In Celebration of Spring

English weather rarely follows any sort of predictable pattern. It’s all jumbly, bumbling around all over the place like a drunken bee in winter.

This year, though, a period of spring-like weather has coincided neatly with the official start to Spring. How very un-British.

Just in these last couple of weeks I’ve already seen 7 species of butterfly – a very good start to the year:

Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Red Admiral, Comma, Small White, Brimstone, and Holly Blue.

In sheer celebration of this colourful and rapid emergence of Spring butterflies, here are a few photos taken over the last few days, all on the sun-kissed edges of Summerfields Woods, Hastings:

Peacock
Peacocks: two for the price of one
Comma
Holly Blue, on rhododendron leaves
Small Tortoiseshell:
a butterfly that’s been making a remarkable and very welcome comeback in recent years after suffering major decline for many years

April Come She Will

After the beautiful but short-lived heatwave we had this week here in England, lasting a mere two days, it’s a little disheartening to see such a cold forecast for the week ahead, with night-time temperatures as low as -3C.

But despite the fluctuating weather, Spring moves forward. Although she seems slow in her arrival this year, like April (in the Simon & Garfunkel song) come she will.

I love the resilience of nature and the dependability of the seasons, like a faithful lover or spouse.

As the old hymn goes: “Summer and winter and springtime and harvest…join with all nature in manifold witness to Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.”

The divinity of nature and God entwined as one.

Today was the first day this year that I saw wild bluebells (in our local woods).

Every year, the first day of bluebells feels like a landmark moment.

Perhaps signalling the end of winter.

An auspicious icon of something new and beautiful.

A promise fulfilled.

On the way home, after taking these photos, I bumped into a friend and told him about the bluebells.

He pointed to his head and said, “It does something good to the mind – seeing these things.”

Indeed. The eternal spirit of Yahweh in nature bringing healing balm to mind, body and soul.

(The following photos are of Spring Snowflakes, also adorning the woods….)


Urban Butterflies

One of the many things I love about Hastings is its large green spaces, with their surprisingly rich habitats.

Four-spotted Chaser, just outside Hastings town centre, July 2019

I’m talking here about parks and woods that are part & parcel of actual urban Hastings & St Leonards, not Hastings Country Park or any of the other scenic surrounding areas.

Hoverfly on Oxeye Daisy, edge of Summerfields Woods, July 2019

This week, for the first time that I remember, I saw a Ringlet on the edge of Summerfields Woods (a 5-minute walk from the town centre): a butterfly I’d normally associate with the countryside. I don’t have a photo to show you as I didn’t have my camera with me…

But it prompted me to post a slightly nerdy list of the butterflies I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in urban Hastings & St Leonards over the last few years, interspersed with a few photos I’ve taken in these areas. I’ve left some of the rarer treats till the end of the list:

  • Speckled Wood (probably the most prolific butterfly in Summerfields Woods)
Speckled Wood, Summerfields Woods
  • Meadow Brown
  • Ringlet
  • Gatekeeper
  • Small Copper (quite a few in and around Summerfields Woods and White Rock Gardens)
Small Copper, Summerfields Woods, July 2018
  • Comma (lots on bramble flowers especially)
  • Painted Lady (also around the brambles)
Painted Lady, edge of Summerfields Woods, June 2019
Painted Lady, edge of Summerfields Woods, June 2019
  • Red Admiral
  • Peacock (I used to find their caterpillars as well, but haven’t done in recent years. I think this butterfly has declined here.) †
  • Small Tortoiseshell
  • Orange-tip
  • All the usual Whites (Small, Large, Green-veined)
  • Brimstone
  • Large Skipper
Large Skipper, Summerfields Woods, July 2019
Large Skipper, edge of Summerfields Woods, July 2019
  • Holly Blue
  • Common Blue
Holly Blue, on the wall of Bohemia Walled Garden, Summerfields Woods
Female Common Blue, edge of Summerfields Woods, July 2019
  • White-letter Hairstreak (a very special treat, last July)
White-letter Hairstreak, edge of Summerfields Woods, July 2018
  • Purple Hairstreak (just one at the end of the season a few years ago, again on the edge of Summerfields Woods)
  • Clouded Yellow (a few in White Rock Gardens, where I guess is a first stopping point after crossing the Channel)
  • White Admiral (just one fairly ragged specimen at end of season, in the woods at the top of Alexandra Park)

There may be one or two others that I’ve forgotten.

