Summer Slips By

Midway through August already, where has the year gone?  Soon we will be into autumn and my attention will be on different subjects.  Gone will be the butterflies and dragonflies.  Let’s face it, this year has been a very ‘mixed bag’, spring never got going and we have only had brief periods of real summer yet around the world others have literally baked and burned.  Here are a few shots from recent weeks.

Summer is the time for brown butterflies. I do like this family, the Satyridae, you have to get close to see the beauty. This is a Small Heath (Coenonympha pamphilius)
The Large Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus) is not really that large, only an inch and a quarter across
Late summer is the time for the Gatekeepers (Pyronia tithonus), they love bramble flowers
The second brood of Holly Blues (Celastrina argiolus) have been flitting aimlessly around the garden, nice to see one on a flower
The Southern Hawkers (Aeshna cyanea) visit the garden. This female stuffed it’s face with flying ants (look closely, one is still in it’s mouth) and rested here under the Mahonia bush
Flower photography is not my strong point. This is one of my Water Lilies, it was ‘rescued’ (with the owners permission) from an old water tank in the garden of a derelict cottage

Finally, after nearly two years, we are off to Berlin in a couple of weeks to see the ‘Lemming’, fingers crossed everything goes ok as booking flights has been rather traumatic and there are so many ‘hoops’ to leap through to enter Germany and return.  Have a great weekend everyone!

Simply Red

red-letter day
/ˌredˈlet.ə ˌdeɪ/US
a specialhappy, and important day that you will always remember:
Well I have certainly had a few of these in June.  Having managed to photograph three new species of dragon/damselflies so far I was greedy for more.  For my next target I had to visit a site forty miles away.  I’d had one trip with no luck but was only wearing my hiking boots.  This fen was very wet so I returned with my wellies (rubber boots), now I could really get amongst it!
Small Red Damselfly (Ceriagrion tenellum) male.  Scarning Fen, Norfolk

And there we have it, the Small Red Damselfly, I hope you are impressed.  Put into context this is probably East Anglia’s rarest odonata.  It only occurs at the one site, the nearest colonies are in the most south, south/west counties or west Wales!  In these areas it is at it’s most northern range in Europe.  The Small Red is typically found in acidic pools on heath and bog, hence the need for the rubber boots!

The lady of the species comes in three colour forms, this is intermedia with a red and black abdomen

I carefully and slowly squelched my way through the bog keeping my eyes peeled for any movement, the smell not the most pleasant.  In recent years these damselflies have been in very low numbers and fears are that the colony may die out.  Suddenly a weak fluttering ahead, careful approach, not this time, it was a Large Red one of our commonest damsels.  Then another, a quick record shot, zoom in on the back of camera and YES!  Red legs, all red body this was my target.  It moved around low in the luxuriant plant growth, teasing me, and then it alighted on a lone reed stem as if to say “I give up, go on take your photos and leave me alone”.  And that’s what I did and I couldn’t ask for a nicer set of shots.  In all I found at least four Small Reds including a female.  Another red-letter day.

Large Red Damselflies (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) gave several false alarms. They are not that much bigger than the Small Red but have all black legs and the males have black on the abdomen. When dealing with creatures only just over an inch (30mm) long not easy to see with my dodgy eyesight!  This is a mating pair (the male above) forming a wheel, or heart for the romantics

Keeping to the red theme.  Butterflies have been very thin on the ground recently. The changeable weather has not helped but when the sun has shone good numbers of Red Admirals (Vanessa atalanta) have been in the garden and their flower of choice?  Red Valerian (Centranthus ruber).

