Saturday, 10 July 2010

Fairy whispers and chasing dragons

The weatherman had promised cloud after a week of pure blue skies and soaring temperatures. But he was wrong. The sky was clear and the air had the delicious taste of a morning's clarity before it thickens to hang heavy with the sun's heat.

Always at this time of year I hope to see Hobbies on my travels. Those dashing little falcons like miniature peregrines with every edge honed to sharpness. So my first port of call was the old schoolhouse to scan the familiar territory of the resident pair. However there was no sign of them, either on their favourite perches or in the empty sky. I stayed for over an hour and, as the sun worked her magic, the temperature began to rise and the air began to hum and buzz with the busyness of insects. The horizon became a shimmering, ephemeral thing and looking for distant Hobbies through the heat haze was like trying to see through a pane of glass running with the heavyest of heavy rain. The air thickened, as I'd known it would, and took on the heat of those near forgotten dream Summers of my childhood.

As I went down the track that leads back down to the farmhouse the bushes to the sides were moving. Each twig and leaf it seemed was a perch for a smiling, bejewelled, yellow dragon and my passing put them to the air. Their glasslike wings whirred and clattered, maneuvering them to perceived safety on a branch perhaps a foot or so away from their first position. Benign to us but snatching death to their small insect prey, these grinning beauties are superb fliers, twisting, turning, banking and hovering with perfect precision. But even such mastery cannot always save them. The Hobbies that fly here hunt these hunters, grabbing them in swift talons and deftly removing their leaded glass wings before offering them up to the sharp and decisive beak to be devoured in flight with barely an interruption. The yellow dragons (Common Darters) are the most numerous dragonflies on the reserve but there are others there too. Azure damselflies with their needle thin bodies glowing in blue as bright as Chinese turquoise, and delicate, irridescent, green/blue Banded Demoiselles with their distinctive black wingspots always seeking the bottle green and spotless females. And the larger Black-Tailed skimmer, dusky blue and impressive but they are all dwarfed by the massive Migrant Hawker.


Common Darter


Azure Damselfly


Banded Demoiselle


Black-Tailed Skimmer


Migrant Hawker

The heat brought other creatures to the brambles, nettles and thistles; A huge hatch of meadow brown butterflies in even greater profusion than the dragonflies. Understated, velvet-winged and beautiful they adorned the undergrowth in their thousands. As I walked by they lifted and fluttered all around me and I was surrounded by a cloud of Summer with wings as soft as the whispers of fairy secrets. Moving on, the cloud of butterflies seemed to move along with me as some settled and others took their places in the dance. There is only one way to describe encounters like this; Pure Magic.


Meadow Browns

Enchanted by the meadow browns and heady with the Summer I sought out other butterflies and was rewarded with a glorious Small Tortoiseshell basking in the sun. His bright colours shone like sweets in a glass jar against the grey stone gravel of the path. A Large White was busy among the brambles and nettles by the path. As she fluttered from one bramble to another it was almost as if one of the pure white blooms of the bramble itself had taken to flight. And finally atop a giant thistle, a comma, ragged edged wings radiant in burnished copper, he drank nectar with his elegantly caligraphic tongue.


Small Tortoiseshell


Large White


Comma

The Hobbies never did show, but it didn't matter because, like the butterflies, I had tasted the sweet nectar of Summer and, anyway, I knew that they were out there somewhere in the vast open sky...Chasing dragons.


High Summer Hobby

5 comments:

PG said...

What a beautiful posting! I am trying very hard not to be too jealous of your photos...they are superb! And, of course, the artwork of the Hobby, we don't have them out our way. It does feel like a proper summer, just as you described, I ate some wild strawberries today and they tasted just like the Bazooka Joe bubblegum I remember from 1976 - with that and the heat, I felt 9 years old again (very briefly!)

Mike Woodcock said...

I remember Bazooka Joe, with the little comic strip inside!
Back in the days of real Summers when we had nothing better to do than to lie on our backs in long, dry grass and watch kestrels and skylarks, and all we had to worry about was getting home in time for tea...

Jo said...

Delightful post Mike. I don't remember summers lying in the grass, guess its too long ago for me LOL.

I don't remember a white butterfly like that one, very pretty.

Chrissy said...

Hi Mike, lovely photo's especially of the migrant hawker...how did you get it to keep still? lol.
They are a bit of a challenge...
and there sure are a lot of meadow browns in that photo.
I went in search of white admiral butterflies and found a great place for dragons, seems like something different very time I go..
Superb hobby painting...

Mike Woodcock said...

Thanks Chrissy.

I don't know who it was that said; 'If you want to see something new every day then walk the same path.'
But it's certainly true.