Thursday 24 June 2021

West Runton and Beeston Common, 23 June 2021

Planning Honeyguide days out with an eye on the weather forecast doesn’t always work out but today it did, with Goldilocks weather – not too hot, not too cool. It was ideal for a mixture of a morning on the beach at West Runton and an afternoon at nearby Beeston Common. We assembled at West Runton’s clifftop car park where we could hear or see a skylark, whitethroat and linnets, plus a steady movement of sand martins, many of which we later saw around their nest holes in the cliffs. A coach with a large party of school age children also arrived, though the beach was far from crowded early on a week day.

Rob Lucking gave a splendid summary of the mix of chalk and flints that we were looking at on the exposed foreshore as the tide retreated, so good that I persuaded him to write it down.

Paramoudra magna with some of Honeyguide group.

‘The chalk reef that runs between Sheringham & Cromer was laid down between 60 million and 100 million years ago when the planet was much warmer than it is now and covered with shallow tropical oceans. The chalk is formed from the skeletal remains of tiny marine organisms that settled on the ocean floor and was compressed to form the chalk rock we see today. Chalk was formed very slowly – as a rule of thumb, 1cm depth of chalk would take 1000 years to form.

‘Flints are commonly found in the chalk layer and while no-one knows exactly how flints were formed, one theory is that as the tiny marine organisms that formed the chalk decomposed in anaerobic (without oxygen) conditions hydrogens sulphide gas was formed. This combined with oxygen higher up in the water column and formed sulphuric acid which slowly dissolved silicates from the skeletons of marine organisms and eventually formed a highly concentrated solution of silica that solidified in gaps in the chalk forming the irregular flint nodules found on the beach at West Runton.

‘An interesting feature of West Runton beach is the large number of ‘paramoudra’ or pot stones and flint rings which are thought to be the fossilised remains of marine sponges. The flint rings are thought to be the remains of barrel sponges where the organic wall of the sponge has been replaced with flint (or silicified) and the hollow centre filled with chalk. The pot stones are flint nodules with hollow centres, sometimes looking like giant vertebrae.’

Paramoudra typica.

I’d always wondered about the odd stones with holes in at West Runton … and at last, light was being shed. So we made our the short distance to the shore, though with finds along the way: the first of many belemnites, fossilised squid-like cephalopods, and a tiny sea urchin fossil that Ann picked up.

Where the wet sand joined the shingle beach was the first Paramoudra magna, a ring about two metres across. There were many more, and examples of Paramoudra typica, a stone ring with or without a chalk core, and more complex mixtures of bigger rings and inner Paramoudra.

We continued to find belemnites as we pottered in the rock pools. There were thousands of winkles and dog whelk shells in various colours. Doug found a hermit crab in a winkle shell and we think a tiny fish was a common goby. There were limpets and barnacles, of course, a sea slater (like a marine woodlouse), and the occasional crab and shrimp. 

Dog whelks.

Belemnites, with winkles.

Beadlet anemones were what I photographed more than anything else, some under water with tentacles out, others out of the water and closed, though I failed to find (or photograph today) the blue stinging ‘beads’ under the tentacles that give them their name.

Beadlet anemone.

It wasn’t a day for many birds on the shore: lots of herring gulls, mostly immatures, and a cormorant, though we did see a fulmar fly along the cliff and sand martins around their holes. We walked across to the cliff and admired sheets of kidney vetch, bladder campion and bright yellow stonecrop, and smelt the strongly scented leaves of sea wormwood. We ate our picnics in the sunshine in the car park, or bought something from the Seaview Beach CafĂ©.

Kidney vetch.

Sea wormwood.
A short drive west brought us to Beeston Common or, more strictly, Sheringham and Beston Regis Commons, as the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) is called. Immediately among the long grass and rushes were dozens of orchids, here common spotted orchids, some quite small though the odd real corker. Patches of lesser stitchwort here interested sparked a few comments as we'd all seen lots of greater stitchwort in recent weeks.

Common spotted orchid, Beeston Common.

Ann was watching a dragonfly egg-laying in a well-vegetated watercourse, and it settled by the path. It was a keeled skimmer, and we couldn’t have hoped for a better view of her shoulder stripes and the bold line on the abdomen that gives the ‘keel’ in the name. My experience with keeled skimmers is that sometimes they allow a close approach for a photo, and so it proved.

Keeled skimmer, female.

We followed the path where the keeled skimmer had settled, taking us around a lush buttercup meadow and to a large pond. Here a female broad-bodied chaser was egg-laying, a four-spotted chaser perched, and an emperor dragonfly patrolled.

Meadow thistle.

A little farther into the common we explored more damp meadows, where the best flowers were all conveniently near the cut path. We’d seen lots of marsh thistle; now there was a lovely (and spine-less) meadow thistle. Sphagnum moss had great patches of red sundew leaves. While much of this was round-leaved sundew we also found great sundew Drosera anglica. There were many of the distinctive rosettes of butterwort, one of which had a flower. 

Round-leaved (common) sundews.

Great sundew Drosera anglica.
Orchids here were early marsh orchids and a single southern marsh orchid plus several spikes of marsh helleborine in bud. Cross-leaved heath and quaking grass were nice to see. Around the corner we found a marsh helleborine in flower and it was here that a powder-blue male keeled skimmer showed well, again perched low on the side of a path, albeit not quite as tame as the earlier female.

