Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Aug 10th Strumpshaw Fen

Black Arches
Today was a very good day for me even though the weather wasn't. It was rather cold this morning and the clouds were threatening to rain as I arrived early before my shift. Ben the warden was already at the reserve at the time of my arrival and he was checking the moth traps from last night. As drops of rain started to fall from the heavens, I decided to sit with him under the parasol outside the office and see what moths he had caught. Here are some of the highlights...

Garden Tiger

Webb's Wainscot
Flame Shoulder


Canary-shouldered Thorn
Hornet (35)

I was then distracted by a bullfinch calling somewhere nearby, when suddenly Ben handed me a pot. "Here you go Sean" he said with a confident tone in his voice. I looked at the contents within the pot and a sense of relief came to me as inside this pot was a hornet! I have been trying to photograph one all summer and though I have seen some, they just did not hang around, as if camera shy.

Hornets are the largest species of wasp in the UK. They are probably on the challenge list to represent the diversity of wasp species that we have at Strumpshaw, which range from tiny but beautiful jewel wasps to solitary digger wasps and, of course, the ones that ruin every picnic ever. Hornets are common here, but for some reason they were being very elusive to me. Just as well, as I am not a fan of wasps. In fact, I have a bit of a phobia of them. I felt rather brave holding and releasing this hornet from the pot, though a bit nervous when it was crawling out of the top. When I arrived back from my morning walk, I learned that the hornet that I had released had attacked a volunteer while was away and had stung her on the arm! This does not build my confidence on beating my phobia!


During my morning walk, I was making my way to Fen hide when it started to rain properly. Fortunately, I managed to get inside the hide in time before it really threw down with a short, heavy downpour. The ducks, coots and Cobber the black swan outside the hide were not put off from preening and feeding as the rain hammered the water's surface all around them. Thankfully, it was not a long shower and the weather soon improved slightly.

Cobber the Black Swan
Purple Loosestrife

Female Reed Bunting

Male Bearded Tit
At Reception Hide, bearded tits were showing really well all morning. A family of them were busy hopping low from stem to stem at the edge of the closest reed beds to the hide. They were joined by sedge and reed warblers that followed the 'beardies' every movement. It was a good day for kingfishers too, with several appearances with close views on and off throughout the morning. There were also marsh harriers and a brief view of a water rail.
Female or juvenile Bearded Tit
My 'Wanted' poster
As you may know, water scorpions and common blue butterflies have been unusually difficult to find at Strumpshaw this year. Despite many attempts of locating one of each, they have been eluding me every time. I have been worried about them the most, so much so that last night I had decided to make a small 'wanted' poster to let visitors know that I needed their help in finding them with drawings of the two insects. I placed it on the board for everyone to see.

My poster seemed to have worked, at least for water scorpions. As I was having my lunch, a family came back from pond dipping and had brought back with them a small water scorpion in a pot full of pond water. I could not believe my lucky stars! Two elusive targets in one day!

Water Scorpion (36)
Water scorpions are not rare and you should find them while out pond dipping at the reserve. They are stealthy aquatic predators with sinister-looking pincers that they grab their prey while hiding amongst pond weed as they sit and wait for them to approach. Though the pincers, the flat body and the spiked tail may have given them their name, they are actually not scorpions but insects. That 'tail' is in fact a snorkel, it helps them to breath underwater. I am so glad to finally tick this off my challenge list. It was worth the wait. Only four targets to go!

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