Whilst I’ve seen Swallowtails in the past at Strumpshaw fen, binocular views were the norm. My mission here was to get closer and hopefully get some quality images, preferably on wild flowers. In fact, I wasn’t heading up to the North until I had completed said mission!
I was lucky in that my hosts Cecilia and Mervyn Coller are born and bred local residents and recalled how many many years gone by, they used to rescue the Swallowtail caterpillars (when reed beds were burnt as part of the management) raising them to adulthood in tanks before release. This spectacular and charismatic insect (if there is a finer one in the UK – let me know!) relies on traditional reed bed management which in turn, supports the ONLY larval food plant (Milk Parsley). A delicate balancing act of conservation as is the case with many our most threatened species!
The river Ant near to Ludham was our first destination and whilst many readers of this blog will know that I usually build up to a climax, the high point of the day happened first!
I spotted a single Swallowtail flying over the riverbank vegetation before homing in on a patch of Marsh Thistle. Would it stay and feed? It did!!
I moved a little closer and got a few keeper shots. This is not an easy butterfly to photograph as it seems to constantly hover whilst feeding on nectar, moving swiftly from flower to flower.
Or this one? – the ultimate shot as it ever so briefly spread it’s wings....
Job done and the day had only just begun! (I have to say that this moment was never to be bettered)
To complete the Swallowtail story, an unexpected surprise came as we checked out the edges of a patch of recently cut reedbed. There was a thriving colony of Milk Parsley, still immature but clearly showing signs of damage by caterpillar?
A few first stage caterpillars were seen as we took care not to disturb them or the vegetation. They resemble bird droppings for fairly obvious reasons, the plentiful population of Reed Buntings are one of their biggest predators!
Just two second stage caterpillars were seen, this amazing butterfly surely deserves such a matching larva beauty! They will eventually develop a more green colouration.
There was nettle patch absolutlely plastered with Peacock caterpillars - noting the spiny armoury is it any wonder they survive so well!
I sensed the rest of the day would be an anticlimax and a couple of hours spent at Howe Hill showed just how lucky I had been earlier as views reverted to those of the ‘binocular’ type!
Hoping to get something else from the day, I spent an hour in the garden of a very friendly couple overlooking the River Ant reed beds – every plant planted with nature in mind!
An immediate success, a Hummingbird Hawkmoth feeding on Red Vaterian....
There were two more Swallowtails here too – both were sadly wing damaged (they wont appear here!) putting the fantastic first specimen into true perspective!
Tomorrow would see another go for Insects and then it's back to the birds!