Wednesday 27 July 2022

Stag Beetle Sighting


I was due to make a recording of one of my poems so was trying to see if there was a quiet spot in the garden (sadly there wasn't) when an enormous beetle made its way over the patio slabs to the cover of our leafy flower pots. I knew at once it was a Stag Beetle, and was pretty sure 'she' was a female. 

The kind folk on iSpot seem to agree with my ID. We occasionally see Stag Beetles, Lesser Stag Beetles and Cockchafers fluttering around the garden in the twilight. Stag Beetles can seem very eerie and ethereal creatures. I have rarely seen them on the ground ... 

I wished I had a ruler to hand to take a measurement, but we have now measured the Pelargonium leaf at leisure to give an idea of length, which I estimate at 4cm. 

My camera, however, was on the garden table, so I took these shots with as much speed as I could muster before the beetle disappeared into her shady bower.


Note: it seems to me that most useful credit-card sized rulers that fit in a card wallet (or pocket) are made of plastic. Some have a magnifying lens as well, I see, which would mean one useful bit of field-kit instead of two. I came across some credit-card sized (possibly tear-off) paper centimetre rules that were available at least in some parts of the world. I wonder which is the greener option, perhaps the paper ones, though I can see these blowing away rather easily ...There is always the option of making one's own.

Saturday 23 July 2022

Hollesley Butterfly Count

David is counting butterflies (with my help) and submitting records to iRecord for Butterfly Conservation. We visited SWT Hollesley Marsh this afternoon, where we counted a total of 207 butterflies in less than two hours, logging ten species ...

  1. Gatekeeper
  2. Large White
  3. Small White
  4. Meadow Brown
  5. Red Admiral
  6. Painted Lady
  7. Small Heath
  8. Peacock
  9. Speckled Wood
  10. Small Tortoiseshell

As you can see, the views are beautiful, but the dry grass, harvested field (with stack of bales) and ripe blackberries we saw made it feel more like September than July. 

Visitors are not permitted on the beach to preserve the environment for wildlife

Thursday 21 July 2022

Emperor Dragonfly In The Garden (and a Personal Reaction to the News of Sizewell C)


We have only (noticed and) recorded an Emperor Dragonfly in the garden on one previous occasion, so when this magnificent insect alighted on a brown stem last Saturday, we were delighted. 

Curiously, we had set up a tiny pond only days before, and on that very day, we came across the first Common Frog we had seen in our home patch since 2019. 

It is hard to know whether the provision of water led to the arrival of the dragonfly and the frog, but I would like to think so! 

Since then we have also resurrected our old 'barrel pond' as well, and stocked it with some oxygenating pond plants. We had a female Common Darter near the patio yesterday. I wonder what we will see next ...


And incidentally, my Emperor Dragonfly identification is made on the basis of ...

  • large size
  • black line along top of abdomen (see first photo)
  • yellow costa or leading wing vein 
  • green thorax  

* * *


I don't feel I can really end without referring to yesterday's governmental decision to allow the nuclear reactor plant, Sizewell C, to go ahead. I confess that I am not well-versed in all the scientific arguments, and I know wildlife supporters are divided, especially over the issue of alternative solutions such as wind farms which can cause devastating harm to seabirds; but, in tune with the views of those representing the RSPB and the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, I feel disheartened by the news. 

Sizewell on left, behind the Island Mere Hide at RSPB Minsmere

The Sizewell site adjoins the flagship nature reserve of Minsmere, with its avocets (who feature on the RSPB logo), eels, bitterns, adders, antlions, glow worms, otters and numerous rare or threatened species. Dunwich flanks Minsmere on the northern side, with its history of extreme coastal erosion. I feel particularly sorry for those local residents who have been fighting this battle and campaigning for some time.

Wednesday 20 July 2022

Sunset at Bawdsey, Just Before The Heatwave


Sunset at Bawdsey ... just because ...

Knowing that we were likely to be 'confined to barracks' during the heatwave, we took a picnic to Bawdsey at the mouth of the River Deben, opposite Felixstowe Ferry, to enjoy the sunset and some sea air. 

Those of you who watch BBC Springwatch will remember the footage of polecats in Bawdsey (see also here).  


Monday 18 July 2022

Holiday Butterflies (3): White Admiral, Holt Country Park


In my previous post I mentioned Holt Country Park, where we saw our first Silver-washed Fritillary butterflies last month. In fact I also saw my first White Admirals. David had seen a single White Admiral days before at NWT Hickling Broad Reserve, where we were really looking for Swallowtails. I had missed it, so was particularly pleased to find these striking butterflies at Holt. I was surprised, however, to discover how (relatively) small they were, but perhaps that is in comparison with the Swallowtails and Fritillaries. I reckon they are about the same size as a Red Admiral. 

I love the almost tiger-like markings in the photo below.

The larvae only feed on Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum). Adults can be found on nectar-rich brambles. At the present time these butterflies can be found in shady areas roughly from Lincolnshire to Devon.

Thursday 14 July 2022

Holiday Butterflies (2): Silver-washed Fritillary Sighting

This post follows on from my Swallowtail one and is the second of my posts about three species of butterfly, all new to us, that we saw during our recent time away in Norfolk. 

