As I mentioned last week everything is bursting into life. So as not to rush around like a ‘headless chicken’ I tried to plan places to visit and species to see. Had to make the most of the heatwave as today it’s broken with heavy showers and thunder due. I have seen and photographed lots of interesting things in the last ten days but I thought I would treat you all to more odonata including a couple of first time sightings!
My old buddy John came up from Hertfordshire for a couple of days. We visited Strumpshaw Fen primarily for Swallowtail butterflies. The butterflies were notable by their absence but the dragons put on a great display.
So what about these two lifers? I always like to have a target to aim for. If you fail to see what you travel a long way for this can leave an empty feeling. A successful trip and it’s big smiles for days. Damselflies are not the most ‘in your face’ creatures. Unlike their big, brash, colourful cousins the dragonflies, damsels keep low in the vegetation and go about their business in a slow, quiet way. Make no mistake these tiny insects are vicious predators in their own right. A day out to the Suffolk/Essex border produced the first and also a look at ‘Constable Country’.
The next target was going to be much more tricky. The species can be found only at one site in East Anglia, it is usually found in the south, south/west of the Country. I happened to meet an old friend who knew the exact spot for this tiny damselfly. The place is kept somewhat secret to protect this delicate species. I knew roughly the area but armed with a map, x marks the spot, I found them. Without my friends help I would still be searching now! Let me introduce…..
I still have one more rare species to see locally however it should soon be time for the summer butterflies so who knows what I will post next!
This last week has seen an explosion of activity on the odonata front. Not surprising really, after the awful spring we are now in full-on summer mode. Early morning and it’s emergence time at the pond. As the heat builds the damselflies are returning in numbers to mate and lay eggs. So much to see I’m struggling to decide where to venture to next.
With most very rare species I find myself hitting the road and travelling for hours to see them. Not so with one dragonfly. In the County of Norfolk the Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea) can only be found in two adjacent ponds and as luck would have it they are just ten minutes away. I won’t name the ponds due to the fragile nature of this species hanging on and limited access though most keen dragonfly enthusiasts know of them. Yesterday (7th) I managed to obtain my first half decent images. The males constantly patrol the pond margins and if they settle it’s high up on a leaf in the overhanging canopy. The lighting is not ideal as you are looking into the sun. No matter, I came home with a big grin on my face (just don’t ask how many shots I took to get six reasonable ones!).
The Cut-off Channel is a man-made waterway in the west of the Counties of Norfolk & Suffolk and runs for 28 miles (45 km). Construction was finished in 1964 and it has a dual purpose. In winter it collects the flood water from three rivers and transfers it, via a pump at Denver, out to sea in the River Great Ouse. Summer and the flow is reversed and water is supplied to fill a reservoir in the County of Essex.
The spoil from the digging formed steep banks which are now lush with flora and support a wide variety of fauna. After Foulden Common a small stretch at Stoke Ferry is the only other site in Norfolk to find the tiny Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus malvae). The Skippers normally appear in April but due to our very poor spring I was wondering if any would be out now in June. Yesterday (2nd) with temperatures hitting 26c I took the 90 minute drive to find out.
In the sweltering conditions I counted five Skippers which I was well pleased with. There were many more butterflies to keep me amused and a few dragon and damselflies. The air was filled with birdsong and apart from a couple of joggers and dog walkers I had the place to myself.
Two posts in one week? What have you lucky people done to deserve this. As you know I have been avidly ‘pond watching’ of late as the dragon and damselflies have been emerging, in the case of the Large Red Damselflies in good numbers. One of my aims was to capture the moment a dragonfly left it’s watery home of the last two years and ‘transformed’ into a winged beauty. Well this morning I got my wish…..
This whole process from start to finish took two hours and was fascinating to watch. I then had to go out. When I returned a couple of hours later the dragon had flown. Earlier this week I witnessed a damselfly emerging, in contrast to the dragon it took only fifteen minutes!
April was cold and very dry with a record number of frosts. May has been cold and very wet/windy. Only one day this month has the temperature got in the high teens centigrade compared to twenty last year. Not the spring I was hoping for when I took early retirement. But nature is resilient, It has to be to survive. Given a good day butterflies will appear and eggs will be laid, maybe not as many but just enough to ensure a future generation.
We took a walk with Rose and Mick and chanced the forecast. Our route, to the west of town, was quite familiar during this pandemic. Ominous black clouds to the west, cracks of thunder, yet it rolled on by and not a drop fell. It was a lovely morning.
Searching for Skippers
Every year in early May I try and get across the County to Breckland. It is here, at only two sites, that Norfolk’s rarest and smallest butterfly can be found. As I approached Foulden Common it was obvious there had been a good helping of the wet stuff. However the sky was clearing, sun appearing and after an hour long drive I was going to make the most of it. This year I didn’t have my extra pair of eyes, Mrs H was at work, so I had to carefully scan the ground alone. As it warmed up the butterflies emerged from wherever they had sheltered for the night. Brimstones, Orange-tips, Small Coppers, Peacocks and Speckled Wood. Then, suddenly, what I was searching for. A tiny dark butterfly flew up to chase a smaller, greyer variety, a Dingy Skipper seeing off a Grizzled Skipper, my target. In all I saw four Grizzles, not many but at least they are still surviving.
