2021 review

Can you believe its time for another review of the year! This year has been slightly more normal than last, the reserve has remained open throughout the year, the hides reopened and we have had a full team of staff on or involved with the reserve as usual. We also were able to carry out our biological surveys and habitat management to ensure the reserve is being monitored and managed in the best way possible. The following is a brief species review of the year.

 Winter- part 1,

Six taiga bean geese were present on the marshes until departing on 18th January

68 white fronted geese were seen on 3rd January

1400 pink footed geese were seen on 17th January

Five water pipits were seen together on 28th January

Four great-white egrets were seen at Buckenham on 15th February, this is a peak count for the reserve and possibly a sign of things to come in the future.

 Great white egret: Elizabeth Dack


The first of the spring migrants arrived on 23rd March with 12 sand martins coming to roost at the fen for the night. 30th March saw some great migration conditions and we saw the first wave of swallows, blackcaps and chiffchaffs arrive on the reserve followed a day later by our first few singing sedge warblers and a willow warbler. April started with 11 garganey on the 2nd and the first few reed warblers and whitethroats on 13th. A grey phalarope was seen at Rockland on 7th and then possibly the same individual was found at Cantley on 21st April. Our first osprey of the year was seen on 20th April with sporadic sightings of singles throughout May.  With the arrival of our first swifts on 26th April we knew that the migration tap was fully turned on and the breeding season was in full flow.

 Breeding birds

The sample territory mapping surveys are conducted at Cantley riverbank, Buckenham Marshes, Strumpshaw Fen and Surlingham Marshes, these follow the same route each year and are not ‘total’ counts for each location but are comparable surveys used to show trends. The number in brackets are the figures from the last full survey (2019).

Cuckoo-                                3 singing males (3)

Grasshopper warbler-    11 singing males (7)

Reed bunting-                   89 territories (64)

Reed warbler-                   137 territories (100)

Sedge Warbler-                166 territories (139)

Skylark-                                22 territories (18)

Willow warbler-               26 territories (32)

Marsh tit-                            7 territories (2)

Cetti’s warbler-                 28 territories (18)


Marsh harrier- 18 nests throughout the whole reserve (20), interestingly just 5 nests were located at Strumpshaw Fen this year.

Bearded tit- 26 first brood nests throughout the whole reserve (3), we are still recovering from the ‘beast from the east’ (February 2018) but the increase this year has given us encouragement that we should soon  be back to 2017 levels, which were closer to 50 first brood nests.

Bittern- 3 (2) boomers and a single nest this year (3), we hope that breeding bittern numbers will pick up again in 2022.

 Bearded tit: Elizabeth Dack



Redshank- 49 nests (58)

Lapwing- 63 nests (62)

Snipe- 6 drumming males (8)

Avocet 13 pairs (15)

Other birds of interest included at least two but possibly three different singing Savi’s Warblers, these are a larger European counterpart to the grasshopper warbler. A male white-spotted bluethroat was heard singing and subsequently seen well for a short time in spring, like the Savi’s warblers, we can hope that this species will continue to spread into our reedbeds and brighten them up in the future! A more expected but still noteworthy breeding species is the garganey. This attractive migrant duck species found the fen and wet grassland to its liking this year and many visitors were able to enjoy the males displaying to the females with their rattling call in front of Tower Hide in the spring, many people now understand why its alternative name is the ‘cricket teal’.


Garganey: Ben Lewis, Bluethroat: Ron McIntyre, Savi's warbler: David Ratclife

Late summer and autumn,

We had a relatively small passage of ospreys this year with just three or four seen from June to September, hopefully this does not mean that they had a poor breeding season further north?

A honey buzzard was seen displaying over the fen on 5th July, this bird was tracked through Norwich so was clearly just moving through, but a delight to see for the few who were in the right place at the right time.

A dedicated local visible migration watcher had a very good morning standing on Strumpshaw Fen riverbank on 13th October, he managed to count the following migrating overhead: 7250 redwing, 2 ring ouzel, 48 blackbird, 124 song thrush, 72 skylark, 49 brambling, 47 siskin, 31 redpoll, and 2 great-white egrets… isn’t migration amazing! 


Winter part 2,

We have not yet hit the peaks for many of the geese and wigeon, however it was very pleasing to hear that at least five taiga bean geese have returned to the grassland to spend the winter with us. This species has declined massively due to ‘short stopping’, they no longer need to head so far south as the winters in Scandinavia and the near continent are warming up. We still have the only taiga bean goose ‘flock’ in England but I recommend trying to see them soon as they will be off to Scandinavia again very soon.

The marsh harrier roost has reached figures in the mid 30’s so far this winter, which is far from our previous best but still shows that the fen is an important location for this important local species.


Unfortunately we did not have a particularly good year for swallowtail butterflies in 2021. The majority of visitors who came at the right time of the year in good condition managed to connect with this star species, however the cold spring appears to have had a knock-on effect. We counted 108 larvae in our standard survey, down from 228 in 2020, so we are crossing everything in hope of a bumper year in 2022 to keep the local population healthy.

Swallowtail caterpillar: Ben Lewis

On a more promising note, the silver washed fritillary population appears to be well and truly here as a breeding species throughout the woodland. We did not receive many other notable butterfly species this year, but there were occasional sightings of purple hairstreak at the top of the oaks as well as regular wall browns near the pumphouse and along the Buckenham and Cantley riverbanks.

A very good selection of moths were recorded from a reduced trapping season this year including several additions to the reserve list, most notable was the reserves first ever dotted footman, a species I have been searching for on the reserve for at least a decade! Was it a migrant or are they lurking in the fen...time will tell!

Dotted footman: Ben Lewis


Although there were no particularly odd or unusual species seen this year, we had a full suite of Broads specialities with Norfolk hawkers having a reasonable year (when the weather was suitable) and willow emeralds continuing their takeover. I had a particularly late overmature male willow emerald showing interesting markings (see photo) on 1st November, which is particularly late for this species.

Willow emerald: Ben Lewis

Fen raft spiders

Many of you will have been keeping tabs on our fen raft spider reintroduction to the area. I am pleased to say that we have had a lot of success with this species, it is not only thriving but is also quickly spreading into areas that may be visible from our footpaths. I am really hoping that we will be able to share this amazing species with visitors in the coming years…watch this space. Another fantastic looking spider species is also finding its feet (all eight of them) in the wet grassland is the stunning wasp spider, the sort of spider even an arachnophobe could possibly learn to appreciate.


 Fen raft spider-male and female & Wasp spider: Ben Lewis

This is my final update for you all. After 11 years as a warden for Strumpshaw Fen it is with a heavy heart I am having to move to another position with the rspb on another reserve. I will still be in the Broads area and still be seen around the reserve on occasion but I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all visitors, volunteers and colleagues who have made this position such a joy for the past decade, I will really miss it all!


The team at Strumpshaw Fen and the wider Broads area reserves wish you all a happy, healthy Christmas and a wildlife filled new year!