Large White

P1090033This Large White butterfly was one of several in the gardens of Coleton Fishacre house, near Dartmouth in Devon. The house  – owned by the National Trust – was closed because of Covid-19, but the garden, grounds and paths to the South West Coast Path were open and there was plenty to be enjoyed.

Watching these very large Large Whites I was amazed to see how much bigger they were than the Large Whites in our garden in Cheshire. These were huge, like a species of superbutterfly! Maybe something to do with the habitat, the soil, or just that it’s often warmer and sunnier in Devon.

P1090032According to The Butterflies of Britain & Ireland there can be up to three broods, spanning April to autumn. The second brood flies from July to September, and are often more heavily marked with black and grey than the earlier spring brood. This one is clearly  from the  second emergence.

 

Their caterpillars are poisonous enough to deter predators, and even though gardeners might not like what are commonly called “cabbage whites”, they’re welcome in our garden. We don’t grow brassicas and we encourage wildlife.

 

The Wedding Favours

Back in 2015 we were invited to a wedding. It was in late March, and in spite of inclement weather, it was a happy, friendly occasion, with dancing which went on on until well into the night.

The tables for the main meal after the marriage ceremony had been beautifully designed by the bride, and the usual wedding favours – a small gift for each guest as part of the table settings – were the most unusual we’d come across.

A box of gladioli bulbs was there for each guest, along with an indivual “thank you” message. We took our bulbs home, planted them and forgot about them until the summer, when tall green stalks with elongated buds started to appear. Our gladioli were coming up and started to open out.

They’ve appeared each year so far – now in their 5th season – and we’re always pleased to see them as we forget what delicate colours these particular bulbs have. Every year I photograph them and gently tease the groom’s mum with the pics as hers come up, but don’t flower. And I gather that the bride’s don’t flower either…..all I can say is that the secret of our success with these is total neglect!

 

Mermaid’s Purse

I’d never seen one before but I knew what it was. I spotted this Mermaid’s Purse on the beach at Hoylake on the Wirral, that funny chunk of land between Liverpool and North Wales. It’s flanked on one side by the River Dee, and on the other by the River Mersey. At the far end, it faces the open sea, which had washed up this marine treasure.

Known as a Mermaid’s Purses, these are the egg cases of rays and sharks.They contain the embryonic raylet or sharklet (my name for them) and they can vary in size, shape and colour, and some contain more than one embryo.

This one is 10 centimetres long, and it’s the egg case of a Blonde Ray.

The first photo shows the case as I found it, crusty with dried sand. The second shows it after I’d hydrated it by soaking it in water for a couple of hours, which restored it’s sheen and plumped it up a bit. Of course, it was empty, the young ray having hatched out long ago, and there’s an opening along the top which was the escape hatch.

I don’t know if there’s any deep significance in finding a treasure like this, but it feels like a gift, finding this fascinating object on the beach, especially as I wasn’t beachcombing or looking for anything in particular at the time. And especially as I was able to ID it right away, probably plugging directly into some long-buried memory of having heard about these in my childhood.

It’s always ourselves we find in the sea

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Last week I went away to the coast for  a couple of nights and returned recharged and refreshed after weeks of lockdown. There were small, simple pleasures, like walking on beaches and seeing seabirds. I wonder, do we appreciate what we already have? Why do we want more when we already have more than enough, if only we take time to enjoy it.

This poem came to mind as I was looking through the photos I took:

 

maggie and milly and molly and may

went down to the beach (to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang

so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles, and

milly befriended a stranded star

whose rays five languid fingers were:

and molly was chased by a horrible thing

which raced sideways while blowing bubbles: and

may came home with a smooth round stone

as small as the world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)

it’s always ourselves we find in the sea

e.e.cummings

Beaks and bills

On a recent visit to Martin Mere Wetlands Centre I noticed how many colourful and spectacularly shaped beaks and bills there were on the birds there.

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There is no difference in the meaning of beak or bill, although a sharp hooked end – like those of an eagle for example – might be referred to more often as a beak.

Having taken several photos of beaks and bills, here are a few, which I think/hope I’ve correctly ID’d. Comments are my personal responses and are not very ornithological! You’ll probably be able to work out which is which in the slideshow.

1) Spoonbill – weird and wonderful  – a build in spoon to dig around and find food with

2) Cape Barren Goose – pleasing colour combination of grey and yellow

3) Common Merganser – small pointy beak and stunning punky head

4) Black Swan – dramatic; I remember seeing my first one in Tasmania

5) Flamingo – wow! a large beak like a shovel

6) Red Crested pochard – intense combination of rich colours