Naturalists who know the Broads all know that there are two large and distinctive insects that are special to the area. Swallowtail butterflies
and Norfolk hawker dragonflies
are the two species I have in mind. Both can be seen at several famous nature reserves: at Hickling
(all NWT) and RSPB Strumpshaw Fen, among others.
So what about at my local patch of NWT Thorpe Marshes
on the edge of Norwich? Here, with no milk parsley present – the main larval food plant of swallowtails in the Broads – the butterflies are also absent. Norfolk hawkers, on the other hand, are common and easy to see.
I’d go further – there is no easier place to see a Norfolk hawker than NWT Thorpe Marshes. There, I’ve said it now. Would any site manager or regular visitor to other wetlands in the Broads like to challenge this?
This assertion is based on regular experience of seeing – and showing people – Norfolk hawkers, backed up by actual counts. Seeing them is easy: in many places the path is right next to ditches dense with the distinctive form of water soldiers, a plant strongly linked to the distribution of Norfolk hawkers. On these we can play ‘hunt the exuvia’ – searching for the shed larval skin of a dragonfly left gripping the plant after the adult insect has emerged.
Three NWT Thorpe Marshes volunteers do regular counts of Norfolk hawkers. It’s not a complete count, rather numbers seen on a transect, a regular route. That route is straightforward here as it simply follows the regular path around the nature reserve.
There is a little gentle competition: who’ll be the first to count 50 Norfolk hawkers? That’s usually around the end of June or early July. That’s been blown away by Derek Longe’s count of 73 at Thorpe on 20 June.
What we see routinely is that every short stretch of ditch has a patrolling a Norfolk hawker or two, flying to and fro on its patch. A brown dragonfly in June is always Norfolk hawker. A glimpse of green eyes confirms the ID. In July it’s less clear cut once brown hawkers are on the wing. Brown hawkers tend to fly higher, though, and their amber-coloured wings are distinctive.
Iconic is an overused word, though as Norfolk hawkers are the emblem of the Broads Authority that word seems fair on this occasion. So for a close encounter with the iconic Norfolk hawker, do come and visit Thorpe Marshes.
Chris Durdin is an NWT volunteer and leads monthly wildlife walks at NWT Thorpe Marshes. Details of monthly walks can be found here.