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

14 comments:

lotusleaf said...

Butterfly count is a good project for my students. Thanks for the idea! I have not seen a slowworm anywhere hereabouts, although other types of worms and lizards are there plenty.

Green Lane Allotments said...

The butterfly count is a bit of a difficult one - firstly the butterflies flit around quickly and it's almost impossible to follow which have been counted and secondly butterflies flitting can be difficult to identify especially those that look similar. As for counting moths well that is even more difficult. I always do the bird count and will attempt this but I'm less confident that the results will be accurate. Also around our garden peacocks tend to be around a bit later.

Liz said...

Hi Shirl,

Mmmm I may submit my count, but I do find it pretty pointless considering you're unlikely to see Orange-tips and such at this time of year. And for 15 seconds?

(Ignoring the 15 second timeframe)
Admittedly I did have plenty of butterflies around today, the most I saw was 4 gatekeepers, two whites and a meadowbrown flitting along our privet at the same time (flitting = fighting! ha ha)
I also saw two Commas on the Buddleja at the same time.
Oh and at Dobbies yesterday I swear Small Torts were following us, everywhere I turned they were sunbathing :)
And yet, if I'd done this just last weekend I would've had a higher count of Speckled Woods, Skippers and even a Small Copper but the latter two were not sighted today.

Btw, I think your unknown Butterflies are Small Tortoiseshells.

Green Lane Allotments said...

Never noticed the question about unknown butterflies and I agree with Liz - small tortoiseshells - but doesn't that just go to show that identifying is difficult especially if the wings are folded.

Isn't it 15 minutes rather than 15 seconds though?

The Early Birder said...

Hi Shirl. As expected a very interesting and informative post. The flutters are definitely Small Tortoiseshells...if at the chrysalis stage they are subjected to high temps then some appear with reduced colouring and the spots may be fused together. FAB.

shirl said...

Hi again lotusleaf, sounds a good plan!

I wonder what the nearest reptile species to the slow worm lives with you in South India. I would imagine you see many wonderful lizards in your tropical garden!

Wishing you a good week :-D

shirl said...

Hi again Sue & Martyn, gosh what a lovely problem to have :-)

We don’t see large numbers of butterflies here. I guess in part as there aren’t many flowering plants in the gardens that border mine to help them find mine :-(

I could imagine your problem re count and ID when you have many visiting. Yes, a lot different to the bird count I’d agree. I guess you’d need a helper or a video camera on a tripod ;-)

Thanks for the 2nd comment with the butterfly ID. That was my closest guess. Yes, the butterfly count is 15 minutes :-)

Wishing you a good week :-D

shirl said...

Hi there Liz, gosh sounds to me like you’ve a wonderful selection of butterfly visitors to add to the survey :-)

Lol… sorry… for others reading this, the butterfly count is for 15 minutes not 15 seconds ;-)

I hear what you are saying re the Orange-tips but on looking at the online sheet to submit results it doesn’t appear on it. I guess the organisers have listed butterflies that you are most likely to see at this time of year.

Thanks for the ID on the small tortoiseshells. That was my closest guess but the colour threw me there.

Lol… you were at Dobbies today… your fav weekend haunt perhaps ;-) I have to say I was at my local one today too and always love to see the plants that butterflies and bees feed from. It was too dull and windy for butterflies today but saw quite a few bees :-D

Wishing you a good week :-D

shirl said...

Hi there Frank, thank-you! It’s nice to be posting again. Perhaps weekly, weekend postings are a better way to go for me when I do chat on and on ;-)

Thanks for the ID’s on the tortoiseshells… if only I had looked more closely at the online sheet I’ve linked to above for Liz I’d have seen it! Thanks for the extra info too… very interesting. I’ve added it to my post :-D

Wishing you a good week :-D

Lisa at Greenbow said...

The butterfly count here is earlier in the month. It has been so darned hot here it wouldn't be fun to be out counting but even I could do 15 mintues. ha... I have never heard of slow worms. I knew there were lizards without legs but I had never heard them called slow worms. Maybe I just forgot that part. They are interesting creatures.

Jan (VA Zone 7A) said...

Hi Shirl,
The butterfly count sounds like a great idea. I haven't heard of any here in the US but with the decline of the monarchs, I am sure there are many keeping tabs...but not on the level of the 'Great Backyard Birdcount' that we have here. I enjoyed your post with all the info. The slowworm does indeed resemble a snake. I would not be able to tell the difference had you not explained it;-)

Jan (VA Zone 7A) said...

...just did a brief 'google' search and learned that there are butterfly counts all over the US at various times. I hadn't ever heard of these so will keep an eye out to participate at some point. We're on our way to Europe on Fri. for 2 wks. Flying into London and back home from Paris. In between will be in Germany most of the time. Wish I could get to Scotland but maybe on another trip;-)

Midmarsh John said...

A very interesting read Shirl. I will have a look at the butterfly survey but they have only just started to visit my garden.

Great video from Ben. He is certainly very enthusiastic and would make a brilliant TV wildlife presenter.

shirl said...

Hi again Lisa, Jan and John :-)

Lisa, I had heard you mention counts before too. Lol… hardy soul you ;-) Yes, slow worms are new to me too… pre blog I had never heard of them. I definitely didn’t know you could get legless lizards… fascinating ;-)

Jan, excellent… delighted I’ve introduced you to butterfly counts with you. Yes, I do remember seeing your bird count postings. You’ve got some wonderful birds in your area. Hope you’re still enjoying your hols. Guessing you’ve left London by now :-)

John, thanks hope you’ve seen more than I did. I’m going to have to report that I didn’t count any. Delighted you viewed Ben’s video, I thought you would enjoy it. I agree, I do think we’ll see him on screens at some point :-D