Monday, 25 July 2016

July 25th Strumpshaw Fen

Ruddy Darter
After being away from Strumpshaw for two weeks, I have been eager in getting back to see what has changed and to continue my search for the remaining 9 species on my Strumpshaw 40 challenge list. So I am back for a walk this afternoon, desperate in finding common blue butterflies, hornets, water scorpions, weasels, water rails and now, willow emerald damselflies and milk parsley. To find the latter two, I needed to visit the other end of the reserve for the ditches and the boardwalk there. That's where I decided to go to first. The ditches by the railway gates, after crossing them, is the best and perhaps only place to find the willow emeralds as willow branches drape over the water, the exact acquirements that these insects need to lay their eggs. Despite scanning hard over the branches, I could not find any this time.
Milk Parsley (32)

Fortunately, my other target, the milk parsley, was much easier to find. In fact, I have seen the plants in leaf for some time now. The only reason why I have not ticked this rare plant off yet is because I was waiting for them to flower. The boardwalk at the end of the Lackford Run (our longest path at the far end of the reserve) is the best place to see these umbelifer flowers. They look like cow parsley but larger and more daintier than hogweed, an umbrella-shaped flower head built up with tiny white florets with tiny leaves that are almost like clusters of snowflake spokes. What makes this plant so special is mainly for two reasons.

Milk Parsley (above view)

Milk Parsley leaves
 First, it is rare in the UK, mainly found amongst the reed beds of the Norfolk Broads. Secondly, and most famously, it is the food plant for the swallowtail butterfly caterpillars. Though I tried my best in searching on each plant that I came across, I could not find a single caterpillar on them unfortunately. But don't worry, there is plenty of milk parsley deep within the reed beds throughout the reserve, so there should be plenty of caterpillars out there somewhere.


After another unsuccessful scan along the ditches for willow emeralds, I walked back the way I came and towards the Reception Hide and was reunited with Mum for lunch. While eating lunch, we saw a kingfisher and witnessed a food pass from a male marsh harrier to its two fledged chicks.

Small Red-eyed Damselfly
With lunch over, we went in search for common blues and hornets, while also looking for a few extra things that were not on the list. These extras included the small red-eyed damselflies at the pond by Reception Hide, large red-eyed damselflies on the lily pads by the edge of the river, a lizard along Sandy Wall and a emerald damselfly (not to be confused with willow emeralds) on the meadow trail (which had been cut while I was away and was being collected as bales by a tractor). At Fen Hide, there was a heron, a juvenile marsh harrier and Cobber the black swan. Back at Reception Hide for an ice cream, I spot a juvenile water rail peeking out of the reed bed close to the hide on my right, but it then disappeared again before I had a chance to photograph it! Oh well! I shall have to try again on Wednesday.
Red Admiral

Common Lizard
Marsh Sowthistle

Grey Heron

Cobber the Black Swan
Juvenile Marsh Harrier
Large Red-eyed Damselfly
Green-veined Whites mating
Four-spotted Chaser
Clearing the hay bales from the meadow trail!
Emerald Damselfly
White Water Lily with a dragonfly exuviae

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