Photo Blog

I love observing nature and the changing seasons during my Norfolk countryside dog walks accompanied by my ever-faithful canine companion Starrydog. I especially enjoy taking photos of Norfolk butterflies, wildflowers and other flora and fauna that I happen across while exploring local nature reserves. Visit my Norfolk nature photo blog to keep up to date with my photographic adventures and enjoy my butterfly photos.

Seeing Red

I spent a gorgeous bank holiday weekend pottering around our wildlife pond, watching the Azure damselflies wafting about in pairs and aerial dragonfly wars between the powder blue Broad-bodied Chaser and custard yellow Four-spotted Chaser dragonflies to rival any aeroplane dogfight as each fiercely competed for territory.

Suddenly among all the vivid blue Azures I quite literally saw red, that is, a pair of red mating damselflies! It was another first for Nar Cottage pond as they proved to be Britain's Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula). Flying earlier than its cousin the Small Red Damselfly (Ceriagrion tenellum), it can also be distinguished by its black legs and strongly striped antehumeral markings.

This photo marks the ninth species of Odonata (dragonflies and damselfles) recorded in our wildlife pond (more on that here) and not bad for a pond thats only five seasons old...

Smoothly Enters the Newt

A surprising number of tadpoles survived this year's late snow and frosts to hatch out, proving that nature has long coped with such seasonal extremes. Once hatched, a tadpole's lot does not get easier by any means, because along with the warmth, their nemesis the Common newts have returned.

Common newts, also known as Smooth newts, predate heavily on tadpoles and frogspawn in springtime, and male Common newts can be spotted due to their vivid orange and black spotted underbelly which is a temporary colouring worn during the mating season.

Male Common or Smooth newt in orange mating colours

Common newt hunting among newly hatched tadpoles

Smile, Its Spring... For A day!

Hopefully the treacherous weather will not be too damaging to this year's frogspawn. Hard to believe just three days ago my wildlife pond was an amorous hotspot with over half a dozen frogs busy making frogspawn. Today the pond is frozen over again and the ground has at least 2 or 3 inches of snow being swept around by the "mini Beast".

Frog nestled in pondweed in a wildlife pond

Three in a bed.... male frogs swarming aorund a female.

Frog amongst fresh frogspawn

Smile! Its spring

Smile! Its spring

Beautiful Bogbean

Tall Bogbean flower spikes are used by both adult dragonflies and emerging nymphs

With striking spears of downy-white, blush-tinged, feathery star-shaped flowers as exotic as those seen on any orchid or lily, it is ironic that this glamorous, wildlife-friendly, native wildflower superstar bears the rather unglamorous name of "Bogbean".

The Marilyn Monroe of aquatic plants, this beautiful spring-flowering native marginal first acquired its unfortunate, less-than-beautiful name due to its watery habitat and foliage's passing resemblance to a broad bean or clover. 

Bogbean is highly valuable to wildlife, its striking pink-tinged flower spikes grow up to 30cm tall and can blossom from March right through into June or July. The frilly white flowers attract bees, hoverflies and butterflies to the pond edge. 

Bogbean's tendency to grow by creeping horizontally across the water surface also serves to create shade and provides a rich micro-habitat for pond-dwelling insects. 

In particular, Bogbean's lobed trifoliate leaves form a kind of floating raft, which makes for an excellent egg laying,  perching and roosting site for adult damselflies and dragonflies, whose nymphs subsequently use the protruding stems to climb out of the water when they are ready for metamorphosis. 

Bogbean is related to Gentians but in botany has its own unique plant family group.

The beautiful bogbean does have some less ugly alternative names though, Its latin name Menyanthes trifoliata refers to its triple leaved foliage and its spring flowering season. It is also known as Marsh Clover or Trefoil, Water Shamrock, Bog Myrtle and Buckbean. One of its alternative names, "Bog hop", alludes to bogbean's long history of herbal and medicinal use. Its leaves were traditionally used as a flavouring in beer making, while in medicinal herblore bogbean was said to be a cure for numerous ailments when drunk as a bitter tea. One of its German names, Scharbock, is derived from the Latin scorbutus, an ancient term for scurvy, which it was thought to cure.

In the wild, Bogbean is widespread in the marshes, fends and ponds across Northern England and Scotland, though sadly it is now less common in the South where it has suffered a marked decline due to wetland drainage.

 Bogbean flower

 

 

 

Raising a Yellow Flag

The Yellow Iris, or Yellow Flag, Iris Pseudocorus, is one of surprisingly few native British pond Irises. The vibrant and beautiful Yellow Flag makes its home in the damp clay and loamy soils of wetlands and marshes. It thrives in the Fenland habitat of the Norfolk Broads and is widespread across the county. 

Yellow Flag is rich in wildlife value, is popular with bees and hoverflies which pollinate its hermaphrodite flowers, The drooping yellow tepals provide a landing platform for insects. The dark yellow patch in the centre, surrounded by a zigzag line acts as a guide directing the insect towards the nectar source. It also acts as a caterpillar host plant for seven moth species including the Belted Beauty Red Sword-grass and Water Ermine. The remaining four moth caterpillars live inside its thick reed-like stems.

Frequently known as "Daggers" it has several other traditional names including Segg, Swordgrass also referencing its blade-like foliageas well as False Acorus, Fleur-de-lis, Water Flag.

It has a long folklore tradition, being said to be the original inspiration for the fleur-de-lis used in heraldic designs. In Ireland it was believed to avert evil and bunches were hung up outside doors during the feast of Corpus Christi. The rhizomous roots yield a black dye and ink and are extremely acrid. Traditionally the dried roots were also used medicinally as a cathartic, emetic and as an astrigent to halt bleeding, while the roast seeds were used to make a form of coffee, though there is uncertainty as to its toxicity. The plant also generated a pleasant essential oil, which was often used to dilute that of the Sweet Flag, Acorus calamus, giving rise to Yellow Flag’s alternative name of False Acorus

Sadly this species tends to gets overlooked by mainstream garden centres in favour of more popular blue-coloured Irises, which are actually Asian in origin, not native to the UK so do not afford the same value to wildlife.  

With a little care Yellow Flag Iris can be a wonderful addition to most wildlife garden ponds.  In particularly favourable conditions the Yellow Flag Iris will thrive and can become a little over vigorous, so growing it in containers is a good idea to avoid it taking off too dramatically, if you have a smaller ponds or bog gardens.

Fortunately my pond margin has plenty of room and mixed companion planting is providing competition from other marginal plants such as Purple Loosestrife, Meadowsweet, Water mint, Reedmace (Typha), true Bulrush (Scirpus Lacustris) to name but a few. So far this approach seems to have kept the pond margin mix nicely balanced.

Alternative names: Daggers, False Acorus, Flagon, Fleur-de-lis, Jacob’s Sword, Segg, Swordgrass, Water Flag, Water Skegs, Yellow iris, Yellow Flag

Moth Caterpillar host for: Belted beauty, Crescent, Crinan Ear, Red Sword-grass, Rush Wainscot, Water Emine, Webb’s Wainscot