May 292012

A huge thank you to Sally for arranging our summer coach trip to Wicken Fen – that £2.00 good weather supplement was well worth it as we basked in cloudless sunshine all day.

We had a speedy journey, arriving before 10.00 am and after Sally had swiftly checked us in we were off.     There are two halves to the reserve with the smaller area accessed through the visitor centre leading to a boardwalk trail and paths through the marshy fenlands.   The larger area is on the opposite side of the lode running alongside Lode Lane.    [These are usually the larger of the water courses. They tend to ‘sit’ much higher than the surrounding land and carry water from the high ground across the sunken open country to the river system. Many have historic origins, some dating as far back as the Romans].

Four spot chaser

Within a few minutes we were going our separate ways, some to enjoy a relaxing tea or coffee others browsing in the shop and the majority dispersing around the reserve.   Several of us decided to do the boardwalk and nature trail area first.   On the feeders greenfinch greedily pecked at peanuts and sunflower hearts.   Swallow swooped over the water, but our attention was soon taken by 4 spot chaser, hairy dragonfly and azure damselfly along the Drain [Drain is a significant channel that conducts water directly to the river system. Unlike the lodes they lend to be at ground level].   Yellow flag, white comfrey, bugle, herb robert and ragged robin were flowering amongst the reeds with the distinctive marsh thistle dotted alongside the trail.   Blackcap, sedge warbler, cetti’s warbler and chiffchaff were singing from nearby willows.   At the first hide we sat watching the feeders where chaffinch and great-spotted woodpecker took advantage of the easy pickings.   A mallard with six chicks appeared on the edge of the pool and the family swam across our view – annoying a moorhen in the process, as goldfinch came to one set of the feeders, a muntjac deer foraged near another.    A cuckoo called in the distance, and swallow perched on nearby tree tops waiting for us to leave – their nest being affixed to the inside roof of the hide!

Brimstone were our most numerous butterfly and we also saw several orange tip and peacock butterfly during the day.   As we moved around the trail large red damselfly were also seen along with Jay, dunnock. meadow pipit and skylark.

At this point Sally, Jenny and I had a rather interesting challenge as the sole started to come off Sally’s boot.   We managed to strap it up with a rather ingenious use of a camera bag strap!

The latest trend in footwear

Moving swiftly on.   Terry spotted a cormorant perched high in a tree top.   In the first of the tower hides we had lunch and several other members of the group came along on either side of the reserve, all enjoying the sedge beds, reed beds and fen meadows.   Willow warbler were singing, but remained unseen – they were heard throughout the whole day, a lovely sound of spring and summer.    At the second tower hide we negotiated two sets of steep steps to emerge in a lovely breezy eyrie, just what we needed after the heat of the midday sun.    As we listened to the willow warblers, Malcolm noticed green hairstreak butterflies on a nearby alder.

Then a group of hobby flew into view, they gave us a great performance catching dragonflies in mid air then eating them on the wing.   As they swooped and dived they almost stalled as they grabbed their prey, then continued flying at high speed with beak and feet co-ordinated to get the edible parts consumed whilst shedding the gossamer wings which have no nutritional value.   A brilliant show which we thoroughly enjoyed.   From this hide we overlooked one of the pools on the other side of the reserve, but only saw coot on the water from our vantage point, grey heron and cormorant were in nearby trees however.

We continued back to the visitor centre, spotting Stephen and John on the way – they had a newly emerged dragonfly on the opposite side of the lode and were busily snapping photos – hopefully one will appear on our gallery shortly – no pressure gents.  When we got to the dragonfly later, we realised that it had badly damaged wings.   We assume that perhaps the wings could have dried too quickly in the heat of the early morning and they didn’t have chance to unfurl properly.   If you know more please let us know.


After a reviving ice cream we continued onto the other side of the reserve where the Adventurer trail is – here are several more hides, but we only had time to visit two today.   The first was rather disappointing and as we dragged a by now flagging Sally to the second I began to wonder if we were making a big mistake.   Happily not.   From this point we were first met with a lovely refreshing breeze which immediately lifted our spirits, then the birds came into view.   First coot, moorhen and tufted duck, then we noticed a shoveler, great crested grebe and cormorant.   Hobby continued to fly overhead, a wood pigeon (one of our most numerous birds in Kent) flew across the pool away from us.   As we were joking about the lack of them, a kingfisher shot across at speed to land in a nearby willow.   Within minutes Malcolm and Sally simultaneously spotted a bittern flying towards us, we watched as it crossed the scrape and then dropped into the reeds some way off.  Long-tailed tit flew to join the kingfisher in the willow and after a short while the kingfisher gave us another great view as it returned to its earlier perch out of view. House martin, common tern, blackbird, black-headed gull, lapwing and swift all added to the days list.   What a great idea that route march was!

So what of the other members of our group?   Some added roe deer and selfheal.   Other notable sightings were sparrowhawk, buzzard, red kite, osprey and common crane.   Redshank and dunlin were found by others.   Turtle dove was seen along with green woodpecker.   Garden warbler was heard and finally yellowhammer seen.

My last memory of the journey home was the huge swathes of ox-eye daisy along the side of the motorways – a reminder that it will soon be time to commence the annual trawl through them for galls!

Common Spotted Orchid

Apologies to anyone if I have missed their sightings, please add in the comments section as I am sure there are lots of great things seen which I didn’t get to hear about.   All contributions, both written and photographic gratefully received.

Thanks again to Sally, Malcolm and our driver Wayne and to all who supported the event and helped to make this such a successful trip.

Don’t forget our next coach trip on 17th November to Abberton Reservoir and Fingrinhoe Nature Reserves, Essex.   Full details to be announced and published on the website soon.


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