Tuesday 24 August 2021

Southrepps Common and Pigneys Wood, 23 August 2021

Two new sites for Honeyguide days out today, the first thanks to our guide for the morning, former Southrepps resident Helen Crowder. For an August morning it was decidedly chilly, in case anyone reading this blog wonders why there is no mention of invertebrates this morning.

Angelica, Southrepps Common.
For a wet site, it couldn’t be easier, as a boardwalk runs right through Southrepps Common, now a nature reserve managed by Norfolk Wildlife Trust. The first stretch was dominated by reed, though with many fine umbels of angelica by the boardwalk. The floristically rich area was a little farther along, where it was more open and, on the far side, recently cut as part of the site’s management. We found lots of marsh lousewort, also called red rattle, sometimes alongside yellow rattle, the latter in flower and in seed, the two rattles a combination you don’t often see. There were dozens of spikes of marsh helleborines, seed heads this late in the year, plus eyebright.

Marsh helleborine, in seed (Jillian Macready).

Marsh lousewort (Jillian Macready). 

There was a good reason for the timing of the visit: it was perfect for seeing the gorgeous grass-of-Parnassus, which is scarce and local in the southern half of England, albeit more widespread farther north. These were both in flower and in bud, and with distinctive leaves wrapped around their stems. Though once classified with saxifrages they are now on their own, taxonomically. The reason for the name, most sources say, is that cattle on Mount Parnassus liked them so much that they count as an honorary grass.


Southrepps Common.

Beyond the common, Helen led us through a woodland of Scots pine, sweet chestnut and bracken. This brought us to an attractive property with various bird boxes and a lovely garden, and a large open outbuilding which where a dozen or so swallows were perching, mostly over a tarpaulin presumably carefully placed to keep their droppings away from a vehicle. Sheep here were the breed Kerry Hill, Helen says. Then alongside the path there was a long strip sown with an arable wild flower mix: corn marigold, cornflower, musk mallow, haresfoot clover, wild carrot and seedheads of corn cockle. Three of us stopped to look at a moth on ivy: straw dot was the conclusion.

Arable wild flower mix.

Straw dot moth ((Jillian Macready)
We continued through farmland, with pigs on our right and wheat on our left. Among the pigs were gulls, rooks, jackdaws and red-legged partridges. By the wheat was a selection of unsown flowers that like arable land: heartsease, scarlet pimpernel, bugloss, redshank and others. Back where we’d parked, we took a few steps back to see a great spotted woodpecker on a dead tree.

Tim and Cheryl led a careful convoy to the car park for our afternoon walk at Pigneys Wood. At last we had some sunshine, ideal for eating picnic lunches and bringing out some butterflies including a speckled wood in the car park and a painted lady on a buddleia near the information board. We looked at yellowy-green galls on alder leaves, caused by a mite Acalitus brevitarus.

Small tortoiseshell, Pigney's Wood (Jillian Macready).
The wood itself was planted by the North Norfolk Community Woodland Trust, entrusted to Norfolk Wildlife Trust to manage in 2017. Inevitably the new woodland isn’t the most interesting for wildlife, though wet areas, a small heathland and meadows make it all an attractive mosaic. We walked along a wide ride, though a short stretch of wood and meadow and emerged into an open area. Here a southern hawker was hunting, stopping to perch and hang vertically in their characteristic style. With a little patient observation, we realised there was both a male and a female southern hawker doing this.
Southern hawker, male (Jillian Macready).
Brown hawkers, their amber wings obvious in flight, and a migrant hawker added to the mix, as did common darters. In this meadow area we mostly looked at wild flower ID, such as common hemp-nettle and the difference between a trio of peas, greater birdsfoot trefoil, meadow vetchling and tufted vetch. We were soon alongside a vegetated stretch of the North Walsham & Dilham Canal, with reedmace, branched bur-reed, water chickweed and water forget-me-not just a few of the wetland species noted. On the dry edge we looked at black medick and hop trefoil. A great spotted woodpecker settled on a dead tree. As we turned away from the canal, we passed a pond thick with water soldier where we paused to admire a ruddy darter and the white bells of greater bindweed, completing a set of three bindweed species today.

Dark bush cricket, female (Jillian Macready).
We wiggled through a dark and damp stretch of old hazel coppice and headed up a gentle slope. Here we found a dark bush-cricket on some stinging nettles. Jillian photographed and a harvestman: a tentative ID is noted – any better ideas?

