Wednesday, 8 June 2016

June 8th Strumpshaw Fen

View from Fen Hide
Another hot day and I decided that today I would wear shorts. Of course, I would be foolish not to think of the mosquitoes eating at my legs like last year, so insect repellent was essential. But this was not enough, as they swarmed around my head instead! I made the choice of not going in search of Norfolk hawkers along the mozzie infested meadow trail and so retreated to the Fen Hide where it was more or less mozzie free. There wasn't a lot of activity from the hide, but at least the marsh harriers, reed buntings and reed warblers kept me occupied for a while.

Marsh Harrier
Norfolk Hawker (30)
I was walking back from Fen Hide to Reception Hide. I had reached the point where the Fen Hide path meets the Sandy Wall path, when suddenly I noticed a big dragonfly flying over my head. I followed it with my eyes until it landed on a trunk of a tree close to where I was standing. It was brown with clear wings and green eyes. It also had a yellow triangle on its abdomen, which means it is a male. This was one of my targets, the Norfolk hawker! I have finally got one that was willing to pose well for me to photograph. My 30th target in the bag! My Strumpshaw 40 challenge is down to the final ten!

Norfolk hawkers are so called because in the UK they were only found in Norfolk Broads. In Europe, however, they are more widespread and are more commonly known as green-eyed hawkers (how original). These locally rare dragonflies were also once widespread across Britain too, but water pollution and habitat management caused their population to be reduced to exist only in Norfolk. Thankfully, pollution in recent years has been reduced in our waterways and the species has recovered to the point that it has started to spread into Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. They prefer ditches which have water soldier growing in it, as they use it to lay their eggs between the leaves. As long as you have that and clean water, they should eventually reach other parts of their old range once again. For now, Norfolk hawkers are the second most sorted after insect at Strumpshaw after the swallowtail, with many people travelling for miles to see them.

Posing with Dr George McGavin
Visitors are still swarming over to Strumpshaw in the hope of seeing a swallowtail butterfly from all over the country. The car park and overflow car park are both completely full, with more cars coming all the while. Among them today was a small TV film crew from the BBC's The One Show, who were here to try and film these butterflies for the show. With them was TV presenter and entomologist, Dr George McGavin. He was kind enough to sign my wildlife diary and pose for a photo with me. Hopefully, if they managed to get the footage they wanted, you should be able to watch Dr George with the swallowtails sometime in the next few weeks on The One Show on BBC 1.

Bee Orchid
While people were more interested in swallowtails and Norfolk hawkers, there were a few who were asking to see orchids. I became a bit of a guide as I took several trips to take these orchid fanciers on a mini tour of the two species found nearby to the hide before sending them off to the meadow trail to find some southern marsh orchids on their own. First up were the bee orchids behind the fence adjacent to the nectar garden. Once they got enough photos of them, I then took them to the common twayblades behind the cottage where some of the volunteers live in temporarily. The visitors seemed to have enjoyed these short walks with me, but no one gave me a tip!

Reed Warbler
From Reception Hide, I saw marsh harriers, a kingfisher briefly, a Chinese water deer having a swim (briefly), swallows, swifts, house martins, reed warblers, reed buntings, great crested grebes and lots of dragonflies (some were Norfolk hawkers). After my shift, I did a bit of pond dipping as I was hoping to find a water scorpion for my challenge. Sadly, there was no such luck. I only caught water boatmen and water lice. Back in Norwich, the peregrine chicks are days away from leaving the nest. I spot this one perching on the edge of the nesting platform, teasing the many observers below. This is an amazing achievement after I learned that only the male is looking after them. The female was chased off completely by an intruding female, who now just hangs around the cathedral from time to time. The male has done amazing job as a single parent, bringing plenty of food to feed the youngsters. He is truly Super Dad!
Juvenile Moorhen
Mute Swans
I rescued this young Dunnock from being trapped inside the Reception Hide!
Peregrine Chick at Norwich Cathedral

Finally, on a sad note, I have heard the sad news that Dr Martin George has passed away this week. He was an environmentalist and keen naturalist on the Norfolk Broads and he was one of the people responsible in founding Strumpshaw Fen as a nature reserve. I met with him once at the Norfolk Community Biodiversity Awards in 2014. I was given a highly commended award for my volunteering services and inspiring others as an autistic naturalist. He, on the other hand, was given the lifetime achievement award for his work and studies on the Broads. After the ceremony, he came up to me and talked to me about the wildlife of Strumpshaw as if I was the one who had won the highest honour. He was a great man and was kind enough to allow visitors to view the swallowtails from his private cottage garden, which is just next door to the reserve. I would like to say that if you are seeking for swallowtails there, please be respectful. The swallowtails may be there, but he isn't. They are a fitting tribute to a great friend to Strumpshaw Fen. He will be missed.

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