It is all too easy to spend your life unknowing of the wealth of spectacularly colourful, fantastically shaped small creatures that festoon every bush, tree and shrub at this time of year. But during our summer months the countryside is alive with insects and other minature inhabitants of the undergrowth. Time spent peering into the depths will reward you with the sight of some quite fascinating and bewildering characters.
It's simply about looking. To take time to stand and stare at that clump of grass, that gnarled old tree stump, the swath of ditch side vegetation. To use your eyes, peer into the depths and see. To concentrate your senses, notice slight movements or changes in texture; the twitch of a beetles antennae, the flash of reflective light from a dragonflies wing or the stealthy movement of predatory spiders. To scrutinise every blade of grass or gently trembling leaf; seek the secret dwellers of the lush verdant growth and you will find.
I don't do this kind of thing anywhere near as often as I should, but on a sultry afternoon last Friday I spent time with some friends walking a kilometre of a ditch side track at Hickling Broad. The short walk took us the best part of two hours because we stopped and looked. We swept our eyes hither and thither and between the four of us were constantly discovering new things. We saw damselflies, some newly emerged, dull and vulnerable; others brightly coloured and mature. Large red, azure, blue tailed and variable were all there, stock still clutching some slender grass stem. But they are small frail creatures using stealth to remain hidden, but once we had got our eyes tuned we found more. We noticed larger dragonflies, four spot chasers and black-tailed skimmers that had just that morning crept up a stout reed stem to emerge from their larval case to assume adult form. They were there secreted amongst the rampant vegetation pumping life sustaining blood into their wings so they could take to the skies and perform their duties as adults. They will all too soon meet their end either as a meal for a marauding hobby or by way of sheer exhaustion from territorial skirmishes and mating duties.
Female Black-tailed Skimmer
Here too were flies and beetles of all shapes, sizes and forms, some adorned with ridiculously oversized antennae, multi-coloured and mute. A micro world where life giving and life taking drama is played out every second of every long summer day. There were butterflies on show with pride of place going to a small colony of wall brown, a hard to find species nowadays and one that should be cherished when encountered. From everyday inhabitants of every garden when I was young to a rare and vulnerable treasure - how can this be? A few painted ladies were also on the wing and we speculated on whether these insects were the vanguard for another mass invasion from the Continent.
Scorpion Fly - Probably Panorpa germanica
Froghopper - Ceropis vulnerata
Beautiful Golden Y
Mint Leaf Beetle - Chrysolina menthastri
Wasp Beetle - Clytus arietis
Although insects abounded there were other, larger creatures using the byway. We managed to locate a basking common lizard lying motionless in a patch of dead grass. Close scrutiny showed it to be carrying some parasitic ticks. Worlds within worlds. The paths made by deer criss-crossed the trail and the skeletal remains of a large fish told of recent feasting by an otter. Overhead marsh harriers soared, bitterns flew low over the reed bed on foraging flights to favoured feeding grounds and a lone hobby patrolled the skies for some of those newly emerged dragonflies.
Male Marsh HarrierThis lovely bird flew past us whilst we were walking earlier around the reserve
BitternA few seconds after we left the bittern hide this lovely bird flew past
HobbyThe nemesis of many a dragonfly
Common LizardNote the ticks just behind the foreleg
All life abounds in this most special of Broadland reserves. What a truly magical place! Visit if you can - you will not be disappointed.
Meadow At NWT Hickling Broad
The Pathway to Stubb MillThis is where we spent a couple of hours rooting through the undergrowth