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Wednesday 28 June 2023

Anglian Adventures, Day 1 - 14th June, 2023

I had last visited Norfolk in July, 2019. Although I felt a little strange in the chest on the way there on that occasion, little did I know that I was experiencing the start of what was going to end up as pneumonia and pleurisy, and land me in hospital for two weeks soon after I returned home. 

Note from me:

Oh Dear! It seems that some people missunderstood my opening statement - I was ill in 2019, not this year. Sorry if I caused anyone any consternation!

I was eager to return to  Norfolk at a similar time of year, but Covid restrictions put paid to any such visits in 2020 and 2021, and a dire weather forecast for a booked visit in 2022 resulted in me cancelling my accommodation at short notice.

At the beginning of this year, determined to return,  I booked myself three nights accommodation at the Travelodge, Acle, and eagerly awaited the approaching dates, wondering if the weather would play ball on this occasion, and whether Lindsay would be in a condition with her mobility that she could be confidently left at home on her own.

By now, you will have realised that all worked in my favour!

I guess I ought to mention my reasons for wanting to make this visit. My main objectives were to find and photograph the Norfolk Hawker dragonfly, Variable Damselfly, and the Swallowtail butterfly, with secondary objectives being Scarce Chaser dragonfly, White Admiral butterfly, and Barn Owl. 

Wednesday, 14th June                    Home to Strumpshaw Fen

I set off from home at about 10.45 for the long drive to Norfolk. As the journey would get me there before check-in availability at the Travelodge, I headed straight to Strumpshaw Fen, arriving there at 14.15. I had a quick picnic lunch in the car park before heading to nearby Tinker's Lane, as this is somewhere where I have found Norfolk Hawker and Swallowtail before.

Before I got to the lane, I found a rather tatty Brimstone butterfly beside the road. I can't make my mind up as to whether this one is ovipositing.

Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) (female) - Strumpshaw Fen
Having started down Tinker's Lane, although I  could see a few people obviously looking at something further down the lane, I popped into an area of rough grassland that had been productive on my previous visit. Here there were at least two Norfolk Hawkers, but they were low in the very tall grass, flying up when I  approached, and then settling back down low in the grass some distance away. I played cat and mouse with them for about ten minutes with absolutely no results before giving up and going to see what the attraction was further on.

The persons I had seen were watching a Swallowtail on the branches of a dead shrub about 20 metres away. This flew away while they were pointing it out to me. However, it was quickly found again in the garden of the nearby 'Doctor's House' - sadly the doctor, who was a great champion of the Swallowtails, passed away a few years ago, but the garden still attracts these fabulous butterflies. I did manage a few extremely distant record shots here.

Swallowtail (Papilio machaon) - from Tinker's Lane, Strumpshaw Fen

I then continued a short way down the lane to where it does a sharp left turn and arrives at a level crossing over the railway. Having crossed the line, I was now on the Strumpshaw Fen nature reserve. 

I'd only gone a few metres into the reserve when I was startled by a sudden sound behind me. I turned round to find a female Mallard had flown in and landed about three metres away.

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) (female) - Strumpshaw Fen
I was now approaching the area where, on my previous visit, I had found Variable Damselfly, so found myself scanning all the blue damselflies I spotted. This Azure Damselfly has probably the worst case of Water Mite infestation that I have seen on a damselfly.

Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) (male) - Strumpshaw Fen

Further on, I  was once again alerted to the presence of a Swallowtail high up in a tree. Until then, I was unaware of the Swallowtail's penchant for roosting high up in trees. This individual was far more photographable than the previous one.

Swallowtail (Papilio machaon) - Strumpshaw Fen
There is a straight section of path, known as the Lackford Run, which runs along the north-western edge of the reserve. This had been quite productive on previous visits, but was almost completely bereft of wildlife on this occasion. Things started changing for the better, however, when I reached the River Yare (which is tidal at this point) and headed south-west.

It seemed that, at nearly every step, my progress was closely monitored by a species of large hoverfly which took up position about a metre in front of my face. Eventually, I persuaded one to settle and got some photos. This was Volucella pellucens - an extremely common, but impressive, hoverfly, and one that I don't think that I've photographed before.

Hoverfly (Volucella pellucens) (male) - Strumpshaw Fen

On the landward side of the path, I found another of my target species - Variable Damselfly. The male of the species is very similar to that of the Azure Damselfly. The main distiguishing features are a 'broken' antihumeral stripe and a pale blue bar between the two blue eye-spots on the Variable.

Variable Damselfly (Coenagrion pulchellum) (male) - Strumpshaw Fen
Beside the river, I found one (or rather two) of my 'secondary targets' - Scarce Chaser. This was a pair 'in cop'. They were a bit out of reach for a good shot. The female of the species is recognisable by the smokey dark marks on the wing-tips. In the male, these marks are much paler or absent - as in this male. It can't be seen here, but the female has an abdomen which is, basically, bright orange on top.

