Sunday, 31 July 2011

The Butterflies of Essex

Since returning to adland last month and commuting daily to London I've been craving nature - in any way I can get it.  One of the books I read in the first few weeks back at work inspired me to go butterflying.  The Butterfly Isles is a delightful book about one man's quest to spot all 59 of Britain's butterflies in one year.  He fits this this in around a full-time non-nature job.  I was entranced throughout.

The first opportunity I had to go was a few weeks ago when Joel and I took a trip to Thorndon Country Park (see previous post); then I took myself off to West Canvey Marsh one sunny afternoon.  My impromtu decision to go there was rewarded immediately when I spotted a Marbled White as soon as I left the car park.  This was the first time I had seen one of these so was really pleased.  I was, in fact, to see several of them over the course of the next two hours.  Whilst walking through the first meadow the noise of the insects was incredible - giving the adjacent busy road some serious competition.  I stopped at the first bird hide but there wasn't much to see - only a heron in the distance, a fishing cormorant, a lapwing or two and several black-headed gulls.

So, I focused my attentions on the butterflies.  I saw several Essex Skippers, notable by their similarity to Small Skippers but with black tipped antennae rather than orange.

Essex Skipper
Several dragonflies were flying around, including a few large Emperors.  Then I came across a dragonfly perched on a bush at the side of the footpath: A Common Darter.

Common Darter

The ubiquitous Gatekeeper was all around - with some really fresh, beautiful specimens showing well:


There were several Marbled Whites feeding on thistle throughout the reserve:

Marbled White

I stopped at the next bird hide along the route to have my lunch.  I ate whilst watching the heron in the distance.  It was fishing - slowly stalking and then thrusting its neck forward and coming back up with a fish in its beak.  I was just about to move on when I spotted another heron right in front of the hide.  This bird was fishing as well and I became a bit snap-happy!  I also spotted a coot, a little grebe and an egret flying overhead.

Grey Heron

I spotted several more butteflies including a Comma and a Red Admiral:

Red Admiral
 West Canvey Marshes is a relatively new site managed by the RSPB and it is closely linked to the SSSI Canvey Wick - one of the next places I must visit soon!

West Canvey Marshes

Today, Joel and I took a trip to Northlands Wood, part of Langdon Hills Country Park in Basildon.  Aside from enjoying the walk on a lovey sunny Sunday, I wanted to survey for butterflies for the Big Butterfly Count.  The course of walk took us through woodland, meadows, paths between grassy fields and hedgerows.  It was really lovely and we chalked up the following sightings:

Gatekeeper - 39
Whites - 23 (Lumped together because I am not yet able to differentiate between them!)
Speckled Wood - 15
Meadow Brown - 27
Peacock - 1
Ringlet - 2
Skippers - 3 (either Small or Essex)
Six-Spot Burnet Moth - 2

I purposely didn't take my camera - which I am pleased to about as I would still have been there until dusk!

Saturday, 16 July 2011

*** B R E A K I N G N E W S ***

July's news is as follows:

** Exams all passed!!! **

** Got involved with the draft of the Danbury Ridge Living Landscapes document **

** Found 4 dormice during a survey at Norsey Woods **

** First day of decent butterflying at Thorndon Country Park **

** Garden wildlife habitat "maturing" **

** Back in the rat race **

Ok, so they're the headlines.  Clearly I'm delighted to have passed all my exams and I can't wait to get back to college in 9 weeks...!

Whilst waiting for our exam results, Michelle and I got involved in writing a small section of the Living Landscapes document with Essex Wildlife Trust.  We wrote about lotic ecosystems and the importance of protecting such habitats.  It's not been published yet, but once it does I will post a link to it here. 

The next week we went along to help out at Norsey Woods in Billericay with their monthly dormouse survey.  They have a number of boxes throughout the wood and it took about 10 of us 3 hours to check them all.  The very first box that I opened had a dormouse nest so I was delighted, and quite excited by the likelihood of seeing one of these elusive creatures.

Dormouse nest
 Whilst Michelle and I were looking at slow worms in an open area of the woodland some of the other volunteers found a dormouse.  We abandoned the little legless critters and ran towards the nest box.  Sure enough here was the cutest mouse you could ever hope to see (although harvest mice are up there too...)  The picture below does not do him justice.  He was popped into this little bag to be weighed quickly and then he was carefully put back in the box.  We saw another three dormice during the survey.  One of which escaped out of the box as we tried to remove him - ran up my sleeve and jumped off my shoulder into the tree.

The very first dormouse

A couple of weeks later, on a beautiful sunny morning Joel and I set out for a walk in Thorndon Country Park.  We didn't have too much time and we'd never been there before so we thought we'd just have a brisk walk round and then head home.  I didn't count on catching a glimpse of what I believe was a Silver-washed Fritillary.  It was beautiful but just didn't stay around long enough to get a proper view, not did it settle so that we could get a picture!  However, we ended up spending a lot of time standing at the edge of the paths looking into thickets of bramble and nettle at the other species around.   A beautiful female Meadow Brown and a gorgeous chocolatey brown ringlet.

Female Meadow Brown


Trying to keep the garden an attractive place for wildlife whilst what we want to do with it.  So here is a glimpse at our wild flower meadow..... with the recent addition of a new bird table.  Essentially we have just left a strip of flower bed at the side to grow.  We've got some lovely plants: feverfew, wood dock, pink-sorrel, sneezewort, self-heal, red dead nettle, opium poppies and a variety of grasses.  The sparrows are loving the new bird table as well.  Looking out at them now and they've just scattered as Alfie the Jack Russell next door has frightened them off with his barking. 

Our "Wild Flower Meadow"

Sadly, I only get to look at my nature garden now at weekends as I have re-entered the world of work.  Back in HR at another advertising agency for the summer.  Hopefully the money earned here will go some way to funding my continued studies...