Saturday, 1 July 2017

July 1st Strumpshaw Fen

I have returned to Strumpshaw, but this time as a visitor. It is a lovely sunny day and as it was a wet and gloomy on Wednesday, I decided to make a visit to add some more invertebrates to my list. There were a couple of things I wanted to see and photograph today and one of them is a recently new species to the reserve. Silver-washed fritillaries are big orange butterflies and this week, a few have been seen on the bramble patches along the woodland trail. It is suspicious to where they came from, but it seems they are a welcome addition to the site. I waited with a few butterfly enthusiasts by a large patch of brambles for one to appear. Sadly, though they had been seen today and despite several attempts throughout the time I was here, I was unable to see one.

White Admiral
Instead of silver-washed fritillaries, I was, however, much luckier in seeing several white admirals. These black and white butterflies are very similar in behaviour to the fritillaries. Both spend most of their time up in the canopies, often lured down to feast on the irresistible nectar-rich flowers of the brambles. When they do come down, they can be very photogenic. The monochrome upper wings are bold and striking enough, but their underwings are equally beautiful to look at, perhaps even more so. It was also great to see that the brown hawkers, southern hawkers and emerald damselflies are now on the wing.

Southern Hawker
Emerald Damselfly
Norfolk Hawker
Common Darter
Song Thrush

Grass Snake
In between my fritillary searches, I had my lunch on one of the benches on the platforms of the new pond-dipping pond. However, my lunch was constantly interrupted as I was distracted by wildlife that kept turning up to surprise me. This included a swallowtail butterfly that swooped past me and fed on a bindweed flower nearby, but was gone by the time I swapped my sandwich for my camera. But I didn't have long to wait after the swallowtail vanished to use the camera, as I noticed something in the pond wiggling. It was a grass snake! Like some kind of Loch Ness monster, only it's head was poking above the surface, while the rest of it's long propelled it through the water towards a set of large green reeds. I was quick enough this time to get one shot of it before it slithered out of sight.

Norfolk Hawker
As well as spending time in the woods, I did also venture into the orchid-covered meadow trail. The ditches were still whirring with dragonfly life, though not as intense as the previous time I walked alongside them. The Norfolk hawkers were the most numerous here today and were busy battling each other in aerial dog fights. Swallowtail fever was still in the air and I met a couple from Dorset who were out searching for one. They were soon pleased when one was flying over the meadow and I was there to help point it out to the wife, who was struggling to spot it.

Scarce Chaser
Walking along the river, I was pleased to finally see and photograph my other target for today; a male scarce chaser. These dragonflies are another big attraction at Strumpshaw amongst dragonfly enthusiasts as this is one of the few hotspots across the UK. I have to admit, though I have seen many immature and female individuals, I don't remember ever seeing a male in all it's splendour before. The main reason is probably because I may have mixed them up with male black-tailed skimmers. This is because they can look very similar, but that black band across the middle of the abdomen and the blue eyes of the male scarce chaser really helps to distinguish the two. But to why I have never photographed one before is beyond me.

Bank Vole
Making my way down Sandy Wall, I was being accompanied by a family with two little girls who were also completing the loop from the meadow trail. I was showing them a few odds and ends, when I then noticed something rustling in the long grass by my feet at the edge of the path. We watched as the movement came closer and closer towards us, until a pair of small beady eyes and a short, rounded snout peered out from the grass at us. It is a bit tricky to be completely sure, but I believe what we were looking at was a water vole! But before I could even reach for my camera, it turned back into the dense grass and was gone! Also today, I saw two more swallowtails, a kingfisher, a little egret, marsh harriers, a whitethroat, sparrowhawks and this bank vole.

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