Saturday 10th June
“If you go down to the woods today…”
Of course, picnics are not just for teddy bears. A picnic is possibly my favourite thing to do in nature, whether it’s fish and chips on the beach, a pasty in the park, or cheese and pickle sandwiches in a woodland clearing.
Every year, near the end of June, I would insist on my whole family going out for a picnic to celebrate my birthday. No other treat would do; it had to be a picnic, with a rug, and sausage rolls, and lemonade… and wildlife.
I remember windy days, sheep-bit thyme-turf and skylark song, and looking down from downland tops, picking out church spires marking villages in the Wealden landscape below. Early memories are more patchy, made up of imprints on my senses. The scent and crunch of sun-baked pine cones, accompanied by the mini-machine gun fire of popping gorse seed pods, and the scratchy tickle of rough grasses and the taste of resin-rich air.
Sunday 11th June
Today is my favourite day in all of June. Today is the day I saw my first Silver Studded Blue butterfly of the year. This diminutive and intricate beauty is a rare and special butterfly. It can be found on lowland heaths where it finds its food plant in the form of young heather, and forms a very particular relationship with a species of black ant. Although small, these butterflies really pack a punch in the beauty stakes when they can be coaxed to allow viewing in close up. Aside from their minute detail and loveliness, Silver Studs capture a special place in my heart, reminding me not only of many happy days on the summer heaths, but also they were the catalyst that triggered my own passion for conservation to emerge from a teenage chrysalis phase that followed a childhood hungry for knowledge. I spied two male butterflies on my lunch break, flitting away over the short cut heather in the breeze, but the wind was too buffeting for them to stay above the vegetation for long. I will return as high pressure sets in this coming week, as the Silver Studs will only be on the wing for a fortnight or so.
Monday 12th June
A Sparrowhawk flew over the nursery/garden centre where I work, this morning, much to the consternation of the martins and swallows between the clouds above. A pair of buzzards called to each other, their evocative cries the sound track of an otherwise quiet afternoon. I marvelled at the way they drifted in soaring circles and I thrilled at their rising call, just the same as I did aged 10, clinging to the edge of the school playing field, distracted by a wild majesty that went un-noticed by my classmates.
By the evening, back at home, the sound track of buzzards was replaced by the equally thrilling screech of a flight of swifts that careered past the balcony of our flat, and later the bedroom window too, as we pottered around shedding the days pollution of mind and body. I wonder where the swifts are nesting, maybe a thoughtful neighbour somewhere near has put up some nest boxes. The new-build houses at the end of the estate certainly don’t offer these magical birds any ‘natural’ nest site opportunities in their current ‘fresh-out-of-the-box’ state.
I was looking through some photos from the last few days and was reminded of these incredible caterpillars removed from a customer’s plant purchase and relocated to the wild verge. They are the caterpillars of a Mullein moth, not an especially exciting or decorative moth to look at, but with some truly funky and striking caterpillars!
Looks like these critters have been raiding Chris Packham’s wardrobe (and if you’ve been watching SpringWatch Unsprung last week and seen Chris’s choice in jumpers you’ll know what I mean!