30 days Wild - In Search of Swallowtails

6th June - RSPB Strumpshaw Fen, Norfolk

The day, as every one for the last week, dawned grey and misty here in Norfolk, the airflow from the east or north ensuring cool breezes and sea frets aplenty. It didn’t bode well for a shift at RSPB Strumpshaw Fen providing people with information about swallowtails: it was unlikely there would be any around. I went anyway relying on the weather forecast to be right for once: getting warmer during the afternoon thus hopefully encouraging these gorgeous insects to take flight and seek nectar.

Newly Fledged Blue Tit 

But first a slow walk around the reserve to see what other creatures I could find sheltering from the breeze and the gloom. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much life! It seemed every bush, every stand of nettles, every clump of reeds held a menagerie of small animals. Predator and prey, mate and rival, some flaunting their presence, others simply wanted to remain undisturbed and hidden. My camera went into overdrive. There were flies of all kinds, spiders, damselflies, beetles, wasps, bees and ladybirds. I saw resting moths, butterflies and a dragonfly, watched sparring buzzards, marsh harriers displaying, heard a bitten booming and a pair of garden warblers singing in rivalry. I found lizards seeking warmth, a cuckoo seeking a mate and a few people seeking that elusive large butterfly. They wouldn’t fly in the cool and windy weather, but I did find a single egg on a milk parsley plant - proof that they have been around recently.

Bombus pratorum (left) and Bombus pascuorum - I think!

Pregnant Common Lizard

Common Stretch Spider (Tetragnatha extensa) With Prey

Longhorn Moth (Nemophora degeerella)

Cardinal Beetle (Phrochroa serraticornis)

Common Carpet

Scarce Chaser (female)

Unknown Spider sps - I'll find out!

Female Banded Demoiselle


Swallowtail Egg on Milk Parsley
Then the sun burst through the cloud. Transformation. Everything turned technicolour and it felt like June at last. I timed my arrival back at reception to perfection. No sooner had I set up the welcome stand than a beautiful insect that is a swallowtail butterfly descended onto the Dame’s violet flowers, nectar rich, planted especially for these showy insects to enjoy. What a joy to see these impressive butterflies once again. It seems there is a reasonable population this year and adding up reports from various parts of the reserve would indicate a minimum of ten seen today. That doesn’t sound many, but this is a rare species in the U.K. with its only stronghold the Norfolk Broads - we are so lucky here. Their flight season is so short too, so there is always something of a frenzy to see them. Visitor numbers increased as the afternoon wore on and all were able to see a swallowtail at very close quarters and went away satisfied. Weather forecasters I salute you.

Yours Truly, Ready to Serve!

The Beautiful Swallowtail