The thing about butterfly hunting is that you don't need to be up early to see them at their best - indeed, not much before 11am and it needs to be warm, sunny and not windy. Perfect for a picnic. How about heading for Chiselbury ring (my favourite, till I'm on Winkelbury or Clearbury ...) off the Shaftesbury Way above Fovant, and scrambling down the chalk slope next to the Badges?
Maybe you'll have the same luck there as Abby Eaton, who sent me this dazzling gallery of colour, including the allotment-holders' favourites (hover for the caption, click to enlarge):
And if you'd like to hone your lepidopterist skills, there's our field trip on Saturday, 26 June to Garston Wood - go to Field Trips for details.
Apparently, that butterflies are scented has been known since E B Ford's post-WWII New Naturalist publication, but isn't it lovely?
Here's a gallery of butterfly scents (click or hover to see the caption)...
Patrick Barkham in The Guardian newspaper's Butterfly watch, says the purpose of the scent is the same as ours, to attract the opposite sex. But in this case, it's the male butterflies that smell delicious rather than the females.
E B Ford's successor Martin Warren includes this discovery in his new book Butterflies, 'a compendium of the latest scientific understanding of the planet's 19,000 species.'
Beetles seem to be all the rage, all of a sudden.
The April issue of the RHS's The Garden (pp 28-29) had a lovely spread on predatory beetles and the Wild about Gardens bulletin highlights the Wildlife Trusts wonderful feature on everything from the 7-spot ladybird to the death-watch!
Closer to home, Abby Eaton went to the open garden event at Fonthill House earlier this month and saw some lovely Violet Oil Beetles. She said, 'I saw eight but there were probably more.' (Great antennae!)
There's a survey of oil beetles going on at the moment - full details here on the BugLife website - and the PDF has some nice digestible info and contacts.
Abby added, 'Fascinating life cycle for the uninitiated. I logged the sighting on iRecord.'
And the RHS's latest Wild About Gardens also has a brilliant video on making a Beetle Bucket - I'm sure I can find a spot for this somewhere ...
And although of course spiders aren't beetles let alone even insects, here's an amazing photo Peter Shallcross has sent in of a harvestman. He says, 'I don't really know why the eyes would be better in any place other than the head but because the brain of a harvestman is so miniscule maybe the choice of where to wear one's eyes is of lesser importance to it?' I think I'd like mine in the back of my head ...
Just because we're out of lockdown shouldn't mean we get out less. The breeding season is at its height so there's many to look out for but one that's often heard is the woodpecker. It's usually the Greater Spotted, also known as the Pied Woodpecker, that we hear drumming away - as in this photo (left) by Andrew Carter. But there's more than one.
There's also it's little friend often called unsurprisingly the Lesser-spotted Woodpecker but 'spotted' isn't a helpful differentiation and it's other name, the Barred Woodpecker is more helpful.
Apart from the 'pied' vs 'barred' description, another differential is that the smaller bird drums for two seconds while its larger cousin only does so for just one, speeding up at the end. So take a stop-watch with you, too, and start looking if you hear the longer burst, as the lesser is quite rare. (I know, it's the wrong way round - perhaps remind yourself 'longer is lesser'.)
Maybe they'd both been having a go at this rotting old tree trunk alongside the path near Compton Chamberlayne.
‘“Ne’er cast a clout ‘ere May is out”. Well, the flowering May or hawthorn is a bit backward this year and right now it seems sense to pay attention.
But there's more to our May trees than that. Some people love the 'scent' on a warm day - it seems to breathe summer - but that scent is actually trimethylamine, one of the first chemicals formed in decaying animal tissue. So now we know, thanks to Andrew Graham's piece in this month's Focus, and maybe that's why it's supposed to be bad luck to bring it into the house.
Other facts I didn't know are that the flowers are hermaphrodite, which may or may not have something to do with hawthorn being a pagan symbol of fertility, with association to May Day ceremonies and the Green Man.
The deep-red fruits are known as 'haws', the name coming from the tree rather than vice versa. 'Haw' is an Old English word for hedge, so the name means hedgethorn. Other names are whitethorn (because of the blossom) and quickthorn. This latter is nothing to do with its speed of growth but rather to its being alive – to distinguish a live quickthorn hedge from a dead hedge, i.e., one made up of stacked dead branches.
How to put a price on a river like this?
Farming Today on Thursday, 13 May included an item on the new Environmental Land Management Scheme known catchily as ELMS but causing no confusion on the part of our elm tree enthusiast Chairman. Click on this link and go to c. 6 minutes in for the ELMS item or to c. 8.40 minutes for what's happening in the Cranborne Chase AONB and a short quote from our Peter.
