Category Archives: Bugwoman on Location

Bugwoman on Location – Costa Rica – Monteverde

Female green-crowned brilliant hummingbird (Heliodoxa jacula) photo by Lesley

Dear Readers, on a day when the weather in London is so cold that I’ve put plastic buckets over the frogspawn in my pond in case the water freezes, it’s a real pleasure to think back to the last part of my holiday in Costa Rica. The final stop was the cloud forest around Monteverde in the central part of the country. These areas are not called ‘cloud forest’ for nothing: it was surprisingly cool, and we were relieved when we got to our hotel to see that we had duvets on the beds instead of the usual sheets. There was also a fine example of towel art.

We started off with a canopy forest walk in Selvatura. In truth, I’d been a bit worried about this: as I’ve gotten older my head for heights has disappeared. I’m fine walking up and down the mountain tracks in Austria, but present me with one of those bridges with a see-through metal grid to walk across, and you might find me wobbling a bit.

Photo One from By Comrogues from San Francisco, California (Selvatura) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

A hanging bridge from Selvatura (Photo One)

What would happen if I froze halfway across, and was unable to move on? Would I have to be rescued by a handsome Costa Rican? Would he have to winch me up into his helicopter? Anyway, moving swiftly on, when we arrived and actually saw the bridges, it seemed that I was not the only one with a problem. At least half of us spent the next few hours walking briskly across the bridges, eyes front, hanging on to the rails on both sides. Our guide, Walter, was Very Disappointed with us.

‘The idea is to see the different levels of the canopy’, he said. ‘You could stop and look and see what you could see’.

Yes, that would be lovely, but stopping and looking was an impossibility, because then I would notice that I was 240 feet above the ground.

We had clearly let him down, but at least no helicopters were involved.

Every so often there was a scream as someone shot by on a zipwire hanging from the very top of the canopy. And good luck to them, I say. I was just glad when bridge number eight was completed and we were back on solid ground. It had gotten a little easier as we’d gone along, and I was glad that I’d done it, but still. I was looking forward to the next day when we would go for a nice, normal walk through the forest.

Begonia involucrata( ( think) – Angel Wing begonia

One thing I didn’t expect to see in a cloud forest in Costa Rica was a wild begonia, but they were everywhere. While it doesn’t surprise me to see the bromeliads and the ferns, I suppose I’d never given a thought to where our humbler houseplants come from, but here they were.

And here is another plant that I didn’t expect to find:

Bizzie lizzie (Impatiens walleriana)

This plant is an East African native, but the plant as we know it ‘escaped’ in Costa Rica many years ago. One of these wildlings caught the eye of Claude Hope, an American horticulturalist living in Costa Rica. It was he who turned the plant in to the popular bedding plant that it was until very recently, when downy mildew caused its downfall. This one was living very happily in a shady spot, much as it did in gardens on both sides of the Atlantic.

Our walk was brought to a halt by the presence of a very confident coati mundi, snuffling along the roadside and ignoring us all. He had a damaged front paw, but was otherwise in lovely condition. He spent so much time with his head down that getting a shot of his face was impossible (for me, anyhow).

Costa Rica has raccoons, oppossums and coati mundi, and seems to manage without shooting any of them. Take note, governments everywhere. You don’t have to massacre your wildlife.

There are a fine array of red-flowered plants, just waiting for a hummingbird to pop along to pollinate them. The red shrimp plant has its stamens positioned so that they tap the hummingbird on the back of the neck and deposit some pollen while s/he is feeding, like the Queen dubbing a Knight with her sword.

Red shrimp plant (Aphelandra sp)

More Aphelandra…

We spent some time looking into the fist-shaped holes in the banks of the forest. These are made by tarantulas, and by the look of it the place must be a positive tarantula party-zone after dark. One of the guides found a hole with a resident, and shone his torch in so we could get a glance of a shy spider’s bum. I decided not to take a picture to preserve the creature’s privacy. They are largely self-effacing creatures, with no desire for publicity.

I remember visiting the Bug Museum in Victoria, Canada when I was on my honeymoon, and getting the chance to hold a tarantula. The poor thing actually cringed when I gently stroked its abdomen, and it taught me two things. One – never again to handle a creature that didn’t want to be handled unless it was in danger and needed to be moved. Two – I had married the right person – my husband is not comfortable around insects, and yet took me to a place full of hissing cockroaches and giant millipedes so that I could enjoy myself.

Photo Two from

Costa Rican Zebra Tarantula (Photo Two)

We walked to a look out point, where we could look out over the trees without feeling vertiginous. The wind nearly blew us over when we came out of the cover of the forest, but there was a patch of blue sky ‘just large enough to make a sailor’s breeches’ in the distance, and the weather cleared within a few hours.

