For last weeks wander we decided to keep in the boundary of the Felbrigg estate. This stately home in nth Norfolk was built in the 1600’s and was in the Wyndham family ownership for centuries. The last owner was Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer who, on his death, in 1969 left the estate to the National Trust.
Our walk took us across sheep filled open parkland to the church. Down to the lake then through various types of woodland. The house was closed due to covid restrictions but having seen it once I wasn’t overly impressed. We finished with a look around the walled garden. In summer this is a beautiful place to visit and now in November still had some surprises.
It was a mostly overcast day and quite windy however when we got to this feature in the woods the sun broke through. The avenues of Beech trees were planted by the last owner in 1946 in memory of his brother who died in WW2.
Apart from the lake, birdlife was very scarce. This female Blackbird in the walled garden was determined to get trod on!
The walled garden was a feature of stately homes. They formed a micro climate so fruit and veg could be produced to feed the’big house’ all year. At Felbrigg half of the garden is now flowers and shrubs but ancient apple and pear trees line the walls.
Tuesday 17th. Another lockdown hike planned. Very windy and mostly overcast but reasonably mild for the time of year. On this one we even had the pleasure of the irate “Get orf my land!” farmer, always make me smile, bless ’em.
So join myself, Mrs H and our good friends Rose & Mick on what ended up an 8 mile (13km) 5 hour wander around the local countryside.
Deep in Lord Anson’s Wood, miles from any road, lay this derelict building with the grand name of ‘Strawberry Hall’. It was, in times past, a Gamekeepers cottage.
It was here by the abandoned irrigation pipes we encountered the tractor driving gentleman who informed us the path we were on was private, as if I really cared!
The ‘proper’ footpath took us through another farmyard where we saw this sad sight. To be fair the barns had several beautifully restored tractors in them so maybe this was waiting it’s turn.
Closed in 1959 this is Felmingham station on the ‘Midland & Great Northern Railway’ line (known at the time as muddle and get nowhere). The track bed now forms part of the Weavers Way long distance footpath.
BIRDING. The joy of going out watching birds, any birds the more the merrier. Could be in the garden, park, nature reserve, anywhere really.
TWITCHING. Going specifically to see a rare bird. The name derives from the nervous twitch that comes on as you near your destination.
DIPPING. Not seeing that rare bird you dropped everything to rush off to.
MEGA. A very rare bird.
Back in the day I used to have a radio pager that would give me up to the minute information and directions to all the rare birds in the Country. I gave up the pager due to cost but still receive weekly emails. Whilst reading this week’s offerings a headline caught my eye, a ‘mega’ in the neighbouring County of Suffolk and at the same site another major rarity! Checked the old interweb and both were still present on Wednesday. Now, I haven’t been twitching since 2016 when the Lemming used to accompany me (Mrs H didn’t like the crowds and madness involved). But I have a bit of spare time on my hands and an old urge came over me, no faffing around to get ready for work, the joy of retirement! So as the Ramones sang “Hey ho lets go!”
After a 50+ mile drive (Disclaimer. I was travelling to exercise so not strictly breaking lockdown rules 😉) I was faced with a mile hike (the exercise bit!) on a wind swept shingle ridge to reach the shore pools the bird was on. Was I getting that nervous twitch? Slightly, some old feelings never fade away. Half way I met a returning birder “It’s showing down to 20 feet”, relief, I could see a small group of people up ahead, let’s hope it doesn’t discover it’s wings.
I can imagine some of my American readers thinking “Oh it’s only a Greater Yellowlegs” but put into context this is only the thirtieth of this species to be found in the UK and for me it is a ‘lifer’ a first sighting. The shorebirds, also called waders, are my favourite family of birds and are not always found on shores or wading! (see https://blhphotoblog.wordpress.com/2018/03/02/woodcock-snipe/) And now, with this very confiding bird, I have seen 62 species.
I did mention at the beginning there were two rare birds present. When your lucks in. After a couple of hours snapping away at our American visitor the other flew in landing on an island in the pool. It was an Eastern Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla tschutschenis try saying that after a couple of beers!). This gorgeous little bird had pitched up on our east coast all the way from eastern Siberia or Alaska. Sadly it stayed out of range of my lens, I have a record shot and if you squint you can see what it is. I had thought I might post the image but no, it’s a bit poor to be truthful. Oh I might as well but don’t laugh!