Little by little, maybe we - and the farming community - will get the hang of this. Part of what's involved is estimating the value of the 'natural assets' like the Nadder on Peter's farm. It sounds an extremely complex process.
(Thank you to Andrew Graham, aka lark, for alerting me to this.)
This Saturday, 15 May is our first Field Trip of the new programme, to the RSPB's 200 acre reserve at Winterbourne Down, near Amesbury.
If you've not yet registered, contact Dick Budden either on his email, or phone him on 07944 640900 - there may still be places, especially if you have your own transport. Departure is at 1030am, from the Nadder Closer car park.
Nick Tomalin talked to us in February about his work there and elsewhere to maintain and even restore the stone curlew population. But there are also lapwing, skylark, linnets, grey partridges and yellowhammers. It's still a bit early for the best of the flowers, but there should be orange tip and brimstone butterflies if the weather let's some sunshine through.
For more information, go to the website or to this recording by the Reserve Manager, Patrick Cashman, about the flowers and butterflies on the reserve - in midsummer! - but also good news about the stone curlews.
Cranborne Chase AONB will be featuring on Countryfile at 6pm this Sunday, 9 May.
We'll only know what's on when we watch, but several items they filmed complement topics covered in our own schedule of talks and field trips so may be of particular interest. Knowledge, practice and understanding are growing all the time, so it's well worth tuning in to catch up on:
Dark Skies: Steve Tonkin, the AONB Dark Skies Advisor, (Young Nature Watch, 'Space travel online experience', 30 March) was filmed discussing our amazing dark skies and may also mention the AONB's Dark Sky Custodians and Dark Sky Accreditation Scheme, part of the Starry, Starry Night project.
Rivers: The AONB's Crystal Clear Ebble project with the Wessex Rivers Trust - Alex Deacon, their Catchment Partnership Manager, talked to us last September, and we've also looked at the Nadder with a Field Trip in September last year and a talk coming up in October and back in 2017 we heard about Fish of the River Avon.
Farming: The Countryfile team focussed on the amazing work being done by the Martin Down Farmer Cluster, facilitated by the Game & Wildlife Conservation trust - Peter Thompson from the Trust gave us a fascinating and
encouraging talk last 19 November, Neil Harley told us about what he's doing near Tisbury on 28 January, and in 2019 Gary Rumbold explained the work of the Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group.
If you'd like to catch up on any of these, many are covered in Talks or Field Trips/What you missed, or just email me.
If you've ever wondered how you'd feel if you'd just got home after flying 7,000 miles, here's a wonderful video from Fowlmere in Cambridgeshire!
And in Tisbury, we've done very best to make sure more and more swifts will, over the next few years, have happy homecomings here.
The team from Hampshire Swifts have, over two weekends so far, installed 20 nest boxes and there are more yet to go up. Some of these, if not very close to existing active nest sites, also have sound systems playing recordings of a pair of breeding swifts to encourage others to take up residence. So, if you're up shortly after dawn, or around shortly before sunset, and hear the cries of swifts, look up and see if there are nest boxes.
If there aren't, and all you can see is a blank wall, please let us know as there may be a 'natural' nest site often in the tiniest hole. We'll be organising a survey later in the summer, of nest sites in the village.
Laura Downer, Andrew Graham and I are hugely grateful to so many people in Tisbury and nearby who've responded to this project - and also to the editorial team at Focus for their beautiful cover and feature in the May edition here.
On Thursday evening, 6th May at 7:30, Andrew Graham will be giving the last of our online Zoom talks, ‘Everyone Can Be a Wildlife Recorder’ describing how recording the world around us helps us to understand it, and how you too can contribute.
When you hear or read that a species of bird or butterfly, animal or plant has declined by X% or Y% percent over the last number of years, do you sometimes wonder "how do they know that?". Much of what we know about changes going on in our environment is derived from millions of records collected over decades, mostly by ordinary people with an interest in nature, like us.
Andrew will describe how the recording systems developed and how they work, how you can access some of the results, and how anyone, with a little time and knowledge, can contribute.
Paid-up members will receive the link to this talk very shortly. If you’re not a member but would like to join the talk, please pay the £2 visitors fee, email Dick Budden and he will send you the link.
Pay direct to the Tisbury & District Natural History Society bank account with NatWest, Sort code: 54-41-19, Account number: 03123480. If you make a payment this way, please your name as the reference and email Dick to look out for it.
Or pay a member of the committee, who will make the transfer on your behalf.
Or send Dick a cheque to Chicksgrove Close, Chicksgrove Road, Tisbury, Salisbury, SP3 6LX
If you have problems logging on to Zoom, please ring Dick 07944 640 900 and he will gladly talk you through the process.
The pages now display photos of live moths taken by Andrew Graham. This one, the Puss Moth, looks very soft and cuddly.