Friday afternoon was quite pleasant despite a fresh northerly straight off the sea. Thought it would be nice to have a wander around Upton Fen looking for dragonflies. One area was particularly good, an area of cut reed on the edge of the woodland, nicely sheltered. A newly emerged Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta), wings soft and shiny, struggled into flight. Seconds later it’s brief life was snuffed out as a patrolling Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) took advantage of an easy meal.
All this happened right at our feet! Mrs H was not overly impressed, I was ecstatic. The image above has created quite a stir on a dragonfly facebook group, not something that is often witnessed let alone photographed. The Brown Hawker is a big dragon it’s body 3 inches (75mm) long, the Migrant Hawker is 2.5 inches (63mm). The brown didn’t eat all the migrant it was soon airborne catching more ‘normal’ prey. I think it was just taking advantage of something weaker.
Can not hide the fact I was disappointed to return from Cumbria without having seen the two dragonflies I had targeted. I should not be greedy, after all I have seen and photographed five new species this year. Yet I am greedy! A plan was hatched sometime ago where John from Hertfordshire would take me to a special site to see a special dragonfly (or two!). The site is called the ‘Canvey Ditch’ so let me set the scene.
Canvey Island is in south Essex. It is in the Thames estuary east of London and is not noted for being a beauty spot. On the north side of the busy A130 that leads to the town centre is a cattle field, not very wide, that is split down the middle by a very narrow ditch at the most only a few feet across. For the most part of it’s 1.5 miles the ditch is dry or at least muddy and has an abundance of reed and true bullrush growing from it. The banks were dotted by hawthorn bushes.
We met mid-morning in the leisure centre car park and the temperatures were already in the mid 80’s and the sky cloudless. Only a few minutes after entering the field and saying hello to the resident cattle I spotted our target a Southern Migrant Hawker dragonfly (Aeshna affinis) and then a mating pair. This beautiful dragon was a very rare visitor to our shores. Then in 2010 there was a small influx to south east England. In later years it was found to have bred successfully in a few areas like the Canvey ditch.
The males held territory along the ditch, each had a stretch of about ten yards between bushes. When they met on their boundaries a quick tussle ensued. They were searching for newly hatched females. The day was very hot and the dragonflies were not going to settle so I had to resort to trying for in-flight images as they hovered for a few seconds whilst on patrol.
Also in this area resides a very rare damselfly the Southern Emerald (Lestes barbarus). Carefully I checked the rushes. There were dozens of Scarce Emeralds, a species I saw for the first time on the pingo trail ( see post ‘A day with the damsels’). Then by chance I spotted one without any blue, a couple of quick shots for conformation, this was a Southern Emerald. First recorded in 2002 it is limited to only a couple of sites in the country.
A very successful day. The field also held a good number of butterflies including Marbled Whites which we do not have in Norfolk. The only downside to the day (apart from the travelling on over congested roads) was I forgot to check my camera batteries after the drag racing, yes they went/were flat!
Friday promised to be a good day inland away from the cool on-shore breeze. A bit of a dilemma what to do. There was a hot rod drag race on an airfield in south Norfolk which sounded fun or we could go and look for dragonflies at a new site. In the end the latter option appealed more so we headed to the Brecks and Thompson Common the start of ‘The Great Eastern Pingo Trail’. “What on earth is a pingo?” I hear you say. Without being too scientific a pingo was formed in the last ice age. It is a mound in the permafrost which creates a pond. These ponds are important habitats so there is plenty of conservation work carried out to stop them disappearing.
Thompson Common is a really beautiful place. A walk through woodland, in the cool shade, led to open flower filled areas favoured by several species of butterfly. The pingos varied from being in deep shady woodland looking like primeval swamp to open marshy dips to the large meadow pool with reeds, lilies and lots of open water. It was here I searched for the Scarce Emerald (Lestes dryas) a rare damselfly in the UK. There were hundreds of damsels around the pool, lots of Emeralds (Lestes sponsa) which was confusing, my field guide said these should appear later in July. I found my target but the differences between the two are quite slight.
The emerald family are also known as spreadwings. Unlike other damselflies which hold their wings along their backs the emeralds often have theirs in this semi open position. The pingo trail is eight miles in total. We walked a couple before returning to the car to find a pub lunch. After lunch and a refreshing pint at the Chequers we drove through Thompson village down a narrow and rough track to Thompson Water, a large man made lake at the western end of the trail.
