Wednesday, 31 May 2017

May 31st Strumpshaw Fen

Mute Swan with cygnet
It has been an incredible day at Strumpshaw today. The bitterns were booming on and off throughout the morning. The sound of these low frequency booms could be heard all over the reserve, but was at its loudest nearby to the Fen Hide. It was a great way to start my morning when arrived for my usual walk before my shift. I made a visit to the Fen Hide and ended up in there for at least an hour. But it was worth it as a kingfisher made a short visit and perched on the nearest post to the hide. Another highlight at this hide was a cuckoo which flew over to sit on a slightly distant bare tree to my right. There were also marsh harriers, swans with cygnets, a common tern, a bearded tit and I heard a Chinese water deer barking. Then I went for a quick walk to the river finding a couple of drinker moth caterpillars and a lizard along the way as well as red-eyed damselflies on the lily pads on the river.
Marsh Harrier
Drinker Moth caterpillar
Common Lizard
Red-eyed Damselfly

Not only is it half term this week with many families bringing their children to do the activities set up for them along the woodland trail, it is also swallowtail season. This meant that it was a very busy day for us manning the Reception Hide. Crowds of people surrounded the nectar garden in hope of seeing one of these rare butterflies. Thankfully, it was nice enough for much of the morning and the swallowtails arrived to please it's adoring fans. That is until the clouds covered the sun and made it a lot cooler, causing the swallowtails to disappear for quite some time. At least I was fortunate to tick this Broadland icon off my invertebrate list as well as getting a few photos in the process.
Red Admiral

From the Reception Hide itself, it was mostly quiet, but I did get to see a kingfisher a couple of times, marsh harriers, a sparrowhawk, a banded demoiselle, a swallowtail briefly, swallows and a few reed buntings. I was also approached by an orchid enthusiast to talk about the orchids we have on the reserve. He told me if I was aware of the greater butterfly orchid amongst the area of common twayblades. I did not. So he took me to see it within one of the cages of chicken wire that we use to protect any orchids that are away from the meadow trail. He pointed at a white bud-like thing on a green stem. This was the orchid in question. I went to the office to ask about it to Ben the warden and Tim the site manager. I don't think they knew about it either as I took Tim to see it. According to the expert, it is close to flowering some time next week. If this plant does end up being a greater butterfly orchid, it could possibly be a first for the reserve!
Norfolk Hawker

After my shift was over, I decided to look for dragonflies along the meadow trail. There were plenty of them about, including the other insect icon of the Broads, the Norfolk hawker. It was another tick off my list. I also saw lots of hairy dragonflies, 4-spot chasers, red-eyed damselflies, a male scarce chaser and a swimming grass snake! Apart from the Norfolk hawkers and the red-eyed damselflies, none of the other species mentioned would stay still long enough for their photo to be taken. Looking closely to the vegetation along the edge of the ditch, I was lucky enough to find a dragonfly exuviae. This is basically the moulted exoskeleton of a dragonfly larva as it makes the dramatic transformation into an adult dragonfly.
Dragonfly exuviae
Water Vole
Walking back to the meadow trail's entrance, I pass the new pond-dipping pond that was created a couple of years ago. There was a large crowd around this pond, similar to that of the nectar garden. This time though, the excitement was over something equally rare, but ten times cuter than a swallowtail. The crowd was watching water voles! I was watching them before I went looking for dragonflies and I thought I'd continue afterwards. These charming rodents were very active, though a tad on the elusive side at times, taking us by surprise by turning up at different location along the pond without us knowing. They were quite tricky to photograph as tall grass and reeds obscured them. But despite this, they were not completely evasive to us watching, as they often swam close to the platforms we were viewing them from. This was another magical encounter for me, experiencing my first water voles at Strumpshaw with many people, some of them being children. It was a real crowd pleaser.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

May 30th Titchwell

Black-headed Gull with chick
There seemed to be baby birds everywhere at Titchwell today. From Island Hide, black-headed gull chicks were like cute balls of fluff closely guarded by their noisy parents that chased anything that got too near to them. We saw an avocet chick from one of the Parrinder hides, wandering around by itself with full confidence and independence. And, of course, there were ducklings and goslings that would make anyone weak at the knees due to their adorableness.

Black-headed Gull chick
Pochard with ducklings
Mallard ducklings
Avocet chick
Greylag with goslings

Little Gull
Thankfully, if you are too manly for all this cute stuff, there were some great birds to see at this reserve today. My bird of the day was the little gull which swam close to the sea wall path from the freshwater marsh. Little gulls are indeed little gulls, a bit like a miniature version of a black-headed gull. Because of their size, it is hard to mistake them for any other gull, especially when they reveal their dark under wings. This one, I think, is still an immature bird from last year due to the dark markings on it's upper wings. I also saw avocets, black-tailed and bar-tailed godwits, a red-crested pochard, common terns, oystercatchers, shelducks, teal, gadwalls, shovelers, marsh harriers, skylarks, reed buntings, meadow pipits and a little ringed plover.
Little Ringed Plover
Black-tailed Godwit
Black-tailed Godwits
Bar-tailed Godwits
Red-crested Pochard
Common Terns
Black-headed Gull
Reed Bunting

Some kind of sand-dwelling spider
At the beach, I went for a short walk along the dunes in search for a scarcer cousin to the green tiger beetles that I see at Mousehold Heath. Dune tiger beetles look just similar to a green tiger beetle, but are brown not green and are found only in a few scattered places across the UK with North Norfolk being one of their main hotspots. Unfortunately, despite scanning the dunes in the short time I had, I could not find a single beetle, just lots of dune-loving flies that kept pretending to be one, which fooled me constantly. I also found this spider, which I think is a sand-dwelling species as it never strayed from it's burrow in the sand and there was this small wasp, which I think is a species of spider-hunting wasp. Oh, and not forgetting the wall brown butterfly that I saw, another equally scarce insect these days.
A Spider-hunting Wasp of some kind
Wall Brown
After lunch, I went to the gate at the back of the car park area to look for one of the pair of turtle doves that has been nesting in the surrounding hedgerows. The gate overlooks a small ploughed field which the birds regularly visit to feed from. However, I was unable to find or even hear them today. But I wasn't disappointed as something better turned up, something that very few people, I expect, have seen alive before (me included).
While scanning the field for turtle doves, I heard something rustling under the hedge beside the gate. I was wondering what was making the noise. A bird? A mouse? No. It was a mole! I turned my head in time to see it dash under the gate and plunged under the surface of the soil. I ended up following it as the ground constantly bulged upwards as it moved. It was amazing to watch as it covered about several metres from the gate with ease. The way it moved was as if it was swimming underground. I stopped a few people who came for the doves to see the mole at work. Only one man stayed on to watch it with me as the mole made a U-turn and made it's way back to the gate. It then launched itself out of the soil and dashed with weasel-like speed back under the hedge. I had no idea moles were so fast! I was not prepared for it's quick pace and so I missed out on a photograph. It is something I won't be forgetting in a hurry, that's for sure!