© 2014 by Barbara Copperthwaite.

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The Sun Fly

A quick update on the Bee Mimic Fly that I took a photo of during Saturday's wildlife walk (for more information see the blog Wild Walks). I sent it to Alf, the Senior Ranger, as he'd asked me to do, and he identified it as the glorious-sounding Sun Fly. With those wonderful, eye-catching golden stripes on its body, you can understand how it got that name. Alf also told me that the Latin name for it is Helophilus Pendulus, which translates to 'Dangling Marsh Lover'! #beefly #sunfly #highburypark #kingsheath

Wild walks

The sun was shining bright and hot today for Paul Anthony’s wildlife walk around Highbury Park, organised by the Highbury Park Friends group. I always come along to his walks as it is such a great opportunity to learn from someone who knows so much. The park’s Senior Ranger, Alf, came along too, so there was a lot of knowledge packed into this group! We concentrated on butterflies, walking straight over to the meadow area by the car park. And what luck! The hot weather had brought out the first of the Skippers, which I have been anticipating for the last few days. It was so great to see several Large Skippers flying around in their distinctive up and down flight pattern (this is where they g

All that glitters might be litter...

The baby Coots are now getting really big. It won’t be much longer before they are the same size as their parents, but they are much fluffier still. At the moment they are losing that fluff though and gaining their adult feather – though it will be a while before they have the pristine black and white plumage of their parents. I got a picture of one that is losing its fluffy head feathers, but still has some in place; it looks like it has half a pom-pom stuck to its head, and it did make me smile. What is sad though is that I saw the adult Coot still building up the nest – only instead of twigs and leaves, it was carrying over an empty crisp packet. In fact, when I looked closer there were s

Rockin' it!

The Long Pool duck pond seemed a hive of activity today. The Canada Goose goslings are growing fast and looking more like their parents every day, and seemed completely unperturbed by the Grey Heron doing a spot of fishing. And the Moorhens still love to stand on their favourite rock, although now only one at a time can fit on it. I’ve used a picture of them from a few weeks ago, and one taken today so you can see how they have grown! #canadageese #greyheron #moorhen #highburypark #kingsheath

Spit and speckles

The sun wasn’t out much today, but it was very warm and quite muggy, so the Speckled Woods made the most of their chance to bag a nice piece of territory – which for them is a sunny spot. They actually move their territories with the sun as it goes across the sky, rather than having a set spot. And they fiercely defend them – if you see two Speckled Woods swirling around one another like mini tornadoes they are not courting, they are two males fighting. There don’t seem to be as many of these butterflies as last year. In fact, the butterfly count does currently seem down across all species. The cold weather seems to have made them – and many dragonflies – delay maturing into adults. Hopefull

New sights, new ideas

The meadow grasses and plants are so much longer now, and hiding in amongst them was a butterfly that moved almost constantly, staying low among the stalks and only rarely venturing above them. It was the deep, rich brown of dark chocolate, and when it rested momentarily I saw it’s discreet circles and white outline of the wings – it was my first Ringlet spot of the year. I haven’t seen any Skippers yet, but I’m not concerned as it was a few days further into the month last year that I first saw them. But they should be appearing any day now, and for me they always herald the start of high summer. This meadowland section of the park was one of the subjects of discussion during a meeting I at

Glittering air

(continued) After my Swift encounter, I didn’t think my visit to Essex could get any better. Still, I plunged into the Roman River Valley site, which is run by Essex Wildlife Trust, and drank in the tranquil sights and sounds. Bees hummed gently, the air was full of the sound of various birdsong, and the sun beat down deliciously. Along the pathway I went, until I reached the river. It is a medium-flowing river, clean and clear, and often surrounded by reeds, nettles and brambles on the banks. Perched high on these was what I sought: Beautiful Demoiselles. In fact, I had never seen so many of this damselfly in one place. The air seemed to glitter as they flew, or twitched their wings while t

A hard act to Swallow

(continued) The drama of the Skylark and the Kestrel over, I continued my wanderings. I’d been hoping to see some Skipper butterflies (they love the meadowland at Gosbecks Archaeological Park in Essex) but it’s still a little early for them, so I walked out of the park and into the fields surrounding it, on my way to the Roman River Valley nature reserve run by Essex Wildlife Trust. Insects galore hung in the air over the narrow path, wedged as it is between long grass on one side and a large hedge on the other. Making the most of the corridor of the flying larder were the Swifts. As Scamp and I walked along Swifts came at us from behind and in front, skimming along at hip height, banking ar

