Caroline de Carle, Hickling Visitor Centre Coordinator
|Swallowtail on yellow flag iris, photo by Rachel Greef|
At Hickling, at last, our stars of the summer are on the wing. Nearly every visitor asks the question “are the butterflies about?” and on warm sunny days, when we get them, they certainly are in all their butter yellow, blue and red finery. The largest and one of the most localised butterflies in the UK, the swallowtail is certainly a beauty and well worth waiting for. Their small dark chrysalids overwinter in the reedbeds and when the temperature is right, the adults emerge and dry their wings in the safety of the vegetation before taking flight. The adult butterflies feed on all species of flowers but prefer yellow and purple ones so can often be found on red campion and yellow iris. When mated, the females lay their eggs singly on the leaves of milk parsley and a few weeks later, the small, blackish caterpillars emerge to feed on the host plant. The large, fully formed caterpillars are impressive green beasties with bulging horns to frighten predators.
Well, enough about our superstars… there are plenty of other delights at Hickling, including the rare Norfolk hawker dragonflies, young marsh harriers in the nest squawking to be fed and bitterns in territory. There are young birds everywhere too. The blue tits have just fledged from the nest box next to the toilet at the visitor centre and young wrens and chiff chaffs noisily forage around the car park.
Our boat trips, which run three times every day are definitely the best way to experience all that this amazing reserve has to offer in the way of wildlife so if you are heading this way over the next few weeks, do book a trip and come and fill your senses with all Hickling has to offer. Call the visitor centre on 01692 598276 for details and to book.