Friday, 10 August 2012


9th August

Today I saw a stoat. Well, I didn't just see a stoat; I saw lots of things. But it struck me as remarkable that it took me two-hundred and nineteen days to see a stoat in 2012. Then yesterday I saw two and today I saw another.

Today I also saw an otter. But I digress. For first we have to go to the Broads.

Today I went to the Broads. I went in fact to Winterton Dunes NNR which is as fine a stretch of coastal dunes as may be found anywhere on the east coast of Britain. I was meeting my lovely friend Beth, of Discovery Quest. The dunes are blue now, dark blue, with the fluffy button flowers of sheep's-bit. They're yellow too, with common cat's-ear and, here and there, the brimstone brightness of mouse-ear hawkweed. And grey, in the strange glaucous leaves of grey hair-grass.

The dunes quiver too, with the wings of myriad butterflies: graylings as you never see graylings now, common, everywhere; small coppers too, on flowers throughout; and dark green fritillaries, worn and tired, still tearing over the dunes in search of violets.

A fat female adder slipped through the slacks of cross-leaved heath at our approach and all along the beach were the scaly, round-winged chicks of little terns.

We moved from here to Hickling Broad NNR where the fen and reedbed quivered too, but with other wings: the brittle cellophane wings of dragonflies. Black-tailed skimmers sunbathed on the boardwalk,  common and ruddy darters crowded the rushy fringes of pools, brown hawkers coursed above reed and marsh, and southern hawkers zipped through the tips of oaks.

Here the disciplined ranks of lesser reedmace crowded dykes, towers of marsh sow-thistle made reed look puny, and among the brash stands of milk parsley (how can such a rare plant be so common?) was the twisting strangeness of tubular water-dropwort.

The milk parsley had another trick up its umbelliferous sleeve: caterpillars. In the years I've worked with NWT I've never seen so many swallowtail caterpillars. Where usually they're found one to a plant, today they were in fives, sixes, sevens and eights. Big bejewelled ones and little bird-poo ones. Go and see them people. Go see them today!


And, in the evening, the otter? Well, she was beautiful but I gave my word by her river that I would keep her secrets to myself.

Swallowtail caterpillars on seed-setting milk parsley; this and following photos by Bethan Wardale 

Swallowtail caterpillar 

Marsh sow-thistle and hemp agrimony 

A cinnabar caterpillar which hitched a lift on Beth's trousers and looked very stylish on them

The problem about wearing a wetsuit is a sensory deprivation; it is a species of whole-body condom. Of course, there are people who like rubber. They enjoy the feel of it; they may even find it aesthetically pleasing. But there is no getting away from the fact that a wetsuit is an anaesthetic to prevent you experiencing the full force of your physical encounter with cold water, and in that sense it is against nature and something of a killjoy. On the other hand, I tell myself each time I struggle into the rubber, not a drop of water ever actually reaches the skin of the otter. Its outer fur traps air in an insulating layer very like a wetsuit, and the inner fur is so fine and tight together that the water never penetrates it. So if otters are allowed what amounts to a drysuit, I reckoned I could permit myself the occasional, judicious use of the wetsuit to bolster my chances of survival. It can make a long swim in cold water bearable, even comfortable, but it cannot approach the sensuality of swimming in your own skin.

Roger Deakin
Waterlog, A Swimmer's Journey Through Britain

A low whistle, softer than the cries of flighting curlew, came from above the ford. The otters were coming.

Henry Williamson
Salar the Salmon

New in two water-bodies today


Eurasian otter
Lutra lutra


common rudd
Scardinius erythrophthalmus

2012 Totals

Mammals: 82
Birds: 848
Reptiles: 20
Amphibians: 7
Fish: 7

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