On what felt like a rare afternoon off, followed by an entire day without work, I decided I needed to do something slightly out of the ordinary. So I packed a duvet, sleeping bag, toothbrush and walking boots into my car, grabbed some food and decided to spend the night in Norfolk, exploring Strumpshaw Fen. I had hoped to see a Swallowtail butterfly, a nice incentive to explore somewhere new and see a species I have never seen before. But this is not just any species. The Swallowtail is the largest, and probably most beautiful, butterfly in the British Isles. My chances were slim, being between the two imago phases of the year, where the first generation of adults would have died off and the second still in caterpillar phase, but it was worth a gamble...
|First sight of the reserve|
I arrived late. And spent dusk familiarising myself with the reserve. Deep winged and flying low over the reeds, a marsh harrier flew into the crimson sky. A beautiful place, packed with lots of birds, dragonflies catching smaller insects on the wing and plenty of mosquitoes. Standing still really was not an option. Within seconds I would have tens of mosquitoes attempting to feast on my blood. Scientists have recently filmed mosquitoes biting a mouse, check out those mouth parts! I look at them with a new found fascination and respect - incredible insects, despite the itchy aftermath!
|Heron hunting in the mist|
The site was peaceful, as the mist rolled in, and the last remaining light vanished. I headed back to the car and back to my place of rest for the evening.
|Mist setting in|
4:30am. The air thick with a heavy mist, the moisture in the air cold on the skin. Birds had just begun to sing as I made it back to the reserve. Has anyone ever heard a bittern call in August before? I heard two distant calls that sounded like bittern. Shortly after reaching the other side of the reserve, the sun had peeked over the woodland to the east.
|Dew laden nettles in the misty morning|
By now my shoes were soaked through. The condensed dew drops clung to the grasses, reeds and bushes like tiny silver ball bearings. With every step, and every brush through the vegetation, my clothing slowly became saturated with the moisture. Is there a more magical sight to wake up to on a misty morning than the sight of the intricate masterpieces of webbing created by spiders, covered in dew?
|Web in the reeds|
I sat in the hide, over looking the fen. The sun lifted some of the mist off of this tranquil setting, and birds began to explode into life. Water rail called from the reeds, the masterful fishermen the cormorant took off across the water. Herons made their way to the edge of the reeds to spear fish in the shallows, gull chicks begged for food on the muddy banks, while adults mobbed the hell out of the marsh harrier cruising quietly by as it patrolled the reed beds.
|Lonesome goose in the sunrise|
|Gulls doing their utmost to deter the marsh harrier!|
Now the sun was up, and the temperature had risen slightly, I walked around along the ditches towards the area of the reserve where plenty of the swallowtails primary larval food plant, milk parsley, can be found.
The remains of what looked like roach, lay strewn across the path by the river. An otter perhaps? Butterflies had already started to take to the wing as they absorbed enough energy from the brightening rays of the sun. Peacock, gatekeeper and meadow brown. And a first for me this summer - painted lady!
It did not take long to find the milk parsley. And, reliably, the caterpillar of the swallowtail lay within the milk parsley, where it had been feasting.
|A pair on milk parsley|
|Swallowtail caterpillar face|
Although there was not much I could have done about the timing, and I had chanced my arm, I was almost disappointed that I did not see a swallowtail butterfly. Saying that, I did see its caterpillar, which is fairly impressive in its own right - there are some truly beautiful caterpillars around that should definitely not be overshadowed by their more popular imago phase!
I like to make the point about just getting out there. I took a risk with the swallowtail, which, like most of my ideas at the moment, seemingly failed. But I sat and watched the sunrise from a comfortable hide, over looking a stunningly beautiful reserve. The dragon and damsel flies were mightily impressive, particularly by the wild meadow they have on site. Broad bodied chasers, common blue and emerald damselflies all made an appearance.
Such a diverse site, hosting an incredible array of animals. I will end on another spider web shot. Because they are magic...
|Web of beads|
Once again, Norfolk has come up trumps! Thank you for reading ya'll..