(This entry is an example of bad blogging as it was written on 16th July and only posted tod ay - whoops!)
This year I seem to be in a flower-hunting mood. Almost every trip I've made has been about seeing one plant or another. Since the beginning of June I've travelled to Kent to see Lady Orchids, Hampshire to see Sword-leaved Helleborines and gone back to Kent for Lizard Orchids and Late Spider Orchids. In-between these long trips I've photographed grasses and flowers on local walks and in my garden.
The Lady Orchids were spectacular. Some orchids are rather strange in appearance and others are really tiny and hard to spot but not these. Big, bold and beautiful, that's what they are. It meant a trip out of county to see them but it turned out to be hugely rewarding. The orchids proved quite easy to find, there were plenty there and they were very impressive.
Unlike the Lady Orchids which were a very recent itch, the Sword-leaved Helleborines were something I'd wished to see for about a year, since I first became conscious of them. It did mean travelling to Hampshire to a site I didn't know which had put me off a bit the previous year as that kind of adventure can be awfully hit and miss at times. However, a little internet research convinced me it would be worth the trip, so off I went.
I was glad I did. Not only did this species prove as attractive in every way as the Lady Orchids but the wood presented beautiful vistas of fresh woodland greens and golds threaded through with the snow-white of helleborines. It was achingly beautiful and I'm afraid my images don't do justice to it.
This is a rather special bit of woodland in my view. Not only is it beautiful and not only does it host the gorgeous Sword-leaved Helleborine but it also sports Bird's-nest Orchid and Woodruff.
My next trip was almost a month later as work commitments kept me out of the loop for a while. This was a very long-awaited and much-anticipated trip to see Lizard Orchids. I admit that these have held some fascination for me for two or three years now. Every year I'd think "I must go and see these" and never get around to it. I thought it was high time I did something about that so I went into overdrive researching the species and flowering times and networking with others who knew the area a lot better than I did. Some people seem to think I'm rather overly-thorough in preparation for my longer trips and maybe they are right but it helps me feel a lot more confident about successfully finding the species I'm after and obtaining photos of it that I can feel happy with.
I think it is simply the strange, exotic appearance of this species that made me feel I had to go and see them. When I got to the site they didn't look like anything much to be honest until I got really up close to them with my camera and then I could feel the pull of their fascination all over again. Once you isolate them from their background a little with a camera the strange shapes formed by their 'lizard tail' lips creates real impact.
I can't say I felt quite the same degree of fascination for the next species I was to see, at least not initially. I came across this one as a result of the networking I mentioned earlier. While asking about the Lizard Orchids I also asked what else I might see in Kent while I was there and was told Late Spider Orchids are the thing to see in Kent at this time of year. As it turned out I didn't see them on that trip but the thought of maybe seeing them stayed in my mind so I made another trip to Kent especially to see them. I have to confess that by the time I arrived at the site I was both tired and hot and the site itself didn't do a huge amount to inspire me (though that is likely because, being hot and tired and also determined to see another reserve during the same day, I didn't explore it properly). In the end I did enjoy photographing the Late Spiders and was pleased to see the special efforts being made to conserve them but I have to admit that I enjoyed my time at the second reserve more as it was absolutely chock-full of several orchid species, providing an almost archetypal feeling of summer flower meadows.
Speaking of archetypal flower meadows, there is something truly special about Poppy fields in summer and this year has been especially good for them in Sussex. I'd been admiring several such fields every day on my journey to and from work during late June and had made a mental note to go and photograph them. Having reached the end of term my first job was to see those Lizard Orchids before they went over so I had to put the Poppies on hold. Then it became a case of 'Out of Sight, Out of Mind' - no longer seeing them every day as I journeyed to and from work, I forgot about them. Fortunately, chance had me passing that way again after my visit to Kent and my mental note then became a handwritten one: I hastily scribbled "Poppies!"on a scrap of paper and put it next to my computer. Thus it was that when I returned from my second Kent trip I remembered the Poppies and made an evening foray out to see them.
When I got to the site there were lots of people in the fields enjoying the poppies. Every day I'd admired the poppies from my car I'd seen cars parked up close-by. I was not their only admirer by any means. While I was at t he site I saw parents who'd taken their children to experience the feeling of being surrounded by an abundance of red poppies taller than they were. Parents were photographing their children among the poppies, others were strolling about photographing the poppies themselves and there was at least one modelling event in progress to boot. There are so many ways in which to enjoy our native flowers and it made me smile to see everyone enjoying them.
