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Battling Butterflies

When the sun shines and temperatures reach the high 50’s F those butterflies that overwinter in hibernation are stirred into life.  On Wednesday we had those conditions.  After two plus weeks of continuous gales and periods of rain it was a welcome relief.  Driving the four mile round trip to get my daily newspaper I spotted a couple of Brimstones, it just felt like it was going to be a good day.

The back garden is a little sun trap, surrounded by high hedges it is also nicely sheltered.  Movement caught my eye, a Peacock (Aglais io),  got the camera ready and popped outside.  The Peacock was almost unapproachable, it was so full of testosterone (or caffine!).  Anything that ventured into view was immediately chased, the poor old Bumblebees on the winter heathers where getting a hard time!  Enter Peacock number two, all hell breaks loose, the two butterflies join combat and go spiraling upwards till they are so high they disappear from view.  A few seconds later and he is back on the patio!   Then the interloper re-appears and the performance is repeated, again and again!

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The cause of all the garden grief, male Peacock

I recorded all five hibernating species in the garden.  Several Brimstones danced along the flower beds and the Comma was back, it might even have been the same one from February it was looking slightly worn.  My first Small Tortoiseshell of the year landed on a daffodil, this would make a lovely image such colours, just about to hit the shutter button when a certain butterfly decided the Tortoiseshell was not welcome!  The Peacock was becoming a bit of a thug.  I did manage to photograph the Comma before it too was attacked.

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Is it the returning Comma? Quite possible

It is often hard to imagine something as delicate as a butterfly being violent but several species are well known for their appetite for a fight.  The tiny Green Hairstreak and Duke of Burgundy are very aggressive so too the White Letter Hairstreak.  The champion though is His Imperial Majesty the Purple Emperor (Apatura iris).  This fellow is not satisfied with assaulting his own kind or any other butterfly but will attack birds up to the size of pigeons!

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Norwich…. A Fine City

Took a trip to the city today with her who must be obeyed to pick up a few bits and bobs.  I don’t often visit Norwich (pronounced norridge as in porridge) I much prefer the countryside but when needs must.  However it is a fine city and unlike most cities in the UK is not infested with the glass and steel of modern architecture.  From medieval times to the industrial revolution it was the second largest city in the country after London, and one of the most important due to the wool trade.  It is home to many fine old buildings, two magnificent cathedrals, a Norman castle and a colourful outdoor market.  At one time there was a pub for every day of the year and a church for every week of the year.  We also have the best football team in the country, the Canaries, come on you Yellows!

It was a bit grey today so I left the camera at home.  Back in November 2016 I took a few images, here are a couple of my favourites.

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The box on the hill. Norwich’s Norman castle from Davey Steps. The castle is home to a fantastic museum with everything from art to natural history
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A man with a lot on his mind! Statue of Sir Thomas Browne (1605-82) on Hay Hill
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Reflections. Crystals in the wrought iron fence of St Stephens church
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Wildlife! Not a Norwich Canary but a juvenile Black-headed Gull looking over the market stalls for any stray scraps

Thanks Feb

The last two weeks of February were an absolute joy.  The totally unexpected spring like weather lifted my spirits and got me out with the camera again.  Not only photographing the birdlife I encountered on my days out, but also out in the garden where I could use the macro for the first time this year.

It was lovely being in the garden.  With everything pruned, weeded and mown I could just relax into the therapy that is trying to image bees in flight!  This is fun, however the af of the macro does not see the funny side!  Photographing the butterflies was also a bit of a challenge.  The male Brimstones would enter the garden, search the ivy for any emerging mates, then zip off over the roof.  On a day I didn’t have a shift at work I could spend longer observing things.  This was excellent as I discovered there was a small period when the Brimstones stopped to nectar on the natural primroses in my flowerbeds.  Just had to be in the right spot as they only paused for a second or two to refuel.

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Ha ha got you at last! A male Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) on a primrose

There were many types of bees all being, er, busy.  Their flower of choice was the winter heathers (Ericas), the pulmonaria (lungworts) were only just starting to bloom, but they would investigate any likely source of nectar and pollen.

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Honey Bee approaching a wallflower, I can hear the auto focus complaining even now 😀

In all during the fabulous fortnight we had three species of butterfly in the garden.  The last to appear was a Comma.  The first day he (definitely a he, very territorial) showed up he was very flighty, I just could not get close.  After a couple of days he either became very friendly or thought if he let me take a few snaps I would be out of his face!  Whatever I got the images I wanted.  The Comma was not interested in nectar but sought out the warmest places where it could eye it’s domain, when another entered the garden one day a frantic chase ensued.

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Close enough? A male Comma (Polygonia c-album) in the sun

Well it’s now March and the weather is back to how it should be, wet and windy!  but thankfully not cold.  Looks as if I shall have to creep back inside for another couple of months.