David and I visited Holt Country Park for the first time. It was a very hot day in June, and we were grateful for the shade afforded by the woodland rides. We had barely left the car park when we saw the flutter of large orange wings, the large orange wings of our first ever Silver-washed Fritillary! 

Several sightings followed thereafter, though the butterflies were very active and hard to catch on camera. 

I believe this is only the second species of Fritillary I have ever knowingly seen, the first being the exquisite Pearl-bordered variety, which we encountered back in 2014 on the famous path to Hallaig on the tiny Inner Hebridean island of Raasay. 
Pearl-bordered Fritillary, path to Hallaig, Raasay, 2014

2014 Photoshop collage: Raasay with Fritillary

I missed seeing the Fritillary David found in Galloway in 2018, but he let me post his photo here
Our Fritillary sightings have been few and far between, and two have been north of the border. The word 'fritillary' makes me think not only of butterflies but of the Snakes-head Fritillary flower. I began wondering why these chequered butterflies and plants should share this name. What did it mean? 
I did a bit of Googling (this article may not have answered my question, but it proved a fascinating read along the way), and discovered that while the word finds its origin in Latin, a derivation of it became the name for a 'dice-box' in the 1500s and 1600s. I wonder if some of these boxes from which dice were thrown were themselves made to look like large dice, with spot-marks ... 
Update, 15 July 2022
I continued to ponder the nature of the dice-box and to wonder how the word fritillary in one of its forms must surely have indicated a feature that would link the appearance of the butterfly with the flower.  
Help came from The Oxford English Dictionary, which cites a passage in J. Gerard's Herball of 1597. This passage suggests that what we recognise as the Fritillary flower was known as Frittillaria (as Gerard spelled it). Gerard proceeded to add that Frittillus (again, his spelling), a slightly different form of the word, was thought by some to refer to a chessboard comprising 'square checkers'. This last bit makes good sense to me as both butterfly and flower display a design similar to that of a chessboard.

Saturday 9 July 2022

Holiday Butterflies (1): Swallowtail Success At Last

Swallowtail, NWT Hickling Broad, Midsummer's Day 2022

I grew up in rural Norfolk from the age of twelve and often heard about the Swallowtail butterflies that had once graced the Broads in days before their marshland habitat was drained for the intensive growing of wheat. Swallowtails rely on Milk Parsley, a plant that requires a moist soil. 

I longed to see a Swallowtail, just as I longed to see other endangered species in East Anglia, species such as the Bittern and Avocet. I shall never forget the first time I heard the boom of the Bittern across the marsh at RSPB Minsmere or the first time I saw not only adult Avocets, but also Avocet chicks at WWT Welney. 

The Swallowtail continued to elude me. 

Back in 2005 I drafted a sonnet about this situation. The poem was included in The Holy Place, the poet-to-poet chapbook I share with John Dotson, which was published in 2012 by The Seventh Quarry Press (Swansea, Wales) in conjunction with Cross-Cultural Communications (New York). 

More than a third of a century after my arrival in Norfolk, David, my husband, and I finally had an unexpected Swallowtail encounter at the archaeological site of Messine in the Western Peloponnese in 2010. This was most exciting, and although it was not the same as seeing a Swallowtail in Broadland, the surprise sighting brought immense joy. 


Swallowtail, Messine, Peloponnese, 2010

On 18 August 2013 we spent a day at NWT Hickling Broad and, to our delight, saw a number of late instar Swallowtail larvae ... on the Milk Parsley. 

Swallowtail, Final Instar, Hickling, 18 August 2013

Little did we realise that nearly another decade would elapse before we finally, finally managed to see adult Swallowtails (and yes, we saw more than one) on the reserve, large adult Swallowtails on the wing in Norfolk!


Hickling Broad, June 2022


In 1881 R.L. Stevenson wrote that to 'travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive'; the poet Cavafy (1863-1933) famously explored the importance of the journey. And yes, my decades-long Swallowtail quest has been a largely enjoyable one, though I would hesitate to declare that the 'journey' in this case has been more fulfilling than the final prize!


David photographing a Swallowtail instar, June 2022

Swallowtail instar on Milk Parsley, June 2022

Later instar, June 2022

Swallowtail, Hickling, 21 June 2022

Swallowtail, Hickling, 21 June 2022


Postscript: our recent visit to Norfolk produced two other butterfly species that were new to us. I hope to blog about these in the days to come. And since our return to Suffolk, we have (consciously) seen our first Silver-studded Blues.

Friday 8 July 2022

Update: Butterflies in the Garden


Latest First Garden Sighting of 2022, seen this evening at 19.30 hrs

I shall return to my holiday sightings soon (this was my Swallowtail post, in case you missed it); but I am interrupting the sequence to add my latest garden sightings, along with the latest addition, as shown above. 

Once again I am taking part in the Butterfly Conservation 'Garden Butterfly Survey'. The chart below shows my 2022 records from the beginning of the year up until yesterday. 


Some of you will know that we signed a Suffolk Wildlife Trust pledge, saying 'no to the mow'. I think the long grass of our suburban micro-meadow is beginning to pay dividends. I hope the Buddleias, several of them self-seeded, make a positive difference, too.

Total: 17 species ... and counting.