Photo Blog

I love observing nature and the changing seasons at home in my wildlife garden and in the Norfolk countryside often accompanied by my loyal canine companion Starrydog. I enjoy taking photos of Norfolk butterflies, wildflowers and other flora and fauna that I happen across and learning about them. Bookmark my Norfolk nature photo blog to keep up to date with my photographic adventures.

Of Yellow Flags and Swallowtails

In an unprecedented week that saw the president of the largest Western Great Power turn his back on the Paris Accord to reduce emissions causing global climate change, I took advantage of ironically hot, sunny weather to visit Strumpshaw Fen RSPB Nature Reserve to see one of the UK's rarest and most threatened butterflies, the British Swallowtail, Papilio machaon britannicus.

British Swallowtail, found only in Norfolk, busy nectaring on native yellow flag iris flowers. Taken from at least 1.4m away on a 300mm 4/3 crop OMD.

British Swallowtail, found only in Norfolk, busy nectaring on native yellow flag iris flowers. Taken from at least 1.4m away on a 300mm 4/3 crop OMD.

The trip was an impromptu reprise of my longstanding attempts to enjoy watching this beautiful endangered Norfolk butterfly, which inspired a earlier blog post on my misadventures over several unsuccessful seasons attempting to find them at various Norfolk nature reserves. Last year, I was even interviewed as part of a BBC OneShow item on the native Swallowtail covering the story of a much more famous lepidopterist's longstanding desire to see them.

This time I was hoping for more than a record shot of this rare and uniquely beautiful butterfly, one of only 6 butterfly species fully protected by UK Law since 1992. With the weather so fair sightings had been good all week so I was daring to hope for some natural behavioural shots of it amongst native fenland flora and habitat, rather than perched upon the pretty Sweet William in the renowned Doctor's flower garden.

After a pleasant chat with a Welsh couple now close to completing a multi year hunt to see all of Britain's 59 native species, I had not  ventured far into the reserve before I enjoyed a wonderful encounter of a freshly emerged Swallowtail first basking low down then fluttering up with its ghostlike flight pattern onto a nearby patch of deep yellow flag iris flowers where it began to nectar frenetically. Then the inevitable happened. It was after all Strumpshaw Fen, a sunny Sunday and Swallowtail peak season: The Lepidopteran papparazzi descended.

Within minutes a host of papparazzi lenses, many far too short for the purpose, had surrounded the poor butterfly and their owners, caught up in the viewfinder, became oblivious to both other nature observers as well as the butterfly's wellbeing, and lens hoods started to encroach within inches of where the butterfly was attempting to feed up, blocking out both light and other people. I gently chaperoned and chastised as best I could to create space for the butterfly to feed and all to take turns to see, before moving on frustrated as the crowd grew too big and closed in again around the butterfly.

I reflected on how , perfectly polite people, behind the viewfinder in focussed pursuit of the perfect digital trophy shot, rapidly became so blinkered and oblivious as to unwittingly block our others and even potentially disturb the rare and protected creature they had come to see. I speculated how many had walked right past numerous other fascinating wildlife and flower species without really stopping to enjoy and appreciate them, in their single-minded mission to capture the one famous "celebrity" species. It prompted me to question the drivers behind my own past mission too, though my long lens's minimum focus always helps ensure a respectful distance.

On a bigger scale, it made me contemplate whether charities' tendency to focus on preserving single "blue chip" star species (using gallons of pesticides in the process) rather than untouched habitats is more a help or a hindrance in our efforts to help environmental recovery.

Thinking back to the Paris Accord. I wonder whether it will ultimately ever really be possible for us, collectively as the human species, to overcome our ingrained survival instinct of self interest to do "the right thing" on a big enough scale in time. I hope so. If not, then perhaps our nation's own beautiful custard-yellow Swallowtail sub-species truly is already the ghost it sometimes appears to be, fluttering amongst it's beloved milkweed and flag iris.

Taking off from a yellow flag iris flower, the British Swallowtail butterfly has been fully protected in UK law since 1992.

Taking off from a yellow flag iris flower, the British Swallowtail butterfly has been fully protected in UK law since 1992.

Red Kite Soaring

One of my favourite birds is the beautiful and graceful native red kite. I used to love watching one above my garden back in Oxfordshire but I now see them very rarely in Norfolk, so I recently took a short break to Wales to enjoy seeing them in flight at a feeding station. Sometimes known as a pirate of the sky, they are generally carrion scavengers with an important role in the ecosystem and take live prey far less frequently than is often thought.

They are agile flyers and will happily snatch other bird’s pickings and feed in mid air. Not all that long ago they were a species wrongly persecuted by farmers and estates to the brink of extinction but populations in Wales and the Chilterns have recovered thanks to a massive conservation and education effort. While they are far from common and poisoning remains a problem, their numbers appear to be rising in Norfolk as the recovery area population disperses and I hope soon to see these elegant birds of prey gracing our skies more frequently.

A Rude Awakening

As winter descends, many of our native wildlife species are busy mating and having young, not least our grey seals that are resident all around the British Isle's coastline and have some large colonies on the East cost of England. When I walked out to one such colony a little before the busy grey seal mating and pupping season I came across a lone juvenile common seal. Common seals unlike the greys give birth in summer. The seal was asleep on the beach both aware of and totally unconcerned about my quiet presence. The high autumnal winds were blowing sand across the beach and the breakers were high - it was a bright breezy day. What he didn't notice in his state of utter relaxation was the tide had turned and was now rising and was close to encroaching onto the sand shelf he'd been resting on. I was fortunate enough to capture the moment when the first wave washed over his head, which must have been quite a shock even with his insulating layers. He opened his eyes, then flopped his way up the beach closer to me then resumed his peaceful napping. 

A basking juvenlie common seal is engulfed by a foamy white wave breaking on the sandy beach