October was generally wet and windy. I believe I’m right in saying it rained at some point every day here in Norfolk. Into November and things have brightened up a bit. On the 7th it was sunny, 15c and the lightest of breezes. We are again in lockdown but allowed to exercise so a four hour walk exploring the countryside to the west of the town seemed like a good idea.
A footpath took us across two stubble fields heading into the low late autumn sun. The whole fields shimmered silver as if covered in water. Acres upon acres were draped in countless millions of silk threads left by tiny spiders.
Farmyards are strange places, there always seems to be an area where old machinery is abandoned and left to rust away. Perhaps the thought was “I’ll get round to fixing that one day” but the day never arrived. This tractor still looked in reasonable condition but just to the right other vehicles were being swamped by nature and slowly eroding.
Always a joy to see wildflowers at this time of the year and some should not be in bloom according to the books. Tell that to this delightful flax (Linum utisatissimum?) We also saw bramble in flower when by now the blackberries are finished.
I kept my eyes open for any interesting insect sightings the warmth may have brought out. One butterfly was seen, a Peacock sunning itself on ivy. The ivy when in full sun was very attractive to wasps seeking nectar and I also noticed a couple of large hoverflies that resembled honey bees, these were Eristalis pertinax or the Tapered Dronefly. Perhaps I should have taken my macro lens along.
Its a new day
But it all feels old.
Its a good life
That’s what I’m told.
It all just feels the same
And my high school: it felt more to me
Like a jail cell, a penitentiary.
My time spent there
It only made me see
That I don’t ever want to be like you.
I don’t want to do the things you do.
I’m never gonna hear the words you say
Cause I don’t ever wanna.
I don’t ever want to be.
You don’t want to be just like you
What I’m sayin’ is this is the anthem
Throw all your hands up
You. don’t want to be you
After 48 years, 8 boatyards (some more than once), 4 builders, post office, HGV mechanic training course, several bouts of unemployment and finally 2 supermarkets I have called it a day, stuck two fingers up to being a wage slave and taken early retirement!
So now I don’t have to get ready for work at lunchtime and spoil a whole day. What shall I do with all this spare time? (apart from the extensive list of to-dos being drawn up by Mrs H!)
It would be lovely to go travelling again once this bloody pandemic gets under control (as of the 5th we are again under lockdown so cannot go anywhere!). Berlin beckons. I really miss being able to see our daughter the Lemming and she is really struggling with all the restrictions she is under in Germany.
Our holiday to Berlin this spring was cancelled very close to departure time and it took many months to get the full refunds. Good job we had not booked a stay on the Greek island of Corfu. I am really looking forward to being able to return here one day. I enjoy the Greek way of life and there is so much more of this verdant isle to explore.
What else can I do to occupy my tiny mind? (yes dear I haven’t forgotten that list). Well I could buy myself another motorbike. Always been part of my life since I was a teenager, I didn’t get a car until I was in my 30’s! I sold my last bike a couple of years back but to be brutally honest I’m getting too old. The condition of the roads (potholes etc) are lethal and the amount of traffic is even more deadly. Best forget that idea.
I could always take up fishing again. When we moved I brought all my old rods and reels with us. It’s been twenty years since I put them in the shed when I lost my love for angling. A lot of the lakes and rivers I fished changed ownership and became private or very expensive. With the birth of our daughter I just gave up but now sitting besides a beautiful river on a crisp autumn morning has an appeal. Perhaps I should dust them rods down, if the mice haven’t got to them!
I could always attempt to see and photograph all 58 species of British butterflies in one year. The amount of travelling involved puts me right off this idea, best to just take your time and enjoy those that come along. We will now be able to go when we please when the weather is good without having to worry about booking holiday time in advance so that’s a bonus! I might invest in a nice shiny new 600mm super zoom lens. I have been pondering the purchase of one for some time and it would make bird photography a lot easier.
Whatever I do in the coming years one thing is for sure, I will grow old disgracefully! I have had years of experience!
If you are still with me after my thoughtful wanderings,well done, see you soon…..
Go to college, a university
Get a real job, that’s what they said to me
But I could never live the way they want
I’m gonna get by and just do my time
Out of step while they all get in line.
I’m just a minor threat so pay no mind
Do you really want to be like them
Do you really want to be another trend
Do you want to be part of that crowd.
Cause I don’t ever wanna.
