Monday, April 27, 2009

Independent article about butterfly spotting

The Independent (Michael McCarthy)

If you go down to the woods today . . . you're sure to see butterflies
Saturday 25th April 2009

Go down to Kew in lilac time, wrote the poet Alfred Noyes in a ditty called The Barrel Organ, which sang the praises of the blossoms and birds in the Royal Botanic Gardens at the height of spring. Shame he didn't mention the butterflies.

For Kew Gardens is where The Independent began its own part of the Great British Butterfly Hunt this week, with auspicious results. In the course of a single visit – with lilacs and bluebells blooming – we spotted six of the dozen early-spring butterflies we have already profiled. With casual sightings earlier of two more, this takes us up to eight species in our attempt to see all 58 British butterfly species in the course of a single summer – and April is not yet over. Today we once more invite readers to join in the hunt, not least as a low-cost cheering-up exercise in the current economic gloom. Butterflies are free, remember, in more than one sense: free-flying, which is a great part of their charm, but these most beautiful of insects cost you nothing to gaze upon. We invite you to join our quest to see as many as possible, and the person sighting the most will win a special safari with the charity Butterfly Conservation, to search for the last and most elusive of all the British species: the brown hairstreak.

To enter, briefly record your sightings as you make them – native species, exact location and date seen, and your name – on the butterfly blog page which is now on our website at (write the sighting under "leave a comment").

Record them also in your own butterfly diary and send us this, with a short (no more than 250 words) description of your hunt as a whole, by 12pm on Monday 17 August. Enter by post (Independent News & Media, 2 Derry Street, London, W8 5HF) or by email ( Schools are particularly welcome to enter and below we give details of how to obtain The Independent's stunning glossy wallchart of all Britain's 58 butterfly species, which was first given away free two weeks ago. Schools, or indeed anyone who missed it, can now obtain a copy of the chart entirely free.

We suggest you start your hunt the way we did, in a local park, where many of the more common early-spring species will be visible (it is only later that you will have to start making special trips). You need a warm sunny day, because butterflies, like all insects, are cold-blooded and need to warm up before they become active; a rainy day will mean disappointment.

Your correspondent's local park, in South-west London, just happens to be Kew Gardens. This is a superlative butterfly site and well worth a trip. Although it is the world's most celebrated botanical garden, Kew manages its 300 acres for British butterflies (and other wildlife) as well as for its sensational plant collection, and the results are a pleasure to behold, with 28 species – just under half of the British total – having been recorded. One day this week, I went for a two-hour visit, and in the glorious spring sunshine with which we have been blessed, saw six different types of butterfly.

All were appealing but perhaps the most charming were the two which best personify the English spring – the orange tip and the brimstone, both to be seen in the conservation area around Queen Charlotte's Cottage in the gardens' south-west corner. The orange tip shows a dazzling contrast between its pure white wings and their jazzy orange ends, while the larger brimstone is like a fluttering, butter-coloured leaf (this may be the origin of the word "butterfly"). Elsewhere, two attractive brown butterflies were visible: in the collection of oak trees along the Thames was the speckled wood, chocolate brown with cream rings on its wings, spiralling up from sunny patches to chase off its rivals, and along the cedar walk was the comma, a warmer brown, with a characteristic flight pattern of flitting then gliding.

Small whites were everywhere, jinking over the spectacular seas of bluebells and landing on some to take their nectar. Fluttering around a hawthorn bush near the pagoda, I saw a small scrap of flying blue silk: a holly blue. Two earlier sightings had been casual, when I was not specially looking: on 5 April, in a cemetery on Merseyside, I saw my first butterfly of the year, a peacock, and in a garden in Dorchester on 10 April, I saw a small tortoiseshell.

Eight down, 50 to go. Next week, as The Independent's Great British Butterfly Hunt gets moving, we hope to bring you the results of our first expedition into the countryside for less-common species: the Duke of Burgundy, the green hairstreak and a couple of skippers.

How to get your wallchart

To help you take part in the Great British Butterfly Hunt we are offering something special: The Independent's spectacular, free, full-colour wall chart showing the 58 native British butterfly species, which has been widely praised.

As some readers may have missed it, and schools in particular might have done so because the chart was first published during the Easter holidays, we are offering it again. To receive the chart free, with free postage and packaging, visit and input your details, using the reference code BUTTERFLIES.

Wallcharts will be sent to the address provided, by second-class post. Offer available while stock lasts.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

More from Sunday

As usual, click the image to see the full sized photograph.

Perennial Sow-Thistle seed head
Sonchus arvensis

Cherry blossom

Primula veris

Not a clear enough photograph to identify which type

Downtown Pond

White Dead-Nettle
(Lamium album)

More from Saturday

Daisies, dandelions and red dead nettles
Great colours

Veronica hederifolia

Shepherd's Purse
Capsella bursa-pastoris
Annual or Biennial

The heart-shaped features are seed pods

Perennial Sow-Thistle seed head
Sonchus arvensis

Whistler 1860 Etching Print Rotherhithe, 1860

James Abbot McNeill Whistler (British/American 1834-1903), "Rotherhithe", etching on paper, area of etching measures 10 3/4" x 7 3/4".

Signed and dated 1860 in print lower left.

In excellent condition with some yellowing to paper from age.

Auction: Arts and Antiques
Date: January 03 2004

Presale estimate: $3000 - 4000
Price Realized: $1150

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sunday with the macro lens

I was in the park by 2pm yesterday, and had abandoned the telephoto lens in favour of the macro lens.

