Slow and steady

Moving slowly through the UK countryside


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Winter wander


I went out yesterday to see if I could find any flowers to photograph, but ended up spending ages in books and online, trying to identify lichens and mosses. I think these are right, as they are ones I’ve seen before (but if you spot mistakes, please let me know). I also have quite a few more unidentified, so more work to do.

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Birds and blue skies

We’ve had some lovely bird-watching weather this week. I’ve also managed to do a bit of running every other day – this morning even running halfway up a steep hill. Very slowly, and not for long, but I’m back running again, and that’s good.

On Wednesday I saw this grey heron stalking fish. His (or her? how do you tell?) long streamer feathers blew about in the wind rather beautifully.

Grey heron

Grey heron

This starling was eyeing up the fat balls in our garden. The sheen on his feathers goes well with the shiny bark. We saw a flock of about a hundred starlings wheeling round over the village today. I hope they don’t decide to visit for fat-balls all at once. I need to remember to look out for them doing their evening murmuration acrobatics – though maybe they fly off somewhere else to do that.

Starling

Starling

The clear blue sky set off these hawthorn berries rather well. There is quite a glut of hedgerow fruit- I haven’t yet seen any redwings or fieldfares, but they are apparently already around this area, according to my BirdTrack app.  You can put in the name of a bird, and find out where it has been spotted in the past few days.  Earlier in the week, I thought I’d heard a raven fly over our house, but as I’ve never seen one here before, I was dubious whether I’d misinterpreted the sound.  But the app showed that they have been spotted recently nearby – and today we spoke to a farmer who said he’d seen ravens round here.  It sounded really rather like a sick duck.  You can listen to one on the RSPB site here.

Hawthorn berries

Hawthorn berries


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Beautiful Bath

We visited Bath this weekend, and it was gorgeous.  Sunny and autumnal – my favourite weather.

The weir below Pulteney Bridge is mesmering, with the water above it like an infinity pool.

Pulteney Bridge over the River Avon

Pulteney Bridge over the River Avon

The tiny shops (not much more than a metre from front to back) on Pulteney Bridge have wonderful views out over the river. This photograph was taken right through the shop from outside.

The view through a shop window on Pulteney Bridge

The view through a shop window on Pulteney Bridge

This medlar tree was laden with fruit – we were looking down onto it from above.  They are very strange-looking – rather like gigantic hawthorn fruits.  I haven’t ever eaten one – you have to leave them to ‘blet’, which effectively means, to rot.  Which sounds rather dubious.

Medlar tree

A medlar tree

On Friday night we had an excellent meal at the Circus restaurant (spiced pumpkin soup followed by lemon sole – mmmmmm).  On Saturday morning, I was determined to go for a pre-breakfast run (ok, walk/jog) which was a bit of a challenge as I’d not slept too well from eating so much.  However, it was a beautiful sunny morning, and I ran a little way alongside the River Avon.

I found a lovely paved labyrinth to jog round.

Labyrinth

I didn’t quite complete the labyrinth, as I was distracted by the sight of this fine gentleman.

Centurion

Roman centurion in Bath – not sure where he was heading, but he was happy to have his photo taken.

After Bath, we stopped off at Westonbirt Arboretum to see the autumn foliage display.  The Acers (Japanese maples) were lovely, even though it wasn’t sunny when we were there.

Japanese maples

Japanese maples

Japanese maple

Japanese maple

It was £9 per person to get into the arboretum, but I think we had our money’s worth for the wonderful colours. I have seen reviews on Trip Advisor saying that it was expensive, and more or less complaining that an arboretum only had trees in, which seemed a bit unreasonable. Though, admittedly, when we visited Westonbirt once before, many years ago, there were sculptures in amongst the trees, and it did add to the interest.


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Upton House gardens

Sunday afternoon stroll in the sun round Upton House gardens. More Michaelmas daisies – and this time I didn’t resist buying the bright magenta one, “Andenken an Alma Potschke”


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Flustered by fluttering beauties

A few of the butterflies I saw on holiday in Wales, on the Ceredigion coast, and in gardens just inland in August.  Click on any picture for a slide-show.

The Grayling was a surprise – I thought I’d taken a picture of a Painted Lady until I checked it in the book.   I did see Painted Ladies too, but not close up.  I got quite excited about the Wall butterflies, as we don’t get them at home, and I can’t remember when I last saw one.

This was the best hunting though – I had to stalk it for ages, and I wasn’t sure what it was.  Then it came and sat on my leg!  I was so flustered that all I managed were several totally out of focus shots – but then it was kind enough to sit and pose for me – a Silver-Washed Fritillary, another new one for me.

Silver-washed Fritillary butterfly at Castell Henllys

Silver-washed Fritillary butterfly at Castell Henllys


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Insect antics

Well, the Green Tortoise Beetle eggs hatched after 12 days (indoors – the outside ones haven’t hatched yet), and they are now almost two weeks old. But they have very strange ways…  Do not read on if you are of a sensitive disposition.  You have been warned.

This is one that was only just hatched, in side view.  It was all of about 2mm long, so getting things in focus was tricky.  The leaf hairs of the woundwort leaf look like a forest.

At the rear end of the larva, there are four dark spines.  In between the spines is the anus, which is extensible and can be  directed towards the upper two spines.  The big brown blob is excrement, which they use as a disguise.  Delightful.

