Friday 24 September 2021

Broadland Country Park and Buxton Heath, 23 September 2021

There were just three of us on today’s Honeyguide outing, but what a perfect day it was as we arrived at the very new Broadland Country Park – announced in just March this year – between Horsford and Felthorpe. We started by looking over the heathland by the new picnic benches, which was colourful with heather, bell heather and western gorse. We didn’t go onto the heath as it’s fenced for grazing, part of the conservation management of the site.

We took an anti-clockwise circuit around the country park, past another area also fenced for grazing and with sheep on view. We also heard cattle somewhere, but we didn’t see them.

Dock bug (left) and spiked shieldbug (right).

Garden or cross spider. Like a hot cross bun with legs, says Tessa.

To start with we looked at the ID of various wild flowers, then swiftly switched to bugs on finding the two species in the photographs, names added after looking them up later. And we found a grey dagger moth caterpillar. 

We moved into a large area of pine forest and bracken, finding lots of common earthball fungi.

Common earthball, Broadland Country Park.

We turned left into a long and wide trackway, with banks on both sides, through deciduous forest now, mostly birches and sweet chestnut. The track’s origin is not known, but it seems likely it was an old and well-used route, perhaps between Horsford and Felthorpe. Birches at the start had witches’ brooms, a gall caused by a fungus. There were damp, open areas here and there, and on one we took time out to enjoy confiding common darters that perched on the trunk of a downy birch. Indeed we stopped to feel the twigs of many a birch, to find if they were soft (downy birch) or hairless (silver birch). It was a pretty route, especially in today’s autumn sunshine.

Common darter, male, on a fallen downy birch.

Broadland Country Park.

Reaching the far side of the country park, on the Horsford side, we stopped several times to look at fungi on birch trees. Birch polypores were quite common, on both upright and fallen dead birch trunks. I re-found a very large hoof fungus, about 10 inches across, on a high, standing stump, that one located from a recce visit. I was pleased with that alone, given it’s a species only rediscovered in Norfolk in 2008, albeit now quite widespread, especially in the north and west of the county. For that reason, hoof fungus is featured in the publication Norfolk’s Wonderful 150.

Hoof fungus (AG).
Then Ann pointed out another tall, standing birch stump, this time with several, darker looking hoof fungi Fomes fomentarius. We counted and made it 12 ‘hooves’ on that one trunk.
Several hoof fungi on this tall stump.

There was more to come. The third trunk we found had many more smaller, lighter and no doubt younger hoof fungi. I counted 30. Better still, most of these had cocoon-like objects on or near them. These matched perfectly a picture I was carrying sent to me by Norfolk fungi recorder, Tony Leech, also from Broadland Country Park. These had been identified as the cocoons of a fungus gnat Sciophila rufa, only the third record for England and a second for Norfolk, the first being at Thompson Common.

Cocoons of a fungus gnat Sciophila rufa, under the right hand hoof fungus.
We returned across a small piece of open heath, part of St Faith’s Common. I found a single cross-leaved heath here, and we learned later that there is more in the mire area behind the fence on the main heath. An oak tree had four gall species, all created by gall wasps: cherry, knopper and spangle galls, plus a fourth with the splendid scientific name Andricus inflator, though no English name.

We ate our picnic lunches on a bench by the heath. It was happy accident that the country park’s manager, Sarah Burston, came past, with a visiting councillor. It was a chance to say how much we appreciated the new country park and how it is being managed for wildlife.

Next stop, just a short distance away, was Buxton Heath. The sunshine was as warm as ever and we started by going into damper areas. Here there was lots of cross-leaved heath, marsh lousewort, devilsbit scabious and tiny – but lovely – flowers of eyebright.

Marsh lousewort, Buxton Heath.

Eyebright, Buxton Heath.

Devilsbit scabious, Buxton Heath.

Tessa impressed Ann and me with the English name of tiger hoverfly, and from the picture you can see why it’s called that. Susan Weeks advises that Helophilus pendulus is the most common hover with vertical stripes and she has also heard it referred to as ‘The Footballer’.

Tiger hoverfly Helophilus pendulus.
Next find was a pretty fungus, blackening waxcap, with thanks to James Emerson for confirming the ID. James says that though very variable (and possibly several species), the shape is relatively constant and an occasional name for them is ‘Witches' Hat’, although that name is typically only used whimsically rather than for recording.
Blackening waxcap Hygrocybe conica.

