We’ve been looking forward to today. The weather forecasters have been suggesting/guessing that today would be good as far as England goes. This is not, you understand, good in the absolute sense. Good weather in the absolute sense means, in my book, a cloudless day with constant sunshine. In England, normally, good means no rain, with a few small, white, fluffy clouds occasionally obscuring the sun. This year, good in England means dry, with occasional sunny intervals in between quite large, threateningly black clouds that don’t actually discharge any precipitation. The latter is what we got, some decent spells of sunshine but a sky that was sometimes shrouded by vaguely threatening clouds.
Overnight, our visiting celebrity Norfolk Hawker (Aeshna isosceles) had disappeared from the hole/recess in the hedge surrounding our pitch. I was surprised, 08:30 seemed a bit early for it to have flown. After a simple breakfast, we kicked off the day by visiting the river at Ludham Bridge and doing a dragonfly survey. Several Red-eyed Damselflies (Erythromma najas) were our most interesting find.
On to the main event of the day and our first real Norfolk Hawker hunt. Acting on recommendations from none other than the president of the BDS, whom I’d emailed before leaving on our trip, we headed for Alderfen. Alderfen is a Norfolk Wildlife Trust site with absolutely no signs whatsoever advertising its presence from the road. Maybe they don’t want people to go there? Fortunately instructions and a map got us there and we fell in love with the place almost immediately, a delightfully rural location that was very tranquil and peaceful courtesy of there being only ourselves and the Odos in residence. Perfect!
Alderfen proved to be the mother lode of Azure Damselflies (Coenagrion puella). The trouble was, I’d been told that the place was also home to the not-so-common-but-very-similar-looking Variable Damselfly (Coenagrion pulchellum), which meant that I needed to study as many as possible to ensure that I knew what I was looking at. After countless Azures, I finally found a few Variables, including this very exhibitionist pair in cop.
I’d just finished suggesting that our campsite celebrity visitor might be the only Norfolk Hawker (Aeshna isosceles) that we saw this trip when one whizzed down the Alderfen track we were on. We subsequently found one, perhaps the same one, perched near to the ground in the grass.
Shortly afterwards, we found several more Norfolk Hawkers holding territory over various stretches of water, flying back and forth, frequently chasing off Four-spotted Chasers (Libellula quadrimaculata), occasionally tussling with each other and very occasionally settling, though not terribly conveniently. They really were quite entertaining and Francine swung into manual focus mode to grab an in-flight shot, clever old thing that she is.
Well satisfied, later in the afternoon we set off on our bikes to investigate some of the local lanes. A couple of miles got us to the Broads Authority’s How Hill where there is a wildlife walking trail. Here, three generations of one family joined us watching yet another Norfolk Hawker hunting over the grassland near the entrance and they began quizzing me about Norfolk Hawkers and dragonflies in general. How satisfying it was to find people interested enough to ask questions and to pass on a little knowledge.
A little way into the wildlife walk, something was attracting a lot of attention from a group of four or five people. Norfolk has another insect celebrity, being the only place in the UK where Swallowtail butterflies (Papilio machaon) can be found. We’ve seen them in France and Spain but here was our first in the UK. So intent on trying to snap it was I that I lost yet another expensive pair of sunglasses whilst doing so. Fortunately, I realized shortly afterwards, backtracked and found them in the grass near to where the Swallowtail had been. I still managed to get a blade of grass over one wing tip, too. Darn!
Our route back to Guillaume took us by the ruins of St. Benet’s Abbey which, owing to a large amount of restoration work, are currently completely unphotogenic, being surrounded by ugly metal fencing. The River Bure beside it, however, delivered a very photogenic Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) and its chick as they drifted downstream in the late afternoon sun. [Sun? Yes, sun. Unbelievable.] Grebe chicks really are painfully cute in a stripy, fluffy kind of way.