News from the Sudbury Riverside – December 2019

As the end of the year approaches it is a good time to pause and reflect on what has been; the joys and the disappointments of the seasons on the riverside.

The joy, of course, lies in the landscape and the great good fortune that Sudbury enjoys in still having its riverside environment intact. Within that environment with its many waterways and rough pastures there is still plenty to see and enjoy.

Butterflies in particular experienced a tremendous summer with plentiful numbers on wing during the very warm conditions. Similarly dragonflies fared very well too. Both butterflies and dragonflies rely on fine, warm sunny conditions so the past two summers have suited them well.

Painted lady feeding on thistles, photographed by Adrian Walters

Spring brought an extraordinary number of cuckoos to the valley, the likes of which had not been seen or heard for very many years. A female cuckoo was even seen dropping into a reed-bed adjacent to Friars Meadow; surely to lay an egg in a warbler’s nest? Very shortly afterwards she reappeared and alighted briefly on a dead tree nearby. It was an unusual privilege to see nature in action in this manner.

Kingfishers were unusually few and far between earlier in the year and yet now they can be seen daily cruising low across the pastures or streaking along the river channels so the 2019 breeding season must have been very successful indeed. Although the grey wagtails appeared to have had a poor breeding year these very attractive birds can still be seen around the riverside.

Early marsh orchid, photographed by Adrian Walters

The greatest disappointment was the dearth of flowering early marsh orchids. As their name suggests they require damp conditions to thrive and in recent years the Sudbury population had grown enormously to the extent that our riverside hosted the largest number of these beautiful blooms in Suffolk. The prolonged drought of 2018 put severe pressure on them to such an extent that many of those that survived were unable to produce flowers this year. Last spring was also very dry so there could be a further reduction in numbers next year. Nature, however, has a way of surprising us so it is a case of waiting to see what she delivers next spring.

Male barn owl chick, photographed by Adrian Walters

On a final note there was a positive outcome tinged with later sadness concerning the barn owls. They had a successful breeding season and it is good to know that they can breed so close to town without disturbance. They do not rear broods every year because they are dependent on a good year for their prey which consists almost entirely of voles. As the vole population is cyclical over a three year period of boom and bust they need to be very abundant for barn owls to thrive. Life is very tough out there for the owls and, sadly, a BTO ringing recovery report recorded the death of one of our juvenile birds as a result of a road traffic accident in September. It was found at Conington in Cambridgeshire so it had moved some distance from its natal territory.

Adrian Walters (Clerk to the Trustees of the Sudbury Common Lands Charity and Ranger)