Meet the Neighbours

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.

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Female Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens). I just can’t resist photographing these little beauties

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.

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The Azure Damselfly synchronised egg laying team need a bit more practice!

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.

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Smile….please?  This Small Skipper looks somewhat put out having a lens poked in it’s face
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A Leaf-cutter Bee busy at work

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.

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How beautiful is that? White Admiral (Limenitis camilla)

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).

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The female Silver-washed Fritillary is a big butterfly with a wingspan of about 3ins (75mm). Duller than the male it is an impressive sight

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.

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The male Silver-washed Fritillary, what’s not to get excited about?

Moving On

Some of you may recall back in April I mentioned that we had sold our property and might end up homeless.  Well, in the last couple of weeks everything has moved very quickly.  We were given a date to exchange contracts and complete the sale so all our spare time has seen us packing away thirty years of our life and yesterday we moved out.  Thankfully we are not on the streets as Mrs H’s great friends Angela & Simon are letting us use their annex while we wait, hopefully, for the purchase of our new home to proceed.  We thought our old house was in a rural location, the ‘Old Apple Store’ is even more remote.  Surrounded by beautiful garden and only a two minute stroll to the disused North Walsham and Dilham canal.

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The delightful ‘Old Apple Store’ our temporary home

A spare day before back to work so we decided to explore the old waterway.  The sun was trying to peep through and it was warm and sheltered from the strong breeze.  Flitting around the reeds were dozens of Banded Demoiselles (Calopteryx spledens) looking for all the world like overgrown blue butterflies, I have never seen so many in one place.

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A male Banded Demoiselle glistens in the sun

The females of this species are green and lack the coloured wings.  Difficult to pick out they are charming in their own right.

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Female Banded Demoiselle on a leaf of an Alder tree

We saw several butterflies including our first White Admiral (or as the better half called it, a black and white Swallowtail!) of the year.  I think a copy of the ‘I-Spy Book of Butterflies’ may be on her birthday list!  The habitat is fantastic here and I will probably spend a fair bit of time checking it out when there is a bit more sun.

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A summer brood Comma (Polygonia c-album) adds a dash of colour

So a very special thanks to our new ‘landlords’ for allowing us the chance to relax and catch our breaths until we move on again.

 

Butterflies on the Edge

Something a bit different.  Comments from Mike over at https://alittlebitoutoffocus.com/?wref=bif on my last post made me realise that many readers may not understand that in the UK several species of butterfly are or were in great danger of becoming extinct.  I thought in this post I would try and explain why but not in minute detail.  I am not an ecologist so these are views purely of a layman, though many years ago I was heavily involved in angling conservation and river habitat restoration.

Why are butterflies in danger?  Each species has it’s own special requirements but it’s all down to habitat.  The UK is a (relatively) small but heavily populated island(s) so there is great pressure on land use.  More people want more houses, places to work, better transport.  Farmers are being asked to produce more food to feed the growing nation.  Nature has very often taken second place to these needs.  Britain has been shaped by man’s activities for millennia and because of this many butterflies have adapted to the man-made environment.  Now as our needs change many of the old practices are stopped and the butterflies are struggling with the effects.

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Pearl Bordered Fritillary (Boloria euphrosyne) Bentley Wood, Hampshire 2018

Into the Woods.  It was said that thousands of years ago the British Isles were covered in woodland.  People have always exploited this natural resource and over time the ‘wildwood’ disappeared and in it’s place came commercial forest.  Certain trees were grown for various purposes, for instance Oaks for naval shipbuilding.  In the 1920’s huge areas were planted with quick growing non-native conifers with little benefit to wildlife.  One ancient practice was that of coppicing.  This is where sections of wood are cut down to generate new growth and was done on a rotational basis.  In these coppices some species of butterfly thrived as their caterpillar food plant grew in the newly opened areas.  These included the Heath, Pearl-bordered, Small Pearl-bordered and High Brown Fritillaries.  When the coppicing no longer became commercially viable the woods grew back, blocking light and the under-storey choking out those plants the butterflies needed, the Violets and Common Cow-wheat.  Populations crashed to the brink of extinction.  The High Brown Fritillary can now only be found on a few limestone hills around Morecambe Bay in Cumbria and some valleys on Exmoor.

