I have to admit, when I was preparing for yesterday's mini-beast safari, I did not expect to see that much. Earlier on in the day, it had rained heavily and it wasn't very warm. However, by the time 2pm came around, it was not raining. I was joined by seven children, associated adults and a photographerfrom the Bury Free press. After a brief introduction and a look at my mealworm farm, we headed out into Brandon Fen for some bug hunting.
We began by heading up onto the mound, where we found plenty of crickets, grasshoppers and ladybirds. On the ragwort, there were still a few cinnabar moth caterpillars. These are yellow with black stripes, and back at the beginning of July, there were hundreds of them clambering over the ragwort. We got a chance to see some at close quarters before leaving them alone.
When we got to the reptile tin in Brandon Fen, things started getting really interesting. This particular tin had been very reliable so far this year. Luckily, yesterday was no exception. Once I had assembled all of the children around them and quitened them down, I lifted it up. First, a common lizard shot off into the undergrowth closely follwed by a grass snake, which seemed to appear from out of no where. We were so luck to see not one but two species of reptile, but that was not the end of our good luck.......
As we got round to the far end of Brandon Fen, I suddenly noticed a sandy brown shape at the edge of the path. This shaped amazingly turned out to be a young weasal!. As we looked closer, it turned out that there were three of them! They were obviously calling to their mother who would have been nearby. We had fantastic views of them, we were so close that we could have touched them.
We left them to it and headed back towards the visitor centre. On the way back, we had a look at the cows, which were hiding away amongst the tall vegetation. We had a look at a few plants, and the children got very excited when I told them that we would see an elephant shortly. Unfortunately, this was only a picture of a very colourful elephant hawkmoth. However, I think this was a great end to what was a very productive walk!
Where does the year go?! It doesn't seem like yesterday that the country was gripped under the "big freeze", and half of the country was bathed in a cold white glow. Its suddenly August, and things are on the move. You may have noticed that most of the swifts that you may have seen over your local village or town have now gone. It seems as if one day they are here and the next day they have gone!
It seems that the same can now be said about our golden orioles. It is usually at this time of year that they leave the poplar woods on the reserve and embark on their migration marathon to West Africa. Golden orioles are loop migrants. This means that they migrate from Africa to Europe one way and return via a different route. This ties in with the availability of food in those areas at those particular times. Studies show that "our"golden orioles winter in countries such as Cameroon, Kenya and Zimbabwe. They migrate North across the Sahara Desert and return South via the Nile valley.
In other news, there has been several reports of a harris hawk hunting over the reserve along with the presumably baffled local marsh harriers. These birds are usually found in America but they are only found in Britain to be kept for falconry. Therefore, this individual is more or less certainly an escapee from a collection that has taken to roaming the British countryside! It is about the same size as a buzzard and is reddy brown in colour. It has a distinctive white rump so it could be mistaken for a "ringtail" harrier. However, it is bulkier than a harrier and has an almost eagle like beak.
Last but not least, some lucky visitors on Friday 6th August were treated to the truly bizzare sight of a young cuckoo being fed by a wren. This is a very unusual host species, its amazing that the young cuckoo hasn't broken the nest! This is another bird that will soon be leaving us for Africa. Lets hope that they survive migration and the winter so they can return to us again next year!
As I look out of the window and watch the rain fall, it means the summer holidays must be well under way! Here at Lakenheath Fen, we have lots of things for children to do during the remaining five or so weeks. Unfortunately, we have not been able to run our summer-holiday pond dipping sessions so far this year though.
This is ironically due to the fact that as we haven't had much rainfall on the reserve recently, the water levels on the reserve are too low for pond-dipping. We would like to apologise prefusely for this, and we are doing all we can to find a place on the reserve where we can do the activity safely. Therefore, if you are interested in coming along to any of our remaining sessions, we would very grateful if you could give us a ring or e-mail us beforehand just to check that the sessions are taking place.
We have a wide range of other activities taking place in and around the visitor centre. We have several trails and activities that either lead around the Brandon Fen family trail or even in the visitor centre if it is raining. We also have an I spy quiz that you can take out on the reserve to see what wildlife you can find. If you manage to get more than a certain amount of points, you may even get a prize!
I am very excited about our latest addition to the visitor centre, that is well worth coming to see. One of my volunteers recently donated us a mealworm farm. You may be familiar with mealworms as those worms that you can buy dead or alive to feed the birds in your garden. Robins are particularly partial to them. When I took delivery of our farm, I never thought it would be so interesting!
Our farm is simply a plastic container with a sprinkling of oats and weetabix and some fruit and vegetables. It turns out that mealworms aren't actually worms. Instead, they are the larval stage of the darkling beetle. They have short legs, and shed their skins frequently. They eventually harden and turn into pupa. At this stage, they are known as "aliens" due to their likeness to those extra-terrestrial creatures that feature in a certain Ridley Scot film.
They eventually emerge into white beetles that soon turn brown and then black. We are very lucky to have seen some the grown beetles emerging in front of our very eyes and the farm has already been a hit with visitors. If you would like to come and see our mealoworm farm, pop into the visitor centre and a member of staff or volunteer will be more than happy to show it to you. We hope to see you soon.