The cloud forest trees are hung with moss and lichens, which are making the most of the damp, humid atmosphere. Each tree is its own ecosystem, with its branches hung with epiphytes and bromeliads, and its trunk smothered in vines.

We met a rather attractive giant millipede climbing up one of the trunks. It had a rather trilobitic look to it, I thought ( and I do believe that ‘trilobitic’ is a new word)

However, compared to the giant millipedes of West Africa, this creature is decidedly medium-sized.

Giant millipede from Cameroon. I rest my case.

Incidentally, millipedes are herbivorous and do not bite. Centipedes are carnivorous, and some of the larger tropical ones have the most painful bites in the animal kingdom, so it’s as well not to get them muddled up.

When we arrived back at the bottom of the trail, we had a rest at the cafe, which has put up some hummingbird feeders. Seven different species come to drink the nectar, along with some very large wasps and an occasional bat. It was such a privilege to sit and watch these jewel-like birds zapping in and out. They are mightily feisty for such small creatures, and you wouldn’t want to make one cross I suspect – some of them are armed with beaks longer than their bodies, and although these have evolved largely to enable them to feed from specific flowers, the birds are not averse to skewering an opponent.

Female green-crowned brilliant (Heliodoxa jacula)

Male violet sabrebill (Campylopterus hemileucurus)

And so, it was time to return to our hotel, and almost time to go home. But I had one last treat in store. On a walk around the hotel grounds with my camera, I spotted this fine bird, who posed on top of a streetlight for a good ten minutes. S/he is a blue-crowned motmot, and apparently spends lots of time sitting around and scanning the area for the lizards and frogs and large insects that s/he eats. What you can’t see in the photo is the rather splendid tail, which is bald apart from two round areas of feathers at the end. These are swung in a pendulum-like motion, giving the bird the alternative name of ‘clock bird’.

Blue-crowned motmot (Motmotus motmota)

And so, it was time to head back to the UK. Costa Rica is a great introduction to the treasures of Central and South America, with its well-functioning tourist infrastructure, friendly people and wealth of natural treasures. It feels like a place that should be supported in its endeavours to be ecologically and socially responsible, a small country with a big heart. We have much to learn from Costa Rica about the right way to build a community. I hope that, one day, I’ll be back to explore the Pacific coast, home of the jaguar and the macaw. In the meantime, adios Costa Rica, and gracias.

Photo Credits

Photo One from By Comrogues from San Francisco, California (Selvatura) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Two by Charles Tilford at












Bugwoman on Location – Costa Rica – Arenal

Dear Readers, after the watery world of Tortuguero we headed inland to the volcanoes of the Arenal area. Mount Arenal itself was originally a huge draw for tourists – they could sit on their hotel verandahs in the evening and watch the lava trickling down. Sadly, as a live volcano ages, the crater deepens, and so no one has been able to see lava for a while. As a result, the many many hotels have had to be creative, and the one that we stayed at made a big feature of its thermal pools.

It also made a point of featuring the volcano everywhere, as in my Volcano dessert. It was only a ball of ice cream with a conical biscuit cover and some strawberry sauce, but it looked very impressive nonetheless.

We arrived after dark, but the following morning the clouds had cleared, and we saw this:

Mount Arenal now has nine separate craters (each new eruption changes the morphology of the area), and you can see how the volcano is emitting steam. Tourists are (very sensibly) not allowed to go walking up to the summit in case they get scalded to death/knocked on the head by exploding rocks/mown down in a stream of lava. Nonetheless, several tourists were killed when an unlicensed guide decided that it would be fun (and probably lucrative) to take them up for a look a few years ago. Stupidity and greed are unfortunately universal (as are generosity, responsibility and kindness, though they don’t get such extensive press).

John and I decided to go for an early morning walk around the extensive grounds of the hotel instead of risking immolation, and spotted some crested guans in one of the ornamental trees. It is always a privilege to see such wild creatures so close up. They seemed mildly curious, but kept a decent distance.

A crested guan (Penelope purpurascens)

On the way back down the hill, I stopped to look at, and film, some leaf-cutter ants. They are a delight as they go about their business, harvesting great chunks of twig and leaf and taking them back into their nests. As I was filming, I sensed that I was being watched. I looked up to see an attractive young couple dressed for the spa.

‘What are they?’ asked the chap.

‘Leaf-cutter ants’, I said. ‘Do you want to know about them?’

My temptation is always to launch into a full lecture, but age has taught me that a) people are sometimes not interested and b) they often know more than I do, so I tend to be more careful than I was.

However, on this occasion, they both gave a kind of interrogatory shrug, which I interpreted as meaning ‘tell me in brief, but I am on my honeymoon you know’.

So I told them quickly about what the ants were doing, and how they grew fungus on the plant material.

‘So,’ I said with a flourish, ‘really they’re farmers!’

And then, the young man spoke up, and I was somewhat taken aback.

‘Can I ask how you know all this stuff?’ he asked.

