Trip reports

Strumpshaw Fen & Breydon Water

Strumpshaw Fen & Breydon Water
Marsh Harrier, S. D'Arcy

Sunday, 21 July 2019

15 members met at Sandy at 7am for this trip to East Norfolk with 3 members making their own way by car. It was fine summer's morning. Rook was among the birds seen from the bus and a few Swift were flying above our refreshment stop at Barton Mills, where a Purple Hairstreak butterfly was also spotted in an oak tree.

We arrived at Strumpshaw Fen RSPB reserve just after 9.30. The reserve lies between Norwich and Great Yarmouth on the north bank of the River Yare and incorporates meadow, woodland and wetland habitats. In the summer it is a good location to see butterflies and we quickly spotted Ringlet, Peacock, Gatekeeper and Meadow Brown Butterflies as well as a Brown Hawker Dragonfly. On the lake behind the small visitor centre members identified Mallard, Coot and 2 juvenile or eclipse Shoveler, with a Kingfisher seen hovering over the reeds. A few Swallow and Sand Martin were feeding over the water. Following the main path into the reserve we passed a large buddleia and were delighted to get fabulous views of 2 White Admiral Butterflies as well as several Red Admiral and Peacock Butterflies. A large group of Long-tailed Tit flew past and a little further on members got good views of Blackbird, Jay, Blackcap, Chaffinch and Blue Tit.

Most of the group followed the Meadow Trail to the Meadow Pond which was surrounded by tall grasses and flowers as well as some small trees. A Mute Swan was feeding noisily on the water and the sun was streaming down onto the grass and flowers attracting many butterflies and other insects. Members identified Blue-tailed Damselfly, Common Blue Damselfly, Brown Hawker Dragonfly, several Ruddy Darter Dragonflies including a pair mating, Common Darter, and an individual resting on a tree branch with features suggesting it was likely to be a female Norfolk Hawker, a rare and localised species. The butterfly list was made up of Large Skipper, Red Admiral, Brimstone, Large White, Green-veined White, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Comma, White Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell and 2 Silver-washed Fritillaries, one of which frequently came to rest close to the path allowing fabulous close views of this impressive butterfly. Walking on a little further most members got exceptionally close views of a Brown Hawker Dragonfly at rest and a Six-spot Burnet Moth was also seen. At this point a call was received from a member who was at the Tower Hide in the wetland part of the reserve and reported seeing a Swallowtail Butterfly nearby. Not wanting to miss the opportunity to see this iconic and highly localised species most members headed in that direction. We followed the Fen Trail with the open water and reed beds of Strumpshaw Fen on one side and either meadow or the River Yare on the other, all now bathed in warm July sunshine. We were surrounded by insects of every variety and members added many more species to their lists including Emerald Damselfly, Black-tailed Skimmer, Keeled Skimmer, Four-spotted Chaser Dragonfly, Long-horn Beetle, Footman Moth, Mother-of-pearl Moth and Small White Butterfly. Common Lizard, Common Frog and Robin were seen close to the path with Marsh Harrier, Common Tern and Black-headed Gull flying over the reeds. Sadly when the the main group reached the Tower Hide the Swallowtail had moved on but birds identified from the hide overlooking the Fen included Mallard, Coot, Moorhen, a Great-crested Grebe with 2 large chicks, Stock Dove, Little Grebe, Lapwing, Tufted Duck, Teal, Buzzard and excellent views through the scope of a juvenile Marsh Harrier, with its characteristic pale yellow head, settled on the top of a small tree at the back of the lake. Meanwhile another member was being treated to fantastic views of adult Marsh Harriers making food drops to juveniles who would then fight over the food. He also enjoyed brief views of Bearded Tit and Marsh Tit.

