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Norfolk Specialities - on 28th and 29th June, 2018

Ever since last year, when my wonderful wife Lindsay bought me a Moorcroft dish featuring a Swallowtail butterfly as part of my Christmas present, I promised myself that this summer I would head to Norfolk to try and find the actual butterfly. I've seen Swallowtails in mainland Europe, but the English Swallowtails are different (they're darker) and I'd never seen one. Here's the dish that was the inspiration.

Moorcroft Swallowtail Dish
I booked a room, in advance, at the Travelodge at the edge of Acle for the night of 28th June, safe in the knowledge that, if the weather forecast turned bad, I could cancel without penalty right up until mid-day on the day of arrival. As it happened, the weather forecast was rather good!

My objectives for the trip were, in addition to the Swallowtail butterflies, to find Norfolk Hawker and possibly Scarce Chaser dragonflies. The original intention was to go the the Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve at Hickling Broad, but an enquiry I made via Twitter, came up with suggestions for the RSPB's Strumpshaw Fen, and I decided to try this first. 

Thursday 28th June

Checking my possible routes, I found that, according to my satnav, the 'eco-route' would take me around 4 hours whilst the 'quickest route', which was about 40% longer in distance, would take around 3 hours. I decided that I needed to maximise my opportunities, and took the 'quickest route'. As it happened, the satnav, didn't take into account the extensive roadworks on the A14 by Cambridge until I was already committed to that road, and it didn't foresee the vehicle fire on the A11 which shut that road for nearly an hour. It took me well over 4 hours and I arrived at Strumpshaw Fen at around 12h30.

After a quick picnic lunch I set off down Tinkers' Lane towards 'the Doctor's house'. This had been recommended to me, but the current situation was uncertain as the good Doctor had, sadly, passed away a couple of years earlier.

As I wandered down the lane, keeping my eyes peeled, I met a local gentleman who was passionate about the wildlife here. He told me that the Doctor's garden was now 'out of bounds' but that the best place was a bit of rough ground just before the Doctor's house. We entered this area and immediately spotted a Swallowtail flying high. It then came down and settled!

I managed to get a shot in before it took off again.

Swallowtail (Papilio machaon britannicus) - Strumpshaw Fen
Immediately it took off I noticed a Norfolk Hawker which settled. Sadly it had most of one of its wings missing so I'll not show the photos. I had, however, seen two of my targets (2 'lifers') in approximately 10 minutes! What is more, the Swallowtail, which had been flying around above me, settled briefly again before departing.

Swallowtail (Papilio machaon britannicus) - Strumpshaw Fen
I spent a while in this area, hoping for the return of a Swallowtail, but it didn't happen. I did, however, get a different Norfolk Hawker and got some shots. This one was a female, which was very pleasing as, typically, females of dragonfly species are harder to find than males.

Norfolk Hawker (Aeshna isoceles) (female) - Strumpshaw Fen
It was time to enter the reserve itself, so I went to the visitor centre, paid my dues, and asked the warden for an update on the dragonfly/butterfly situation. Swallowtail sightings were now sparse, plenty of Norfolk Hawkers, but the only Scarce Chaser reported recently was one the previous day - which was a disappointment.

I set off to wander the trails, starting with the Woodland Trail as there had been sightings of White Admiral. I was not seeing too much that was exciting at first. Here are a few items:-

Comma (Polygonia c-album) - Strumpshaw Fen
Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) - Strumpshaw Fen
Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) (male + female 'in cop') - Strumpshaw Fen
Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) (immature male) - Strumpshaw Fen
At one point, a few of us had gathered to watch the White Admirals that occasionally showed, but at great distance and not settling. I gave up after about an hour, and continued along the path, seeing virtually nothing until I reached the River Yare - then I started seeing Black-tailed Skimmer dragonflies in significant numbers although, most of the time, they settled in particularly unphotogenic places.

Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum) (male) - Strumpshaw Fen
Along this stretch, I met Richard Knisely-Marpole and his wife (sorry - I don't remember a mention of your name!) and we stuck together for a while.  It's now confession time! It wasn't until I got to my hotel that night and was looking at my photos that I realised that I'd actually photographed a couple of male Scarce Chasers! My excuse is that I've only ever seen an immature male of this species (they're orange), and I'm not that familiar with Black-tailed Skimmers, and I'd taken all my sightings to be of Black-tailed Skimmers. Shortly after I made this discovery, I had a text message from Richard to say "Checking my images, I have male scarce chaser from 10 minutes before 3 tortoisehell butterflies!" - so I wasn't the only one to miss it at the time!


Scarce Chaser (Libellula fulva) (male) - Strumpshaw Fen
Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) - Strumpshaw Fen
Richard mentioned that he'd seen patrolling Norfolk Hawker in a channel not far from the river, and kindly showed me to the place. One was soon spotted, and quite some time was spent trying to photograph them in flight - in my case without much success, but one did, eventually, land.



Norfolk Hawker (Aeshna isoceles) (male) - Strumpshaw Fen
Richard had to depart as he was in the overflow car park which was locked at 17h00, and I stayed on a bit longer in the hope of getting better images, but things were quietening down a bit as the sun went in. 


Norfolk Hawker (Aeshna isoceles) (male) - Strumpshaw Fen
I set off back, as I wished to have another try for the White Admirals. I took a few shots on the way.

Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) (male) - Strumpshaw Fen
Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) (immature male) - Strumpshaw Fen
Back on the Woodland Trail, I'd almost given up on the White Admirals when one came and briefly perched close to the path a couple of times!



