Rob writes like this

James like this. 

With a modicum of planning and high expectations we headed down to Norfolk with this jerk and this other jerk for the bank holiday weekend. As James needed to work on the Friday (like an idiot) we set off a chunk later than we would have liked. This combined with Lincolnshire being made entirely of traffic led to us getting to Lakenheath Fen nearly 2 hours later than planned. Luckily the staff didn’t scream in our eyes or stab us with pins as they were rather nice and understanding. We were also greeted by a wasp beetle, which was the bees knees (hyuck?).

A beetle. That looks like a wasp. Madness. I promise it was eventually released from its minty prison

After a bat walk and an unsuccessful badger watch we retired for the night, but not before James asked the Lakenheath warden 1000 questions including:

-Where can we poke {insert rare animal} in the eyes with sticks?

– What is your home telephone number?

– Have you got any secret moths in your office?

– Would you like to share a small flat in Torquay?

I would like to add that anonymous Lakenheath man is a veritable mine of information. The things he has told us. I’d share it with all of you, dear readers, but a) it is all super secret , and b) I like keeping things secret, like a proper birder.

We woke up at 4am. I say woke, but I shouldn’t as that implies a certain amount of sleep was achieved.

I would like to add that Stephen and I had a pleasant, if brief , nights sleep. I think that might be because we didn’t try to sleep in a car. If someone hadn’t parked the car upside down and in an open fire I probably would have nodded off.

Either way we set off on our merry way for a guided walk around the reserve. The calls of cuckoo were ever-present and I stopped every few metres to take pictures of unidentifiable  invertebrates. Cetti’s warbler and bittern were heard but remained hidden for the morning. We did manage brief but solid views of male golden oriole. Not quite as special as the previous year where we witnessed one mobbing a cuckoo but not bad in the slightest. Marsh harrier were seen making food passes and we discovered Lakenheath’s newly christened mascot, a mayfly known as the lakenheath lad. While this isn’t necessarily endorsed by the RSPB I’m surely they’ll catch on to the idea before long.

Frustratingly, all mayflies are completely and utterly unidentifiable. What is this? No-one knows. 

The Lakenheath Lad

After having the weather interpreted by some jerk, the best course of action was decided to be to head east towards Strumpshaw Fen. It certainly seemed to be a wise idea, as the place was teeming with insect life. Our main target species was swallowtail butterfly. Something of a gaudy little number but charming none the less, and by my estimations at least 7 foot wide. We were told a variety of information on how to find them, which included climbing into peoples gardens and wandering aimlessly for days but we got lucky when we found a gaggle of photographers who informed us that they had recently been seen where they were standing. So we waited. Then we saw some. They are awesome. And big. I saw one break a cows back, I promise. Other creatures of note were a variety of dragonflies, hobby, and probably some more stuff. We also did some pond dipping. I love pond dipping. I don’t know why I don’t do it more. WHY?

Swallowtails were used by nazi bombers to locate towns in the war. An interesting but untrue fact.

Few other species to mention. Broad-Bodied Chaser was an embarrassing new species for me (how had I never seen one?) a Red-Breasted Carrion Beetle landed in my hair (giving some indication of how I was smelling) as well as liberal handfuls of Brimstones everywhere. I like Brimstones.

The weather started to take turn for the pants, and after a short but joyless search for variable damselfly we made our way to Winterton Dunes. We filled our bellies with asda’s finest cuisine (that can be eaten in a car) and headed onto the dunes. It was at this point that James realised not bringing any more layers than a t-shirt was foolish, so he fashioned himself an insulating cloak from his sleeping bag. He looked like a cross between a vagrant and a druid. I pointed this out to him. He didn’t care.

Too right I didn’t care. I was incredibly toasty, waterproof , and people were oddly polite to me whilst I was wearing it. Cillian Murphy complimented it, but he just wanted a lift, I imagine.

A woodchat shrike had recently been seen on the dunes so this was to be our first port of call. We followed some knowledgeable looking people across the dunes and quickly came across a pair of men with their scopes trained on a distant bird. As we inched forward we quickly found it to be our bird. And a stonker it was too. Shrikes are brilliant. It rather nicely perched on some bits of fence for us so we could a nice few pictures of it. Here is one not taken by me, obviously.

The shrike was lovely. Probably the second best looking Woodchat Shrike I’ve seen. Of course, the other three have nothing to compare it to…

After pigging out on fantastic shrike views, our bellies began crumbling for something more. The place is supposedly a good place to see our bogey amphibian, natterjack’s toads.  We had a vague idea of where some pools where and headed in their general direction. We walked for presumably 500 years and didn’t see anything water-like but a handy notice board got us to something like a pool. While it was full of tadpoles nothing helped us decide whether they could natterjack young or from something more common. A roaming Irish man (I’m remembering him as looking exactly like Cillian Murphy, but I could be making that up) briefly helped on our search. He pointed out an injured frog. In retrospect I’m fairly sure he planted that as a means to start conversation, as he quickly began to try and solicit a lift up north from James. After further searching and more looking in ponds the best we mustered was a dead specimen on a path. The natterjacks continues to remain an elusive mystery for us.

Couple of points here. I found the injured frog, which doesn’t mean the Cillian didn’t plant it, I suppose. Second thing is that whilst searching for Natterjacks. I found a Common Lizard, which must be the latest I’ve ever seen one. Thirdly, if anyone amongst our huge readership lives near a Natterjack colony and thinks they can give us definite views, please let us know. We must have tried at least eighteen times over the past two years to no avail.

The beauty of nature. Probably died from glumness.

No one we met mentioned James’ sleeping bag/cloak. They certainly mentioned it after we were gone.

To be continued…