Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Feb 24th Strumpshaw Fen

Frost on Bramble leaves
It was a frosty morning at Strumpshaw and I was early enough to experience it before the sun melted it completely. I walked down to the fields on the other end of the woodland trail near the pump house. I was hoping to see hares or barn owls to add to my Strumpshaw 40th Birthday Challenge, but I couldn't find any. Pitty, because the scene of frosty grass and rays of early sunshine was beautiful, a perfect photo opportunity that only needed a pair of boxing hares or a barn owl flying over in the shot. Oh well! I will have to try again next week.

Frosty fields at Strumpshaw Fen
A crowing Pheasant
The woodland trail on the way to the fields and back was alive with great birds. Great spotted woodpeckers were drumming loudly and I managed to see two together before they took off. A treecreeper was spiralling around the base of a tree close to the ground, creeping its way up the trunk, probing the grooves of the bark with its bill for hiding insects. A redwing posed for me on a branch, its red sides showing beautifully and I also saw a flock of siskins feeding on the alder cones.

Long-tailed Tit at the feeders
Goldcrest (11)
There is one woodland bird on my challenge list that has been a thorn in my side to photograph for many years now. It is the goldcrest, the UK's smallest bird. For a bird that weighs no more than a 20 pence coin, it is very agile. Seeing one isn't as hard as you think. They love evergreen trees such as pines and yews, and you can often see them dart around the branches. Their high pitched calls can be a challenge to hear for some people as they grow to an elderly age when they can not pick up on these high pitched sounds anymore. But if you are able to hear them, listien to a fast ditty that goes like this; 'didderly didderly didderly did dee dee!' They also produce high pitched squeaks that can sound rather faint to our ears. I located a few of them today, but they are always moving. They are a pain to photograph, but some how I managed to get these shots. I am so relieved!

Pondlife in a pot
Goldcrests are small, but they are not the smallest on the Strumpshaw 40 list. When I first saw Daphnia (water fleas) on the list, I was scratching my head and wondering how I was to photograph them. They are tiny and found underwater, how was I going to tick them off my sheet? Well, I was told that they were being seen in the pond dipping pond, but you have to get on your hands and knees and peer into the water to see them. I did this, but the pond was frozen over with a sheet of ice that acted like a glass window with clear views of aquatic plant life. I could not see any water fleas. They have decended into deeper water where it is warmer than at the icy surface. With some assistance from a colleague, we broke the ice and did a quick spot of pond dipping. One sweep was all it took to fill a pot with plenty of water fleas and other things.

Water Flea (12)
Back at the office, we brought out a hand held microscope which we plugged into a laptop. We were having a closer look at these tiny creatures with a live feed of what we can see on the laptop screen. It is amazing what technology can do these days! Looking at these creatures up this close is like looking at aliens from another planet. As you can see, water fleas are transparent and you can see all their internal organs inside and they have these strange 'wings' which are antennae that are also used to swim around with. Water fleas are at the bottom of the food chain and most of the creatures living in the pond will eat them. They are vital to the ecosystem of freshwater habitats, get rid of them and the whole thing will eventually collapse. Seeing so many in one sweepful in a pot means there is a healthy ecosystem here at Strumpshaw. This simple tick on my challenge sheet has opened my eyes to the amazing secret world of the water flea.

Midge Larva
Marsh Harrier (Lilly?)
The light over the broad at Reception Hide was perfect and the many wildfowl (which included tufted ducks, pochards, teal, shovelers, gadwalls, mallards and greylag geese) looked wonderful in it. Marsh harriers were starting to display their sky dancing routines, calling away while they were doing it. I noticed one female with a white belly. Could this be Lilly? The white is a lot patchier than last year though, either she moulted it since last time or this was a different individual. Buzzards were also displaying high above the hide, mewing loudly as they circled the reserve.

Tufted Ducks
Coot on a nest
Common Snipe
Finally, there was a report of a jack snipe at Fen Hide this morning, so I went over after lunch to investigate. I was joined by Ben the Strumpshaw warden and two other colleagues at the hide and after a thourough scan in the reed stubble where it was last seen, all we could find were three common snipe. Jack snipes are much smaller with a shorter bill and tends to bob its body uncontrollably. The common snipe that we can see also bobbed, but only now and then. They were very well camouflaged and I could barely see one of them if it wasn't for it moving occasionally. Though we could not find the jack snipe, it doesn't mean it isn't there. It goes to show what a master of hide and seek we are dealing with here.

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