Monday 26 July 2021

Warham Camp & Stiffkey Fen, 21 July 2021

Five Honeyguiders met up on a gloriously sunny day on a minor road just south of the village of Warham to visit Warham Camp, an Iron Age hill fort and one of North Norfolk’s most important chalk grassland sites. While we waited for the group to assemble we explored the road verges and found some nice stands of agrimony and a six-spot burnet moth nectaring on a scabious flower.

Six-spot burnet moth on scabious.

We walked a short distance up the road before turning off on the track down to the camp. The tall hedges were alive with insects including a rosy footman moth. We also spotted many galls on dog rose - some were clearly robin’s pin cushions, caused by the wasp Diplolepsis rosae while others were small, smooth pea-shaped galls. We assumed the latter were young galls of the former but research back at home revealed that they were actually smooth rose pea galls caused by the wasps Diplolepis nervosa or Diplolepis eglanteriae.

Smooth rose pea galls.
As we walked onto the outer bank of the fort we saw our first chalkhill blue butterflies. The colony at Warham is the northernmost in the UK and is thought to be the result of an illicit introduction some years ago. In total we saw around 40 - all males - some of which posed nicely for photographs. The fort was also alive with six-spot burnet moths, small skippers and ringlets.

Chalkhill blue.

The chalk grassland flora was at its prime with chalk grassland specialities such as stemless thistle, common rockrose, small scabious, squinancywort, dropwort, harebell, restharrow and hoary plantain all in flower on the chalk banks. A few pyramidal and common spotted orchids were still in flower but most were past their best. In the damper, central area was wild parsnip, cow parsley and meadowsweet.

Stemless thistle.

We ate our packed lunches back at the cars under the shade of an oak tree before travelling the short distance to Stiffkey Fen, a freshwater lagoon fringed with reed created from a former arable field by the late Aubrey Buxton in the mid 1990s.

As we walked along the Stiffkey River we saw male and female banded demoiselles, a patch of yellow Mimulus guttatus or monkeyflower, a nice sized brown trout and we heard some newly fledged marsh harriers. Once on the sea bank, the heat haze made viewing of the fen challenging but we did pick out a small flock of black-tailed godwits, still in their red breeding plumage, and six greenshanks. Around a dozen spoonbills loafed on the lagoon and a little egret fed in a saltmarsh creek.


We continued walking along the sea bank to look out over Blakeney Harbour. We could see common seals right on the end of Blakeney Point and white haze of breeding terns. Closer in among a small flock of black-headed gulls was a single summer plumage Mediterranean gull. A fritillary butterfly - most probably dark green fritillary - flew past but didn’t stop and disappeared into a thick bank of gorse.

We walked slowly back to the cars seeing a pair of bullfinches and a red kite feeding over a nearby arable field. 

Rob Lucking

Friday 9 July 2021

Foxley Wood and Sculthorpe Moor, 9 July 2021

After several rainy days it was a relief to arrive at NWT’s Foxley Wood nature reserve, albeit after a detour via Themelthorpe, on a dry day with sunny intervals. The local butterflies must have been grateful for the improved weather: our first ringlets were in the car park and I glimpsed a white admiral flying away.

Ringlet, by far the most numerous butterfly today.

Six of us walked into the wood, where wide rides meant lots of flowers, including hundreds of common spotted orchids, and a steady string of butterfly sightings, with large skipper, large white, comma and meadow brown along these first stretches, though it was still ringlets that by far outnumbered all of these.

Common spotted orchids, Foxley.

At the main crossroads, a choice: towards where people were waiting around some tall oaks, or turn right along a wide and sunny ride. We chose the latter, taking advantage of the good weather at this point. It was a good choice as along here we soon found a lovely, freshly-emerged white admiral feeding around a patch of bramble flowers. We had excellent views through binoculars, though it proved too distant to photograph as did several others during the morning.

Silver-washed fritillary.

There was also a faded painted lady here and then a silver-washed fritillary flew by. This fritillary, then others later, were mostly on the move though one did settle long enough for good views and a photo, as did a common darter.

Honeysuckle leaf with mine of leaf miner Chromatomyia lonicerae.