Before the Rains Came

The start of June was glorious, now? not so much.  I mentioned in my last posting that we had been out and about making the most of the summer sun so today I thought I’d share a few images (not a dragonfly in sight, I promise 😥, but maybe a butterfly 🙂)

Monet would be pleased! The first Lily flower to open in my pond the variety is ‘Xiafei’

Speaking of great artists I mentioned last time visiting ‘Constable Country’.  The Constable being John (1776-1837) and the Country is the River Stour on the Suffolk/Essex border.  It was here that JC painted his greatest landscapes such as ‘The Hay wain’.  It was our first visit to the area and, well it’s ok but the paintings are better.  Times change and I prefer the more romanticised view of the past to the reality of the modern scene, cafe/visitor centre/activity centre/paddle boarders/etc.

Willy Lott’s (house) Cottage. A feature in some of Constable’s works. Mr Lott was the tenant farmer at the time and apparently only spent four nights away from the property in his whole life! (oh, and you can’t go inside)
The famous Flatford Mill. This is the best view I could find, there were a lot less trees about in Mr C’s day
The Stour at Flatford. Looking through the lock gates toward the bridge. The length of time I waited ’till the bridge was clear of folk and no day-glo paddle boarders were in view!

I have spent a few mornings visiting Hickling Broad.  As well as the usual suspects I have been keeping my eyes open for a very special wasp.  Regarded as extinct in Britain the Fen Mason Wasp (Odynerus Simillimus) was re-discovered here in 1986.  These very small wasps nest by burrowing in the ground and forming a ‘chimney’ style entrance.  I was delighted to find some on my last visit.

Fen Mason Wasp, Hickling Broad, Norfolk, June’21

Of course no visit to Hickling would be complete without a shot or two of our Broadland beauty the Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio machaon ssp britannicus).  Thing is they have been few and far between due to the cold spring.  However the day I saw the wasp six were on the wing.

June 2021. A very late start due to a prolonged cold spring. this one favoured the Ragged Robin

The Butterflies of the Cut-off Channel

The Cut-off Channel is a man-made waterway in the west of the Counties of Norfolk & Suffolk and runs for 28 miles (45 km).  Construction was finished in 1964 and it has a dual purpose.  In winter it collects the flood water from three rivers and transfers it, via a pump at Denver, out to sea in the River Great Ouse.  Summer and the flow is reversed and water is supplied to fill a reservoir in the County of Essex.

The spoil from the digging formed steep banks which are now lush with flora and support a wide variety of fauna.  After Foulden Common a small stretch at Stoke Ferry is the only other site in Norfolk to find the tiny Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus malvae).  The Skippers normally appear in April but due to our very poor spring I was wondering if any would be out now in June.  Yesterday (2nd) with temperatures hitting 26c I took the 90 minute drive to find out.

A surprisingly fresh Grizzled Skipper. Very difficult to spot, the usual sighting is a tiny grey blur zig-zagging low and fast to the ground
Not so fresh but at least this Skipper had the decency to sit up off the ground for a few seconds

In the sweltering conditions I counted five Skippers which I was well pleased with.  There were many more butterflies to keep me amused and a few dragon and damselflies.  The air was filled with birdsong and apart from a couple of joggers and dog walkers I had the place to myself.

Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi) behaving itself and not attacking anyone!
Brown Argus (Aricia agestis) not much bigger than the Grizzles. This was attacking everyone!
Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus). Lovely and fresh the colour is deep and vivid

Bring me Sunshine

April was cold and very dry with a record number of frosts.  May has been cold and very wet/windy.  Only one day this month has the temperature got in the high teens centigrade compared to twenty last year.  Not the spring I was hoping for when I took early retirement.  But nature is resilient, It has to be to survive.  Given a good day butterflies will appear and eggs will be laid, maybe not as many but just enough to ensure a future generation.

Sunday Stroll

We took a walk with Rose and Mick and chanced the forecast.  Our route, to the west of town, was quite familiar during this pandemic.  Ominous black clouds to the west, cracks of thunder, yet it rolled on by and not a drop fell.  It was a lovely morning.

