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.

February Gold and a Fool's Spring

With the synthetic cheer of the twinkling fairy lights of Christmas in the dim and distant past, the long dark trek to springtime always feels like a brutally hard slog.

The ground seems stark, barren and lifeless. Yet all the while beneath the surface plants and trees are quietly, imperceptibly getting ready to burst out from their winter buds.

Catkins, male flowers of many common native shrubs and trees such as Hazel (Corylus avellana) and Birch trees (Betula pendula) are among the earliest augurs of that yearned for spring. As the days rapidly lengthen, golden evenings start to appear, bathing the delicate, golden chains of late winter catkins in beautiful light.

In contrast to the deep chill and bitter Beast from the East last year, winter 2019 has been remarkably mild. This February has even proven to be the warmest one on record thanks to a brief flurry of sunny mild days that heartened us all with a tantalising promise, however fleeting, of warmer days to come. One mild evening in mid-February I took advantage of the rich late afternoon light during our "fool's spring" to do a little study of the Hazel and Birch tree catkins in my garden.

I learned that branches carry both male and female flowers with the male catkins emerging first. Hazel trees carry tiny little female red flowers that emerge soon after higher up the branch stem, whereas Birch trees have small, bright green, upward curving female catkins.

Catkin pollen is intended to be windborne to pollinate other trees, there being so few insect pollinators about at the time of year, so it has evolved to have a self-repelling quality meaning that bees and other insects struggle to collect much of it, although it is a food source for them at a time of scarcity.

Despite the luscious hue of light, the days rapidly turned back to chilly ones with even our fool’s spring warmth quickly forgotten. But soon, soon true Spring will burst forth in her lush green finery and the late winter gold fade out of memory.

Male Birch tree, betual penduula, catkins

Male Hazel tree, Corylus avellana, catkin in golden light

Close up of male Hazel tree, Corylus avellana, catkin

Male Hazel tree, Corylus avellana, catkin in the dying embers

The Beast from the East

Winter definitely had a vicious sting in its tail this February. A "sudden stratospheric warming" over the North Pole, in itself disturbing at this time of year according to climatologists, caused a sharp cooling in lower levels of our atmosphere and via a complex chain of meteorological events reminiscent of the metaphor about the butterfly that flapped its wings on one continent and caused a hurricane on another, brought about heavy snowfall that covered virtually all of the British Isles.

An unusually strong and harsh northeasterly wind stream dubbed the "Beast from the East" triggered a bitter cold snap then swept in heavy snowfall, which was in turn intensified by strong drifting due to the fierce, biting winds that blew continuously for days. 

Here in big sky Norfolk we were heavily exposed to "the Beast" and much of the county was cut off by incredibly large snowdrifts formed by its winds. These, I noticed, were far deeper in areas where the farmers' field verges lacked hedging, a stark reminder of the environmental value of this oft overlooked habitat, which for many years was ripped out to maximise the yield potential of the land in ill-conceived agricultural efficiency drives.

Thankfully many incentives now exist for re-establishment of these vital wildlife corridors and natural windbreaks, so hopefully Norfolk will improve its reputation among hedge layers in years to come. 

"The Beast from the East" blowing snow across an arable field, creating a misty haze

Festive Frost

Frost covered leaf litter

December has been colder than in recent times and we've had not a few chilly, white-world frosty mornings of late.

Hoar frosts have always held a special place in my heart as they always take me right back to fond memories of frozen winter wonderland walks up on the Ridgeway back in Letcombe Regis, but what makes a Hoar frost so special?

A Hoar frost, also known as hoarfrost, pruina or radiation frost, occurs on cold, clear nights with humid air when a dew would form if it were warmer.

In a Hoar frost, leaves, grass, branches and other objects cool by radiation to well below frost point, allowing water vapour to condense directly in the form of ice crystal deposits rather than in the form of water droplets first.

A normal White frost or Ground frost is caused when water vapour from the air forms a liquid dew first and then freezes with a subsequent drop in temperature, so tends to be more globluar in shape rather than feathery or crystalline. Fog tends to inhibit Hoar frosts as it prevents radiation cooling, however can create Rime, which is an ice deposit formed from supercooled fog vapour that crystallised when it touches a frozen object.

Hoar frost ice crystal structures on a fallen leaf

Bark covered in white frost

The crystalline nature of hoar frost close up

Frost crystals on a cluster of blackberries

In The Bleak Midwinter....

Its January, normally the time of Jack Frost and blankets of white, mittens and snowballs...well not tis year!

El Nino seems to have put paid to all that white stuff in East Anglia for 2016 , which could be one of the warmest (not to mention wettest and windiest!) on record in the UK. 

The mild weather also has our plantlife well and truly fooled, with primroses and daffodils nodding alongside snowdrops and aconites. So, instead of a classic snowy winter's scene, this January's blog is of a winter's walk amongst the silver birch catkins at Narborough.

Nodding catkins, a harbinger of spring still some months away

Evergreen bramble leaves are a welcome sight of green

Winter light has a wonderful glow

A rare blue sky day amidst the brutal sou'westerlies of winter 2016

Mild winters can cause unusual numbers of pests

Winter blossom

January's photo marks a return to home ground, both in genre and location. This frosted winter blossom image was taken in Nar Cottage's garden and is of one of our new winter cherry trees  "prunus x subhirtella autumnalis, planted to help winter insects, and it certainly seems to be flourishing even in its first year of growth. 

Frost Ferns

My first photo of 2015 was a reminder that you can discover beauty in the most mundane of places. This is a photo taken one morning of my bedroom skylight that slants southwards just as the sun just started to hit it with a peachy golden glow after a cold and deeply frosty night. I have cropped to tidy the composition and stretched the tonal contrast just a little to convey the depth and contours of the ice crystals but everything else is simply as nature intended....

Sun mist and rain

January has been an odd mixture of golden sunrises and vivid sunsets with heavy overnight rainstorms, though here in East Anglia we’ve escaped lightly compared to the western half of England that faces the onslaught of the sou’westerly Atlantic storms. Here are three of my photos taken in the month attempting to capture these contrasting elements of winter in Norfolk.