Scarce Chaser (Libellula fulva) (male+female in cop) - Strumpshaw Fen
Further on, there was a lone male.

Scarce Chaser (Libellula fulva) (male) - Strumpshaw Fen
A female Banded Demoiselle played hard-to-get, and this is the best that I could manage.

Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) (female) - Strumpshaw Fen
I then arrived at the Tower Hide and it was time to sit down and take a rest. The first impression was that the area in front of the hide was overrun by Mallards. However, a few other species were present. The order of the day seemed to be adults with young.

The single chick following this Great Crested Grebe, seemed to be having buoyancy issues!

Great Crest Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) (adult + chick) - Strumpshaw Fen
This female Mallard had all seven of her chicks neatly lined-up for an inspection.

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) (female + chicks) - Strumpshaw Fen
And this pair of Mute Swans were being closely followed by their brood.
Mute Swan (cygnus olor) (male+ female + cygnets) - Strumpshaw Fen

I stayed in the hide for about fifteen minutes, before deciding to leave. It seems that the sitting had not done me any good as my back gave me shooting pains as I descended the steps from the hide.

Shortly after leaving the hide, I was pleased to find a female Variable Damselfly. The main distinguishing feature is, again, that pale thin band between the eye-spots. The female comes in two colour forms - 'dark' and 'blue'. This one was of the blue form.

Variable Damselfly (Coenagrion pulchellum) (female) - Strumpshaw Fen
The most numerous butterfly species was Red Admiral.

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) - Strumpshaw Fen
I also found a male Scarce Chaser which exhibited the pale marks at the wing-tips, as mentioned above.

Scarce Chaser (Libellula fulva) (male) - Strumpshaw Fen
I'd been seeing a few small day-flying moths, but not managing to get any shots of them. Eventually I got one.  
Small China-mark (Cataclysta lemnata) (male) - Strumpshaw Fen
I was still not having much luck with Norfolk Hawkers, although I had  enjoyed a few brief distant views.  I then arrived at a point where two were interacting with each other and seemed to be staying in one locality.I must have stood there for about a quarter of an hour, trying to get flight shots, and failing. A gentleman came along and we chatted a while, both wanting to photograph these beautiful dragonflies. After maybe ten minutes, he left and I concentrated on the mission for a while. Eventually, one shot into a nearby tree, and I was able to pinpoint where it had gone in. You can probably imagine my surprise when I found four Norfolk Hawkers together! As far as I can make out, all four were females.

Norfolk Hawker (Aeshna isoceles) (4 x females?) - Strumpshaw Fen
I stayed there a while longer and a male arrived and settled in a different part of the same tree.

Norfolk Hawker (Aeshna isoceles) (male) - Strumpshaw Fen

I went back to look at the four, and found that they were now three.

Norfolk Hawker (Aeshna isoceles) (3 x females?) - Strumpshaw Fen
My attention was diverted by the arrival of a Banded Demoiselle, this time a male.

Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) (male) - Strumpshaw Fen
When I turned back to the Norfolk Hawkers, I was just in time to see a fourth join them.

Norfolk Hawker (Aeshna isoceles) (4 x females?) - Strumpshaw Fen

I was now feeling quite weary, and it was time to start back towards the car park and find myself some sustenance for the evening. I'd not gon far before I came across an obliging male Black-tailed Skimmer. The male of this species is superficially similar to that of the Scarce Chaser, but it has green eyes (rather than blue-grey) and a greater expanse of black on the rear of the abdomen.

Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum) (male) - Strumpshaw Fen
I'd planned to have a snack at the Scottish restaurant on my way to the Travelodge, but my satnav decided that it would take me on a different route back than on previous occasions, so I missed it. Having checked in at the Travelodge, I ended up crossing the car park to the 24 hour M&S Food Store and buying myself a 'meal deal' of a sandwich, side, and drink, which I consumed in my room.

That night, I turned in early, setting my alarm for 05.00 so that I could return to Strumpshaw Fen for a pre- breakfast visit in the hope of photographing a Barn Owl. At least, that's what I thought I'd done - all will be revealed in my next blog post if things go to plan.

I will try to prepare my report of Day 2 for publication in about a week's time, but it's beginning to look a bit dubious. It will probably be shorter on words, and longer on photos. In the meantime, please take good care of yourselves and Nature.

Thank you for dropping by - - - Richard

Tuesday 20 June 2023

Chartley Moss - on 27th May, 2023

Chartley Moss is a very special place that I had visited twice before, and when the opportunity to visit again, under the auspices of a British Dragonfly Society visit in conjunction with Natural England, I grasped it with both hands.

