Saturday, 31 December 2016

Looking back at 2016, but mostly looking forward

To be honest 2016 has been a difficult year for our family and I'll be glad to see the back of it. My husband had a stem cell transplant in February, so we all spent much of the year visiting him in hospital and trying to keep him healthy when he was home recovering. The children were such tough little things and coped magnificently (me less so, but I did my best!) Being outdoors was a great help and some of my best memories of the year are of all of us just being together in the beautiful Chiltern hills.
A family walk around Pulpit Hill

Tea in a tree

Sunset at Coombe Hill monument

I had a lot of fun writing this year and am very proud to have been able to contribute to the Spring and Autumn books in the Seasons series. These gave me my first publishing contracts and even a Christmas card from my publisher (words I never thought I would say!) I also wrote a couple of pieces for BBOWT that were published in the Bucks Examiner and I won the invertebrates category of Mark Avery's writing competition with a piece about death's-head hawk-moths.

Two of my photographs were selected as runner up and commended in the My Wild Life category of the Oxford Festival of Nature Photography Competition. It's lovely to see them appearing from time to time on BBOWT leaflets and flyers.

Playing in the stream - runner up in the My Wild Life category 
I explored a few BBOWT nature reserves I hadn't been to before, seeing monkey and lady/monkey orchids at Hartslock and military orchids at Homefield Wood. I also slithered down the side of Pulpit Hill and found the bird's-nest orchids that I'd heard flowered there and tracked down the very special Rhodochila common spotted orchids at Yoesden. Another orchid highlight has to be visiting the hundreds of bee orchids that flower on a bank in West Wycombe. Such a sight to see so many of these amazing orchids in one place, interspersed with broomrape, another of our more unusual flowers.
Monkey orchid at Hartslock
Rhodochila common spotted orchid at Yoesden
Moths and butterflies played an important part in our year. We took part in moth night and caught our first ever eyed hawkmoth, as well as beautiful poplar and privet hawkmoths. It's amazing to think these fabulous moths are just hanging out in the back garden!

Eyed hawkmoth

Privet hawkmoth moustache
We chased Adonis blues around Yoesden Bank, sat amongst dozens of chalkhill blues at Grangelands and stalked the incredibly rare Duke of Burgundy butterflies at their (not so) secret location near us. It felt generally like a bad year for the butterflies, but we were lucky enough to have the occasional days where the buddleia in the garden was covered in peacocks, red admirals and tortoiseshells or we'd see silver washed fritillaries dancing on the hogweed or green hairstreaks posing on a bush. All moments to treasure.

Silver washed fritillaries bouncing up and down on the hogweed
We spent much of the autumn snuffling through the leaves looking for fungi and found some new and exciting discoveries. A dozen huge devil's bolettes appeared overnight, then slowly dissolved in a noxious cloud over the next couple of weeks. Two solitary amanitas put in an appearance (together, so not solitary at all) and we found ashen chanterelles poking up through the leaf litter. There were plenty of our old favourites as well, such as a stinkhorn (absolutely stinky) covered in flies, a patch of stunning magpie inkcaps that appeared in the car park at Pulpit Hill and finding out-of-this-world earthstars in unexpected places.
Devil's bolette

Stinky stinkhorn (with flies)
As for next year, we're looking forward to spring and all the adventures it brings.

Here's to a healthy, happy and wild 2017!

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