Saturday, 27 May 2017

May 27th Colchester

Colchester Castle
Out of all my invertebrate targets, one tops them all on my list. I have always wanted to see a stag beetle since I was a kid. But stag beetles are barely recorded in Norfolk and so in order to encounter one I have to travel elsewhere. Colchester is one of the nearest hotspots for these large beetles, where apparently they are found in people's gardens. So, after an hour on the train, I have made it to this old Roman town in Essex to make an attempt on fulfilling a lifetime's ambition.

Stormy scenes
I have never been to Colchester before. Sure, I've been to Colchester Zoo many times, but this is the first time I have visited the town itself. It was quite a bit of walking to get from the train station to the castle and the park surrounding it. But once I got there, the perfect blue skies suddenly disappeared and was replaced by a thunderstorm. Rumbles of thunder was my cue to abandon my first walk around the park and to find somewhere to shelter. Thankfully, the tourist information building in the park was just opening up as the rain started to pour down.

The animatronic Stag Beetle
After a few minutes, the rain stopped and whilst in my temporary shelter, I picked up a map of the town and discovered that there was a natural history museum just across the road. So I decided to see what it was like. The museum was located in an old church and had free entry. I was glad I went to it when I did as it started to rain hard again while I was inside. Though it wasn't a big museum, it was full of dioramas with taxidermy animals set in a variety of habitats of the UK as well as a collection fossils. But my main interest was the small section dedicated to stag beetles. This included a large animatronic stag beetle that moved a little bit at a press of a button.

The Stag Beetle collection
Stag Beetle grubs (not sure why they are on bread though)

Garden Snail
 The man at the desk of this museum was very helpful and told me that he has seen stag beetles in his garden in Colchester about a week or two ago. He said that they are very common in the town and are sometimes found along the town's high street. I was told a few places to check out. First, after the second spell of rain had passed, I checked out the museum's garden, which was the church's small cemetery that was slightly converted into a wildlife garden. It was a nice tiny place where gravestones and nature coexists together. There was a small log pile dedicated to the stag beetles, but there wasn't a stag beetle in sight. There were plenty of snails though, enjoying the damp ground provided by the recent downpour.

Next, I returned to the park for a better walk. The trees were still dripping with the collected rainwater from the leaves, but the sun was out and eventually dried everything up. It was getting hotter by the minute. Promising weather for stag beetles perhaps? Well, no. At least not for me. I checked everywhere, even the small fenced up wild area that was a stag beetle nature reserve. This tiny patch was over grown and had piles of rotting logs, half a tree and a bug hotel-like container full of twigs and bits of wood, all dedicated to stag beetles. It seems these insects are treated like gods by the local council here. But despite the council's helping hand, I was defeated in my search for a stag beetle today.

Grey Squirrel
But just because I couldn't find what I was looking for doesn't mean I didn't enjoy my visit to Colchester. The park was full of wildlife (as well as lots of people enjoying the sunshine), especially squirrels which were everywhere and rather tame. One even bounded to within a couple of metres from my feet. The River Colne was very picturesque and had many banded demoiselles fluttering over the lily pads. And while I was exploring the town during my stag beetle search, I discovered St Botolph's Priory and the town's historic wall. So not a complete waste of my time after all.

Black-headed Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
The scenic River Colne
Banded Demoiselle
St Botolph's Priory
Colchester's historic town wall

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