October is an in between month at NWT Thorpe Marshes. The pink and purple flowers of August and September have turned to seed and winter waterfowl are still to arrive on the gravel pit, St Andrews Broad.
There is still natural history to enjoy, helped by visiting on a sunny day. We had a good group of 13 on October’s guided walk, boosted by four from the RSPB’s Lowestoft Local Group. We started with a toad, commonplace in nearby gardens but the first I can remember here. Amphibians can be surprising tricky to see on a wetland nature reserve.
We paused by a crack willow to look at the many egg-laying scars of willow emerald damselflies, the parallel lines where a scratch from the female’s ovipositor has created scar tissue, with an egg deposited under the bark at the end of each groove. It was a bit gloomy at this moment for this late season damselfly to show, but we found two later as the sun came out and the day warmed. The group was quick to grasp that this recent colonist from the continent is here on account of our changing climate, the same thought applying to the Cetti’s warbler we could hear.
Many pairs of eyes and a range of experience are an asset for me as a walk leader, and I was very pleased when a small spindle bush was pointed out, another first for the reserve. Autumn is the time when they are most obvious: a colour scheme of pink and orange could clash but somehow it works on the fruits of spindle. Strong autumn colours were also on show with the leaves and red berries of guelder rose by the path along the River Yare.
The seasonal reappearance of small birds is something we often associate with spring, but it equally applies to autumn, such as the meadow pipits that overwinter on the marshes, or redwings passing over. For several recent winters one or two stonechats have been a regular feature at Thorpe Marshes. This year they returned in late September and today, for the first time, there were three, favouring the grazed marsh area around the NWT’s small group of British white cattle. Winter stonechats are by no means restricted to Thorpe Marshes: I have also seen them recently on marshes at Buckenham and Potter Heigham – no doubt NWT blog readers have seen them elsewhere – but their annual return gives me a lot of pleasure. We always look for them on our guided walks, and as they use obvious perches on docks or brambles it’s easy to get a good view through a telescope.
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 Derek Longe