Norfolk, July 2015

Having recently returned from France with a 2-week side trip to Spain, My boss today headed back to Spain along with her mum. Sister was supposed to go, too, but that’s another story. I did the airport run dropping my passengers at 5:30 AM for their 7:30 AM flight to Alicante. They’re gone for a week.

I did not plan to stay at home twiddling my thumbs and doing chores while everyone else was off enjoying themselves in the Spanish sun. Norfolk was beckoning. I decided to travel up on Wednesday 8/07/2015 and stay through Saturday 11/07/2015.

My preferred Caravan Club site at Ludham was regrettably fully booked but I found what looked like a reasonable alternative on the southern edge of Norwich run by the Camping and Caravanning Club. It is described as a city site with a country feel. This site did have space so I booked in. I left the house at almost 11:00 AM with a bag of clothes and headed off to collect my caravan. We sailed up the now completed A11 – there were nightmare road works last year – and arrived at Norwich a smidge before 2:00 PM. At last the road into Norfolk is reasonable. The A47 south of Norwich is still a mess but fortunately I dived off the A47 at the previous exit to get to my campsite.

Being less far into The Broads, I actually had a specific goal in mind. I would be considerably closer to a site that I’ve wanted to visit for some time, Thompson Common, which is home to a healthy colony of Scare Emerald Damselflies/Robust Spreadwings (Lestes dryas). I’d seen a suspect in France but never one in the UK. With a good forecast for the coming three days, I was hopeful.

[Note: I am tending to switch to the more European vernacular names used in K-D Dijkstra’s book ‘cos the traditional, UK-centric BDS names seem to make little sense to me as a wider-ranging dragonfly tourist.]

Campsite, River Yare: 08/07/2015 [#1]

J15_1009 Calopteryx splendensRight beside the campsite is a delightful stretch of the River Yare complete with duckweed, grasses waving underwater in the current, reeds and trees lining the banks. It’s really quite captivating, all the more so because it was absolutely teeming with fluttering Banded Demoiselles (Calopteryx splendens). If these so-called riverside butterflies don’t charm your socks off, nothing will and you are a completely lost cause.

There were other Odos putting in occasional appearances, too. Residents and visitors to the campsite’s river amounted to 6 species that I saw:

  • Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens)
  • Azure Bluet/Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella)
  • Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula)
  • Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis)
  • Green-eyed Hawker/Norfolk Hawker (Aeshna isoceles)
  • Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta)

The forecast for the next few days was quite good so my hopes were high.

Alderfen: 09/07/2015 [#2]

Alderfen is a Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve. Since being introduced to it by the Norfolk dragonfly recorder and former president of the BDS, I  have visited twice, once with Carol on our rediscovery of Norfolk trip and once by myself on my previous solo trip late in the season. It’s an enchanting place, teeming with Odonata and not with people, being well off the beaten track and, perhaps a lot less well known that places like Upton Fen and Strumpshaw Fen, whose reputations precede them. Alderfen is very much my kind of place: very quiet. The Thursday weather was looking good but perhaps not stunning, so I chose to complete my journey into Broadland and return to Alderfen.

This time Alderfen proved to be busy … by Alderfen standards, that is; there was another car in the miniscule car park when I arrived, for Darwin’s sake. Did they have permission? I never did see the car’s owner but, as I started along the circular track, another lady turned up and began minutely examining grasses using a hand lens. Towards the end of my circuit, I bumped into a couple of walkers who turned out to be locals, living on the doorstep. I think I may have seen one other person on earlier visits but at Alderfen three other people constitutes a crowd. It’s unheard of.

I completed my circuit in about two hours and clocked up 13 species. The most surprising thing was that six of them were new to me at Alderfen taking my personal species count here to a very impressive 19. That’s just two less than occur in the whole of my home county. There were two very interesting individual suspects that I saw.

J15_3101-Libellula-quadrimaculata.jpgThe first was the most extreme example of form praenubila, in a Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata). Lack of good access forced me to take a more imaginative shot than might have been normal and I’m rather glad that I did. 😉

J15_3118-Chalcolestes-viridis.jpgMy second surprise was seeing a very teneral Emerald Damselfly/Spreadwing of one description or another flutter up and hang-up. Unfortunately, it chose to perch with the very tip of its abdomen hidden behind foliage so I couldn’t see the potentially diagnostic appendages clearly – well, not at all, never mind clearly. I managed a shot but after it had flown off, as they inevitably do, having begun by thinking Common Spreadwing (Lestes sponsa) or Robust Spreadwing (Lestes dryas), I realized that this could have been a Western Willow Spreadwing (Chalcolestes viridis). This formerly continental species first made landfall in Suffolk near Ipswich some years ago, established a foothold and has been spreading out from there ever since. It is now quite common in Norfolk. I hadn’t got a side shot of the abdomen for its diagnostic “spur” but, looking at the pterostigmas, that last is indeed what I think I saw. [I have since asked for opinions and have received agreement on Western Willow Spreadwing.] I’m familiar with this species in France but this was my first encounter in the UK. Happy camper.