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High Brown Fritillary (Argynnis adippe), Latterbarrow Cumbria 2018

Green, green grass.  It is not just woodland that has suffered change.  Many areas of open grasslands are no longer grazed in the traditional way as this became unprofitable.  The effects were the same.  Plants that require certain conditions could not flourish and those species that rely on them collapsed.  The situation was made worse when the rabbit population, that helped keep the coarse grasses short, suffered the deadly disease myxomatosis which was introduced by man.  One species hit hard was the beautiful Adonis Blue of the warm southern chalk downs.

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Adonis Blue (Polyommatus bellargus) Yoesden Bank, Buckinghamshire 2017

Queen of the Broads.  In my home County of Norfolk we have a butterfly that is just hanging on.  The Swallowtail is unlike it’s close Continental cousin in that it is totally reliant on Milk Parsley, a plant that grows in the reedbeds of the wetlands of the Broads.  If these reedbeds are not maintained this plant and the Swallowtail will die out.  It has lost the ability to wander far in search of a new home.

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Swallowtail (Papilo machon ssp britannicus), Hickling, Norfolk 2018

What is the future?  These are just a few examples to show how butterflies have adapted to the way we managed the countryside.  It is that sudden change of use that has put them in peril.  We have moved quickly in land management but they have not had time to evolve.  Add in the consequences of global warming and things look dire.  It is not all doom and gloom.  More people are acutely aware of the problems and are acting quickly to address the situation.  Conservation groups are working on habitat restoration under the guidance of the scientists.  There have been massive success stories like that of the Large Blue (Phengaris arion). This has been reintroduced to it’s former areas after becoming extinct in 1978 when it was discovered what it needed to survive.  For people like myself who delight in seeing such wildlife we owe a debt of gratitude to these conservationists and must support them however possible.

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Duke of Burgundy (Hamearis lucina), Totternhoe, Bedfordshire 2018. Hanging on but hopefully with conservation work will still be around for future generations to admire

TO DO NOTHING IS NOT AN OPTION     WHEN THEY ARE GONE THEY ARE GONE

 

A Matter of Life & Death

A very dramatic title but it sums up a lot of observations I have had this week.

As I mentioned in my last post we planned to take our first trip out since ‘lockdown’.  Saturday was much sunnier than forecast so we packed a picnic and headed south-west to the furthest part of the County from where we live.  The area is called Breckland.  The Brecks is a Special Protection Area (SPA) the landscape is one of gorse covered sandy heaths.  Rows of Scots Pine act as windbreaks and there are several areas of non-native conifer plantations including Thetford Forest, England’s largest lowland forest.  The site we visited was Foulden Common, home to two rare (for Norfolk) butterflies.

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Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages) gives me a nice photo opportunity

The two species are both members of the Skipper family the Grizzled and the Dingy.  They are small (1 inch or 25mm wingspan) and fly low and fast to the ground.  So with my faithful spotter Mrs H it was eyes down as we quartered the more sheltered areas.  We found 1 Grizzled and 4 Dingies before heavy cloud cover came over and with the breeze put a halt to activity.

So on to Sunday and typically the sun stayed out all day, that’s what we call ‘Sods Law’.  However I paid a short visit to a pond a few miles away hoping to see a rare dragonfly.  No luck on that but it was lovely to just sit and watch the comings and goings.  Hundreds of damselflies were emerging all around.  Their first weak flights taking them up into the overhanging trees.

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A twig in the pond was a popular place to emerge. This newly emerged damselfly is transparent in the backlighting but look closely and you can see the shells or exuvia from which they have broken out. In all there were six on this stick

Most of the life of a damsel or dragonfly is spent under water.  Here the nymphs will live for up to two years, in some species even longer.  They are fierce predators.  When their time comes they climb from the water and split from the shell or exuvia.  Once free they must let the wings dry and harden before attempting flight.  Life in adult form is short, maybe just a few weeks as they seek mates to reproduce, sometimes it is even shorter.  As is the way of nature there is always someone on the lookout for an easy meal.  On Sunday it was a pair of Reed Buntings.  Obviously they had a nest of hungry chicks to feed so were making the most of this harvest.

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Male Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) with a beak full of damselflies

Tuesday and time for a walk by Hickling Broad in lovely weather.  Dragonflies were emerging in numbers.  Like the damsels their first flight is weak and fluttery.  Most of those I saw were the Four-spotted Chasers  There were a few Broad-bodied Chasers and several mature Hairy Hawkers.

