A summer heatwave

WildNet - Amy Lewis - Corn Bunting 

While we did have a bit of a rain shower on the Great Fen yesterday, late in the afternoon, it has been a dry summer.

Despite the dry summer, the wet late winter and spring did give the ground a nice soak, and even now if you break the surface of the peat, you will find it moist underneath, in many places. As a result, in the damper, more secluded areas of the Fen, we have had over 200 lapwing roosting amongst the short grass.

Some species have bred successfully again, including corn bunting, grasshopper warbler and grey partridge. Most exciting is the successful breeding of lapwing on the land undergoing restoration, yet more evidence that what we are doing is working.

As always, the Great Fen can be a rewarding site for watching birds of prey, and as we move towards autumn this will be increasingly the case. Summer species have included the usual residents, such as barn owl, little owl and tawny owl, as well buzzard, kestrel, sparrowhawk, red kite and marsh harrier. Exciting summer visitors such as hobby, preying on the dragonflies, add to the list.

The hay meadows are now being mown, and more livestock is moving onto the Fen, so this will also attract various species (young Kestrels sitting on the hay bales), and so the Great Fen is well worth a visit at this time of year, as it changes its face once again. As dark clouds, thunder, lightning and rain end the long, dry spell, a dark bird of prey, has also been seen up on the Northern Loop of the Last of Meres Trail. Is it a dark form of red kite, a hybrid or something else?

Other species of bird have been passing through, taking time to rest and refuel on the Great Fen, and it has been wonderful to have a variety of waders, ranging for greenshank, green sandpiper and ringed plover to curlew. Similarly over 60 swift were seen feeding over Kester’s Docking and, just before they left us, 10 cuckoo were seen across the Fen on the same day.

The insects have responded to the heat, with some fantastic shows of butterflies and dragonflies; over 80 purple hairstreak were seen at Woodwalton Fen National Nature Reserve in one evening. There has also been a noticeable overlap between spring and summer species of dragonfly and damselfly. Our biggest dragonfly, the emperor, has been very conspicuous, hunting over the wild flower meadows at Engine Farm, no doubt a result of the successful breeding and emergence at the new ponds.

As we move on into late summer, the ditches are lined with common reed, doing particularly well this year, as well as a wealth of water plants. A variety of colours greet the eye while walking the fenland droves, including the yellow flowers of bladderwort, fringed water lily and yellow water lily (Brandy Bottle) and, on the banks, the towering flowerheads of marsh sow thistle, a legacy of the Rothschilds. The paler flowers of arrowhead, frogbit and water plantain, are flanked by meadowsweet and the stunning purple loosestrife.

As the birds finish their breeding, August is a perfect time for us to go out and survey our aquatic plantlife, which is what we will being doing in the cooler mornings over the next few weeks; perhaps you would like to join the Great Fen Monitors as a volunteer and support our valuable work?

If you would prefer something in the evening, the next round of bat surveys are coming up, including our guided bat walk at Woodwalton Fen National Nature Reserve, on International Bat Night, always the last Saturday of August.

Henry Stanier (Great Fen Monitoring and Research Officer)