Slow and steady

Moving slowly through the UK countryside


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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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Memories – a ten-minute writing challenge

A response to The Weekly Writing Challenge This looked as though it might be fun to try. It was interesting what was thrown up by just ten minutes of writing – my pedantry goes back a long way – I was a bit of a brat. 🙂

My earliest memories

My earliest memories are pretty hazy. I’m not so sure whether I really remember them, or whether they are memories of memories – redredged up from having to write ‘my earliest memories’ when I was at school, mixed with tales told by my mum.

Nevertheless. I don’t remember anything before primary school, but I do have a few memories that go back to my first classroom. My first teacher was Miss Bates (though I also remember Miss Bearpark – was that really her name?) in the same high-windowed Victorian school-room. Not that I was a Victorian, you understand. But the room was the original school. The assembly hall for my daughters’ primary school was a room almost identical, probably built from the same plans – and still in use about a hundred years after it was built. But I digress.

The windows were above eye-level for small children, probably to avoid the Victorian children getting distracted by the excitements of the big outdoors. I seem to remember them being pointed at the top, like church windows, but that may be invention. The room was heated by a big boiler, with a wire fireguard round it, that we used to poke our gloves into, when they got wet on snowy days.

I remember the smell of poster paints – though I don’t actually remember doing any painting, but I’m sure we did. I can’t recall any actual work – or play for that matter – that we did in that reception class. The only clear memory I have of that room is with Miss Bearpark, who I think was the next teacher – that would be class 5A, I think. Reception was Class 6. I seem to remember her teaching us ‘Home, home on the range, where the deer and the antelope roam…’ – but maybe that wasn’t her, and I’ve just conflated deer and bears (in her name)…

She was writing a poem on the board – perhaps it was the lyrics of Home on the Range. And I have a clear memory of putting my hand up to tell her that she’d forgotten to put a comma at the end of one of the lines. A little pedant already, at age 5 or 6. And I was probably wrong, too, as poetry and songs don’t always have commas at the end of each line.

Another similar memory was a bit later on, when I was a Brownie. We were going for a nature walk – a nice convenient way of using up meeting time I imagine now, having seen things from the adult perspective more recently. One of the adults told us that a plant was Red Dead-nettle, and I corrected them and said it was Ground-Ivy.

That time I was right though – and I did end up going on to study Botany at university, so maybe I can be excused that one. I did know that maybe I should have kept quiet though, as it is one of my sharpest childhood memories, and it still makes me feel a bit uneasy.


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Look closely and weeds are jewels!

In our garden, weeds are allowed to flower, so the bees can visit them. This one is really pretty when you get close to it, with star-like calyx and white stripes on the dark purple petals. The leaves smell quite strongly, and look fairly similar to stinging nettle leaves.

Hedge Woundwort

Hedge Woundwort, Stachys sylvatica

This little shieldbug is pretty jewel-like too – it lives on the woundwort, and is called Woundwort Shieldbug…

Woundwort Shieldbug

Woundwort Shieldbug – about 1/3 the size of my little finger-nail.

Well, that was in response to the Daily Prompt – The Natural World which asked about early memories of nature.

I grew up on a farm, and I can’t remember the first time I was interested in nature, as it was so much a part of everyday life.  However, I do remember vividly the thrill of finding an orchid growing amongst scrubby bushes in a woodland. It wasn’t in my flower book, which made it even more exciting, and nobody had shown me where it grew; I’d found it all by myself.  On on of our occasional trips to London, we visited the Natural History Museum, and in some wall-mounted display-cases I found a picture of ‘my’ orchid – a Man Orchid.  The flowers are greenish-yellow, with red edges, and look like tiny little men.  Such an amazing plant.

They are fairly rare in the UK, and although they have been found in quite a few nearby sites to my one, I don’t know whether anyone else has ever seen the plants that I found.  So – that was a significant waymark on my journey to being a nature geek.

Race for Life report

The other news today is that I did my Race for Life – and I DIDN’T WALK!  It wasn’t fast (about 46 minutes – last time I did RfL I took 53 minutes to walk it) but it was mostly very sunny and warm, so I’m happy with that.  The first ten minutes were really hard work, and I wasn’t expecting to manage to run/jog it all at that point, but I just kept doing a bit more and a bit more, and got the whole way round.  Hurrah!

RfL shirt and medal

Race for Life shirt and medal

I don’t know how many women were there, but pretty sure it was well over a thousand.  I was fine though, didn’t even need to use the loos (sorry, if that’s too much info) which is most unusual – and a good thing, as the queues were about 30-deep.  Maybe that was the most significant acheivement of the day!  The running and walking didn’t get started until about twenty minutes after the official start time. Maybe that was to allow everyone to visit the loos?

It was a lovely day to be outside, mostly sunny and with a good breeze.  Uphill through the meadow was pretty warm, as the wind seemed to have dropped there, and there was no shade, but I kept plodding on, thinking I’d walk after the 3 km mark.  But then it was flat, and it seemed a pity to stop.

After 4 km it was pretty easy.  I almost missed getting a medal, as I was still jogging past the finish and had to stop and go back for it.  I was really pleased that I didn’t feel worn out at the end. After clapping some of the walkers in, I jogged part of the way back to the carpark.  I would have jogged it all, but suddenly felt as though I was showing off, so I walked the rest.

