Saturday, 25 June 2016

Wicken Fen NT Nature Reserve

I associate Wicken Fen with Bitterns, they like well managed reed beds so it's no surprise. What is a surprise that as a National Trust member I haven't visited a reserve the is an hour away by car.

I went for an eight o'clock start at the site on a day that was clear and bright and luckily access is dawn 'til dusk so I parked up and got in, with the view to hitting the café at some stage.

I was also rather pleased to see a great Spotted Woodpcker on a feeder near the visitor centre which bought back a nice memory of my recent Woodpecker experience.

By and large the usual reserves I visit are woods/ lakes in the main and this one is pretty different as it is, of course, a fen and filled with reeds, sedge and rush. The shot above is pretty typical of large parts.


Even though I'd got into the reserve a smidge after eight in the morning the heat was rapidly building and saw a half decent amount of dragonflies and damselflies starting to get going. I sat for a while and watched them on the walk just out of the centre and just past the windmill and snapped some. The reserve has a decent amount of information boards about the place about the flora and fauna and I therefore know that these two are a Four Spotted Chaser and a Broad Bodied Chaser.


After a quick stop at a hide I decided to head for the butterfly trail and see what I could see. I noticed a lot of Muntjac sign and I clocked this one through a farm style gate and managed to watch it for a while. I had to pass the gate and therefore had to show myself and this was the best picture I could get with it's tail erect as it headed off.


As I slowly made my way round I did see a fair few butterflies, not necessarily anything rare, but there was a lot of flutterby action.

The only downside to the butterfly walk was that there were two or three very small areas where I suddenly became the centre of interest to mosquitoes and at one stage, horseflies too. I put a hoodie on and checked myself regularly but of course it occasionally meant waving my hands about which was rather counter intuitive after this day I just had.


Despite the anti insect twitching I still had further encounters with Muntjac as I made my way round; some I saw, and some bolted from cover and made me jump a foot in the air. Cat and Mouse between Human and Deer which was good fun.


I did see a fair few birds with the most notable being Marsh Harriers but it was definitely going to be an insect and plant kind of visit. I'm currently doing Paul Kirtley's tree and plant masterclass and there was much to take photos of.


 I'm pleased to say that I've seen some plants for the first time, some that I knew, some I used the information boards to identify and some I've still got to look up. Meadow Rue, Meadow Vetchling, Marsh Pea and the insectivorous Greater Bladderwort are four highlights for me.

I decided to make my way around the perimeter and find somewhere to have  a quick nosebag whilst en route. This spectacular creature presented itself for a snap whilst going around. It is a female Scorpion fly and if it had been a male it would be packing a curved tail that looks very much like a Scorpion's sting.

I headed up the first storey hide which is around the half way mark, and as I was on my own I had some food whilst in there. In fact I only saw around half a dozen people (three couples) in the first three-and-a-half-hours and even then it was in the last hour. Now this isn't the hide I ate in but I've featured it because how many thatched nature hides can you recall? I also passed the reserve boat being moored near here which takes members of the public out for a small fare.

I decided that the lure of a beverage in the cafe near visitor centre was a calling that I couldn't ignore and I sat outside and watched copiuos amounts of House Sparrows cheeping about the place, and thought of all the times that they gobbled up bird food I put out as a kid and yet I rarely see them in my garden now. Oh, and the caffe latté is a tad stronger than a lot of the wishy-washy stuff out there and comes highly recommended.

So it was round two and I decided to make my way slowly past the cut outs on the long path past the windmill and saw this Emperor Dragon fly land sideways eating a meal. He duly obliged long enough for a photo.

And not a moment later I saw this impressive Grass Snake in the watercourse both swimming and occasionally scudding across the Lily pads. I particularly like this shot as the Figwort in the foreground isn't too noticeable, and the snake has it's tongue out. 

As the sun was still out and the wind had picked up a little (mossies don't do well in a breeze) I decided to go for round two along the Butterfly Trail to not only see Butterflies, but to also see if I could get close to some more Muntjac. Yes, I know this isn't a deer...It's a grazing Highland Cow (I also saw some Konic ponies on the perimeter walk).

I saw more of the same on the Butterfly front but whilst at the farthest point of the walk I saw a small brown rump sticking out of the grass. The Muntjac stopped and looked my way, but i'd tucked myself into the vegetation and under a tree and sucessfully waited it's suspicion out. I then observed it and slowly moved forwards to get closer. I'd say i got to maybe twenty feet and decided to go for a tourist shot. I waited until it had it's head down and slowly inched out into the path and as it looked up took the shot. Naturally it bolted but I had the honour of being barked at by the deer and naturally barked back for a while. 

Whilst it isn't the clearest shot I've included this image of what appears to be a yellow Dragonfly (they have wings which stick out, Damsels fold theres along ther body) that I snapped as I made my way out...I simply  can't identify it...Maybe a female Common Darter?


I did see more dragonflies than Damselflies, but just for balance,here's a Large Red and a Common Blue damselfly that I saw.

I finished my reserve visit by going to see an expansive reedbed somewhere between the 'windmill path' and the perimeter and it's very easy to see why Bitterns like it here. I came out of the reserve and finished up by looking in the outhouses of some cottages over the road which harked back to yesteryear with woven willow baskets, Eel traps and the like, which hark back to the Fens' usage. All in all an excellent visit and a not too arduous journey home.

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