Well. How do I know all this stuff?

‘I’m passionately interested in it, and so it just kind of sticks’, I said, with rather less eloquence than I’d have hoped. But it seemed to do the trick.

‘Good answer!’ said the chap, and then the two of them sashayed off to loaf around in the springs and no doubt drink martinis.

I do wonder about his question, though. Was he accusing me of ‘fake news?’ Did he not know how people found about stuff? Or was he just surprised that I knew about ants?

I really should have a ‘Bugwoman’ business card to hand out, to legitimize my interest in things buggy.

Lounging about in a thermal pool was not for us, however. We were off on a river trip. The nearby Rio Frio is an extremely biodiverse river, and we were going to get the chance to explore it. The boat was as usual kitted out with what seemed like garden chairs, but it had a roof (a fine feature when it can bucket down with rain with little warming) so we were delighted. Its captain, Herman, took us for a brief spin in the shallow part of the river, which was full of wood storks and a couple of roseate spoonbills. While the wood storks have fleshy, vulture-like heads and are in shades of black and dun and dirty white, the spoonsbills are cerise, a most exceptional colour. They were smaller than I expected, but at one point they started to skim the water with side to side sweeps of their bills. Mangrove swallows skimmed alongside the boat, their feathers iridescent purple and green.

Wood storks (Mycteria americana)

Roseate spoonbills (Platalea ajaja)

We had heard howler monkeys before on the trip, but this time we had a chance to see a little group feeding. Every Costa Rican male has got the howler monkey’s call down pat, and Herman and Walter both tried to engage the heavy-set male howler in conversation. However, he was a taciturn individual and, after a few grunts, turned his attention back to food. When one of them jumped to another tree, the others thought about it for a few minutes, and then followed. Seeing these creatures free in the trees makes me regret the impoverished lives that captive monkeys live – there is no human-provided substitute that can make up for the loss of the variety and sheer scope of their wild lives.

Mantled howler monkey (Alouatta palliata)

Male mantled howler

Herman was a gentle and considerate captain, and we moved slowly and carefully from one bank to another. We came upon a group of white-faced capuchins in a date palm, and were able to approach to within ten metres. One of the monkeys looked up and bared his teeth at us in a threat display, so we came no closer. The monkey continued to dissect the tastiest morsels from the dates, and a few others became visible. They are so attentive and concentrated as they feed, their hands are so delicate and precise that they reminded me of jewellers, selecting the right stones for their pieces and then preparing them in an appropriate way. It was our only time with this species on the trip, but they are very charismatic – they are called ‘the apes of Central/South America’ and they have a intelligence which shines through in their nut-brown eyes. When you meet the eyes of one of these creatures you are definitely encountering a ‘person’, a being with thoughts, needs and a personality, not just some generic ‘monkey’. I suspect this is true of all sentient creatures, if we only took the time to look.

White-throated capuchin monkey (Cebus capuchinus) (Courtesy of Ian Brett)

Capuchin Monkey1 Feb 18

A busy capuchin (thanks to Lesley)

Capuchin Monkey Feb 18

Photo courtesy of Lesley

In the UK, you wait for a long time to see a kingfisher, but here they were everywhere, along with the elegant anhingas (a type of cormorant that swims with just its neck exposed) and a bird called a sun grebe, which is not closely related to ‘ordinary’ grebes, and which only rarely dives (unlike your standard grebe, which waits till you’ve focused your camera before disappearing for ten minutes).

Male Amazon kingfisher (Chloroceryle amazona)

Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga)

Sun Grebe (Heliornis fulica)

And there on the bank was a very relaxed crocodile. With so many fish and birds and frogs and the occasional clumsy monkey to munch upon, no wonder s/he was grinning

But what I loved most of all was a fine view of a sloth. We’d seen a sloth before, of course, but as we rocked about on the boat and got our binoculars focused, it became clear that she was not on her own.

Can you see those tiny sloth ‘hands’ ? What a warm and cosy home for a new baby, wrapped up in his or her mother’s fur. What a heart-warming sight.

All too soon it was time to head back to the bus. A trip that took us two hours as we meandered up river took us just fifteen minutes as we cruised back. But what a ride! We were lucky to see so much, and to have such knowledgeable and sensitive guides. As we ate our rice and beans afterwards, we all agreed that it was one of the highlights of the trip.

Wednesday Weed on Location- Heliconia

Every Wednesday, I hope to find a new ‘weed’ to investigate. My only criterion will be that I will not have deliberately planted the subject of our inquiry. Who knows what we will find…..

