Category Archives: Butterflies

The Butterfly Safari

We’re now travelling back in time. It’s back to Monday morning this time, to a time before the Sheringham Fish and Chips. I put the the postcode for Strumpshaw Fen into the sat-nav and was once again mesmerised by its capacity for random navigation and time travel.

It started off by leading me in what I thought was the wrong direction and then took a turn for the worse as we took in a selection of narrow roads with grass growing down the centre. It was like taking a trip into a time of more relaxed transport and I’m sure I saw a Hay Wain in the distance.

The main butterfly at the reserve is the Swallowtail. There were, according to reports, several still to be seen on the reserve. We also had hopes of seeing White Admirals and Silver-washed Fritillaries.

From the lack of Swallowtail picture in the header you may be able to deduce that things did not exactly go to plan. You may also search in vain…well, you’ll find out in good time. For now I will keep the tension building.

The first thing we saw as we crossed the railway line to the reserve was a bat, which fluttered down into a bush. They have Pipistrelles in the roof of one of their buildings, though they don’t usually fly in daylight. It might, we agreed, be suffering from the heat.

Pipistrelle Bat, Strumpshaw

Pipistrelle Bat, Strumpshaw

We took a walk through the woods, looked at the wire contraptions that used to shelter orchids, saw a few surviving orchids, pointed a camera at several butterflies and muttered bad words at my lack of success in actually photographing them. Ditto for dragonflies.

We did see a Marsh Harrier, but, to be fair, they are hard to miss. The Canadian lady who was in the hide at the time was ecstatic at seeing one, and the conversation moved on to her difficulties in seeing Polar Bears in Northern Canada. It was nice to think of a cold place while burning up in the middle of a Norfolk reed bed.

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Marsh Harrier over Strumpshaw Fen

Whilst listening to tales of the frozen north I noticed that a Comma had settled next to the path. As soon as I pointed the camera at it, it flew away. It’s a common butterfly and I have lots of shots of it, but it was still vexing to miss yet another shot.

I also missed a White Admiral – twice. We had good views of them, but they didn’t settle long enough for a photograph.

I was able to get some damselflies, some blurred dragonflies and, after returning to my primeval origins, hunt down a darter.

This is a Ruddy Darter. Probably.

These are Damselflies – possibly a Common Blue and a Blue-tailed.

Finally, as we sat under an ivy-covered tree, drinking tea and (in my case) restocking my calories with a big chunk of flapjack, I noticed a butterfly. It was the tomato soup red colour of a Comma, which was a poor second prize for a day of butterfly spotting in Norfolk.

However, as I zoomed in I noticed it was a completely different shape to a Comma.

And that was how we managed to take a photograph of a Silver-washed Fritillary.

That evening, after chips, we took a ride out into the marshes, where I enjoyed myself taking blurred photos of larks and pipits, missing a shot of a female Marsh Harrier and, eventually, getting some shots of sitting people and moored boats. They move slowly so I can manage them.

I’ll post them later as I have to go out now.

 

A Day of Luck and Spiders

I dropped Julia off at work this morning and, as the day was briefly sunny, came back the long way round. This proved to be a good decision as it enabled me too avoid a terrible tailback and look smug. The two things were not unconnected.

The weather is forecast to be significantly less good for the rest of the day. Hopefully my luck will continue to be good.

I knocked out 350 words about volunteering on my return home, as it’s something I’ve been thinking about and there had been an item on the radio this morning. Unfortunately, despite writing and rewriting (the likely word count was probably at least double the 350 that resulted) I still wasn’t happy with them.

It took so long I was nearly late for my blood test.

Fortunately they were running late so I had time to make an appointment for the flu vaccination clinic. Between 8.00 and 9.00 on a Saturday morning is not the optimal time because it’s our relaxed breakfast morning, with Julia buying fruit from the market and starting work at 11.30. However, I want the jab so I accepted the time.

The luck was clearly starting to leak out of the day.

It took three shots to find a vein today, but it doesn’t really hurt and we had a good laugh about it. Well what else are you going to do, complain to a woman armed with a needle?

I was definitely feeling less lucky, and slightly more leaky by that time when she said:

“Would you like a flu vaccination while you’re here?”

Save a trip to the surgery and have time for a leisurely breakfast – yes I would.

I had to have a different nurse for that. It seems that when you are on Warfarin you need a specially qualified nurse to give you an injection.

You can, it seems, prod me with needles as much as you like, open veins at will and extract blood by the bucketful – that’s OK. But load up with flu vaccine and stick it in a muscle and you need special training.

I had special training in hospital to inject myself with anticoagulants. That took five minutes.

The NHS is a wondrous place.

At that point I had to admit that my luck was improving, as I was vaccinated and had saved time.

