Posted by: Ross Gardner | July 4, 2011

Time and Place

Sometimes you just pick the right time to visit a place.  Not only in terms of the things you see there, but in the wider sense of how you feel when you are there; that air of complete contentment with your surroundings.  For me, often I feel at my most content with the throng of nature going on around me, but even so, there are those times when you think: “yes, good choice”.

I found myself  walking the grassy slopes and flat grazing marsh of the Hadleigh Castle Country Park over the weekend.  This is somewhere I know so very well.  I grew up with the place practically on my doorstep.  It is somewhere that unsurprisingly features heavily in my book: ‘Never a Dull Moment‘.  It is a wonderul place, which I and anyone else who walks there is lucky to have.

Essex Skipper (Thymelicus lineola). Copyright 2011 Ross Gardner)

On this occasion things were no different.  The area has its rarities, some of which I would see on my walk, but it was some of the others, the mainstays of the place that first caused by pace to slow, or even stop altogether, to allow my eyes to do them justice.  Nothing more perhaps, than the rich yellow of bird’s-foot trefoil, scattered thickly across the close-cropped areas of sward.  A yellow that gleamed in the sun, to the delight of the numerous Red-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius) busy among the blooms.  Red-bartsia (Odonites vernus) covered considerable swathes of the open ground that sloped among the scrub, bearing a profusion of rather more reserved, pink flowers, so doted over by the many species of nectar hungry insects.  And where they grew taller, even the grasses themselves.  Wearied and yellowed by the sun, they were reinvigorated by the Small and Essex Skippers (Thymelicus sylvestris and T. lineola), Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) and Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus) that buzzed and flitted among them.

Down on the grazing marsh, one of the main attractions to the naturalist are the dykes that snake their way across the flat grassland.  From May through to October, there will always be a dragonfly on the wing.   Positioning myself along the curve of a tightish bend along one of the ditches, their presence on this occasion was in the shape of a couple Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) females and a handsome, yellow and black marked Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum) female.  The weed-filled water also harboured many a damselfly too.  Plenty of Blue-tailed (Ischnura elegans) and a good number of Scarce Emerald (Lestes dryas).  The latter is most certainly one Britain’s rarer Odonata and which here seems to occur in numbers at least as good as the nationally common Emerald Damselfly (L. sponsa).

Scarce Emerlad Damselfly (Lestes dryas). Copyright 2011 Ross Gardner.

These dykes draw in plenty more than dragonflies.  A movent at the corner of the eye drew my attention towards a Short-winged Conehead (Conocephalus dorsalis), a bush-cricket of damp habitats and brilliantly camouflaged among the club-rushes and sedges that edged the banks.  Such a gangly demeanour defies the abilities of a creature that can clamber deflty among the foliage of its home.  Beneath the distant song of skylark, drifting lazily along the warm breeze, the place was buzzing.  One buzz in particular caught my ear.  On that had the volume of a bumblebee, but more high pitched than might be expected.  I knew what it was straight away, as I had been hearing this on occasion at Meadowfield, where I work.  I soon located the Shrill Carder Bee (Bombus sylvarum) that takes its name from the qualities of its buzzing.  It was a queen, nectaring on Meadow Vetchling (Lathyrus pratensis), a plant that is evidently much favoured by the queens.  This is one the rarest insects in the whole country and one which is happily very much at home on the Park.

I spent almost as much time along this one weedy ditch as I did walking to and from it.  All the while I was accompanied by the hum of grasshoppers, the lovely, chequer-board markings of the Marbled White (Melanargia galathea), skipping frustratingly (from a photography point of view!) about the abundant Bramble blossom and the occasional music among the bushes, of birds that remembered the spring and welcomed the delights of the summer.

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