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.

A Berryless Holly This Christmas

Berryless holly leaf with melting frost There was a specific image I'd had in mind to post for this month ever since my move to Norfolk in February, which was of a frosty holly packed full of beautiful red berries taken in the plantation where I often walk my dog which is a copse full of holly as well as oak and beech.

Well it seems both frosty days and, more worryingly, berries are in short supply. When I first started to notice the absence of any bright berries I put it down to the unusually mild Autumn we've had with lots of rain but little in the way of true wintry weather and assumed the harvest would just be a little late.

But it is now only 4 days away from Christmas and still only one or two bushes in the whole copse have berries, and even then it is very often just a sad, small, lone anaemic-looking berry.

This year Norfolk again had very high numbers of seasonal migrants and waxwings due, it is believed, to a berry/fruit harvest failure in Scandinavia. If my fears are realised and our berries have indeed failed too, then it may well be a tough Christmas for many of our over wintering birds and they will need all the help they can get.

 

Autumnal Change

As the seasons are finally turning things are changing in my life too. I am finally taking my first steps into photography tutoring and its a wonderful reminder of the creativity that taking up photography as a hobby can unlock in people. It put me in mind of the period when I was still very much on the steep part of my learning curve and was starting to experiment with my camera. This was a shot taken in Scotland trying to evoke the essence of autumn.

 

Zugunruhe

One of the early signs of autumn for me is the steady gathering of swallows, not to mention swifts and martins, into larger congregations as they make the most of the late summer insects to feed up and prepare for winter and their impending trip southwards. As time for their autumn migration approaches their unsettled behaviour becomes increasingly intense, so much so that German researchers coined the phrase "Zugunruhe" (literally translated "moving unrest") to describe their increasingly evident restlessness and growing drive to start their long migration.

This season watching them gathering into little groups and whirling and darting around with ever growing intensity has struck a particular chord with me; I am very much feeling my own Zugunruhe, though, in contrast to the swallows, it has much to do with finally completing my prolonged personal migration and settling into my own new long term home rather than setting out on a new migratory adventure!

I can't wait....


Chalkhill blue butterfly on ragwort

[singlepic id=335 w=800 h=0 float=center] One species of butterfly that seems to be faring well despite the awful summer we've been having is the chalkhill blue butterfly. It is no small irony that after living at the bottom of the Ridgeway National Trail for nigh on four years, my first sighting and image of a chalkhill should be taken in Norfolk instead! Its not a butterfly you would expect to find in Norfolk; as its name suggests the chalkhill butterfly is a lover of warm chalk and limestone hillsides. Its caterpillars are accompanied by ants and the adults favour knapweed and other purple flowers as a nectar source.  It is a real testament to the rich diversity of habitats in Norfolk that such a thriving colony exists here and long may it remain so.  More of my images of chalkhill butterflies can be seen in my lycaenidae butterfly gallery.

Water Meadow Wildlife

[singlepic id=323 w=350 h=0 float=left] One of the most challenging things about relocating to Norfolk has been having to seek out new wildlife havens.

After four years in Oxfordshire I had finally begun to get a really good feel for nature in my the "local patch" through the seasons and which places to visit when.

Starting all over again in a new environment with very different habitats and species has been a little daunting at times, but is also very exciting.

I have been discovering that Norfolk, known for being "big sky" county, is far from being just flat plains and wetland; there is a suprising variety of habitats including heathlands, forests, water meadows, golden beaches, dunes and coastal saltmarshes as well as the famous broads, marshes and fens.

My explorations are starting to yield dividends though and I passed a pleasant sunny (yes, sunny!) evening in golden light at a nearby water meadow.

In just a few hours I had sightings of barn owls, a little owl (my second sighting of a wild little owl and giving me my first ever photo) as well as a roe deer, grey heron and a kingfisher.

 

Promising indeed....

 

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Ringlet Butterfly Surviving Showers

[singlepic id=259 w=800 h=0 float=center] In between the showers I've been venturing out to try to find butterflies that are surviving the difficult summer we are having. One species that seems to be faring well are ringlets, a new species for me that I've seen only since moving to Norfolk. In the last couple of weeks there have been several sites where there have been large emergences and I've counted over 30 individuals in a short walk.

 

July Rainstorms

[singlepic id=242 w=700 h=0 float=center] Thanks to arctic meltwater and the jetstream we look set to break the record for the wettest July in history as well as the wettest June. Its not just humans that are affected by these unusual weather patterns though. This buff-tailed bumble-bee got caught out in a torrential downpour and became soaked through. Wet wings make it impossible to fly and, being cold-blooded, warming up enough to dry out properly in cool conditions can be quite a challenge.

