How overgrown the roadsides look now, full of the seed-heads of umbellifers and tall grasses, with patches of vivid colour from blue meadow cranesbill and pink willow herb. High summer is here!
A couple of weeks ago we visited a friend who lives in a steep-sided valley in the hills beyond Oakworth. Such visits involve us in a half-mile walk down a rough lane running diagonally between high banks, through intake pasture and oak woodland down to the valley bottom. On a visit in mid-March we were looking for signs of Spring: there weren’t many – the flat rosettes of foxglove leaves just beginning to emerge from crevices in wall and bank, the first brave nettles four or five inches high and tender to the touch and, as we got to a lower altitude, tiny shoots of some umbellifer.
How different now! The spires of foxgloves towered a metre high and already the lower third of each flower spike was beaded with hard green seeds. The umbellifers now revealed themselves, by a strong aniseed scent, as sweet Cecily, the flowers already over, leaving those branching seed heads so loved by flower arrangers. We spotted some leggy thistles with yellow flowers, later identified with help from our WNS botany expert as prickly sow thistle, a new plant to me though my husband remembers it from his boyhood in Cumbria. As for those timid nettles – they stood tall, to almost head height and in places, and leant out over the lane ready to sting the unwary pedestrian. And everywhere there were tall grasses.
Sheltered from the wind, the lane was warm even in the dappled shade of the oaks – a perfect invitation for butterflies – and there they were: the odd small tortoiseshell and meadow brown but predominantly ringlets increasing in number as we descended the slope, flitting swiftly between the plants and spiraling over the wayside banks. Ringlets may seem drab at first – plain, small and dark brown, but these were newly emerged, the brown wonderfully velvety and a narrow white fringe round each wing. When they perched for a moment and closed their wings we could see the rings, yellow then black concentric circles neatly arranged in pairs on each under-wing. In a poor butterfly season, this was a heart-lifting treat. Unfortunately this sighting was the day before the nationwide Butterfly Count began. It’s still going on, so do report your sightings. The data is important.
Photo by Flickr user:Tim Green aka atouch (http://www.flickr.com/photos/atoach/2591045108/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons