Wednesday, 29 April 2015

I see these just about every day up the Welcombe Hills

For the last goodness knows how many years I've told myself at about this time of year, 'get yourself a good field guide for grasses'. That stuff we mow, play on, feed to livestock and curse if you suffer from hay fever, is amazing stuff. 

Wild grasses are not that difficult to name except you only get one good chance a year to do it and that time starts now when the grasses flower. One of the earliest to flower is the Meadow Foxtail (more info here) and is the dominant flowering grass in the Rowley Fields at the moment.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

On the theme of survival...

Last year I was in one of my favourite places in the woods up the Welcombe and was surprised to find a Bee Orchid flower. We usually find these in open grassed areas and they are lucky to survive the hooves. A few of us swap sightings of these and it's a bit of fun trying to find them in the acres of grass from the directions given. Now, before the grass gets too long, is a good time to see the Bee Orchid plant. You have to get your eye in and once you can distinguish it from the plantains it is relatively easy to spot.
Anyway, I went back to where I found the bee orchid in the woods and was pleased to see the plant emerging again. Here it should get to flower and just to be sure I dragged a few branches across it for protection. 

In the pic the Bee Orchid is the plant plumb centre with the long leaves.

I saw Herb Robert flowers up the Welcombe

One great thing about having a camera is taking close-ups of common things and being able to see the beauty of them. Herb Robert is a common enough plant growing quickly at this time of year  in shady places. The woods behind the bench at the top of Rowley Fields is a good place to find it. In the garden it's considered a weed.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Look at what else I saw yesterday

Yes, I do have a fascination for Orange Tip butterfly eggs. A few thoughts. Each butterfly lays hundreds of eggs and are selective about where they lay them. That's simply because the caterpillar needs to emerge from the egg very close to its food source to have any chance of survival (it's first food is usually the egg casing but that's just a starter). A first thought is, why with so many eggs being laid isn't finding them easier? Well, concealment is probably important to survival and particularly where the development from egg to adult is so complex as with the butterfly.

Yesterday I noticed an Orange Tip by the entrance to Rowley Fields at the top of Blue Cap Road. There was a large Garlic Mustard plant right by the gate just inside the field. Although I hadn't found an egg on this before, the other favoured food plant, I  took a look and there was the tiny orange egg. All this stuff going on and most of the time we don't notice. Once you start looking and have some success then it can be good fun.

The chances are that this one won't survive but the clever butterfly will be mitigating the risk of not passing on its genes by laying many eggs on many plants. I'll keep an eye on it over the coming weeks.

As a general rule in nature the more potential offspring through seeds, eggs for a particular species, the less likely each one is to survive into adulthood to pass on their genes. For example, if every single spore of a giant puffball fungus became an adult we would be knee-deep in giant puffballs. Same for horse chestnuts. Primates on the other hand tend to have just one or two offspring at a time.

Yesterday I found a dead young blackbird chick in the garden. It's harsh, but that's the way it goes. The blackbirds will lay several eggs and even have more than one brood a season. A bit like butterflies in some ways.

I saw this Holly Blue butterfly up the Welcombe Hills today

Yesterday I was in Wolverhampton all day running a training course and only managed a short evening walk up the Welcombe. Imagine then how much I looked forward to working at home today and having a good walk up the hills.

I've a favourite little place that has always been good for bumble bees and butterflies. It gets the morning sun and there are banks of blackberry bushes and the Lady's Smock grows there too. Woods behind provide shelter.

We went there this morning and I was chasing (yes literally) male and female Orange Tips as they roamed in the sunshine looking for each other, or perhaps that should be scenting for each other. I was hoping to catch a female laying eggs on Lady's Smock but they didn't seem to want to settle. Then I caught a glimpse of  blue wings. I hoped it was a Common Blue as these have suffered a decline over recent years. It turned out to be a Holly Blue and I was lucky to catch it when it settled in the sun on bramble. 

This is a woodland butterfly that likes open downs and gardens. It's quite common. It lays its eggs on holly and the butterflies from these lay a second brood on ivy. The young caterpillars eat into the young buds and overwinter there as chrysalises to emerge in the spring as butterflies. A good find and despite missing out on the Orange Tips I went home very pleased.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Spring blossom

I've read that this year is particularly good for spring blossom and walking up the hills this morning I saw for myself the wild cherry in full splendour. These were in Blue Cap Covert (the small woods behind the top benches in Rowley Fields). There were more wild cherry here but they, along with hawthorn, got thinned out last year. All for the best of course as this has let more light onto the ground layer stimulating growth.

Mmm… since I go up the Welcombe Hills just about every day and I enjoy sharing with others the things I see and learn; because I couldn't keep my Welcombe Hills fungi website going any longer; but mainly because it's spring (rebirth and that sort of thing), I thought I would try a bit of blogging.
Last week on the Save the Welcombe Hills Facebook page I posted a picture of the first Orange Tip butterfly  I'd seen this year up the hills (and the much-overlooked, not to say trampled on, Field Woodrush grass) and these attracted a little interest and a couple of comments. This morning I can follow up the Orange Tip picture with the following one capturing the first orange tip butterfly egg of the year. It's that orange thing by the way...

The picture should enlarge ok and you can just about make out the fluted sides of the egg. 
Yesterday, or perhaps the day before, I checked for signs of the Lady's Smock which the orange tip prefers but didn't see one. It really is quite remarkable how quickly spring takes hold.
The orange tip lays her eggs in the upper part of the plant and the caterpillars prefer to feed on the seed pods where this one has been laid. There may be more than one egg on each plant but only one caterpillar will survive because they tend to eat each other. This I am told is not personal just a craving for moisture and a caterpillar is like having your own water tank.

Just a thought, careful where you tread. That plant might just have an orange tip egg on it. It'll be lucky to even get to hatch what with the cows, dogs and feet and then even if it does it 's still really up against it. I think that might be survival of the fittest. Perhaps luck has something to do with it as well.
I'll keep an eye on this egg and see if I can get a pic of the caterpillar. Thanks for reading.