Tuesday was the first time I have knowingly seen and photographed Essex skippers. I visited a location where there’s been a colony in previous years so my chances were high but I knew they were tricksy little butterflies to identify – the only photo I have of one was taken two years ago in a different place and I didn’t realise what it was till I checked it more carefully a year later.
You see, the Essex looks superficially very similar to the Small skipper. They’re the same size, the same general colour and can be found in the same habitats. The defining feature for a novice like me is the tips of the butterfly’s antennae – in the Essex skipper these are black, both on top and below. And therein lies the difficulty! Because you just try seeing the colour on the underside of the antennae of very small butterflies that spend most of their time skilfully weaving their way in and around tall grasses in a meadow full of similar butterflies. It ain’t easy!
Still, it was a pleasant day, the meadow was full of lovely wildflowers, and I was surrounded by butterflies of several types and sizes – what could be nicer? It was really just a matter of time and patience, and eventually I had two definite sightings. One very cute little Essex even decided to pose for me, repeatedly settling on grass stems so I could get the front-on photos that I needed to be sure of its identity.