 

 

An Anniversary & Upton Fen

Tuesday.  On my notifications wordpress informed me I have been blogging for two years!  Wahey!  Happy birthday to me etc, etc.  I remember so well when I started.  I thought it would be nice to share some of my photos, why keep them to yourself?  Spurred on by the Lemming who has her own blog –  https://crazystupidmusic.wordpress.com/?wref=bif , I searched the internet for advice. The kind man on google said easy, be done in ten minutes!  Don’t make me laugh!  Six hours later and I had somehow managed to cobble together the beginnings of this blog spot.  I hadn’t a clue what I was doing, or the terminology used (still don’t lol) it might as well have been in ancient Greek.  Anyway, we got there and through this medium I have been able to meet some incredible people!  You fellow bloggers inspire me to carry on.  The range of photography out there in wp world is mind blowing.  So a HUGE THANKS to every single one of you!!  12,560 views from 79 Countries WOW!

The day started frosty.  By the time I’d finished the housework (love my days off!) it was warming up nicely to 14c.  Decided to visit a nature reserve about twenty miles away as a recce for the summer and dragonfly potential.  It’s called Upton Fen.  According to my new dragonfly book the Common Hawker can be found there in July.  Common?  not in this part of Britain, anything but!  Found the car park easily enough and set off on a lovely walk through woodland along the banks of a dyke.  This is perfect habitat.  Crossed over the dyke and the path took me through a section of reedbed, through another gate and I was overlooking the Bure Marshes.  The sky was deep blue, no breeze and now about 18c, phew!

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Hello Deer!

I should have taken my binoculars or telescope to scan the wetlands.  I could hear a strange call I just could not place and then realised I was being watched!  About thirty yards away was the motionless head of a Chinese Water Deer (Hydropotes inermis).  Originally introduced to Woburn Park in Bedfordshire in 1896 and later Whipsnade in 1930.  These very small deer, about the size of a retriever dog, inevitably escaped along with their cousins the similar Muntjac and spread through the Country, finding the Broads much to their liking.

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The Marsh Harriers appeared this a near adult male

In the sky above the Marsh Harriers started to appear, soaring up on the thermals emitting their strange squeaky mewing call which doesn’t befit their looks.  In total there were five and a very pale Buzzard.  Mostly these birds were well out of range of my camera.  The Harriers started to display, what we call ‘sky dancing’, where the male rapidly climbs and dives, twisting and calling before spiraling into the reeds.  Later on the pair will continue to perform to each other, bringing nesting material.

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There are pale morph Common Buzzards (Buteo buteo) and then there is this one! I don’t think I’ve seen one quite so white

It’s been a fabulous day out, so warm it could be May and great to be alive.  I had the reserve to myself and shall definitely return in the summer for the dragons.  I will leave you with one last image of a Harrier, a bit of a lucky capture.  Again many thanks for all of you who visit this site, I really appreciate it.

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Come fly with me?

 

Chance Encounters

Friday was again glorious spring like weather.  With no gardening chores planned I decided we should take a drive out.  A visit to Sculthorpe Moor appealed, lots of photo opportunities there.  However on arrival the car park was crammed with maybe fifty plus vehicles.  When we have been here before there has never been more than ten other cars, and then it’s difficult to get a good seat in the observation hides.  Time for a plan B.

Headed out to the coast.  It’s the school half term holidays, brilliant weather, everywhere is busy.  Driving through Stiffkey with it’s very narrow, knapped flint wall lined roads I had a thought, Stiffkey Fen.  Pulled into the little lay-by with only one other car there.  A Marsh Harrier hunted the field opposite, so close, and I hadn’t yet got the camera out of the bag!  So off we went for our walk.  The path takes you alongside the tiny Stiffkey River which is probably no more than fifteen feet wide at most and overhung with brambles and branches.  Mrs H spotted movement on the far side, a Moorhen?  No a Water Rail!

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Movement on the far bank

The Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus)  is a very shy and secretive bird.  They are fairly common in reedbeds and will give away their presence with an array of the most unusual calls, mostly grunts or groans but then a high pitched pig like squealing.  They will eat anything from small fish to seeds and berries and in severe winters have been recorded killing and eating small birds, even though they are not that big themselves.

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The red eye and facial expression gives the Water Rail an angry look

I really wanted to get some nice images of this fellow.  It was difficult, the Rail was creeping in and out of the tangle of branches in a shady spot, so I upped the iso.  There were only two spots I could look from where branches on my bank did not obscure the view, the slightest movement and the Water Rail ran into cover.  After a few minutes it would reappear, constantly flicking it’s tail and moving further upstream towards a clearer sunlit spot.  I lowered the iso, bad move!  Even when it was in the sunny area the shutter speed was too low.  Dozens of what would have been cracking images were wasted because of movement blur, I should have tried to take more time, not easy on a constantly moving bird!