Here’s my species list this time around:

  • Western Willow Spreadwing/Willow Emerald Damselfly (Chalcolestes viridis)
  • Common Bluet/Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum)
  • Azure Bluet/Azure Damselfly (coenagrion puella)
  • Variable Bluet/Variable Damselfly (Coenagrion pulchellum)
  • Common Bluetail/Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans)
  • Large Red-eye/Red-eyed Damselfly (Erythromma najas)
  • Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis)
  • Green-eyed Hawker/Norfolk Hawker (Aeshna isoceles)
  • Blue Hawker/Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea)
  • Blue Emperor/Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator)
  • Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata)
  • Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum)
  • Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum)

Oh, if you’re very lucky at Alderfen, you may catch a glimpse of an otter. I heard one go in after fish but I didn’t see it. The fish were scattering, though.

Thompson Common: 10/07/2015 [#3]

And so to what I was hoping would be my main event for this trip. The weather forecast for the day was excellent so this was the time to hit pastures new. The pastures I was heading for were the so-called pingos on the Pingo Trail at Thompson Common. This is reportedly home to a healthy colony of Robust Spreadwings/Scarce Emerald Damselflies (Lestes dryas) which I have never seen in this country. I have a French suspect but it is just that, a suspect. My target was 25 miles back down the A11. After a leisurely morning, I set off.

J15_3153-Lestes-dryas-in-tandem.jpgJ15_3149 Lestes dryas maleI had taken the precaution of checking the roads on Google Earth’s street view so I found the car park with no trouble. I had also printed a suggested walking route from the Internet which guided me through the woods surrounding the car park to the pingos. To save you the trouble, pingos are depressions in the earth left by ice-age boulders. Some (all?) are now filled with water and are home to a good collection of Odonata. The first major pingo on the right as you emerge form the wooded area is where the Emerald Damselflies supposedly are. I found them fairly quickly and got stuck in with my camera. I was beginning to wish I’d armed myself with Wellington boots, too, but I had to make do with walking boots. These were incontrovertibly Robust Spreadwings. What a thrill to make a definite spot for the first time. I was particularly happy to get a pair in tandem, even if you need a solo male at the right angle to see the diagnostic lower appendage shape clearly. 😉

This was my major goal achieved but there were another two pingos close by. I spent some time combing those to see what I could find. In the end I spent a couple of hours and came up with the following 11 species for my introductory day.

  • Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens)
  • Common Spreadwing/Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa)
  • Robust Spreadwing/Scarce Emerald Damselfly (Lestes dryas)
  • Common BluetCommon Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum)
  • Azure Bluet/Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella)
  • Common Bluetail/Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans)
  • Brown Hawker (Aeshna grands)
  • Blue Emperor/Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator)
  • Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata)
  • Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum)
  • Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum)

I was tempted to return the following day to investigate ground a little further along the trail.

Strumpshaw Fen: 11/07/2015 [#4]

I mentally flipped a coin to decide where to go today. My mental coin-flipping result was partially influenced by the weather forecast which was for a clear, sunny morning with cloud building up in the afternoon. Therefore, I didn’t want to waste too much time travelling and miss the good weather. A return trip to Thompson Common walking further along the pingo trail this time would have been interesting but it’s 25 miles away and, let’s face it, new pastures are always more interesting. The RSPB reserve at Strumpshaw Fen was a mere 9 mile away so I opted for that.

I timed my arrival for 11:00 AM; that should’ve given the Odos time to warm up. There are three circular walks at Strumpshaw but the one featuring the most Odo activity seems to be the Meadow Walk. I was interested to see several small family groups of people at an RSPB reserve who seemed to be more interested in Odos than in Aves. Yeah, we’re taking over!

J15_3198 Aeshna isoscelesJ15_3222 Aeshna isosceles patrollingIf I had a main interest here, I suppose it would have to be the Green-eyed Hawker a.k.a. Norfolk Hawker (Aeshna isoceles), just because it is unusual to me and, of course, because of its local celebrity status. I wasn’t disappointed. A stream marking one edge of the Meadow Trail produced several. The first one I spotted was being constantly harried by Four-spotted Chasers, making photography difficult. However, a few more a little further along were being left more to their own devices and pictures became possible. A. isoceles seems to perch/hang up more than most Hawkers so it isn’t too difficult to get a picture, given a little patience. Once you’ve got something static in the camera bag, you might try an in-flight shot.

Species list from Strumpshaw Fen:

  • Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens)
  • Common Spreadwing/Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa)
  • Azure Bluet/Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella)
  • Variable Bluet/Variable Damselfly (Coenagrion pulchellum)
  • Common Bluetail/Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans)
  • Large Red-eye/Red-eyed Damselfly (Erythromma najas)
  • Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis)
  • Green-eyed Hawker/Norfolk Hawker (Aeshna isoceles)
  • Blue Emperor/Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator)
  • Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata)
  • Blue Chaser/Scarce Chaser (Libellula fulva)
  • Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum)

12 species is not a bad haul for a 2-hour visit. There are bound to be Darters there, too, both Ruddy and Common (a companion thought he spotted a suspect Ruddy Darter but it remained unconfirmed as it disappeared swiftly), and probably Southern Hawkers and Migrant Hawkers, the latter of which are just beginning to emerge. Strumpshaw Fen has a fearsome reputation. It is a lovely place but I still prefer the lesser known and more secluded peace of Alderfen. 😉

I timed my trip to perfection; having enjoyed three sunny days, on Sunday I packed up camp in the rain and drove back home. What a great trip. 🙂

Posted in 2015, Trip reports, UK
2 comments on “Norfolk, July 2015
  1. BlasR says:

    Wow!!! What a haul! Some brill photos, of course, and beautiful insects. Who chewed that poor Hawker’s wings? I can see a move east beckoning!

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