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

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