The Meadow Trail at RSPB Strumpshaw Fen is always full of interest. It is a real delight to wander along the mown paths surrounded by a colourful community of wetland plants such as ragged robin, meadow buttercup, delicate, pale lilac cuckooflower, southern marsh and common spotted orchids that carpet the area.
Southern marsh orchid Common spotted orchid
A major attraction of course are the dragonflies that hawk the crystal-clear drainage ditches. An hour or so slowly strolling along the edges of the dykes during June and early July, is likely to produce reward in the form of Norfolk hawkers patrolling their territory. These feisty insects zip up and down their chosen patch looking for a mate with which to secure the next generation. If you avoid too much sudden movement, they will, as like as not, come close, hovering over a favoured spot waiting for a flying insect of any description to cross their path. This behaviour affords wonderful views of their prominent green eyes and yellow triangular mark on the upper abdomen – diagnostic identification points. Males will regularly perch on an exposed reed, when their pinched ‘waist’ can be observed. Stealthier, are the wider bodied mated females, surreptitiously depositing their eggs in emergent vegetation along the edge of the ditches, including water soldier, an important requirement for development of the larva. Sometimes the insects will almost submerge themselves as they secure the embryonic next generation to a suitable plant.
I visited in early June when a male Norfolk hawker was present every few yards. Sometimes two would meet and engage in a frantic chase through the lush vegetation of the wet meadow; so fast as to make tracking them nigh on impossible. Other dragonflies such as broad-bodied chasers, four-spotted chasers and emperors were also present, as were various dainty damselflies. Fortunate visitors will be thrilled to encounter a swallowtail butterfly in this area, nectaring on flowering fenland plants and a little later in the summer, fluffy heads of cotton grass provided an enchanting sight as the lowering sun highlights detail of each seed ball and thread of gossamer.
On the occasion of my evening sojourn, a Hobby stooped towards the bounty, only seeing me at the last second before with a flick of its wings it jinked skywards and returned to patrol the woodland canopy. A Chinese water deer browsing on the sedges failed to smell or see me until I was almost astride. It blithely munched on the plants until I made a soft clicking noise, whereupon it looked round sharply and rapidly bounded away to safer ground. A Cuckoo called its way through the riverside willows while a male Reed Bunting flushed from a patch of sedge, perching close by on a gatepost to eye me warily. A finely marked female Marsh harrier hunted low, swooping over a Barn Owl that was hunting the far meadow. The latter bird took a breather on a convenient fencepost, where from a distance I could see it adopt a strange wing-drooping posture which I took to be a method of drying its wings (there had been a shower earlier). Only later when looking at a couple of record shots could I see a Buzzard perched on the neighbouring post. The posture of the owl was one of threat display after all. To cap it all there was a beautiful, golden sunset, reflected perfectly from the River Yare.
Chinese water deer
Birds, mammals, plants, insects, spiders and all manner of other invertebrates call the Strumpshaw meadows home. Whether your discipline is for any of these animal groups, or whether you simply come to experience the peace and tranquillity offered by this magical place you will not leave disappointed. Come and pay us a visit, take a few photographs, listen, look and enjoy.
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