5 p.m.: The workers of the ants’ nest under the paving slabs of our patio are getting rather excited but it’s not going to be perfect weather for the winged queens and males to take off on their nuptial flight as although it has been warm and humid we’re now getting flurries of breeze and fine, misty drizzle.
At first it was the song thrush that started anting – encouraging ants to run over its plumage – while the female blackbird hopped up the lawn and started pecking up the scurrying ants to eat them.
Now she has taken to anting too, picking up the ants and letting them run about on her feathers. She does this at first from under the cover of the leaves of the peony that overhang the corner of the patio then comes out and continues by the bird bath.
The sparrows are more interested in eating the ants. One male hops under the plastic bird bath which is supported by bricks, a space that the blackbird, which later reverts to simply eating the ants, cannot reach.
Pyramidal, common spotted and a hybrid orchid were in flower on the plateau at Townclose Hills Nature Reserve, also known as Billy Woods.
Despite the breeze we saw ringlet, meadow brown, small tortoiseshell, small skipper and a few marbled white butterflies. Six-spot burnet moths were also active and a hebrew character moth lurked amongst the grasses.
One of the smallest orb-web spiders, Araniella curcurbitina, was making its way across a grassy path. It’s Latin name, curcurbitina, means ‘a little member of the gourd family’; its bright green and yellow striped abdomen looks like a water melon or gourd. It has a scarlet patch on its underside.
We spotted a brown hare in a field in the valley of Kippax Brook to the west of the reserve.
Townclose Hills, Kippax is a Leeds City Council Local Nature Reserve managed by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.
8.20 a.m.: A times the dull humid weather feels like a warm version of autumn but there are reminders that it really is still summer. House martins, at least eight, probably twelve in total, are swooping around at rooftop level, six of them in loose formation: perhaps a family group. It’s been a good year for the martins nesting on neighbours’ houses. At a higher level, above the treetops, three swifts are soaring.
In back gardens across the road a song thrush is going through what sounds like an improvised routine of varied thrice repeated phrases. We can probably thank the song thrush for the pristine state of the hosta by our front door; normally at this time of year it is looking very much the worse for wear with leaves stripped to skeletons by snails. A month ago when the song thrushes were feeding young in a nest in our beech hedge, there were broken snail shells scattered around the path, driveway and the flower bed over a period of several weeks. This must have taken a toll on the snail population.
The walled garden, Nostell Priory, 10.45 a.m., 65°F, 16°C: As I draw a cranesbill in the corner of the wild flower meadow, hoverflies investigate my pen. The long thinner species is attracted to the red plunger in my transparent Lamy fountain pen while the more convincing wasp mimic, the one with the broader boat-shaped abdomen, is attracted to the circular end of the pen and later to the round face of my key-fob compass.
A third species, a small dark hoverfly feeding on the cranesbill flowers, differs from the others in the way it holds its wings when at rest. It keeps them folded parallel along its back rather than angled at 45° like the other hoverflies.
A metre of so from me amongst the tumbled grass stems there’s a wasps’ nest. The wasps tend to leave the nest in a determined, direct flight but half of those returning hesitate and perform two or three short clockwise loops, about six inches across, as if they’re checking out the immediate surroundings before touching down. Or perhaps they’re giving way to any outgoing traffic.
A meadow brown butterfly rests amongst the grass stems.
In the lakeside wood, a tiny amphibian hops across the path. I always assume that if it hops it’s a frog, if it trundles it’s a toad but when I pick it up to take it out of harm’s way, I can see that it’s a toad, with dry warty skin. It’s smaller than my little finger nail but it’s already has the gnarled and weathered look of a prehistoric creature.
Wood Pigeon’s Egg
A blackbird was pecking at this egg which looks like a wood pigeon’s. It was lying beneath a tree by the middle lake at Nostell. I suspect that a jackdaw or magpie might have taken it from a nest. The crow tribe are the usual suspects when it comes to egg crime.
3.35 p.m., 71°F, 23°C, gentle breeze: Docks, brambles, dog daisies and grasses overhang the pond which is carpeted with duckweed. A pair of blue damselflies are clasped together, hovering lightly over the pond and touching down to lay eggs just below the surface on the pondweed.
It’s been a good year for tadpoles. Some are now at the half way stage with limbs sprouting but still retaining a long tail.
A small white moth flutters around in a curlicue flightpath around the edge of the pond, a spectral presence. On still summer evenings there are often two or three hovering around.
A small red-tailed bumble bee is systematically working its way around the geranium flowers.
Thank you Jane for the question (see comments for this post) about how I go about sketching. What I was trying to do here was sketch whatever came along during a short session watching the pond but I didn’t want to end up with just sketches so I started writing my field notes straight away, breaking off to draw damselflies, moths and tadpoles as I spotted them.
I didn’t get around to drawing red-tailed bee so I’ve popped in a sketch from a post I wrote six years ago: Summer Evening Sketches
From Keilder Water we follow the valley of the North Tyne northwest until we cross the watershed – which here follows the Scottish border – and turn southwest to follow the valley of the Liddel Water and the Esk back into England towards Carlisle and the Solway Firth. Clumps of bright yellow monkey flower grow amongst the cobbles along the upper reaches of the Liddel Water, yellow flag iris is in flower in its marshy flood plain.
We take a break at Rheged, the most cunningly disguised of visitor centres, hidden under an artificial craggy mound. I draw the old lime kiln from the cafe.
We take a brief tour of the Lake District – we’re well overdue for another break there – by following the shore of Ullswater then heading over the Kirkstone Pass to Bowness on Windermere.
Heading home via the Yorkshire Dales, I sketch the view of the valley of the River Greta from Country Harvest near Ingleton. I say the valley of the Greta but this is a misfit river and the broad dale owes its shape to the action of Ice Age glaciers.
Oystercatchers fly over the surrounding pastures piping at each other.
The track edges on the middle section of our walk from Leaplish to Tower Knowle look like illustrations from a field guide with a greater variety of wild flowers than you’d find many nature reserves.
Greater knapweed with its stout stemmed, wine-glass sized purple thistle-like flowers is the most impressive but there’s such a variety of colour and shape: pink ragged robin; yellow vetches and buttercups and mauve cranesbills but my favourite today has to be the bog asphodel growing in drifts on a boggy slope. I’ve never seen so much of it growing together. It’s small, narrow-petalled palish yellow flowers looks like chain stitch flowers in an embroidery.
Swallows are nesting under the eves of the visitor centre at Tower Knowle.