Life in the kiln

After a lengthy absence from the blogosphere I’m rushing to squeeze a last post in in 2013. It won’t be topical so I’m harping back to a visit to the Lime Kiln in Cherry Hinton, on the southern edge of Cambridge, from back in July. I posted from here earlier in the year about the resident peregrine falcons.

The main reason for this visit to the Lime Kiln was to see if the peregrines were still in residence. One of them appeared overhead and gave chase to a pigeon, but it was in level flight not in  a stoop so the pigeon made good its escape. It was more like a juvenile practice run than a serious attempt to make a kill. It seemed that the family group had dissipated and were no longer spending the whole day at the Lime Kiln.

A single peregrine falcon – Falco peregrinus – quatering the Lime Kiln

The peregrine is the worlds fastest bird, but only in a stoop, which is gravity assisted and more a controlled fall than real flying. In level flight it is comparatively cumbersome and not the fastest, that accolade goes to a species of swift called the ‘white throated needletail‘ (Hirundapus caudacutus) with recorded level flight speeds of around 70mph (112km/h).

Black tailed skimmer – Orthetrum cancellatum

The black tailed skimmer dragonfly was perched on the chalky ground and this is characteristic behaviour of the species. As the temperature rises above the mid 20’s Celsius he will perch on low vegetation instead. This one is an adult male, his blue abdomen is diagnostic and can only be confused with the male scarce chaser, but he lacks the dark patches at the proximal end of the wings which distinguish the scarce chaser.

The female and the immature skimmer have yellow bodies instead of the blue of the male:

Black tailed skimmer female

I’m not entirely certain whether this skimmer is a female or a juvenile, the juvenile has pale green eyes and the female has darker grey/brown eyes so I think this one is a female. Interestingly, this species is associated with water and males will fiercely defend a bankside territory against other competing males. But as far as I know there is no water in the Lime Kiln so the male above may be a non-territory holding male, and females do spend time away fom water. The black tailed skimmer feeds on a variety of prey and can show a preference for bigger prey species such as butterflies and grasshoppers. They’re ferocious, albeit short lived,  predators!

A pair of jackdaws, Corvus monedula

There were very few birds to be seen on this trip, it was at lunchtime on a very hot day (mid to high 20’s Celsius) so I think they may have been hunkering down in the shade, but I could hear a male whitethroat singing and a family of jackdaws were playing around on the white chalk cliff face.

Because of the relatively young age of the Lime Kiln, and possibly as a result of the unusual nature of the terrain, large areas of the floor are bare chalk and there are less plant species than there may be in a more conventional habitat.

Either a small skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris) or an Essex skipper (Thymelicus lineola) sipping nectar from a self heal flower

One of the wild flowers growing there is self heal (Prunella vulgaris). This skipper butterfly was perched on a self heal flower head but I’m not sure if it’s an Essex skipper or a small skipper, they are very similar in size, shape and colour, and alas I’m not sufficiently expert to unambiguously identify them.

I didn’t manage to publish this post in 2013 so it’s now my first post of 2014. So Happy New Year to everyone, may the next 12 months bring you health and happiness!

23 responses to “Life in the kiln

  1. Happy new year, Finn! We don’t have jackdaws in the US. Too bad because I love all of the corvids!

  2. Good to see you back Finn, I wish you all the best for 2014. I’ll be back.

  3. Happy new Year, Finn! It’s lovely to revisit the lime kiln, I very much enjoyed your previous photos from there and you’ve brought us another cracking bunch in this post. Wonderful stuff, and here’s to more in 2014!

    • Thanks Lorna, I’ll drink to that. Even though this year is also going to be busy, I’m going to do my best to get up to date and post regularly this year. Best wishes to you for 2014!

  4. We have Prunella vulgaris growing and flowering all over the place here at the moment. I thought it was a weed but after some research I realised that it was a useful herb so it has earned its place here. We also have dragonflies all over the place, especially around my new fully enclosed vegetable garden where they are harvesting insects that are attracted to the tasty green things inside. It’s funny that we both have dragonflies and Self Heal growing and flying around at the same time isn’t it? :). Happy New Year to you and your wonderful family and hopefully it isn’t too cold over there. It’s quite warm here but we are painting our large deck so we don’t mind a bit of sunshine 🙂

    • Hello Fran, Happy New Year to you and yours too! It hasn’t been too cold this winter but we’ve been battered by a succession of fierce storms coming in from aross the Atlantic.

      Our self heal and dragon flies aren’t around now, this post is about a trip in July. I’m going to try to catch up and get currrent again this year to about sowing any confusion.

      Happy painting!

      • Lol, we have been painting our deck so it isn’t hard to confuse me at the moment. I probably skipped over the bit about the trip being in July and went straight to the self heal and dragon flies 😉

  5. Happy New Year, Finn!

  6. Happy New Year, Finn. Let’s see what we can discover and share in 2014!

  7. Great to see this post, Finn, I had wondered where you were… happy new year

    • Thank you Valerie, Happy New Year to you and yours too!

      I’m going to ty to maintain a more regular presence on WP this year!

      (BTW Did you ever finish your book? The one where you went into more historical detail about the end of WWII?)

  8. Vicki (from Victoria A Photography)

    Happy New Year to you too, Finn.

    Look forward to seeing more of your images in 2014.

    I didn’t get outdoors as much in 2013 for photography either, so hopefully 2014 will bring some more excursions & opportunities. Apart from some worsening of health issues, I’ve been housebound simply because I can’t think of anywhere new to go in a 3-5 hour timeframe via public transport these days. I mean to say I’ve walked around my nearby Botanic Gardens something like 5-6,000 times in the last 25 years (as I used to walk to work that way). I wish I still had a car & could drive up the country.

    • Hello Vicki, I hope you can fulfil your ambition to get out and about more in 2014. My hiatus was due to ongoing work commitments but I hope I’ll be able to find time to maintain a higher publication rate this year. I’ve got a very full year planned so it should be fun!

  9. I’ve missed you, Finn, and it’s very good to see another of your excellent and informative posts. Skippers are among my favorite insects, and they surely must be the fastest of the butterflies, don’t you think? I’ve never heard of the white-throated needletail–thanks for adding to the knowledge bank and have a wonderful New Year!

    • Hello Gary, and a very happy and productive New Year to you and yours too! It’s very gratifying to read such a nice comment and it’s great to be back posting again. My timeout was due to work ratcheting up several notches and keeping me busy in the evenings too, so something had to give. It’s going to be very busy in 2014 too, but I’m going to try to post at least once a month to keep my hand in.

  10. Happy New Year Finn! Great post as ever, I particularly like the skipper picture – in the snow! Here’s to a wildlife-filled 2014, cheers.

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