Hopefully there will be a few more to add to the list as time goes on.

Longhorn Beetle (Rutpela maculate), edge of Summerfields Woods, June 2019

In the meantime, it’s good to remember not only that Nature is unstoppable even in the face of humanity’s urbanisation, but also that humanity is in fact part of Nature.

We do well to acknowledge this oneness and thus rediscover our divinely-ordained harmony with all things.

Cockchafer (aka Maybug) on my hand, Briscoe’s Walk, June 2019

Beetlemania

The other day, in Small Is Beautiful I wrote about a particular, magnificent patch of wildflowers on the edge of Summerfields Woods, that had thankfully escaped the clutches of various municipal lawnmowers.

The same patch that had provided inspiration for Champion Campion and Weed or Wildflower?

Today, in the very same area, I had the delight of watching and snapping this Rutpela maculata (aka Black and Yellow Longhorn Beetle).

Longhorn Beetle on Oxeye Daisy

I love this next view of the beetle peering into a foxglove flower in search of nectar.

This tiny patch of flowers is so dense with wildlife – it just keeps on producing more surprises and delights. I’m sure there will be even more to come….

Small is Beautiful

While land conservation efforts are usually, understandably, focussed on relatively large areas, sometimes just the smallest local patch of wildlife takes on what might seem to be disproportionate significance.

When our local Council cut the grass verges around the law courts here in Hastings recently, I was so relieved they didn’t stray over on to this little area on the edge of Summerfields Woods that was delightfully overgrown with long grass and wildflowers.

This is where I photographed the Red Campion for ‘Champion Campion’, and the Ribeye Plantain for ‘Weed or Wildflower?

It’s also saturated with all manner of other wildflowers, including Oxeye Daisies, Horseshoe Vetch, Foxgloves (pink and white), and Clover (red and white).

Foxgloves

As for butterflies, this week has seen Large Skippers, Common Blues and Meadow Browns enjoying this rich diversity of flora.

Common Blue

Then a few days ago I learned that this wild patch was left alone by the Council only because it in fact belongs to Optivo, the housing association that also owns the neighbouring block of new flats.

I’d been chatting to a fellow dog-walker who lives in the block.

Red Clover

He told me that residents had been complaining to their landlord about their communal garden area which had overgrown; that Optivo had responded and were soon to cut it back.

Large Skipper

My fear was that the housing association would mow down the wildflower patch at the same time. In my experience, Councils and other bureaucratic landowners generally have far less regard for wildlife than they do for keeping green spaces neat and orderly or concreting planet Earth.

I was genuinely worried and even considered contacting Optivo asking them to preserve this mini-wilderness.

Thankfully, however, it was left alone. Another reprieve for one of my favourite little patches of land. Phew! Another answered (unspoken) prayer.

One to watch in future years, though, I reckon.

Horseshoe Vetch

First Ladies and Skippers

Things are hotting up for butterflies around Summerfields Woods in Hastings during this warm spell. Meadow Browns and Large Skippers are coming out in force.

Large Skipper

And today was the first day this year that I’ve seen that famously marathon-flying migrant, the Painted Lady. There were a few of them there today, enjoying the blackberry flowers on the edge of the woods, near the ambulance station.

Painted Lady today, Summerfields Woods

The area must be no more be no more than about 200 metres from the seafront as the crow (or butterfly) flies.

So my guess is that these specimens had just arrived from their ultra-long journey from the continent, perhaps even North Africa.

You can just see a second Painted Lady in the background here

This was probably their first stopping point, replenishing their energy on that bramble nectar.

Ladybird thrown in for free!

Watching these elegant and exotic visitors, knowing they were nourishing themselves at the end of such a mammoth trek, was quite a privilege.

Weed or Wildflower?

When I was a child, my Dad would spend precious time spreading weedkiller over our expansive garden, in a bid to rid his nice, neat lawn of daisies. I never understood it. To me, the daisies enhanced the green grass. Wildness was my way, nature my delight, from early on.