So, Juneathon may not have gone quite the way I’d envisaged, but I did manage to end it with a 5k run in the sun, and feeling good at the end. So I’m a happy bunny, and I’ve raised quite a bit for Cancer Research. 🙂

Race for Life hat

Sunhat with pink feathers – fallen from a tutu


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Rainy day out

School summer trip today.  It was raining heavily when we arrived, and the plan was to be outdoors all day…  I was with the tinies, 4 and 5 year-olds.

Here is an accidental shot of three of my companions for the day:

Wet day feet

Wet day feet

Luckily the rain eased off a bit for our bug hunt in the meadow. We found LOTS of huge slugs – and only one child in the group wouldn’t go near them, all the rest happily collected them on plastic spoons (renamed ‘creature catchers’ for the day, for health and safety reasons…).  Maybe it’s good that I didn’t take a picture of the slugs.

There were loads of lovely meadow flowers – buttercups, knapweed, yellow rattle and bird’s-foot trefoil, all a bit bowed by the rain, but still beautiful.  The children were given sweep nets, and caught a good range of insects, despite the dampness. I think this is probably a Peacock butterfly caterpillar.  Very spiny.

probably Peacock caterpillar

Peacock butterfly caterpillar – probably

We also fed the ducks and swans (and nobody in our group fell in), and had a scavenger hunt in the woods.  All in all, a good day out.


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Little green flowers…

I spent today on a workshop practising identifying grasses and sedges.  They aren’t the easiest things to identify, as they pretty much all have tiny green flowers, but once you get the hang of how they are put together (and learn a bit of vocabulary, so the books make sense) they aren’t too bad at all.  Honestly.  🙂

We went out for a walk round the nature reserve (bit of Juneathon activity in there!), and found a wide range of grasses and sedges.  I’ll see if I can list them, to see how many we found.

Couch, Perennial rye-grass, Rough meadow-grass, Annual meadow-grass, Yorkshire fog, Red fescue, Floating sweet-grass, Cock’s-foot, Barren brome, Soft brome, False brome, Yellow oat-grass, False oat-grass, Tufted hair-grass, Sweet vernal-grass, Creeping soft-grass, Wood millet, a Bent-grass and Crested dog’s-tail.  19 grasses!

Pale sedge, Pendulous sedge, Remote sedge, Oval sedge, Spiked sedge and Wood sedge. 6 sedges

And on the way home I also found Hairy brome and Glaucous sedge.

The biggest problem is that it is so hard to remember the distinguishing features from one year to the next, so with the sedges I have to start from the beginning again every year.  Grasses seem easier, but that’s probably because I started getting familiar with them when I was younger, so it’s harder for my memory to lose them.  I grew up on the North Downs and it wasn’t really the right place to find many sedges – too dry.

Barren Brome spikelet

A single spikelet of Barren Brome (Anisantha sterilis). Each of the long points sticking out is an awn, on the end of a lemma, and inside each lemma will be a single seed. Barren Brome is not a very appropriate name!

Barren Brome

A panicle (flower-head) of Barren Brome – lots of spikelets.

Tufted hair-grass

Tufted Hair-grass (Deschampsia cespitosa) with beautiful silvery flower-heads.  Apparently the German name for this grass is something like ‘Pin-stripe suit grass’, because of the stripes on the leaves.  I liked that, and I think it’s easier to remember than the English name.

Pale Sedge

Pale Sedge (Carex pallescens) – pale rounded fruits, and apparently the crimped bract (leaf-like blade) is typical

Glaucous Sedge

Glaucous Sedge (Carex flacca) – blue-green underside to the leaves, but brighter above. I have seen this so many times, but still have to look it up every time I find it.


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Bit of a gap

Warm weather and tired legs have meant a lack of exercise over the last week, so I’ve not kept up with my Juneathon at all well.  The tired legs are probably a combination of not enough sleep and maybe, the effect of changing my diet to include oats.  For the first six months or so, I didn’t eat oats, as some coeliacs respond to the avenin in oats as well as the gluten in wheat.  Now that my blood tests have shown that I’ve got the gluten thoroughly out of my system, I can try gluten-free oats (grown and packaged away from wheat), then have another blood test.  I need to get that booked up, as I have a suspicion that maybe my insides aren’t so keen on the oats – which would be a great pity, as I really like them.

Anyway, I did go out today, and did a short run – only about 1.5 km, but better than nothing.  It was all hard work though, and I can’t honestly say I enjoyed it.

Still,  I did see the Yellow Flags flowering by the river.  Yesterday I saw three different damselflies there, but they were all too far away for good photos (Large Red, Blue-tailed and Azure).

Yellow Flag flower

Yellow flag – wild iris, growing by a small river near my house


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Moths and butterflies

Well, not many moths and butterflies, but I did see two Green-veined White butterflies, quite a few Burnet moth chrysalises and a Yellow Shell moth.  I walked just over 3 miles, which included edges of wheat and rape fields, a stream, a path through a meadow with buttercups and clover – just beginning to flower, and the edge of a lake at a stately home that is now an art gallery (Compton Verney) and some woodland.  Later on, I went to see a friend in the village, and jogged most of the way home, including a short steepish hill.

 footpath bridge

Footpath bridge over stream

footpath direction

Footpath direction post

Burnet moth chrysalis

Burnet moth chrysalis on Meadow Foxtail grass

hawthorn blossom

Hawthorn blossom

Green-veined White

Green-veined White butterfly on Cow Parsley, Anthriscus sylvestris

pink Hogweed

Pink Hogweed flowers (just part of the flowerhead) – usually they are white

Yellow Shell moth

Yellow Shell moth