Over the May bank holiday weekend we went champing, which gave us a great opportunity to visit nature reserves close to where we were staying and get out on the River Stour in a canoe.
Our first stop was Monkton Nature Reserve. The reserve is a former chalk quarry, that has been reclaimed or wildlife. Our visit coincided with their open weekend, so it was free! The reserve has chalk grassland within the quarry area and two wildlife ponds, with a woodland walk around the top edge of the quarry. On the way in we spotted a vole, always good to spot a small mammal.
Wandering through the reserve we enjoyed the hawthorn in full bloom, looking beautiful in the sunshine. We spotted a red admiral, and up on the quarry edge, a common blue butterfly. Under a reptile tin a slow worm hid, shooting out quickly when we lifted it to take a peek. The reserve is also home to several species of orchid, we saw man orchid flowering, a new species for me, and very exciting!
On a pathway ahead of us a young rabbit grazed, until startled by our movement.
Exploring the wildlife garden we were impressed with the bug hotel, it was fascinating watching bees going in and out of the hollow stems of the bee home, and to see the little faces inside the tubes.
Monkton also has a visitor centre with a whole range of animal skulls and natural history displays, which is pleasantly diverting, and a large second hand bookshop with a good range of books. An interesting place to spend a couple of hours.
On Sunday we had something a little more active planned. We hired a Canadian canoe and paddled downstream from Fordwich to Grove Ferry along the Stour. It was great to be out on the river, weeds waving in the water beneath us and shoals of chubb swimming by. The river was lined with willows, hawthorn in bloom and other trees dipping in to the water. It was quiet paddling along, gentle splashes in the water, the breeze through the trees and birdsong the main sounds. As we paddled cuckoos could be heard calling and chiffchaffs singing. As we went past one tree, a most strange noise could be heard, a low purring coo. And then we saw it, a turtle dove, flying from one tree to the next and then sitting still for us to see. I’ve never seen a turtle dove before, a truly stunning bird!
As we paddled we spotted a tree bumblebee struggling on the water’s surface. We quickly turned the canoe, and I caught the bee on my paddle and put it on the front of the canoe to dry out. It sat, looking soggy, then started to clean and dry itself, wriggled it’s bottom and then was off on it’s way. Bee rescue complete!
All too soon, assisted by the current, we had arrived at Grove Ferry. Here we could have had a lift back to Fordwich, but instead we took the opportunity to explore Stodmarsh National Nature Reserve. Stodmarsh is an area of reed beds, lagoons and river meadows next to the river. We walked back along the river, keeping a close eye on the reed beds, but it was so hard to see the small birds, just a glimpse before they dropped down into the reeds and out of sight.
We could still hear the cuckoos calling regularly, and as we got to a tree where one was calling from, it took flight and we had a good view. Another first, I have heard cuckoos calling before, a lovely sound, but have never seen one.
In a lagoon, a little egret hunted, dipping for food in the shallow water, before being joined by another egret who took little hopping flights, wings raised, chasing them across the water. Lapwing were also on the lagoon, my favourite waterbird, jaunty and handsome. Above the reedbed a bird of prey hunted, small, fast, at one point turning almost upside down. Sadly too far way and too fast to identify, but fabulous to watch.
Anyone able to provide an ID from this quite frankly useless picture?
Along the river banded demoiselle fluttered and darted, wings shimmering in the sunshine, sadly too fast to photograph on this occasion on what was a busy footpath. A band of twenty noisy ramblers passed by, wildlife fleeing before them. We watched, bemused, as they strode on chatting loudly, appearing to take no notice of their beautiful surroundings.
Listening to the bird song and slowly ambling we spotted this lovely little bird in the trees, I am a little unsure on the identification- either chiff chaff or willow warbler, please let me know in the comments if you can help!
Above another area of reed a marsh harrier hunted, then passed prey to its mate above the water- graceful, fast and deadly. We saw marsh harriers for the first time this winter, when we stayed on Elmley Nature Reserve on Sheppey, and it was a real treat to see them again.
At the edge of the reeds a coot nested, sitting tight on her nest.
We wondered along the nature trail, listening to the sounds of the reserve and enjoy the warm sunshine, and cool of the shade under the trees. Stodmarsh was a really interesting place to visit, full of wildlife. If you’re nearby or visiting the area I definitely recommend it as a place to explore!
The weekend has acted as a great lead up to the #30dayswild challenge for June, I can’t wait to see what the month has in store.
Information about where we went:
Information about Monkton Nature Reserve can be found here: www.monkton-reserve.org
We hired canoes from Canoe Wild: www.canoewild.co.uk