We’d hoped to find bog bush-cricket but didn’t, though we did find several coneheads. The conehead pictured seems to match photos of long-winged conehead, despite the upward curved ovipositor more associated with the short-winged conehead, which has a long-winged form. If any Orthoptera specialist can advise, please do! It seemed genuinely content to perch on my hand, though that may or may be connected with only having one long back leg.

Long-winged conehead, I think.

A nice surprise was a good patch of grass-of-Parnassus in flower, the first time I have seen this species here. There were various spikes of gone over orchids, too.

Grass-of-Parnassus, Buxton Heath.

With a little time left, we walked a little way up the slope into the dry part of the heath and were rewarded with views of two roe deer, us watching them watching us, and two stonechats.

Chris Durdin

Tuesday 14 September 2021

Snettisham and Dersingham, 13 September 2021

We arrived at Snettisham an hour before high tide and parked up on the sea bank overlooking The Wash. The tide was coming in quickly  The Wash has the greatest tidal range of any east coast estuary at 6.5m during spring tides  and there was a constant movement of wading birds in front of us as the mudflats were covered by the incoming tide.

Swirling waders, Snettisham.
There was a large flock of oystercatchers out on the mudflats and several small groups of redshanks flew over our heads to roost on the islands in the lagoons - the flooded remains of old gravel workings. Although the high tide wasn’t high enough to fully cover the the mudflats, we still enjoyed the spectacle of swirling flocks of knots. 
Swirling waders, again.

More swirling waders.
There were also some large mixed flocks of waders closer to us on the mudflats and we were able to pick out dunlin, sanderling, knot, ringed plover, grey plover and bar-tailed godwit. A mixed flock of common and Sandwich terns sat out on the mudflats along with an adult Mediterranean gull in winter plumage.

Mixed wader flock, Snettisham.
It wasn’t just birds we could see. Scanning along the horizon we could pick out the grain silo in King's Lynn, the chimneys of Sutton Bridge Power Station and the tower of St Botolph’s Church in Boston, otherwise known as the Boston Stump. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite clear enough to see the Big Wheel at Skegness Pleasure Beach. We could also see the Outer Trial Bank, a remnant of a 1970s feasibility study into building a barrage across The Wash to store fresh water.

We briefly crossed the causeway across one of the pits to look for a special plant. Red hemp-nettle was formerly a common arable wild flower in southern Britain but is now critically endangered. In Norfolk, it is only found at Snettisham growing in areas of disturbed shingle. We were fortunate to find several plants still in flower, along with some very stunted wild carrot.

Red hemp-nettle.

We then walked down the footpath to Shore Hide where there were seven spotted redshanks on an island in the lagoon along with several cormorants, little egret and a singe female pintail. On the approach to the hide there was a single common blue butterfly.

After Snettisham we drove the short distance to Dersingham Bog and ate our picnic lunches in the sunshine on the grass next to the car park. 

View over Dersingham Bog.

After a short walk through the fringing pine and birch woodland where a chiffchaff was singing, we stopped at the John Denver Memorial Bench for a quick blast of Annie’s Song. It was a bit of a mystery why there is a bench celebrating the life of John Denver at Dersingham as there is no record of him ever having visited the site! However I’m sure he would have approved as it gives a spectacular view across Dersingham Bog National Nature Reserve, the largest intact lowland acid bog in East Anglia. Although part of the Sandringham Estate, the reserve is managed by Natural England.

Our target species here was the black darter dragonfly, a specialist of acid bog habitats. Black darter is a common species in northern upland moors and peat bogs but very restricted in Norfolk where it is only found at a handful of sites.

Cranberry, Dersingham.
Autumnal bog asphodel, Dersingham.

We walked out into the bog on the boardwalk where we saw the orangey-brown fruiting stems of bog asphodel, the red berries of cranberry and round-leaved sundew. Black darter was however conspicuous by its absence until we had almost completed our loop of the boardwalk when Ann spotted two dragonflies on the boardwalk in front of her. One was a male common darter but the other was our prize - a male black darter! It gave good views to everyone before flying off and was lost to view.
Black darter.

Common lizard, Dersingham.

Birds were very much the supporting cast at Dersingham. A family of buzzards called over some adjacent woodland and on the bog itself were kestrel, green woodpecker and three stonechats. 
Hoof fungus, Dersingham, a species featured in Norfolk's Wonderful 150.

As we carried on around the heathland loop we saw a small copper butterfly nectaring on heather, hoof fungus growing on a birch tree and several knopper oak galls on acorns.

