With the first hints of autumn in the air, it seems like a good time for a summer update, particularly focussing on the breeding wildlife at Strumpshaw Fen and the wet grassland of Buckenham and Cantley Marshes. Below is a sample of species to be found on the reserve in 2019.

 Bittern- Two booming males again this year. We also located two nests on the reserve, both of which was thought to be successful. The females could be seen conducting feeding flights from the Reception Hide and from Tower Hide throughout June and July. These nests were most welcome after a blank year in 2018.

Marsh harrier- 20 nests this year, down from 23 last year. They do appear to be spreading themselves much more widely than Strumpshaw Fen now with just six nests at Strumpshaw Fen this year.

Red kite- After last years successful nesting nearby, 2019 did not see the birds return to the same wood, however their regular appearances throughout the breeding season suggests that they did breed in the not too distant area again this year.

Bearded tit- Just three confirmed nests this year; after a recent high of 48 first brood nests in 2017, the crash in population thanks to the ‘beast from the east’ is still being felt here. A flock of 15-20 birds seen in mid-August gives hope that there is indeed a chance of numbers building for our autumn flocks from Sandy Wall, but it is clear that it will take a little longer to get back to the 2017 figures than first hoped.

Barn owl- Four nests located on the reserve, up from two nests the previous two years, barn owls are very susceptible to poor weather so it is very encouraging to see such an increase in nesting birds this year. A well watched nest from the path fledged at least four juveniles successfully.

Hobby- at least one nest on the reserve this year with regular feeding flights seen across the fen.

Spotted flycatcher- single nest again in the woodland, with a family group seen enjoying the glade containing the den building area.

 Wildfowl pairs fluctuated slightly this year, with some increasing and some decreasing (2018 numbers in brackets).

Great crested grebe 14 (10) ( Mallard 147 (113), shelduck 23 (23), gadwall 61 (44), Garganey 1 (2), shoveler 27 (40), Pochard 10 (13) and tufted duck 9 (12), Canada goose 12 (4) greylag goose 46 (14) Egyptian goose 7 (2).

 The Waders on the wet grassland had a relatively good year compared to 2018, but still a little below the excellent levels set in 2017, when there were 18 drumming snipe, 80 lapwing and 94 redshank.

Oystercatcher 4 pairs (6), lapwing 64 (47), Avocet 15 (15), snipe 8 drummers (9), and redshank 58 (53).

 Our standard survey of passerines that is repeated each year takes place at five locations from Cantley to Strumpshaw (this is snapshot of the reserve numbers and not reserve totals); cuckoo 3 (3), skylark 18 (27), meadow pipit 4 (4) Cetti’s warbler 12 (17), grasshopper warbler 7 (1) Sedge warbler 139 (115), reed warbler 100 (83), willow warbler 32 (37), linnet 7 (5) and reed bunting 64 (75). These figures are still a little lower than our best years, but are generally stable and increasing.

 Lepidoptera- Swallowtails were once again a big attraction in the late spring/early summer period, they performed well with up to five on our nectar garden at times. Our annual swallowtail caterpillar count, conducted at 15 points across the reserve found 271 caterpillars this year, which was a decent increase on the 162 found in 2018. Silver-washed fritillaries, white-letter hairstreaks and white admirals were also showing well throughout the summer, the hairstreaks could be seen laying eggs in the elms, so we should hope for more next year. The painted lady invasion was witnessed at the reserve as it was across the country, it appeared as though on some days every hemp agrimony, buddleia and flowering plant had at least one painted lady on it!

 Swallowtail caterpillar - Elizabeth Dack

In the recent weeks we have seen a large increase in kingfisher sightings, this hopefully indicated the success of one of the kingfisher nests on the reserve. Bitterns have been seen in flight from Tower and Fen Hides. Tower Hide has been cut and the water level dropped which has allowed ducks to loaf on the spit and for waders to start appearing on the broad edges. We have seen a small group of ruff, a greenshank, green sandpiper, water rails already, but once the word gets around we should see an increase in herons, egrets (hopefully great white egrets again) and passage waders should start dropping in. An osprey was seen on Thursday as well as a female/juvenile garganey being present at Tower Hide all week. Many of the marsh harriers have disappeared from the reserve and headed out to the arable fields in search of easy pickings, however there is a small roost each evening, which should increase over the coming months.

Otters have been seen with some regularity, but as always never sticking to a pattern in terms of location or timing, however it is good to see that a mother and two cubs appear to be doing well and growing fast.

The late summer period can often seem quiet as far as birds are concerned, but if you look a bit deeper you soon see a rich variety of shapes and colours across the reserve. Dragonflies are buzzing here there and everywhere, especially the squadrons of migrant hawkers in the clearings and the birds are preparing for autumn migration, feeding up and exploring new areas. The odd second brood swallowtail can be found if you are very lucky, but the second brood has not really materialised this year as far as we can see.

There is an autumnal feel lurking not too far away, there is still plenty of summer left to enjoy our insects, birds and wild walks, it’s a great time of the year to get out and explore, this coming week looks like its going to be warm and sunny so there should be plenty to find at the fen.

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