August has so far been an excellent month for all things fluttery in the garden. It’s been warm and mostly sunny. We have had the odd spectacular thunderstorm but not the flooding experienced in other parts of the Country. The last two days have been very windy, but this has not stopped the little winged ones. The buddleias are living up to their common name ‘butterfly bush’. At times dozens of Red Admirals, Painted Ladies and Peacocks have been feasting on the light purple sprays with their heady scent. These are joined by various species of white and brown.
And now the dragonflies are appearing. Hyperactive Migrant Hawkers zipping around, slower, larger and more colourful Southern Hawkers, even a Brown Hawker but with none of the drama of my last post. Now they just seem satisfied to hunt tiny flies, not each other. The seasons are slowly starting to change. The fruits of the hawthorn hedge are turning red and the elderberries a deep glossy black, a sure sign summer is on the wane.
Mid-week I took a drive a few miles east around the coast to Winterton. In autumn this is an excellent site for finding migrant birds but I went to look for butterflies and odonata. This is an area of outstanding natural beauty and managed by Natural England. The beach is wide and sandy and is backed by an extensive area of sand dunes that stretch for several miles. At this time of the year the inland section is covered in beautiful flowering heather. There are also a few little groups of stunted oak trees. It was among the heather and along the sandy paths that I searched for the Grayling (Hipparchia semele). These butterflies are the masters of disguise. You see one in flight, it lands and almost instantly folds it’s forewing into the hindwing. It turns to angle itself into the sun so as not to cast a shadow and disappears, only to fly up when you step too close.
About a mile west of the village, nestled in the dunes, are two ponds known as the ‘toad pools’. The toads in question are the rare and protected Natterjacks, none around today. There was a lot of damselfly activity but since I last visited a few years ago someone has kindly erected a fence. No one about so let’s get closer. The damsels were Emeralds (Lestes sponsa). In the past the very rare Southern Emerald has bred here but I found none today. Two large and impressive Emperors patrolled the pools and dozens of tiny darters, Common and Ruddy, went about the business of creating a new generation. A lovely morning out.
Friday afternoon was quite pleasant despite a fresh northerly straight off the sea. Thought it would be nice to have a wander around Upton Fen looking for dragonflies. One area was particularly good, an area of cut reed on the edge of the woodland, nicely sheltered. A newly emerged Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta), wings soft and shiny, struggled into flight. Seconds later it’s brief life was snuffed out as a patrolling Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) took advantage of an easy meal.
All this happened right at our feet! Mrs H was not overly impressed, I was ecstatic. The image above has created quite a stir on a dragonfly facebook group, not something that is often witnessed let alone photographed. The Brown Hawker is a big dragon it’s body 3 inches (75mm) long, the Migrant Hawker is 2.5 inches (63mm). The brown didn’t eat all the migrant it was soon airborne catching more ‘normal’ prey. I think it was just taking advantage of something weaker.
Can not hide the fact I was disappointed to return from Cumbria without having seen the two dragonflies I had targeted. I should not be greedy, after all I have seen and photographed five new species this year. Yet I am greedy! A plan was hatched sometime ago where John from Hertfordshire would take me to a special site to see a special dragonfly (or two!). The site is called the ‘Canvey Ditch’ so let me set the scene.
Canvey Island is in south Essex. It is in the Thames estuary east of London and is not noted for being a beauty spot. On the north side of the busy A130 that leads to the town centre is a cattle field, not very wide, that is split down the middle by a very narrow ditch at the most only a few feet across. For the most part of it’s 1.5 miles the ditch is dry or at least muddy and has an abundance of reed and true bullrush growing from it. The banks were dotted by hawthorn bushes.
We met mid-morning in the leisure centre car park and the temperatures were already in the mid 80’s and the sky cloudless. Only a few minutes after entering the field and saying hello to the resident cattle I spotted our target a Southern Migrant Hawker dragonfly (Aeshna affinis) and then a mating pair. This beautiful dragon was a very rare visitor to our shores. Then in 2010 there was a small influx to south east England. In later years it was found to have bred successfully in a few areas like the Canvey ditch.
The males held territory along the ditch, each had a stretch of about ten yards between bushes. When they met on their boundaries a quick tussle ensued. They were searching for newly hatched females. The day was very hot and the dragonflies were not going to settle so I had to resort to trying for in-flight images as they hovered for a few seconds whilst on patrol.
Also in this area resides a very rare damselfly the Southern Emerald (Lestes barbarus). Carefully I checked the rushes. There were dozens of Scarce Emeralds, a species I saw for the first time on the pingo trail ( see post ‘A day with the damsels’). Then by chance I spotted one without any blue, a couple of quick shots for conformation, this was a Southern Emerald. First recorded in 2002 it is limited to only a couple of sites in the country.
A very successful day. The field also held a good number of butterflies including Marbled Whites which we do not have in Norfolk. The only downside to the day (apart from the travelling on over congested roads) was I forgot to check my camera batteries after the drag racing, yes they went/were flat!
Friday promised to be a good day inland away from the cool on-shore breeze. A bit of a dilemma what to do. There was a hot rod drag race on an airfield in south Norfolk which sounded fun or we could go and look for dragonflies at a new site. In the end the latter option appealed more so we headed to the Brecks and Thompson Common the start of ‘The Great Eastern Pingo Trail’. “What on earth is a pingo?” I hear you say. Without being too scientific a pingo was formed in the last ice age. It is a mound in the permafrost which creates a pond. These ponds are important habitats so there is plenty of conservation work carried out to stop them disappearing.