The old saying – one man’s weed is another man’s wildflower – is so true.

Here’s an oft-overlooked weed or wildflower: Ribwort Plantain:

…which, to me, is looking pretty amazing just now – in the same area as the Campion that I photographed on the edge of Summerfields Woods a few weeks ago (see Champion Campion).

Like the Campion, taking a few pics was irresistible.

My Dad and I didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things for a long time. But the Source of Life, the giver of grass and weeds (or wildflowers) is also the Instigator of Reconciliation.

The Spirit has a way of bringing about profound change in our lives, and the relationship between my Dad and me was miraculously and permanently restored, as you can read about in my autobiographical book on physical, psychological and spiritual homelessness: Coming Home for Good.

Love – the kind that comes from above – transcends not only differences of opinion on flowers, but also personalities, cultures, races, worldviews and, yes, even religion.

Love accepts. Love shatters walls and opens arms.

Spring 2019 Butterflies

When I was growing up, the stunning Small Tortoiseshell was one of the most frequently seen Spring butterflies, as they emerged from hibernation. In mid-summer, they’d be seen in significant numbers on buddleias, along with Peacocks and Red Admirals.

Now they seem to be sadly scarce, at least in my part of the world. This shiny specimen, that I managed to photograph on the edge of East Hill, Hastings, on 5th May, is in fact the only Small Tortoiseshell I’ve seen so far this year….

The butterflies I’ve seen most commonly this Spring have been the Speckled Wood (as usual)…

…and (more unusually) the Holly Blue.

The Holly Blue, with its delicate silver-blue underwings, has been conspicuously prolific round this neck of the woods this Spring. I don’t remember seeing this many in any previous year. Apparently, they’re renowned for fluctuating wildly in numbers, believed to be caused by parasitism from the wasp Listrodomus nycthemerus.

“This neck of the woods”, by the way, is mainly Summerfields Woods in Hastings, where I snapped this particular Holly Blue feeding on something in the brickwork of the Walled Garden, as well as the Speckled Wood above.

Always good to see a life or a species doing well, giving us a glimpse of beauty beyond.

—–

You might also be interested in my book: Coming Home for Good (available on Amazon) is autobiographical, describing my journey out of spiritual, psychological and (chosen) physical homelessness into a spiritual, psychological and physical home and a career managing a homeless healthcare service. 

Raptor rapture

Last month, about 15th April, I had the great pleasure of watching a sparrowhawk flitting to and fro, carrying twigs to a nest high up in the trees in Summerfields Woods, our local nature haven where we walk our dog, Gorka, most days.

One thing that distinguishes this beautiful raptor from other birds of similar size in these woods, such as the magpies and woodpigeons, is the absolute silence with which it takes off.

The noise of the sparrowhawk is conspicuous by its absence. Obviously a prerequisite for a hunting bird that captures and feeds on blue tits and other small birds (of which there are plenty in these woods).

And because it spends most of its time high up in the trees, you’d probably only notice it if you were looking up, looking out for birds.

Over the following weeks I’ve spent some time trying to see her again and to take some pics. A couple of times I saw her, perched on high branches, maybe looking out for prey, and was chuffed to take these reasonable photos:

Another time, I tried to perch myself on some fallen tree trunks, waiting with my camera. I wanted to take a picture of the hawk flying to and from the nest, displaying her fan tail. But it was impossible to get comfortable on the misshapen wood. So I stood around for a few minutes, then walked on.

Within 48 hours, as I returned to the area, I was incredulous to find some woodland volunteers had constructed a bench out of the same fallen trees in exactly the right spot for watching the nest!


The new bench! The red circle indicates approximately where the nest is.

Coincidence? Perhaps. Or perhaps not. Maybe our delight in and appreciation of nature takes on the shape of prayer and worship as it reaches the eyes and ears of the One who designed, sustains and fills this wonderful world – whether or not we’ve intended those sentiments as prayer or worship.

Maybe, when we engage with nature, we cannot help but encounter the Spirit of nature, whatever we call him/her/it.

Read About Spirit of Nature here.