Chartley Moss is a 105.80 hectare biological Site of Special Scientific Interest in Staffordshire. The area has been designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a Ramsar Convention protected wetland site, and a National Nature Reserve. For safety reasons, there is no access without a permit. 

Chartley Moss is the largest example of a floating peat bog, or schwingmoor, in Britain. A raft of peat about 3m thick floats on a 13m deep lake. Trees growing in the peat sink through the surface and drown as they mature and gain weight. This leaves the dead trunks poking half out of the moss. The sphagnum lawn supports important botanical communities adapted to grow in this hostile environment. These plants in turn support a a large number of invertebrates.

Edge of Chartley Moss showing dead Scots Pines
Some years ago, the naturalist, and British TV personality at that time, David Bellamy, nearly met a sticky end here. The plan was to film him decending through one hole in the bog and coming up through another. The plan was abandoned when he found that the water was so murky that he could not see much beyond the end of his nose. This was lucky for him as, sometime later, it was discovered that there was no connection between the two holes!

A fun thing to do, but only in a safe designated spot, is to jump up and down in rhythm, and watch the adjacent trees sway dramatically.

The main reason for this group visit was to look for White-faced Darter dragonflies as this is, I  believe, one of only three locations in England where they breed.

The meeting time for the group was 10.30. We had a substitute leader from the BDS as the designated leader was seriously ill in hospital, and a substitute from NE as their man was on paternity leave (my best wishes to all). Typically, I forgot to note the names of our leaders but they both did a splendid job.

Access is by a walk up a track across a meadow and then along the course of a disused railway. At one point, one of the group spotted a colourful beetle beside the path.

Red Cardinal Beetle (Pyrochroa serraticornis) - near Chartley Moss
We then descended down to the bog.

We were soon seeing insect life. The area is good for Green Hairstreak butterfly. This one was more than a little worn, but still looked charming.

Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi) - Chartley Moss

As we crossed over 'open ground' to get to the first stretch of water, I spotted a rather unusual-looking hoverfly. This was Sericomyia lappona - a bog specialist.

White-barred Peat Hoverfly (Sericomyia lappona) (male) - Chartley Moss
On reaching the water, we soon found numerous White-faced Darters. There were far more than I had seen on my previous two visits. I understand that some of our group witnessed an emergence, but I missed that event. Nevertheless, I found plenty to keep me occupied during my time there.

The White-faced darters I saw were virtually all males. They can be surprisingly cryptic when settled on low vegetation.

White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (male) - Chartley Moss
I did find a mating pair - my only shots that included a female of the species.

White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (male+female in cop) - Chartley Moss
I even took some video of the occasion (I await comments from David) with the fly-by by another White-faced Darter giving some indication of their abundance.

There were a good number of damselflies around, but I was concentrating on the darters as this was a rare opportunity. Here's a damselfly - just to add a bit of variety to form, if not colour!

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (male) - Chartley Moss
I was soon back to the White-faced Darters, however.

White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (male) - Chartley Moss
When another of those hoverflies appeared, I managed a somewhat better shot of this species.

White-barred Peat Hoverfly (Sericomyia lappona) (male) - Chartley Moss
But then it was back to the darters. 

White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (male) - Chartley Moss
White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) (immature male) - Chartley Moss
After just over an hour on site, is was time to head back, as our group leaders needed a lunch break before hosting the 13.00 group. It had been a splendid visit in fine weather. My thanks to our leaders from the British Dragonfly Society and Natural England.

The parking spot was beside a quite busy, and fast-moving, main road, and not the place for a peaceful picnic lunch so, as my journey home would take me past the entrance to Willington Gravel Pits Nature Reserve, I decided to stop there. I didn't enter the reserve, but while I was having my lunch in the car, a Banded Demoiselle was flitting around. Having finished my lunch, I spent a little time with my camera.

Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) (male) - Willington Gravel Pits
It had been an excellent excursion, and I look forward, hopefully, for a return visit at some time in the future.


I have recently returned from a four-day stay in Norfolk, during which I shot off just under two and a half thousand frames, so I am going to be busy for a while. I'll try and produce a blog post for about a week's time, but am making no promises!

In the meantime, please take very good care of yourselves and Nature.

Thank you for dropping by - - - - Richard

Monday 12 June 2023

More May Memories - 17th to 22nd May, 2023

Being currently a bit snowed-under, metaphorically speaking, my shortage of time means that this post does not include the visit to the 'rather special location' that I suggested in my previous blog post - that will feature in a future post. Here are some of my observations from towards the end of May.

Wednesday, 17th May                    Garden ; Kelham Bridge Nature Reserve

Jackdaw has now become an almost daily visitor to the garden - usually a single bird, but sometimes two and, on one occasion, six!

