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A year at Sculthorpe Moor

WINTER (January, February, March). The year starts with plentiful bird activity. Bullfinch, Lesser Redpoll and Reed Bunting are regular visitors to the bird feeders around the reserve and can give excellent views from the hides.

Dave Ward bullfinchStunning Bullfinches come to the feeders and bird tables in good numbers in winter. Photo Dave Ward

All three breed on the reserve, but huge numbers of redpoll come into Britain from northern Europe to winter with us and some visit the reserve. These birds are subtly different and known as Common Redpoll – see if you can spot them!

Kingfishers should be easy to spot with the low vegetation as they hunt for fish in the ditches and drains and Barn Owls can often be seen quartering the grazing marshes, looking for food during the short days. Our resident Water Voles are obvious with the lack of sheltering vegetation and bank-side growth and can sometimes be tolerant of your presence, allowing fabulous views.Andy Thompson 31Kingfishers are one of the stars of the reserve, and are easily visible in winter. Photo Andy Thompson.

As the season progresses Frogs start to gather to mate and lay spawn, and some of the wet areas in front of the hides come alive with them. As winter slips into spring colour returns to the reserve, as the first spring flowers, Primroses, come into bloom.

SPRING (April, May, June). One of the first signs of the spring is the hatching of the Large Red Damselfly, always the first to emerge, and heralding the beginning of a spring, summer and autumn replete with these aerial jewels.

Warblers return from their distant wintering grounds, and their songs dominate the woodland. First Chiffchaff, then Blackcap, then the trickle becomes a flood as all the species found on the reserve return in quick succession. Listen to the diverse range of voices and try to identify some species from their distinctive songs.

Marsh Harriers start displaying and quickly settle down to breed in the reedbeds, and several pairs of Tawny Owls are usually on eggs or feeding chicks which soon ‘branch; out of the nest and can give amazing views as they wait in the vegetation patiently for their parents to feed them.

The ground erupts in colour, with lots of marshland plants, including Ragged Robin and orchids, and deer are obviously around the reserve as they graze the lush new growth. In the shallow scrapes look out for the yellow flowers of Greater Bladderwort, a carnivorous aquatic plant that catches tiny water creatures in sacs on its underwater stems.

As the end of spring approaches the first Glow Worms can be seen glowing at night along the boardwalks, we run special visits to see these - look out on the events page.gloworm2Chris CookStriking Glow Worms are active on the reserve in early summer. Photo Chris Cook.

SUMMER (July, August, September). Long days, thick vegetation and heat can make smaller birds more difficult to spot, as they are all busy rearing families, but adults still visit the feeders and larger birds, such as Buzzard, Red Kite and Marsh Harrier can be more active as they have fledged young to feed. Keep an eye out for young birds, often noisy, in the undergrowth being fed by diligent parents.

If the birding is quiet, take note of the galaxy of dragonflies and butterflies, each habitat having its own compliment of species. White Admiral butterflies can be see flitting around Honeysuckle in the woodland and Scarlet Darter dragonflies can often be found basking on the boardwalks themselves.

Norfolk HawkerThe extremely rare Norfolk Hawker is a recent addition to the dragonfly list on the reserve. Photo Su Delve.More flowers appear around the reserve, each in its own habitat and in its own time, leading to a succession of colour. Small insects abound as they take their part in the seasonal bounty. Look carefully at what is under your nose!

AUTUMN (October, November, December). Finally, the long days of summer are drawing to a close but there is still much to be seen at Sculthorpe and, if anything, the amount of wildlife interest increases as winter approaches.

Dragonflies are still abundant, with large numbers of Migrant Hawkers and a recently arrived species to the UK, Willow Emerald Damselfly, one of the last to emerge, the slender adults can be seen hanging at head height in the trees along water. Darters can be seen right into November in sheltered spots.

Voles and other small rodents are busily putting on fat and storing food for the approaching hard times and can be easily spotted under the bird tables from the hides and, as the days shorten further and temperatures drop, avian migrants start arriving from further north to spend the relatively mild winter with us. The first to arrive are Woodcock, joining our resident birds and sometimes these birds can be spotted on the boardwalks.

Look out for Brambling, the orange, black and white relatives of Chaffinch which join us from Scandinavia and arctic Russia, and often join the Chaffinch flocks at the feeders. October nights bring migrating thrushes, Redwing and Fieldfare, from their northerly breeding grounds and they will stay with us all winter, livening up the hedges and woodland areas.