Wednesday 30 August 2017

Butterflies in the 'French Garden' at Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk

Summer is my favourite season at NT Oxburgh Hall because the gardens are not only a blaze of complementary colours but are also alive with beautiful butterflies. This was the view of the parterre, known as the 'French Garden', on Bank Holiday Monday.

The Marigolds were looking good...

... and the Heliotrope had almost tripled its normal size. You can probably just see how much taller it is than the Marigolds.

And yes, there were butterflies! It was terrific to see good numbers of Small Tortoiseshell.

Frustratingly for the photographer, most of these beautiful creatures kept their wings closed when they were not airborne ...

... most, that is, but not all.

I included this photograph because it shows the flame-coloured flowers of the Canna Lilies in the centre. The parterre was laid out in 1848 and follows a design from an early 18th century publication.

This is the view in the other direction.

Sadly I didn't see a single Painted Lady: normally there are quite a few on the Heliotrope. However, there were a few Small Whites, nectaring in the sunshine.

The Honey Bee below was also hard at work.

The Herbaceous Border along the wall usually attracts a good number of Peacock and Red Admiral butterflies. This year I saw a few Small Whites, but only a single Red Admiral. The flowers were magnificent.

This was the lone Red Admiral...

There were a few dragonflies in the air but few of them landed. The one below, however, perched on a branch near the churchyard wall for much of the time we were eating our picnic.

And here is the wall in question, a beautiful flint wall, with nooks and crannies for insects. Last time we found what we believe is a Red Underwing moth resting on it.

With an array of pumpkins in the vegetable garden, it was hard not to think that the summer is ebbing away...

Oxburgh Hall is a beautiful place to visit, with its moat, gardens and exquisite Oxburgh (needlework) hangings (do click the link and take a look at this excellent post from Agnes Ashe). I wasn't able to go inside the hall on this occasion, but I usually make a beeline for the hangings. These were undertaken by Mary Queen of Scots, Bess of Hardwick and a few ladies-in-waiting: I particularly like the 'frogge' and the dolphin.

It had been a busy Bank Holiday afternoon, but this was the tranquil scene we left behind at 5pm. 

P.S. Inspired by the butterfly books I have been reading (mentioned here in a previous post), I have decided to look through my photos to see how many UK species I have photographed since I began taking digital images. I'm guessing there will be about twelve species, but it will be interesting to find out. It will take some time to scroll through my photo library, particularly since I have not been as efficient at tagging as I should have been!

Wednesday 23 August 2017

Northern Holiday, 2017 (3): Aberlady Bay Nature Reserve

We returned a number of times to this beautiful corner, often in the evening when the call of the Curlew over the water and mudflats was utterly unforgettable. The photo below shows the approach to the reserve, and while there were no trolls in sight, it did make me think of the Three Billy Goats Gruff and their rickety-rackety bridge!

I particularly liked the bird-print sign on the green slat in the photo below.

And here we are: no prizes for guessing who was the tortoise...

It was lovely to see a few orchids beside the path...

... and one or two butterflies, like this Ringlet.

The photo below shows the bends in the bridge, but fails to give a good indication of its length.

There were some beautiful wildflowers, including Viper's Bugloss.

We had been given a tip-off by other visitors that there were tiny froglets about. We looked and looked along the damp paths, and were just about to give up when the large frog in the photos at the end of this post did a sudden leap in front of me, making me do a proverbial 'jump' out of my skin. After that lively introduction to the amphibian underworld of Aberlady, we got our eye in and found plenty of minute black and/or olive coloured froglets. There were so many, in fact, that we had to tread with the utmost care.

Aberlady became the first 'local nature reserve' back in 1952. It is beautiful by day and by night, with its ever-changing cloudscape, as you can see.

Monday 14 August 2017

Northern Holiday, 2017 (2): Aberdour Castle Grounds

Painted Lady, Walled Garden, Aberdour Castle

In my previous post I included a photograph of a stained glass window on Holy Island, depicting a Puffin and an Eider duck. We left the Holy Island area and moved north into Scotland.

We had rain most days, but the sun shone for us at Aberdour Castle, a site we had not visited for some years. The warmer weather (and doubtless the nectar-rich flowers) enticed a Painted Lady butterfly out into the shelter of the wonderful walled garden. I have hardly seen any Painted Ladies this summer, so this sighting was a particular joy.

The castle backs on to some fine terraced walks.

David ducked his head and explored the 'doocot'.

A sundial built into the wall. 

I believe I had noticed the spider's web, but I am not sure I had seen the spider (if indeed it is the spider!) when I took the picture...

I'm guessing this is a bat-box in the castle wall. 

I couldn't resist a few more photos of the Painted Lady...

We did not see nearly as many birds as we usually do in Scotland. The particularly unsettled weather will have had something to do with this. However, we did hear a few Curlews calling (such a special and unique sound); and perhaps what we lacked in numbers, we made up for in terms of quality sightings, like this fine king-of-the-castle Robin.

We congratulated the castle gardener on her wonderful planting in the walled garden...

... and we were not the only ones to appreciate the flowers. 

Just as we were leaving, I noticed this little Haiku lurking in the soil. I have just discovered that it is part of the Aberdour Poetry Trail.

You will have noticed that the Painted Lady features prominently in this post. I have been paying particular attention to butterflies this year as a result of reading two fascinating books...
It has been particularly rewarding to read them sequentially as Barkham alludes to butterfly expeditions in the company of Oates

Saturday 12 August 2017

Northern Holiday, 2017 (1): Puffins

Those who have followed my blog over the years will know that Puffins are my favourite bird. We almost missed these seasonal visitors this year; but, as you can see, there were still a few left at RSPB Bempton Cliffs on the Yorkshire coast when we were there in early July. I'm running very behind, but never mind!

Above: I am intrigued by the feathers on the nape of the neck...

Most remaining Puffins were still taking care of Pufflings.
The cliff-face photo above, taken with my zoom lens fully extended,
shows a few of the adult birds. 
There are also a couple of Razorbills.

Every so often we got a really good view of a Puffin. 

This photo shows the cliff, with Gannets, Razorbills, a Herring gull and a Puffin. I think I can also make our Kittiwakes and Guillemots.

We got the impression that this Puffin was about to fly, but it may have been waiting for its mate to return with sand eels.

We broke our journey south in Yorkshire, so the photos above are actually from our last lap. We had spent the first part of our holiday near, and frequently on, Lindisfarne in Northumbria. I wish I had taken a better photo, but I love this stained glass window, created by Borderdale Stained Glass, in the Anglican church on the island. Not only does it show a handsome Puffin but also an Eider (affectionately known as a 'Cuddy' duck after St Cuthbert) and the haul-out of Grey Seals who sang most beguilingly each evening at sunset.

I shall end this post back at Bempton Cliffs. Do take a look at the Gannet's feet! I have always been so intrigued by their eyes that I don't think I have ever noticed these before. There were plenty of Guillemots on this rock. These are all wonderful seabirds, but the Puffin will always be the show-stealer for me.