Also along this ride was another dragonfly, a very fresh brown hawker that could be picked out hanging among some dead, brown leaves. We’d already seen a superb six-spot burnet moth on a marsh thistle, then Ann found another that had just emerged from its chrysalis. A cluster of hogweed flowers had a longhorn beetle, red soldier beetles and thick-legged flower beetles. There were hundreds of black, spiky peacock butterfly caterpillars on stinging nettles.

Six-spot burnet moth emerging from its chrysalis.

We continued around the wood, muddy in places on some paths, with patches of creeping jenny and a lot of enchanter’s nightshade in flower. By one track a purple hairstreak caught my eye, almost on the ground; we all saw it very well. Birch polypores and King Alfred’s cakes fungi were on birch and ash respectively.

King Alfred's cakes.

Towards the end of the circuit we reached the big oak trees and learnt from those watching here that there were no sighting of purple emperors as yet, here where they were seen last year. There were, however, more white admirals, red admirals and silver-washed fritillary again. Small white was an additional butterfly species after this.

Lovely wide rides in Foxley Wood.

Saying farewell at the car park to Tim & Cheryl, who were just with us for the morning, we learnt the hard way that the road through Foxley village had not been reopened. We returned via Themelthorpe and onto Foulsham before finding the main Fakenham road and onto Sculthorpe Moor, a route that included a patch on the edge of Fakenham where it had evidently rained.

Honeyguider Helen Young was waiting for us here at the Hawk & Owl Trust’s nature reserve, where we took advantage of the picnic tables to eat our packed lunches, while watching greenfinches on the huge feeders. New paths and habitats had been created since I last visited, near the reserve’s visitor centre, and Helen guided us through these. Ann noticed a dragonfly struggling in a new pond, and she rescued it and left it to dry out on a wooden post. It was still there at the end if the afternoon, suggesting that it had emerged with damaged wings.

Rescued common darter, though we think it had damaged wings.
Again there were lots of ringlets, a large skipper on a marsh thistle and wide ditches had banded demoiselles. Generally, the weather became greyer and there was little to see from the boardwalks in the wooded section of the nature reserve. Farther on, after Helen had left us to meet her lift home, there was more activity from birds, especially towards to the end of the afternoon, with singing reed bunting and reed warblers and sightings of whitethroat, sedge warbler and great spotted woodpecker. We also heard a grasshopper warbler and saw our first speckled wood of the day. Globular galls on alder leaves were caused by a mite, Eriophyles laevis. On the ground we found a scorpion fly, which takes some beating as a weird and wonderful insect.
Large skipper, Sculthorpe.

Scorpion fly Panorpa communis.

A red kite flew over and, once we were back in the car park, it returned to fly low over the area behind the visitor centre.

A contribution towards the Hawk & Owl Trust was included for the today's group. matched by a contribution from the Honeyguide Charitable Trust, raising £120 for Sculthorpe Moor.

Chris Durdin

Tuesday 6 July 2021

Honeyguide blogs to stop arriving by email

Honeyguide blogs will stop arriving by email during July 2021. The 'Honeyguide blogspot' is set up on Blogger, which is run by Google. The system is now showing an  announcement that "automated emails to your subscribers will no longer be supported." The timescale given is July, though without an exact date.

While there is a facility to extract the emails of the those who have subscribed, we think that a more practical way to be alerted to a new blog is by following Honeyguide’s Facebook page, where blogs get posted. Apart from this one, which is too dull! Blogs are also listed on the Honeyguide news page.

We appreciate that Facebook and other social media are not everyone's cup of tea and we've all read criticism of Facebook and other tech giants. My perspective is that a lot of this is down to users. It's not perfect but we find Facebook is a practical way to share wildlife photos, blogs and other updates. The Honeyguide e-newsletter will continue as now.

In the meantime, writing this short blog is the easy way to explain about this change.

Chris Durdin

Saturday 3 July 2021

Buxton Heath and Holt Lowes, 2 July 2021

The day started well when Honeyguider Ann Greenizan arrived at mine and found caterpillars of toadflax brocade moth on purple toadflax in my front garden. But we were still in good time for today’s morning at Buxton Heath which was, initially, in overcast weather. Usually you’d hope for sunshine to find the heath’s star butterfly, silver-studded blue, but after four wet days they were evidently keen to be out and we found them immediately on low-growing bell heather close to the car park. Better still, the conditions meant they were moving slowly, allowing for close views and photographs. As the weather brightened we found many more, both here and on the western side of the heath, and in places there seemed to be scores on the wing.