At one stage the bee was hanging precariously off the lavender stalk due to the weight of the rainwater. Eventually though he managed to separate his soaked together wings and start vibrating them to shake off  the moisture and warm up his body temperature. A thorough groom and sunbathe later a very clean, fluffy bumble-bee was refuelling his energy reserves by drinking nectar from the lavender flowers.

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Broad-bodied chaser dragonfly

In between the summer storms we've been having I made a quick dash over the the Norfolk Broads in my first attempt to see a swallowtail butterfly. I had no joy but did see my first broad-bodied chaser dragonfly which was busy egg laying in a pool. [singlepic id=232 w=700 h=0 float=center]

Courtship Dance

I'm not really a birder, but the hive of activity that is an island seabird colony in peak summer mating season is an impressive sight to behold, and the Farne Isles in Northumbria is one of the best places in Britain to witness the spectacle. No sooner than I scrambled precariously over the bow of the boat onto Staple Island, my senses were bombarded by a cacophony of seabirds, all frenetically busy mating and raising their young, and the pungent smell of guano. Atlantic puffins are iconic and utterly addictive to watch as they phlegmatically return after each fishing trip, beaks full of sand eels back to their burrows to feed their chicks, running the gauntlet of the herring gulls on the way. But my most memorable experience of the trip was something very different. A few hundred metres further back I found a timber viewing platform and I settled down to watch the nesting guillemots, razorbills and European shags on the cliff edge. I found myself fascinated by the courting and nesting behaviour of the European shags. I watched one proudly bring a large stick to its partners nest and them interact with its female partner in a beautiful and tender courthsip dance which was suprisingly touching to observe. Not a great deal is known about mating behaviour in Europhean shags, but the courting ritual is highly important in partner selection and the pair I oberved seemed, to my eyes at least, to be forming strong emotional bonds of attachment. Watching scenes like those makes me wonder just by how much human beings are underestimating  the sentience of fellow animals on planet earth.

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To view all of my seabird images from the Farne Islands select the image gallery menu option The Farne Islands

A Tale Of Two Butterflies

[singlepic id=189 w=700 h= float=center] At last, belatedly, the butterfly season has arrived. My first butterfly photo of 2012 was of a grizzled skipper, a relatively rare species, particularly so as far north as Norfolk and a new butterfly species for me. Its the earliest skipper to appear, and rarely visits flowers, instead it stays close to the ground basking. Wild strawberries are one of the favourite foodplants of their caterpillars. My second was an orange-tip butterfly, which seems to be faring well in recent years and has increased its range. Though they're far from scarce I'd never seen an orange-tip butterfly until I moved to Oxfordshire and I still have a soft spot for them. Its been interesting to note how much later spring arrives in Norfolk than it did back in Oxfordshire. I saw my first orange-tip butterfly at Whistley woods on 12th April but they didn't emerge in my patch of Norfolk until exactly a month later, the 12th of May. It will be interesting to see how the wettest April for some time will affect the butterfly population, which suffered last year from the impact of a very dry sunny spring. Time will tell..

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Spring Wildflowers

Nature has been capricious this spring with early promises of warmth vanishing back into chilly weather and rain, which of course we need badly. Nonetheless spring flowers have still been emerging and are still a sign of better weather to come..

Spring Is in The Air

At last we are having some brighter warmer days and it feels like Spring is just around the corner. Norfolk seems to be quite a hotspot for common toads, and they have been very busy in my neck of the woods...

 

 

 

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Farewell to Oxfordshire

Well I had to move quite suddenly away from Oxfordshire to the county of Norfolk. This is a quick, belated post to say farewell to the county that brought me back to nature and introduced me to wildlife photography. I will miss the rolling open countryside and the shadow of the Ridgeway on my dog walks greatly. Although I only lived near South Oxfordshire's  chalkhill downland for four years it became a true home for me and it will always have a place in my heart. During some of my farewell walks in my favourite places I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of short-eared owls and a beautiful brown hare silhouetted against the skyline, so I leave Oxfordshire with those images as a beautiful memory.

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Ural Owl In Snow

We've had an exceptionally mild winter so far, but in December 2010 Britain was covered in snow. This photo of an adult ural owl on a snow covered branch was taken at the Hawk Conservancy Trust mid last Decmber. Ural Owls are predominately creatures of the northern boreal forests and very used to snow, though there are smaller ural owl populations in the mountain forests of Southern Europe. They are closely related to tawny owls; both species are highly territorial and have a fierce reputation for agressive behaviour.

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Since my wintery ural owl shot was taken, I have been fortunate enough to see and observe (from a safe distance!) an adult ural owl watching over its young fledgling in the mosquito -drenched Finnish midsummer.

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