Sunday 8 May 2022

A Weekend Away in the Brecks

 Peace and Tranquillity

Several weeks ago my wife, Sarah, found out about a holiday cottage in the Norfolk Brecks and she sent me the link while I was doing the school run.  I will confess; I didn't even look at the pictures of the inside before I messaged back "book it!".

After a tough few weeks of three of us coming down with COVID, our weekend in the cottage was in danger of being badly affected, but we just about managed to recover in time to get away.  The cottage was stunning and we all fell instantly in love with the place from the moment we arrived.  With woodland on three sides and an open area of recently planted Pine with Gorse growing in profusion.

Tree-tops Cottage

View from our bedroom

We felt at home instantly and made ourselves comfortable in the conservatory while the kids explored the house and garden.  This was to become our living space for most of the weekend in between walks and playing with the kids in the garden.  It also enabled us to watch the local wildlife whilst relaxing with a cuppa.  The perfect place!

Conservatory where we chilled out...a lot!

After getting settled in, we decided to take what turned out to be a very short walk to Lynford Arboretum.  The trees en route were alive with Willow Warblers, Garden Warblers and both 'Crests although I couldn't get on the Firecrest no matter how much I tried...

Willow Warbler and Garden Warbler habitat

Our evening stroll around the Arboretum was idyllic and we almost had the whole place to ourselves. Specimen trees from around the world towered above us and I could only imagine what bird life was residing in the distant canopy but felt no pressure to spend too much time looking; I was just happy to be in the peace and tranquillity of this Breckland oasis. 

Majestic Pines and Firs

Bluebells in the Arboretum

Sunset colours touching the lush foliage

As the evening chorus of Blackbirds, Robins Cuckoo and warblers got going, I set 3 moth traps around the garden including my homemade 'Ark' trap fitted with a 12w LED and 20w Wemlite.  After weeks of chilly easterly winds, a calm and cold night was forecast but I was hopeful of something different to the set of garden moths I had grown all too accustomed to over the last few weeks.  

The Ark

I woke early on the Saturday morning and crept downstairs and out to check the traps.  I knew it was going to be cold but I was not expecting the hard frost which greeted me as I approached the first trap.  I wasn't hopeful of a big catch but surely there would be something?  Well, there was only one moth in the first trap but it's impossible to be disappointed when the one moth was my first recorded female Emperor Moth!

The Empress - Emperor Moth

In the end I managed a respectable 15 moths of 13 species including some springtime favourites like Frosted Green and Pine Beauty.  A lovely Brindled Beauty was one of many that I've seen this year but they are always a welcome catch!  The Lunar Marbled Brown was also the first female I'd seen since the mid 1990s.

Frosted Green


Pine Beauty

Lunar Marbled Brown, female

Brindled Beauty.  Look at those antennae!

Flame Shoulder

The day soon warmed up to become the warmest of the year so far, at least for us who have been subjected to an icy easterly for what seems like months!  The patch of Bluebells in the cottage's garden looked resplendent in the morning sunshine and soon became the main attraction for Brimstone and Orange Tip Butterflies along with several species of bee and hoverfly.

English Bluebells

While the kids occupied themselves for a while, I had a short wander around the surroundings of the cottage where the only sounds were from the birds and insects.  Countless St. Mark's Flies occupied the airspace at head height as I passed by the Sallows and Birches where a Garden Warbler was in full song.  Out in the open, the day-glow yellow Gorse was almost too bright to look at and its heady scent of coconut filled the warm air as the scene before me shimmered in the heat-haze.  Peacock Butterflies, Brimstones and Orange Tips seemed to be in a hurry to be somewhere and never settled but photography wasn't at the top of my agenda as I was perfectly happy to just soak up the atmosphere and stroll...


Gorse flower close up, outrageously bright!

Back to the cottage I went and we decided to all go for a walk but as we got to the entrance of the arboretum a car approached with the Vaughans on board.  With much excitement, the boys led the way back to the cottage for a coffee and catch up.  After some expert toy plane flying demonstrations by Howard, the two of us left the boys to it and went out to explore the local environs armed with cameras and binoculars.  We clocked up several more Garden Warblers, Tree Pipit and Stonechats before spotting 2 small butterflies flitting amongst the Gorse.  We guessed that they must be Green Hairstreak and one of them perched obligingly on a Gorse flower for some snaps.

