Saturday, 18 July 2020

14th July - Baconsthorpe woods

Situated behind the castle lies Baconsthorpe woods, a thin strip of mixed woodland made up of both deciduous and evergreen trees. Access to the wood is limited but two footpaths run through it allowing one the chance to revel in dappled sunlight breaking through the canopy. Either side of the wood lie arable fields and hedgerows. A recent walk there on a sunny afternoon produced a few good birds and other goodies. The fields to the south had many Swallows, House and Sand martins feeding over them. This in turn attracted the attention of a Hobby which I watched for a good 10 minutes trying to catch these birds. In the end it settled for a smaller snack. Swooping down it plucked an Emperor dragonfly out of the air with its talons. Raising its feet to its beak it gently plucked off the dragonfly's wings which spiralled down to the ground before snaffling the body. Three Red kites, six Common buzzards a Kestrel and a Sparrowhawk completed what was a good tally of raptor species.
   The woods themselves produced both Green and Great spotted woodpeckers along with Goldcrests, Treecreeper, Marsh tit and Bullfinch. Below is a selection of the smaller creatures and plants that caught my eye.

White plume moth

Close up
Riband wave

A tiny toadlet

The skeletal remains of a decayed Ash tree key

Close up
Black and Yellow longhorn beetle

Thursday, 9 July 2020

4th July - A visit to Holkham NNR

Hearing that Holkham NNR had reopened after lockdown I was keen to pay the site a visit. After paying £6 for 4 hours parking at Lady Anne's Drive we began to explore. First thing to do was to check the trunks of the Poplar trees that line the drive in search of Hornet clearwing moths. We found many exit holes which adults had emerged from but no sign of the adults themselves.

Hornet clearwing moth (a superb mimic) stock photo

From the boardwalk we headed down the Western track with butterflies constantly flitting all around us. A good selection was seen. Peacock, Comma, Red admiral, Brown argus, Essex and Small skippers, Meadow brown, Ringlet, Speckled wood, Gatekeeper, Common and Holly blue and Small tortoiseshell were all abundant, while we saw 1 single Purple hairstreak high in an ancient Oak's canopy and 4 Dark-green fritillaries.


Mating Large whites

Dark green fritillary 

Other highlights in the woods included a spectacular Long-horned beetle and a lovely Mint leaf beetle.

Mint leaf beetle

Cinnabar moth caterpillar

Black and yellow longhorn beetle

29th June - The devil's darning needles

The slender bodies of damselflies have given rise to the old country name of devil's darning needles. Much slimmer and more delicate than their larger cousins the dragonflies, they are often overlooked. There are just 26 species of this insect in the UK some of which are extremely rare and endangered.
Local walks to the castle mere and around the local lanes have produced a good number of sightings. Here are a few that stayed still long enough for a photo:
Male Common blue damselfly

Side on shot of male Common blue damselfly

Poor record shot of a male Banded demoiselle

Male and female Blue-tailed damselflies mating 

Immature male Blue-tailed damselfly 

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

23rd June - Crawly but not creepy

It's been a scorching day here in Baconsthorpe. The hottest day of the year so far with the mercury topping 27 degrees. Great weather for insects and other mini beasts! Here's a selection seen down the allotment.

The recently built and erected bug hotel has lots of vacancies

Scorpion fly


Yellow-tail moth caterpillar

Ladybird nymph

Cucumber spider

Ichneumon fly sp

Peacock butterfly caterpillar

22nd June - The Thick-thighed beetle

The gardeners among you may have noticed in the last few weeks a vivid green beetle visiting your flowers. The Thick-thighed beetle seems to be having a great year. I'm seeing them in good numbers everywhere I go.

Thick-thighed beetle 

A beetle of many names, it is also called the swollen-thighed beetle and the false oil beetle. Only the male of the species has the enlarged upper legs while the ladies are much more svelte in that department.

Female (thin legs)

Often seen nectaring on open flowers like cornflower, these beetles are important pollinators. Adults can be seen all through spring and summer on bright days, so keep a look out for them over the coming weeks.

