Monday, 4 June 2018

Tails and the unexpected

Swallowtail butterflies were the main target of my recent Bank Holiday weekend in the fens and I was not to be disappointed, seeing them shortly after my arrival at one of the most well-known and accessible sites for this species, Strumpshaw Fen near Norwich. I arrived mid-afternoon to find unexpected traffic chaos caused by a fair at the nearby Steam Museum, swelling the ranks of the Swallowtail admirers who head there at this time of year. The famous 'Doctor's garden', whose planted beds are a favourite haunt of the butterfly, was out of bounds but, having seen them on the somewhat gaudy flowers there some years ago, I was in any case hoping to see them in a more natural setting.
Swallowtail, Strumpshaw Fen
A wider angle showing more of the nectar source
A portrait crop which I quite like
After a short wait near the garden, a Swallowtail arrived, turned its nose up at more exotic plants, floated over the mown lawn and headed for an unkempt patch full of Red Campion. I enjoyed extended views as it sought nectar from almost every flower, some of which were close to the path. Due to the long grass it was difficult to get a clear photograph but with patience, and high ISO ratings in the gathering gloom of late afternoon, I was able to take a few opportunities to capture the butterfly in this habitat.
Swallowtail, Hickling Broad
Nectaring on Yellow Flag Iris, abundant around the Broad
A different individual, judging by the nick in the right forewing
I returned early the following morning to look for butterflies and dragonflies but, having found both in short supply, on the advice of a local butterfly enthusiast I headed a little further east to Hickling Broad, which had the added advantage of avoiding more steam fair related chaos arising from the ongoing festivities at Strumpshaw!
This pair appeared to be engaged in some form of courtship, with some elaborate parallel flying manoeuvres
Swallowtail must be one of the few butterflies large enough to photograph in flight distantly over a reedbed!
A close-up of the exquisite hindwing pattern and tails
This turned out to be good advice, as good numbers of Swallowtail were visiting a recently cut patch of reedbed in which Yellow Flag Iris were flourishing. Getting a clear photograph through vegetation was, again, difficult, but there was an uncluttered view of several flowers from a conveniently placed bench, so I made myself comfortable and waited. Eventually Swallowtails obliged by nectaring at the nearest flowers and then it was just a question of hoping that my chosen camera settings could capture the action of these restless, hyper-active insects.
The long tongue can be seen here searching for nectar
The mating pair - note the tails of the lower individual poking through the closed wings of the one above
Not something you see every day: Swallowtail threesome!
Sitting in the same spot for so long enabled me to become intimately familiar with the surrounding habitat, and eventually I noticed a pair of Swallowtail apparently mating low down in the reedbed. They were repeatedly bothered by a third individual, which seemed determined to get in on the action! The pair stayed bonded for at least half-an-hour before the indiscreet third party finally seemed to have ruined the moment for them, and they went their separate ways. Hopefully not before the seeds of the next generation were sown!
Hickling and Strumpshaw were also excellent for dragonflies - this a male Broad-bodied Chaser at Strumpshaw...
...a female Black-tailed Skimmer at Hickling...
...a Hairy Dragonfly at Strumpshaw...
...and, best of all, a Norfolk Hawker at Hickling
My view of this green-eyed monster was very restricted but made for a nice soft focus edge to this image 

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