Wednesday, 17 July 2019

July 17th Strumpshaw Fen

Small Red-eyed Damselfly
I'm finally back doing my shift for the first Wednesday in two weeks. And for once, its a nice, sunny morning. A perfect day, as it turns out, for dragonflies. They were everywhere you looked and ranging in a variety of colours, sizes and species. From small red-eyed damselflies to large, vibrant emperor dragonflies. These winged beauties were in great numbers and they didn't go unnoticed by those who fancy them as a snack. At Fen Hide, a hobby sat for ages from a bare tree and, later from Reception Hide, circled around the broad catching and eating these dragonflies on the wing.

It was a good day for butterflies this morning as well. Though the last few swallowtails were still on the wing this week, I had no reports of one being seen today. However, it were white admirals and silver-washed fritillaries that many visitors were after this time and I've had a few reports of them in a few spots across the reserve. I attempted to find them feeding at the buddleia not far from the Reception Hide a few times throughout my shift. I didn't manage to see either today, but during one trip to the buddleia bush, I did have a surprising encounter. There was a sudden rustling sound by my feet in the undergrowth as I walked by. Looking down, I notice a tail of what I assumed was a rat. Following the tail up a really long, slender body towards its fleeing head, I realised that this 'rat' was in fact a grass snake!

Young Great Spotted Woodpecker
Also today from Reception Hide; there was a bittern making a short flight at the far side of the broad, a male marsh harrier made a couple of food passes to his three young fledglings and a kingfisher made several brief visits. And from my early morning walk, I saw a juvenile great spotted woodpecker and from Fen Hide, I heard several bearded tits pinging away somewhere in the reed beds.

Sunday, 14 July 2019

July 14th Holkham Pines

I believe I have finally met my match this week. I have now been to Holkham Pines twice this week looking for my latest orchid target; the creeping ladies-tresses. This is a small orchid with tiny hairy white flowers. The main bulk of their population is in Scotland as well as a few locations in north England. It makes the small population here in Norfolk very unique and mysterious. How did they get there and why are they here? These are questions that are still puzzling naturalists. For me though, the main question is where are they now?

I had been given directions to their whereabouts here at Holkham, however, I still couldn't find them. On my first attempt on Monday, we searched the edge of the pines and a section of moss by the dunes but left without finding anything. Today, I returned with Dad for another try. This time we were more thorough along the entire length of the dunes. Sadly, the result was the same, but we did find plenty of orchids that I missed on my first visit. In a small patch of tall grass, it was packed full of marsh helleborines and southern marsh orchids. Making our way back following the dunes, we found lots of pyramidal orchids. We also came across several toads and the odd dark green fritillary. Some great wildlife, but not what I had came to see.

Where are these creeping ladies-tresses? If anyone knows and wants to join forces to help find them, let me know. For now, I have to call defeat. This is the one that got away.


Tuesday, 9 July 2019

July 9th Strumpshaw Fen

Great White Egret
As I had somewhere else I had to go this Wednesday, I decided to help out at Strumpshaw today instead. It was a dull, overcast day and provided very little on the insect front. The bird front, however, was pretty decent. I ended up visiting Tower Hide during my pre-shift walk today. Here, I joined a few regulars who were watching a great white egret. It was wading through the water searching for its next fishy meal alongside some grey herons. The egret stood out like a sore thumb with its bright white plumage and yellow bill. Also seen from this hide were common terns, shovelers with near fully grown ducklings and I was told that a bittern had shown up before I had arrived. Typical! I also happened to see a barn owl this morning while walking to the reserve.

Kingfishers were extremely active from Reception Hide this morning. Every few minutes or so, one would fly over to perch somewhere around the broad. Sometimes there were two of them showing up at once. They definitely made several visitors happy on a day in which wasn't good for their main reason of coming to the reserve; swallowtails. Other than the kingfishers, I also heard some bearded tits (that happened to fly passed the hide without me noticing) and saw marsh harriers, swallows and house martins, swifts and a cormorant.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

July 6th Cley

Mum was itching to go out bird watching with me. As her job is taking a lot of her time, we haven't gone out much together like we used to. Today, we finally had that chance. It appeared to be a nice sunny day for a trip out to Cley. However, as soon as we started the ride over there, the rain clouds suddenly rolled in and it rained for most of our visit. Where did that come from?

