Talk about changeable and I'm not referring to the weather this time. A few weeks ago I started on this blog entry feeling a little behind but otherwise fine. I felt good about the photography trips I'd taken and the things I'd seen. Then I got hit by a virus that knocked me for six by turning into Bronchitis (something I've never experienced before). Unluckily for me this was still on the go during my half-term break. I had to put the long-distance trips I'd planned on hold. I still went out on a couple of local trips but was quite ill and probably should just have stayed at home. Now I'm on the mend from the Bronchitis but have started sneezing again! I am crossing my fingers this is just allergy related and nothing else.
Anyhow, it's not been all doom and gloom, I've had some good trips, seen some species that are new for me and met up with old friends too. One of my first trips was to Rowland Wood, a site owned by Butterfly Conservation where I help out with conservation work a little during the winter months. I don't often see this woodland in spring but this year, the season being late, my visit was perfectly timed to see it in all its spring glory.
I thought it looked fabulous decked out in newly-minted green. While there I couldn't resist taking a few shots of the little plant all our work is designed to encourage. Dog Violet is the food plant of the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary which is the main focus of all our efforts on this particular reserve. Every year I see more and more of it in flower as we work on opening up rides and restoring the woodland to the rich habitat it is meant to be and every year I feel (perhaps slightly inappropriately) proud to see it spread (inappropriately given that many members put in a lot more work on the site than I do). Besides, it's a pretty little plant and I can't resist a pretty little plant when I'm out and about with my camera :).
I also took a thought and visited a spot in this wood which is good for Bog Beacon. This area had been pointed out to me by the reserve warden and leader of our little band of volunteers a year ago and I'd photographed it then but wasn't hugely happy with my efforts. I was better pleased this time around.
Bog Beacon reflects light in an astonishing way given its small size so no prizes for guessing how it got its name. It grows in wet woodland, in wet ditches and ruts and it sprinkles the ground with little breadcrumbs of bright yellow which look like beacons for little pixie folk navigating the wild woods at night.
Quite entranced with woodlands (I do love woodlands) I visited another small piece of woodland the following day. This bit of wood can be good for fungi in autumn but during this visit it was a sea of blue. I'd forgotten just how complete the cover was of Bluebells in this wood. The sight was amazing and the scent of Bluebells thick in the air. Beautiful. Individual plants soon took my eye and I settled down for some very pleasurable photography of Bluebells and Wood Spurge.
Being an all kinds of wildlife photographer I am very easily distracted from the main focus of my endeavours on any particular outing. This time it was a small weevil that caught my attention.
Some research uncovered a name for this little insect - it turned out to be a Hazelnut Weevil. I'm a bit confused about its status as it seems to be regarded as a pest of Hazlenut plantations but, on the other hand, one experienced Entomologist says it is local and becoming scarce.*
During the following weeks I turned my attention towards orchids, specifically Gree n-winged orchids. If you are going to photograph orchids you just have to get the timing right to catch them at their best. So, rain or shine, you need to get out there. During this particular outing the weather offered a very dark overcast together with light rain and a mild touch of thunder. I know some churchgoers thought I was a little mad kneeling down among the dusting of purple and pink on their churchyard (I'd sought and been given permission to photograph there before I went). They were polite though, expressing their admiration for my persistence rather than their astonishment at my evident lunacy ;).
My next trip was actually more about orchids than anything else though I photographed little of them during the day. The trip was to a Butterfly Conservation site I'd visited years ago that turned out to be also good for orchids. My reason for visiting it again this year was to refresh my memory as to the route. Luckily an organised walk was in the offing and, struck down by virus or no, I was determined to go.
Common Twayblade, Early Purple orchids and Yellow Archangel were on display in addition to the butterflies that were the main focus of the walk but the highlight of the day for me was this relatively inconspicuous little plant:
This is Adder's Tongue fern. I'd been looking for it for at least a year and I wouldn't have spotted it this year either if I hadn't happened to ask one of the walk volunteers if he'd seen any. "Yes" he reported delight edly, "There's a patch of it just over there!" Within a short stone's throw there was a large patch of the fern carpeting the ground. That made me a happy bunny I can tell you; I hadn't really expected a positive reply to my question when I'd asked it so I was pleased as punch. This is not a fern you can expect to see every day and not just because it is inconspicuous. The Wildlife Trusts describes it as a good indicator species for ancient meadows and there aren't so many of those around anymore. It can also be found in ancient woodlands, on sand dunes and hillsides.
During the last week I've been back to the woods again. This wasn't what I'd had planned for this half-term break but, as I said, my illness forced me to change tack. Instead of longer trips for orchids I was forced to stay local and also to focus more on plants than animals. My constant coughing and sniffling made most animal photography a no-hoper so it was back to flowers again. I thought I'd make more of a research trip of it than anything and was pleased to find some Solomon's Seal and Woodruff but not best pleased with my photographic efforts on their behalf so it's back to the drawing board for them. I did, however, like the results I got with the humble Bugle. This plant is a favourite of the Pearl-bordered Fritillaries that were fluttering about the rides. Distracted yet again, I put this lovely little butterfly in front of my lens too.
Continuing to think in terms of flower research and woodlands and not annoying people with my constant coughing, I decided to go back to Southwater Woods the following day as it is a secluded and peaceful site. After all, earlier in the season I'd spotted great swathes of Bluebells with Wild Alliums at this site and had expressed a desire to go back and see them in flower. They were, indeed, very fine though the Bluebells were a little past their best now and were heavily interspersed with Bracken which rather muted their display.
My favourites from this day include some images I've not got round to processing yet, but also this Yellow Archangel and the unexpected treat of a Mother Shipton moth.
All in all, despite changeable weather and changeable health it's not been a bad spring. I've met up with old acquaintances, found some old favourites to photograph and made headway with some entirely new ones. Every now and again I have to remind myself to just stop and enjoy the day (the location and the peacefulness of being surrounded by wonderful wildlife) instead of getting down on my knees to photograph everything in sight. It's probably a hazard wildlife photographers everywhere face: the temptation to lose their sense of being in time and place in favour of the impulse to record on camera. Still, it's the enjoyment and appreciation of wildlife that got us out there in the first place so I think it's a good idea to take some time out every now and then, just sitting down and enjoying the wonderful natural world around us.