Heliconia (Heliconia rostrata)

Dear Readers, during my recent visit to Costa Rica I was flabbergasted by the sheer vivacity and variety of the flora and fauna. There are some plants that are so otherworldly that it’s hard to believe that they’ve not been created by a diligent botanist, and so it is with the Heliconias. Their waxy flowers, in shades of nail-varnish red, custard yellow, amber and lime green are so different from the more demure blooms of home that I can only imagine the culture shock of the first European colonists. Heliconia rostrata, the plant in the photo above, is also known as the Lobster Claw, for obvious reasons, but some other species have the flower inverted, so that they look rather like the Strelitzias of South Africa (indeed, one name for them is ‘false bird-of-paradise plant’.

There are 194 species of Heliconias, in their own family, the Heliconiaceae. Their closest relatives are probably bananas. The name Heliconia means ‘from Mount Helikon’, which was the home of the nine muses. I can’t think of a plant that is more likely to stimulate the creative juices.

Heliconia longiflora ( I think)

The bright red and orange flowers of the plant give a clue to the main pollinators of the group – hummingbirds.  The  coloured part of the ‘flower’ is actually a waxy bract, with the true flower being a more inconspicuous white bloom, clearly seen protruding in the photo below. Some of the flowers are easily accessible to a range of hummingbirds, while others have evolved in parallel with particular species. I was captivated by the zing and zip of these tiny birds as they make their nectar-powered way through rainforest groves and gardens. I didn’t feel as if I was in tropical Central America until I’d seen one.

Photo One (Hummingbird on Heliconia) by Pat 1479 at

Green-crowned Brilliant (Heliodoxa jacula) on Heliconia (Photo One)

Heliconias have huge leaves, and some of the rainforest inhabitants take full advantage of this. Bats shelter under the leaves of the plant, turning them into ‘tents’ by biting through the main vein so that the leaf folds over. These Honduran White Bats (Ectophylla alba) look rather like tiny leaf-nosed sheep.

Photo Two (Honduran White Bat) by Wanja Krah at

Honduran White Bat sheltering under Heliconia leaf (Photo Two)

Costa Rica is rich in bats, with 119 different species identified. On a walk at dusk, the air was full of bats of all sizes, from tiny moth-like flitterers to pigeon-sized flutterers, all pursuing the moths and mosquitoes and midges that are their prey . We saw some other remarkable bats during a boat trip in the centre of Costa Rica. From a distance, I thought that I was looking at some kind of bamboo. Close up, I saw that I was looking at a row of five bats, their markings breaking up their outline, and then turning into a kind of face. I was absolutely enchanted. Bats are the second largest group of mammals (after rodents) and are yet so underappreciated.

Where the flowers point up (as in the Heliconia longiflora above), water will be retained in the bracts and many insects, including the mosquito larvae that will turn into the food for the bats, live in these tiny ponds. Leaf beetles, including the very fine tortoise beetle shown below, roll up the leaves and eat them, or munch on the stems and flowers.

Photo Three (Tortoise Beetle) - by By Ilona Loser - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Mottled tortoise beetle (Deloyala guttata) (Photo Three)

We have seen how the leaves are shelters for bats, but when it rains in Costa Rica, it really rains. In the wet season, the rainforest (so-named for a very good reason) can receive 300 millimetres of heavy precipitation in a single month. So, how do small creatures such as insects survive? Many, like the paper wasp shown below, build their nests by attaching themselves to the undersides of big, sturdy leaves such as those of the Heliconia.

 Photo Four by - Gail Hampshire

Costa Rican Paper Wasp (Polistes erythrocephalus) (Photo Four)

Heliconias were used in a variety of ways by the local native peoples. In Panama, Heliconia rostrata is used to treat skin cancers, and those big leaves have been used for everything from roofing to creating a fine temporary umbrella. Interestingly, whilst the vast majority of heliconias live in Central and South America, there is a small group of species which live in the Solomon and other South Pacific islands. Here, the leaves are used as wrappings for food, and for straining coconut milk. The root of the lovely Heliconia caribaeae (below) is boiled and used to make a lotion for treating varicose veins.

Photo Four (Heliconia caribaea) by Conrad Munro [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Heliconia caribaea (Photo Four)

One famous painter of the heliconia was the artist Georgia O’Keefe. She was sent on an all-expenses paid trip to Hawaii by Dole, the fruit company, in order to paint two canvas of pineapple plants for their advertising campaign. Alas, O’Keefe was a curmudgeon after my own heart. She wanted to live on a pineapple plantation, but Dole squashed the idea and instead sent her a sliced pineapple. Uninspired, she complained that it was ‘manhandled’. She embarked on a trip across the Hawaiian islands, and was much enthused by the thermal spouts and pools, but although much of the flora intrigued her, her canvases displayed nary a tropical fruit. Here, though, is her rendering of a heliconia – they are not native to Hawaii, but the plants obviously love it there. Eventually, on her return, O’Keefe deigned to create a painting of a pineapple plant that Dole, in near-despair, had shipped from Hawaii to her home in New Mexico in less than 36 hours.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Crab Claw, 1939. Honolulu Museum of Art (Public Domain)

And here is the final painting. Incidentally, pineapples are not native to Costa Rica either, but there are plantations everywhere, and the fruit is absolutely delicious.