Male on Dog rose

Monday, 15 June 2020

13th June - The flying gemstone

The imperial jeweller Carl Fabergé produced some of the most stunningly beautiful objects ever seen by mankind. I think even he would struggle to match the exquisite beauty of the Ruby-tailed wasp. With an emerald green body and a ruby red tail it really is an absolute gem to see.
   There are several species of this solitary wasp in the UK. All look very similar and as they are barely 10mm long and constantly on the move they can be hard to observe.
   Ruby-tailed wasps are also known as Cuckoo wasps. This is down to their habit of laying its eggs in the nests of other solitary bee and wasp species. Once the eggs hatch into larvae they feed on the newborn of the host species.
   I'd seen a few Ruby-tailed wasps this last month but it wasn't until this Saturday that I finally managed to photograph one in the back garden. The photos don't really do it justice, much nicer in the flesh.
Ruby-tailed wasp

What a gem
Close up

11th June - Moth trap #2

I hauled out the moth trap for another go at seeing some of our nocturnal nature. Sadly once again the weather changed quite dramatically overnight so the catch was very small.
   What wasn't small was the Privet hawk-moth I found within. These stunning moths are the UK's largest breeding species with a wingspan of 9-12cm and are brightly marked with a red and black abdomen and pink and black striped underwings.
Privet hawk-moth
Wings fully open
Look at that eye

Also of note was a White ermine moth which possesses one of the fluffiest heads you're ever likely to see. The name arises from its similar appearance to the ermine robes worn by royalty.
White ermine moth

Details of the feathered antenna

A Common emerald moth provided another splash of colour...
Common emerald

...while the Clouded border is always nice to see.
Clouded border

When running a moth trap it is necessary to get up just before daybreak to pot up any moths that haven't made it into the trap but have settled nearby otherwise the local birds soon learn about the fly-through takeaway on their doorstep. So I was up at 3.30am and, having saved many lives from hungry beaks, took a walk to the castle as the day unfolded around me. Beautiful pastel colours lit the sky as the sun slowly made its way up, while several Skylarks sung from on high and a ghostly Barn owl slowly quartered fields near the castle, and a Weasel broke cover to reveal himself fleetingly.
3.50am heading to the castle

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

9th June - In search of the Rosy pastor

Now that lockdown restrictions have eased I've been able to travel that little bit further for my flora and fauna fix. The 9th was a lovely sunny evening and when I heard news of a Rose-coloured starling at Cley I decided to go take a look.
   The Rose-coloured starling (Pastor roseus) also known as the Rosy pastor is a bird of Asia and far Eastern Europe.  Usually only a few make it to our shores every year. Every now and then however an irruption of this species occurs.
Breeding range of the Rose-coloured starling (from Collins Bird Guide)
Causes of these irruptions are not fully understood, but it is thought there is a likely link with population changes in the Locust, its main food source.
   Up to 75 birds have been recorded in the last week the length and breadth of Britain so keep your eyes peeled.
The star of the show (stock image)
Painting of Rosy pastors by H. Goodchild
We had lovely views of the Rosy pastor feeding on fat balls in one of the coast road gardens. After fully taking in its plumage features we decided to have a walk around Cley NWT reserve, heading down east bank then along the beach and along west bank where the car was parked.
   We saw three Marsh harriers, a male, a female and a juvenile, gliding effortlessly over the golden reed heads and surrounding grazing marshes causing panic amongst the breeding wader population. Several times we witnessed Avocets, Oystercatchers and Lapwings take to the sky to drive the Harriers away from fluffy chicks hiding in the vegetation.
   From the reed beds there was a constant chunter as masses of Sedge warblers were singing, along with the occasional explosion of the Cetti's warbler, and the gentle ping pings of Bearded reedlings. Along the shoreline we were treated to close views of both Sandwich and Little terns fishing close inshore.
   All in all a delightful evening.
The shoreline in the setting sun

Friday, 5 June 2020

2nd June - Does the Cuckoo spit?

June is upon us and the days are increasingly longer, providing more time for countryside walks. On a walk to the castle my musical accompaniment was that of Skylarks, Song thrushes and the enchanting melodic tunes of the Blackbird, while my nostrils were pleasantly assaulted by the heady perfume of flowering Honeysuckle. On the way down I noted Sheep's sorrel and Dog rose in flower.
Sheep's sorrel

Also of note was the first Cuckoo spit of the year. This strange foam seems to be on many plants and grass at this time of year. Is it really the result of a phlegmy cuckoo? Well no. Cuckoo spit is basically plant sap that has been ingested by the larva within. It forces air into the sap and then squeezes the aerated bubbly foam out of its bottom. In the middle of the foamy mass you would find a Froghopper nymph - the larva of the adult Froghopper aka spittlebug. Froghoppers have extraordinary jumping abilities helping them evade predators. The nymph however cannot jump so the foam protects it and keeps it moist.

Cuckoo spit
Close up of the foamy bottom bubbles 
Mute swan reflections

Down by the castle mere two Mute swans drifted serenely while all around them a mixed flock of Swallows, House and Sand martins swooped low over the water picking up emerging insects. Also joining the feeding frenzy were three Daubenton's bats and several Pipistrelle bats. An entertaining end to the day.

Sunset at the castle