Harvestman, Pigneys Wood (Jillian Macready). Tentative ID: Leiobunum rotundum (e.g. here).
This route led to a small patch of heathland creation, with heather and bell heather. Ann was identifying various bees, mostly red-tailed and common carder bees.  Jillian’s interest and growing expertise in hoverflies is shown in the photos below.

Long hoverfly Sphaerophoria scripta on heather (Jillian Macready). 

Marmalade hoverfly Eipsyrphus balteaus (Jillian Macready).

Only very low-growing gorse was in flower and a careful sniff revealed a lack of almond scent, suggesting it was western gorse, also found on other east Norfolk heaths. Narrower flowers and a ‘harder’ yellow colour add weight to this ID. By now the warmth had brought out lots of gatekeeper butterflies.

Western gorse in the heathland creation at Pigneys Wood.

Chris Durdin

Thursday 19 August 2021

Two days in North Norfolk, 17 & 18 August 2021

Chris Durdin joined long-time Honeyguiders Sue & Peter Burge and Helen & Malcolm Crowder for two days out in north Norfolk. They were staying at The Pheasant Hotel in Kelling.

17 August – Blakeney Harbour and Holt Country Park

Where was the late August heatwave that was once forecast? On a wet morning, with a boat trip booked for noon, we started by driving to the beach at Salthouse, then a brief stop to overlook Cley Marshes from NWT’s visitor centre. Here, from a fairly sheltered spot, a volunteer guide had his telescope on a pink-footed goose, a very early arrival for the winter. There was also a good number of black-tailed godwits, an avocet and a marsh harrier.

Mostly harbour seals; the blotchy one is a grey seal.

After a short detour to see Blakeney Quay we arrived at Morston in good time for the Blakeney Harbour seal trip. A surprise was seeing spoonbills flying around, firstly a group of four then singles in various directions. Once in the harbour there were curlews, little egrets and oystercatchers and an interesting range of boats described by the Beans Boats guides.

Out on the edge of Blakeney Point there were summering eider ducks, two of them, just before we reached the main group of seals, today mostly common (harbour) seals, mixed with some Atlantic grey seals. Banter from the guides include seal names: Ron (Ronseal) and a daft one called Imba seal (think about it).

We had lunch at Holt Country Park. The rain had stopped but it was still grey, so no butterflies on the buddleias. Once on the heath we stopped where there were bee wolf holes and, to our surprise, one showed and did some excavating. (More about this impressive solitary wasp here.)

Bee wolf.
We carried on around the edge of Holt Lowes SSSI. It was too grey for any keeled skimmers to be on the wing though characteristic flowers included marsh lousewort, three heather species and, in the final boggy patch, a fine show of round-leaved sundews.
Round-leaved sundew, Holt Lowes (photographed on a sunnier day).

We then moved onto Plumstead for a tour of John Durdin’s garden.

18 August – Wells, Warham Camp and Kelling Water Meadows

We parked near the Co-op and walked to East Quay, pausing for a lively flock of house sparrows in shrubby sea-blite bushes. The tide was out and the saltmarsh was colourful with sea lavender. Twice spoonbills flew past then disappeared from view into deep creeks.

The main lagoon at North Point pools at the eastern end had lots of water; next to it the seasonal flood had gone, the usual routine here with winter wetlands drying out for summer grazing. It was Helen who saw the crane in the large flock of greylags. For such a big bird it had a knack of disappearing from view, either behind tall rushes or in hollows.

Crane at Wells, with greylags (digiscoped).

The lagoon had a nice selection of waders: black-tailed godwits, avocet, ruffs, redshanks, lapwing and ringed plovers. A group of golden plovers flew around before settling and, in its usual way, we heard the ‘choo, choo, choo’ of a greenshank before it flew past. One of the spoonbills was in view on the way back to Wells.

Warham Camp.

We ate by the roadside at Warham before walking to the iron age fort. The chalk grassland here was a sea of wild flowers: small scabious, burnet saxifrage, stemless and carline thistles, squinancywort and thyme. We quickly saw our first chalkhill blue butterfly and, as the afternoon warmed, scores were on the move. Small skippers and painted ladies were among the other butterflies.

Chalkhill blue butterfly, male.