Photo Five (Pineapple advert) from

Georgia O’Keefe’s Pineapple Painting for Dole (Photo Five)

And so, I look for a poem to round off this week’s piece. And what do I find but a poem by Neil Deupree, a visitor to Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula. I didn’t get to this part of Costa Rica this time, but what he writes sums up my experience too.


Sitting on the front porch at Piro

The surf is distant thunder  – be sure to pack the poncho.

The cicadas are way more than white noise in the background.

The tortuguitos finally made it to the ocean.

Papaya and piña spark the taste buds for breakfast.

The anole ambles across our front yard in fits and starts.

The howlers start their “hello” at half past four in the morning.

The clouds are wisps of cotton against the cobalt sky.

The hummingbird (which one of the thirty?)

makes the rounds of the verbena by our front porch.

We are called to see the aracari –

which, of course, are gone by the time we get there –

keeping us humble.

“I am soooo humble,” says Frank, our filmographer.

Damselflies wearing blue and yellow mittens flit through the forest.

A hawk with red wings and a banded tail traces circles in the sky –

followed by a turkey vulture coasting in a straight line – for once.

Heliconia spear their orange among the oars of green leaves.

I hear a bird in the distance that Nito could identify in an instant.

The breeze wicks away the heat –

this part of our home in Osa is truly a breezeway.

Neil Deupree

January 26, 2014

And so, for more on Costa Rica’s plants and animals, keep an eye open for Saturday’s blog…

Photo Credits

Photo One (Hummingbird on Heliconia) by Pat 1479 at

Photo Two (Honduran White Bat) by Wanja Krah at

Photo Three (Tortoise Beetle) – by By Ilona Loser – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Photo Four (Heliconia caribaea) by Conrad Munro [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Five (Pineapple advert) from






Bugwoman’s Fourth Annual Report – Part Two

August 2017

Dear Readers, one of my most popular posts from last year was created during a deluge. ‘Twenty-six Ways of Looking at a Rainy Day’ was so much fun to write. The main challenge was keeping the camera from getting water-logged during the downpour…

It hasn’t been a particularly ‘foxy’ year, unlike 2016 when I was spending a lot of time with the foxes in the cemetery, but I did spot this little darling, sleeping under the whitebeam in the garden.

And I also spotted some common carder bees buzz-pollinating in the garden, a first!

September 2017

The month started a visit to the new gardens around Kings Cross station, for an assessment of how helpful they were to wildlife. The answer was that it’s early days, but the signs are very hopeful. Sparrows, vanishingly rare in central London, have already moved in, and there was an active wasps’ nest. I shall have to visit again soon to see how things are shaping up.

The month continued with my friend A bringing me a Knotgrass caterpillar for me to identify. What a fine creature! It has now pupated, and is back in A’s garden, with a barricade of twigs for protection. One day, no doubt, it will emerge and fly away, probably when no one is looking.

A theme throughout last year was my Mum and Dad’s 60th Wedding Anniversary party. At times it was all very stressful, and it was good to go for a walk around their village, Milborne St Andrew, and to reconnect. There’s always something wonderful to spot, and slowing down to actually see things is a very fine way of gaining perspective.

The party was held on 21st September. Mum said it was the best evening she’d ever had, so every bit of hassle about table-settings and whether or not to have a photographer was worth it.

Mum, Dad, my brother John and I at the cake cutting….


A few days after the party, we had the heart-breaking news that one of the people who had attended, someone who had battled for years with depression, had killed themselves. It was so hard, especially after the event had been such a good one. I wrote this piece in the days afterwards, and believe every word.

I also took a visit to Dundee. I worked as a carer in a night-shelter for homeless people in the city when I was in my twenties, and wondered how things were going. The shelter is about to be converted into luxury flats, the pub where we used to drink is now a college, and there’s a new branch of the Victoria and Albert Museum going up on the quayside, but there are still people asking for change on the streets. Everything changes, everything stays the same.

The sign above the door of the old Dundee Cyrenians night shelter

The garden was visited by an amazing visitor in October: a female emperor dragonfly, trying to find a spot to lay her eggs.

And some birds in the garden had a narrow escape when we had another visit from the sparrowhawk…

November 2017

November saw me back in Milborne St Andrew, following Mum and Dad’s spectacular double fall down the front doorstep. Fortunately neither of them were seriously damaged (though after spending two and a half hours waiting for an ambulance while laying on the front lawn Mum was a little less sanguine than usual). But once in hospital, they were delighted to be placed in adjacent beds, and even more delighted to be sent home after a couple of hours. Suffice it to say that my visit the next day was well-timed. But I did manage to get out for a walk, and finally got photos of a buzzard, and my first ever meadow pipit.

