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ShareMondays2020 – Spotting The Spotted

Silver-spotted skipper on hemp-agrimony

ShareMondays2020 – Spotting The Spotted

A breezy hour spent on a small patch of grassland on Box Hill looking for silver-spotted skippers last Thursday was definitely time well spent! One of the plentiful grasses on the hillside is sheep’s fescue, which is the sole food plant of the silver-spotted skippers’ caterpillars. It is also a food plant of meadow brown, gatekeeper and small heath caterpillars, all of which are numerous on the hillside!

Small Heath

I also saw a number of six-spotted burnet moths and I couldn’t resist them! They’re one of over a hundred day-flying moths in the UK, many of these are micro moths and I struggle to name them. Burnets are so recognisable and, like me, are attracted to the colour purple! It’s a good thing that the hillside is a patchwork of purples still.

Look closely for the tiny crab spider on this macro image!
Knapweed is a wonderful wildflower for many pollinators and the burnet moths love it!

I spotted at least six silver-spotted skippers on the hillside which is the most I’ve ever seen in one visit! When they’re perched up on a flower or grass stem they’re pretty easy to find with those white spots against the gold wings. It’s a different story when they’re basking on the ground! They really do blend into the habitat well.

Spot the skipper!

One of the skippers had a close call with a crab spider that was blending into it’s own surroundings on a knapweed flower! I probably wouldn’t have seen the spider if the skipper hadn’t lifted off so suddenly. They’re ambush predators and cleverly disguise themselves while they wait for a potential meal.

A near miss!

I would have loved to have captured a perfect shot of a silver-spotted skipper on field scabious. What a perfect combination! Unfortunately it was so breezy the butterflies were having a hard time staying on top of the delicate blooms. The closest I got to my ideal image was this one below, which I am being picky about as there’s a shadow falling across the skipper from another stem. Still a beautiful sight though and I can aspire to capturing my perfect shot one day in the future as we continue to protect this precious habitat and the treasures that live there.

Silver-spotted skipper on field scabious
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ShareMondays2020 – The Skipper And The Copper

The Skipper and the Copper

ShareMondays2020 – The Skipper And The Copper

What a joyous few days spent amongst the butterflies last week! It started with a first for the camera with this stunning white admiral in the woodlands of Bookham Commons. The commons have the ideal habitat with dappled shade, bramble blossom that adults sip nectar from, and honeysuckle where they will lay their eggs.

White Admiral in woodland

The chalk slopes of the Surrey Hills AONB have the ideal grass and scrub for meadow butterflies like the small, large and Essex skippers that I saw. I stayed away from the hundreds of people heading for the top of Box Hill and took Simon over to Denbies Hillside, near Ranmore Common. Such fabulous views across to Leith Hill, down to Dorking and views up The Pilgrims Ways toward Guildford.

Essex Skipper

The marbled whites emerge, en masse, and are drawn to purple flowers to feed from. They are stunning and ethereal, the spirits, or sylphs of the hillside.

SylphMarbled WhiteMarbled White

There were only a few people out at these National Trust managed sites and I was so relieved to be able to get outside again safely! I can’t resist leading with my image of the chance meeting of the Essex Skipper and Small Copper on the grass seeds. They stopped briefly, at a safe social distance, greeted one another and then took flight again.

 

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ShareMondays2020 – Skipping Through The Meadows

Small Skipper

ShareMondays2020 – Skipping Through The Meadows

I ventured out of the house for the first time since March 22nd last Friday! I’m still shielding, but we have been advised that we can go outside once a day, for health benefits, as long as we follow strict social distancing. It was so nerve-wracking, but the wildlife at the Heather Farm Wetlands area welcomed me back with what felt like a huge hug to the senses. The sights, sounds, scents, space and the feel of the breeze was just the therapeutic boost I needed. It’s peaceful in the wetlands, with only a few visitors, who were all keeping a good distance. I felt safe and that was really important!

Skipper and Flower Beetles

I didn’t have to go far before seeing skippers flitting about all around me among the grasses. It was magic! A mix of both small and Essex skippers were so abundant in this perfect habitat. One obliging small skipper allowed me to get close-up with the macro lens and I hope this shows you why I just adore them. So fluffy, with the most enormous eyes! They were adorning the thistles along with thick-legged flower beetles, spiders and froghoppers (the larvae produce cuckoo spit!). See if you can spot them!

Skipper on Thistle

Grasses are so important to skippers! Small skipper larvae usually feed on Yorkshire-fog grass, and Essex skipper larvae will usually be found on Cock’s-foot grass. Both species will also use Timothy, False Brome, Meadow Foxtail and Creeping Soft grass. Aren’t they just the most wonderful names? Both the Woodland Trust and Wildlife Trusts have great information about grasses and sedges!

Essex Skipper on grasses

It’s really difficult to differentiate between the small and Essex skippers! It’s actually a bit early to be seeing the Essex on the wing, they would usually appear in July. Many of our butterflies have been emerging early this year, after the hot month of May. I am pretty sure that a number of the skippers I saw were the Essex, as a head-on view showed me the black-tipped antennae. The small skipper has an orange-brown tip.

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#FeelGoodPhotoOfTheDay – Skipper

Large Skipper

#FeelGoodPhotoOfTheDay – Skipper

Skipper

Skipping through meadows
Golden sprites alight in sight
Wide-eyed with wonder

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ShareMondays2019 – Sweet Skipper

Small Skipper at Heather Farm

ShareMondays2019 – Sweet Skipper

Heather Farm, a wetlands centre and SANG (Suitable Alternative Green Space) on Horsell Common, was absolutely brimming with butterflies after my return from Kos last week! What an absolute joy to behold. This small skipper was one of the few resting in the shade on a warm and sunny day. The lighting really lent itself to a more muted and soft image of this delightful little butterfly. I felt that it was quite perfect to show off the features of the skipper that I am so drawn to! Those huge eyes and furry face are quite simply adorable. It was very hard to leave our beloved Kos, but I did feel welcomed back by these beautiful butterflies!

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Silent Sunday

Large Skipper

Silent Sunday