As I write gentle rain is falling giving the garden plants a well earned drink, it also subdues the seven thousand large whites that of late have been attacking our legumes. Who ever named them cabbage white must have been short-sighted? Surely they should be known as 'eats anything green' white.
Anyway, in complete contrast the previous day was warm and sunny. Just right for a wander about. Going against our cardinal rule of never going into the Forest on a holiday weekend, we headed off for an area we hadn't really explored before - Bolton's Bench, Lyndhurst. Arriving long before the crowds amassed at the Forest's main town, we set off towards Bolton's Cemetery. A peaceful old style setting with mature conifers and gravestones covered in lichens. A coal tit fed not unexpectedly in the conifers and young redstarts flitted among the stone statues and graves.
Out on the calendar picture lilac heath, we soon found more families of redstarts - zipping around gorse bushes, keeping clear of dogs and their owners. The heath was a patchwork of different age structures, from building through to mature - heath management at it's best. Further along we started noting grayling butterflies sunning themselves on bare sandy patches of ground. One took exception to sharing it's space with a pristine painted lady and seemed to invest far too much energy in chasing it off.
We wanted to explore Mallard Wood and we eventually made it in spite of all the distractions on the way. The aim was see ivy leaved bellflower and after a few hours spent sifting among a lot of damp, shady woodland we.......gave up, we had failed miserably. However, lesser water plantain and some more redstarts were some compensation.
Returning to the car, a shallow ephemeral pool buzzed with manic dragonfly activity. Male common darters lived up to their name, being both darty and common. Occasionally so involved were their aerial combats, they nearly became lunch for a patrolling emperor. Further on a 'tchacking' call alerted us to the presence of stonechats posing on the ling. As we delighted in these splendid fellows, we noted yet more redstarts and groups of meadow pipits - more indication that autumn is only around the corner.
To overcome our devastation of failing to see the bellflower, we decided to pop down to Pig Bush to seek out the marsh gentians that grow there. A guaranteed favourite to cheer our souls. Yeah but,...but! They weren't there. Marsh gentian is a fabulous ultramarine trumpet of a flower, but it is susceptible to being overshadowed by maturing heather. So to prevent them being overgrown the area is periodically burnt back, allowing the gentian space to regenerate. The consequence of this is that it can take up to three years before they flower again. Ho hum. As luck would have it this had been a burn and regenerate year (there, you didn't know that marsh gentian was Timelord),so there was no sign of it.
But there is always something else to see. In this case an egg-laying grayling. An oddly awkward affair that involved much twitching and fussing about, that culminated in the female raising her body handstand-like on her forelegs and then slowly lowering her abdomen onto an approved stem to deposit her egg.
Another sure sign of summers end was the appearance of three migrant hawkers gracefully hanging in a head wind in search of afternoon tea. Golden-ringed dragon and southern hawker added to what was quite a good day for big dragons.
Heading home, away from Lyndhurst, we noted the queue to get into the Forest from Southampton stretching miles back to Ashurst.
Oh yes. Schlop! The sound of ones finger being pulled out.
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