We even managed to make the Christmas cake. By the time we ate it, Dad had fed it with so much brandy that I’m glad I wasn’t driving.

Once home, I went for a walk in East Finchley Cemetery, where I found a strawberry tree, some greenfinches, a handsome jay, and this lovely gravestone. How I would love to find out a bit more about Muriel….

I also had a few thoughts about the use of fruit trees as street trees: there is a crab apple on our street which causes all kinds of mess, but which does attract such exotic creatures as this one.

What are you looking at?

I finished off the month with some thoughts about the passing of time, which seems to be have been a theme last year. With so many people that I love in their eighties and nineties, and with my own seventh decade approaching, I suppose that it’s inevitable that mortality should be on my mind, along with other existential thoughts, such as ‘what’s it all about’? ‘How do we live a good life, and what is a good life anyway?’ All this was prompted by watching a band of sunlight move across the garden in the space of a few minutes. I had a similar sensation last week as I watched the moon rise with Mum, and we both realised that you can actually see it moving,  and wondered why we’d never noticed before.

December 2017

December saw Mum and Dad struck down with a chest infection, and so I headed West again. It was a stressful time: the carer who normally looks after Mum and Dad was struck down by her own health emergency, and so I had to negotiate to try to get Mum and Dad to accept a carer who came from an agency, rather than someone that they already knew. I found it unbearable to think of them struggling on, sick, without someone to help them, and so I took myself off to the frozen fields for a walk and a think. Oh, the light on those December days. It felt like a blessing.

Then we had a spot of snow, the first that’s fallen and stayed for about five years.

Pied wagtail

And then it was Christmas, on the County Roads...

and in Dorset. We hadn’t expected to be in Dorset (Mum and Dad usually visit us in London) but they were both still too sick from their chest infections to travel. This didn’t reduce their appetite fortunately, and ridiculous quantities of the aforementioned Christmas cake were eaten, along with chocolates, roast potatoes, stuffing, brussel sprouts. Just as well we were able to get out for a walk.

It’s a pig!

January 2018

So, now we’re nearly back to the present day. January saw me exploring Hampstead Village, and falling in love with an angel.

It saw the very welcome arrival of a song thrush in the garden (still here as I write in February), and the continued presence of a single pied wagtail, who has been here since November. We are all hoping that he or she soon has some company.

And I took a bus ride down to Tate Modern, and a tube ride back.

So, readers, that’s the end of the review of the past year. Thank you for all your input  – I read every single comment, and love the community that we’ve built together. Don’t forget that if you’re on Facebook, you can find me here. I look forward to ‘meeting’ with you all in the year to come. And during the next few weeks, you will find that Bugwoman has been on a very exotic adventure, and has been living up to her name, for once. Stay tuned…..







Bugwoman’s Fourth Annual Report – Part One

Dear Readers, it’s that time of year when I review what’s been going on during my fourth year of producing the Bugwoman blog. What’s been happening in the past twelve months? This week, we’ll be looking at February 2017 through to July 2017 – the rest of the year will make an appearance next week. Stay tuned!

February 2017


We started the Bugwoman year in a celebratory mood. After a year of no blackbirds (following the death of a male at the hands of the local sparrowhawk) a new couple moved in, and it was such a pleasure to hear the song of the male from the rooftop in the evening. I’m pleased to report that I still have a pair of blackbirds in 2018, and I’m hoping that they’re the same ones.


March 2017

In March London suffered the first of several terrorist attacks last year, when a car was rammed into pedestrians as they crossed Westminster bridge. I was on the South Bank when it happened, and wrote a piece about it here.  I find that nature has a way of restoring balance to our troubled minds in times of trouble, and it was especially consoling during my walk, the arrival of spring coinciding with the terrible injuries and loss of life.

And I also made a visit to Crossbones Graveyard, close to London Bridge. This is a site for the outcast dead, and they are remembered in a ceremony every month at the main gates. It is a very special place, and it felt entirely appropriate to be making my first visit there in the week after the terrorist attack. I hope to visit it again soon.


The gates at Crossbones Graveyard

‘A poor man taken out of the street, December 2 1725 – one of the ribbons from Crossbones Graveyard

A bee feeding on willow in the graveyard

And the frogs were back, singing away in the pond.



April kicked off with a garden visit from a female sparrowhawk, who plucked and ate a collared dove that she’d knocked out of the whitebeam tree. A spectacular but discomfiting event.

And then some Bohemian Waxwings visited a tree at the end of my road, something I hadn’t seen for years.

April also found me on my annual visit to Canada – my husband John is Canadian, and I love observing the wildlife on the other side of the Atlantic. The similarities and differences always intrigue me. For example, we have no grackles in the UK.





And our goldfinches are not North American goldfinches…

And we don’t have any cardinals..

But we do have house sparrows.

And these guys of course….