I don’t ever want to be you
One thing we looked for when searching for a new home was a smaller garden. Seems strange as most people want a bigger plot, yet we wanted to spend more time enjoying things and not tied to endless chores (one and a half hours lawn cutting in our last place!). Our new garden suited us fine despite it being neglected for a while and needing a lot of clearing and chopping back. It’s about a third the size of the previous plot but joy of joys it has a pond! I’ve always wanted a wildlife pond (no fish) but have been too lazy to dig one, now I’m spending ages watching the comings and goings instead of getting on with other jobs.
I was delighted when I saw the first dragonfly appear and a little pond dipping revealed they had made use of the feature before, in among the weed and mud were several dragon and damselfly nymphs. One day two exuvia (cast shells) were on an iris leaf, a darter and hawker, we had had babies!
To date I have noted six species of odonata and egg laying by Common Darter and Southern Hawker. Dragons are not the only visitors. I’ve seen baby newts, a frog and lots of other bugs.
I was delighted with the sixth species of dragon it was a Willow Emerald Damselfly (Chalcolestes viridis). This damselfly only colonised the UK in about 2009 but is spreading across the country. It lays it’s eggs in branches overhanging the water. The larva when they emerge then drop down and continue development underwater. Will it use the dogwood? Probably not but it’s lovely to see one here.
Anyway must get on, jobs to do and ponds to watch!
Time for a well earned rest from house renovations and garden clearance. With the whole year pretty much ruined it was exciting news when Santa Pod Raceway announced they were going to run an event with spectator entry limited and on pre-booked tickets only. I got ours as soon as they went on sale and although there was a slight ‘back of the mind’ concern about mixing with crowds it couldn’t be any worse than working in a supermarket! Anyway it was brilliantly organised and with wall to wall sunshine we had a fantastic day out
An exciting day today. We pick up the keys to our new home, the purchase has gone through very quickly by UK standards. Things were made easier as this is the property we wanted to buy at the end of last year but it fell through, so we had all the paper work in place. Luck was on our side as it came back up for sale (another buyer had to pull out) as we were finalising the sale of our old place. The house is bigger than anywhere we have lived before and we have plans and visions for decorating etc. We hope to get the essentials done before moving in the furniture which is presently in storage. The garden is small and not very butterfly friendly, so that needs addressing. There is a number of mature shrubs that require a look at but best of all it has a small but lovely wildlife pond. Fingers crossed I could have dragonflies on my doorstep!
All this work means time (we still have our day jobs to do as well). We will be staying at the ‘Old Apple Store’ until the furniture is in. I cannot envisage having any spare time to get out and about with the camera anytime soon, or for writing any new posts. So, I am going to take a break for a short while. I do hope to find a moment or two to visit your blogs and catch up with what everyone is doing (can’t work 24/7) so until whenever a few shots from the past couple of weeks.
Mid-July and the Gatekeepers (Pyronia tithonus) start to appear. Also known as the Hedge Brown as this is just the place to see these charming little butterflies.
Who needs a full set of wings? A very old and battle scarred Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata)
Very pleased with this in-flight of a Norfolk Hawker (Aeshna isoceles) over the old canal. Also known as Green-eyed Hawker, you can see why.
Look what I spotted! This rather unassuming looking bird is a Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata). This used to be a fairly common sight however between 1967 and 2010 the population of this summer visitor from Africa has dropped by 89%!
A fresh, second generation Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus) seen in the same spot as the Fritillaries.
The Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) is probably the commonest and most wide spread of the high summer butterflies in England.
Where is the wildlife? Well those little dots by the church are swifts. This is Worstead, the village is famous for the cloth named after it which was woven here since the Middle Ages by Flemish weavers. The maize field we crossed on a Sunday walk is not destined to be eaten but used in biomass energy production.
The Essex Skipper (Thymelicus lineola) was the last British butterfly to be identified. This was because they look like the the Small Skipper (T sylvestris). The difference is the colour of the underside of the antenna tip! On Essex the tip is all black and on the Small, varying shades of brown. The males also have different shaped sex brands (line on the upper forewing). As these butterflies are so small you have to get real close to tell them apart.
