Want to connect with nature? Want to have a wild experience, to feel the rhythm and flow of the environment? Want to get up close and personal with some wild beasts? Feeling the need to disconnect from the modern world and tune into the lives of plants and animals? Think you have to travel to new, remote, sparsely populated locations to do this? If so then you’ve not got the right way of looking at the natural world. The wild isn’t a separate place up north, it isn’t a national park in a foreign country, our world is not distinct from the natural, they are one and the same. The thing with nature is that it is EVERYWHERE.
My point is that we should appreciate what’s under our nose before seeking what’s beyond the horizon and realise fully that nature is all around us all the time – we just have to tune into noticing it. I like travelling and visiting new places, especially new bits of countryside or new nature reserves and I like to visit wild places miles from my home in order to see things I wouldn’t normally see. But if I need a wildlife fix, to clear my head, to look at some beautiful part of creation so I can crack a smile, then I know that I need not go far from my front door.
There is a small park just down the road, set amongst extensive housing estates and with a busy road leading into town bordering one edge of it, where I often go to walk my dog. There’s not much to it; just a large flat playing field, a hedgerow, a tiny stream, a patch of scrub and a stretch of mature oak trees. This park has a well used paved path running through it into town, it is very regularly used by dog walkers, cyclists, runners and weed-smoking, special-brew drinking youths.
Yesterday I walked my dog there and saw quite a few bits of wildlife which cheered me up no-end, mostly insects as birds are largely invisible this time of year. I paused on the path beside the patch of scrub, the sun was shining and several large hogweeds were in bloom – their white, flat flower heads are very attractive to many insects. Two Speckled Wood butterflies spiraled in the beams of sunlight before landing on the leaves of a Hazel to warm up in the rays. Just then a twinkling flash of sky-blue appeared as a Holly Blue butterfly flickered past, never pausing as is their way, one of the Speckled Woods rose up to see it off its territory.
Looking closely at the flower-heads of the hogweed I could see the marvelous colours and patterns of various species of hoverfly. Some called ‘marmalade hoverflies’ sported translucent patches of golden-orange on their abdomens, one was dark with a white band across one segment of its abdomen and there was a tiny jet-black one 3/4 the size of the others but streamlined and shiny like a classy sports-car. Then came the big bruisers, the most impressive of all hoverflies and one of my faves – Hornet Hoverflies, mimicking as you might have guessed – hornets. They were as big as hornets, with thoraxes the colour of burnt caramel and a lighter orangey-yellow on the abdomen – even the wings were shaded orange – their heads sported great toffee-coloured eyes too.
Then I turned a corner where a dense patch of vegetation was on one side and in front of me the path disappeared under the low-hanging branches of a great oak, it was sheltered and sunny here. A couple of Speckled Woods were battling it out with each other then rushing apart to see off a Large White butterfly that kept trying to land. Another (or the same) Holly Blue spent some time investigating the low-hanging leaves of the oak, as I watched it two small greyish butterflies put up from the oak leaves and fluttered around briefly before landing again out of sight – they were undoubtedly Purple Hairstreaks, a common but overlooked species.
I then walked across the field with the stream bank on one side of me – here the mower did not reach and so tall stands of vegetation (largely Himalayan Balsam) grow up each summer, hiding the stream from view. More flowering hogweed grew here too, in direct sunlight now they were buzzing with hoverflies, honey bees (with visible balls of pollen on their legs) and a few bumblebees – gorgeous things that are great for observing close-up.
This is a great time of year for observing and appreciating the wildlife in your local area, regardless of where you live, as many plants and invertebrates are active and numerous, making them easy to observe. Look up, look down, look close and think small, tune in to the right frequency and you will see fascinating things everywhere.