May 2017

At the beginning of May I was still in Canada, and paid a visit to the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington (just outside Toronto). I met up with my lovely friend M, who lives in the States but had motored across the border. She is also a writer and a nature-lover. We had a wonderful day!

Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)

Red-winged blackbird

Back in London, I took a walk to look at the street trees of Archway, just down the hill from where I live. It was based on one of my favourite books from last year, ‘London Street Trees: A Guide to the Urban Forest‘ by Paul Wood, and it was so much fun that I plan to do another walk later this year. You can read about the walk here and here.

Chinese Lacebark Elm

A Dawn Redwood (Metasequioa glyptostroboides) just off Holloway Road in North London.

A Bragania visited by a carder bumblebee in Dresden Road, a few hundred metres from the hubbub of the Archway junction.


June saw my monthly visit to my elderly parents turning into something of a drama, after Dad got a chest infection and had a fall. Still, spending time in Milborne St Andrew in Dorset is always a pleasure, and even if I didn’t have much time to admire the scenery, I did get a few brief minutes to look at the garden and take a deep breath.

White-tailed bumblebee on the ceanothus in Mum and Dad’s garden

June also saw the great willowherb in my garden infested with the caterpillars of a tiny moth. Surprisingly, they still flowered rather splendidly. ‘Weeds’ are resilient plants, for sure.


In July I made my annual visit to Obergurgl in Austria, for walking in the mountains and admiring the flowers and the insects. Oh, and for cake.

Large Copper butterfly on yarrow

Hoverfly on rampion

Early flowering orchid


Closer to home, I paid a visit to East Finchley Station, and to the N2 Community Garden beside it. There are many new goings on in the entrance to the station…


…on the platforms


….and in the garden itself. It was lovely to go travelling, but it’s always nice to be home.

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

I also spent some time posting about my amazing artist friend, Robin Huffman, and her portraits of the monkeys and apes that she cares for when she volunteers at wildlife sanctuaries in Africa. I think her work is absolutely stunning, and to see more of it you can visit her website here. She is currently in Cameroon at the  Ape Action Africa sanctuary in Mefou, looking after several baby monkeys. I imagine that she’s covered in poo, bitten half to death and dreaming of Japanese food, but I bet she’s also deliriously happy.

Sunshine, Olive Baboon (Robin Huffman) (after a photo by Perrine DeVos)

Diva, moustached guenon

Ayla, vervet monkey

So, Dear Readers, that’s the end of part one of my annual review. Stay tuned for next week!






Bugwoman on Location – A Damp Birthday in Somerset

Dear Readers, last Saturday was my 58th birthday and I would very much like to know where the past twenty years have gone. It seems as if everything has speeded up , the days whizzing past like hailstones, and no sooner have I put the Christmas decorations away than it’s time to put them up again. But I do have a secret for helping time to slow down, and it’s this. Walk along a country lane very slowly on a damp day, and exercise your five senses to their utmost.

It helps if you are witnessed by a lone magpie, who chucks away at the top of a tree without ever launching into a full cackle.

And it also helps if there are hazel catkins about, and if they are sulphur yellow and shell pink. Perhaps some are fully open, exposing their pollen to the breeze, while some are still emerging and are tight speckled sausages.

The hedgerows are full of chirruping birds, and occasionally one stops on the top of a twig to survey the scene, like this great tit, before flying off in a flurry.

And while you’re standing there, you notice the small, damp world created by moss on a dead branch.

There is a new robin singing every fifty feet, defending their tight territory.


The snowdrops are already out in the small field by the stream.

The lane is alive with harts tongue and male ferns, giving the feel of a temperate rain forest.

The wild garlic is already showing through with its shiny green leaves.

Some long-tailed tits are feeding from a peanut feeder hanging over the fence, until seen off by a robin.

A female blackbird is harvesting worms, an easier job when the weather is damp.

And the snowberry still goes unmolested, as if the birds are working their way through the berries from black to white.


Ivy berries

And here, of course, is a splendid horse. He was in the mood for a chat, but I sense he would much rather be trotting up the lane.

The rooks are building and repairing their nests, and chatting amongst themselves. Like so many country birds, they take off as soon as I raise my camera.

The stream is high, so it’s over the bridge for me….

And look, the sun popped out for a few minutes, warming up all the colours.

Back in Aunt Hilary’s garden, there were naturalised cyclamen and snowdrops everywhere.

And, as the rain came in again, pure white periwinkles glowed at the base of the shrubs.

I think that I’ve noticed more in the past hour than I have in the previous seven days combined. It’s so easy for me to live in my head, thinking about the past, planning for the future, without ever paying attention to what’s actually going on. Creating this blog  reminds me that wherever I am, there is always something interesting going on if I just open up to it. And if life is richer, time seems to go more slowly, which is one explanation for why the days seem so long when we’re children – every thing that we see and do is filled with novelty, and piques our interest. There’s much to be said for spending at least part of every day in a state of ‘beginner’s mind’, as if everything is new. Because, in a way, it is.





