Sunday, 25 July 2010

Butterfly count & slow worm guests

We’re well into Summer now! I hope you’ve all been enjoying it. Yaaaaaaaaawn… oh gosh… I’d better wake up… its Garden Party time!

Yep on warm, sunny Summer days more party guests are arriving daily. No need to panic, I’m not late with my invitations… most went out years ago. The food is sorted… the al fresco buffet needs little prep. Sigh… don’t you just love to see parties of bees and butterflies dance around your garden ;-)

Large white butterfly seen on recent Cambo Garden Visit.
Other butterflies I could have seen at Cambo.
Full visit photos to come. The Prairie garden is coming on very well :-)

Getting serious for a minute, the al fresco feed that flowering garden plants provide for insects is incredibly valuable. Even just a few blooms can make a difference. However, when it comes to conservation its survey stats that show the bigger picture especially when it comes to climate change. Our gardens really do count and often we don’t even know it.

This week Butterfly Conservation, here in the UK, has launched their first survey to mark the International Year of Biodiversity. They say:

“Butterflies react very quickly to change in their environment which makes them excellent biodiversity indicators. Butterfly declines are an early warning for other wildlife losses.

That’s why counting butterflies can be described as taking the pulse of nature.

The count will also identify trends in species that will help us plan how to protect butterflies from extinction as well as understand the effect of climate change on wildlife.”

You'll find the page above full of details on this event here .

This first butterfly survey began yesterday July 24th and runs until August 1st. I’ll be honest and say the time frame of just 15 minutes for a butterfly count seems incredibly short. I sent emails asking about this and was told "We are asking for people to record for 15 minutes so that it can be fitted into people’s busy schedules and therefore we hope that as many people as possible can take part."

Butterfly Conservation suggest on their website that a sunny day would be more preferable for a count and I would definitely agree with that. They go on to say:

“We have chosen this time of year because most butterflies are at the adult stage of their lifecycle, so more likely to be seen. Records are welcome from anywhere: from parks and gardens, to fields and forests.

If you are counting from a fixed position in your garden, count the maximum number of each species that you can see at a single time. For example, if you see three Red Admirals together on a buddleia bush then record it as 3, but if you only see one at a time then record it as 1 (even if you saw one on several occasions) – this is so that you don’t count the same butterfly more than once . If you are doing your count on a walk, then simply total up the number of each butterfly species that you see during the 15 minutes.

You can submit separate records for different dates, and for different places that you visit. Remember that your count is useful even if you do not see any butterflies or moths.”

Note that moths have been included with the butterfly count. In previous years (2007-9) there has been a Garden Moths Count but it is not running this year. Have fun if you take part. Lol… if you have school children off on hols this could be an entry in to the 1000 things for kids to do ;-)

You might like to take a look at the map page with sightings so far.

Perhaps I should add here (or I’ll never hear the end of it) that not everyone likes to see butterflies and Moths fluttering around and some people can have real phobias. I wouldn’t say my daughter has a real phobia but she is definitely uncomfortable when they are near. She blames us for taking her into a Butterfly House when she was a toddler in a pram…. oops! However, the trooper that she is, she still accompanies me on garden visits :-D

Gatekeeper butterfly seen at the National Botanic Garden of Wales on recent holiday.
Photos of visit to come. Meantime, do enjoy a
virtual tour of the garden.

Any ID’s please for these Butterflies/Moths?
Also seen on visit to National Botanic Garden of Wales (Near Carmarthen).
Can’t seem to find them in my books or web searches. Click image to enlarge.

Update: Thanks, Sue/Martyn, Liz and Frank for the ID of small tortoiseshells above. I did wonder about that but it was the lack of colour that caught me out. That was my closest guess. Frank says in his comment: "that if at the chrysalis stage they are subjected to high temps then some appear with reduced colouring and the spots may be fused together." Very interersting!

Let’s leave all the fluttering in the garden now and slide into the house and to Summer House guests… and a mystery one at that!

I do enjoy receiving emails on wildlife stories as well as garden plant queries but I’ll be honest and say that I can’t always answer them. However, I do enjoy looking into them. Last week I heard from Rob on the Isle of Colonsay, Argyll, Scotland. He says:

"This morning I found a very lively slow worm about 14 ins in length in my first floor spare bedroom, between the carpet and the skirting board.