As we approached the lake the whole area was covered with countless thousands of Common Blue and Azure Damselflies which rose up like a little blue cloud as you carefully walked among them. What I had come to see would be found on the water. These were the Red-eyed and Small Red-eyed Damselflies. Two species that look very alike, these sit on floating aquatic plants. Tina was in her element as my ‘spotter’ and was pointing them out to me. Trouble was they were several feet from the bank. I tried my zoom lens but the results were not sharp enough so I switched to the macro and hung out as far as I could, with my camera at arms length to get close, thankfully some shots were spot on!
A great day out and four new species of odonata photographed. Next week we are off to the Lake District for a holiday so if the weather behaves I hope to see some more, fingers crossed.
I had hoped to get out and about looking for new dragonflies this summer and for that matter there were plans to track down a couple of butterflies as well. As happens other things crop up or the weather decides to go awol. A couple of Sundays ago (father’s day) we visited the RSPB reserve at Strumpshaw Fen, in the river Yare valley, a few miles east of Norwich. I used to come here a lot in years past but it has become very popular. I’m not over keen on crowds when trying to photograph wildlife and here the big attraction is the Swallowtail butterflies that visit an artificial flowerbed by the visitors centre. No chance today far too windy, anyway I prefer my local spot where there are more butterflies than people!
No, my target was to try and see the Scarce Chaser dragonfly. Not that uncommon in parts of England but lives up to it’s name here in Norfolk. As it was so windy I decided we should walk the woodland trail which has a nice dyke running alongside. Several areas were sunlit and lots of various damselflies were in the throes of making the next generation, dragonfly porn as Tina calls it! Also we saw some Banded Demoiselles, large, blue and with a slow butterfly like flight. Without any trouble I spotted a female Scarce Chaser which kept returning to the same bent reed and wasn’t bothered in the least as I clicked away.
Also in the same area were two newly emerged chasers. No males seen, they were possibly patrolling open water elsewhere.
This last Sunday A Broadland village had an open garden event. It was a really good day out, even a classic car show to keep me amused! Mrs H said to take the camera along as there maybe the odd dragonfly about, and there was, several. The one that caught my eye was an Emperor which was patrolling a boat mooring staithe. I tried to get an image and eventually managed one not too bad (for a flight shot).
Whilst in one of the gardens I was sitting by an ornamental pond watching the damselflies having fun (no I’m not a pervert) when I thought this water lily would make a nice shot. Many of you have got the art of floral photography down to a tee so don’t snigger at my effort, please.
“Ha yew orl gittin on tha tgether?” Translated from the Norfolk dialect “Everyone ok?” It seems just lately I’ve been spending an awful lot of time travelling on the potholed, crumbling, congested joke of a road network we have in this country. But to see new, exciting and rare species that is the price you have to pay. It’s stressful but you can unwind when you reach your destination.
There is always something to see if you stay local however. Get out in the garden or just a couple of miles down the road. Within a few minutes I can visit the Broads, heathland, woods or coast. Plenty of subjects to point my camera at! Here is a selection from the last few weeks.
Of course my blog wouldn’t be complete without a butterfly (or two). On a heath just 2 miles from home is a small colony of Silver Studded Blues (Plebejus argus) one of only four colonies in the whole county ( also click on HOME & tab ‘Buxton Heath Blues’) I had been unable to find these before but struck lucky last Thursday when I discovered a freshly emerged male flying weakly among the heather and gorse.
As I write this post I am looking forward to the emergence of the magnificent Purple Emperor, another trip to Northamptonshire! Then the Summer Nationals at Santa Pod (ditto) Finally a few days in Cumbria mid-July, but there is always something local.
The Queen of the Broads is on the wing and surveying her realm! A visit to Hickling Broad this morning and I discovered that the sun has brought out the first of our largest and most spectacular butterflies, the Swallowtail (Papillo machaon ssp britannicus). With a wingspan of 76-93mm (3-3 3/4 inches) (the males are smaller) this is a beautiful insect.
In the UK this butterfly can only be found in the Norfolk Broads where it’s mostly seen gliding over the vast reedbeds. The caterpillars eat only milk parsley which grow among the reeds, the pupae can survive the winter partially submerged, and the adults will emerge late May till July and prefer warm days with little wind. As it has been rather cool and windy the last few days I was surprised to see at least eight.
I had gone to the Broad to look for dragonflies and got rather side-tracked, but there were good numbers of Four Spotted Chasers and Hairy Hawkers about.
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.