We walked around some more of the more wooded and heathy areas of the SSSI, concluding that some birches were downy birches, before walking back to the lay-by and buying an ice cream.

Chris Durdin

Wednesday 9 June 2021

A Nature Ramble in Eaton Park, June 2021

A Nature Ramble in Eaton Park with Chris Durdin, 7 June 2021

Guest blog by Helen Mitchell, Friends of Eaton Park

Starting at the Rose Garden we meandered down Walnut Tree Avenue to the lily pond, headed across to the meadow and North Park Wood, and then down through the pitch and putt to Bluebell Wood, before returning on the inside hedge to South Park Avenue to finish at the boat pavilion.

Where's that greenfinch? (Helen Mitchell)

We started the walk with birds in mind but ended up watching red-eyed damselflies on the lily pond, admiring fairy ring champignons in the meadow, and stopping to admire some of the wild flowers too. It was a gentle, eclectic and delightful ramble.

Looking for red-eyed damselflies on lily pads (Caroline Flatt).
The birds we saw and, in italics, some of the interesting details Chris shared with us.

Blue tit
Carrion crow
Collared dove – new to the UK in the 1950s and first bred in Norfolk
Great spotted woodpecker call is like a loud blackbird’s alarm call
Herring gull
Lesser black-backed gull – live for 15 to 20 years
Pied wagtail – ballerina in Italian and bergeronnette (shepherdess) in French

Pitch and putt trees (Caroline Flatt).
Some of the wildflowers we peered at and felt.

Black horehound
Bur chervil
Buckshorn, greater and ribwort (lamb’s tongue) plantains
Bulbous and creeping buttercups
Common mouse-ear
Common and sheep’s sorrels
Cow parsley
Dovesfoot cranesbill
Greater stitchwort
Hedge mustard
Herb bennett
Rough chervil
Spear thistle
Common vetch
Yellow rattle

Meadow in Eaton Park with meadow saxifrage and bulbous buttercup, 12 May 2021 (Helen Mitchell).

Hickling guided walk 8 June 2021

Swallowtails and a boat trip were the two suggestions from visiting Honeyguiders Everard and Phil. A day out at Hickling, with local Honeyguiders, was the obvious plan for what turned out to be a warm early summer’s day.

With the group assembled and the boat trip paid, our morning was a circuit on foot around Hickling Broad nature reserve. We were in no hurry to leave the picnic area as a female broad-bodied chaser perched in fine view on a cigar gall on a reed. The gall was explained by Ann as initially the home for Lipara lucens, a type of frit flywith other invertebrates moving in later. Very nearby was a gloriously golden four-spotted chaser, posing beautifully for photos.

'A gloriously golden four-spotted chaser.'

There was bird song everywhere, more like spring than summer, willow warblers and reed warblers especially. There were also plenty of perched reed buntings to find, once we’d found our past the greylag goose family on the path. On some open water we watched a male hairy dragonfly, then a Norfolk hawker. It didn’t take long to see swallowtail butterflies flying past us, about three sightings while we were on foot, though none settled for close views, perhaps related to the warm weather.

Greylags on the path around the nature reserve at Hickling.

Various galls on oak trees, endless marsh harrier sightings and an over-flying hobby were among the wildlife on the next stretch, plus a chance encounter with Honeyguide leader Rob Lucking on a day out with his wife Vicki. This brought us to the bank alongside bittern hide. The hide was occupied but it didn’t matter: we heard a distant bittern from deep in the reeds anyway. On Brendan’s marsh there were two little egrets, lapwings and avocets among a carpet of yellow buttonweed (Cotula).

An NWT tractor on the track meant a path through the wood was the easier route back to base, past the koniks (ponies) that are part of the reserve’s management team.

Konik, a pony breed from Poland often used to help manage wetland nature reserves.

Honeyguider Gill Page joined us for packed lunches in the picnic area, during which some saw a red kite fly over (I was in the loo!). We then made our way to the launching area for the boat Swallowtail. Sanitiser and life jackets sorted, we were away. The route took us across Hickling Broad, with its hundreds of non-breeding mute swans and many sightings of marsh harriers and common terns, plus two great white egrets. Once in a narrower waterway, more swallowtail butterflies flew around us as we made our way to the below sea level island with its tree tower. Those of us that climbed to the top of the tower had great views across the Hickling and Horsey area.

All aboard the 'Swallowtail'.

We returned to the visitor centre for ice cream and cold drinks, during which Rachel Frain from NWT said how she was trying to re-build the volunteer team at NWT Hickling’s visitor centre, a team which has, as in so many walks of life, taken a hit with Covid, closures and so on. If anyone reading this blog would like to volunteer on this lovely reserve, please ask Chris at Honeyguide or contact Rachel directly (

We then walked along the other side of Brendan’s marsh towards Stubb Mill. Redshanks called and we found avocet chicks with their parents. At the far end there was a confusing moment: I said “crane” just as Helen called “bittern”. The bittern was flying high across the reedbed before dropping out of sight, soon followed by its distinctive ‘boom’. I was beginning to wonder if I had imagined a crane-like shape when it reappeared, on an earth bank at the end of a waterway. A second crane showed briefly, too.

View from the tower towards Whiteslea Lodge, Hickling.

From the raptor viewpoint at Stubb Mill there were several marsh harriers and a buzzard as we scanned towards Horsey Mill and the tumbledown Brograve Mill. It was time to return after a long but rewarding day out.

Chris Durdin

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