 There has been a couple of interesting birds at Cley in this last week. A squacco heron made a brief visit earlier in the week, but it has now long disappeared. There has also been a green-winged teal hanging around and it was possible that it was here today. The catch, though, is that this American version of our European teal is currently moulting. As it is now in its eclipse phase plumage, the distinctive white stripe that goes vertically down its body instead of being horizontally across the back like the more your usual, everyday, British teal has, that stripe is no more than a white spot or smudge right now. That meant that it was near impossible to identify it positively All the teal looked all the same at this moment in time. I left it to the professionals to find, who were also struggling in doing so and never found it while I was there.

So it was raining and I failed to locate the rare bird I was looking for. Was this visit just a pointless waste of time? No. There were still plenty of things to see. It was actually one of the best visits to Cley in quite some time. The stars of the show were the spoonbills. There were five of them, two of which were youngsters with smaller bills and were constantly pestering the adults for food or attention. A couple of them were much closer to the hides than they have been in a while, providing amazing views as it continued to sieve through the water with its sensitive spoon-shaped bill for its next meal. I also saw a sandwich tern, a little gull, a few male ruff in summer plumage adorned with their varied coloured ruffs, plenty of avocets with a few chicks wandering around, godwits, dunlin, mallard and shelduck ducklings, lapwing, oystercatchers, greylags and lots of sand and house martins.
Young Spoonbill pestering an adult

Friday, 5 July 2019

July 4th Fragrant Orchids & Mousehold Heath

Ever since I found that lesser butterfly orchid two weeks ago, I have been more accustomed to the site where it is at. And though I have moved on from the lesser butterfly, this site in North Norfolk has been drawing me back. There was another orchid here that I've been waiting eagerly to see. Marsh fragrant orchids. Last week, I made my second visit to the boggy section of the site and found nothing other than a few marsh helleborines and hundreds of common spotted orchids. I left disappointed. Today, I have returned for my third visit in three weeks. This time, it was third time lucky.

Marsh Fragrant Orchid
I still can't really reveal the site's name as a precaution in order to protect the lone lesser butterfly orchid, but I can tell you that the fragrant orchids were now beginning to show themselves. The common spotted orchids were still dominating and the marsh helleborines have now doubled in their numbers since last week, but some of these fragrant orchids were towering above them all. There are three subspecies of fragrant orchid in the UK and the marsh fragrant is the tallest, growing up to 30-60cm. At the top of the tower of stem and leaves is a delicate looking spike full of tiny purple flowers that are slightly spaced apart from one another. As the plant's name suggest, the flowers have a strong, sweet aroma to them. I had a sniff and I have to say that it was a rather pleasant smell, like a sweet smelling perfume. It is up there as one of the nicest orchids I've ticked off so far. Only 6 more to find now! (I got it wrong in the video, sorry about that!)

Scarce Silverlines
Hours after seeing the fragrant orchids, I was out again. It was moth night at Mousehold Heath. And what a night for it! Conditions were perfect and the moths were out in force. We didn't call it a night until 1am! It was just hard to tear ourselves away. There were so many moths that they were becoming a nuisance as they kept bombarding us and even found themselves crawling under my clothes! Some of the highlights include; swallow-tailed moth, buff arches, green silverlines, scarce silverlines, large yellow underwings, spectacled moth, buff ermine, mottled beauties, heart and clubs, beautiful hook-tip, yellow oak button and many, many micro moths to name!

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

July 3rd Strumpshaw Fen and Secret Locations

Marsh Helleborine
I arrived at Strumpshaw like clockwork, but I wasn't there for long. This morning, I was invited to help out with a fen orchid survey out somewhere in Norfolk. But before that, I had just enough time to check on the marsh helleborines that I saw last week in the meadows. This time, they were in full bloom.