Silver-studded blue, male.

Silver-studded blues, mating pair, on bell heather. The silver 'studs' are best seen on the browner female.

We moved towards the boggy area in search of plants, though firstly some birds deserve a mention. A yellowhammer, then two, on a wire; great spotted woodpeckers flying around and, especially, a woodlark in full song, at first a distant dot then quite hard on neck muscles as it soared overhead.

A slime mould on a log, probably Lycogala sp.
The orchids were the stars here, with various sizes, shapes and shades of pink. Common spotted, heath spotted, southern marsh and Pugsley’s march orchids all occur here, plus hybrids. The more I looked and, later, studied the book, the less clear-cut identifications seemed to be. Perhaps it doesn’t matter: the show was quite something. Marsh helleborine was certain, though. Here bell heather gave way to paler cross-leaved heath, sometimes in mounds among the sphagnum. Doug found a water avens and there were little clumps of bog pimpernel, some ragged robin and fen bedstraw.
Marsh helleborine.

We returned past the entrance to the heath and to a wet area, with lesser spearwort, fenced to prevent overgrazing. Here there were two female keeled skimmer dragonflies, an emperor dragonfly flew past, and Julia found the first common darter I’d seen this year. The local stonechats posed nicely, and Ann found a moth later identified as brown silver-lines. Back in the car park there was a painted lady on bramble flowers and green-eyed flies that were probably the horsefly called twin-lobed deerfly.

Brown silver-lines, larval food plant for which is bracken (Helen Crowder).

Twin-lobed deerfly.

We drove onto Holt Country Park and there ate picnics or food & drink from Hetty’s cabin. We took the path through the afforested area to the big pond at the edge of the heath where there were many large red and azure damselflies plus banded demoiselles and four-spotted chasers. We studied two moths on the underside of water lily leaves; one came closer and Helen photographed and ID’d it as the aquatic brown china-mark. We noted greater spearwort; the size difference compared with lesser spearwort was obvious.

Brown china-mark (Helen Crowder).

Moving onto Holt Lowes, we walked along the edge of the heath, coming across three red admirals that seemed to be feeding on sap on a gash on an oak tree. 

Red admiral, this one on gorse and low enough for a photo. 
Here we dropped down a little to skirt the wet edge, the path helpfully in the dry while overlooking the many boggy patches that make this place so special. The first had sheets of lesser spearwort and, as at Buxton Heath, keeled skimmers. We continued to see keeled skimmers in various wet areas all along here, including many powder-blue males.

Lesser spearwort.

At a small pond, we watched two broad-bodied chasers. The blue male was patrolling and the yellowish female was busy egg-laying, her abdomen repeatedly bent forward to touch the water. There were keeled skimmers again, then Ann noticed a large insect struggling on the water’s surface. She rescued it and the four-spotted chaser soon dried out on her hand, then on the perch where we left it.

Rescued four-spotted chaser.

A female brimstone butterfly was moving around a nondescript green bush, but for good reason as that bush was alder buckthorn, a larval foodplant for brimstones. With a little searching we found several tiny white eggs on the alder buckthorn’s fresh growth.

Brimstone eggs on alder buckthorn, Holt Lowes.

Julia and Helen were at the front of the group as the path weaved through some tall gorse and they called us to a halt to see a slow-worm, which helpfully stayed still, presumably hoping we hadn’t seen it. Remarkably, soon after there was a second slow-worm. Another star finding on a bare path was a green tiger beetle. It seemed to be hunting ants.


Common spotted orchid, marsh helleborine (as at Buxton Heath) and marsh lousewort were among the flowers in wet areas and it would be only fair to mention the wonderful show of foxgloves on the dry heath, as well as lots of bell heather. Finally, on the last boggy bit, we found one of the botanical stars of Holt Lowes: round-leaved sundews.

Round-leaved sundew.
Chris Durdin

Valencia: bird ringing sheds light on wetland warbler survival

For many Honeyguiders, one of the highlights of our March Valencia trip is to attend a bird ringing session at Pego Marshes Natural Park. Ou...