Jackdaw (Corvus monedula) - garden on 17th May, 2023
That afternoon, I visited Kelham Bridge in the hope that some interesting birds might be found and mainly hoping for Kingfisher. 

From the first hide, I noticed that there was now little activity at the Sand Martin wall, but that, as usual lately, Canada Geese were close to the hide.

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) - Kelham Bridge NR
From the second hide, there was little activity on the water, but a Gadwall did come close enough for a photo.

Gadwall (Mareca strepera) (male) - Kelham Bridge NR
On the far side of the water, in the reeds, there was quite a lot of activity by Reed Wablers. It was a bit too far away for the 100-400 lens but I did manage some images - shown very heavily cropped below.

Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) - Kelham Bridge NR
While in the second hide, I spotted a fearsome-looking insect settle on a flower-head. This was Empis tessellata - one of the 'Dance flies'. The following is an extract from the excellent NatureSpot web site:- Though it feeds on nectar it is also a predator and catches other insects using its long pointed proboscis to pierce their bodies. Males of E. tessellata present a 'gift' to the female, in the form of a dead insect, before mating takes place. Females will not mate with males who do not present a gift.

Dance fly sp. (Empis tessellata) (male) - Kelham Bridge NR
Calling in at the first hide on my way back, I found that the Canada Geese had young.

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) - Kelham Bridge NR

Thursday, 18th May                    Garden

There seems to have been an abundance of Holly Blue butterflies this year - to put this in perspective, I would not be surprised if I have seen more Holly Blues this year than I have, in total, over the past twenty years! Barely a day has gone by in the past six weeks when we have not had one of these little gems visit the garden and I am seeing them everywhere when I am out too.

Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus) (female) - garden on 18th May, 2023
A Large Red Damselfly visited our mini-pond. It would have been more exciting if it had been a female!

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (male) - garden on 18th May, 2023
I will always take the opportunity to photograph a Bullfinch if it is not on a feeder. I'm quite pleased to have got this shot.

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (male) - garden on 18th May, 2023
Sunday, 21st May                    Saltersford Valley Country Park

Saltersford Valley is one of my favourite local sites for dragonflies, and it was approaching the time when I should be looking for Hairy Dragonfly. I saw one here for the first time at the  beginning of June, 2020, and again, at the same time, in 2021, which the County Recorder considered a relatively remarkable record on our side of the county. However, I couldn't find one here in 2022.

I'd not been long on the boardwalk at Saltersford Valley this day when I spotted a Hairy Dragonfly below me, zooming about between the Reedmace. There was no way that I was going to get a shot unless it settled. I called up a local couple who I had first met a few weeks earlier at Watermead, and who had an interest in dragonflies. They soon joined me. We had several fleeting glimpses of this species, but none of us got any photos. It was most frustrating.

Here are some items that I did manage to photograph. 

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (male) - Saltersford Valley CP

Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) - Saltersford Valley CP

When I first spotted the below damselfly, I was quite excited and unsure of its identity. Then I noticed the red eyes and realised that it was a Red-eyed Damselfly. Although a quite common damselfly it was my first encounter with an immature male of the species.

Red-eyed Damselfly (Erythromma najas) (immature male) - Saltersford Valley CP 

Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) (male) - Saltersford Valley CP

The female Blue-tailed Damselfly comes in five colour forms. This one is f. violacea which matures to f. infuscans (green phase) or the andromorph (male-like blue).

Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) (female f. violacea) - Saltersford Valley CP
A Comma butterfly was on sentry duty at the start of the boardwalk.
 Comma (Polygonia c-album) - Saltersford Valley CP 

Monday, 22nd May                    Saltersford Valley Country Park

I returned to Saltersford Valley the following day, once again hoping for shots of Hairy Dragonfly. Again I failed, in spite of several sightings. I am still having difficulty finding small items in the viewfinder and then achieving focus in auto focus mode. I may yet have to resort to manual focus - something that I've not done for decades. The visit was not totally wasted, however, and any outing  into nature is a worthwhile experience.

Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) (male+female) - Saltersford Valley CP
Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) (teneral male) - Saltersford Valley
This hoverfly was, I believe, Myathropa florea, known as the Batman Hoverfly because of the markings on its thorax (sadly, not visible in my photo).

Batman Hoverfly (Myathropa florea) (male) - Saltersford Valley FP
Security at the entance to the walkway was still being provided by a Comma. I suspect that it was the same one.

Comma (Polygonia c-album) - Saltersford Valley CP

That brings me to the ned of this rather hurredly constructed blog post, for which I apologise.

I suspect that the visit to that rather special location, previously mentioned, will feature in my next blog post. In the meantime, please take good care of yourselves and Nature. If all goes to plan I'll find time to publish it in about a weeks time, but things are a bit up-in-the-air at the moment.

Thank you for dropping by - - - Richard