A strange occurrence at Strumpshaw Fen

Strumpshaw Fen in East Norfolk is my local RSPB nature reserve, which I generally visit four or five times a week. I like to feel my efforts are rewarded by some reasonable photographs of the Strumpshaw specialities: Otters, Bitterns, Bearded Tits and so on, as well as some of the occasional rarer vagrants. (You can, if you wish, click HERE to visit my wildlife blog.)

During the Spring & Summer, the Fen can become quite busy, with lots of casual visitors keen to catch a glimpse of a beautiful Swallowtail butterfly or Kingfisher. In the Winter, though, it's a different place altogether, with just hardy regulars like Brian, Norman, Mark & Liz, stoically braving the icy easterlies with their cameras at the ready to capture that special shot...

In early February, 2013 I arrived at the Fen at around 7.30am and found that I had the place to myself: not even the Reception Centre showed signs of life. Since there had been an overnight snow-fall, that was perhaps not surprising! I made my way through the woods towards the Sandy Path that leads to the River Yare, noting Treecreepers and a Nuthatch on the way.

Halfway along the path is a peaty track leading to what is arguably the most productive photographic site: Fen Hide. This small wooden structure huddles down amongst the Norfolk Reeds by the edge of a shallow lagoon and can be a wonderful place to observe Ospreys, Otters, Bitterns, Water Rails and Kingfishers at close quarters.

On this particular morning, I trudged along the path, leaving my footprints in the unblemished carpet of snow before entering the hide, opening a viewing shutter and taking a seat. To be frank, there wasn't much to look at: a few Coots and Teal, but you never know at Strumpshaw: dum spiro, spero, as they say!

After perhaps half an hour, I heard footsteps crunching through the snow along the path: I eagerly anticipated the arrival of one of my chums to break the monotony - half the fun at SF is the craic.... The heavy tread reached and mounted the steps up to the hide pausing momentarily at the door. I turned in my seat, expecting the door to open: it didn't, but somewhat disconcertingly, the footsteps entered the hide and continued across to the far corner from where I sat!

For some ten minutes I shared Fen Hide with this unseen visitor: I could even hear the sound of the timber bench creaking and the shuffling of feet. The situation was resolved by the arrival of a newcomer from London: his cheery greeting dissipated the tension and restored normality.....