Female chalkhill blue (nearest), male below, on autumn gentian.

Autumn gentians were nice to find as we carried on our walk around the fort. A red-breasted carrion beetle earns a mention; Sue found a banded demoiselle not so far from the river at the bottom end of the circuit. Patches of yellow flowers here were wild parsnip; on the way in they’d been ragwort, surprisingly lacking in cinnabar moth caterpillars. A wall brown butterfly was a nice find.

Wall brown.

Stemless thistle.

Red-breasted carrion beetle Oiceoptoma thoracicum.

We returned to The Pheasant, then did the local walk to Kelling Water Meadows. A pair of birds on a hedge top included the brightest red cock linnet I’ve seen in a long time. The ducks on the lagoon at Kelling Quags were all gadwalls, in moult, with a couple of black-tailed godwits. At last, some proper sunshine as we reached and sat on the beach. The sea was calm but there were still birds on the move: curlews, oystercatchers, common and Sandwich terns.

Chris Durdin 

Thompson Common guided walk, 14 August 2021

This was a joint event between Honeyguide and RSPB Norwich Local Group. This report is by Doug Arkell.

Including Chris Durdin and myself, a party of sixteen assembled for what was, for most of us, a first visit to Thompson Common. Although signage was poor, we all managed to find the car park and arrive in good time. 

Thompson is the ‘local patch’ of recently joined member Phil Childs. He has known the reserve for many years and was good enough to offer to show us around. Luckily there were also several butterfly and dragonfly experts in the party, as the visit was heavily weighted towards those taxa.

Dusky sallow moth on black knapweed.
Our first sighting came in the car park with a white admiral butterfly briefly descending and settling on one of the cars. We joined the path onto the common through a mature wooded area. The brambles were in flower and attracting butterflies including peacock, red admiral, speckled wood and two very tatty silver-washed fritillaries. High in an ash tree several purple hairstreaks were spotted. Though difficult to find among the foliage, Chris Durdin managed to line one up in the scope for us.  A dusky sallow moth was photographed on a knapweed flower.

The path through the reserve forms part of the ‘Pingo Trail’ and we soon came upon some of these features. Forming round depressions with raised edges they provide an aquatic habitat for many species of plants and animals. They appeared to vary in both diameter, depth and in their vegetation. Phil gave us a brief explanation of their glacial origins. As we progressed along the path we came across a small herd of longhorn cattle, which included several cows with calves and a large though very passive bull. These animals, along with Konik ponies, which we did not see, are used to graze the common to maintain the open habitat.

Ruddy darter (left) and common darter (right) [Stephen Spouncer].

From the time we first left the car park we began to see different Odonata (dragonfly and damselfly) species. A few of these insects were attracted to some members of our party and settled on shoulders, hats and hands providing photo opportunities. Male ruddy darter and female common darter on Chris’s hand and Tessa’s hat respectively made an excellent shot. Further along the track we were surprised to see a female southern hawker dragonfly laying eggs directly into a fallen log several metres from the nearest water. Common darters were also seen releasing eggs well away from standing water. It would be interesting to discover the reasons for these behaviours and to find out whether the eggs had any chance of hatching.

Southern hawker egg-laying.

Willow emerald and scarce emerald damselflies are among the several species to have colonised or re-colonised Norfolk over the last 30 years or so. We were lucky enough to see both of these. An example of the former was spotted resting on a dead ash twig a couple of metres above us. There were scores of examples of the ‘scarce’ (not so scarce here) including many laying females and mating pairs. Common blue damselflies, brown hawkers and emperor dragonflies were also prolific.

Pair of scarce emerald damselflies (Doug Arkell).

On our way back to the car park for lunch, we saw brimstone butterflies and Regine disturbed a probable pool frog, a specialty of Thompson.

After lunch myself, Ally, and Chris Durdin followed Phil Childs by car to the other side of the reserve and Thompson Water. Phil explained something of its origins as a man-made feature and more about NWT’s management of recently acquired additional land. There were mute swans, mallards, coots and an immature great crested grebe on the water and we heard chiffchaff, wren and long-tailed tit in the bushes near the banks. Red-eyed damselflies rested on duckweed in the shallows.

Looking at the reserve plan it was obvious that the group had only covered small part of Thompson, so there is much more to see here. More photos here.

Doug Arkell

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