A taste of summer

Another dip into the archives…

14 July 2007. Summer sunshine has been in short supply so far this year. Fortunately, today’s quota was above average, and I made the most of it by getting out with my camera.

Fields and meadows are great places to be when the sun is shining. A local landowner manages one of his fields under the Countryside Stewardship scheme, leaving it ungrazed in the summer so that the grasses and wildflowers can grow. This makes it a haven for wildlife.

As soon as I set foot in the field I could see meadow brown butterflies fluttering about, and more took to the wing as I walked through the grass (see photo above; click to view on Flickr). Other, smaller insects were also disturbed. Every move of my feet prompted an explosion of grasshoppers, bursting into the air like miniature rockets. High above me the air was filled with the joyous singing of skylarks, while a little further away a buzzard was mewing. Later I would see and hear three of these magnificent birds of prey as they soared through the sky, calling to each other.

I headed for a small patch of land which I know as The Orchard. I found the trees there heavy with apples, pears and greengages. The fruit was not yet ripe and ready to eat, but it was not the fruit which had drawn me to this spot. I had come in search of the butterflies who flew amongst the tall grasses and fed on the bramble and thistle flowers.

A few weeks before I had photographed large skippers and meadow browns here. Now, while the meadow browns remained and had been joined by their cousins the gatekeepers (or hedge browns), the large skippers had been replaced by their diminutive relatives, the small skippers (see photo below; click to view on Flickr).

There was a badger sett here too. The trampled grass and the fresh, sandy earth at the tunnel entrances showed that the sett was active. Then I caught sight of what at first glance appeared to be a new patch or freshly excavated sandy soil. However I soon realised that the amber colour was not earth but fur – a fox was looking over his or her shoulders (I shall go with ‘her’) to see what had disturbed her. She stared for quite some time and never quite figured me out, but finally decided to err on the side of caution and melted away into the long grass. What a beautiful sight!

The gatekeeper (see photo above; click to view on Flickr) is one of my favourite summer butterflies and I wanted to get a few good photographs of some of those who were sunning themselves on various vantage points within The Orchard. This did not prove to be an easy task! Like the meadow browns, the gatekeepers were very alert and almost always flew away on my approach. A gatekeeper feeding on a thistle flower looked to be a likely target, but as I closed in I was suddenly distracted by another butterfly close by – a marbled white.

Although ‘white’ by name, and partially white in colour, the marbled white is in fact a member of the brown family of butterflies. Furthermore, they are rather scarce around these parts. This chequerboard-patterned butterfly always reminds me of family holidays in Dorset in the late 1970s. We would see scores of marbled whites along with various species of brown, blue, skipper and fritillary butterflies (plus orchids, slow-worms and adders) in the wildflower-rich downland of Durlston Country Park near Swanage. It was therefore a real treat to see a marbled white so close to home. (The one pictured above was photographed at Draycote Meadows in 2009; click to view on Flickr.)

Then I resumed my quest for the gatekeeper, and eventually my persistence was rewarded. Finally, it was time to head for home. Before I left, I looked back across the patchwork of rolling fields, hedgerows and woodlands so characteristic of this part of West Northants. It had been a memorable afternoon.

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