After the cold, grey, seemingly endless winter it is so good to feel the warmth of Spring sunshine on our faces; to see brimstone and peacock butterflies, awakened from hibernation, flitting around the woodland where the dappled light gives new life to plants lain dormant for months; to be able to listen to the uplifting song of newly arrived Blackcaps, the soft twittering of Swallows and the gentle tumbling notes of Willow Warblers, all contrasting wildly with the manic chattering of Sedge Warblers singing from the swaying reeds. Suddenly we feel alive.

Blackcap singing

A walk around the reserve during any Spring day will reveal members of this summer crew, newly arrived and newly invigorated. There are fresh arrivals every day, and sometimes a welcome surprise. This year Garganey have appeared in good numbers, providing close encounters on Accidental Broad and from Tower Hide. A sight gratefully embraced by the regular troop of photographers that help record the wild inhabitants of the reserve. A near adult Little Gull hawked buoyantly around the open water in front of Tower Hide one late March evening, and Bearded Tits have sporadically put on a good show. Soon the bluebells will add a colourful carpet to the far reaches of the wood, whilst Hobbies scythe the skies lasering towards flying insects.


But it’s not just the transient visitors that make Strumpshaw such an interesting and engaging place, quite often it pays to look closely at the more familiar, the bread-and-butter creatures that inhabit the reserve whatever the season. Who amongst us doesn't regard Long-tailed Tits as charming little birds? They would, I imagine, be considered a common enough inhabitant of our woodlands and wayside, but just how numerous they really are was brought home to me on a walk around the woodland in early April. That particular dull day was brightened considerably by watching the nest building antics of several pairs of these perky little birds as they buzzed through the still bare trees looking for lichens and spiders’ webs with which to construct their well-hidden domed nurseries. My first encounter was of one rummaging around in the humus close to the woodland trail. Wondering what this innocent faced mite was doing, I approached closer to discover this bird plucking breast feathers from a dead Woodpigeon. A little gruesome, but it was simply exploiting an easy source of nest liner; this soft down will insulate the structure from the rigours of wind, rain and chill. Further along I encountered a second pair uttering gentle 'tac' notes as they added moss, lichen and a binding of spider web to their nest situated in a low bramble. Bramble is a favoured nest site offering good concealment, dense rainproof cover and a thorny deterrent to would be predators. I watched this pair for 30 minutes as they made regular visits to add to the intricately woven ball. On each occasion the bird would jump into the half-built nest, add their new material, wriggling their tiny bodies to optimise the shape of the cup and then do a bit of gardening around the edge. Both sexes performed in precisely the same manner and clearly had equal shares in the construction process. Totally oblivious to my presence visits were made every 2-3 minutes, a rate that would allow the nest to be fully constructed within a few days. Quite a feat for such tiny sprites and the finished article is a real work of art and design: durable, flexible, warm and extremely well hidden.

Long tailed tit in nest

Fifty metres further along whilst chatting to a friend I met by good fortune, we realised another pair of these endearing creatures were nest building in another bramble bush close by. More buzzing, more 'tacking' and more feathers. As I moved through the wood, I encountered no less than seven pairs of these pink hued residents diligently engaged in nest building, and I only really skimmed the surface as I didn't walk the river path and only saw those directly adjacent to the woodland trails. I was mildly surprised at these numbers, and equally impressed by the synchronous way the species seemed spurred into breeding action.

Long tailed tit adding the finishing touches!

In these days of hectic living and accompanying stress, I find simply standing and staring can provide a wonderful tonic. To watch small birds and other animals go about their everyday business completely unperturbed by the follies of mankind can provide welcome uplift. The peace and quiet of Strumpshaw Fen and its inhabitants are there for anyone to enjoy. Come along and try for yourself, come along and stand and stare, soak up the sights and sounds and feel better.