For me it was the Poppies themselves that were going to be the focus of the day. I went during the evening purposefully, so as to see the flowers in low warm evening light. This gave me a limited time frame so I made up my mind to confine myself to close-ups rather than distant views. As usual, I'd already done some research to help me think about exactly what kind of shot I was after. My aim was to get shots of the red flowers against a soft red background and I remember feeling a bit frustrated as I didn't think I was achieving it at the time but when I got home I found I'd done a lot better than I'd thought.
So there you go, my attention has been firmly set on flowers for months now. The only real exception to this flower-hunting theme was a long-awaited session photographing Great-spotted Woodpeckers in my garden and a recent trip to photograph Purple Emperor butterflies. Attracting Woodpeckers to my garden is something I'd wanted to do for a little while but I only really got down to putting some effort into this project last winter. Following (slightly modified) instructions from the internet, I drilled holes into a stout branch, set it at an angle in the ground and then filled the holes with a suet/lard/bird seed and peanut flour mix. Then I repeated the filling up process every single night week after week and month after month for the next few months. The Starlings loved me! Eventually, though, we did start to see an adult female and adult male Woodpecker appear in the garden and they clearly appreciated the Woodpecker feeder at least as much as the Starlings did. "Great!" I thought, "I'll be able to get some photos during the Easter holiday." Come Easter not only did I have a cough that refused to go away but the birds had disappeared and stayed disappeared for so long that I wondered if I'd seen the last of them. Luckily some weeks later they (or another pair) started visiting the garden again and I looked forward to obtaining my photos during the half-term break. Come half-term break I developed Bronchitis. It began to look as though I'd never get the shots I'd hoped for.
However, all this time I'd continued to fill up the Woodpecker feeder and was finally rewarded with the sight of not one but two fledglings visiting us for much-needed food. Not only did I get the photos I was after but I got some video too. It was great fun and I'm still filling up that feeder for all the species that appreciate that particular mix of food.
Blue Tits, Robins and Blackbirds are all partial to this particular foodstuff and so I started to put some in one of the ground feeders as the Robins and Blackbirds find it difficult to access the food from the Woodpecker feeder. All my ground feeders are surrounded by wire mesh guardians. This is something I started doing this year as the Woodpigeon and Collared Dove populations have been growing at a rate of knots and pushing out all the smaller birds. Imagine my surprise one evening when I saw one of the Woodpecker fledglings inside the ground feeder guardian happily filling its tummy with the suet mixture. The guardian for this particular ground feeder has a wide mesh to allow Blackbirds in to feed but somehow I'd never imagined that the Woodpeckers would take advantage. In addition to this unexpected sighting, one of the highlights stemming from this Woodpecker feeding initiative is something I didn't see for myself. My partner phoned me at work one day to let me know he'd just seen two adult Yellowhammers dive-bombing one of the adult Woodpeckers. I wish I'd seen that!
My trip to see the Purple Emperors came about more by chance than anything else. I'd been planning to rest up on the butterfly front this year to give myself time to photograph other species. To be honest I'd also found photography of Purple Emperors a mite frustrating in recent years. The weather was poor in the last two seasons and I'd spend all day trudging around likely sites and be lucky to spot them in the air let alone on the ground which is where I needed them for some decent shots. Accordingly, my plan for that weekend had been to visit Hampshire for heathland species but then my partner happened to mention that the Goodwood Festival of Speed would be in operation. This made me revise my plans in a hurry as the traffic en route to Hampshire would be horrendous during the festival. I thought about possible alternatives and naturally enough considered Purple Emperors as a serious candidate. A quick check on the internet showed some breathtakingly good images taken by Sussex butterfly champion Neil Hulme the previous Tuesday and Wednesday so, kicking myself firmly in the butt for not having made the trip earlier in the week, I made plans to go Purple Emperor hunting that weekend. It turned out to be a good move. It was incredibly hot that weekend and I quickly found out that this made the desirable open wing shots an unlikely prospect but I did see four male Purple Emperors on the ground in one day on Saturday and is a personal best for me so I was quite happy with that.
It was reassuring to find the Purple Emperors out in good numbers again. During the course of the day I'd chatted with one group who had seen at least four Purple Emperors before I'd arrived and two other people I talked with had seen one each. That's pretty good for one day. Sunday wasn't quite as good for me as I only saw one on the ground but it was still good to see them in flight around the tops of the trees and refreshing to talk with other butterfly enthusiasts.
I have to say I think this summer has been pretty good for me in terms of wildlife photography this year and I've enjoyed seeing 'proper' summer weather again after the last two summers drenching followed by the miserably wet and cold spring we had this year. It took a little adjusting to at first but now I'm firmly into summer mode - with one difference: unlike those hot summers from days of yore, I find I am reminding myself every day not to complain about the hot weather!