Bugwoman on Location – Hampstead Village


The Wonky Chimneys of Flask Cottages, Hampstead

Dear Readers, this week I was in Hampstead, delivering an enormous bag of knitting wool to a charity called Knit For Peace who match keen knitters with good causes. I am a great believer in the healing power of crafts of all kinds – it’s hard to stay angry and resentful when you’re trying to work out how a Fair Isle pattern is supposed to work. And look at the excellent use that your master(mistress)pieces can be put to once the many hours of work have been completed!

Willow the cat and my blanket.

Being in Hampstead gave me an opportunity to explore. I started off on Flask Walk, where I am always intrigued by the wonky chimneys in the first photo above. Why are they so eccentric? My delving into the internets has produced nothing on the subject, so feel free to chip in with any suggestions.

Hampstead seems such a quaint and attractive area, rather Bohemian you might think, a great place to bring up a family. However, as average house prices for the area are over £1.6m (and a ‘detached family dwelling’ is getting on for £6m) I don’t imagine the average family will be moving here any time soon. In the meantime, however, I spent some time admiring the water droplets on the leaves and plants, and trying not to look too suspicious, what with my camera and all. There are a lot of security teams around here, as you might expect.

One reason for advancing along the road is that this is the location of Burgh House, the site of Mr and Mrs Bugwoman’s marriage in September 2010. Sadly, the building, and hence the delightful cafe, was closed until 10th January, but I recommend a visit for both food and edification, as the Hampstead Museum is also here. I took a few photos and remembered some of the details of the day – for example, when my dad and I got into the vintage Rolls Royce we’d hired to get to Burgh House and he said ‘I suppose I should be giving you some advice, but you know it all already’. Well, I was forty.

Burgh House, Hampstead

This was all very splendid but I hadn’t seen any animals yet, apart from one of the many blackbirds who have popped out in the past few days to make the most of the muddy conditions and the superabundance of worms. Incidentally, I was walking in the cemetery today with my most excellent friend A, and we observed a similar blackbird.

‘I don’t like to dwell upon blackbirds eating worms in a graveyard’, she said.

But when you think about it, how wonderful it would be to be recycled as a blackbird!

A Hampstead blackbird

I decided to pop over to the other side of the village and have a look at the churchyard. The church itself is the Parish Church of St John at Hampstead, although I note from the website that it wasn’t initially clear which St John was intended – it was only in 1917 that it was declared that it was the St John the Evangelist. The current church was consecrated in 1747, although there have been religious buildings on the site right back to 986.

The Church of St John in Hampstead

As you might have expected by now, I was drawn to the churchyards. There is one around the church itself, and a second one across the road.

The churchyard around St Johns

I was not exactly dressed for muddy paths and bird watching, what with my bright red coat and boots and all, but I slithered around nonetheless. There is an atmosphere of melancholy under those dark, ancient trees, and sitting on a bench right in the middle of the churchyard was a young man, deep in thought. How these places support us when we need peace and solitude! I sneaked past as quietly and unobtrusively as I could and noticed how the robins have suddenly started singing, just in this past few days. How sensitive their clock is to the length of days.

Around the side of the church, a tombstone had split and weeds were growing in the cracks, a metaphor for life’s persistence and resilience if ever one was handed to me.

And then I headed off across the road, to the ‘overflow’ graveyard that was opened in 1812.

The place was full of birds. Robins sang from the gravestones and, as I nearly went flat on my bum under an alder tree, a gang of long-tailed tits came along to have a good laugh.


A long-tailed tit, no doubt laughing his head off

There was a small flock of redwings in the yew tree, and when one flew out to perch nearby, I was able to capture this candidate for Wildlife Photographer of the Year (not)


Redwing! Honestly!

I found this exquisitely beautiful tomb, with an angel kissing the forehead of a small child. It is the last resting place of Eve Hammersley, who lived locally and died in 1902.


I found a gorse bush in full flower, and noticed for the first time how the petals at the base of the bloom have a little hole in them, like a jawbone.


And, in addition to the long-tailed tits (who aren’t really tits) there were blue tits and great tits, which are.

And so, as the rain started, I turned and headed for home. There are lots of interesting graves here: Hugh Gaitskill and Peter Cook are among the luminaries buried amidst the yew trees and the moss. And yet, as always, it’s the life that intrigues me and lifts my spirits in a cemetery, not the death. The call of birds and the bursting forth of new green life always reminds me that there are other cycles beside our day-to-day artificial bustle of Christmas and New Year, accounting year-ends and sales. For the birds, and for the plants, spring has already put a twinkle in their eye. If we stop and breathe and listen, it will do the same for all of us.



A pathway in the second churchyard