Swallowtail Time

(or, Visiting Old Friends ptII)

One of the joys of living in our part of Norfolk is that in late spring/early summer  the UK’s largest, most colourful butterfly can be seen.  Of course you need to know where to look, they don’t pop up everywhere.  You also need our old friend the un-predictable weather to be favourable.  A good spell of warm, sunny and wind free conditions will bring this enigmatic insect out of it’s pupa deep in the reedbeds to grace the area we call ‘Broadland’

What it’s all about, the ‘Norfolk’ Swallowtail (Papilio machaon ssp britannicus) perhaps my best shot to date

Last weekend was ideal so a trip to my favourite haunt Hickling Broad was in order.  The usual area was disappointing, there had been clearance work over winter and few nectar flowers were available.  A few hundred yards further on and there was a good amount of Red Campion and with it a newly emerged, mint condition Swallowtail eagerly fueling up.  This beauty allowed plenty of photo opportunities.

Pushing the shutter up to 1/1000th almost freezes the action. Those wings are nearly always fluttering

The dragonfly season is also now in full swing.  The early species were dominated by the Four-spotted Chasers (Libellula quadrimaculata).  I have never seen so many in one place, almost swarm like!

Fresh Four-spotted Chaser, one of thousands
Male Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa)

As well as these ‘old friends’ there were a couple of surprises.  Firstly a butterfly that has been in very low numbers in my part of the world and I have never seen at this site, the Wall Brown (Lasiommata megera).

The Wall Brown, a small butterfly that nearly always is seen sunning itself on the ground (or walls!)
LBJ?

So, a small brown bird sitting in an alder tree.  I was so pleased to get this shot even though I was using my macro lens!  This is a Cetti’s Warbler (Cettia cetti).  This bird first bred in the UK in 1972 and unlike all the other warblers (except one) does not migrate.  As an insect eater it’s population could crash in harsh winters.  The thing is the Cetti’s is extremely difficult to see, keeping deep inside vegetation by rivers or ditches.  It gives away it’s presence by it’s explosive call repeating the cetti name (though it was named after an 18th century Italian zoologist, Francesco Cetti).  An unusual fact, this is the only UK bird with 10 tail feathers, good luck trying to count them!

All in all a great day out and I’m glad to get my upload issues sorted so I could share it.

 

Grrrrrr 🤬

Hi folks.  I would love to put out a new post with piccies of all the wonderful things I’ve seen lately.  Sadly I am unable to upload any images!  The files get about 20% of the way then I get a server error message.  Hopefully my ‘Happiness Engineer’ can help sort this, up to now the suggested remedies bring the same result.  ‘Till then you will have to use your imaginations.  Watch this space………..

Regards B

Parenthood

Those of us who have raised children will know the demand the ‘little darlings’ can place on us.  Then spare a thought for the Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) parents.  An average brood is 7 or 8 and I have read that each chick will be fed around 100 times a day!  Those adults are run ragged and their plumage soon gets a bit scruffy.

When we moved here almost two years ago I brought one of our old nest boxes with us and put it on the north facing end of my workshop.  Last spring, much to my surprise, a pair of Blue Tits took advantage and raised a brood (only one per year), this year they, or another, are back so I thought I would try and snap some comings and goings.

“Wait your turn!” At times it can get busy. The bird emerging is carrying a faecal sac which helps keep the nest clean
“Come on then, out you go”
An adult brings a small insect. I have zoomed in but can’t identify what it is
This time a small, green, moth caterpillar. These caterpillars are the staple diet of the chicks. The Tits will time their breeding to coincide with the opening of the new leaves on deciduous trees which the catties feed on before the leaves produce more tannin which is poisonous

The chicks will remain in the nest for about three weeks.  Then they will emerge, usually in the early morning, they quickly disperse to learn to fend for themselves.  Survival rate is not that high hence the large broods.

The type of nest box is called ‘Woodcrete’ by Schwegler.  Though they are slightly expensive they will out last all other types and offer perfect insulation for the nesting birds and are easy to clean at the end of the season.  They are available for most species who use cavities to nest in.