In July last year I was shown the delights of the Canvey Island ditch in south Essex by John Wiltshire. It was a very hot, sunny day and our target, the Southern Migrant Hawker dragonfly, was in no mood to settle to have it’s picture taken! On Friday I decided to treat Mrs H to a day out as things have been somewhat topsy-turvy just lately. It was going to be hot but with some cloud at times so somewhere nice and scenic with a bit of interest for me, where better “To the ditch!” Ok so it’s not that scenic, I may have glossed it up a bit to wangle a day’s dragonfly watching but pack a nice pic-nic and let’s make the most of a glorious summer day. Two hours and a hundred and thirteen miles later and we were ‘darn sarf’.
So a quick recap. The Southern Migrant Hawker is a rare dragonfly in the UK. It only colonised after an influx in 2010 and is mainly found around the Thames Estuary (hence the trip to Canvey) where it was found to have bred. It is medium sized, about 2.5 inches (60mm) long with (the male) striking bright blue eyes and black & blue abdomen. As last year, the males were holding territory along the ditch, patrolling up and down looking for emerged females. On the territory boundary a small clash would ensue if two arrived at the same time. I was hoping if the cloud covered the sun for a while then they might settle, wrong. They went into a feeding frenzy. Nothing for it, I would have to resort to in-flight shots. Now I know some of you have tried this amusing form of wild life photography but for others who have not, this was my approach. Keep on the macro lens (they can come close plus the lens is sharper) set to manual focus, use shutter priority (I set 1/1250th sec), lowest iso you can get away with, in bright sun it was 320 and let the apperture sort itself out. Watch your subject, they tend to have a flight pattern and will hover for a second or two, now is the time to focus and shoot. Easy yes? No! A hit rate of about 1 in 30.
We noticed a pair in tandem where they fly with the male grasping the females neck (who says romance is dead?) and they dropped into the ditch. Tina’s sharp eyes picked them out, they were ovipositing. Most dragons lay eggs directly into the water or submerged water plants, affinis lays in the cracks in mud with the male lowering his mate down. Here the eggs go into diapause (dormant) waiting for the winter rains to fill the ditch or until conditions are right, maybe a year or two, then the life cycle is completed in very quick time.
There were lots of butterflies in the field including a few Marbled Whites which were coming to the end of their flight period. Also hundreds of smaller dragonflies, the darters. Mrs H was sitting in the shade and called me over to see a very friendly female Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum). It was sitting on a grass flower and going into the obelisk position. This was to keep the insect cool by ensuring the minimum amount of sun was on it.
Well not a bad day out but when the herd of cattle moved into the field, complete with calves, it was time to call it a day and head for home.
Earlier in the week I managed to get out and explore my new surroundings. I walked for many miles along the old canal and around the country lanes. The weather was not perfect but since then summer has temporarily left us and it’s been a bit soggy.
The Banded Demoiselles were present all along the old waterway. If it had been a touch sunnier I’m sure I would have seen more dragon and damselflies. There were however Brown and Southern Hawkers, the big boys of the dragonfly world. A few Black-tailed Skimmers warmed up on the footpath, always difficult to approach they rarely sit anywhere other than the ground. A good number of Azure Damselflies (Coenagrion puella) were in the nearby ditches.
Even in overcast conditions several butterflies danced among the grasses that bordered the fields. These were the Meadow Browns and Ringlets. I did see my first Small Skippers (Thymelicus sylvestris) of the summer.
Sometimes you come across an area that may look just like dozens of others but for some reason is an absolute magnet for butterflies and other insects. It may be that it’s position is slightly different so offering the perfect micro-climate. I glimpsed one such spot on Sunday and went back Tuesday before the rains came to confirm my sightings were no fluke.
Situated alongside a country lane and public footpath, nestled on the edge of an impenetrable wood was a patch of bramble, nettle and other various wild plants. Here dozens of butterflies sipped nectar or soaked up the odd minute of sun as the clouds gathered. Commas, Meadow Browns, Ringlets, Large Skippers, Green-veined and Small Whites, Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and better still up to six gorgeous White Admirals. The best of all was magnificent Silver-washed Fritillaries (Argynnis paphia).
Now I have to admit I absolutely love Silver-washed Frits and I was jumping for joy at finding these here. It was only ten years ago that this butterfly re-colonised Norfolk after being extinct for some thirty years. They are a wonderful sight and I tried to convey this to walkers who paused to question what I was photographing. I got the feeling most thought I was slightly eccentric, “a grown man taking pictures of butterflies, how odd”. Some took an interest and it was a pleasure to share my enthusiasm.
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.