March sightings

March sightings

Spring has sprung, so there is plenty to look out for. Listen for new arrivals as we enter one of the most exciting periods in the wildlife calendar.

New plant growth is becoming more apparent, as the shoots of common reed are now well above ground (or water). Early nectar sources in flower include the 'kingcup' (marsh marigold), as are some of the water- crowfoots (floating water plants, with white buttercup-like, five-petalled flowers that have a yellow centre). The kingcup is a plant you may have in your own garden pond, and it is an excellent species to include if you have not done so already. Another species you might have in your garden in the cowslip, which is flowering in the wildflower meadows at Engine Farm, viewable from the Northern Loop trail. This trail is worth a wander, while Woodwalton Fen is closed. These meadows will continue to flower, on into June, and attract a variety of wildlife. Please keep to the marked trail around the edges; please keep dogs on leads, both on trails and in the hides at the Great Fen.

As you approach the Great Fen, you will see blackthorn in flower and common hawthorn is coming into leaf; will we have to wait until may for the latter to flower, or will we get an early may blossom?

Marsh marigold flower by Henry Stanier

Marsh marigold flower by Henry Stanier

Male common toads have been croaking from ponds and ditches, and various amorous amphibians have been active at night. Water levels are still high in many places, so please respect site and trail closures. These may change, as water levels continue to rise, then fall, and rise again.

Many species of bird have been displaying and even nest building, such as the early starters, the long-tailed tits. Some species are sitting on eggs and others, such as mallards, already have ducklings.

Birds of prey are busy now, also nest building, and high in the sky you can watch out for soaring sparrowhawks, seen wheeling on high over Ramsey Heights. Last week, I was listening to blackcap, chiffchaff, willow warbler, and linnet, all singing at this reserve.

Some species have been moving through the Great Fen; waders including curlew, greenshank and redshank, and more species are on the way. We’ll be watching for wheatears, stopping off on our tracks and trails, as they pass through. Now that cuckoo flower is on show, we look forward to April and the arrival of its namesake!

We ended the month with some sunny, calm weather, and the butterflies have been on the wing, with plenty of brimstones dashing back and forth. The less well know day-flying insect, the emperor moth, is one to watch out for. While the grey-coloured female is a creature of the night, the rich brown-coloured male shoots across the Fen in its characteristic, direct flight. As you can see from the photograph below, he also sports a particularly fine pair of large, feathery antennae.

You can learn more about the insect life at the Great Fen, on the dragonfly workshop. Insects, plants, mammals, birds and more, will all be covered at the talk I am giving in the Cambridge University Botanic Garden this year, also in June.

Please keep an eye out for these and other invertebrates, as we'd like to receive you records this year so contact us via the details on our monitoring and research page.

Henry Stanier (Great Fen Monitoring & Research Officer)

Emperor moth male

Emperor moth male by Jasmin Atkinson