After a very warm March, it was rather odd to begin this month with snow as a cold snap hit the UK. Thankfully, it wasn't as cold or as long as last year's icy spell which delayed many emerging plants and insects by a couple of weeks. This spring seems to be continuing as normal and even got warmer with very few April showers. April this year has been a very productive month and there's a lot to talk about.
The Easter weekend felt like summer and we were pleased to see so many of you arriving to enjoy our very successful egg trail. Our ponds were very popular once again with so many fascinating pondlife being caught and experienced. Anyone can try pond dipping at Strumpshaw with all the kit you need available to hire, daily from our reception for just £3.
On the wildlife side of things, it has been very interesting indeed. With chiffchaffs, sand martins, garganeys and blackcaps already here before March ended, we wondered what would turn up next. One such highly awaited spring migrant was the swallow. I'm happy to say that it wasn't long until one turned up at last, with the first being seen on day 2 of the month. House martins arrived a couple of weeks later, while the first swift was reported on the final week on April 25th.
Migration season isn't complete without having a warbler fest and there were many arriving from Africa this month to join the chiffchaffs, blackcaps and Cetti's warblers. First up were sedge warblers, which arrived on April 5th and willow warblers appearing five days later.
By Easter, I was able to hear 7 warbler species from outside Reception, which included one of my favourite vocal oddities; the grasshopper warbler. The first one showed up on the 12th and we have since recorded up to 11 of these elusive warblers singing around Strumpshaw reeling like a fishing reel for up to several minutes at a time. One was reeling right next to Fen Hide.
Grasshopper Warbler Credit Sean Locke
The cuckoo has always been one of the heralders of spring and males were being heard calling by Easter Monday with one spending most of that morning seen and heard from Reception.
Though we haven't had any reports of any rarities turning up (yet), there had been a few birds of interest visit Strumpshaw. On April 6th, a ring ouzel was spotted along the Lackford Run and a second showed up very briefly on the 23rd by Fen Hide. Ring ouzels are basically blackbirds with a white patch on the breast and are found in upland places such as mountains. Many pass through Norfolk each spring and this year has been one of the best ring ouzel years in quite some time.
Another unusual sighting was a white-fronted goose that was seen and photographed standing right in front of the Reception Hide on April 2nd. White-fronted geese are normally shy and distant of people, so it was a rare treat to have one so close to the hide for at least for a brief moment.
Here's a few other 'firsts' reported this month: common sandpiper (April 8th), green sandpiper (April 12th), whitethroat (April 13th), reed warbler (April 14th), common tern (April 17th), hobby (April 27th), coot chicks (April 18th), greylag goslings (April 23rd).
Garganeys continued to have one of their best years at Strumpshaw with a maximum of 11 recorded at Tower Hide, though they have also been seen from the Accidental Broad. Meanwhile, fieldfares, redwings and bramblings were gathering in large numbers this month as they prepare to head back north.
Otters and bitterns have been regularly seen throughout the month. Kingfishers are being a bit elusive, but are starting to perch in front of Reception a lot more now.
Bearded tits and marsh harriers are being very visible and vocal at the moment. The harriers in particular have been performing food passes and collecting nesting material. Cranes, meanwhile, have been flying over a lot recently and their bugling calls have been alerting us as they pass by.
If you love insects, our log in the nectar garden has been very busy with the activities of red mason bees checking out the holes to make their nests. New butterfly species are emerging now, such as orange-tips, holy blues, speckled woods and green-veined whites. Large red damselflies are on the wing too since April 16th, the first member of the odenata (dragonfly) family to do so. It won't be long until their bigger cousins dart and chase around our reserves again.
Red mason bee - Credit Sean Locke
For plant lovers, bluebells started to appear by Easter, but the annual display at the far corner of the woodland trail is only just coming to its best. You should be able to enjoy this wonderful, but small carpet of blue for the next couple of weeks of May.
Buckenham and Cantley are getting their share of migrants too. Little ringed plovers, spotted redshanks, greenshanks, bar-tailed godwits, yellow wagtails and a wood sandpiper are some of the highlights joining the nesting waders on the marshes. A white stork was the most surprising cameo of the month with one briefly flying by on April 18th. The two little stints from last month were also still around.
Next month for Strumpshaw should see the last few remaining migrants yet to be recorded arrive, the first dragonflies and orchids to appear as well as the start of the swallowtail season. I'd like to also add that Sunday May 1st will be International Dawn Chorus Day and why not make that an excuse to get up early to experience the sounds of Strumpshaw. I know I will!
If you would like the opportunity to learn more about the habitat, landscape and history of Strumpshaw Fen then why not join one of our Discover Strumpshaw walks. Led by an experienced volunteer team, these events run monthly and offer the chance to explore the reserve with an expert leader. Our next walk is planned for the 21 May,fFind out more and book your space here https://events.rspb.org.uk/events/15085
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