Normally, you can expect Bank Holidays in the UK to be as wet and windy as the rest of the year, if not more so. But on this particular Bank Holiday weekend, Britain is experiencing a heatwave. It’s been so hot and sunny that I found myself getting that feeling of pleasure and contentment associated with being on holiday in happy foreign climes. And such weather shouldn’t be wasted, so these past two days, I’ve been spending plenty of time outdoors!
On Saturday, I went down to Warton Hall outside Lytham St Annes, which was opening its garden to the public for a few days. Wildlife TV presenter Nigel Marven – whom I had last encountered in the Philippines – was there, giving a talk on his reptilian pets and allowing the delighted children in the audience to handle them. These included two blue-tongued skinks and a ball python; as well as saying hello to Nigel, I was able to hold the python for a bit, and it made itself comfortable using my arm as a substitute for a tree branch!
I also had a walk through the woodland area, which was full of bluebells and extremely pleasant. Various pieces that symbolised the spiritual side of nature, and the feeling of safety and escape it can give you, had been placed around the woodland. The pictured window, for instance, came from a house in the Loire Valley where pilgrims used to stop.
This morning, I went on another little nature excursion, to the Ainsdale Sand Dunes National Nature Reserve on the Sefton Coast. Finding my way about these sand dunes proved tricky, even with waymarks; the paths were narrow and uneven, and often with vegetation growing across them. Although I got there relatively early, before the crowds arrived to enjoy themselves on Ainsdale Beach, there were no lizards to be seen. Contrary to what you might expect, you are actually less likely to see cold-blooded reptiles when the weather is especially warm and sunny. In these conditions, they can spend less time basking, before getting back under cover rather than unnecessarily exposing themselves to predators. Plus, once fully warmed up, they are more able to disappear when they sense your footsteps.
However, there are other creatures on the dunes which are more active under the sun. There were large clusters of insects hovering around the vegetation; and on the ground, I spotted a species that I’d been told to look out for – the northern dune tiger beetle (Cicindela hybrida). Tiger beetles are among my favourite insects: there are about 2,600 species worldwide, and they are all voracious predators of other insects. They are also among the fastest running insects: some tiger beetles run so fast that it temporarily blinds them, as their brains cannot process the visual input quickly enough. Although the northern dune tiger beetle is widespread in Europe, it only occurs at a few sites in the UK, so it felt quite special to see one.
As for Bank Holiday Monday, after all this activity, I think I may enjoy the sunshine a bit closer to home!