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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
The females of this species are green and lack the coloured wings. Difficult to pick out they are charming in their own right.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
TO DO NOTHING IS NOT AN OPTION WHEN THEY ARE GONE THEY ARE GONE
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.