Sunday, 29 May 2016

May 29th Strumpshaw Fen

It was very cloudy first thing this morning, looking glum and unpromising. But by 11am, the sun was breaking through and it was suddenly the right conditions for butterflies. I had to make an on-the-spot decision to go to Strumpshaw or not. I decided to risk it. I got the next bus to the city of Norwich, then a train to Brundall and walked down to Strumpshaw, dodging the traffic heading to the steam engine rally event at the Strumpshaw Steam Museum along the way. In just within an hour, I had managed to travel miles using public transport and my own two feet. I had earned my lunch, sitting out in the sun on a bench overlooking the nectar garden, but I could only see brimstones, holly blues, orange-tips and green-veined whites. No sign of any swallowtails or common blues.

Then, people started coming back from their walks around the reserve with great news to tell me. The swallowtails were about! They were seen in a few locations and I was going to decide which one to go to first, when suddenly another person came up to me and said that there was one seen just a few minutes ago just before the turn to Fen Hide. Well that's that decided then! I was off to find this swallowtail for myself. On the way, along Sandy Wall, I found another of my targets; a hornet. Annoyingly though, this large wasp did not hang around and left as soon as I saw it.

Swallowtail (28)
As I neared the turn for Fen Hide, I noticed a crowd of people standing in front of some yellow flag irises. It was like a crowd of twitchers but for butterflies instead of birds. And then, there it was. Gliding majestically down to one of the irises, a swallowtail appeared. Its wings were brightly coloured like a pair of stained glass windows and with no sign of any rips and tears. This was a recently emerged individual, the perfect specimen!

Swallowtails are a Norfolk icon in the UK as you can only find them here around the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads. The ones found here are a subspecies to the ones found on the Continent. Unlike those swallowtails, who lay their eggs on several plant species found in meadows, our British swallowtails are fussy breeders and only lay eggs on milk parsley, a rare plant only found in reed beds. But due to water pollution, the distribution of milk parsley, and with it the British swallowtails, became restricted to only to the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads. This makes our subspecies well sort after amongst butterfly enthusiasts across the UK. As I came back from my swallowtail sighting, a man came up to me and I directed him to where I saw it. He had travelled all the way from Newcastle complete with Geordie accent. That is a long way to come just to see Britain's largest butterfly!

Male Broad-bodied Chaser
With the swallowtail in the bag, I was now trying to find the common blue butterfly but with no success. Then I heard that the first Norfolk Hawker dragonfly was reported along the meadow trail this afternoon. So I went to see if I could find one for my challenge list. At this point, the sun had vanished and the thick clouds from earlier this morning had returned. The warm sunshine was replaced with a chilly breeze, which meant dragonflies and butterflies were now hunkered down into hiding somewhere. It was time to head home, dodging an almost endless amount of traffic heading out of the steam rally event as I walked along the country road leading out of Strumpshaw. It was a nightmare to walk down and the journey home felt a lot longer than the journey up.

I also found this eggshell today. I think it belonged to a song thrush, but I'm not 100% sure
Large Red Damselfly

Azure Damselflies
Slender Groundhopper
Common Lizard

Friday, 27 May 2016

May 27th Strumpshaw Fen

Butterfly watching is completely different from bird watching. Unlike birds, butterflies only come out when the weather is warm and sunny. Today was warm and sunny but with lots of cloud cover. It is pretty much like being in a hot shower and someone else turns on a tap in another room, its warm one moment and cool or cold the next. I was constantly praising the sun while it was out and then cursing the clouds for blocking it a few moments later. But this was a better day than it was the previous two days, I had to go for it if I wanted to see the two butterflies on the Strumpshaw 40 challenge.

Green-veined White
Swallowtails and common blues are high on my list at the moment as these beautiful creatures are at their best for only a few weeks. I was hoping that the butterfly gods were more kind to me today than they were on Wednesday, but it turned out not to be the case. Out of the two species, the common blue should be a lot easier to find and if I couldn't find a swallowtail, I was happy enough to go home seeing one of them instead. I knew that they loved bird's-foot trefoil, a plant that they lay their eggs on, and there was plenty of the stuff in flower along the Sandy Wall path. Sadly, after several walks up and down it scanning the trefoil, I could not find a single blue butterfly. I searched the meadow trail and along the river, but still nothing. The only butterflies I found all the while I was at Strumpshaw this afternoon were a few orange-tips, green-veined whites and a peacock. My butterfly quest was a bit of a failure.

Hawthorn flowers
Common Lizard
I may have failed in finding swallowtails and common blues, but at least I found a few basking lizards along the Sandy Wall wooden borders. They cheered me up a little. I just love how they just lay there, moving only if you get too close. They have a charming quality about them that makes you smile. It is like they smile back at you through their reptilian lips, tilting their scaly head slightly to see you better with one of their small beady eyes. Most of the visitors didn't even notice them as they walk past unless I point them out to them.

Nursery Spider (I think)
Willow Warbler
Cardinal Beetle
Spiderlings (baby spiders)
Cotton Grass and Red Campion
Large Red Damselfly
Variable or Azure Damselfly?
Peregrine Chicks via Hawk and Owl Trust's webcam
Back at Norwich after returning by train, I made quick visit to the cathedral to see how the peregrines were doing. There was no sign of either of the adults, but via the webcam feed on the Hawk and Owl Trust's tablet, I could see four balls of fluff. All four of the chicks are still alive and healthy, amazing since I heard one of them was weak and close to Death's door a couple of weeks ago. They have grown tremendously and their adult feathers are starting to appear through their white fluffy baby down feathers. It won't be long until they lose this white fluffy layer completely and start thinking about leaving the nest.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

May 25th Strumpshaw Fen

I couldn't sleep very well last night due to an annoying tickly cough. So I was rather tired this morning at Strumpshaw. The weather seemed to match my mood as I walked around the recently open meadow trail before my shift started. It was cold, grey, wet and miserable, awful conditions to find swallowtails and common blues in. Everything was more or less sheltering from the drizzling rain and the only interesting things that I could find were wildflowers, including this bogbean. It is a strange looking flower which looks as if it has tentacles protruding from each petal.

Coot with chick
The Fen Hide did not give me any protection from the rain as it was being blown through the windows, making me and my binoculars and camera a bit wet. Reception Hide was the place to be for shelter from the rain. At least from here I have the option of closing the window and still be able to see out of it. A school was visiting the reserve today and as it was raining, they had to take over the Reception Hide, making it a rather noisy place for a short while. These were very young children and the ones sitting alongside me wanted to look through my binoculars and use my camera, forcefully grabbing them while they were around my neck. I made a compromise and showed them photos of the wildlife I took this morning and allowed them a quick look through my binoculars, while pointing out the coot chicks to them. I think they were happy, though they did thought everything I showed them on my camera was of a woodpecker.

Blue Tit
"What's this?" I asked them, pointing at one of my photos.
"No. That is a blue tit" I responded, trying not to laugh.

Lesser Black-backed Gull
Yellow Flag Iris
Reed Warbler
The rain did ease off a little bit towards lunchtime, enough for swifts, swallows and house martins to swarm above the broad. A kingfisher made a few appearances as my shift was nearing to an end, perching from reed stem to reed stem in the furthest reed bed behind the reedy islands. I saw the harriers making a food pass and a sparrowhawk flying low across the front of the hide. Reed and sedge warblers and reed buntings were spotted constantly darting from reed bed to reed bed. It wasn't the best of days at Strumpshaw, but at least I saw a few good things. I need to try another day with improved weather if I want to find those butterflies, especially the swallowtails.

Great Crested Grebe