When the weather is fine then you know it’s a sign
For messing about on the river.
If you take my advice there’s nothing so nice
As messing about on the river.
There are long boats and short boats and all kinds of craft,
And cruisers and keel boats and some with no draught.
So take off your coat and hop in a boat
Go messing about on the river. Josh McCrae (1961)
A couple of weeks back and that’s just what we did. Along with Mick & Rose, Alan & Janet, Mrs H and I hired a small cruiser for a day of exploring the Broads.
Norfolk Broads, a quick guide for those around the world and to dispel the myth of US servicemen stationed here that they are the local ladies!
The Broads are in two sections, north and south. We were on the north. The main river flowing roughly west to east to the sea at Gt Yarmouth is the Bure (32 miles/51km). Joining the Bure, north to south, is the River Ant (17 miles/27km) and the River Thurne (7 miles/11km). Not all these rivers are navigable for the full length. Adjacent to the rivers, often connected, are the flooded remains of Medieaval peat diggings (the peat was used as fuel). These shallow lakes are the Broads.
Of course one advantage of slowly cruising down the river is seeing the wildlife. A lot of birds are used to the boats and allow a close approach. Myriads of dragon and damselflies lined the margins, a Swallowtail butterfly was seen as we took a picnic lunch and majestic Marsh Harriers quartered the reedbeds.
There are bridges and locks and moorings and docks
When messing about on the river.
There’s a whirlpool and weir that you mustn’t go near
When messing about on the river.
There are backwater places all hidden from view,
And quaint little islands just awaiting for you.
So I’ll leave you right now to cast off your bow,
Go messing about on the river.
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!
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!
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.
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).
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 🙂)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For the weekend and beyond the forecast is for proper spring weather, bring me sunshine!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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!
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.
Hopefully this isn’t a false dawn and we can enjoy more days like this in the weeks to come, I can’t wait!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.