NWT Tern Winter 2021 p16.png
009-013 Vagrant Emperor (Anax ephippiger) Waxham Norfolk UK GB September 2021 cp crs 130dp

Upper image; 'Wildlife roundup' in 'Tern' magazine (full article below): Barred Warbler & Camberwell Beauty

Lower photo: Female Vagrant Emperor Waxham September 2021

Birdline East Anglia report May-September 2021 for 'Tern' published by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust by Robin Chittenden


Every so often a large dark purple, cream edged butterfly called the Camberwell Beauty reaches our shores. These charismatic beasts from Scandinavia tend to coincide with an arrival of migrant songbirds that have originated from the same area.


Weather conditions aligned, during the latter part of August, in such a way, that birds leaving Scandinavia found themselves slightly adrift from their intended route, through mainland Europe, and arrived on the Norfolk coast. It was like the good old days with many Pied Flycatchers scattered along the coast. Other even more exotic species such as Greenish, Icterine and Barred Warblers and a couple of Red-backed Shrikes were also found. Blakeney Point seemed to have the lion’s share, which included up to six Wrynecks on one day.


Returning to the Camberwell Beauty, the Netherlands had witnessed an arrival earlier in August so hopes were high that some may get here, and joy of joys, a few did make it to Norfolk and one even stayed around for two days at Burnham Overy Dunes. A little frustratingly, for the assembled crowd, it spent most of its time feeding on a blackberry hidden mostly out of view, but occasionally it would pop out to the delight of onlookers.


The annual shenanigans of the breeding Peregrines at Norwich Cathedral were again a highlight for some. Interest in these birds was more intense this year as the birds at Cromer had failed to breed. The pair in Norwich successfully fledged three young: two males & a female. The young female came to ground once and was then seen to be having problems in the flying department. Her flight muscles were simply not powerful enough for her to gain any lift.  She was caught and released from the Bell Tower, from which day forth, her flying abilities went from strength to strength. The females are heavier than the males, and just after they leave the breeding ledge, for the first time, they are more likely to find that gravity gets the better of them, compared to the smaller and lighter males.


The juveniles’ ability to grab prey from their parents mid-flight is a behaviour that has to be a learnt by experience. Standing in the cloisters an attempted food pass happened almost directly above my head. The prey, a newly plucked pigeon, was dropped. The adult then hurtled down after it, before pulling up, when it realised there was a gawping human below. The carcass landed with a thud just a few feet away. When I retreated, in the hope the adult would return to retrieve the prey, two Lesser Black-backed Gulls nipped in and the carcass was soon the subject of a tug-of-war between them. Nothing is wasted in nature.


As with any illuminated building it is worth checking around the floodlights, particularly in the early morning, to see if any insects have been attracted to the light. On one occasion I almost overlooked something, which looked like a discarded leaf. As my eyes focused it morphed into the sublimely coloured Lime Hawkmoth.


A Sparrowhawk breeding nearby at Sweet Briar Marsh also attracted local interest. It was a joy to see the scruffy youngsters fledge, while the mum sat watching them, from a discrete distance away, making sure they didn’t get into any trouble. She would also attempt to pounce on any Wood Pigeons feeding in trees near the nest site. Not that that seemed to deter them. They would return within a few minutes as if they’d already forgotten about their near death experience. Maybe they had.


During the last thirty to forty years as our climate has become warmer, Norfolk has seen the arrival and colonisation of a few species of Dragonfly. These include the Small Red-eyed Damselfly, Western Willow Spreadwing (aka Willow Emerald Damselfly) and Lesser Emperor. Others may be on the verge of doing so. The Blue-eyed Hawker (aka Southern Migrant Hawker) is one, but the Vagrant Emperor has until this autumn remained simply that, a vagrant. It is described as a rare migrant from sub-Saharan Africa, but is well known as a long distant migrant. Embarrassingly I found what was probably the second ever to be seen in Norfolk at Burnham Overy Dunes in 2016. It was very timid and I couldn’t get good views of it, but did manage to take a couple of poor record photos. Stupidly I didn’t check the photos for two weeks, as in my head I had put it down as probably just a regular Migrant Hawker. Imagine my surprise when on the screen, and having checked the literature, there was a female Vagrant Emperor. Things were put right this autumn (several people would have loved to see the one at Burnham) with the arrival of up to eight Vagrant Emperors in the dunes at Waxham and Winterton. The males are quite distinct with an eye-catching powder blue ‘rump’. The females are more subtle, but brilliantly camouflaged when resting in the marram grass.

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