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On the move again

There was another nice sighting.  When we were on the raised coastal path overlooking the fen a Barn Owl drifted by.

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Barn Owl (Tyto alba)

Always strange to see an owl out hunting in bright sunshine.  Up here on the Norfolk coast it is something they tend to do, especially when the weather has been bad.  Well the weather has been great but it was lovely to watch, even more so when it was backlit by the sun, with a touch of mist over the reeds.

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The ghost-like Barn Owl

Out and About

It has been just like spring this last week.  We have had daytime temperatures in double digits centigrade and lots of sunshine.  Saw my first butterfly on the 15th, a bright yellow male Brimstone zipped through the garden, no chance of any photos to mark the occasion but my time will come. Since then there has been two more.  Talking of the garden me and Mrs H have managed to get it back into order with a lot of hard work, have even cut the lawns!  Time to go out and about.

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Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)

“I’m out of here!”  No matter how carefully I approach the water’s edge these wary diving ducks just melt off into the distance.  This drake is keeping a close eye on me.

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Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)

Defeating the law of gravity.  A walk in the woodlands of Holkham Park and I saw this Woodpecker walking upside down along the branches, shame it wasn’t in a sunny spot.

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Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)

“Call me Zorro!”  The Nuthatch is one of my favourite woodland birds.  The blue/grey upper parts, peachy colouring below and that black eye mask should make this little fellow stand out, they are excellent at concealment though.  The Nuthatch is the only British bird that can walk head first down trees.

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Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiacus)

What is it with water birds giving me the evil eye?  This species was introduced to the ornamental lakes of country estates in East Anglia in the late 17th century.  Originally it struggled to survive the winters, now it’s population is booming.  Escapees are breeding so well they can be found all over the place, and they are very vocal!

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Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)

” A little privacy please!”  Not the best of shots but I had to include it as I love the look on the Goldcrest’s face.  I stumbled across these two taking a bath in a small puddle in the footpath at Holkham.  Just wish I could have got closer.  These are Europe’s smallest bird.

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Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus)

How cute is that?  No problem getting close to this one.  As the Lemming used to call them ‘fluffy things on sticks’.  They also make the most beautiful nest, a little dome of moss, lichen and spiders webs lined with hundreds of downy feathers.  To fit inside the adult has to curl it’s tail around itself.

Satyridae….Little Brown Jobs

With most of my butterfly posts I tend to highlight subjects that are rather beautiful or quite rare, sometimes both.  There is one family that I have not featured very much.  These are the ones that when we are out in the countryside Mrs H will call another of them little brown jobs, the Satyridae.  So time to give them a moment of fame, and to be honest I have, er, ‘one or two’ images of them as I find them attractive.  These are nearly all species of high summer.  Their caterpillars eat various grasses, 2018 was very hot and dry and it is thought this might have an impact on numbers this coming year, we shall have to wait and see.

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Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina)

The Meadow Brown is the largest of the Satyridae with a wingspan of around 2 inches (50mm), it is also the UK’s most abundant butterfly.  Pictured above is the female, the males are much darker with only a smudge of orange around the eyespot.

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Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus)

Also called the Hedge Brown.  Both names are very apt as this butterfly is mostly found around these features.  It is smaller than the Meadow Brown at approx 1 3/4 inches (42mm) and with the wings closed can be confused with that species.  The i.d features are two white ‘pupils’ in eyespots and diagnostically the small white spots on the lower wing.  With it’s wings open there is no mistake as it’s washed with orange.

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Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus)

This has always been a favourite of mine.  Memories of childhood as we played in the country lanes and this chocolate brown butterfly would lazily flit along the flower strewn verges.

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Small Heath (Coenonympha pamphilus)

Usually very annoying in trying to get photographs of. The Small Heath has a tendency to keep low, hidden among the grasses.  It is the smallest of the browns at less than 1 1/2 inches (35mm).

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Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)

The longest flight period of all the Satyridae from early April to October.  This species loves shady woodland, if there is a small area lit by sunlight a male will defend this as his territory.

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Marbled White (Melanargia galathea)

To finish a bit of a curve ball, not all browns are brown!  This beautiful butterfly is spreading it’s range.  One day I hope to see them in my home County, they are not too far away.

One feature of all the Satyridae are the eyespots or ocelli.  These are thought to act as a warning to potential predators.  Some species of butterfly have more complex and convincing ‘eyes’, if you would like to learn more fellow blogger Ray has written an excellent post https://rcannon992.com/2018/11/04/dots-in-spots-butterfly-eyespots-i-conspicuousness-or-eye-mimicry/

And while we in the northern hemisphere will have to wait a couple more months for butterflies to appear it is cheering to read of a mini migration in South Africa at Ark’s place https://attaleuntold.wordpress.com/2019/02/08/it-fluttered-by-25/