The lark ascending

I’ve come over to Colchester for a few days to visit friends, do some work for my second novel, and revisit some favourite nature haunts from when I lived here. As soon as I arrived, I stopped at Gosbecks Archaeological Park. It’s a lovely spot, and brilliantly managed, with the meadowland allowed to thrive while human (and dog) visitors wander through wide avenues mown here and there. It’s called an archaeological park because it is a site of particular historical significance. This park is where Colchester was founded, with evidence of residence dating back to Bronze Age. It is where ancient kings of Briton surrendered to the Romans, and where our Italian conquerors built a religious templ

Flights of fancy

There is something magical about watching damselflies flying over a pond. They are so delicate that in flight they are often just needles of glimmering light in the sunshine, there one second, gone the next. They are not such strong flyers as dragonflies, but there is such grace to their fragile beauty. As the numbers of Large Reds and Common Blues increase, they seem almost like clouds of shimmering colour darting in and out of the fronds of grasses on the edge of Henbury Pond. Adults only live for a couple of weeks, so they must make the most of this brief window to mate, and I was lucky enough to see several doing just that. The male grasps the female’s neck and the two will often fly lik

And relax...

Before Scamp and I went to the park yesterday, we had a wander around the monthly farmers’ market in King’s Heath. It’s a lovely place to pick up locally-produced food, from vegetables to freshly-baked bread, from cheese to chocolate. My personal favourite is the honey – it is taken from the hives in Highbury Park, and taste absolutely wonderful. It is the best honey I have ever tasted (I really mean that!) and it is such a lovely thought that I have seen these bees, photographed them often, and am now helping to support their upkeep by buying the produce. Why am I writing about this in a wildlife blog? Well, apart from the fact, as mentioned, that I see these bees all the time in the park a

Blue for a boy

It’s a rare thing in nature-watching to set yourself a challenge and immediately be successful. Yesterday I had set out determined to see a male Broad-Bodied Chaser… It was about 10am by the time I finally stepped out of my front door. I was rewarded with my first proper Swift greeting of the year, as a small group swept past me overhead whilst crying out in delight. They almost seemed to say: “Coo-ee! See how fast we can go!” With a start like that, it definitely felt like the first real summer’s day of the year. It was already hot, too. Although we’ve had warm days, often in the shade it has felt cold, but today the air was hot and dry, with real heat to it even in the shade. In the park,

Flying sunshine

The warm air was full of birdsong, a Robin’s crystal clear call dominating them all. As I moved along, a couple of Wood Pigeons were scared up, their wings making that familiar noise as they gained height, the tips of their wing feathers lit up almost transparent as they briefly passed above me in the sunshine. But I wasn’t looking at the Wood Pigeons, I wasn’t listening to the beautiful call of birds, I wasn’t even taking any notice of the different honeybees, bumblebees and solitary bees that were buzzing round me. I only had eyes for the air above Henbury Pond. I was looking to see if I’d spot more than one Large Red Damselfly today. The first thing I saw? A horizontal glint of pale blue.

A flash of red...

Woo-hoo! Yesterday I saw my first damselfly of the year on Henbury Pond! I’ve been scanning the air over the water, and the surrounding foliage every day for the past month now, eagerly awaiting an appearance by these gorgeous insects. Then, today, I spotted a needle-like glint of red in the sunlight. It was there for a second, then gone, tantillising me. There it was again! This time I managed to follow it as it went down to rest on some leaves floating on the pond’s surface. The Large Red Damselfly is common and widespread, and normally the first of the year to make an appearance, so it was no surprise that it should be the first I spot on Henbury Pond. I was desperate to get another first

Calm after the storm

Above me were eight or so Swifts, and I paused to enjoy their display. Their silhouette stood out against the brilliant blue of the sky, and I was really able to appreciate the lovely crescent shape of their wings in flight – the perfect aerodynamic shape to cut through the air. They made no sound as they wheeled; a shame because, as you know, I love their noisy, shrieking clamour. They made the most of the gentle breeze, so different from the high winds of the previous night. As the wind had howled and temperatures plummeted to such a degree that I lit a fire in my woodburner, I had fretted about my wild friends. Would everything survive? But this morning I felt relief as I walked round the

Farewell Poppy

There was a wildlife walk around Highbury Park on Saturday, led by Paul Anthony and run by Highbury Park Friends. We got lucky with the Ring-Necked Parakeets. As we walked down the main path from the car park, we heard rather than saw one fly into a Horse Chestnut, and finally spotted an adult hiding in plain sight amongst the bright green foliage. It stayed there for quite sometime, giving a contact call every now and again. On Henbury Pond a Moorhen was finally making use of the nest that was built then rapidly abandoned weeks ago, presumably after an abortive attempt to sit on eggs. It had added some extra leaves and branches, and seemed very content to be sitting there watching the world