Tuesday 2 July 2013

The first day of Summer

I had wondered if we would see anything of Summer in June this year following the endless, wet, grey ‘Spring’. But on the very last day of June the Summer began. I was off out to Elmley early to make the most of it. My Mother has been in hospital for the last three weeks, (thankfully she is back at home now), so I have not been able to go out on my usual trip and I needed to reconnect with the wide open spaces and the wildlife that lives there. It really is good for the soul and a great help as an antidote to the stress that comes with a loved one who is unwell.

One thing always striking on the marshes is the sky, it is a big sky. One that runs uninterrupted overhead, a massive dome of the endless. In the clean blue of a Summer’s day the sky dazzles and makes you giddy with a kind of inverse vertigo as you turn your face to the breathtaking space above.

The wide, blue sky

The long awaited warmth has brought the marshes to life with insects and butterflies. Small tortoiseshells are everywhere, there are six visible in this photo.

 Six Small Tortoiseshells

I count myself lucky to be able to see sights like this because, contrary to appearances, these beautiful butterflies, like so many others, have suffered a huge and worrying decline in recent years. When photographing butterflies I find myself utterly focused on the beguiling beauty of the star of the show and it is not until later, when I review the pictures, that I often discover a supporting cast of creatures, equally interesting but not always as showy as the velvet winged wonders at centre stage.
The first photo here has a buff-tailed bumble bee busying itself on a thistle bloom and in the second is a hoverfly. Of course Small tortoiseshells were not the only butterflies about, there were Whites, Meadow Browns and Common Blues too.

Buff Tailed Bumblebee


The Summer sun has also brought other creatures out of hiding, cold blooded ones that need the sun’s rays to warm them and make them active. I saw this shining copper and bronze beauty crossing the track, taking extra warmth from the heated stones. When I was a young boy slow worms were plentiful and I would regularly catch them and release them just for the fun of doing so.  I once took one home and secreted it in a drawer in my bedroom. I suppose I should have realised that it would simply climb out and make its escape but I was young and that the poor creature would even think of doing such a thing didn’t even occur to me. I first knew  that this one had done just that when my Mum, who is not a big fan of reptiles, came hurtling down the hallway the following morning shouting about a snake that she had found snuggled up under her dressing gown on the chair beside her bed... Sorry Mum.

Slow worm

These days, on the rare occasions when I do see slow worms, I prefer just to watch and photograph them while they go about their business undisturbed. Besides which, I have discovered that I’m not as quick as I used to be but the slow worms are still just as fast. Although this one was obvious on the grey stone of the track, once he wriggled into the grass it was easy to see just how effective his camouflage was.

How a Slow worm disappears

Close inspection of the grass stems revealed yet more beauty in the shape of Damselflies. I’m afraid that my ID skills are limited when it comes to these fine insects so if anybody out there with greater knowledge than I would care to tell me what I have here I would be grateful. Whatever they are, they are certainly beautiful and elegant and great fun to discover. The Damselfly’s bigger cousins, Dragonflies, have been scarcer this year too although there are some about if you look hard enough.

For all the distractions of insects and reptiles I go to Elmley primarily for the birdlife and I decided to stop on a spot on the seawall where I had a view over the marsh and I could find a subject for sketching. The sun was so hot that I had to put my scrim net scarf over my head to protect the back of my neck from burning. This had the added benefit of helping to keep some of the mossies away too but, as you can see from this photo by my friend Andy, it didn’t look too glamorous!

The fashion choices of a discerning wildlife artist!

The next photo here shows the scene in front of me and I have circled the position of a lone Oystercatcher that was snoozing quietly in the sun. Through the scope I had quite a good view so I settled in to sketch and to paint. I decided to use watercolours for the first time in ages and this is the result. I think I probably need more practice! Oh well, that should give me a good excuse to go out next week!

Oystercatcher at Elmley 30/6/13


Jo said...

I couldn't see it in the photograph. Not too fond of insects I'm afraid. Never have seen a slow worm but I did almost step on an adder once when I was a child.

Mike Woodcock said...

It was a long way off! There is a tiny white dot in the centre of the circle but it's not recognisable as an Oystercatcher. I almost sat on an adder a couple of years ago; Now that could have ended badly for both of us!

Jo said...

Did I ever send you the story of the Australian guy who sat on a plastic chair? You nearly sitting on an adder made me think of it.

Sue Clinker said...

According to the BBC we will get a Summer - starting on Thursday and lasting for a few days!!!!!

Pleased to hear your Mum is recovering. I know from experience how stressful it is having an 'older family member' in hospital or even at home with carers. Glad you were able to get out and recharge the batteries