Satisfied with the helleborines, I went back to the office and waited for Strumpshaw's site manager, Tim Strudwick and two other volunteers to take me out to the special site to where we were going to do our survey. My reason in joining this survey was to redo my little amateur video that I did the other week as the camera did not focus on the orchid. Fen orchids are not exactly the best subjects for my camera it seems. The fact that they are small, green and blends in with the rest of the vegetation, I should have known that my camera would play up because of them. So I was glad to get this second opportunity to go and film them. However, it did involve walking through a bog to find them and that created some comedy on my behalf.

Even though I had brought my wellies, I still managed to get a wet foot. This was because the mud managed to suck my left welly from my foot and I nearly fell over, getting a soggy sock in the process. Thankfully, we did eventually find about 20 fen orchids and I did eventually get to film one, though it did take a bit of trial and error for the camera to behave itself, which involved getting myself wet by kneeling in the bog in order to steady myself. Walking back out of the bog, the mud almost got me again, this time on my right foot. Luckily, I somehow managed to keep it from coming off completely and my right foot was spared a soaking.

Fen Mason Wasp
It wasn't just orchids today. Tim, being a wasp and bee enthusiast, was continuously stopping the group every time he saw a bee or wasp that caught his interest. He took us to some sandy dirt mounds were a colony of social wasps and bees, plus their parasitic counterparts. These mounds were buzzing with activity and swarming with these insects. There was one species that Tim wanted to show us more than any other. Fen mason wasps are one of the rarest species of wasp, not just in the UK, but also in Europe. Tim showed us the small chimneys that the wasp construct around its nest hole. After a short wait, he managed to catch one to show us. It was black with distinctive white stripes. A wonderful looking creature and one that very few people have probably ever seen, let alone heard of.

After completing the survey, we went to another site, but we didn't really find anything other than a few swallowtail butterflies flying over our heads and hearing a grasshopper warbler. And with that, my day walking through boggy terrain looking for orchids was complete. That is until the next orchid that I have to search for in another bog. I can't wait!

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

June 26th Strumpshaw Fen

Southern Marsh Orchid and Hoverfly 
With the last two day being relatively hot (minus the torrential shower yesterday morning), you'd expect today being nice as well? Nope! It has been grey, cold and overcast all day. Thankfully, it didn't rain, but it was still a day to forget for those seeking for swallowtails. There was a chance that it was going to brighten up and the hope that one could show up, but it was not to be (at least during my watch that is). For me though, I was more interested in finding orchids and dull weather conditions wasn't going to stop me finding them.

The orchid count has more than doubled at Strumpshaw in the last couple of weeks and the meadow trail was more passable than the last time I trudged through it. It was still boggy in places, but no where near as bad as it was before. And now, the meadow trail is an orchid paradise, even if it has been a few weeks late compared to elsewhere in Norfolk. The majority were marsh and spotted orchids of one form or another. It was quite a brilliant display. However, I've long since passed the stage of figuring out which was which for the sake of ticking this confusing group of orchids from my list. Instead, my eyes were scanning the grass for something else entirely.

Marsh Helleborine
Marsh helleborines were now starting to flower and I know that they have been seen in this meadow before. Surprisingly though, I had never seen one at Strumpshaw before. It was time to fix that. After 8 years volunteering here, I was determined to seek out my first ever Strumpshaw marsh helleborine. Since failing to find one during my morning walk, I tried again after lunch. This time I succeeded. It was not in full flower yet with just one floweret showing, but who cares! I've finally found one at this reserve at long last!

You can usually tell that the orchid season is nearing its end of its peak season whenever you encounter your first Epipactis helleborine of the year. This family of orchids more than often emerges from July onwards and have a very similar flower structure that is unlike any of the other orchid species that I've seen so far. The flowers are basically little 'buckets' with five petals/sepals surrounding them and are designed so that the pollinator crawls into these buckets with their weight forcing the bucket to shift so that when the pollinator crawls out it is forced to manoeuvre directly into the pollinia. Out of all these Epipactis helleborines, the marsh helleborine is one of the more colourful members and is rather beautiful with its soft pallets of pinks and whites.

It wasn't all orchids today, there were also otters. During my shift at Reception Hide, a mother otter and her two cubs surprised us all when they appeared from nowhere not far out between the hide and the reedy islands. Though the wildfowl being on high alert was a big clue. Also today, there was another quick kingfisher appearance flying around the broad, a common tern and marsh harriers.