White Admiral (Limenitis camilla) - Strumpshaw Fen
On my way back to the car, I found a dragonfly exuvia which I only just managed to reach without falling in the water! At first I was excited as I thought it was of a Norfolk Hawker, but I now think that it's probably of a Southern Hawker (although I didn't see a Southern Hawker during my two days there) - the location was wrong (pond instead of dyke) and the labial mask looks too long for Norfolk - your views would be appreciated.



probable Southern Hawker (exuvia of female) - Strumpshaw Fen
I got back to the car park to find that Richard had moved his camper van into the main car park, so reported my sightings to him before setting off for another look at Tinkers' Lane. This proved to be very worthwhile as I found a mature female Scarce Chaser there.



Scarce Chaser (Libellula fulva) (female) - Strumpshaw Fen
Heading back to the car, I gave this update to Richard, but he failed to find this specimen later.

I had intended to go out to eat that night, but I'd been conscious of an intense irritation round both my ankles. I was quite alarmed to find that I'd got several deep-red hard-edged patches on my lower legs about 6-7 cm across - looking a bit like red birthmarks! Whatever had got me had done so through my trousers and/or my socks! There was an M&S foodstore opposite the hotel so I got a sandwich and a few bits and bobs, including some rather special cider, and settled for an evening in.

Friday 29th June

I'd slept very badly that night, partly due me being 'in a strange bed', but mainly due to the discomfort of my legs and ankles. I popped over to the M&S for some cold milk to have with my cereal and fruit that I'd brought from home and then set off for a return to Strumpshaw Fen, arriving shortly after 07h30. The previous day I'd only experienced the southern end of the reserve and my intention was to spend the morning at the northern end of Strumpshaw Fen reserve and then head off to Hickling Broad.

I set off down Tinkers' Lane taking my time looking for anything interesting, without much luck. I then crossed the railway at the level crossing and soon started seeing a few things. 

A few dragonflies were seen, but too distant and fast to identify, so at first it was butterflies.

Large Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus) (male) - Strumpshaw Fen
Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) - Strumpshaw Fen
Soon I was starting to see Black-tailed Skimmers too. The second specimen, below, seems to have a rather broad abdomen for the species.


Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum) (male) - Strumpshaw Fen
There were even some perched females too!


Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum) (female) - Strumpshaw Fen
As I continued along the path towards Lackford Run and then headed west along the dyke I was seeing more and more Black-tailed Skimmers and not even bothering to try and photograph those that were on the ground rather than on vegetation. I'd got so blasé about the numbers of these that I completely missed it when the skimmers gave way to Scarce Chasers, which then became the norm!





Scarce Chaser (Libellula fulva) (male) - Strumpshaw Fen
Although I'd seen a few Norfolk Hawkers in flight already, they were not in photographable situations, and I'd almost got to the point where the Lackford Run joins the Yare before I watched one land. Maybe it was that time of day, but I spent the next hour or so watching Norfolk Hawkers land - some, where I could actually photograph them! The last two images below are of the same specimen, the penultimate image showing just how tatty some of these were becoming.

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



Norfolk Hawker (Aeshna isoceles) (male) - Strumpshaw Fen
There were also a few Banded Demoiselle alongside the dyke.


Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) (male) - Strumpshaw Fen

Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) (female) - Strumpshaw Fen
It wasn't just the dragons that were catching my attention. At one point a distant Marsh Harrier ventured a little closer. I think this was a young female


Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) (female) - Strumpshaw Fen
I'd stopped to chat with a few people, including Richard and his wife who were heading in as I was heading out. I also chatted with a couple who were looking for Swallowtails and I explained where I had seen one the previous day. They wandered off, saying they'd have a look later. 

On my way out I took a couple more shots of Black-tailed Skimmer.

Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum) (female) - Strumpshaw Fen
Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum) (male) - Strumpshaw Fen
I just had to call in again at the the place I'd seen the Swallowtail the previous day, and I spent quite some time here in hope. I was contemplating leaving when the couple that I'd told about the place earlier arrived. so I stayed with them for probably another half hour before setting back to my car. 

I hadn't gone more than 20 metres down the lane before I spotted a Swallowtail flying around high up in the hedgerow. I gave the couple a shout and the butterfly flew over the hedge and towards them. They had spotted it and taken photos before I arrived back on the scene. I managed to get some rather poor shots through the vegetation before it departed high over the trees. Sadly, it was a rather tatty specimen.


Swallowtail (Papilio machaon britannicus) - Strumpshaw Fen
I headed back to my car, totally amazed - Swallowtail in my first ten minutes one day and again in the last ten minutes on the next day, and no sightings in between!

By now it was mid-day and the lack of sleep, early start, hot weather, and discomfort of my lower legs had got the better of me. I gave up all ideas of visiting Hickling Broad and headed for home, only stopping at 'the Scottish restaurant' for a quick lunch on the way. I took the 'eco route' which, in spite of some hold-ups on the way, took somewhat less than the 4 hours prophesied!

Conclusions:

I'd had a splendid time in Norfolk, and achieved my objectives as far as sightings were concerned. There is still, however, a great deal of room for improvement in the photographic aspects!

All things being equal, I shall return next year, possibly a week or so earlier than this year, and will stay for 2 nights to enable me to get more out of the visit for the same amount of travelling!



Thank you for dropping by. I am relatively sure my next post will be very much shorter than this one!

 
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