activity is low.  The butterflies are on the wing from May until October².  It appears this butterfly is unique among the butterflies of the British Isles⁴ as it can hibernate and over winter either as a caterpillar or a chrysalis³.

The food plants¹ ² of the caterpillars include various grasses including Cock’s Foot (Dactylis glomerata), Yorkshire Fog (Holcus lanatus) and Couch Grass (Agropyron repens).  I knew there was a reason why I should have couch grass growing in the garden!

Family:  Nymphalidae

P1020032 Speckled Wood
Speckled Wood Butterfly – 14 August 2018 – Warwickshire

Further reading

¹ https://butterfly-conservation.org/butterflies/speckled-wood

² “Butterflies and Moths of Britain and Europe” by David Carter (ISBN:  0 330 26642 X)

³ “The Butterfly Isles” by Patrick Barkham (ISBN 978-1-84708-127-8)

⁴ https://www.ukbutterflies.co.uk/species.php?species=aegeria

 

Six on Saturday: July Butterflies

There is so much movement in the garden on these very warm sunny days.  It is just lovely to see the butterflies flitting from flower to flower and amongst the long grass.

Photographing them is more of a challenge but here are six that I have managed to capture in the last few days.


One:  Comma (Polygonia c-album) (Family: Nymphalidae)

Comma butterfly on grape vine
Comma butterfly on grape vine

This second picture shows the very characteristic white comma on the underside of the wing that gives it is common name.

Comma butterfly on grape vine showing distinctive 'comma' on underwing
Comma butterfly on grape vine showing distinctive ‘comma’ on underwing

Two:  Large white (Pieris brassicae) (Family: Pieridae)

Large White butterfly on Verbena bonariensis
Large White butterfly on Verbena bonariensis

Three:  Peacock  (Inachis io) (Family: Nymphalidae)

Peacock butterfly on Lysimachia Clethroides
Peacock butterfly on Lysimachia Clethroides

Four: Small White (Pieris rapae) (or possibly Wood White) (Family: Pieridae)

This white butterfly is very much smaller than the Large White and seems to rarely land to have its photograph taken.  I am not entirely sure which species this is so happy to be corrected.

Small White (or possibly wood white) on buddleja
Small White (or possibly wood white) on buddleja

Five:  Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) (Family: Nymphalidae)

Meadow Brown butterfly on Lysimachia clethroides
Meadow Brown butterfly on Lysimachia clethroides

Six:  Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus)  (Family: Nymphalidae)

Gatekeeper butterfly on Lysimachia Clethroides
Gatekeeper butterfly on Lysimachia Clethroides

In addition there have been others over the last week or so that I have not yet been able to photograph.  These include the yellow Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell and Speckled Wood


The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to see what other plant lovers are chatting about.


Honey Pot Flowers are wedding and celebration florists based in Warwickshire in the United Kingdom specialising in natural, locally grown seasonal flowers. We grow many of our own flowers allowing us to offer something very different and uniquely personal.

Creating a romantic and intimate space – the patio garden

When we moved to Waverley some 25 years ago we had the wonderful opportunity to work with a virtually blank canvas. Most of the new garden was a grazed meadow and although there were more mature gardens and plants closer to the house the design was rather bland and uninspiring.

Part of the plan over the years has been to create a number of more intimate spaces that have allowed us to develop a different look and feel in different areas. Some are more formal and some more relaxed creating both structural interest and variation as you walk around the garden.

Close to the house on the north facing side we wanted to create a cool area that could be a refuge from the sun on hot sweltering days. They do happen! Being close to the house we wanted somewhere to sit out, eat and entertain with easy access to the kitchen.

Rose 'Margaret Merril'
Rose ‘Margaret Merril’

But the sun does not always shine and for the six months of the year, when eating out is not possible, the area needed to be an attractive place to look out on. Somewhere to watch the winter garden birds in the colder months whilst keeping snug and warm indoors ( Autumn and winter residents – our feathered friends ).

To provide year round interest the underlying structure and enclosure is created by using living walls of evergreen ivy over trellis. The different leaf shapes, variegation and colours give added interest. A Fatsia provides an evergreen canopy with the large leaves giving an almost tropical feel whilst Skimmia, Buxus and Sarcocca give additional texture and early spring scent.

P1010332

As the year progresses a succession of shade loving plants provide additional interest and colour. Our growing Hosta collection creates a striking and luxuriant feature in the patio garden offering a range of leaf colours, markings, shapes and textures. They have been purchased or gifted to us over the years and so we don’t know all the names. Keeping the slugs at bay has been a continuing challenge but we find the use of copper tape around the pots works particularly well.

Hosta 'June'
Hosta ‘June’

Adding a further woodland note are the ferns. We love the way the fronds unfurl provide a very different leaf texture. The green undergrowth provides a haven for wildlife. Birds nest in the ivy whilst mice and voles are regularly seen foraging amongst the leaves.

P1010335

Complementing the lush green backdrop we have a range of flowers that seem to love this shady area and perform well year after year. These include the saxifrages, London Pride (Saxifraga urbium) with its haze of tiny pink blooms and the bronze foliage of Saxifraga fortunei with its later delicate white flowers.

P1010319

Lily-of-the-valley, Kirengeshoma and clematis ‘Nelly Moser’ all do well as does the wonderfully fragrant rose ‘Margaret Merril’ which flowers profusely year after year, its white blooms shining out in the shade and evening light.

Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria majalis)
Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria majalis)

The ivy ‘walls’ also provide climbing structures for honeysuckle, clematis ‘Jersey Cream’, ‘The President’ and Clematis montana ‘Tetrarose’. These are not strictly growing in the shade but grow up the sunny side of the trellis and poke their flower heads around the side and over the top of the ivy walls so that they can be seen from the house.

Clematis 'Nelly Moser'
Clematis ‘Nelly Moser’

As autumn approaches there is still colour to brighten the shortening days. We find that Schizostylis ( Schizostylis coccinea (Kaffir Lily) ) do particularly well in this area and spread themselves amongst the gravel between the paving.

The effect of all these components is to create an intimate and romantic space ideal for sitting out for a relaxing lunch on a sunny day or relaxing with friends on a hot balmy evening.