Everyone has their own favourite milestone that marks the arrival of spring, and for me it’s the arrival of willow warblers from their African winter quarters. And here they are - in the last week, the soft lilting warble of the first few willow warblers has joined the chorus of blackcaps, chiffchaffs and resident Cetti’s warblers around the fen trail at Strumpshaw Fen.
With mostly dry and often sunny weather, there has been a very strong spring flavour to the wildlife seen around Strumpshaw Fen in the past week. The first swallow and sand martins have been spotted. The fine weather has triggered a surge of activity from marsh harriers, with spectacular sky-dancing courtship displays and plenty of nest building activity involving at least a dozen birds. After last December’s surge tide inundated the fen with saltwater we had feared for the impact on our breeding bitterns, but we have been reassured to hear the booming “song” of 2 male bitterns in the last week and one has shown itself in front of the fen hide on most days. A frustratingly elusive great white egret has been reported again briefly. One of our most conspicuous and popular birds at Strumpshaw Fen are the noisy pair of nuthatches that often greet visitors at the entrance gate. These charismatic birds mysteriously disappeared from the reserve about 25 years ago before unexpectedly returning in 2012, and we currently have two pairs holding territory.
Grass snakes and common lizards have been sunning themselves along the paths, and Strumpshaw Fen has been literally buzzing with insects in the sunshine, with more than 20 kinds of bee recorded. Colin, one of our butterfly monitoring volunteers, managed to record 68 butterflies on his first transect of the year, mostly peacocks and small tortoiseshells, but brimstones have also been seen in good numbers and the first orange tip appeared on Tuesday. Cherry plum, blackthorn and sallow blossom are providing an abundant nectar source to keep these early butterflies and bees going.
Next door at Buckenham Marshes, the change of season is very much evident with only a few dozen wigeon hanging on from the huge winter flocks, the first avocets back on the pools and a few lapwings are already sitting on eggs.
Like the weather, nature changes quickly at this time of year so grab the opportunity to get your friends and family outdoors and enjoy the great British countryside in spring.