After that I called at the parcel office. An irritating family got there just before me and clogged the system up a bit, with two noisy daughters guarding the door while the scrawny father and amply proportioned matriarch blocked the enquiry window. They seemed more than normally concerned by a note they had been sent, telling them pick a parcel up from the office. As they were already in possession of an armful of packages I don’t know why one more was significant.

It was, she thought, a scam facilitated by the theft of her phone on holiday. I don’t  know if it was stolen or not, if she always speaks so much drivel it had probably thrown itself off a cliff.

I’m not sure what sort of scam involves sending the victim a parcel. Possibly one where you post a parcel full of burglars, but I don’t think that’s worked since the Fall of Troy.

Back home I noted a Small White fluttering round the front garden, then a Red Admiral, then a second Red Admiral. By the time I had the camera in action I noticed a massive spider sitting in a web, waiting…

In the end I took pictures of the spider, as it was the most unusual thing. The White flew off, and as I focused on the first Red Admiral they both became skittish and refused to settle.

In the end I think it’s just a female Garden Spider (Araneus diadematus), and not at all rare. It is, in spider terms, quite big, and I will sleep easier tonight knowing I have something that size guarding my garden.

As I sat down to write this they came back so I went out again.

They flew off as I stalked the first one.

If I spot them again I’m taking a rolled up newspaper and a bottle of glue. That should sort out the skittishness.

And finally – they came back!

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Red Admiral – at last!

No Red Admirals were harmed in the taking of these pictures. Honestly – no glue needed!

Pictures of Peacocks

According to Laurie Graves, commenting on my last post, she likes pictures of Peacock butterflies as they don’t see them in Maine. I don’t feel too sorry for her though, she does have Hummingbirds in summer.

Anyway, as I have plenty of photographs of Peacocks I thought it might be in order to put a few up.

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Peacock Butterfly on Buddleia

The featured image is a Peacock on crocuses, taken in February a few years ago. It’s the earliest butterfly I’ve ever photographed, though they can, according to reports, be seen on every day of the year.

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Peacock at Mencap gardens

I’ve always liked Peacocks. My first memory of butterflies dates from around 1960-61 but I only  recall them as either white or reddish brown. We were living outside York at that time, and went on to Blackburn, Clitheroe and Lincolnshire before noticing them again in 1967. At that point we moved to a house near Peterborough. It had a sheltered paved area with a buddleia and one day in our first summer there I noticed that the bush was hosting a Peacock convention. It’s tempting to say it was covered with them, but this would be an exaggeration. However, there were more butterflies in one spot than I remember seeing before or since.

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Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshell at the Ecocentre

And not just butterflies, but big, bright, velvety butterflies.

From that day on, I was confirmed as a butterfly enthusiast.

Spiders, Shopping and Dead Butterflies

A couple of days ago I noticed something fluttering in the front garden, It turned out to be the remains of a Small Tortoiseshell, enangled in a sider’s web. It was past help, but I thought I’d take a few pictures. If I ever need a picture of a dead butterfly with a spider I now have one in stock.

It was quite a cunning plan on behalf of the spider, stringing a web between the Red Valerian flowers and lying in wait for a passing pollinator. I imagine that it wou;d have preferred a nice juicy bee, but it got a butterfly. There must be plenty of food in a butterfly, but the wings are a bit of a waste.

I  tried to get some close-ups, but must have touched a web, as the spider made a rush for me, defending its lunch. In such a David and Goliath situation we were always going to have a non-traditional outcome. I was never going to fall over after taking a rock between the eyes. Fortunately the spider didn’t push its luck and, after a sneer, it went back to eating.

Moving forward to Bank Holiday Monday,  we went to the garden centre so that Julia could buy more plants. We always seem to be buying new plants. After the first half of the trip I hobbled back to the car, making much use of my walking stick, and allowed her to enjoy the centre without me holding her back. I am so noble.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with me, apart from laziness and the inability to put up with heat. I’m just a very bad husband. However, I was able to sit in a car in the shade and enjoy the breeze instead of sweating round a variety of converted polytunnels masquerading as a shop. I feel a little deception was good for my health.

Whether or not it remains good for my health if Julia reads this, we will have to see.

As I sat in the car I took a few photos. There wasn’t much to photograph, but when in doubt take a picture of things that look like a pattern. That’s why I took the pots and compost bags.  They aren’t good photos, but they look like they could be. The one with the pots would have been better if they’d been stacked on the level. Or if I’d noticed they were sloping when I took the photo.

 

It was nice day, even if it was too hot for me, and even better when we were able to drive round with the air-conditioning on.

At least we weren’t disappointed by this garden centre.

Birthdays and Blue Butterflies

It was the Birthday Party today, and we had cake. It was actually an 86th birthday rather than an 85th, as I previously said, so I got an extra year for free.

I also got a present, even though it isn’t my birthday. Bill has completed a marathon cutting session and gave me 112 pieces of wood. Eventually they will become 16 nest boxes, but for now they are merely a dream.