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With wings soft and shiny a Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) has recently emerged

Like the damselflies on Sunday even the larger dragons can be in danger at this stage of adulthood remember this https://blhphotoblog.wordpress.com/2019/08/04/kiss-of-death/.  Today it was not a bigger odonata but something much smaller but no less deadly.

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Bad choice of perch. The Four-spotted chaser gets entangled in a web and the maker moves in for lunch. If it’s wings were fully hardened the Chaser would probably have broken free. I could have intervened and freed the dragon but the spider needs to live too

And if all that is making you a bit sad well here is something to cheer you up an Orange-tip, oh yeah you’ve seen these before haven’t you.

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And smile!!

 

Bits & Bobs

No story behind this post just a few images I thought would be nice to share with you.  These were taken over the last couple of weeks in the garden.

 

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Perhaps the smallest bee I’ve seen. This is a male Red Mason Bee (Osmia bicornis). It is about 3/8th of an inch (9mm) long and it’s seen here collecting pollen from a geranium
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During sunny spells in spring there were a lot of these hover flies around the garden. They are Eristalis tenax we also call them Drone Flies. They do like to hover in front of your face and make a droning sound, so a good name all round!
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It’s hawthorn blossom time and the Honey Bees are drawn to the lovely musky scent
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A female Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus) taking a rest on a lilac leaf after I watched her lay eggs on the new tips of the holly bush
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Not sure I’ve shared an image of this butterfly before, oh I have? Never mind you can not have too many Orange-tips (Anthocharis cardamines). To show how small the bee was in the first photo this is the same flower

We have had a little relaxing of our lockdown so if the sun shines on Sunday I hope to catch up with some spring butterflies that are a bit further afield.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Surprise Blooms

Have to admit we are not very ‘green fingered’ over here at Chez H.  Our philosophy being if it grows, great, if it dies don’t bother planting that again.  The problem is the underlying soil is thick, claggy blue clay which does nothing for drainage.  Over the years we have added plenty of organic matter to the flower beds to improve things, yet still, after a couple of years, bulbs like daffs and tulips rot away.  On the plus side primroses, foxgloves and aquilegia (columbine) self seed and flourish.

One of Mrs H’s favourite flowers is the freesia.  Two years ago she bought some corms and popped them in a stone container, nothing happened.  Fast forward to January and we noticed some odd foliage in the container, they had decided to grow!  The freesia is an autumn flowering plant native to South Africa and not frost hardy.  We had a mild winter but covered the container with horticultural fleece at the first sign of a frost and now we are rewarded with these gorgeous blooms.

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Freesias in April

Last autumn we had a large conifer hedge cut down to head height and a third removed.  This left a big gap but the soil was dead and the stumps were left in.  So we built a raised bed, filled it with 1,000 litres (!!!) of mixed compost and grit and after a few weeks to let it settle, popped in some bulbs and assorted plants.  We planted some helleborus orientalis (lenten rose) for late winter colour.  They grew new leaves but no flowers until now!  One plant is in bloom and just keeps on giving.

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The beautiful and intricate pattern of the hellebore flower. Better late than never!

The third surprise bloom is indoors.  Now houseplants don’t have a long life span here, let’s just say Mrs H is not keen on them.  I had a fine collection of cacti once, some I had had for over fifty years!  One day as Tina was dusting the conservatory one beautiful specimen, 3 feet tall with 3 inch long spines decided to ‘bite’ her.  Despite my protests ‘she who must be obeyed’ ordered them gone.  So how many of you have been given one of those supermarket orchids?  Beautiful in flower but when they go you are left with a pot of dark green leathery leaves.  Some people have the knowledge to keep them going, not us.  However having spent the winter on the kitchen window sill look what has happened.

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Miracle orchid

All in all with one thing and another it’s been a funny old year so far.  Before December we thought we had sold our property and bought a new one but it all fell through.  Just before ‘lockdown’ the original buyers came back with an offer as they had now sold their place.  We excepted.  Sadly the house we were buying has since been sold.  We are in a situation where we, due to restrictions, can not look at other properties but at sometime in the next couple of months could find ourselves being homeless!  The future looks, er, ‘interesting’!

