The meet was spread out over four days with some managing to do all four, while some only half a day, so we knew that there would have to be some retracing of steps as newcomers arrived. We should have kept notes instead of trying to remember it all at the end, but here goes…
David (Davy Crockett) and Joan (Gracie) were doing the Friday and the Monday and along with Dave (davecatt) were the first to arrive so I took them to check some of the local stuff, while Ian stopped on site to meet others as they arrived. First stop was only two minutes’ drive away at a wooded area known as Creep-a-Crawl (No I have no idea why its called that?!). This stop was to photograph a large bracket fungi called Driads Saddle (which Ian will keep calling ‘Druids Saddle’ in fun!) growing on the side of a tree. It was then up the road and round the corner close to Leighton Moss R.S.P.B. to look at a large patch of Herb Paris after we had watched a Marsh Harrier at distance over the reserve. From there it was the Challen Hall side of the Gait Barrows N.R. to see Birds eye Primrose plus other flowers and then it was back to the caravan for dinner. By now more folk had arrived – David (Hobjob), Dave P. (pressld2) and Neil (ukwildlifeo), Neil (gtis), Christine (hillrover) and Linda (Monkey). ‘Our’ Bullfinches were proving a big draw and with various perches already set up cameras were coming out of bags! No hides needed here! After a bite to eat and lots of chatting I managed to drag everyone away from the bird photography, so while Ian went off to put some more peanuts out for the badgers, we went en-masse to a grass bank near Sandside that has a varied flora but for the moment Fly Orchids were our target. Ian rejoined us and checked an area close to the quarry that has Greater Butterfly Orchids but they were still in fairly tight bud and didn’t open over the next four days. It was then time for tea with some opting for fish and chips while others went for Chinese. After Linda brought out a delicious homemade Cherry Pavlova with crème fresh! Oh heaven!
On day two Neil (ukwildlifeo) was out in the pop up hide soon after 6.00am and got a bacon butty but everyone else must have either forgotten or wasn’t hungry and so we closed our café !. We were joined by Adam (Squishy) and it was off to see the star of the weekend for some – the Ladies Slipper Orchid at Gait Barrows NR. We knew the LSO were about three weeks behind having viewed the Silverdale plant prior to the meet and found it 4 inches high and just leaves – not even a sign of buds – I was beginning to worry that ‘Cinderella was not going to play ball’ … Rob Petley Jones and Natural England were having their open weekend for the GB slippers, and as their plants were in tight bud and looking like they would miss opening at the target time, Rob had brought potted plants and placed them in a beautifully crafted limestone display! So much to my relief we were not disappointed and everyone took their shots. Some took part in the butterfly identification. ‘test’ – all light hearted and some had a go at clay modeling – Neil (ukwildlifeo) did a Dragonfly (what else!) while I made a L.S.Orchid! We then went further into an area that is being managed for butterflies – especially the Duke of Burgundy. There were quite a few ‘dukes’ but they tended to land in the areas that had been cordoned off to protect their eggs and food plants but some were successful in getting shots. There were other butterflies – Brimstone and Green-veined Whites and I think a Pearl Bordered was also seen. We all went back to the caravan and had some dinner during which Linda produced some more homemade cakes (which I successfully resisted this time!) After our dinner we did the rounds of the Herb Paris, Challen Hall and the ‘Druid’ on the way back for tea. David (Hobjob) had brought homemade spag bol (and despite saying I wasn’t having any – after helping him warm it up on our stove in the van I lost my resolve and got stuck in … Mmm!) Then Linda unbelievably produced yet another homemade pavlova this time with fresh grapes (I did manage to regretfully say no to this thinking my diverticulitis was not going to put up with much more!)
It had been a sunny day and there was little breeze so the badger watching was looking promising and there was a discussion about who was going on this first visit and the do’s and don’ts of photography. It was decided Ian, Dave P, Neil (gtis), Linda with my 500mm lens and Adam with Ians 600 would have first go. Ian had taken chairs a few days earlier and they were sat down by 8pm. The chairs allow comfy sitting – no wriggling about as cramp and pins and needles set in! By 8.30pm the first badger was out and feeding on peanuts that Ian threw out as soon as they got there. A maximum of three badgers showed and cameras clicked away. By 9.15pm there wasn’t enough light so as soon as all badgers were down in the sett cameras were moved away and they left at 9.30pm so as not to reduce the chances for the following nights’ group. The rest of us stayed on site and chatted the evening away.
Day three started off dull – not what Ian wanted. Mike (Lancashire Lad) joined us for the day so I took him round the sites we had done the day before while Ian took everybody else to Meathop Moss NR to look for Green Hairstreak Butterflies where we had seen plenty a few days earlier. When we met up at dinner Ian said they had only seen two G.H. butterflies but that they had then moved to a small pond were they had seen a couple of newts and Neil had filmed the sticklebacks with his ‘natty’ underwater camera! A Nuthatch was feeding young in a box next to the car park and peregrine were nesting on the cliff face nearby. After dinner we all headed for Warton Quarry where the resident peregrine had just brought prey in, so we had a look through one of the regular bird watchers telescopes. While everyone else went up onto the crag to look for fritillaries, Ian and I went to Arnside Knott to check an area that has previously produced Birds Nest Orchid but there was no sign of it. Davecatt managed to get himself disorientated (not difficult – all paths look the same up there!) but after a phonecall we managed to pick him up on the way back to join the rest. We all headed for the chippy at Arnside and ate on the grass in front of the car park before heading back to the van. Ian then took Christine, davecatt, Neil (wildlifeo) with Ians 7D and 600 lens and Adam again (this time with my 500) to the badgers. They were sat down by 8.00pm and by 8.10pm the first of five badgers appeared. Ian tells me the show was better than the previous night and again there was plenty of clicking. By 9.15pm they had seen enough and again left as soon as the badgers had gone back in to the sett so as not to cause any unnecessary disturbance. While they did that the rest of us went to the Lots at Silverdale to photograph the Green-winged Orchids and the Early Purples and the cattle that wanted to get in on the act as well!
On day four we were joined again by David (Davey Crockett), Joan and Jim (Joans husband) and also Gordon (turntostone). Breakfast was bacon and or sausage butties and plenty of cups of tea and coffee. The day had started off bright but by 8.00ish the cloud was with us. David (Hobjob), having spent the weekend with his motorhome not starting, decided to set off for home when the charged battery suddenly fired the engine up! The rest of us headed off to Gait Barrows again for another shot at the L.S. Orchid. Those yellow ‘slippers’ are the very devil to photograph in bright sunlight being so very reflective. The dull morning tempted us to have another go with them looking better in dim light but before we could get there the rain set in. We managed some photography but the wind and rain made it a bit more challenging. I was last in the queue and the rain was fair coming down by this stage – but despite getting wet (even tho Ian was holding a piece of Perspex over my head and davecatts coat round my shoulders!) I got my best shots of the weekend!
Back at the van by dinner and rain still with us meant that the meet was going to start winding down sooner than we would have liked. Some decided to call it a day and head for home, while Dave P and Linda headed for Scotland. Neil, Neil, davecatt and Christine went to Leighton Moss for the rest of the afternoon and were treated to watching an Otter in front of Lillians Hide. It was Chinese for tea and after Ian had dropped davecat off at his B&B, Neil (gtis) had headed off back to his B&B and Neil (wildlifeo) had left for Wales and Gilfach with Redstart and Pied Flycatchers in mind, just left us and Christine on site, the meet was quite suddenly over for this year….