Spring was fairly warm for the most part this year and with summer now here, it has only gotten hotter and hotter. The birds had been fairly busy feeding their young and we've been overjoyed with species such as our marsh harriers which have had a great breeding season. However, June is the time when the birds take a bit of a backseat and the insects take the spotlight, so there's no surprise that we've had more insect highlights than bird ones this month.
We begin with our swallowtails, which had five minutes of fame as a BBC film crew arrived at Strumpshaw to film them for Spring Watch. It has been a decent year for Strumpshaw's most sort after species as they've been seen throughout June except for a few rare wet days. They've certainly been showing well around the reception area. They will be reaching the end of their season early July, but there's always a chance of a second wave in August, so keep an eye out.
Magnificent swallowtail hanging around the nectar garden
As swallowtail season comes to a close, the equally impressive silver-washed fritillary takes over. These bright orange beauties emerged in the middle of June (around the 3rd weekend) and tend to glide down from the canopy to drink the nectar of bramble flowers. When the longer-winged male encounters a female, keep an eye out for his courtship display as he flies around her like a spinning washing machine. The brambles also attract white admirals and other butterflies such as ringlets, large skippers and meadow browns that have also emerged this month.
Silver washed fritillary enjoying the bramble alongside the woodland trail
If dragonflies take your fancy, then a visit to Strumpshaw will definitely make your day. There are many species to look for, so here's a quick rundown on a few highlights seen throughout June and where to find them...
Norfolk hawkers are large, brown and with green eyes and have been busy patrolling the ditches of the meadow trail. The platform on the pumphouse side of the reserve is another good place to see them and be almost at eye level. They will be very busy chasing off rivals and other species such as four-spot chasers, so called because of the black markings on their wings.
The edges of the Sandy Wall are another good place for various species including black-tailed skimmers. The females are brown, while the males are blue with a black tip and can be confused with male scarce chasers, which start off orange with a black line down the middle but then become blue with a black mark in the centre of their abdomens. Male scarce chasers tend to have blue eyes and prefer to perch on vegetation rather than on the ground.
The brambles around the reserve are not just great places for butterflies, but also one of the most colourful damselfly species, the banded demoiselle. Males are blue with black wing markings and females are green, but both are stunning like little winged jewels. However, a real favourite of mine is to be found on lily pads on the river. These are red-eyed damselflies, a small blue damsel with dazzling bright red eyes.
The log in the nectar garden has been a lot of fun lately as I've been watching the insect activity there very closely. Now that the red mason bees have all but finished their nest building in the holes, the parasitic wasps and bees are moving in. This included the colourful ruby-tailed wasp (another jewel of an insect) and the ichneumon wasp Ephialtes manifestator which un-sheaves its very long ovipositor (egg-laying tube) to poke into the holes to lay their eggs. The wasp young will then eat the bee young and take over the nest.
Since its re-opening last month, the meadow trail had been slowly blooming into life. Among the ragged robin and cotton grass, the southern marsh orchids have emerged a little later than expected. Usually, the meadow is full of them by the start of June, but this year, they were a little late. On June 13th, I noticed only a small number of them. Now, though, there are plenty dotted all over the place.
Southern marsh orchid
On the other hand, common twayblades have failed me this year. Normally, these not so easy to spot green-flowered orchids would be in flower by now at the start of the woodland trail. Though despite finding several sprouting leaves, not a single one developed any further. Hopefully we'll get them next year.
At least our otters, kingfishers and bitterns have been reliable with many sightings most days. Cranes have continued being a regular sight travelling over the reserve and the barn owls have been attracting some attention as they've been reported daily flying back and forth near the pumphouse in broad daylight to feed their hungry chicks. There have been a few stoat and weasel sightings, too, recently, including a weasel with kits!
Otter playfully swimming across reception broad
Spotted flycatchers can be found in the far end of the woodland trail and great white egrets (with black bills at this time of year) have been showing themselves across the all three of our reserves. Grasshopper warblers and cuckoos continued to make some noise, but are now becoming a lot quieter as June comes to a close.
Despite being one of the quieter months for birds, we did get a couple of highlights. On June 9th, a honey buzzard made a very brief fly over, reportedly flying south that afternoon and on Sunday 12th, a turtle dove was apparently heard purring somewhere on the reserve.
Buckenham and Cantley continued being productive breeding sites for waders as we've been monitoring the avocets, snipe, black-tailed godwits and a few greenshanks to mention just a few and there was even a surprise visit of a spoonbill on June 26th.
July is going to be similar to June. I'm expecting it to be another hot month, very quiet for birds yet very lively for insects. The swallowtails season is drawing to an end and the ducks are already moulting into their eclipse phase plumages, looking not their best, but hopefully we shall have a few interesting sightings here and there. I also expect the horseflies to be in full force, so prepare yourself!
We have lots of events coming up in July including a guided photography walk on Saturday 9 July https://events.rspb.org.uk/browse?filter[schedule]=969 and a discover Strumpshaw walk on Sunday 17 July https://events.rspb.org.uk/browse?filter[schedule]=1243 Both of these events are a great way to get up closer to the wonderful wildlife that calls Strumpshaw Fen home. Click on the links to find out more or to book a ticket.
All photos in this blog captured by Sean Locke
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