Wednesday, 22 July 2015

July 22nd Strumpshaw Fen

The (not so) secret boardwalk
I decided to make a visit to the boardwalk at the other end of the reserve before I started my shift today. Normally, you would have to walk a long way from Tower Hide to get there, but this boardwalk is near the other crossing point over the railway that leads you out of the reserve. You can avoid the long walk by just hopping over the styles and over the railway track to get to there. What brought me to this part of the reserve? Caterpillars. I was looking for swallowtail caterpillars on the milk parsley, which is the food plant for this subspecies. Unfortunately, it was a search without success. No caterpillars to be seen here today, but at least I got to see a nice variaty of reedbed plants and butterflies while I was searching for them.

Milk Parsley
Milk Parsley from the side
Hemp Agrimony
Great Reed Mace
Tufted Vetch
Swallowtail Caterpillar
But I wasn't going to give up my search that easy. I asked one of my colleagues, who happens to be one of the wardens here, if he had seen any yet. I was told there was some on a lone milk parsley by one of the places we use for pond dipping. True to his word, I managed to find one caterpillar up the stem of the plant. It was very small, but it was much bigger than when it hatched from it's egg. When newly hatched, a swallowtail caterpillar will fit within your fingernail and is black with a white stripe in the middle like a belt. This guy is now developing it's green pigment and black stripes with orange spots. I can still see the 'belt' patch still, but it is beginning to fade. It will now continue growing until it is twice the length it is now and it will become a brighter shade of green with a bolder pattern of spots and stripes. It will be as beautiful as the butterfly it will become.

The new view from Reception Hide
The view from Reception Hide is different than it was last week. Between that time, the reedbed that was starting to be overgrowing in front of the hide has been strimmed down. It happens every year around July and August, after the breeding season has finished, so that our visitors can see things out on the reserve again without it being obstructed by the reeds. It sounds bad to destroy a reedbed like this, but reeds are fast growing plants and will grow back again next year. If you leave a reedbed to grow for years on end, it will become a carr woodland and that isn't a good place for birds like bitterns, marsh harriers and reed warblers to nest in.

It was rather quiet while watching out onto this improved view. The young marsh harriers were still calling for food and were strengthening their flight muscles with soaring flights over the reedbeds. The youngsters also practiced their food passing skills with a game of 'tag'. One would swoop to the other from below and grab it's sibling's talon. There was no food involved as far as I could tell. I also saw kingfishers this morning for a brief moment on a couple of occasions, two together during one of these moments. Also about today were lots of swallows skimming the water for a drink and a couple of herons and common terns fishing.

Filling up the new icecream freezer
When arrived at Reception Hide this morning, I noticed something new inside. An icecream freezer! Incredibly, we have never sold icecreams at Strumpshaw before and I reacted like a kid in a sweet shop! It was empty at first and we were waiting for the first ever delivery of icecream to be made. Then a man with lots of boxes arrived. The freezer was soon filled with hundreds of tubs of icecream and my colleague and I had the honour to eat the first tubs of icecream to be eaten at Strumpshaw. I felt like I made a little piece of history, a delicious strawberry-flavoured piece of history!

History being made and it tastes sweet!

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