Lockdown blues. And whites, and yellows, and…

By Alan Waterman

Like many others I had never heard of Wuhan and was only vaguely aware that there were a group of viruses known as Corona viruses. When first reports of a virus came from China in December 2019 I did not think much of it.  We had after all got used to such outbreaks. There had been Swine Flu, Avian Flu, Ebola, MERS and SARS and they were somewhere far away and never really had much impact on my life. It did register and I was vaguely worried when it was reported that the Chinese were rapidly building complete new hospitals to deal with the outbreak and had also shut down an entire province, but still it was over there.

Bit by bit it worked its way over here, and slowly the name Covid 19 came into use. Officially the name of this corona virus is 2019 nCov. The 19 is because it first made its appearance in the year 2019. I had not  realised that. The first definite case in Britain was identified  on 20th January 2020. Soon after this we left Britain for a two week holiday in Gran Canaria and it was during this fortnight that it really took off in Italy followed by serious outbreaks in France and Spain.

On our return the writing was very much on the wall and we decided to stop visiting the gym.  I stopped going to my regular Monday night camera club meetings, no more restaurant visits and only essential shopping trips. At this point, which was still about two weeks before the stay home message and lockdown was eventually introduced on the 26th March, we started our home fitness regime. Walks of about one hour on four days of the week, home gym exercises on two days of the week and on Saturday we chilled out.

Living very close to two beautiful areas, the Forest of Dean and the Wye Valley, we already enjoyed a decent repertoire of walks. Most of them involved a short drive but some were direct from the house. During the pre lockdown period we extended our number of routes and in particular we discovered some new paths through the Forest of Dean, some with excellent views. I normally take with me a small Olympus camera  which will easily fit into my pocket so that views and any interesting wild flowers can be photographed. I am hoping to publish a book on woodland wildflowers and the publishers had instructed me to top up on and improve some of my photographs. With that  in mind I did a round trip just before the lockdown first to the area of Gloucestershire known as the Daffodil Triangle, then across to Inkpen in Berkshire to find the Wild Crocuses and finally stopped off at a spot just outside Gloucester to photograph the very rare Yellow Star of Bethlehem.

So pre lockdown it was not so much blues as yellows and even when the stay  home restriction was first introduced it still remained largely yellow the dominant wild flower at that time being the Primrose.

As I am sure  will be the case for many people fortunate enough to live in a rural situation we soon discovered many more walks that could be undertaken direct from the house. We basically had three directions to head off in. We live in a valley, so there are lots of ups and downs involved in any walk. The right hand direction provided several routes, some involving a region known as Clearwell Meend. There are quite a few Meends in this area. Meend is a local name which might have its origin in the Welsh Myndd which means mountain but now it denotes a sort of common land. Clearwell Meend had quite a few Primroses on it and a later some Cowslips and even a couple of False Oxlips. In these early days of the pandemic there were lots of Sallow bushes with the beautiful Pussy Willow flowers. On this right hand route we could walk through some ancient woodland with wierd rock formations caused by excavations carried out way back in prehistoric times. These are known as scowles, and some of these local regions have been used for filming such epics as Star wars and Harry Potter films. Here too were Primroses and also Lesser Celandine.

Primrose
Lesser Celandine
Cow slip
False Oxlip

To the left of the house and through the village are various footpaths and some charming little lanes with quaint names like Pingry Lane, Rookery Lane and Margery Lane. We gave the different routes our own names. Some are based on the actual names  but others are based on our own observations. For example there is rat junction so called because at one time a rat was regularly to be found on the stile there, not a live version but a cuddly stuffed rat. It was there for a few weeks but eventually disappeared. Possibly the child who left it there passed by again and picked it up. Another walk is the Julie Andrews “the hills are alive” walk which passes through a meadow reminiscent of an alp. A third set of walks starts over the road from the house and involves climbing what we were told was called the burial path and passes a chicken farm. It all means something to us and each walk is different and provides a variety of views, habitats and wild flowers. We can often see across to the Welsh Brecon Beacons with the Sugar Loaf  and Hay Bluff frequently visible.

