This time last year I went to RSPB Strumpshaw Fen in search of the Swallowtail butterflies for what it is renowned. 2016 Spring was crap, cold & wet, even though the day I chose was sunny & warm. I remember asking at the "visitor centre" only to be told "You're about 2 weeks early mate 'cos the weathers' been crap", at least I think that's what the lady said!
So this year I tried again, bit of a last minute decision to put it mildly. I knew it's about a 2 hour drive so I left home at 8.00am, drove like a loony for almost 2 hours and arrived at 9.55am - 102 miles from home, not bad at all.
Change of footwear, check camera gear, drink half a bottle of water, and I'm off in search of the Swallowtail.
Info from a friend on Twitter had suggested that the Lackford Walk area would be best, so I went to reception instead! Thought I'd get an update before setting off into the wilds of Norfolk. From the overflow car park, across the road, over the level crossing I arrived at the "Nectar Garden" just outside reception. A small crowd had gathered around the "garden", cameras clicking like there would be no tomorrow. I investigated - WHOA!!! SWALLOWTAIL !!! Pictures!!!
10.05am I'd got about 60 Swallowtail shots, well worth the drive!
Then it dawned on me, been here 5 minutes, got what I came for, what to do now?!
Obvious, tea! + Eccles cake.
£2 lighter I sat looking out over the reedbed, checking the images - which looked OK - and enjoying the tea + Eccles cake.
Others were arriving, members & non members. One couple came in search of Kingfishers, and asked about them, and received good info. Then the RSPB volunteer volunteered some additional info,
Q: "Have you seen the Swallowtail outside?",
A: "No, we've got loads of them at home", What? Where?
RSPB Vol: "Really, loads of Swallowtails, where do you live?",
Visitor: "North Yorkshire",
RSPB: "and you've loads of Swallowtails?",
Visitor: "Yeah, loads of Swallows"
RSPB: "No you bleedin' idiot not Swallows, 'kin Swallowtail butterflies, Britain's largest butterfly, not the chuffin' birds!"
Nearly fell off my bench! (NB the final response above may not be word for word exactly!)
10.30 - decided to have a walk around the reserve, via Lackford Walk (past the "Doctors Cottage where the Swallowtails are often seen but today were conspicuous by their absence). Only saw a couple more "Swallows" both flying and not looking to settle. Reed Warbler, Drinker Moth caterpillar, Cetti's heard, Norfolk Hawker disturbed and buggered off!
11.45 - arrived at the Tower Hide, overlooking a largish mere, but only "standard" waterfowl, BH Gulls & Greylags, then "Cuckoo", "Cuckoo" nearby, then it landed in a small "tree" directly opposite the hide - could see it through bins but too far away for a photo. Half a sandwich later I'm off again towards the Fen Hide, having learned of 3 Watervoles in the pond on the access to the Meadow (beyond the hide). Scarce Chaser, Small China-mark moth, no sun, another Drinker Moth caterpillar
Fen hide delivered nothing apart from another distant view of the Cuckoo, and a couple of distant Marsh Harriers. Other half of the sandwich.
Another Drinker Moth caterpillar, Jay
1.15 - arrived at the watervole pond. Half a dozen people watching, "Plop", watervole! Swimming round the edge, not well lit but a couple of OK shots. "Plop" another one but stayed in the vegetation.
Gave it 10 minutes and headed for the Meadow in search of Dragonflies, the sign at the entrance said "Part of the meadow is closed" - didn't say which part or why? Soon found out why - water logged, it's weird walking on bouncy meadows! Spotted a few Dragons - Scarce Chaser, Hairy, 4-Spot & Norfolk Hawker, only the Hairy stopped to lay eggs and even then it was pretty well hidden.
Kept promising myself another tea but the Norfolks kept coming tantalisingly close and threatening to settle but after the best part of an hour I gave up and headed back to the reception.
2.50 - arrived at reception, that crowd were back at the nectar garden, so was the Swallowtail, more pics then ENOUGH!
3.05 - decided to head home, after tea, ice-cream and flapjack - don't talk to me about healthy eating!
Left the carpark at 3.25, arrived home at 5.30.
Long drive, long walk, but worth the effort. I realise I was pretty fortunate to see the butterflies as soon and as close as I did but it makes up for 2016!
2018? who knows? only if I can find a travelling companion to tell ne jokes and keep me amused on the drive! (Applications should be made directly to me on a £20 note explaining why you should be considered. I regret that unsuccessful applications cannot be returned - good luck everyone!)
"Venerable Bede? Full of shit" - Lance (Toby Jones), Detectorists