Thursday, 11 June 2015


I should not have gone out this morning. I should have stayed at my desk and addressed the emails and letters from which I've been hiding in Speyside. I should have written; I should have read; I should have worked.

But the Horsleys have form for routing me from my desk (much as a mother warthog routs a cheetah). Three weeks ago Gav got me out on the Point the day after I reached home from three months in Asia (a fruitless search for a Moltoni's warbler but a wonderful walk through shorescape and friendship). This morning, just as I was considering how to spend my day, the telephone rang. It was Gav's dad, DTH, wondering whether, under this summer sun, I would like to go with him to look for chalkhill blue caterpillars.

Emails which have waited for three months can wait an extra day can't they? I went with DTH to Warham, to an Iceni patch of chalk, and birds, and flowers. (According to family lore - and my family has been in Norfolk a very long time - it's pronounced ickenny.) Elm hedges here rattled with the songs of lesser whitethroats and scratched with those of their commoner cousins. The wide blue sky was loud with the lark and distant buzzards rode the summer breeze.

Our focus though was on our toes, on the plants growing by them and, particularly, on horseshoe vetch, foodplant of the chalkhill blue. We've watched the blues here together, DTH and I, for some years now and were hoping to find caterpillars; but following a cold and bitterly dry late winter and spring, and perhaps some overgrazing by the sheep which manage the site, the sward is weak, the flowers few and the vetch, to use a favourite phrase of a sage naturalist friend who has left us, depauperate.

We found not a single caterpillar. We shall wait to see in high summer whether this means the blues will be few on the wing. I amused myself instead scraping my knees on stemless thistles and pointing my iPhone at milkwort, rockrose and vetch, while DTH hunted for grubs and we plotted a winter romp to southern Spain in search of lynx.

Milkwort in North Norfolk chalk grassland

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