Strumpshaw Fen (RSPB) is a wonderful place to spend a couple of hours. It always surprises me how few visitors it gets given it is only a few miles from a large city, but then that's the essence of its charm; an oasis of calm and tranquillity amidst the hurly burly of the 21st century. I've been visiting pretty much since it opened to the public in the late 1970s, in fact probably before then if our trespassing teen selves had anything to do with it. In those early days I helped lead a YOC group and we took the kids to the reserve every spring for a good trek through the woods and along the river bank. Our group raised quite a bit of money for the reserve by undertaking various fundraising activities such as a sponsored birdwatch. This helped to purchase various implements for the warden to use in his endeavours to pump mud from the silted up broad and generally look after the place. I got to know this hard working individual, Mike Blackburn, quite well but to this day am not sure whether he was literally pulling my leg when, during a talk he was giving to the kids, he tied a bit of string to my right peg whilst I was operating the slide projector. Whenever he wanted the next picture shown he would pull on the string and I would oblige by presenting the next slide. It worked very well, but I can’t help thinking he could just as easily have given me a nod.
In those far off days the reserve needed an awful lot of backbreaking work to bring it back to health after many years of neglect and decline. Mike and his team worked tirelessly to create the foundations for the brilliant place it is today. When marsh harriers began breeding in the reed bed, which was then accessible from the river bank, a 24 hour watch was mounted and I talked my way into doing the early morning shift, and by early I mean 5am. But it was worth getting up for because the fen at dawn as the pale golden sun rose through swirling tendrils of mist was quite magical. Within minutes the air was vibrating with the songs of myriad warblers, cuckoos called out their name and snipe drummed overhead. The reserve has come a long way since then developing into something quite amazing. I volunteered there for a few years and well remember the very quiet day when out of nowhere a party of displaced black terns descended from on high to feast on newly emerged flies over the broad. Having sated themselves they spiralled high into the early May sky and continued their journey eastwards. They were only on show for 20 minutes and I was the only person lucky enough to see them. Then the extraordinary sight of an osprey being mobbed by four young marsh harriers as it sat in a dead tree close to the reception hide, or a startled coypu crashing through the ice covering the shallow margin of the river one freezing winters day, or the sound of whistling otters and rasping spotted crakes one balmy June evening. There is always something to see at Strumpshaw and it is without doubt my most favourite of reserves.
And by way of coming full circle I was talking to two ladies in the Fen Hide on Thursday and felt sure I recognised one of them but could not for the life of me place her. That is until her friend called her by name, then it fell into place. She was one of our YOC members, the daughter of my co-leader, who I had last seen when she was about 14. She really hadn't changed that much (and I told her so) ......regrettably I don't think the same can be said for me.
Oh and Rebecca if you're reading this, the bittern was performing very well yesterday!
Male Marsh HarrierA pair have set up home quite close to Fen Hide and this male seems to
regularly pass very close to the hide.
Marsh HarrierStartling pale yellow eye at close range
KingfisherThis male sometimes performs on the specially positioned perch above the shallow water.
Willow WarblerThe area along the path leading to the river is full of these enchanting
summer visitors at present.
Common TernAs always you are battling the light as a photographer in the UK, but this
common tern hovered so close to me I couldn't resist taking a couple of snaps.
Chinese Water DeerA frequently encountered inhabitant of the wet fen.