The sun rose as a deep orange ball casting its welcome rays of golden light on the scene around me; dew laden spiders webs festooning every bush, the dead heads of myriad reed stems waving gently in the post dawn breeze, and…….no hang on, that’s not it! Let’s picture ourselves instead insulated in thick fleece waiting to undertake a swallowtail survey in the middle of the morning, in the middle of Broadland in the middle of June. Cold, grey, lowering cloud and a chill wind powering from the north. There would be no butterflies today; any self-respecting winged insect would be tucked away in deep cover awaiting more clement conditions. There was no option but to call the whole thing off – better luck next week perhaps.This, regrettably, has been a feature of spring with its disproportionate number of cool, cloud shrouded days. Even when the sun has poked its nose out from behind thick curtains of stratus in an attempt to warm us for a spell, it has often been thwarted by having to compete with a cruel breeze. Surprisingly the conditions do not seem to have had a tremendous effect on the general emergence of butterflies and other day-flying insects, but it does mean the number of days you can reliably find them on the wing has been limited. Whether overall numbers have been affected remains to be seen.
It wasn’t bad all week though and last Sunday I had the pleasure of helping out the Trinity Broads Partnership at an open day organised by local farmers. Our pitch, reached after a mile of driving along wet woodland tracks where beds of yellow flag iris danced merrily in the dappled June sunlight, was set alongside an artificially created irrigation pond. Or perhaps small lake would be an apt description. Here rafts of yellow lilies formed dense carpets rippling now and again by the antics of courting fish beneath. A piping kingfisher streaked, dazzling blue and orange, low over the untainted water whilst a hobby hawked dragonflies a few metres from where we stood. On more than one occasion this masked hunter came so close that we could make out every detail of its plumage; its boldly streaked underside, deep orange-red ‘trousers’ and a bright glinting eye able to see the bold darting of a dragonfly from a distance of 100 metres or more. This apex predator was to stay with us all day even when gangs of boisterous children were running screaming by the waterside. The object of our participation was to inform the general public about the work the Partnership is undertaking in the area and to raise awareness of the fascinating wealth of plants and creatures they live beside. The kingfisher and hobby helped.
The day after the ill-fated swallowtail episode, I did manage to complete another butterfly survey around the site of Essex and Suffolk Waterworks. An excellent site this, private and largely unmolested. Ideal habitat for many creatures seeking a quiet space to go about their business. NWT has been working with the water company to persuade them to leave areas of the open grassland here unmown. To prove this strategy pays dividends we need to find butterflies. I found three. A poor return for an hour, but this was again due to the cool conditions and I know for sure that many more do use these areas which now stand proud with drifts of ox-eye daisies, red campion and a range of grasses. Although it was too cold for much butterfly activity there were damselflies; I waded through a cloud of blue-tailed flying low amongst protective herbage. Some of these dainty, fragile short-lived hunters clustered around the edge of a large leaf, close to the ground and sheltered.
Oedemera nobilis on Ox-eye Daisy
Friday dawned to herald a momentous day for NWT with the formal opening of the Simon Aspinall Education Centre. The distinguished guest who would be performing the ceremonials was none other than Sir David Attenborough, icon, legend and inspiration for so many people worldwide. Who has not enjoyed the magnificent documentaries this man has made for TV in a career spanning over 60 years? His vision in the arena of wildlife film making has transformed the way we look at the natural world and luckily for us all, there's no sign of him stopping. So glad I was able to attend, see and listen to the great man, catch up, however briefly, with friends and ex colleagues, (happily mostly one and the same), and be part of the event. The wine was tasty.
And so to Saturday and a stint at NWTHolme Dunes leading a photographic workshop. Only a single paying customer (I don't get paid!) but that was ok by me. Despite the occasional downpour and murky atmosphere we had a very enjoyable couple of hours, me and this delightful lady, scrutinising the flower cloaked dunes and discussing various ways in which to photograph the various mosses, lichens, campions and trefoils carpeting this stretch of the North Norfolk coast. It really is quite amazing what you can find if you are scrambling around on your hands and knees, it literally adds a whole new perspective to your view of the world. And naturally when you concentrate your mind and use your eyes you can sometimes see the world afresh. We even managed to find a small group of wonderful bee orchids, unassuming plants despite their bright colours, and something I've never actually seen before. There were small creatures here too; immature grasshoppers, snails, small flies and aphids being tended by their master ants. Later the moth trap provided an opportunity for a few close up shots of interesting species, small elephant hawk moth and white ermine, whilst a rather gorgeous clouded buff, a moth of moor and heath, caused a real stir of excitement being an unusual catch hereabouts. To round off the session we sat bedraggled in one of the hides watching even more bedraggled reed warblers feeding their young in a patch of reeds close-to.
Small Elephant Hawkmoth
A busy, tiring but very fulfilling week. I must get round to those nagging painting & decorating tasks sometime before Christmas.