I can't imagine how it got there, the window had been closed for days and there does not seem any other access other than up the stairs or down a chimney ! Is it possible ? and have there been any more reports of similar experiences like this one ?"

I'll like to pass Rob's question on here. I thought this was fascinating. Have you ever had slow worms as house guests? If so how did they get in and where did you find them? Don't worry about this one as all was well. Rob goes on to say:

"The beautiful bronze creature was released into the garden with no ill effects.

We have had a very dry spell of weather for about 3 months with recent rain over the last week or so."

After blogging for some time, I have a good idea where to start my searches for info online and in books and there are bloggers I know that I could ask. On this occasion I turned to fellow blogger Andrew (formerly Border Reiver) who’s now at Tales of a Wessex Reiver.

However, having no images of slow worms to support this story I started with online searches which took me through photos to video. The first video I found was on Slow worm behaviour by MountainWales however I can’t show it embedded in my post as it had ‘Embedding disabled by request’. I’ve never come across that before. If you are interested in seeing this video (which is really worth seeing) it is almost 11 mins in length and can be seen on the main YouTube page here.

If you are familiar with YouTube you’ll know that there are suggestions of similar subject videos in a column on the right of the page. It was there that I came across a new wildlife enthusiast to me. I would like to introduce him to you today... meet Ben Waddams!

Video by Ben Waddams. See his
YouTube Channel for more wildlife footage.

The video above only lasts just over 2½ mins and you can very quickly see how enthusiastic Ben is. For me (as with the other video link above) it is great to see the slow worm move about. If you do follow the link to his other videos you can see that sometimes he films with a sense of humour too ;-)

Ben has a website too showing more fully his passion for wildlife with some stunning artworks… well worth a look around. Looking at the page about Ben you can see the points of interest that has led him to where he is today. Although I exchanged email with him after viewing his video and he kindly gave me the use of one of his slow worm photos I had no idea he had such an impressive CV!

On another page of his website I discovered a newspaper clipping listing Ben as one of the five finalists in the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust’s contest to find a guest presenter for Green TV. The article was titled ‘Would-be presenter seeking online hits’.

In May 2010, the WWT announced the winner of their competition:

“A wildlife artist from Shrewsbury has become the winner of WWT’s Be Your Favourite Wildlife Presenter YouTube competition. Ben Waddams, 25, impressed the judges – including TV’s David Bellamy and Bill Oddie – with his entertaining impressions of not one but three wildlife presenters, Steve Irwin, Sir David Attenborough, and Professor Bellamy himself!

Summing up the judges’ decisions, wildlife presenter Bill Oddie said: “The winner has to be Ben Waddams. He gave us three impressions, they sounded different from one another and were reminiscent of the presenters’ real voices. Plus, I got the impression that he’d be pretty good as himself too!”. “

On his YouTube channel (well worth a visit) Ben says in his intro:

"Some people make the point that filming, painting and writing about animals, is not active conservation. Correct, it's not, until the awareness and money made can be injected into projects. BUT there has to be that awareness there in the first place.

There needs to be that appreciation of wildlife, gained through the descriptions of the place or the portrait of the animal, for people to then dip into their pay-packets and change their lifestyles with the aim to conserve the species on this planet....which I think we all have a duty to do.

This is why I paint, write and photograph.”

On a personal note here, I’d like to wish Ben much success in his future career. Last month he was on Skye, filming Otters with the BBC for a new wildlfe art program, During July he has been in Dorset, filming Bats on Brownsea Island with the BBC again. Both pieces of film are for a new wildlfe art program, Wild About Art, to be aired September - November 2010. I’m delighted to see he is getting this opportunity. Wishing you all the best Ben :-D

Slow worm photo by Ben Waddams. Please do not copy.

Oh dear… my blogging break has not reduced my lengthy chat at all… sorry about that! I fear I have gone slightly off topic too… yes… back to the slow worm in a first floor bedroom in Argyll. How did it get there?

