• Barbara Copperthwaite

The silence of summer

Moulting Mallard, Barbara Copperthwaite, Go Be Wild

It was a strangely silent morning in Highbury Park. The only birds I heard were the Magpies giving their little call to one another, and a Blackbird gave its tick tick tick call as it hopped across the grass, feeding. I can only assume the silence heralds the start of the moult. At this time of year adults shed their old feathers and grow new ones. Rather than wasting energy on singing, they hide away, looking rather dishevelled, until they are ready to emerge fully clothed again. Above me, the Swifts screamed as they flew past several times, as if to tell me that they are still calling, even if the other birds are in hiding.

The easiest way to see evidence of the impact of moulting is to check out Mallards. As I mentioned in the Wild Times section this month, it can look as though there are large flocks of females gathering together. But if you look closely, you will see that actually there are males in the group too, though they have currently lost their distinctive iridescent feathers around their head, and instead look distinctly drab. Never fear, they will soon get their finery back. For now though, if you want to tell them apart from females, have a look at their beaks: males have yellower beaks than females.

As I walked on yesterday morning though, I felt like my only real company was the leaves in the trees, stirred occasionally by the slightest breeze. And, of course, Scamp was with me every step of the way. As I looked for butterflies, I couldn’t resist eating a wild raspberry. They are just ripening and looked mouth-watering – but I can confirm they are still a little tart right now!

By afternoon, things had livened up though. Late afternoon is the best time to see Skippers, so I headed to the meadow area, where the long grasses have been flattened here and there by the rain of recent days. Skippers spend most of the day patrolling their area looking for mates, and also feeding on the flowers of brambles and thistles, while occasionally resting to bask in the sunshine. By late afternoon, they will settle on a perch for long periods of time. They choose long grasses in sunny spots to sit on, and any intruder Skippers entering the area are sent packing immediately. Look out for tiny shards of orange hidden among the green and you are bound to spot a Skipper. I got a couple of nice shots as the butterflies posed for me.

It can be difficult when out and about to know the difference between Small and Large Skippers at first. Despite the name, there really isn’t much difference in size (Small are about 2.5-3cm, while Large are 3-3.5cm). The way I remember the difference is that Large Skippers have a much larger black pattern on their wings, while Small Skippers have a neater, smaller black border. These two photographs, both of males, illustrate the difference clearly. Incidentally, I know both are males because of the black stripe across the idle of both their wings; this is a scent stripe, full of pheromones to help attract females.

I hope the photos help you!

#magpie #blackbird #swift #mallards #largeskipperbutterfly #smallskipper #highburypark #kingsheath

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