As we continued along the Fen Trail we came across many more insects, including 2 we were only able to identify once we had consulted the RSPB staff and books in the visitor centre, being the Shaded Broad-bar Moth and Red-breasted Carrion Beetle. Other species identified included Black-tailed Skimmer, Holly Blue Butterfly, Reed Warbler, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Reed Bunting, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Chiffchaff, and just before the railway crossing one member was lucky to catch sight of a Grass Snake in some vegetation just off the ground. The final part of the path took us past some gardens where some members spotted a Painted Lady Butterfly with an Essex Skipper seen in the adjacent field and a Small Skipper Butterfly and Emperor Dragonfly close to the car park. The group met back at the bus at 1pm and most members ate lunch at the visitor centre picnic tables which overlooked bird feeders being visited by Great Tit, Blue Tit, Robin, Blackbird and a Great Spotted Woodpecker. Seed had also been placed on tree stumps and at least 3 or 4 Field Voles could be seen running up the stumps to feed on the seed. A few House Martin were flying overhead.

We left Strumpshaw at 2pm and drove the short distance to the south shore of Breydon Water a few miles west of Great Yarmouth. This large inland lagoon created by a broadening of the River Yare, together with it's marshy flood plain known as Breydon Marsh, is a magnet for many bird species. The greatest numbers are found in winter but it is still worth a visit in the summer and today we were particularly keen to see an extremely rare vagrant, a Pacific Golden Plover that had been reported there. A Grey Heron flew across the path ahead of us as we walked along the track which crossed the grazing marsh and other species recorded included Linnet, Sedge Warbler, Six-spot Burnet Moth, and an Emperor Dragonfly resting above a small pond. The path bordering the river was elevated and afforded excellent views of the grazing marsh. Large numbers of horses were grazing the area but with the aid of binoculars and scopes it was possible to identify many species of bird among them including numerous small flocks of Starling and groups of Egyptian Goose, a Little Egret and 2 Grey Heron, about 20 Black-tailed Godwit which could be seen flying over the marsh from time to time, and modest numbers of Stock Dove, Woodpigeon, Lapwing, Oystercatcher, and Curlew.

There were a number of birders watching 3 Golden Plover, one of which was in winter plumage. The birds were keeping low in the vegetation and initially there was some confusion as to which of the 2 birds in summer plumage was the Pacific Golden Plover. However eventually both birds were observed standing and stretching their wings. It was then possible to identify the Pacific Golden Plover by it's grey brown rather than white underwing and its clearly smaller body size. Small bird, big tick! Bird species seen on or flying over Breydon Water included Cormorant, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, 4 Shelduck, 6 Avocet, and a Redshank. Species spotted as we walked back to the bus included Sedge Warbler, Whitethroat, Marsh Harrier, Swallow, Reed Bunting, Kestrel, Magpie, Little Egret, 2 Painted Lady Butterflies, a Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly, a large flock of Carrion Crow, and the real treat of a Hobby catching a dragonfly almost directly above us, the pass of prey from claw to beak clear to see. We reached the bus by 5pm so there was just time to make a quick visit to the western edge of Breydon Water where the River Yare enters the town of Great Yarmouth. The tidal flats and salt marshes at this location often attract large numbers of waders. As we approached the nearby supermarket car park members spotted a Collared Dove with a number of Pied Wagtail in the car park itself and Feral Pigeon under the large road bridge nearby. Small flocks of Linnet were flying over the salt marsh which was covered in pink Sea Lavender. Despite the retreating tide there were only a few birds feeding on the flats, most only identifiable through the scopes. Species identified included Black-tailed Godwit, Shelduck, Avocet, Oystercatcher, Starling, Cormorant, Lesser Black-backed Gull, a distant flock of perhaps 50 Curlew, and a bird on its own felt likely to be a Whimbrel, although it could have been a juvenile Curlew. A few members remained at the bus and reported seeing a Grey Plover flying over the river.

We left Great Yarmouth at 5.50 arriving back at Sandy around 8.30. It had been an extremely enjoyable and successful day. We had seen a total of 66 bird species, a very respectable total for the time of year, but had also seen a wide variety of other wildlife including 11 species of dragonfly or damselfly and no less than 21 species of butterfly including some real rarities. As usual many thanks goes to the organisers of the trip and the drivers on the day.

Caroline Brown