As you’ll know if you follow me on twitter, this June I’m aiming to complete the Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild challenge. It’s a great way to reconnect with nature on a daily basis, and I’m already seeing the benefits of being more relaxed and grounded, so I’d definitely recommend joining in. I’m going to be doing a weekly round-up to keep you up to speed, and to give me the opportunity for some shameless self-promotion.
I’ve liked moths for a while now – their unique names, their bizarre shapes, their beautiful colours and patterns if you just make the effort to look. I’ve never understood why so many people are afraid of them (though I guess that’s the point of a phobia really), or straight-up just don’t like them. They’re so small, and harmless, and lots of them have fluffy little cardigans.
Even in Britain’s typically impoverished fauna (we have only about half the number of moth species of France, and don’t get me started on tropical countries), we’ve got a fair number of striking species. My favourites are definitely the hawkmoths, but I’m by no means averse to others, like the brightly-coloured underwings and the day-flying burnet moths. On Thursday I found a beautiful angle shades waiting out the rain on my doorstep – I quickly relocated it under the window to keep it out of harm’s way.
Waking up after the horrors of election night, I decided to get some headspace by doing something I’ve been meaning to do all year, and walking down the River Lune to see what was about. It was great to get out of the hustle and bustle of the city, with the tide coming up the estuary on one side and trees and fields on the other, and to find some patches of nature along the riverbank that might otherwise be overlooked. These are some of my favourite places to find wildlife, being accessible but mostly undisturbed, and letting you walk for miles without seeing another person. The hedgerows were buzzing with whitethroats, the river thronged with gulls, and I found a group of swans feeding in one of the marshy inlets. Taking a detour on my way back upstream, I came across WT Freeman’s Pools, a set of shallow water-filled scrapes right on the edge of town. There wasn’t much around, although a huge flock of lapwings passed over at one point, and seemed to be nesting on one of the little islands. Definitely worth the long walk.
With the rain setting in again, I decided to take some close-up shots of dewy plants in the garden. I’ve enjoyed taking macro photos since I got my first camera almost ten years ago – I love the feeling of exploration, and discovering the tiny details you’d otherwise miss – a pollen beetle on a buttercup, a yellow snail under a bramble leaf, the way the raindrops glisten on vestal-white rose petals. It’s wonderful how you can open up whole other worlds just by paying a little more attention.
My Sunday was full of errands to run, but coming home from town I made time to take a break in a little slice of park in the city centre, that I’ve always hurried past before, and take five minutes to stop and breathe. For the first time I noticed the song thrushes foraging in the council-planted marigold swathes, the swifts screaming their way in and out of the regency-era houses surrounding the park on all sides, and the truly huge lime trees planted throughout – given that the monument in the middle of the park is over a hundred years old, these trees could easily have seen both world wars. It almost makes you wish they could talk.
Another day full of errands and things to go into university for, I got to looking at the roadside plants on my walk to catch the bus. It’s truly amazing how versatile and adaptable plants are, to be able to not just grow, but thrive, alongside us. It’s certainly useful for brightening an overcast day.
On Tuesday I made a return visit to Warton Crag to collect some more data for my dissertation, and again marveled at the sheer species richness of the reserve, compared to its surroundings. I saw my first foxgloves of the year – their vibrant purple-pink is always a special treat – and, as usual, managed to encounter a new species – this time a (possibly Hylaeus) bee sheltering from the damp in a buttercup.
As I mentioned last time, Warton Crag is a northern stronghold for several of the UK’s fritillary butterflies (Boloria spp.). Although the small pearl-bordered fritillary, Boloria selene, is the most common of the Crag’s species nationwide, it has still undergone a massive decline, with it’s occurrence decreasing by 76% since 1974 according to Butterfly Conservation, having experienced its greatest population crash in England. The primary reason behind this is loss of habitat – many fritillary caterpillars only feed on one or two species of violets, which have to be maintained at a particular temperature for correct development – meaning that if there’s too much bracken or grass about, or too little, the butterflies can’t breed. Unfortunately, we’re not exactly sure what the perfect conditions are yet, and with populations still declining, it’s a race against time. It’s a truly beautiful butterfly, a great shame to lose, and I always feel lucky to have seen one – so when I found three huddled on top of a thistle, barely moving, I seized the opportunity to take some photographs. As you might notice, some of the butterflies on the Crag have dark-blue spots on their underwings. These aren’t natural markings – they’re actually part of a study by some master’s students at Lancaster University, labeling each butterfly individually, to give us a picture of population change and individual movements across the Crag.
Walking through the garden to get to the bin, I heard a rustle in the grass next to the path. Turning around, expecting to find a mouse or vole, I was instead greeted by a tiny baby bird – presumably a warbler of some kind, maybe a willow warbler or a chiffchaff. It had clearly just fledged, seeming to be entirely unfazed by my presence (which allowed me to get some wonderful close-up shots), and only hopped off when I moved a little too quickly. It really highlighted to me how easy it is to make space for nature – our student garden is a mecca for insects, all courtesy of the total lack of gardening tools, and absolute apathy towards long grass. Good luck, little bird – you’ll be needing it.
Until next time,
Have you had any special wildlife experiences in the last week? Leave a comment down below!