Wednesday, 20 April 2016

April 20th Strumpshaw Fen

I am up at Strumpshaw early yet again as my search for the remaining 20 species on my Strumpshaw 40 challenge. I'm still trying to find hares and barn owls as well as weasels, otters, bearded tits and water rails, but there was no sign of any of them this morning. I checked pretty much everywhere during the time I had before I had to get back for my shift. I started with a walk through the woods, but only the bluebells caught my eye. I saw a Chinese water deer in the meadow fields while walking along the river and I was hoping it would scare a hare up as it ran after seeing me, but it didn't.

Peacock (and an ant!)

Grasshopper Warbler (from 2014)
I had gotten to the end of the Sandy Wall path where the river trails meet, when I heard three great bird sounds. The first was the reeling song of a grasshopper warbler, a song so strange that it sounds like a never ending fishing reel being reeled in or even, as the name suggests, the sound of an insect chirrping. 'Srrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr...' This 'song' can last for minutes at a time and the volume can range from quiet to loud at an instant. Grasshopper warblers rarely show themselves as they prefer to stay hidden in vegetation. I was very lucky two years ago to photograph one singing in a bush.

Song Thrush
The famous notes of a cuckoo ended up distracting me from listening to this small brown warbler any further this morning. Cuckoos are on my Strumpshaw 40 list and I wanted to get a photo of one as part of my challenge. So I went down just beyond the sluices to try and find it, but it did not show up or even called out again for me to locate it. I did, however, saw a song thrush and heard a bittern booming, which sounded really close as I neared the Tower Hide. After giving up on the cuckoo, I had enough time to pop into the Fen Hide only to find Cobber the black swan, a pochard and some marsh harriers.

Cetti's Warbler

Cobber the Black Swan
It was pretty chilly inside Reception Hide this morning, despite being warm outside. Besides marsh harriers, greylag geese, a few pochards, tufted ducks, shelducks, swallows, reed buntings, coots with chicks and a great crested grebe, there wasn't too much to get excited about. To be honest, I was more interested in getting warm than what was happening out there.

Shelducks mating
Coot with chicks

Great Crested Grebe
Female Reed Bunting
After lunch, I decided to do a spot of pond dipping to try and find a water scorpion, another of my Strumpshaw 40 targets. But it seemed even they were eluding me today. All I managed to get were a few caddisfly larvae, some water louse, midge lavae, hundreds of water flea and lots of pond weed.

Water Fleas
Caddisfly Larva
Water Louse
Midge Larvae
Since my search for my challenge targets was unsuccessful this morning, I decided to stay until 6pm to try again. First, I waited inside Fen Hide for a couple of hours to try and photograph bearded tits. Though I did see some, they were out of range and were only out briefly. Marsh harriers and Chinese water deer were more obliging.
Marsh Harrier
Chinese Water Deer

Next, I walked down to Tower Hide, seeing common terns, house martins, swallows, sedge warblers, chiffchaffs, Cetti's warblers, blackcaps, orange-tip butterflies and heard the bittern booming again on the way. There weren't too much about outside the hide apart from shovelers, wigeon, teal, gadwall, shelducks and black-headed gulls. So I then walked all the way back and down to the fields near the old pump house. I sat on a bench and waited for a while, hoping for a hare or a barn owl to appear. But surprise, surprise, it was a no show as usual, just a few pheasants. It wasn't all bad though, I did come across a few mistle thrushes and a bullfinch on the way back through the woods. And though I was frustrated about not finding any of my targets, I did see some great wildlife, some of which could easily be on that list if I had it my way.

Willow Warbler

Common Tern
Male Reed Bunting
Black-headed Gull

Mistle Thrush
View outside Reception Hide this evening

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