2022 has been and gone. As with all years it had it’s highs and lows. There were many plans hatched that never came to fruition mainly because we spent a fair bit of time having major work done to the house and decorating. Only one room left to do now so hopefully we will spend more time enjoying ourselves in ’23. Already we have booked a return to Scotland in June and to celebrate a special anniversary in May we are visiting the Greek island of Corfu which holds some lovely memories from our last trip in 2019.
I’ve been looking through my images from this past year and several, though fairly reasonable, never made it to this blog. I usually limit myself to a handful of shots per post so only the best will do. Other times there may be photos taken and I never wrote a post where they could be included. Let’s have a look at what I found.
One thing I have noticed is that I have been getting a few new followers to this blog, welcome everyone I hope you find things of interest on this site. Also there has been a few regular bloggers that have suddenly stopped and in some cases their blogs deleted from wp. Not sure of the reasons but I hope they are still ok.
Let’s hope for a great New Year with lots of lovely subjects to photograph. Take care all, B.
Autumn is on it’s way. The year is slipping by. Day after day, week after week of heat, humidity and drought is slowly coming to an end. We have finally had a little rain, not much, just enough to settle the dust. This morning was that cool I had to put on a cardigan! The last couple of weeks we have decided to reprieve our walks that were such a feature of the covid lockdown. Sadly one of my favourites, by the old canal, has been blocked by the landowner who had received abuse when asking dog walkers to control their pets. The minority spoiling it for all. Still, there is plenty to see at this time of the year as a different suit of species take front of stage.
Not featured our flying assassins much this year. This is mostly due to the fact I have not been out very often looking for them and when I have not actually seeing many. The start of the season was good but it tailed off a few weeks back when we started this drought and spells of extreme heat. Coincidence? The larvae that have spent one, two or more years underwater and can time their emergence should be fine. Of course if a pool dries up, as is happening, they are in big trouble, this will have an effect in future years. As for the lack of adults maybe it has been just too hot at times.
Here are a few I have managed to see in the last few weeks.
End of July and I took a walk in the dune system at Winterton-on-sea. Last year this place was heaving with odonata. Those with a long memory may recall the rare Lesser Emperor I found. This year a three mile hike turned up just ten, yes TEN, dragonflies! Yes it was a bit breezy but even so…. One of the pools in the main breeding area had been filled in to stop the spread of an invasive water weed, the others all but dry and with no rain since, well, they must be dust now.
Upton Fen in the Broads was better but still not as prolific as in recent years. On my first visit the Darters were just starting to show.
The Skimmers are a pain to photograph. They usually sit on the paths, let you get nearly in lens range, then fly a few feet away and repeat ad-nauseam. The one above obviously had not read the rule book!
Saw a few different species when we went to Pensthorpe with the Lemming but again not big numbers. The highlight being two Lesser Emperors by one of the lakes but frustratingly no photo opportunity. The damselflies above were egg laying in an ornamental pond and that shot was taken with my 600mm lens.
The garden pond has been almost deserted for some weeks, just the odd Blue-tailed Damselfly. This Common Darter arrived a week ago and is good company it even tolerates the macro lens a foot from his face. What he does not tolerate is any other male Darter trying to muscle in on his territory. These are given a quick kicking. Any females are treated to ‘Darter romance’, grabbed by the back of the neck, dragged into the bushes, brought back to the pond by the back of the neck and dunked in to lay eggs, the little charmer, not even a “what’s your name babe, care for a dance?”
The house renovations (for this year) are nearly finished. As I write this the dining room carpet is being laid, soon all the furniture will be in it’s proper place! Just to keep my sanity and collect my thoughts I took a couple of days off over the past months to immerse myself in nature. Purple Emperors started emerging in the third week of June down south. On the 23rd, more in hope than expectation, I visited Foxley Wood our local Emperor site. It was a lovely morning and the first Silver-washed Fritillaries and White Admirals were on the wing. I sat in the shade watching the coming and goings and had just finished chatting to a lovely couple who were on holiday when out of the blue his loveliness landed on the path right in front of me!
Spurred on by this early success the following week I decided on a trip to Fermyn Woods in Northamptonshire. I have struggled in the past couple of years at this Emperor mecca and have even pondered foregoing the delightful (not) two and a half hour journey. Perhaps I should have listened to my inner self. The sun was intermittent but the wind far too strong. I kept to the more sheltered areas but sightings were few and far between. After several hours and many miles of walking the grand total was just nine with only four on the ground! In future, conditions will have to be perfect before I venture here again.
Back at home the dragonfly activity in the garden pond has been poorer than last year. Not sure of the reason as the weather has been ok. There was some emergence in May and the damselflies returned to breed but now sightings are thin on the ground. One species I did see, and a new addition to the garden, was a female Banded Demoiselle.
Into July and for the first time in three years I took a look at Holt Country Park 18 miles to the west. As I got to the site a band of dense cloud had covered the sun. No going back, I was sure it would clear. I made my way up to the heathland called the Lowes. This is a great place for Keeled Skimmer dragonflies (Orthetrum coerulescens). Making my way down the slope to the boggy area where the Skimmers breed I was stunned to come face to face with a Roe Deer and her fawn. What a lovely but very brief sighting.
Normally the Skimmers are highly active and very difficult to approach. The cloud worked to my advantage and I managed to get my best shots to date of this species.
Sure enough the sun eventually appeared and I made my way back down to the woodland. Like turning on a switch butterflies were everywhere including the one I had come to see the Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia). They hungrily searched out the last of the bramble flowers for a boost of nectar before seeking out a prospective mate.
Now the paint brushes are put away ’till next year hopefully more trips out are on the cards. Watch this space.
Some people relish a challenge, me not so much. Nowadays I much prefer the ‘easy life’. That said there has been an insect in the garden that threw down the gauntlet and challenged me to photograph it. The creature in question is the Hummingbird Hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum). These are summer migrants mostly from southern Europe. Some years they appear here in good numbers, this is one of those years. The difficulty in getting a good image is they are hyped up and seem to run on a mixture of full strength coffee and nitromethane! Luckily the little devils love Red Valerian, a flower that we have plenty of in the garden. So it was a case of bide my time and be patient.
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.