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.

Spoonbill.

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

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