Monday, 8 July 2019

First appearances

I drew the curtains aside and looked out. The sky was a uniform grey and it seemed, if not chilly, at least rather cool. A solitary bee was working the lavender in the front garden. Not at all promising and I was in two minds whether to go ahead with the walk I had in mind.

As it happened, Chris was driving to Byfield, a journey which would take her past Foxhill Farm. Summoning up my bulldog spirit I decided to go for it. As it turned out, the sun broke through, the temperature rose and I ended up wishing I'd chosen a cooler shirt. First appearances can be misleading. (At one time I regarded Boris Johnson as harmless and rather jolly In a bumbling sort of way.)

So, Foxhill Farm it was, and I was soon rewarded for my raw courage. Sweeping an ash tree near the entrance I caught a Red-legged Shieldbug. Nothing unusual about that for it is a very common insect.

Red-legged Shieldbugs: imago above and nymph below.
Foxhill Farm, 8 July, 2019
But side-by-side in my net was a pair, an adult and a final-stage nymph. My net was folded awkwardly for a photograph but I've done my best. I slipped when clambering over the next gate and came down hard. The air was colourful for a few seconds.

Butterflies are now doing very well, but again there was little variety: no blues and none of the larger nymphalids such as Red Admiral, Peacock or Painted Lady.

Yesterday I was bemoaning the fact that Ringlets would never spread their wings for me. Well, this Meadow Brown, Maniola jurtina, has been more accommodating but the resultant display doesn't have much of a Wow factor.

Meadow Brown. It is brown and lives in meadows. What more can be
said? Foxhill Farm, 8 July, 2019
I did eventually find a Ringlet prepared to spread its wings. Why did I bother? The wings are so featureless that I wasn't even sure at first that it was a Ringlet. (The word 'ringlet, a little ring, I assume refers to the tiny black, white-centred rings on the hind wings.) Both butterflies were abundant, so they are clearly successful.
A Ringlet butterfly in all its glory. Foxhill Farm, Badby, Northants.
8 July, 2019

This skipper was a little more enigmatic, but its size, wing markings and, most
importantly, the black tips to the antennae convince me that it is an Essex Skipper, Thymelicus lineola. It was not recognised as a separate species until 1890 with the examination of specimens from - of course - Essex.

Essex Skipper on the dry seed capsules of Yellow Rattle. Foxhill Farm,
Badby, Northants. 8 July, 2019

This species is by no means confined to Essex and in fact it is widespread, even abundant, over southern England and the midlands, but barely makes it as far north as Yorkshire and Lancashire.

The caterpillars of Ringlet, Meadow Brown and Essex Skipper all feed on grasses.

It took photographs of several other insects but they are of little consequence. I include this one showing the hoverfly Sphaerophoria scripta simply because, though it is common, I cannot recall having photographed one before.

The hoverfly, Sphaerophoria scripta, on bramble blossom.
Foxhill Farm. 8 July, 2019
The compound eyes, more or less meeting in the middle, show that it is a male. In general female Sphaerophorias are impossible to assign with certainty to a species, but both male and female S. scripta bear wings which do not reach the tip of the abdomen. So now you know!

Finally, for no reason whatsoever, I stick in a picture of Volucella pellucens. It is a striking insect and is sometimes called the Great Pied Hoverfly. In certain lighting conditions the white area on the abdomen is translucent.
Also on Yellow Rattle, Volucella pellucens.
Foxhill Farm, 8 July, 2019

So not only did the weather turn out to be good but I came home with lots of interesting specimens to work through - and a bruised bum.

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