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.

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.

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.

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Four Spotted Chaser

Norfolk’s Grizzled Skipper

No not a post about a grumpy seafarer, or the captain of my local football team after another defeat.  This is Norfolk’s rarest and smallest butterfly, the Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus malvae)  Today was glorious weather so Tina and I traveled across to Breckland, in the south west of the county, to search for them at the only two sites they occur.

At last ! a Grizzled Skipper

We started at Foulden Common but after a couple of hours we only had the briefest of an in-flight sighting.  There were many Brimstones and Orange Tips but on the Skipper front things were not looking good.  They should have emerged by now, last year I saw them in April.  So after a picnic we decided to go to the cut-off channel at Stoke Ferry, 4 miles away.  Searching the chalk banks and eventually I spotted a fresh male.  It sat on a purple flower of bugle wings open, perfect, except I hadn’t turned my Camera on!!

Lovely under wing shot, something I haven’t managed in the past

Luckily I did manage to get some nice shots, but not on a flower.  These butterflies only have a wingspan of 23-29 mm (about 1 inch) and they fly fast and low to the ground so they are very difficult to spot and follow.  They are becoming increasingly rare across southern England.  Their caterpillars like to feed on wild strawberry and agrimony.

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Brimstone at Foulden enjoying a cowslip



Green Hairstreak

After last weekend’s glorious weather things have gone downhill, rapidly, here in north Norfolk.  So much so that a warning is in place for possible flooding, up to 70mm (nearly 3 inches) of rain and gale force northerly winds overnight and into tomorrow, it is also cold!  I have decided to do a post on what was a popular butterfly from last weeks post, the Green Hairstreak ( Callophrys rubi).

The Green Hairstreak, cuteness personified

If Walt Disney was to use a butterfly for a cartoon what better candidate.  Just look at those big innocent eyes and cute striped legs and antenna, but this fellow has a vicious temper!  It is a small butterfly, wingspan 27 – 34mm  1 to 1 1/2 inches.  It can be found in  small colonies of up to 12 individuals (sometimes more) in a variety of scrubby  habitat like gorse commons, moorland, embankments and valley bottoms.  In Europe the range is from Lapland to the Med.

This is the UK’s only true green butterfly and because of the colour is very hard to spot, the upperwing is dark brown but they always rest with the wings closed.  When you do locate Green Hairsreaks they are very easy to approach and photograph.  The males sit on favorite perches waiting for a female, if another male passes a battle ensues!  They also attack other butterflies and insects, last week it was the Holly Blues that were chased away, because of this their wings soon become battle scarred.

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From 2017

These butterflies start to appear in mid-April and can be found into June.  They are great fun to watch, last week I spent over an hour amused by the antics of the one I found and was able to photograph it from only a few inches.