The recent run of wet and windy days has proved to be frustrating, not least because the only decent weather seems to arrive when I am stuck at work and not when I wish to be out and about looking at butterflies. The other day it all got a bit too much for me and I ventured out in less than favourable conditions to see if I could catch up with a grizzled skipper. This species is one of our smaller and less obvious butterflies and has had a hold on me since I first attended a workshop on it several years ago. Although formerly widely distributed across England and parts of Wales, a substantial decline has left the grizzled skipper in a precarious position in Norfolk, restricted to a handful of colonies, a pattern repeated across much of its former range. This means that you have to work hard to get good views and photographs of this rather understated species.
|Grizzled Skipper, by Mike Toms|
I made the short drive across to Foulden Common, usually my first port of call when looking for this species. If I find them on the wing here, it gives me the confidence to move on to other, more difficult, sites. The weather was predominantly overcast but occasional breaks in the cloud allowed the warmth of the sun to burst through. Even if no other butterflies appeared to be on the wing, this gave me hope. In the event I need not have worried, for within ten minutes of arriving at the common, I had connected with my first grizzled skipper.
In order to find them, you have to cover a lot of ground, walking slowly forwards and scanning the short turf to see what you flush before you. Often, the small brown lepidopteran that flies up and away turns out to be one of the day-flying moths, typically a mother shipton or latticed heath but every now and then it will be a grizzled skipper. When I first started watching them, I used to have to catch an individual to be sure of identification but now I can identify them in flight and have worked out a way to approach them. Once flushed, the important thing is to watch where the butterfly lands, then approach to within about ten feet. Then it is a case of getting down on your hands and knees and making a slow approach. By doing this I usually manage to take up a position within a foot or so of the butterfly, ideal for macro photography. The dull conditions of the other day proved ideal for getting close and I managed to get some of my best ever shots and to overcome my frustration with the weather.