On a wing and a prayer
The Swifts were screaming overhead, giving me their early morning fly by, as I set off on my walk with Scamp. Once at the park, I couldn’t resist stopping for a while by Henbury Pond to watch the damselflies and look out for dragonflies. The pond is looking very pretty right now, as the lily pads have unfurled completely, and the stunning white flowers are in bloom.
All around this area are the damselflies. We seem to have more of the brilliant Azure Blue Damselfly this year than the Common Blue, for some reason. Drifting gently through the shimmering air, darting swiftly at prey, resting and warming themselves on ferns and leaves. Don’t they look glorious? They form little clouds of brilliant needles glittering in the sunlight. Some of them are in pairs, which is great news as it means we will see more of them next year. One came to rest on a pond lily’s leaf, the sun shining through it so that I could still see the dragonfly’s silhouette, its head peeping up above the leaf. It reminded me of a swimmer resting their elbows on the edge of the pool and taking in the sights.
The Parakeets were active overhead, calling to one another and flying this way and that. I counted four flying into a favourite set of trees.
A Speckled Wood just danced in front of me in the dappled sunlight of a tree. Over by the brambles next to the meadow area I saw large numbers of Meadow Browns. Where long, coarse grass grows alongside bramble, the Meadow Brown will always be found, its dull brown body catching the eye thanks to the flash of orange on its upper wing. It is usually found alongside Ringlets and Gatekeepers (Highbury has both of these species, although this year I am yet to see a Gatekeeper) and tends to be the more abundant species of the three. Interestingly, it is the male that tends to have a smaller orange patch than the female, though he is a darker, richer brown to make up for it. The one I photographed is a male – hard to tell from seeing the underside of the wing, so you’ll have to take my word for it when I saw the topside of the wings.
Beside these larger butterflies flitted tiny beams of orange that are the Large Skippers. I also saw what I believe was a Small Skipper on the grasses, but couldn’t confirm because I couldn’t zoom my camera in to see it close up before it moved on. As each day passes the umbers of Ringlets, Meadow Browns, and Skippers seem to increase, which is a lovely thing to see.
I walked through the Italian Gardens next, listening to the gentle buzz in differing tones, from bass to falsetto, and saw the wide variety of honey, solitary and bumble bees mixing with the mimics and hoverflys. The whole place was crawling with busy insects bent on feeding, collecting, and pollinating. The place was a suntrap and soon I became unbearably warm and had to move on, as even the shade felt like an oven. As I stepped out and into the relative coolness of the evergreens, I heard a contact call. It was a juvenile Great Tit. From a distance, I surreptitiously took snap after snap of it, and several times it seemed to look at me and pose, though it stayed in place. After a few moments, I walked away, wary of staying too long.
I was just walking back through the park, starting to wilt in the heat, nearing the exit and squinting into the sunlight not expecting to see anything, when suddenly there was a glint in the sunlight of a dragonfly! I can’t tell you what kind of dragonfly, apart from that judging from its shape it was either a hawker or darter. It was out over the open, short grass before going into the trees, so could be either, and thanks to the fact I was looking into the sun I couldn’t see any colours or even make out its size properly before it disappeared.
For several minutes I stayed, gazing hopefully around me. The sun was getting hotter though and it was time for me to get Scamp home, but it was with a heavy heart that I left the park…casting frequent hopeful glances over my shoulder as I went… The Swallows overhead comforted me, calling down their sorrow as they sped by.