Sunday, 14 May 2017

May 14th Cut-off Channel, Lynford Arboretum and Foulden Common

Butterfly watching!
I was on the hunt for two of Norfolk's scarcest springtime butterflies, grizzled and dingy skippers. These two butterflies are declining fast in this county and the best and nearest places for me to find them are in the Brecklands. Today, I went to one such place called Cut-off Channel (near Downham Market) with my friend David to join a group walk organised by Butterfly Conservation in hope of finding at least one of them. It was a large group full of friendly and helpful enthusiasts. With so many eyes on the look out, surely today was my lucky day?

It turned out to be a nice day, despite a few showers earlier this morning. Many insects were enjoying the sunshine, especially the mayflies, which were everywhere. Together, the males did their yo-yo flight display across the site. It was graceful to watch, like an insect ballet. Moving as if controlled by string with their three pronged tails dangling downwards. This short lived display is actually an event that is on my invertebrate target list this year. That's right, not an individual, but an entire natural event. Many mayfly species only live a single day as an adult, emerging from the river after spending a year or two as aquatic larvae. So it is important that they get their timing and the conditions just right for them to display in large numbers like this. Once this day of displaying and mating is over, the males die. Meanwhile, the females lay their eggs back into the river and the mayfly's lifecycle begins again.

Grizzled Skipper
As for butterflies, we were able to find about 8 or more grizzled skippers, but no dingy skippers. Grizzled skippers are small brown butterflies with whitish speckled spots and lives in grassy, heathy areas that have plenty of wild strawberry or tormentil, which their caterpillars feed on. I was quite happy in seeing one, but 8 or more is even better. We also saw a few brimstones, green-veined whites, peacocks, orange-tips, small coppers and a couple of brown arguses (a pleasant surprise to see) as well as cinnabar moths, large red damselflies and, my favourites, banded demoiselles.
Brown Argus
Small Copper
Green-veined White
Banded Demoiselle
Hoverfly Volucella bombylans

Turtle Dove
Though I was already pleased with seeing the grizzled skippers, my smile widened even more when we saw at least four turtle doves sitting on a wire in the distance as well as another purring within the trees near us alongside the river. These birds are even scarcer than the skippers are. It was just fantastic seeing so many individuals of this bird in one place. I also saw plenty of garden warblers, which are normally very secretive and hard to spot. This place was full of surprises!

Garden Warbler
Wild Strawberry

After lunch, David took me to Lynford Arboretum. He wanted me to locate some firecrests for him as he is at an age where he can no longer hear the high pitched songs of these birds. I was his ears and I was able to hear several of these loud, fast warbling birds for him. This included two males having an aerial scrap with their bodies entangled in a fiery orange crested ball of feathers spiralling to the ground.

Dingy Skipper

Finally, we went to Foulden Common, which is another place to see the two skippers. As soon as we parked the car and walked through the reserve's gate, we met three familiar faces that both David and I know as well as the other butterfly we were after. Flying around our feet were several dingy skippers! They may seem brown, moth-like and dull to look at compared to other butterfly species, but they were still very special to see.

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