Gradually the yellows gave way to more blues. Green Alkanet, which despite its name has bright blue flowers grew in a big patch by the side of the village church and along the lanes and through the woods the Bluebells made their presence felt. You always seem to get a few precocious ones that start flowering  in early April but the main flush is towards the end of the month. There were also several places where Periwinkle was established, sometimes in gardens, sometimes as escapes but their blue to purple colour also added to the general blueness. Even the Violets did their bit although occasionally one could see a white variety.

Dog Violet
Dog Violet
Green Alkanet
Lungwort
Lesser Periwinkle
Ground Ivy

Hard on the heels of the Bluebells were the Ramsons and white now seemed to be in the ascendancy. The Wood Anemones had provided a little taste of the whiteness to come and combined well with the Bluebells  but  in  Mid Spring there was  Cow Parsley in the lanes and Ramsons in the woods There was also a lot of White Dead Nettle  and Hedge Bedstraw to be seen to contribute to the whiteness.

Some plants, such as the Ramsons have a very short flowering period. Others such as Herb Robert, one of the Pinks, seem to go on for ever and is still flowering now as I write this in August . Another pink that puts in an appearance at the same time as the Cow Parsley is the Red Campion combining well with the Cow Parsley. I suspect many casual observers do not see the sequence of  changes especially with the white umbellifers in the Hedgerows. Cow Parsley appears first followed by Ground Elder and then Hogweed which has a longer season and overlaps several of the others. Hogweed can err on the side of pink and is  more robust than the other umbellifers. Later  some Common Vallerian may be seen and by mid summer there can be quite a show from the more delicate Hedge Parsley.  In the woods there may be Pignuts, quite delicate but another white umbellifer and in the fields there is Wild Carrot.

Cow Parsley
Ground Elder
Hogweed
Common Valerian
Pignut
Hedge Parsley

Once lockdown was lifted  we were allowed to travel and so we have done, but not that much. We still walk four times a week and three of those walks are from the house with only one involving driving to somewhere local. We did have a trip over to Stroud to photograph a rare orchid, a Narrow leaved Helleborine, but we are mostly maintaining the local nature of our walks. After all in years to come I expect Covid will be a memory but climate change will still be with us. I have managed to carry out my publisher’s instructions and I think I have improved my photographs. I have certainly discovered quite a few species that I never knew grew so close to home. I expect there are still more out there waiting to be discovered… maybe during the next lockdown!

Cirencester Fungi

Juliet Bailey “was out near Cirencester yesterday (in the sunshine) and came across some lovely fungi. I’ve sent photos to John Holden of the Dean Fungus Group who has agreed with the Scarlet Elfcap, probably Sarcoscypa austriaca, but you need to check the spores to be sure. And the other is Turkeytail Trametes versicolor with very nice fresh brackets.”

Peregrines on the cathedral

Andrew Bluett had the following sighting of the Peregrines at Gloucester Cathedral on Friday. The male came in from the north over the roof (2025a) then headed for a perch on the highest south-east pinnacle (2031x); he then collected Prey from somewhere out of sight behind the tower (2039x – small and unidentifiable) and passed it to the female on the west face of the tower with some brief calling. The male has a metal BTO ring on the right leg, Orange Darvic ring “PAC” on the left leg. This bird fledged from Cheltenham in 2017. Also present was the Black Redstart which has been there for a while now.

Squatters in Little Owl box

Photo – David Priddis

As part David Priddis’s annual bird box check, he found some honey bee ‘squatters’ in the Little Owl box.

There is some nice natural wax comb, it looks as if they have had all the stores of honey from the right combs and are clustered around those on the left, which hopefully still have some honey left for them.

He managed to replace and screw the front back on without being stung!

