A Guide To Wheatfen In Summer Rodger Goodrick
Hello. If this is your first visit to our reserve, we hope you enjoy the peace and
tranquillity of Wheatfen. This is a guide to what you may see on your way around.
We recommend either wellies or walking boots. We also recommend that if the
wind is very strong you should take care in the wood as trees can blow over
or branches can break and fall. We take great care to keep the reserve safe
so please keep to the footpaths as it can be very dangerous to stray. If you
see a sign that says “no entry” it means just that. Please do not pick or disturb
anything, thank you. Enjoy your visit safely.
This is what you might expect to see and hear if you visit the reserve during the
summer months, June through to the end of August. As we enter June the birds
are still in good voice, but as the month progresses they sing less and less. They
have young to feed and in July and August they begin their moult, so they sculk
in the undergrowth keeping themselves to themselves. This is the time of year
for flowers and insects. A good field guide would be very useful, especially on
flowers and insects, as we do not have room in this guide to give full descriptions
of all the plants and animals. A good insect repellent is advisable as the
mosquitoes can be a bit of a nuisance.
If you start your walk by the notice board in the car park, go through the gate up
the drive towards the cottage. Just past the cottage on the right hand side you
will see post one as shown on the reserve map. Carry on until just before you get
to the boardwalk and to your right you will see lots of Comfrey, which is in flower
most of the summer. Cross over the bridge and you have Home Dyke in front of
you. Turn left and follow the boardwalk, post two on the map. On cool days this
is a good place to see dragonflies resting on the rails trying to get warmed up so
they can fly. This is also a good time to see the difference between damselflies
and dragonflies. At rest the damselfly folds its wings over its back but dragonflies
keep theirs out flat by their sides. Being cold blooded, as are all insects, they
need the heat from the sun to give them energy. In June you could see one of the
Norfolk Broads specials, the Norfolk Hawker. This has a brown body and green
eyes and a small yellow triangle on its back. Not to be mistaken for the Brown
Hawker. This is about the same size but does not have green eyes and also has
amber wing colouring which the Norfolk does not have. This also flies at this
time of the year on the reserve. Here is a good place to see other dragonflies
including Black-Tailed Skimmer, Four-Spotted Chaser and numerous others
which can be seen around the reserve during the summer months.
To continue your walk, turn left by the pond and into The Thatch where you will
find lots of information and pictures of the flora and fauna, plus some of the
history and conservation work of the reserve.
Turn right out of the thatch to post three. As you walk along the path, on your
right Old Mill Marsh is coming into flower with Yellow Flag Iris, Common
Meadow Rue in June, followed by Meadow Sweet in July and the bright red of
the Guelder Rose berries in August. These are only a few of the plants you can
see on Old Mill Marsh.
At the end of the path, turn left down to Alder Carr, post four. The new seed
cones on the Alders can be seen now; these are the green ones, the black ones
are last year’s crop. When you leave the Carr the path leads onto open marsh.
This is Crake’s and Thack Marsh. Beside the path on the left hand side you
may see some largish round leaves about fifteen to twenty centimetres from the
ground. These belong to the Coltsfoot which bloomed in early spring. This is a
good place to see birds of prey including Marsh Harrier and Hobby (which is an
occasional summer visitor). Sparrowhawk and Kestrel can often be seen here
too. The Hobby feeds on dragonflies, swallows and swifts and is sometimes
described as looking like a large Swift if seen silhouetted against the sky. These
are probably the only birds of prey that can catch these when in full flight.
When you reach post five on the map, you can turn right and go across the
marsh or carry on down to the river and along the summer path. We sometimes
have to close this due to flooding when we have an extra high tide, as this path
can be wet at any time, so you really need wellies or good walking boots. If you
go by the river you may see Cormorants drying their wings perched high in a
tree. If you turn right and go across the centre path, from late May through to
the end of June, on warm sunny days, there could be another Broadland special,
the Swallowtail butterfly, on the wing feeding on Yellow Flag Iris. It depends
upon Milk Parsley to lay its eggs on. We have a special day in mid-June to guide
you to the best places on the reserve to see the adult butterflies, their eggs
and caterpillars. In August, on this path, there is Angelica in flower, and if the
Swallowtail has a second flight they often feed on this. At the end of the path turn
right. You are now on Smee Loke and post six. The river path rejoins here.
This is one of the best parts of the reserve to see butterflies as it is sheltered
from most of the wind and gets lots of sunshine. It also has an abundance of wild
flowers including, in June, Ragged Robin, Common Meadow Rue and Yellow
Flag Iris. In July there are Meadow Sweet, Hemp Agrimony, Purple and Yellow
Loosestrife and a rarity, Marsh Pea. These and other flowers help to keep the
butterflies, including Peacock, Red Admiral, Gate Keeper, Ringlet and many other
species, supplied with nectar.
Cross over the bridge and turn left at post seven. This is called Eleven Bridges.
Beside the path on patches of Stinging Nettles, keep a look out for large groups
of black caterpillars. These are Peacock butterfly larvae. In August, look for
the Marsh Sow Thistle which can be anything from six to eight feet tall and has
yellow flowers. This plant is very rare nationally. At the end of the path turn left
and this leads you to Fen Channel which is a dead-end path but well worth a
look as you may see Red Eyed Damselflies sitting on the lily pads. Return along
the path until you reach the bridge on your left, cross and follow the path through
the carr (this is the term used for wet woodland). Turn right, you are back to
Home Dyke. Follow the path and boardwalk until you get to post nine. Continue
straight ahead and on each side of the path in June, Common Spotted Orchids
bloom. These have green leaves with black spots on them and the flowers are
pinkish purple on a single stem up to twelve inches high. On this stretch of path
in July if you are really lucky there could be Purple Hairstreak Butterflies coming
down low. These butterflies spend most of their time high in the tree canopy
feeding on the sugar rich honeydew that aphids pass after feeding on Ash and
Aspen. They very rarely feed on nectar. The eggs are laid on young Oak leaves
in July when the Oak produces its second crop of leaves.
Turn left at the junction and carry on beside the wood. Turn right and then left.
This brings you to Wheatfen Broad and Deep Waters, post ten. In July the
dyke that runs between is a good place to see Banded Demoiselle Damselflies.
These look more like butterflies with their erratic flight and their deep Prussian
blue wings. The females are more subdued having brownish green wings.
You may also see Grey Heron and Great-Crested Grebe on the broad. Follow
the boardwalk looking out for the numerous other species of damselflies and
dragonflies we have on the reserve including Broad-Bodied Chaser and Migrant
Hawker dragonflies and Common Blue, Azure Blue and Blue-Tailed damselflies.
As you cross over the bridge, look in the dyke on your right and you will see
lots of Starwort growing in the water. Carry on through the wood. We have
laid a path of logs here as the ground is nearly always water logged and very
boggy. We call this type of surface corduroy and we use coppiced wood for this
At post eleven, cross over the next dyke, listening for “pick pick” call of the
Great Spotted Woodpecker which can be heard any time of the year. You may
see it high in the canopy or flying between trees with its bounding flight. When
you get to post twelve, in July this is a good place to see the White Admiral
Butterfly. We regularly coppice the Hazel here to let in the sunlight so Bramble
will flower supplying nectar for the adult butterflies to feed on and Honeysuckle
for the caterpillars (this is their favoured food plant). Follow the path and this will
bring you back to the car park keeping an eye out for Chinese Water Deer and
sometimes Roe Deer on the way.
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