Green Hairstreak on one of its larval food plants, Gorse

Further along, a solitary Green Longhorn, Adela reaumurella flitted fairy-like above our heads, rarely stopping for longer than a few seconds.  A patch of Cowslips were, perhaps, past their best but after a few weeks of Covid isolation, they were the first I had seen this year.

Adela reaumurella


As we approached Lynford Lakes, the trees along the margins were alive with insects which Howard systematically identified for me.  With a Reed Warbler providing the accompanying soundtrack, we saw dozens of Red-eyed Damselflies amidst clouds of St. Mark's Flies and mosquitoes of an undetermined species which were either not hungry or non-biting.

Large Red Damselfly

I was hoping to find some leaf mines of the Eriocrania moths.  There are 6 possible on Birches so I checked a lot of trees on our walk but failed to find a single one.  Maybe I was too early or perhaps I just wasn't looking at the right sort of Birch... 

There were moths though... We saw a couple of Silver-ground Carpet and a couple of Gorse specialists in Grapholita internana and Cydia ulicetana

Cydia ulicetana

Cydia ulicetana

We picked up several more species of butterfly including Comma, Holly Blue, Small Heath and Small Copper

Small Copper

Back at the cottage we had a small photo shoot of the moths from the night before and while we were in full swing, a couple of other interesting insects joined us at the picnic bench.  I think this leaf hopper is Javesella pellucida.  A splendid Acorn Weevil and Crucifer Shieldbug also dropped in.

Javesella pellucida

Acorn Weevil

Crucifer Shieldbug - Eurydena oleracea

As evening approached we all went for a leisurely stroll around the arboretum where Howard identified at least 9 Firecrest territories whilst my best find was this Oiceoptoma thoracicum which was trying to get into a dog poo bag behind a tree!!

Oiceoptoma thoracicum

We finished the day off with a chippy dinner washed down with a couple of ales followed by a dusk viewing of a roding Woodcock from the garden gate.

Sunday started off cloudy after a much milder night and my moth traps were heaving!  I jotted down over 50 species including at least one I'd never seen before.  More on that shortly.  The forecast had originally been for thick cloud and rain but long bright spells and patchy cloud was what we got so there were more opportunities to see a range of insects making the most of the garden Bluebells before heading out for another circuit of the Lynford Water area.

Orange Tip, female


Alder Fly


Howard and I eventually met up with Sarah and the boys who had been paddling in the lake.  The lake was fringed with Birch, Alder and Sallows and was here that Howard spotted what I had been searching for all weekend: the leaf mines of Eriocrania moths!  Once I had got my eye in, I also started to find them and within an hour we had identified 4 different species!  I was delighted to see so many Eriocrania sangii which was a new species for me.

Eriocrania cicatricella

Eriocrania sangii

Eriocrania semipurpurella

Eriocrania unimaculella

And now for some of moths we had in the moth traps on the Saturday night.

Coxcomb Prominent

Swallow Prominent

Pale Prominent

Pebble Prominent

Red Chestnut

Nut-tree Tussock

Frosted Green

Frosted Green

Spruce Carpet


Yellow-barred Brindle

Pebble Hook-tip

Dark-barred Twin-spot Carpet

Great Prominent - Camouflaged!

Foxglove Pug

Here are some of the other invertebrates we found in the area around the cottage and lakes:

Pammene argyrana

Pine Ladybird

First year Coleophora case

Xanthogramma pedissequum

Cream-spot Ladybird

Winter Moth

Yponomeuta evonymella larvae

Sunday night, our last at the cottage, was another mild and cloudy one.  I did one round of the traps before bedtime and as expected, they were busy with moths including several new ones for the weekend.  By far the best and most significant moth around the traps was a cracking little micro Ancylis unculana which is pretty rare across East Anglia because of the lack of suitable habitat.  It feeds on Buckthorn which does occur widely enough but the moth is mainly found on chalk downland.

Ancylis unculana, my star of the weekend

Orange Footman

Lesser Swallow Prominent

Water Carpet

Grey Shoulder-knot

Ruby Tiger

Pale Brindled Beauty

Mottled Umber

Cream-spot Ladybird

Flame Carpet

Clay Triple Lines

Barred Hook-tip

So, a fantastic weekend with excellent company in an amazing location. With a vast number of insects and a wonderful section of birds, trees and flowers on show, Tree-tops Cottage has instantly become one of our favourite places; looking forward to the next time we stay there!

For an excellent blog with far more detail on the more interesting birds and insects, check out Howard's mammoth effort here: