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!

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