Rob Lucking 

Thursday 2 September 2021

Potter Heigham Marshes and NWT Hickling, 1 September 2021

A day of two halves, starting with three of us walking the circuit around Potter Heigham Marshes on a morning that followed the recent pattern of cloudy and relatively cool weather for the time of year.

We moved fairly quickly along the back of the chalets that line this part of the River Thurne, reaching the elegant, converted mill, now a rental property, its traditional drainage role now replaced by an electric pump in a functional building nearby. Drier marshes had dozens of Egyptian geese. These were greatly outnumbered by greylag and Canada geese once we arrived at the series of lagoons, created here by a partnership of the Environment Agency and Norfolk Wildlife Trust to offset losses on the coast driven by coastal change.

Little egrets with greylags and ducks, Potter Heigham Marshes (digiscoped).

A great white egret was a very good bird, though these days no longer a surprise, and soon there were about four little egrets as well. Scanning the countless greylags revealed a single pink-footed goose, and similarly a scan though hundreds of drab ducks in eclipse plumage revealed a female wigeon. A little farther on we added gadwall, shoveler, shelduck and, best of all, an elegant female pintail, then a tight flock of flying teals.

Most of the waders were lapwings, though there were also two ruffs and three snipe. Then at the far end, there was a group of a few dozen black-tailed godwits, which birdwatchers we talked to had been scanning without success for a long-billed dowitcher reported earlier. There were three dunlins and more ruffs.

Hornet hoverfly, Potter Heigham.

Back in Potter Heigham, by the loos, I searched the flowering ivy for ivy bees, but none was completely convincing. Among hoverflies, though, was a splendid hornet hoverfly.

We drove onto NWT Hickling to eat packed lunches. Malcolm and Helen had already arrived and Daphne and Becky soon also joined us. It was good timing as NWT volunteer Bruce Carman revealed last night’s moth trap haul, tucked into egg boxes in a large box. He listed and showed, among others, iron prominent, flame, canary-shouldered thorn, light emerald, green carpet and large yellow underwing moths. There were also a couple of caddis-flies and a docile hornet.

Canary-shouldered thorn.

Light emerald moth.


Considering how overcast it was, it was surprising to see a few invertebrates about, including red admirals, a longhorn beetle and several dragonflies, mostly common and ruddy darters, often settling on gates and fences. In the picnic area a lady looked on as we tore dogwood leaves, leaving them hanging in segments: “the two halves will stay 'magically' joined together due to the presence of latex in the plant sap”, as one online source puts it. We briefly had another passer by listening in as we looked at egg-laying scars of willow emerald damselflies on a sallow overhanging the pool with the narrow-leaved reedmace. But the lack of sunshine meant no damselflies, despite the ideal time of year to see them.

Common darter.
Spotted longhorn beetle Rutpela maculata on yarrow.

There wasn’t much to see, bird-wise, either from hides or along the way, though there was the subdued song of a reed warbler at one point and a green sandpiper dashed off. Instead, we noted various flowers and galls, the latter including a cigar gall on a reed, created by a frit fly, and knopper galls by acorns on oaks produced by the asexual generation of a gall wasp. Turning oak leaves to find spangle galls revealed an oak bush-cricket.

Knopper gall.

We arrived at the boat departure point in good time for our 3:30 booking, where the seven of us and four in a family party reached the boat opposite the usual embarkation point on account of where three cygnets and mother swan had settled. A kingfisher dashed through as we headed out onto Hickling Broad, though most missed it, but not so the flock of golden plovers that sped over us for some minutes. We were taken to the hide overlooking Swim Coots lagoon, where  a wheatear perched on the wire protecting the thatch. From the hide, scores of teals, all in eclipse plumage, were early winter arrivals, along with many lapwings, black-tailed godwits, ruff, redshank and Chinese water deer. We continued, and one open area we cruised by had both a great white egret and a grey heron. It was getting distinctly chilly by now and there was a clear consensus to head back rather than have an extended boat trip to the woodland tower.

Lots of teals at Swim Coots, though gloomy weather.

Swim Coots hide, with a Chinese water deer.

Back on dry land, we continued at a steady pace. There was little to see from bittern hide though that small detour yielded a very large beetle larva crossing the path. Most of us returned to the car park, though Jon and Julia took the detour to Stubb Mill and were rewarded with about six harriers and a very close fly-past of two cranes. 

Larva of Hydrophilus piceus, the Great Silver Diving Beetle.

Chris Durdin

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