Visiting Old Friends

“Roll up, roll up folks.  Come and see the amazing spring.  One day only, be sure not to miss it.  roll up roll up”

Perhaps I’m being a bit pessimistic but our little bit of England, whilst being ‘green and pleasant’, has been a bit, er, ‘under the weather’.  Others have been ok, over here northerly winds, grey and very cool but also extremely dry.  Plants are growing and flowering but the poor old insects need to put on an extra woolly jumper!  However the last day of April and the sun shone!  After a week of having my head stuck in a pot of paint we just had to get out and enjoy it.  To some this post will seem a bit ‘deja vu’ but I do like to visit old friends.

Recognise this little fellow? Yes, the Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi)

My choice of destination was Wiveton Downs about 20 miles east up near the North Norfolk coast.  A lovely place at this time of year.  The top of the hill is covered in flowering Gorse bushes which have a heady scent of coconut.  The lower northern slope is sheltered and awash with Bluebells the flower of spring.  We had not gone far when a tiny butterfly caught my eye as it fluttered low down by some Gorse.  The first Green Hairstreak of the year.  If it had not been flying almost impossible to see when perched.

You must remember this handsome creature? The male Orange Tip (Anthocharis cardamines)

Butterflies were out in good numbers along the lower path.  Male Orange tips zig-zagging among the Bluebells looking for love, only stumbling across another male so a fight ensued.  In fact all the butterflies were getting a bit aggressive, pent up hormones I guess.  Only the little Holly Blues seemed quite sedate but not giving me many photo opportunities.

Speckled Woods (Pararge aegeria) like slightly shady areas but are very territorial
We found one area with several Hairstreaks in but they spent most of the time kicking lumps out of each other!
Check out this fuzzy little guy! A male Green Longhorn Moth (Adela reaumorella). I bet he gets great radio reception with those antenna!
Green-veined White (Pieris napi) small and delicate
Speckled Wood and Bluebells

A really enjoyable few hours and with the forecast now set fair hopefully more to come.  I have a lot more ‘old friends’ I would like to visit.

Charlottenburg

Somewhat out of sync due to my little drag racing post, this is my third and final offering from our trip to Berlin at the beginning of April.  Sunday dawned quite sunny, the wind had dropped but it was still a bit nippy.  Today we took the ringbahn to Westend which is oddly enough on the west side of the City.  From here it was a short stroll down Spandauer Damm to the beautiful Charlottenburg Palace.  Up ahead thousands of runners competing in the Berlin half marathon streamed round the bend accompanied by what sounded like a brass band.  We arrived just as the Orangery cafe opened so popped in for a hot chocolate and generous slice of cake to set us up for a walk around the park.

A view back over the carp lake to the palace. What you see is only about a third of the total width!

The Palace was first built in 1699 for Sophie Charlotte the wife of Friedrich I.  It was extended in the 1700’s.  Of course in those days Berlin was a fraction of the size and the area it was built in was the village of Lietzow.  Today the 55 hectare (135 acre) park is nestled among housing, shops and busy roads.  The River Spree borders one side and apart from the main lake there are several other watercourses.  All this set amid beautiful trees and areas left to grow wild.  This was the best place I have seen so far for wildlife with numerous bird species.  In the summer I would think this is an oasis for butterflies and dragonflies.

‘Ole Frank the Hanser’ There were several grey herons (Ardea cinerea) around the park
Not a bad garden shed! This is the Belvedere built in 1788 and used as a tea room and lookout tower
A Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) poses beside the lake.
Back in September on our last visit to the City I was quite excited to see one of these Mandarin Ducks (Aix galericulata) on a lake in the Tiergarten. This time they were everywhere!
You can encounter lots of ‘wildlife’ in Berlin parks! Mrs H, Chilli and the Lemming

We saw gorgeous Red Squirrels, a dashing Kingfisher and a mystery animal swimming across the lake.  Beaver or Coypu?  I will never know.  I made my way to where it was heading but with a swirl it disappeared and we never saw it resurface.  There was a tree by one of the channels which had been brought down by a Beaver so it could have been my first ever sighting of one.

We got back to the Orangery in time for lunch, a big, steaming bowl of creamy vegetable soup and crusty roll.  A perfect end to the visit.

Festival of Power ’22

After seven long winter months and two years of countless cancellations the European drag racing season kicked off, without restrictions, over the Easter weekend.  Easter in the UK is usually plagued by cold and rain, not this year, wall to wall sunshine, light southerly breeze and temperatures in the 70’s, perfect.