Combined ages 169!

Combined age 169 years and still eating cake

On the way down to the farm I stopped for a few minutes to take some photographs of bales in a field when a blue flash fluttered past. It took a bit of stalking but I eventually got a decent shot.

The tractor is in that phase of restoration where the Men in Sheds have actually removed even more bits in order to get at other bits that need mending. If you look at the back wheel you may be able to pick out the cardboard box they are using to make a gasket. Farmers and Mne in Sheds rarely spend money when they can cut up the box the cake came in.

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There is evidence of progress as some parts have been put back. I could start a competition asking people to compare the last post and see what has been done. But I won’t.

There’s certainly been more done to the tractor than the butterfly garden. The dwarf buddleias are now getting on for 6 feet tall and the full size ones are 9 foot monsters. There were plenty of Small Tortoiseshells (about 20 I should think) but only a handful of whites and a solitary Peacock.

You’d think that a wild and unkempt garden was best for wildlife but according to something I read recently it isn’t true. An untidy garden is good, and better for wildlif,e than a totally wild one. Strangely, the monster buddleias are acconpanied by patches of bare earth where useful plants (like borage and daisies) have been ripped out and little has grown back due to shadows and inhospitable clay.

This is certainly true for photography – the out of control buddleia makes it a lot harder to get decent photos.

The last six guineafowl are still around (the white one refused to be photographed) and several of the bantams seem to be living the free-range lifestyle. They were too quick for me to get a decent shot, but they are looking good.

Fortunately I was luckier with my morning and evening visits to Julia’s garden, which I will report on later.

A Painted Lady Comes to Call

I’ve had a few problems with WordPress today, including the complete loss of a post. This was annoying as I’d spent a significant amount of time looking for links and photos.

Julia picked plums in the early afternoon and saw a Painted Lady in the garden – another first for the garden. Added to the Small Copper and Hummingbird Hawk Moth we saw earlier in the year it’s all coming together nicely.


When we left home to do some errands this afternoon we spent a few minutes watching the front garden and were rewarded by two small brown butterflies hustling past in the swirling wind, then a larger one, which proved to be a Painted Lady. It took some photographing, as it was quite skittish and there was a stiffish breeze once it left cover.

We’re not doing too badly for butterflies in the garden, partly due to looking a bit more than usual and partly due to a good showing of Red Valerian. We’ve also had Mint Moths on the marigolds, which is a first, as I’ve always seen them on mint or oregano before.

As for the plums, Julia has picked over 200. As usual, it’s a case of picking them when ripe and then using them quickly before they start to go over. We’ve given some to Angela Across the Road, who gave us figs and tomatoes in return. We’ve also given some to the Young Couple Next Door, because they give us cake.

I’m going to make sure we feed the tree properly next year, and ensure the pruning is done properly. I’ve been a bit slapdash with pruning recently and it’s turning into a biennial bearer. This is my fault, not the tree’s. If the feeding works it should fruit moderately next year, which will take some of the vigour out of it for the year after. If not, it looks like I’ll have to remove fruit buds two years from now.

I think this all started about six years ago when we had a bad spring that killed all the blossom. The next year was a bumper year due to all the stored energy and the one after that we didn’t harvest any fruit at all. I should have got on top of it when we had the first bumper year, instead I added neglect to the problem by letting the pruning slip by.

We are having Plum and Apple Crumble for tea.

All in all this has been a good day.

The Day gets Better

I’ve just been adding photographs to the post about the attempted break in. As you can see from them, we had a CSI van and beautiful blue skies. I don’t usually go to the garden when people are there but I thought Julia could do with a hand this afternoon. She normally has to travel through town on the bus with two bags of kit as she travels from one job to the next but I thought after the trials of the day she deserved a lift.

I am such a gent. I am also currently unemployed so it seemed the least I could do.

While I was there in the morning I forgot to tell you that Julia had spotted a beautifully marked Green-veined White. I could only get a distant photo with my phone, so I have nothing to show. It’s a common butterfly, but it’s a new one for the garden list and that’s always good.

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Willow arch

Yesterday we had a good few hours, with Bill from Men in Sheds bringing his battery powered saw to help cut up pallets. We now have all the bits cut to make three new benches.

He also  brought four nest boxes in kit form so the group can put them together and paint them. Even better, he’s going to do another 20 for us. This will let us upgrade the existing boxes and leave some to sell towards funds.

Despite the break in it’s been a good week, and the fruit is looking good. All we need to do is stop people stealing it.

 

I would have taken more photos, but the batteries ran out. (These were all taken on Wednesday morning, though the post is written on Thursday.)

We were also given a perfectly usable set of 5-a-side goals the school was throwing out, or fruit cage frame, as we now call it.

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The new fruit cage