Thompson Common is a really beautiful place. A walk through woodland, in the cool shade, led to open flower filled areas favoured by several species of butterfly. The pingos varied from being in deep shady woodland looking like primeval swamp to open marshy dips to the large meadow pool with reeds, lilies and lots of open water. It was here I searched for the Scarce Emerald (Lestes dryas) a rare damselfly in the UK. There were hundreds of damsels around the pool, lots of Emeralds (Lestes sponsa) which was confusing, my field guide said these should appear later in July. I found my target but the differences between the two are quite slight.
The emerald family are also known as spreadwings. Unlike other damselflies which hold their wings along their backs the emeralds often have theirs in this semi open position. The pingo trail is eight miles in total. We walked a couple before returning to the car to find a pub lunch. After lunch and a refreshing pint at the Chequers we drove through Thompson village down a narrow and rough track to Thompson Water, a large man made lake at the western end of the trail.
As we approached the lake the whole area was covered with countless thousands of Common Blue and Azure Damselflies which rose up like a little blue cloud as you carefully walked among them. What I had come to see would be found on the water. These were the Red-eyed and Small Red-eyed Damselflies. Two species that look very alike, these sit on floating aquatic plants. Tina was in her element as my ‘spotter’ and was pointing them out to me. Trouble was they were several feet from the bank. I tried my zoom lens but the results were not sharp enough so I switched to the macro and hung out as far as I could, with my camera at arms length to get close, thankfully some shots were spot on!
A great day out and four new species of odonata photographed. Next week we are off to the Lake District for a holiday so if the weather behaves I hope to see some more, fingers crossed.
I had hoped to get out and about looking for new dragonflies this summer and for that matter there were plans to track down a couple of butterflies as well. As happens other things crop up or the weather decides to go awol. A couple of Sundays ago (father’s day) we visited the RSPB reserve at Strumpshaw Fen, in the river Yare valley, a few miles east of Norwich. I used to come here a lot in years past but it has become very popular. I’m not over keen on crowds when trying to photograph wildlife and here the big attraction is the Swallowtail butterflies that visit an artificial flowerbed by the visitors centre. No chance today far too windy, anyway I prefer my local spot where there are more butterflies than people!
No, my target was to try and see the Scarce Chaser dragonfly. Not that uncommon in parts of England but lives up to it’s name here in Norfolk. As it was so windy I decided we should walk the woodland trail which has a nice dyke running alongside. Several areas were sunlit and lots of various damselflies were in the throes of making the next generation, dragonfly porn as Tina calls it! Also we saw some Banded Demoiselles, large, blue and with a slow butterfly like flight. Without any trouble I spotted a female Scarce Chaser which kept returning to the same bent reed and wasn’t bothered in the least as I clicked away.
Also in the same area were two newly emerged chasers. No males seen, they were possibly patrolling open water elsewhere.
This last Sunday A Broadland village had an open garden event. It was a really good day out, even a classic car show to keep me amused! Mrs H said to take the camera along as there maybe the odd dragonfly about, and there was, several. The one that caught my eye was an Emperor which was patrolling a boat mooring staithe. I tried to get an image and eventually managed one not too bad (for a flight shot).
Whilst in one of the gardens I was sitting by an ornamental pond watching the damselflies having fun (no I’m not a pervert) when I thought this water lily would make a nice shot. Many of you have got the art of floral photography down to a tee so don’t snigger at my effort, please.
On reflection I should possibly have chosen a better title for this post. I can imagine all sorts of ‘interesting’ people being directed here by search engines! Hey-ho let’s run with it anyway, might get some interested in nature.
I have managed to get out and do a bit of dragonfly watching this past week or so. It was a slow start but is picking up nicely. Mike over in the States ( https://michaelqpowell.com/?wref=bif ) has been posting images for some weeks now, so we are playing catch-up. Started by checking out Hickling Broad and on Sunday we went to Upton Fen. At Upton I had to use my zoom lens to get the images and was pleasantly surprised at the detail. A great lens for drag racing but after a lot of pretty poor butterfly images I was reluctant to use it. You can see the link in the images and the reason behind the dodgy heading.
A lovely sunny morning after a very cool night, the dew lays heavy on the grass. In the middle of a weeks holiday, time to get out and about. Still armed with the old Nikon I headed over to Hickling Broad. Where the sun was filtering through many Dragonflies were warming up. Darters, Ruddy and Common, the bright red coloured males preferring to sit on the path whilst the grey looking females perched higher up. Southern and Migrant Hawkers, much larger and more colourful, patrolled the trees never stopping. And to my delight Willow Emerald Damselflies in range of the macro, not hanging from a leaf high in a tree!
The Willow Emerald (Chalcolestes viridis) is a very recent colonist of the UK from the Continent. It is slowly spreading west. They have an interesting way of breeding, the female will lay her eggs in the bark of willow or alder which overhangs water, when the eggs hatch the larvae drop into the water to then continue their growth.
Although the female Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) appear grey, seen up close they are very nicely marked. They are also willing to pose for the camera unlike most of the large dragons.
Am away for a few days, will catch up with everyone next week. Have a good weekend.
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.