Swallowtail Time

(or, Visiting Old Friends ptII)

One of the joys of living in our part of Norfolk is that in late spring/early summer  the UK’s largest, most colourful butterfly can be seen.  Of course you need to know where to look, they don’t pop up everywhere.  You also need our old friend the un-predictable weather to be favourable.  A good spell of warm, sunny and wind free conditions will bring this enigmatic insect out of it’s pupa deep in the reedbeds to grace the area we call ‘Broadland’

What it’s all about, the ‘Norfolk’ Swallowtail (Papilio machaon ssp britannicus) perhaps my best shot to date

Last weekend was ideal so a trip to my favourite haunt Hickling Broad was in order.  The usual area was disappointing, there had been clearance work over winter and few nectar flowers were available.  A few hundred yards further on and there was a good amount of Red Campion and with it a newly emerged, mint condition Swallowtail eagerly fueling up.  This beauty allowed plenty of photo opportunities.

Pushing the shutter up to 1/1000th almost freezes the action. Those wings are nearly always fluttering

The dragonfly season is also now in full swing.  The early species were dominated by the Four-spotted Chasers (Libellula quadrimaculata).  I have never seen so many in one place, almost swarm like!

Fresh Four-spotted Chaser, one of thousands
Male Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa)

As well as these ‘old friends’ there were a couple of surprises.  Firstly a butterfly that has been in very low numbers in my part of the world and I have never seen at this site, the Wall Brown (Lasiommata megera).

The Wall Brown, a small butterfly that nearly always is seen sunning itself on the ground (or walls!)
LBJ?

So, a small brown bird sitting in an alder tree.  I was so pleased to get this shot even though I was using my macro lens!  This is a Cetti’s Warbler (Cettia cetti).  This bird first bred in the UK in 1972 and unlike all the other warblers (except one) does not migrate.  As an insect eater it’s population could crash in harsh winters.  The thing is the Cetti’s is extremely difficult to see, keeping deep inside vegetation by rivers or ditches.  It gives away it’s presence by it’s explosive call repeating the cetti name (though it was named after an 18th century Italian zoologist, Francesco Cetti).  An unusual fact, this is the only UK bird with 10 tail feathers, good luck trying to count them!

All in all a great day out and I’m glad to get my upload issues sorted so I could share it.

 

Homage to the ‘Queen’

If you are in the right place at the right time with the ideal conditions then what you wish to see should happen.  So it was towards the end of May when I went for a wander along my favourite part of Hickling Broad.  It’s Swallowtail season and the UK’s largest butterfly is on the wing enjoying the driest, sunniest spring on record.  Early to mid-morning and the newly emerged adults will look for a quick boost of nectar before embarking on their quest to reproduce.  One of the butterflies most liked flowers at this time is red campion.  Not the tallest of plants so any photos will have a ‘messy’ background of reeds and sedge.  Later into June and the thistles will be in flower.  Better images can be had but by then most of the Swallowtails will have tatty wings, I like to catch then nice and fresh.

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A Swallowtail (Papillo machon ssp britannicus) on campion

It was a reasonable morning and I counted seven individuals, not a bad total.  One thing I like about this species is when it feeds it’s upper wings are almost constantly flickering but the body is still.  Nice to have shots of a static subject, wings open, but I thought I would experiment and try and get some to relay that movement.

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Sideways and you can see the wingtip blur
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Head on and the motion is more extreme yet the head is stock still. I actually quite like this shot.  Nikon D5300, Sigma 105mm 2.8 macro +1.4x converter, iso 500, f18, 1/400sec, centre weighted metering

I have mentioned before that ‘britannicus’ is unique to the Norfolk Broads.  It’s caterpillars only eat the milk parsley that grows in the reedbeds.  Also the butterfly has a smaller thorax than it’s continental cousin and as such is a weak flyer unable to travel far to colonise new areas.  Thankfully it and it’s habitat are well protected and butterfly lovers from all over the Country come to admire and pay homage to our ‘Queen’.  The only dark cloud on the horizon is if sea levels rise with global warming the Broads will be flooded and the habitat lost.

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The ‘classic’ shot

https://blhphotoblog.wordpress.com/portfolio/swallowtail-encounter/

Something Local

“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.

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Could have picked a more comfortable resting spot! Hairy Dragonfly (Brachytron pratense) at Hickling Broad, not a species that stays still for long
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Aliens have landed! Really pleased to find this at Hickling. It is an exuvia, a discarded shell of a Four Spotted Chaser dragonfly. This species spends at least two years underwater as a larva before emerging to hatch. The adults only live for a few months.
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Aliens really have landed! This remarkable looking creature is a Soldier Beetle, just look at those fantastic feet!

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.

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This stunning male Silver Studded blue is so fresh the wings still have a wet, oily sheen
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Sparkling! The underwing of the Silver Studded Blue. The name derives from the small metallic marks in the outer row of black spots
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A species I’ve not managed to get a good image of before the Small Heath poses beautifully, not hidden in the grass as usual!

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.

Norfolk’s Swallowtail Butterfly

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.

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A fresh Swallowtail on campion

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.

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As the butterfly is much heavier than the campion they will often take nectar by hovering

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.

Also check out https://blhphotoblog.wordpress.com/portfolio/swallowtail-encounter/

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Four Spotted Chaser