I am having all sorts of difficulties with the camera at the moment due to the requirement, imposed by a serious bout of conjunctivities, to resort to my specs. Trying to use a camera with my glasses has turned out to be an unexpected challenge. Anyway, here are some of today's results, as mixed as they are.

Quite unlike Saturday, the park was absolutely full of bodies when I arrived on Sunday, yesterday. There were a group of four eastern Europeans having a quiet picnic next to the curving path next to Waterman's Walk and when I arrived at the green there were dozens of people enjoying themselves. Another group of eastern Europeans were enjoying a spirited football game and there were couples watching them and individuals sitting in the sun reading books. The atmosphere was very good, with everyone in great spirits.

Left is a close-up of an Honesty flower (Lunaria annua) which is spreading happily throughout the woodland and ecological park. The flowers will be present until June, after which the oval-shaped translucent seed pods will remain, if they aren't taken by flower arrangers!

New since Saturday were red campions, which had come into flower in a corner of the ecological park where I had been standing only the day before and elsewhere (bugle, white comfrey and ground ivy).

An unexpected patch of primroses, quite extensive, had probably been there for a few days but I had missed them, and they look lovely in amongst the cowslips.

I saw several squirrels but no foxes.

There were the same mixture of insects as on Saturday, including speckled-wood butterflies, one of which I rescued out of Stave Hill Pond with the aid of a long stick, and three peacock butterflies, one of which looked as though it had already had a hard life.

The ponds were much as they had been on Saturday. There was a lone moorhen on Dowtown Pond, I saw lots of fish and pond skaters at Stave Hill Pond, where there were also a pair of mallards and there was the usual mix of mallards, coots, and moorhens on Globe Pond, with two Canada geese in evidence.

White Comfrey
Symphytum orientale
Biennial or perennial

Ground Ivy
Glechoma hederacea

Red Campion
Silene dioica
Perennial or biennial

Ajuga reptans

More photographs from Saturday

View of Canary Wharf from Russia Dock Woodland

The compass sculpture, a piece of public art which is no longer accessible,
hidden behind two sets of fences erected by Barratt Homes.
Stumps of the trees felled by Barratts are in the foreground

Pontoon by Norway Cut Swing Bridge in Greenland Dock
All the plastic is part of the coots's nest, rearranged daily by the proud parents!

Coot Chicks, Greenland Dock

Coot Chicks, Greenland Dock

Insects from Saturday

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Work to be carried out to restore water levels in RDW

It is good to see the local ponds and marshes coming back to life. I saw lots of small fish and a common pond skater (Gerris lacustris) in the Stave Hill pond, plenty of aquatic birds on Globe Pond, and yellow flag lillies and various reed types springing to life wherever there are year-round damp zones.

Steve Cornish, the chairman of the Friends of Russia Dock Woodland, recently sent round the good news that the ongoing problems with the water supply could be near to remedy. One of the problems with supplying water to the ponds and channels is the state of the water pipes which deliver water to these areas. They were originally made of corrugated metal which encourages sedimentation. At 25 years they are also well past their sell-by date, allowing the roots of plant life to crush them, preventing water flow. Next week it is planned to replace them with reinforced flexible polypipe which will resist silt build up and will be strong enough to fend off root damage.

The new water supply will prevent the drying up of key ponds and channels, which will ensure the otherwise endangered fish and invertebrates on which much of our local birdlife depend, including the herons and kingfishers. The loss of these waterways would have undermined the valuable biodiversity of the parkland.

An article in The Guardian newspaper entitled "Digging for biodiversity: return of the humble pond" highlights the importance of small ponds for the protection of all types and size of wildlife in this country (31st January 2009). Many new ponds are being artificially created by a numebr of groups, including Pond Conservation in order to protect an increasingly endanged form of ecosystem: "Ponds have long been the poor relation of freshwater - dipped in by children, but largely ignored by grown-ups and scientiests. Partly as a result, maps and government surveys suggest that in the last 150 years the number of ponds in Britain has halved. Of those that have survived, eight out of 10 are now damaged by falling water tables, pollution running off farmland, roads and urban areas, and invasion by alien species". Experts are now estimating that two thirds of all freshwater species in Brtain live in ponds rather than in rivers or lakes and that the threat to ponds is significant threat to freswhater biodiversity. A new project called The Million Ponds Project has been launched to address this problem. Many of these pond schemes, such as those already established in the 1990s in Pinkhill next to the Farmoor reservoir near the Thames at Oxford, ahve become a phenomenal success. Those at Pinkhill, for example, are now home to 85 species of wetland plants and 165 different invertebrates, including many less common species. See The Guardian's website for the full story by Juliette Jowit which has a list of the ten most common and the ten rarest pond life species.

It is good to know that in the Russia Dock Woodland and Stave Hill Ecological Park, as well as elsewhere on Rotherhithe, the promotion of freshwater biodiversity is helping to address a nationally recognized problem.

More photographs from Saturday 18th April

Probably Wild Cherry but not a good enough photo to tell
I just like the colours!


Greater Celendine
Chelidonium majus

Spanish Bluebell, light blue and pink
Scilla hispanica

Erysimum cheiri

Still working on it!

More flowers from yesterday

Three-Cornered Garlic
Allium triquetrum

Mountain/Hedgerow Cranesbill
Granium pyrenacium

(Possibly) Crab Apple
Malus sylvestris

Ulex europaeus

Garlic Mustard
Millaria petiolata

With lea-shaped seed pods

Saturday, April 18, 2009

More photographs from Saturday

Senecio vulgaris
Asteraceae or Compositae

Primula veris

Meadow buttercup
Ranunculus acris

Crab apple?