On Saturday (13th June), I had the most inspirational day with a fellow naturalist and artist, sharing our love of the natural world.
Being active on social media can be seen as a negative in life at times, but it has put me into contact with many people who share the same interest and have become very good friends, the latter of which we often to get to meet up with at times.
Susan is one of those people. We 'met' via Facebook and have often shared images of the natural world and exchanged comments. Working as a Naturalist and Environmental Educator as well as an Art Tutor, Susan and I have lots in common. She hails from Vermont in the USA, so it is also great to share the love of her home state, even though I have only visited there once.
She contacted me a few weeks ago and asked if we could spend the day together looking at some native flora and fauna whilst she was visiting the UK. Being based in London meant that she was only a couple of hours from where I live and we arranged to meet in Winchester ready to explore.
I had to get my thinking cap on and I decided that Old Winchester Hill would be a great place to visit, seeing as we only had a day and didn't want to spend too much time on the road.
The day started off a little over cast, but it was ideal as we ambled along to the Iron Age Hillfort.
I say 'ambled' because there was so much to see and chat about. We were soon comparing plant species between the two countries and also chatting about local names for plants too.
The slightly cooler weather meant that insects were stationary for a bit longer, and we got the chance to see a Wasp beetle (above).
Susan taking in the view from the hillfort. Straight away we were admiring the orchids that were growing on the more gentle slopes when you first start to walk around the fort.
Our first sighting of orchids and other flowers
Common spotted orchid
Whilst we sat and had our lunch we had the delight of listening to a Yellow hammer in a Hawthorn bush nearby. Its song sounding like 'A little bit of bread and no cheese' was evident once your hearing was tuned in.
We were thoroughly spoilt with other birds too. At one point a Skylark sang above us, its beautiful and melodic song being heard across the hill. We also saw Swifts catching insects in the warming air, and several times a Kestrel hovering above the slopes of the hill looking for prey.
After lunch we started off to find a place to settle for the afternoon and sketch. On the top of the hill fort there was plenty of botanical subject matter, but a wider variety of plant species was more evident on the slopes.
Our first discovery was the Fragrant orchid. It was a very subtle pink and had long spurs to the flower with the lobes of the labellum being of equal length. The scent from the flower was very subtle, but apparently is more evident in the evening.
We carefully navigated our way down the slope and sett up our sketching kits.
As our sketch pages developed our love of colours was evident.
The beginnings of my sketch page.
For both of us we felt that we wanted to speed up our sketching technique a little. Being absorbed by the detail means that sometimes you do not achieve as much as you would like. It was still essential though to get the main characteristics of the plant.
We continued to sketch and the weather became warmer and warmer with a steady breeze. As the clouds moved overhead the colours changed on our paper and at times a little modification was needed.
Hoary plantain appeared on my sketchbook page.
Whilst we sketched and our pages developed we shared different techniques and ideas. Every now and again we got up for a stretch and we soon realised that the time had gone so fast.
It was time to move on.
As we re-traced our steps back the sun was shining and there were flashes of blue fluttering through the grasses and flowers. The blue butterflies are small and never seem to be at rest for long.
These images show a Common blue, the lower picture showing one sunning itself on Crosswort.
A couple of Painted lady butterflies were seen too.
The chalk path you can see to the left and in the distance was the one that we decided to take. The side of the hill was very steep, but going this way meant that we got to see a few additional plant species:
The Common twayblade
One of the Milkworts
Once we got to the top we re-discovered some Yew trees that we passed earlier. One particular tree was dappled with the early evening sun and as we stood under its twisting limbs we gave thanks for such a wonderful day.
A day that neither of us will never forget.
Thank you Susan.
As it approached 7.00pm we took one last look across the landscape and made our way back.