Comma (Polygonia c-album) on daisies. I really enjoy getting down to ground level and being amongst nature
Say “hello” to an Early Mining Bee (Andrena haemorrhoa)
A female Orange-tip carefully lays an egg under the flower head of Garlic Mustard. Only one egg will be laid per plant as the caterpillars are cannibalistic
Another Andrena Bee. This is a male and several species look similar

Searching for Skippers

Every year in early May I try and get across the County to Breckland.  It is here, at only two sites, that Norfolk’s rarest and smallest butterfly can be found.  As I approached Foulden Common it was obvious there had been a good helping of the wet stuff.  However the sky was clearing, sun appearing and after an hour long drive I was going to make the most of it.  This year I didn’t have my extra pair of eyes, Mrs H was at work, so I had to carefully scan the ground alone.  As it warmed up the butterflies emerged from wherever they had sheltered for the night.  Brimstones, Orange-tips, Small Coppers, Peacocks and Speckled Wood.  Then, suddenly, what I was searching for.  A tiny dark butterfly flew up to chase a smaller, greyer variety, a Dingy Skipper seeing off a Grizzled Skipper, my target.  In all I saw four Grizzles, not many but at least they are still surviving.

Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus malvae) at Foulden Common. With wings open barely an inch across, like a miniature chessboard
Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) form punctata, on a Cow Slip at Foulden

Pond Update

It’s all systems go at the garden pond.  Every time I turn my back it seems another dragonfly has emerged!  I’ve still yet to see the actual breaking free of the exuvia but there’s plenty of time.  The total now is 3 Broad-bodied Chasers, 1 Four-spotted Chaser and 5 Large Red Damselflies.  The rains have left the pond brimful and all the new arrivals have had to bide their time to take flight.

After sitting out strong winds and an overnight downpour this Four-spotted Chaser has a chance to spread it’s wings and dry out

For the weekend and beyond the forecast is for proper spring weather, bring me sunshine!

More Pond Life

I try and post once a week(ish) and usually have a topic in mind.  Now, if I get to go out unexpectedly and get some images I’m really pleased with a curved ball is tossed in my direction.  What to do?  As you lovely people have had an overdose of butterfly shots just lately I will stick to the original plan, especially as things have happened in the last few days.  Intrigued?  Carry on reading.

Those of you who have been with me for a while will know when we moved home late last year we ‘inherited’ a garden pond, no fish this is just for wildlife.  It needed a bit of sorting out and I added a lot of plants.  Now the work is starting to bear fruit.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula)

As well as the butterflies, during the warm months (🤣🤣😂) I am fascinated by dragonflies.  Our spring here in Norfolk, as well as most of the UK, just hasn’t got going.  The dragons and damsels (odonata) are at least three weeks late.  For spring butterflies to suffer poor weather will mean next year the numbers will crash.  The dragons can delay emergence under water until things are better, sometimes up to a year.  However late last week we had a visit from the first Large Red Damselfly.

Helophilus pendulus also known as the Footballer Hoverfly due to it’s stripey thorax supposedly resembling a soccer shirt, yeah ok
Bogbean (Menyanthes trifoliata). Lovely to see one of my plant introductions in flower and such a beautiful flower it is

The exciting events started this week with the first Large Red Damselfly emerging.  I noticed the very pale damsel hanging from an old Iris stem.  At this stage they are known as teneral, it takes a day or so to attain full colour.

Morning reflection

Monday morning it was cool and grey.  I went for my daily look at the pond and to say “Hi” to the newts (yes, I’m loosing it).  There hanging from an Iris a freshly emerged Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa)!  I was ecstatic.  Rushed indoors to get the camera and Mrs H so I could record the event.