Green Tortoise Beetle larva

Green Tortoise Beetle larva (Cassida viridis) on Hedge Woundwort (Stachys arvensis)

These next ones were probably the first to hatch, as they have had time to accumulate quite a decoration. It’s a slow process – about twenty minutes to produce each of those little brown sticks (maybe they have to let it dry gradually – ugh!)

Green Tortoise Beetle larvae (Cassida viridis) on Hedge Woundwort (Stachys arvensis)

Green Tortoise Beetle larvae (Cassida viridis) on Hedge Woundwort (Stachys arvensis)

This is how they looked a few days later, after giving them some fresh woundwort leaves:

Green Tortoise Beetle larva

Green Tortoise Beetle larva about five days old

And here’s how they look now, looking nothing like beetles at all, but about 5 mm long, and carrying a huge load. It includes cast larval skins as well as more excrement.

Green Tortoise Beetle larva

Green Tortoise Beetle, two week old larva

While I was checking the woundwort, to see if the outdoors ones had hatched, I came across another woundwort specialist. I would have missed it, thinking it was just a bit of dead leaf, if I hadn’t seen something very similar on the ispot wildlife identification website. The woundwort was a big clue for identifying it, and a bit of googling led me to the Woundwort Case-bearer moth. It’s also described on the UKmoths site – but it’s hardly an exciting looking moth.

The hairs on the casing come from the woundwort leaf – I think it cuts bits of leaf to make a cover like a tea-cosy. (Do you remember those? My aunt made one – it was thickly padded and had a clip at the top like a handbag – I’ve never seen another one like it.)

I assumed it was a pupa, and put it in the bottom of the box with the Green Tortoise Beetles, hoping that it might eventually hatch out. However, the next day, I realised it had moved, and that there was other evidence that it was a larva.

Woundwort Case-bearer moth's larval case

Woundwort Case-bearer moth’s larval case

It has been in there for several days, moving around when I wasn’t looking, but today I found it on the bottom of the box, looking dried out and dead.

Woundwort Case-bearer moth's larval case

Woundwort Case-bearer moth’s larval case

However, when I looked again, it had moved itself back onto a dried-up leaf, so I put it onto the fresh leaves.

It came out to say hello!

Woundwort case-bearer moth larva

Woundwort case-bearer moth larva

It clearly didn’t like being exposed on the top of the leaf, and within a few minutes it had crawled over the edge to the underside – very hazardous when all it has to hang on with are tiny little feet, amongst all those long hairs, and dragging round its huge case.

Woundwort case-bearer moth larva

Woundwort case-bearer moth larva looking over the edge

Woundwort case-bearer moth larva

Woundwort case-bearer moth larva – let’s see what it’s like down here

Well, that’s turned into rather a long post. I also have loads of photos of colourful bugs from last weekend, when I repeated the Garden Bioblitz that I did a year ago. I was surprised to find quite a lot more different species – but I think I’ll save that for another day.


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Green Tortoise Beetles

Yesterday I found several of these bright green beetles, about 1cm long, on the Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica) in our garden. The leaves had lots of holes in, which is fine, as although it is a wild flower, it’s a bit of a nuisance in the garden as it spreads by runners. Plus it stinks.

Cassida viridis

Green Tortoise Beetles mating (Cassida viridis)

They are Green Tortoise Beetles, Cassida viridis, distinguishing features being the rounded shape of the back corners of the pronotum (the front shield-like part) and having no red/brown markings, plus living on a plant in the dead-nettle family. The internet is very useful.

On the same plants were small papery brown packages, a few millimetres across. The top layer had bits in that looked a bit like legs…

Green Tortoise Beetle (Cassida viridis)

Mystery egg package

I bravely (or foolishly) investigated. They contained eggs. I wondered whether they were Green Tortoise Beetle eggs, but internet searching only showed up one picture and it was only labelled as ‘likely’ as they hadn’t hatched.

Cassida viridis eggs

Eggs from underneath protective layers

I put a few in a box, to see whether they might hatch out, as the larvae are quite interesting too, covered in spines and camouflaging themselves with excrement. Not everyone would find that interesting, I suppose.

I went out today to see whether I could find any larvae emerging yet, and instead found a female just starting to lay eggs. So I brought her inside and watched for 45 minutes, and took about 70 photos. Yes, I had lots of other things to do, but they didn’t get done.

Cassida viridis egg laying

Green Tortoise Beetle (Cassida viridis) just beginning to lay eggs

After each egg is laid, she goes over the heap and exudes a fluid that seems to instantly dry into a cellophane-like layer.

Cassida viridis oothecum making

Cling-wrapping the eggs

Then, when she has finished, she adds a pool of fluid – and then defecates into it. Whether it is for camouflage, or out of relief after all that hard work, I don’t know.

Green Tortoise Beetle egg-laying

Female Green Tortoise Beetle defecating onto completed egg-mass

I’d read that similar beetles do this, so I was waiting for it… Hmm. So the bits that looked like legs weren’t.

This was about 15 minutes after she’d finished. Clearly the same thing as the ones I found yesterday.

Cassida viridis oothecum

Egg-mass just laid

Well, it was interesting for me. 🙂