Long time readers will know that as well as butterflies, dragonflies and birds my other great interest is drag racing the loudest, fastest and most powerful motor sport in the world.  I’ve been going to meetings for over forty five years and have witnessed so many changes.  If someone had said back in the seventies what speeds and times these cars and bikes are doing now they would have been laughed at, we think we are at the limit now but are we?  Take a look at a bit of action from the Sunday eliminations, just a handful of the hundreds of shots I took!

The final of Nitro Funny Car sees winner Kevin Chapman in the blue and white Mustang take on Steve Ashdown in the ‘Undertaker’ Dodge Stratus. Under those carbon bodies are 500ci (8 litre) supercharged, injected v8 Hemi engines running on nitromethane and producing 10,000 bhp. This wide angle shot took a bit of cropping to get it to look right
Super Street Bikes are insanely quick capable of running the 1/4 mile in 6.8 seconds at over 220mph, if the power comes in too soon they can head skywards as Al Morrison jr found out!
The ultimate class in drag racing are the Top Fuel Dragsters. They race over 1,000 feet and cover that distance in under 4 seconds at well over 300mph. In under a second (about 60 feet) they are already travelling at 100mph. This brave (crazy?) lady is Finland’s Ida Zetterstrom
At the other end of the scale are the Junior Dragsters. For the 8 to 17 year olds they race over 1/8th mile. The top cars cover this in under 8 seconds at around 80mph, far quicker than most road cars! JMA 15 is Daniel Weir the event runner up
‘Crew Killer’ is the name of John Tebenham’s Ford Pop for good reason, his burn outs are really wild. This time a gaggle of media photogs got a closer look than expected!
As the sun went down it was finals time. I moved down toward the finishing line to see if I could get any shots of cars at top speed in the low light. This is Spencer Tramm winning Comp Eliminator in his Camaro

Sanssouci – Potsdam

2nd April.  “It’s going to be dry this weekend, we’ll go to Potsdam on Saturday”.  So informed my daughter the purple furred Lemming.  The next morning we caught the bus to Alexanderplatz station and from there the S7 train for the half hour journey west of Berlin to Potsdam Hauptbahnhof.  We were going to spend the day at Sanssouci Park so took the 695 bus.

I am used to visiting stately homes in the UK but the scale of Sanssouci was something else.  For a start there are four Palaces in the 300 hectare grounds plus a whole host of temples and other associated buildings (you have to have somewhere to keep your lawnmower 🤔).  The first Palace we visited was the Orangery.

I do like a bit of symmetry. The Orangery Palace, Sanssouci
The Orangery

This Palace was built in 1864 for King Friedrich Wilhelm IV.  Inside, seen through the huge windows, were stored all the ornamental trees and shrubs that would decorate the grounds in summer.  It actually felt a few degrees warmer here.

“Ah tea time”
“Did someone mention tea?” I’m not sure what this White Wagtail (Motacilla alba) has caught but we had apple strudel and vanilla cream whilst being sprinkled with snow!

We wandered west through the parkland to the New Palace which was completed in 1769 for King Friedrich II.  It has over 200 rooms and the outside is adorned with over 400 statues!  Although it looks like red brick it is actually painted plaster but very convincing.  After the King’s death in 1786 the Palace was not used for seventy years until Frederick III took it on.

If you’ve got it flaunt it, New Palace Sanssouci
Not is all as it seems. This is a replica of the historic smock mill which was destroyed in 1945

The hours flew by and it was soon time to return to Berlin.  We had not even had a chance to see Sanssouci Palace and gardens and you could spend another day or two exploring the City itself.  Not sure how many miles we walked but ‘Chilli’ the dog slept well that night!

April in Berlin

We are back from our belated Christmas trip to the German capital to see our daughter.  Spring in Berlin?  If only.  It was definitely a case of “You should have been here last week”.  Mostly cold, grey and windy, never mind, we enjoyed ourselves despite our taxi not turning up at Brandenburg airport or the hotel restaurant not being open the night it poured with rain and gale force winds.

There’s a bit of a central focal point to these shots, see if you can spot it!

‘Leap into Freedom’

The statue on the right is a representation of a famous photograph taken in 1961 by Peter Leibing.  The young East German border guard was 19 year old Konrad Schumann escaping to the west during construction of the infamous Berlin Wall.