The dragonfly was in an awkward spot to photograph. An hour earlier and I would have witnessed the actual emergence.  The little white threads coming from the exuvia are the breathing tubes
The sun came through early afternoon. This allowed the dragon to open her wings into the normal position and inflate them. An hour later she had taken her first flight. The female can be told by the shape of the anal appendages, these are the two tiny points on the tip of the abdomen. Female Broad-bodied Chasers will become a bright gold colour whilst males will produce a substance called pruinescence which turns them blue

Butterflies, Bugs, Birds & Blooms

Easter Sunday.  Taking advantage of lockdown easing we went a few miles out of town to have a walk around, what is for us, a new nature reserve.  Southrepps common is a 14 acre site now run by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust.  Parking opposite the school you start on a boardwalk through reedbed and wet marsh.  The 3.5 mile circular route then takes you through mixed woodland and agricultural land, then on ‘quiet lanes’ around the pretty village of Lower Southrepps with it’s napped flint cottages.  This was the childhood haunt of our walking buddy Mick so he pointed out who lived where and the places he played.  Take a look at a small sample of the wildlife we encountered.

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Snakes-head Fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris). This beautiful and unusual flower is something of a rarity in the UK so I was delighted to see this specimen
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This tiny hoverfly is a species of Eupeodes possibly latifasciatus.  Love the colour the sun brings to it’s wings
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Little bird, big voice!  A Wren (Troglodites troglodites) poses for a quick shot
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I like to keep my eyes open for the unusual and this fits the bill! It is a type of ichneumon wasp possibly Spilichneumon occisorius (according to a fb group). The flower is Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) a common plant of roadside verges near the coast. It was introduced by the Romans and is edible
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Straight out of hibernation most butterflies seek sunny spots to absorb the warmth just like this Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)
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Found a nice sheltered hollow for a coffee and cake break. Several Peacocks (Aglais io) were enjoying the newly opened sallow flowers
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Orange-tip (Anthocharis cardamines)

When we completed the loop we decided to go a bit further to see the farm Mick grew up on.  It was a good move.  As we walked by the steep bank near the railway bridge Mrs H called out “butterfly!”  I was not expecting a cracking fresh male Orange-tip!  Considering we have not had a sustained spell of good weather it was very early to emerge.  Normally these (my favourite spring butterfly) fellows would be wandering here and there not stopping.  This one was attracted to a bed of Red dead-nettles and was still there when we returned some time later.

You will notice from the images it was a lovely sunny day.  Yesterday and today we have been ‘enjoying’ heavy snow showers and a strong north/westerly with temps just above freezing.  I don’t think that first Orange-tip has a great chance of survival.  The Peacocks and Tortoiseshells on the other hand will just return to hibernation, and life goes on.

Spring is in the Air

Just over a week ago we were under several inches of snow and ice with the temperature struggling to get above freezing.  Yesterday the wind fell light, the sun was out and it was in mid-teens centigrade.  Time for a long overdue walk.  Will nature have recovered quickly?  What will we see?

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Robin (Erithacus rubecula) in full flow

Everywhere the Robins were announcing their claim to territory.  Their glorious song filled the air.  Full volume now, not the subdued version they will utter even in the depths of winter.  They mean business.  To our ears beautiful music, to a rival a challenge, throwing down the gauntlet!

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A pollen laden Honey Bee investigates the Snowdrops

Banks of snowdrops and crocuses filled country gardens, groups of daffodils in sheltered spots already in bloom.  Wild flowers starting to appear on the verges of the country lanes, Bright yellow lesser celandines, small blue speedwells, daisies and dandelions.  New growth pushing through and in the warmth you could literally smell it!

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A perky Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus). In our new garden they are investigating the nest box I put up
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Hazel, catkins and swelling buds

Along the 7 mile walk my eyes were peeled.  I just felt the conditions would awaken a hibernating butterfly.  Like last year it was Mrs H who spotted the first, a Peacock, and as is her way kept reminding me of it (didn’t think it was a competition).  A few miles further on, as we were admiring the local Alpacas, a lemon yellow male Brimstone danced past right under our noses and did a circuit of the paddock.  I got my first butterfly photo of the year just a mile from home.  A fluttering by an ivy hedge caught my eye and there a Peacock in pretty good condition (considering it spent the winter possibly in a hole in a tree) sat in the sun, posing, allowing me the pleasure to capture the moment for posterity.

