Wednesday 9 July 2014

Week 25: Hello Essex & Kestrels Fledge

My life is complete! Well, it is in terms of finding all 3 species of little orange Skipper butterflies on Box Moor Trust land. More than that, I can’t say.

My wanderings this week started with a quick visit on Monday morning to Dellfield. As soon as I opened the car door, I could hear young falcons calling. The first creature to come swooping past me as I entered the meadow was an adult Kestrel. I didn’t catch whether it was the male or female but it was heading for a noisy youngster located high up in the trees in Ryders (the field west of Dellfield). This is exactly the same area I’d seen a pair of Kestrels mating in early May so I guess springtime shenanigans were successful. Anyway, once food had been delivered, the fledgling took a short flight to a more exposed perch, giving me the chance to get a photograph, albeit a rather distant one. It and its fellow offspring (3 in total, I think) were constantly calling for food and attention. The universal plight of new parents!

The view across Dellfield towards Ryders. The line of trees, from left to right, runs along Ryders' border with Dellfield. The Kestrels were initially in the right corner: the trees you can see, if you look between the Oak and its neighbouring Scots Pine.

When it comes to photographing the Oak, I sometimes have an idea of what I’m after. Other times, it’s a case of responding to what’s in front of me. On Monday, it was the latter. Early on, I’d taken a few shots but none that satisfied. As I walked back down from visiting the pond on Preston Hill, the Oak was drenched in shadow and set against the wisps and puffs of a striking cloud formation. I quickly got into place and timed the shot to coincide with the Oak remaining in silhouette whilst the meadow in the background was released into the light. I love how clouds passing over the sun can create such fleeting drama on an otherwise static scene. Blink and you'll miss it.

Now to this week’s life completing experience (compensation perhaps for watching Federer nearly, nearly win...but actually lose in the final on Sunday). Tuesday, I plumped for Bovingdon Brickworks. Butterflies galore! And, within about 10 minutes of arriving, there in front of me, settled on a delicate pink flower, was an Essex Skipper butterfly (Thymelicus lineal) (ref last week's post). They emerge slightly later than Small Skippers (the end of June rather than mid June). Their inky black-tipped antennae being the clinching ID feature. You do have to be a little careful (apparently) as Small Skipper’s antennae can “show very dark brown undertips, whilst others have confusing amounts of black on top of their antennae”. The other quite noticeable feature, especially when comparing the photographs, is the shape of the forewing. The Essex Skipper’s appears to be squarer. The colour also seems to be brighter: a feature noted by Charles Smith but qualified later as perhaps being a result of the later emergence and therefore fresher state of specimens. However, my photographs were taken 9 days apart so perhaps the Essex Skipper truly is a brighter butterfly than the Small Skipper. For a more detailed comparison of Hertfordshire’s Skippers see this excellent webpage.

All 3 orange Skipper species, photographed on Box Moor Trust land

Finally, a few metres beyond the Skipper, I found a Creeping Thistle hosting 5 Common Red Soldier Beetles (Rhagonycha fulva). “Adults feed on aphids, and also eat pollen and nectar. Larvae prey on ground-dwelling invertebrates, such as slugs and snails, and live at the base of long grasses. The adults spend much of their short, summer lives mating and can often be seen in pairs.” The literature doesn’t lie!

POST SCRIPT August 2016 

With time and experience, I am no longer convinced the Skipper photographed above and labelled as Essex Skipper is indeed an Essex Skipper. It could be but a view of the underside of the antenna would be conclusive and I didn't manage that, unfortunately.


Anonymous said...

Congratulations on your find!! Beautiful shots as ever, although I think one should have a PG version attached. A fantastic entry. ARF

Martin Parr said...

Great work Lucy! Have still never found an essex skipper - tho they were found at ML while I was away. An excellent photographic ID guide!!