We started our day with a cycle ride to the nearby ruins of St Benet’s Abbey on the banks of the River Ant. Actually, the major ruins are part of the gate house to the abbey rather than of the abbey itself, of which just one small section of stone wall remains. There is, however, a fanciful drawing showing what the abbey “might have looked like”.
When we were up here last year, the gatehouse remains had been surrounded by particularly unsightly fencing and scaffolding, making a photograph of it a rather pointless exercise. Even Photoshop couldn’t have fixed that. We set off to look, despite expecting to see more of the same. Joy of joys, the scaffolding and fencing was all gone so Francine could finally get to grips with the ruins and developing disturbed sky.
In the afternoon with a patch of brightness appearing, we made a return visit to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s reserve at Alderfen. The first thing we came across in the narrow country lanes leading towards the site was a “Road Closed – Access Only” sign. Fortunately, the road closed barriers were immediately after the track leading down to Alderfen so we made it. Less happily, the bright spell was very short lived and the overcast soon conquered the Norfolk skies again.
Undaunted, we made a circuit of the reserve seeing good numbers of Migrant Hawkers (Aeshna mixta) and Ruddy Darters (Sympetrum sanguineum), with a handful of other species in much lower numbers. Only the Ruddy Darters produced anything like a decent photo opportunity.
Our most interesting find was a very colourful, thumping great big caterpillar. We first of all thought that this might be a caterpillar of the Emperor Moth (Saturnia pavonia), an example of which can be seen here. Our specimen seemed essentially similar in colour and pattern but our only diagram showed that Emperor Moth caterpillars have tufts of short bristles which our specimen lacked. Once we got to grips with our caterpillar reference volume, it turned out that this magnificent character was a Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar (Papilio machaon). In the UK, the Swallowtail is one of Norfolk’s better known celebrities. Excellent!