Sightings from GNS meeting at Ripple Lakes

Ripple Lakes are two former sand and gravel pits in the floodplain of the Severn in south Worcestershire, very close to the Gloucestershire boundary, one on each side of the M50, on the left (east) bank. These new lakes, where extraction has only just been completed, hold fairly deep water throughout the year, in particular in late summer and early autumn when other natural wetlands in north Gloucestershire and south Worcestershire (such as Coombe Hill, Ashleworth/Hasfield Ham or Longdon Marsh) often dry out (though not in autumn 2019!). As such they represent a new wetland for the area, and are attracting water birds, both diving ducks which seek deeper water, and surface-feeding ducks and geese which can graze around the grassy edges. Clearly a topic worthy of further investigation by a recording society like Gloucestershire Naturalists’ Society: a field meeting had been scheduled in early December, but had to be postponed because the whole of the floodplain was deeply flooded. Nothing daunted, a doughty band of GNS members (with some guests from the Cheltenham Bird Club) gathered on 19 January, in bright frosty conditions with brilliant light, to investigate the birds present.

As expected, numbers and variety of diving water birds were greater than in shallower Gloucestershire sites: 35 Pochard, 65 Tufted Ducks and a Goldeneye, plus ten Great Crested Grebes. Numbers of geese and surface feeding ducks proved disappointing – just 100 Greylags and 60 Canadas (some of which may already have returned to nesting sites further north) and only 4 Wigeon and 2 Shoveler (perhaps the bigger numbers of these surface-feeding ducks were still back in shallow floodwater at Coombe Hill and Ashleworth). Another bird of interest was a Great White Egret, a still rare Mediterranean heron which has only recently begun to occur, like its smaller cousin the Little Egret, in southern England. Finally an interesting series of waders was noted: a Green Sandpiper and three Snipe would have been winter visitors. as was a most unexpected Common Sandpiper (which normally winters south of the Sahara). On the other hand two Oystercatchers on the island in the south lake were no doubt early returning birds, just arrived to assert their territorial rights on this island which holds a variety of nesting waders; spring must be just around the corner!

Butterfly Backsides

Here is a selection of less than perfect photos of butterflies currently using my Buddleia. With the warm weather and fuelled-up on nectar they don’t stay still for very long in the perfect open position, but perhaps closed or half-closed is the view that most people will get of them.
Painted Lady – star of the show in great abundance this year. In flight, the general impression is of an apricot coloured butterfly.

Painted Lady

When perched with its wings folded the Painted Lady shows pretty pale stone-coloured mottling on the reverse of the hind wing with a dusty band of apricot and flecks of black and white on the upper wing.

Painted Lady

Red Admiral – very handsome black with brilliant red and white and a highlight of blue. On the reverse, the bottom wing is dark but there is dull red, white and blue on the upper wing.

Red Admiral

Peacock – when the wings are open it is basically orange with big eye-spot discs on the top and bottom wings. With the wings folded these disappear and it looks almost black, unlike the Painted Lady and Red Admiral which are still moderately colourful on the underwing.

Peacock

Peacock

Small Tortoiseshell – this butterfly is a little smaller than the previous three and when open is a brick red with black, white, red and yelllow blocks, rimmed on the edge with little blue beads. With folded wings it is the dark brown of a dead leaf.

Two Small Tortoiseshells with Painted Lady

Comma – another smaller butterfly the same sort of size as the Small Tortoiseshell, this butterfly is ginger orange, and its characteristic when perched from either view point is the scalloped edge to the wings as if something has been taking bites out of it, which is much more pronounced than the other species. I did not stay long enough to get a photo of one perched on Buddleia flower.

Comma

Small White – there are three possible Whites on the Buddleia – Small, Large and Green Veined. This is Small White. It is about the size of the Small Tortoiseshell whereas Large is the size of the Peacock etc. The perspective in the photo is giving the wrong impression, the white butterfly is closer than the other two. Green Veined would show dingy dark lines (the so-called green veins) on the reverse of the wings. The wings here are a relatively unmarked white/yellow, hence it is Small White.

Small White in middle with Peacock (L) and Painted Lady (R)

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