Sunday 7 July 2013

Swallowtails makes the summer

You couldn't really call this the summer doldrums could you, possible Grey-necked Bunting at Blakeney (I was even ready to twitch that one!), an unconfirmed report of a Great Black-headed Gull at Titchwell, the Bridled tern in Northumberland and an Ascension Frigatebird in Scotland. They all generated plenty of discussions at least, if nothing else.
I built my birding around sport this weekend. The 3rd Lions test in Sydney on Saturday morning and the Wimbledon Men's Singles Final on Sunday afternoon. Thankfully both results went the right way.
On Saturday evening I decided to drive up to Kelling Heath and take a look for Dartford Warbler. I've never seen one, a very rare bird in Ireland, probably due to their sedentary nature. I'm guessing around ten records but I could be wrong there.
Anyway, after a bit of driving around I eventually found the right spot on Kelling Heath between the charming villages of Holt and Weybourne. I parked up and set off looking for the birds. The habitat is beautiful, dry heath with gorze, heather and bracken. Good for Nightjar, Woodlark, possibly Tree Pipit and of course Dartford Warbler. I saw none of these! The best I had was a recently fledged Nightingale, but on such a warm evening it was a fine place to stroll around. I may need to venture out of the county to Dunwich Heath in Suffolk for my Dartfords.
On Sunday morning Nick and I elected to stay reasonably close to Norwich. We parked up behind the train station at Buckenham Marshes. As with yesterday evening at Kelling Heath, there were Blackcaps, Whitethroats and Chiffchaffs all in song. We walked to the first hide where Nick picked up a nice Yellow Wagtail. However, apart from some juvenile Shelduck, Lapwing and Black-headed Gulls, there was little else there. We walked along the river bank towards the second scrape, it was only 9.45am but it was already getting hot. The Lepidotera and Odonata were out in force. I'm not good on either group but plenty of Small Tortoiseshells, Ringlets, Meadow Browns and one or two Red Admiral. Also, plenty of dragonflys, none of which I can identify. Nick tells me this is a Norfolk Hawker.

Norfolk Hawker, Buckenham Marshes RSPB - 7th July 2013

At the second scrape we had three Ruff, two Avocet (with chick) and several Redshank. With little else to detain us we decided to head back towards Strumpshaw Fen to look for the famous Swallowtail Butterflys. I say famous, because I've checked several times for them there without success. But I've always been a little late in the evening and sometimes the weather hasn't been great. Today it was already 25oC by the time we reached the car park so certainly warm enough for them.
We walked around the meadow trail checking the ditches. Plenty of Damselflys and Dragonflys but no Swallowtails. This one is a Four-spotted Chaser (correct me if I'm wrong).

Four-spotted Chaser, Strumpshaw Fen RSPB - 7th July 2013
Seriously though, on close examination they are fine beasts and I think its time to smarten myself up on Britain's Odonata and Lepidoptera, time to shell out on some books maybe! Any recommendations??
We also had this rather bleached and late Brimstone, typically an early spring butterfly, would this be the offspring of one that emerged in April??

Brimstone, Strumpshaw Fen RSPB - 7th July 2013
As we walked towards the fen hide we finally caught up with a single Swallowtail, it was a little distant though so we elected to head towards the famous private garden on the opposite side of the reserve.
We walked up the lane from the road and as we neared the garden I could see several photographers taking snaps of a something on the flowers. It was looking good and as we got close we could see one Swallowtail busy nectaring on the Buddleias. There was a second further up the border also.
There was no need for a big lens for these things, they paid no attention to any of us and went about their business oblivious to people. With patience it was possible to get some nice shots as they rested briefly with their wings open.

Swallowtail, Strumpshaw Fen RSPB - 7th July 2013
I must compliment the owners of the garden, who are clearly lovers of Natural History, they have created a very nice border for the Swallowtails and are very happy to allow people to walk up along it and take photographs within several feet of their living room. I hope this is never abused or taken advantage of. I spoke to them briefly and they seem lovely people.

Photographing Swallowtails near Strumpshaw Fen

Every so often two Swallowtails would come into contact with each other. I don't know if it was two males fighting or a male chasing a female or what (I suspect the former). But a bit of ruck would kick off between them as one would try to chase another off a flower head. They usually ended up tussling on the grass before one would give up and fly off leaving the other one alone. Quite entertaining to watch, at one stage their aerial tussle was within inches of my head.

'Get orf my land' - dualing Swallowtails - 7th July 2013
To see some movie clips of them click here and here

I was as interested and entertained watching these insects as I have been by any bird I've seen this year. They are truly stunning. If you have to chance go and see them. One Swallowtail could really make a summer!
After about an hour, we had both gotten reasonable photos and great views, the day was really starting to get hot, we were thirsty and a bit weary. We decided it was time to call a halt and go watch the tennis.

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