Do you know your dragonfly nymphs from your great diving beetles? Can you tell the difference between a caddis fly larvae and a water stick insect?
If not, you are missing out on the weird and wonderful world of underwater beasties. They are some of the most amazing creatures to be found at Strumpshaw Fen, but very few visitors actually get to see them (how many people do you know who've seen a water scorpion?).
Pond-dipping is one of the most fun and fascinating activities you can do - and it's not just for the wee ones. If you'd like to give it a go with some expert advice, why not book a place on our pondlife workshop (for adults) on 7 August. If you're bringing children along, you can book on our children's bug hunt on 31 July or pop along to our pond-dipping day on 21 August. If you can't make any of those dates, then hire some pond-dipping equipment from reception on any day of the week.
One day last week it seemed that every bush and post in the fen had a young marsh harrier on top. Once the young birds are on the wing, family boundaries break down quickly, and I counted 8 juveniles from 2 or 3 broods scrambling to take food (part of a rabbit I think) from one beleagured male harrier. Its easy to forget that marsh harriers are still rarer than golden eagles in the UK!
With around 25 young harriers flying from 10 nests, it's really been a bumper year for marsh harriers at Strumpshaw and Surlingham. Across the river from Strumpshaw, next to our reserve at Surlingham, lies the the Ted Ellis Trust reserve at Wheatfen, where warden David Nobbs was lucky enough to stumble across a young harrier along a quiet fen path. Luckier still, he had his camera in hand and took the lovely photo below.
Every once in a while an opportunity comes along that you’d be a fool to refuse, which also peps you up and puts a smile on your face.
I’ve just returned from 2 weeks on Diego Garcia – an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean helping with conservation work and starting the process of writing a management plan.
Diego Garcia or DG is a British Territory leased to the US who has a military base there.
My reason for being there was to use my chainsaw skills to help clear coconut trees. The coconut plantations (planted to harvest the nuts to make copra oil) are no longer used and the coconuts are invading and taking over the native vegetation, which provides nest sites for breeding species, such as the red-footed booby.
The other critical aspect about DG is that it sits in the centre of the world’s largest Marine Protection Area (MPA), which prohibits many activities, the most important being commercial fishing.
It was great to look out to sea and watch thousands of red-footed boobies, hundreds of brown and lesser noddies, bridled tern, white tern all feeding offshore. Greater and lesser frigatebirds patrolled the skies looking to steal a meal from the other birds – just like skuas do in the UK.
It was a fantastic if tiring 2 weeks but the principles we apply to managing our nature reserves in the UK are applied to our overseas territories.
White-tailed tropicbird and red-footed booby were just two species I was lucky enough to see.
Looking out at the cool rainswept fen this morning, it didn't feel at all surprising that some birds are heading south already. A few migrant green and common sandpipers have been around the muddy pool edges for a couple of weeks and whimbrel and curlew are passing over daily. The adult cuckoos have gone, leaving their unfledged young to fatten in the nests of reed warblers and other small birds.
Cuckoos are well known for their early departure, but not much is known about their journey south or where "our" birds spend the winter. This spring, the clever guys at the BTO managed to fit five male cuckoos with solar-powrered satellite tags and are now tracking their progress as they head south for the winter. You can follow the progress of each bird in amazing detail on their blogs at http://www.bto.org/science/migration/tracking-studies/cuckoo-tracking.
While four out of the five cuckoos are already well on their way south, and one reached North Africa this morning, one (named Lyster) was still in Norfolk yesterday morning, not far from Strumpshaw Fen, and has been tracked visiting the RSPB reserve at Surlingham Church Marsh! This is fascinating stuff, but it's also really vital research. Cuckoos are struggling out in our countryside and the information gained from this study will help us understand the pressures they face on migration and in their wintering quarters and how these might contribute to their decline in the UK.
It may come as a surprise, a shock even, to some people that even in the delightful world of nature reserve management, the warden’s work is governed by targets.
Why? Well, everyone involved in managing the reserve’s habitats has to be clear what species we aim to benefit by management, how many of a particular species we should expect the reserve to support and what the ideal habitat for those species should look like. Without targets we would be constantly arguing about what to do, and whether we had succeeded or failed.
And there is our legal obligation to maintain the SSSI in favourable condition, and favourable condition is defined by targets, for example, for abundance of scarce plant species or minimum and maximum water levels.
Once a year the reserve team get together with RSPB colleagues and Natural England staff to look at progress with the ecological management. Yesterday was that day and I am pleased to report that we have achieved most of our targets.
What does that really mean? It means that we have got the reedbed management at Strumpshaw right and established a healthy breeding population of bitterns (two nests have recently fledged young). It means that we have improved the grazing marsh habitat at Buckenham and Cantley so that breeding lapwings populations have increased to 90 pairs and are producing lots of young, and even the ultra-fussy snipe have increased from 4 to11 pairs in the past five years. And at the same time we have maintained the wonderfully rich biodiversity that makes this site really special.
This is the result of much hard work from the wardens and volunteers, so well done everybody and keep it up!