SWALLOWTAIL SEASON HAS BEGUN! I'm sure many of you will be happy to hear that and have been making your way to Strumpshaw to see these rare and beautiful butterflies.
Swallowtail on yellow flag iris in front of Reception Hide
After a terrible season last year, due to a wintery spring that disrupted their emergence by a couple of weeks, the warm weather back in May meant that the season got off to an early start. The first one in Norfolk was on the wing as early as May 6th! At Strumpshaw, it was a week later with our first being spotted on the 12th. Pick a nice sunny day and you could find one anywhere around the reserve, this week the nectar garden in front of our reception hide has been a particularly good place to see them. The swallowtails really do seem to favour the dames violet that is growing here. Swallowtail season usually tails off by July, so there's still plenty of time to check them out.
In other news, we are very pleased to announce that after over 2 years being closed off to the public due to the Covid-19 restrictions, the Reception Hide has re-opened its doors at long last. With the booth gone, please remember to come inside to pay entry before heading out on our trails. Our meet and greet team are keen to welcome you, to answer questions, to give updates and let you know what is being seen and where. You can also help yourself from our new coffee machine and enjoy the view. Also don't miss the chance to see my newly hung drawing created last year to celebrate 45 years of the reserve which now takes pride of place behind the Reception desk.
Though the wildlife sightings for this month have been dominated by the swallowtails, there have been a lot of other interesting things to discuss.
With most of our migratory birds now arrived by the end of April, including the first garden warbler, which sneaked in just after last month's highlight report was posted! There were just a couple of species that remained.
May 1st was International Dawn Chorus Day and I was up early to enjoy what Strumpshaw had to offer, which was mostly dominated by cuckoos, various warbler species (including many grasshopper warblers), but was sadly lacking of booming bitterns. While walking back from the Tower Hide, at the top of Sandy Wall, I encountered a lesser whitethroat, the last of Strumpshaw's warblers to be recorded. They are possibly the most easily overlooked of all our warblers and if you are very lucky as I was, you may hear its short, quick and simple 'juh-juh-juh-juh-juh-juh-juh' song.
The last of our regular breeding migrants to arrive was the spotted flycatcher. At least two pairs have now shown up since about May 9th. Both are at the far corner of the woods where the bluebells were showing well. Listen out for a squeaky wheelbarrow-like call as they flit from the branches and launching themselves into the air to catch flying insects.
From the last week of April, the Reception had been entertained by a female grey wagtail, which we believed had young nearby as it collected beak-fulls of flies and taking them elsewhere and returning moments later. We now know that this was the case as fledgeling wagtails have been reported.
If you are hoping to find kingfishers, otters or bitterns, I have good news. They have been regularly seen all throughout May from all three hides. There have also been regular sightings of bearded tits and, as of recently, barn owls, too!
Water voles have been a very welcoming surprise this month as many of you have been seeing them in various locations. If you take a seat by one of our ponds or somewhere right next to water for long enough, you might get lucky yourself.
Another welcoming surprise is that the cranes are still a regular sight with about 2 being seen often in front of fen or tower hide, which is always a highlight to anyone's day.
Whilst the swallowtails will more than likely get all of the attention, it is probably worth mentioning that there are other butterflies around to keep an eye out. One of these is the wall brown, which is a charming small orange butterfly that looks similar to a speckled wood. Ironically, they have been seen in small numbers along the Sandy Wall.
Our summer meadow trail is now open for those interested in plants and dragonflies. Though the plants, including orchids, are yet to develop into a fabulous display, the dragonflies are definitely on the wing. The first one, a hairy dragonfly, was reported on the final day of April. Since then, many other species of the odenata family have been recorded. This includes Strumpshaw specialties such as Norfolk hawkers and scarce chasers.
Scarce chaser seen on the Meadow Trail
Meanwhile, at Buckenham and Cantley, there had been a few interesting odds and ends this month. The most unexpected sighting was a spoonbill flying by on May 6th and 8th. A day later, on the 9th, a ring ouzel made a short day trip 100 or so yards back up the road from the Buckenham's car park. A whinchat made a cameo at Cantley on May 4th, while 15 whimbrels were reported a day earlier at Buckenham. There was an unusual sanderling sighting on the 29th and, back at Strumpshaw, a honey buzzard soaring by on the 14th.
Next month, the temperature is likely to soar and the birds begin to simmer down as the breeding season switch from focusing on attracting a mate to attending their fledged chicks needs. June will be more about insects and plants, as swallowtail season continues and the meadow trail should be full of orchids. Who knows, there may even be the odd surprising migrant appear from nowhere if we get lucky.
We have a whole host of activities and events taking place throughout June and July, with guided walks to help you discover Strumpshaw Fen species, photography walks and events for the family to name a few, you can find out more and book a place here https://events.rspb.org.uk/strumpshawfen
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