Sunday, 5 June 2016

June 5th Strumpshaw Fen

The sun is out and its a scorcher! As you may know, the British weather can be unpredictable and when it is like this you have to make the opportunity of it. Insects are more active warm conditions such as this and 4 out of the 6 species that are on my Strumpshaw 40 challenge list are out there somewhere making the most of it. Today, I have decided to make another visit as a visitor to try and find Norfolk hawker dragonflies, common blue butterflies and hornets. I was on a Strumpshaw bug hunt.

The Swallowtail fan club 
As soon as I arrived through the railway crossing gates leading onto the reserve, a large crowd of people with cameras circled around the nectar garden outside the Reception Hide. This means only one thing... a swallowtail! One was fluttering from flower to flower for hours all afternoon, giving everyone who was arriving a chance to see it. I'm not sure if the swallowtail knows or cares about the amount of attention it was attracting. It just carried on with its life gorging itself on nectar. The number of photos taken of this one butterfly must be numbering over a million! I got quite a few myself  and I wasn't even here for them!

Scarce Chaser
The best place to look for Norfolk hawkers is along the ditches around the meadow trail. They usually patrol these waterways, especially if there are plenty of water soldier poking out. They use these plants to lay there eggs within the gaps between the leaves. Annoyingly, despite walking through the meadow trail several times, I could not find any at all. I found nearly every other species of dragonfly, but not the one I was after. Then I had a tip-off that they were seen from the gate to the education meadow (which is only open for school trips). I found them and they were flying everywhere over the meadow and the ditch and even over my head. But, they were not landing close for me on my side of the gate. I couldn't get a photo of them for my challenge. As for common blue butterflies and hornets, well, they were nowhere to be seen.
Hairy Dragonfly
Blue-tailed Damselfly
Tree Bumblebee
Harlequin Ladybird
Cardinal Beetle
Red Admiral
Painted Lady
Poplar Hawkmoth
Mute Swan
Southern Marsh Orchid (29)
My bug hunt was a failure in terms of my target species, but that doesn't mean I didn't find anything new to add to my challenge list. There was a plant on the Strumpshaw 40 that has only just started to flower. Southern marsh orchids are small pink flowers with plain green leaves and are one of the most attractive plant species found on the meadows here at Strumpshaw. But be warned, there are other similar looking species that are also found in these meadows. There are also hybrids to deal with too. The key to identifying orchids is to work out the size and shape of the leaves and florets, the pattern on the florets and if the leaves have spots or not.

Orchids are a fascinating group of plants. They have the ability to attract insects to pollinate them by deceiving them and the way they do this varies from species to species. Some, like the bee orchid, mimic a female bee or wasp by appearance and by smell, which fools a male bee or wasp to mate with it. Others, like the southern marsh orchid lures insects by sight, looking bright to advertise that it has nectar. The catch is, they don't. The pollinator is fooled out of a meal and ends up carrying away a parcel of pollen attached to the back of the head. To remove it, the insect needs to visit another orchid to pollinate it. Of course, there are other methods that orchids use to trick an insect into pollinating it, but it goes to show that there's more to orchids than being attractive, beautiful flowers to our eyes.

After a tiring search for insects, I returned to the Reception Hide. The swallowtail was still drawing in a crowd in the nectar garden, but it was then out staged momentarily by an otter. The crowd rushed away from the swallowtail and to the hide to see the otter swimming around the near left channel of the broad. It didn't hang around for long and the crowds quickly dispersed from the hide and back to the swallowtail to give it more attention like some glamour model. Though I didn't find any of my insect targets, you can't say I didn't try without seeing some other exciting and interesting wildlife.

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