It’s all systems go at the garden pond. Every time I turn my back it seems another dragonfly has emerged! I’ve still yet to see the actual breaking free of the exuvia but there’s plenty of time. The total now is 3 Broad-bodied Chasers, 1 Four-spotted Chaser and 5 Large Red Damselflies. The rains have left the pond brimful and all the new arrivals have had to bide their time to take flight.
For the weekend and beyond the forecast is for proper spring weather, bring me sunshine!
I try and post once a week(ish) and usually have a topic in mind. Now, if I get to go out unexpectedly and get some images I’m really pleased with a curved ball is tossed in my direction. What to do? As you lovely people have had an overdose of butterfly shots just lately I will stick to the original plan, especially as things have happened in the last few days. Intrigued? Carry on reading.
Those of you who have been with me for a while will know when we moved home late last year we ‘inherited’ a garden pond, no fish this is just for wildlife. It needed a bit of sorting out and I added a lot of plants. Now the work is starting to bear fruit.
As well as the butterflies, during the warm months (🤣🤣😂) I am fascinated by dragonflies. Our spring here in Norfolk, as well as most of the UK, just hasn’t got going. The dragons and damsels (odonata) are at least three weeks late. For spring butterflies to suffer poor weather will mean next year the numbers will crash. The dragons can delay emergence under water until things are better, sometimes up to a year. However late last week we had a visit from the first Large Red Damselfly.
The exciting events started this week with the first Large Red Damselfly emerging. I noticed the very pale damsel hanging from an old Iris stem. At this stage they are known as teneral, it takes a day or so to attain full colour.
Monday morning it was cool and grey. I went for my daily look at the pond and to say “Hi” to the newts (yes, I’m loosing it). There hanging from an Iris a freshly emerged Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa)! I was ecstatic. Rushed indoors to get the camera and Mrs H so I could record the event.
A nice morning so re-visited Wiveton Downs for a couple of hours butterfly hunting. The Downs is a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) and is an esker, in layman’s terms a glacial crevasse which was filled in and forms a winding ridge. Situated a mile or so inland from the Nth Norfolk coast. The top of the ridge is mostly Gorse and on the north side the lower slopes are clothed in Bluebells and well sheltered.
My target was seeing the Green Hairstreak. Spurred on by Mike’s post yesterday https://alittlebitoutoffocus.com/2021/05/10/green-hairstreak-butterfly-val-dherens-switzerland/ I was hoping the locals would be out and about, I was not disappointed. I have posted about this species before and have mentioned their rather nasty temper (yes B in Illinois, hard to believe but true). These butterflies are the size of a thumbnail but that doesn’t stop them from beating the living daylights out of each other and attacking any thing else that flies past!
All the butterflies were condensed into one area near a flowering Hawthorn and a bank of Bluebells. There was more than Hairstreaks though, in all I saw ten different species.
I have not done one of Lisa’s challenges for a few weeks. When the sun’s been shining and the temperatures managed to get above the dizzy heights of +12c (not often!) I have been engrossed in chasing butterflies. And now Mrs H has kicked my butt into getting some more decorating done which is taking longer to do than anticipated and filling the whole house with dust!
And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.
Percy Bysshe Shelley
When cats run home and light is come, And dew is cold upon the ground, And the far-off stream is dumb, And the whirring sail goes round, And the whirring sail goes round; Alone and warming his five wits, The white owl in the belfry sits.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
The curlew’s trademark, long down curved bill
Delves deep in mud, belly to fill
Heath and moorland breeding ground
Mating calls eerie sound
And then chicks arrive
Oh how they thrive
I caught this morning morning’s minion, king- dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple – dawn – drawn Falcon, in his riding Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
Gerard Manley Hopkins
Last week had a look at Wiveton Downs up by the north coast. A bit chilly with the breeze off the sea but ok in sheltered spots. Slightly early for some of the new season butterflies, in fact I only saw three species though one was a first for the year. This April sets a 60 year record for the most frosts! It’s also been very dry a trend set to continue into May.
Took a drive over to Foxley Wood this morning. My first visit for a couple of years and the furthest I’ve been this year thanks to lockdown. It was a cool start but unbroken sun and this was enough to stir a few butterflies into action. Cold weather forecast for later this week so it’s still stop/start.
Several Brimstones were patrolling the woodland rides and were civil enough to stop and nectar on dandelions allowing me the chance to photograph them.
A couple of Orange Tips passed through, not stopping, but a larger white butterfly caught my eye. It was a female Large White and had probably only emerged from it’s chrysalis this morning.
Back home and Mrs H was quite excited to show me something in the garden. There was a newly emerged female Holly Blue on the patio. We put her in a flower container to keep her out of the way. Sad to say after a few hours the wings were still not fully inflated. Such is nature but I’m sure there will be many more.
I have been a huge fan of Drag Racing ever since my first visit to Santa Pod when I was 7-years-old. I love all Motor Sport but Drag Racing is still the one that gets me jumping around enthusiastically. Despite America having the larger NHRA Championships, which I also continuously follow, I have always preferred European and British Drag Racing. This is mainly because I have grown up with it - the first official FIA European Championships were held in 1996 and I haven't missed a big event at Santa Pod since 1997. When an event is on I get to the track, plonk myself down somewhere along the spectator banking and would very happily sit without moving for the entire weekend watching the racing.