Sunday, 6 September 2015

Last weekend of summer

So, we're back at school. Fortunately, last weekend, I made the most of the freedom and spent a lovely couple of days at Pensthorpe and Strumpshaw Fen with friends as well as walking around our local patch and admiring the hordes of birds that have been visiting our feeders.

For birds and other wildlife, our local patch was quiet. However, in the late summer sunlight, it was a beautiful sight across the River Wensum and the surrounding trees.

Surprisingly, our bird feeders have been a hive of activity throughout August; the complete opposite to what I would have expected. Flocks of 20 strong long tailed tits have been visiting alongside groups of greenfiches, chaffinches, blue tits, great tits, starlings, sparrows, coal tits... and a sparrowhawk!

The sun was shining and the waterfowl were out in force at Pensthorpe, as well as the small tortoiseshells and red admirals, dazzling with their fiery wings and occasionally sharing flower heads with horse flies. There were also swallows and house martins cutting through the air at speed and occasionally settling, but not for long. It was almost possible to feel their restlessness as they ready for migration.

The weirdest thing we spotted was at a river crossing. Just below the surface, sunning themselves on the silted river bottom were dozens of signal crayfish of all sizes. Alien and almost dastardly looking with their odd claws and segmented bodies.

The following day at Strumpshaw, the conditions were very different - blanket cloud smothered the sky despite it still being warm. It was a poor day for invertebrates (we didn't see a single butterfly), but a fantastic day for birds. We took the Meadow trail and my attention was immediately caught by a calling great spotted woodpecker foraging beneath the bark of a dead branch. I then very nearly trod on a common froglet, who kindly posed on a pile of dung.

We gradually made our way through the mud to Tower hide. We were greeted this time, not with a chorus of lapwings, but with a gaggle of greylag geese, knot, shoveler, teal and other ducks, a kingfisher, common terns, grey herons, little egrets and a great egret. The first confirmed sighting of a great egret in the UK for me. We sat and watched the little egrets display, with one (the male, we think) being somewhat keener...

Fen hide was next on our list, so we back tracked and took the turning. We were very glad we did. Here, the small jewel of kingfisher granted us good views as it flitted from reeds to post and back again multiple times. Marsh harriers kept their distance, but visibly quartered the reedbeds below. Chinese water deer chased each other through the clearings between reed beds, but the light grew too poor for photographs very quickly. Hopefully now autumn is (nearly) here, I might actually get a photo of these quirky looking animals...


  1. It's a shame to hear that Signal Crayfish have reached Pensthorpe. Last year we enjoyed seeing the smaller native White-clawed Crayfish from one of the bridges there, but they are presumably now gone or threatened from that stretch of the Wensum.

    1. I have never seen either before and have to be honest and say that it is an educated guess that they were signal crayfish. Looking at pictures comparing the two species I haven't found particularly useful for confirming one way or the other. These mostly looked to be about the length of my hand...

  2. Hi Sarah.
    Nice to see someone visiting Strumpshaw so regularly and reading from a visitor's perspective. Glad to hear that the great white egret is still around, now into its 5th week at the Tower Hide. If your ever around on a Wednesday morning, don't forget to pop into Reception Hide and say hi as I volunteer there. You can read what I get up to at Strumpy on my blog Hope you visit again soon. Sean

    1. Hi Sean,
      I love Strumpshaw - it's never a disappointment! I will certainly pop in if we make it up on a Wednesday during the school holidays. I have had a read of your blog before, you've got some great photos!
      Best wishes, Sarah.

  3. I love reading your posts - such descriptive and imaginative language. I'd never heard of a Chinese Water Deer! How interesting.
    Annie (

    1. Thank you Annie, I've been trying to expand my nature vocabulary - reading Robert Macfarlane's Landmarks helped with lots of colloquial terms. Chinese water deer are odd - they look so primeval with their tusks!