Pouring rain was somewhat discouraging on the morning of November’s Thorpe Marshes guided walk, dates set many months ago. I suggested to regular volunteers Derek and Susan that they shouldn’t come: their help is brilliant when there’s a big group, but that didn’t look likely today. I picked up my umbrella – why don’t more naturalists use umbrellas? – and walked to the marshes, not really expecting anyone to turn up.
I was wrong: five people were there, having taken the view that they would feel better for getting outside in the fresh air. Three had been on previous Thorpe Marshes walks, and two were a couple from Manchester on holiday in north Norfolk. Little else was showing in the events listing for a Thursday morning so they’d come to our nature reserve on the edge of Norwich.
I won’t pretend there was much to see: November is a quiet month on the marshes at the best of times. But there was a united-against-the-elements feeling as we paused to look at distant mistletoe and then admire the pink-and-orange berries of spindle. Sometimes visitors from far away ask the trickiest questions. Why are the Broads so called? What’s the difference between a fen and The Fens?
One of our group was alert to a fine growth of jelly ear fungus on a dead elder on the banks of the River Yare. Formerly called Jew’s ear, that name is now regarded as derogatory and politically incorrect, but inevitably is still there in old books or internet searches.
From the viewpoint over St Andrews Broad there was a tight group of tufted ducks, a little influx since yesterday, perhaps as it was quiet. Three goldeneyes – two males and a female – regular this autumn were still on show, bless them. It was too wet to try to get a view of the distant little grebe.
The walk is scheduled to be two hours, and on a good day if everyone is happy may last longer. Common sense said, ‘get moving’, that an hour was enough today. But first there was something else to see for which the conditions didn’t matter – one of those ‘Here’s one-I-prepared-earlier’ moments. Regulars on the walk have all heard about how willow emerald damselflies make a series of scratches on the bark of twigs that overhang water (see header image). This is then where they lay their eggs, in autumn, to overwinter safe from predators or parasites before larvae emerge and drop into ditches in spring. It remains an eye-opener for anyone seeing this for the first time; on this occasion the distinctive-looking scar tissue was on a small branch of an ash tree by the riverside path.
It was time to retreat and to dry out over a cup of tea.
Chris Durdin leads monthly wildlife walks at NWT Thorpe Marshes. Details of monthly walks and recent sightings at the nature reserve can be found here.
Header image by Chris Durdin