I first moved to Norfolk from London at the end of November last year. Autumn had pretty much ended and we started to have snow soon after I arrived. So I have to say, I'm loving my first autumn in the country. I'd almost say this is my first proper autumn ever.
Autumn in London passed me by. I'd kick leaves and pick conkers, and sometimes hear a scattering of geese honking their way south overhead. But I didn't feel connected. It meant nothing to me - just that it was getting colder.
Living in Norfolk and, more importantly, working at Strumpshaw Fen, has opened my eyes to the true beauty of autumn. The sounds, the colours, the sunsets, the animals, the plants - everything is readying for the colder months. It's amazing.
I've seen ospreys coming through on migration routes and hundreds upon hundreds of geese come hurtling through the sky, making their presence known with deafening, harmonious honks. I've been watching a squirrel out of my office window for the last few weeks frantically scrabbling around with acorns, hiding them, checking them, rushing off for more and then standing stock still to make sure no one can see where he's hiding his winter store.
I've watched with growing familiarity the jays as they flap patiently back and forth in front of Reception Hide, acorns clamped in their beaks - again, on their way to hide their goods.
I've crunched and squelched and splashed my way through an assortment of mud, frost in the morning and golden, russett leaves at sunset. I've collected my conkers and then realised I don't know what to do with them anymore (though I'm hoping I can get a Strumpshaw office tournament started).
I've watched the farmers bring in their crops and the geese move in to graze the land.
I've seen starlings swarming like the creature from Lost against a fire-red Norfolk sunset from Reception Hide.
It's all very exciting - my education in country life is continuing every day and I'm loving every single minute of it!
Don't believe me? This photo was taken yesterday just outside the Reception Hide!
Swallowtail butterfly by Matt Wilkinson
Ray Mears has been exploring Strumpshaw Fen with a film crew for the past 3 days. No, he's not been sleeping in the woods or foraging for wild food, just enthusing about the fantastic wildlife that can be found here.
They encountered bitterns, swallowtails, water rails, chinese water deer, barn owls and loads more.
Look out for the footage on "Wild Britain" which is due to be screened on UKTV Eden channel in the autumn.
Path conditions update: the riverside path to the towerhide is extremely muddy so take care and wellingtons are strongly advised. Also be aware that due to current high river levelswe we may need to close the riverbank temporarily from time to time. The Lackford Run path has been closed for the past week and is likely to remain closed for the next few weeks. On arrival please check with the volunteer at Reception Hide who will let you know what the current path siutation is.
Some recent sightings from Strumpshaw Fen this week:
Otters have been showing well as usual with up to four individuals seen. Recption hide is probably best with daily sightings, but the sluice area and fen hide are also good places to look.
Kingfishers are still regular due to the relatively mild weather - they disappear when the weather gets cold.
Marsh Harriers are being seen daily - with around 6 birds roosting and 2 or 3 birds hunting around the fen all day.
Hen Harriers are showing regularly - a female and an adult male - and can be seen from all three hides
Bitterns are showing regularly at all three hides and sometimes giving incredible views on the ground.
Willow tit - one was seen and heard in the woods today. This bird is now very rare in the area with only a handful of winter records most years, and is easily confused with the relatively numerous marsh tit so if you think you have seen one make sure it really is a willow tit!
Other regular sightings around the fen include water pipits, nuthatches and marsh tits (still being seen at the feeders), tree creepers, lesser redpolls, goldcrest, sparrowhawks, peregrine and kestrels.
Recent star sightings at Buckenham and Cantley Marshes are a regular short-eared owl (seen today), and the wintering flocks of white-fronted geese, bean geese, wigeon, several resident barn owls and 2 or 3 wintering peregrines. Two bean geese are wearing neck collars - these were fitted by researchers in Sweden in the autumn and will help us understand the movements between the various wintering and breeding areas. However reading the 3 letter combination is a challenge even with the best telescope.
It's been a fantastic summer for swallowtail butterflies at Strumpshaw Fen, with lots being spotted over the past two months at the reception garden, meadow and even the car park! The first flush has now almost gone with just one or two still lingering today. The good news is that a fair number of caterpillars are feeding on the milk parsley, so we're crossing our fingers for a second flush in August - watch this space and we'll keep you posted.
Even if you've just missed the swallowtails, there's still plenty to see. The meadow is fantastic at the moment - brimming with orchids and damselflies - and Norfolk hawker dragonflies are still patrolling the meadow ditches. If you prefer a cool shady walk, the woodland is a good spot to look for white admiral butterflies and the occasional lizard or grass snake basking at the pathside.