Saturday 4 June 2011

A Day of Mixed Fortunes

The second day of our trip to Norfolk dawned overcast, so our hopes of finding sun-loving insects were at a low ebb. This may have influenced our decision to head for the coast and the dune complex at Winterton, just north of Great Yarmouth.

As it happened, by the time we bundled out of the car into a sandy wilderness, the sun was making a concerted effort to break through. However, the wind was very gusty and I opted to leave my camera in the safety of its rucksack.

This was a shame as there is a large Little Tern colony on the shingle beach at Winterton, protected from various threats by much signage and an electric fence. Hopefully, this deters foxes, dogs and small-minded humans from stumbling through the middle of the colony and wreaking havoc upon eggs and chicks.

The stiff breeze was proving a problem for winged insects, a point amply made when a large dragonfly narrowly missed the Admiral as it was blown out to sea. However, in the odd sheltered spot between the dunes, Our Lass and the Admiral managed to see Large Red, Azure and Common Blue damsels.

As it was now very warm, we decided to head back inland and try our luck at Upton Fen. This Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve is home to Norfolk Hawker dragonfly and Swallowtail butterfly, so we were feeling quite buoyant as we trundled along the back roads in glorious sunshine. Unfortunately, the fickle hand of Fate then intervened, and we ended up at the eastern edge of the fen without easy access to the reserve. To match our darkening mood, the clouds came over again and the temperature dropped, much like our chances of a sighting our target insects. We managed to find a picnic spot out of the wind, by a marina, and sat sombrely eating our lunch whilst we thought of another plan.

The rollercoaster ride of a day then did a loop-the-loop, as over the Admiral's shoulder, I spotted a dragonfly hawking in the shelter of the trees. Three pairs of eyes latched onto this fast-moving object and savoured every second of the view, as for two of us, this was our first Norfolk Hawker.

With our morale and directions back on the map, we drove the few miles along the south side of the fen to the western edge, where the actual car park was located. By now, much of the heat of the day had disappeared, so it was proving difficult to find any Odonata. By sheer persistence, we were able to locate Hairy Dragonfly, Black-tailed Skimmer, Broad-bodied Chaser and Four-spotted Chaser, as well as Large Red, Azure, Blue-tailed, and Variable Damselflies.

Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata)
Shortly after taking the above photograph, we happened upon a stretch of dyke where most of the surface was covered with a strange plant. This was Water Soldier, the plant upon which  Norfolk Hawker larvae live for two or three years, before emerging into the light on its sword-shaped leaves. The plant itself is a bit of a star. It remains fully submerged for most of the year, only coming to the surface to flower in early summer, which is pretty handy for the Hawker, I guess.

Water Soldier (Stratiotes alloides)
Norfolk Hawker exuvia on Water Soldier leaf
Sadly, although we found many exuviae, we could not see any adult dragonflies, and save for a distance glimpse of one in another glade as we made our way back to the car, that was it for the day. Since breakfast, our fortunes had ebbed and flowed like the tide, so it seemed apposite to take our evening meal in a pub called The Ship.

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