Monday, 30 April 2012

The Orange-tip


Male Orange-tip Butterfly, Chorlton, Manchester

One of the more colourful early spring butterflies usually seen on Cuckoo flower or Garlic Mustard (or in this case Dandelion). The bright orange tips of the males makes them unmistakeable however as soon as a cloud drifts across the sun the butterfly disappears into the background.
Underwing of a male Orange-tip Butterfly, Chorlton, Manchester

Notoriously difficult to photograph, especially on a sunny day when the males spend most of the time patrolling the hedgebanks looking out for newly emerged females, the best approach is to wait until there's a bit of cloud about. Once they’ve found somewhere to rest they will rely upon their camouflage and allow close up views until the sun reappears.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

The Great Morel


Common Morel – South Manchester

The bizarre honeycomb like cap makes this one of the easier mushrooms to identify. Quite a rare Mushroom the Morel prefers a sandy, lime rich soils complete with high humidity. After spending many years wandering around ancient woodlands, meadows, river valleys, moors, heathlands and some of the finest nature reserves in the country a small group of Morels appeared less than half a mile away from home.
P1050165Close-up of the Morel

In France, Italy and North America the Common Morel is considered to be a delicacy hunted by thousands of people every year simply for their taste and the joy of the hunt. Traditionally the favoured cooking method is gently sauteeing them in butter, cracking pepper on top and sprinkling with salt. Morels do contain hydrazine an ingredient of rocket fuel therefore perhaps better to avoid eating them raw. Even cooked morels can sometimes cause mild intoxication.  P1050198There appears to be a bit of a debate upon whether or not foraging for wild mushrooms is harmful to the environment. Many foragers argue that once the cap of the mushroom opens up the spores are released therefore picking them doesn’t affect their long term survival. Others argue that Fungi play a vital role in the ecology of all natural habitats. They are nature's recyclers, as they break down organic matter from plants and animals. Many creatures feed on fungi, and they are host to some rare invertebrates.

Personally it does seem a bit selfish to pick them and prevent the next visitor and possibly future generations from being able to enjoy the fascinating shapes, forms and colours the fungi world has to offer.

St George’s Mushroom

Another edible mushroom prized as a delicacy and named after its habit of appearing around St George’s Day (23rd April). In Italy its known as marzolino, where again its popular fried in butter.
St George’s Mushroom in a large characteristic fairy ring around a tree

Friday, 20 April 2012

Formby and Ainsdale


Red Squirrel – Formby

Highlights from a trip to the seaside. It was actually our first visit to Formby since the devastating outbreak of Squirrelpox in 2008. Great to see the Red Squirrels are still around and have remained relatively easy to find. Since the National Trust stopped selling bags of  food the squirrels appear to be acting more natural and whilst still taking food from feeders (located high in the trees) they seem far keener on pine cones.

In addition to the squirrels, despite it being a relatively cool 9C I was also hoping to find some Sand Lizards. Therefore we decided to walk north through the dunes and along the beach to the National Nature Reserve at Ainsdale.
Note the 3 rows of recycled Christmas trees on the right presumably being used to stop the sand blowing away.
The preferred habitat of the Lancashire Sand Lizards.

In Dorset and Surrey the only other areas of the country to have small populations of Sand Lizards they’re quite happy living on sandy, lowland heaths. In Lancashire they are restricted to the Marram Grass on the seaward, mobile dunes of the Sefton coast. In 2 hours of searching I managed to find 2 of the bright green male lizards. Trying to get a clear photo of the first through the stalks of grass proved impossible. The 2nd one was being held in the talons of a male Kestrel last seen flying off towards the Pines.
Webcap toadstool
Sanderlings stopping off and feeding amongst the surf before continuing their journey north to the Arctic.

Also the first Comma butterfly of the year, a group of 19 Sandwich Terns fishing just offshore on the incoming tide, countless Oystercatchers, 5 Red Breasted Merganser and some large groups of Common Scoters.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Daughter of the Wind


P1050049Wood Anemone – Marbury Country Park

After the dark days of Winter the banks of Wood Anemones to the west of Budworth Mere are always a great sight. In common with a lot of our plants Anemōnē – is derived from Greek. Literally means "daughter of the wind", from ánemos "wind" and the feminine suffix –ōnē.

Next up at Marbury will be a spectacular display of English Bluebells. Whilst the first are just beginning to open it’ll be the end of April before the woodland floor is really carpeted with Bluebells. Hopefully we’ll have the chance to call in however this year we may be heading up to north Lancashire to look for Green Hairstreak butterflies and Green winged Orchids.



Coltsfoot flower – Marbury Country Park

Locally the first Coltsfoot flowers began to open up during late February however trying to find a day when its not been raining or overcast has been a bit of a problem. In common with many other spring flowers they’re photo sensitive. The first sign of cloud and that's it the flowers close up.

Wild Cherry/Gean – Chorlton Water Park

A favourite of the local Bullfinches. Also a valuable source of pollen for the local insects that help to attract the Chiff Chaffs, Blackcaps, Pipistrelles and larger Noctule Bats out hunting in the evening.