Wasserturm Prenzlauer Berg

The water tower is Berlin’s oldest.  It was constructed in 1877 and used until 1952.  In the 1930’s it had a much darker use.  Today the grounds are a play area.

Alexanderplatz
Spotted roaming the streets of Alexanderplatz, the elusive ‘Norfolk Lemming’ sporting it’s spring fur, purple!

The light was a bit gloomy when taking these shots but I will do a couple more posts with a whiff of spring from other places we visited.  Did you spot the recurring building?  The Fernsehturm, not difficult to miss this icon of the Berlin skyline!

Hello My Lovelies

As had been hoped for in my last post I got the chance to switch to the macro lens for the first time this year.  Last Thursday was sunny and warm (out of the easterly breeze) so we decided on another stroll around the edge of town taking in a small wood, adjoining a housing estate, that I had not been to before.  The butterflies were out to greet us, not in great numbers yet but spring is only just kicking off.

Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)

There are five species of UK butterfly which spend the winter in adult (imago) form in what we call ‘hibernation’.  They are actually in a state of dormancy or diapause.  The beautiful Small Tortoiseshells are a joy to see and several were enjoying a drop of nectar.  A big surprise was a small plain white butterfly on a roadside verge.  I had to do a double take.  This was a species not awakened from it’s winter slumbers but one that hatches from a pupa usually in April!  Why so early?  We have not had any sustained high temperatures, in my view, to trigger the hatching process.  This species is also known to migrate from the Continent, so that’s a possibility but unlikely.

Small White (Pieris rapae) a totally unexpected sighting
Mrs H makes friends with a Peacock (Aglais io)

There were a lot of Peacocks lapping up the sun and indulging in territorial battles with whoever flies by.  Also spotted were the first Commas of the year adding a touch of bright orange to the hedgerow.  Not just butterflies though.  Hoverflies and bees were noted.  One species of bee caught my eye.  It was very small and several were attracted to a sunny, sandy bank.  I posted some images to a specialist fb group and it was identified as male Andrena clarkella, a species of mining bee and new to me.

The male mining bee Andrena clarkella

We shall be off to Berlin in a weeks time, hopefully the weather is as kind and we can enjoy a bit of spring in the German capital with our daughter.

Flying Kites

Following on from my last post.  After we had watched the goose for a good hour and the crowds increased it was decided to take advantage of the sunny day and carry on west around the coast.  Stopped at Titchwell for our pack up of filled pittas and coffee.  The car park was quite full and I didn’t feel the pull to visit the reserve.  We headed just a mile inland away from the flat coastal marshes to the gently rolling countryside around Choseley village.  Mrs H spotted a Red Kite (Milvus milvus) so I drove to a vantage point with the sun behind us.  What we witnessed is something I never dreamed I would see in my home County.

Six Red Kites in the sky over Choseley

The first Kite we had spotted swooped down to a stubble field where another flew up to meet it.  These where then joined by a third.  There seemed to be a bit of an argument going on.  As the birds flew across the road two more joined in the tussle, as they passed the drying barns a sixth was counted.  Here they wheeled around to and fro looking all the world as if they were playing a game of tag, yet I suspected that even though they roost communally this was a territorial dispute.

Follow the leader
After a while one of the Kites returned, a bit closer this time

So why did I think I would never see anything like this here in Norfolk?  Well I have mentioned about this bird in past posts so here’s a quick recap.  Due to persecution the Red Kite almost became extinct in the UK in the 1960’s.  A handful of pairs survived, hidden in almost secret valleys of Mid-Wales.  It was decided to re-introduce this bird by releasing captive bred Scandinavian stock over the years in four areas.  The scheme is a great success and now in certain places big numbers of Kites can be seen gracing the sky with their elegant gliding flight and forever twisting, forked, red tail.  Gradually these birds have spread out from the release areas and are now colonising most of the Country.  This day we saw more Red Kites (10) than any other bird of prey, even outnumbering the Buzzard (8) another raptor that has increased it’s range over the years.

A female Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) tries to slip by unnoticed past a patch of dead Sunflowers

A superb day out and it helps to take my mind off more worrying and depressing issues a few hours flight east.  💙💛