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The Peacock (Aglais io) performs to it’s admirer (me!)

Hopefully this isn’t a false dawn and we can enjoy more days like this in the weeks to come, I can’t wait!

Muddy Boots but a ‘Seal’ of Approval

Sunday and with sun forecast all day we could get a walk in.  It’s been a bit wet of late so we haven’t had a chance for a couple of weeks.  As everyone enjoyed my last choice I was tasked with picking another so I settled on an old ‘stomping ground’ Horsey.

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Horsey drainage mill

We started at Horsey Mill.  This drainage pump is the best preserved of these iconic Norfolk sights.  It is in the hands of the National Trust and a couple of years back was given a new cap and sails.  Then we crossed the very soggy marshes to the coast.  For several miles on this stretch is an extensive dune system and this sand and marram grass is all that keeps the sometimes volatile North Sea from flooding the low lying freshwater Broads network.  The last time the defences were breached was the terrible surge of 1953 which claimed many lives on the east coast and Continent.

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And relax!

A big attraction on the beach here are the Grey Seals that from November come ashore to give birth.  The area is cordoned off and has a lot of voluntary wardens on duty to stop idiots trying to get close.  There were hundreds of people there so we only gave it a few minutes just to get some shots.

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This seal pup must have heard a great joke!

The seals are ungainly on land but pretty nimble in the water.  They are not my most favourite mammal but the pups are quite cute. 

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“Am I cute?”

Leaving the madding crowd far behind we headed across some fields to a raised drainage ditch bank.  This led us to the ruins of Brograve wind pump.  On the way was a small herd of ‘winter swans’ mostly Bewicks but a couple of larger Whoopers as well.  Unfortunately too distant for any decent shots.

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Brograve pump

There are many fascinating tales linked to this mill.  It was said the devil chased the landowner here and beat on the door leaving hoof marks.  Annoyed at the marshes being drained the devil was said to have tried to blow the mill down, hence the angle of lean (which is actually subsidence, sorry to be a spoilsport).  The drainage is now taken care of by a less romantic electric pump.

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Mute Swans in winter light

 

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Dusk

After six miles we arrived back at Horsey by dusk.  Despite the last stretch of narrow path leaving our boots caked in mud all agreed it was a great day out.

Mrs H and myself wish everyone as happy a holiday period as possible in this difficult year.  Keep safe and we will see you  all again in ’21.

 

 

My Kind of Norfolk

Last Saturday and it was my turn to choose a walk.  After going through a pile of assorted maps and books that Mick and Rose had accumulated, I had ear-marked a few.  Trouble was they all involved sections of wetlands I am familiar with and at this time of the year could be muddy underfoot.  I settled on what I thought would be the easiest, following the River Ant from Ludham Bridge upstream to How Hill then across fields to Ludham village.  I was hoping for a bit of brightness but unfortunately the day got gloomier and by the time we had done the seven or so miles it was almost dark.  It made photography tricky with such low light but I think adds an atmosphere to the landscape shots.

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Turf Fen drainage mill.  Nikon  D5300, Nikkor 18-140mm @35mm, iso 250, f10, 1/100s

When I worked at the last boatyard, I would spend a fair bit of time ferrying boats to and from different yards in the winter.  Scenes like these are very familiar and to me captures the nicest season on the Broads.  This mill was built in 1875 to drain the Horning Marshes into the River Ant so they could be used for livestock grazing.

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Fly past. A Mute Swan flushed from a nearby field gives us a close view
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Boardman’s drainage mill at How Hill.

How Hill is an 800 acre estate with the mansion house built for Edward Boardman in 1905, it is now an environmental education centre and nature reserve.

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Cormorant tree
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Toad Hole cottage

The men who worked the marshes cutting reed lived in cottages like this.  Very basic with no luxuries like running water and electricity.  Toad Hole is now a museum and furnished to show the marshman’s life.

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Turf Fen