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The ‘lockdown room’. After 30 years this could be our last spring here

Don’t Worry Bee Happy

The sun is shining and the garden is starting to look lovely.  The wind is from the east so when you venture out it’s not as warm as you think but the bees don’t seem to mind.  This last week I’ve noticed more and more Hairy-footed Flower Bees (Anthophora plumipes).  They love the pulmonaria.  These are hyperactive critters zig-zagging from bloom to bloom with more of a distinctive buzz than the others.  Time to dust off the macro and give the auto focus a hammering!DSC_0002a

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“Yes I do have hairy feet”
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“It’s a dirty job but someone has to do it” Honey Bee approaching a daffodil
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“Target located I’m going in”

Here in the northern hemisphere spring is unfolding.  Down south it will be your autumn.  Wherever you are try and get out to enjoy your season in these troubling times.

MAGIC!

It’s coming up to that time of year when the blog celebrates it’s third birthday.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you who read my posts and pages, cheers guys & gals!  It has also been good this last year to discover even more interesting blogs.  I have recently been doing more posts that are not nature or drag racing themed, so it’s been pleasing so many of you have ‘liked’ and commented on them.  We are sitting out the second big storm to hit us in a week but rest assured when spring gets here normal service will be resumed.

So for this post we go back to last November.  We thought we had sold our property, unfortunately it all fell through more or less at the last minute.  The only good thing to come out of it was we managed to declutter and clear out 30+ years of “oh that might come in handy one day”.  When I was up in the roof loft space I came across a box of old photos, a quick rummage through and I found two packs with ‘ drag racing’ written on them.  I could have cried with joy!  I thought these were lost for ever having searched for them before without success.

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Two well known Comp Altereds line up. The big v8 powered Ford Pop ‘Liquidator’ driven by Tony Merry or Pete Goddard and the Jag engined ‘Paranoia’ of Loten and Thomas

Ah the memories!  Well to be honest I really can’t remember taking most of these pictures.  They date to the early 1980’s and some can be assigned to certain meetings by maybe the car/bike name or colour, those on the ‘UK & European drag racing photo’s’ fb page have been a great help.  I scanned them onto the computer, a couple of things were obvious, 1. My photography skills in those days was somewhat lacking and 2. Some of the old prints had suffered with age and turned red!  So I asked Uncle Google if anything could be done to restore the images “Yes” he said ” You need to download one of them expensive post-processing softwares”  Hmmm, a look through the options and here’s one offering 30 days free trial!  Well it would be rude not to.

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Before and after, not a 100% but very acceptable. Ron Pudney’s ‘ Magician’ a 1968 Mercury Cougar

The magic button was fade correction and this could be altered for more or less reduction.  However the images still needed working on.  Full size on a 16″ laptop screen the 5″x 3.5″ prints were a bit grim.  They looked very ‘noisy’ possibly due to the type of paper so hit the ‘noise control’ button, better but now soft so saved the results and in Nikon View NX which I got with my first camera I cropped and sharpened the images also adding some contrast or highlight protection and straightened one or two.  Now things were looking good.

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Now you see me, now you don’t! Hazze Fromme ‘Ragnarok’ nitro Funny Car

Further investigation into what this software could offer and with a bit of practice I could remove dust spots or scratches and even more impressive a photographer or two!  The images were now good enough to use on my blog in my various drag racing pages.  Some might say it’s cheating and yes it is but it is also a great way to preserve memories, plus I still have the original prints!

So did I purchase the software?  Actually no.  I made full use of the thirty day trial but at the moment all my post-pocessing needs can be taken care of in Nikon NXD.

Forgotten Frames

When I put posts together they are usually on a certain theme, maybe about a certain species or place I have visited.  As often happens there are shots I take that do not fit in so tend to get overlooked.  Today we have a bit of welcome rain good news, bad news I’m on holiday.  To kill a bit of time I’ve been looking through some files and found images that I quite like that never made the cut.  Thought I would share them.

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Brown Argus (Aricia agestis) in a hot July summer meadow
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Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus). At first glance looks just like the butterfly above, it was even taken in the same meadow, can you ‘spot’ the difference?

Been awhile since I featured any photographs of birds and I know someone over in the U.S who will be pleased to see some.  https://wildlifeintrigued.com/?wref=bif

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Back in June I was checking out a small pool for a rare dragonfly when I was joined by this handsome Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea). Quite like the reflections of the reeds in the water and the bubbles
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Last week at Upton Fen I saw this female Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus). It’s not in song but panting in the heat. Not a bad shot as it was taken with the macro lens!