Both Andrew and Ben found this an interesting one and both considered a cat bringing it in. I emailed Rob only to find he didn’t have one. Interestingly enough Ben suggested if a cat were to bring a slow worm into a house it doesn’t always cause it harm because of their armour plating.

Andrew suggested that the dry weather may also have been a factor. He says:

“With the very dry weather we experienced recently slow worms (and other lizards they're related to) struggled to maintain moisture levels and so will be less cautious at night when they emerge to hunt. As with all lizards they need to maintain body temperature but also skin moisture, this is why they usually hole up in the daytime somewhere dark and moist such as under corrugated tin or wood sheeting, and then emerge at night to hunt. If it rains or has been raining they can move about a lot and on unusual surfaces (I've seen them on concrete driveways and footpaths but only when wet).” He goes on to say that once indoors the slow worm would seek a cool dark retreat. That it did :-)

So there you have it, today I will leave you with a mystery and a suggestion that you take 15 minutes to count butterflies this week. I will also leave you with another thought… the reason I keep blogging and the reason I would recommend it. You just never know where an email or posting will take you…

Close-up detail showing lizard face and eyelids of a slow worm
from image above by Ben Waddams. Please do not copy.
Slow worms are legless lizards.

Enjoy the summer sunshine when you get it! Until the next time :-D

Monday, 5 July 2010

Wishing you a great summer!

Gosh this blogging break idea is way harder than I thought it would be! I haven’t managed the postings I had planned (lots of distractions) but keep getting ideas for other things I want to share. After blogging so long, subconsciously a ‘next posting’ is always there :-)

Even now, I’m tempted to chat on but I’m going to try and keep this simple. I’ll stick to just one photo too. The others I have just cropped will appear again. My pond dig is now confusing my OH… nope… I’ll keep this for another time.

The photo above is of Fritillary seed pods spilling out their bounty. This is what I want to leave you with. This is one of my garden loves… making new plants for free!

I get such a buzz out of propagating my plants with division in Spring or Autumn being the most common method I use. However, I love to take cuttings too and always forget how easy they are to do over the summer. I’m not going to miss the boat this year :-)

Little brown envelopes holding seeds collected in previous years are lined up in a row in a box in my (newly tidied) potting shed. They are probably no longer viable. I’ll maybe try some out of interest. However, this year I thought I’d try sowing some seed fresh for a change and store some (with good intentions) to sow next Spring.

Dry days are best for collecting and storing seed. Our dry spell has been a bit ‘blown away’ for the moment with very heavy rain and strong winds. Of course, the wind can blow the seed around too resulting in new plants germinating without an intervention whatsoever from us. I like that too.

I enjoy hand weeding and always keep my eye out for any new seedlings as I go. I’ve got my eye on a few at the moment but will wait until they get a little bigger before I lift them.

My greenhouse tidy is almost complete and I absolutely love to see pots of new cuttings in it. I look at them with a warm pride that I created these new plants. It is so rewarding and if it is something you have never tried before I would highly recommend it.

You don’t have to have a greenhouse. All you need to do is research the type of cutting recommended for the plant you’d like to try. There are many books on propagating plants and information can be found online too. I’m sure you’ll be hooked once you start.

This seems to be a good time of year to buy seeds too with some garden centres selling them half price. Not just flowers either… if you know what veggies you want to grow next year you could pick up seeds for them now too.

Oops… done it again! Sorry, I just can’t help chatting on. It is well after midnight again too… just one final thing. Garden birds would appreciate seed at this time of year too. Pre blog I never thought you needed to bother feeding birds over the summer but they do still come to our gardens for food.

So that’s me for now. On a personal note this is the last summer that we will have a child with school summer hols. I have to say I was quite reminiscent last Friday lunchtime. As a family, we will be making the most of this precious time. Wow... only one school year left!

Wishing you an absolutely wonderful summer doing what you like to do. If you’re off on hols soon… have a great time. Enjoy the plants, birds and wildlife wherever you go. Thanks for all your kind wishes... I’ll catch you later :-D

Sorry, I haven’t answered all the comments in my last post before posting this. Just to say, I will be back to do so tomorrow. If you are a blogger, I hope to visit you over the summer too.