Tuesday 31 May 2022

Guided walks, May 2022

Who doesn’t love spring? May can be one of the loveliest months and it’s been a busy one for guided walks at NWT Thorpe Marshes and elsewhere.

Spindle ermine moth caterpillars, NWT Thorpe Marshes, 19 May.

The blog is a slightly lazy way to share sightings and photos with Honeyguiders, mostly from NWT Thorpe Marshes in May, where I led several guided walks. Elsewhere, the Honeyguide blog has two other reports of walks, namely from NWT Hickling, a Honeyguide event on 20 May, and a ‘guest blog’ after a nature ramble at Eaton Park, Norwich, on 23 May.

Lady's smock (also called milk maid or cuckoo flower), with orange tip egg, 4 May.

14-spot ladybird, 4 May.

The ‘official’ guided walk for May at Thorpe Marshes was on 4 May (Star Wars day – you can do the quote). Water voles are always present though rarely seen, so a good view for a group was a delight, and one group member was still raving about it a few days later, I hear. Identifying singing warblers is always a feature of walks this time of year and today we had the complete set of nine: sedge, reed, Cetti’s, grasshopper, willow and garden warblers plus whitethroat, blackcap and chiffchaff. We found eggs of orange tip butterflies on both lady’s smock and garlic mustard.

Red-headed cardinal Pyrochroa serraticornis 6 May.

Cuckoo: dead tree tops were a favoured perch in May; this one is on 6 May.

You always hope for a cuckoo in May and on both 4 May and 6 May, the latter occasion for the Thorpe Marshes volunteer group, it showed well, as it often did this month. The digiscoped image doesn’t really do it justice.
Painted lady, 19 May. There seem to have been quite a few around this May, suggesting an early year for this migrant butterfly.

From the middle of May to the month’s end, a spindle tree growing by the cattle corral was a regular stop, not for the somewhat underwhelming spindle flowers but for the webby ‘tents’ holding the caterpillars of spindle ermine moths (picture at top of blog). This is a species that also featured in the first programme of this year’s Springwatch. Hairy dragonflies were regular over ditches on sunny days in the second half of the month.

Guelder rose flower, 19 May.

Norfolk Wildlife Trust ran a week of guided walks and other events starting on 21 May, called ‘Take a Walk on the Wildside’, with events being well supported all week. Stonechats have wintered at Thorpe Marshes for several years and, like last year, they also bred. 24 May was my best day as four were on show: male, female and two juveniles. Marsh harriers don’t breed here, though they cannot be far away: this was a lucky day when a male was hunting.

Early marsh orchid, 23 May.

Early marsh orchids have been absent for a few years, and three were found during the week of events, a welcome return. This nicely coloured specimen was by the main path – sometimes they are much paler. The date and the folded back lip are useful ID features. Norfolk hawkers appeared for the first time on 26 May.

Meadowsweet Rust Triphragmium ulmariae 26 May.

We also noted two very different fungi on 26 May: meadowsweet rust showing bright orange on its host wetland plant, and a large chicken of the woods on an old willow. King Alfred’s Cakes, a staple of winter walks, were still on their usual ash stump, now getting overgrown with bramble.

Chicken of the woods, 26 May.
On an evening guided walk on 26 May, the calling male cuckoo was joined by a bubbling female. Muntjac are mostly hidden though not tonight, and perhaps it was the cool and damp which brought out a lesser stag beetle as an overcast evening became gloomier.
Lesser stag beetle, 26 May.

Cantharis nigricans, a soldier beetle, 29 May.

With a barbershop friend and his family, on 29 May, for once a buzzard perched rather than fly over. Alert boy’s eyes found a beetle I didn’t know: we named it later as Cantharis nigricans, a soldier beetle. Easier to name was thick-legged flower beetle: these green jewels seem to like ox-eye daisies.

Buzzard, 29 May.
Finally, away from the marshes, a local ‘twitch’ all the way to Norwich Airport produced a lesser grey shrike on 28 May.

Lesser grey shrike, Norwich Airport perimeter fence, 28 May.

There are more reports and more photos  on www.honeyguide.co.uk/thorpemarshes.htm

Chris Durdin

Tuesday 24 May 2022

Eaton Park Nature Ramble - 23 May 2022

Eaton Park Nature Ramble - Monday 23 May 2022 6-8pm

Guest blog by Sarah Scott, Friends of Eaton Park

Thank you to Chris for leading another enjoyable walk in Eaton Park.  We very nearly cancelled ... it was raining heavily at 4pm but, after detailed scrutiny of every possible weather app and rain radar option, we decided to go ahead.  It was the right decision (phew!) and we ended up with a dry and pleasant evening.

By the lily pond, looking for a damselflies: without sunshine, they were sitting tight.

A dozen of us met in the rose garden and took a circular route around the park, taking in the lily pond, meadow area and Bluebell Woods. We were listening out for birdsong (a bit of a challenge as there was also a drum group practising in the park!) and we heard (or saw) swifts, woodpigeons, collared dove, blackbirds, dunnocks, goldfinches, greenfinches, blue tits, great tits, coal tit, starlings, wrens, chiffchaffs, robins, herring gulls and lesser black-backed gulls.  Some new bird boxes have been added on the south side of the park this year and we were able to watch blue tits whizzing in and out of one of them. By the trees here we saw both greenfinch and goldfinch eating dandelion seeds.

Chris points out the reflexed (turned back) sepals on a bulbous buttercup.

The meadow has yet to come into its full summer flush but there were still plenty of wildflowers to spot around the park: yellow rattle, rough chervil, cow parsley, sorrel, greater stitchwort, red campion, mullein, buttercups (three kinds), red clover, knot grass, pignut, hedge mustard, garlic mustard, mallow and cow-wheat. We identified Yorkshire fog and sweet vernal grass in the meadow. There were also guelder roses and dogwoods in flower in the hedgerow on the South Park Avenue side of the Pitch and Putt.

Lime leaves had many nail galls, caused by a tiny mite Eriophyes tiliae. Here they show as pale green; later they turn red. The oak apples we saw are caused by a gall wasp, Biorhiza pallida; witches' broom gall on birch is caused by a fungus, Taphrina betulina. 
We looked at insects as well (bees, damselflies, orange tip butterfly larva) and at tree galls (on oaks, limes and birches). A special thank you to Ann who flagged up many of them for us.

Failing to find any caterpillars on hoary mullein leaves.

It really is astonishing how much wildlife there is to enjoy in a relatively urbanised public area like Eaton Park and a ramble like this is a great way of learning more about what’s there and becoming better observers.  As someone who walks in the park every day, I’m only too aware how easy it is to amble along on auto-pilot and miss treasures right under your nose!

Whose turn is it to try the tearing-a-dogwood-leaf trick?

Sarah Scott, with photos by Stuart Beard

Friday 20 May 2022

Hickling guided walk, 20 May 2022

The first local Honeyguide trip since overseas holidays resumed was planned with an eye on a sunny weather forecast, though as today approached that changed. It was cool at first then rain arrived for the four of us who met at NWT Hickling.

On a recent visit to Hickling, Helen and Malcolm had encountered cranes and that persuaded us to return here, and to go in their direction when we arrived. That took us along the path by Brendan’s Marsh, where the mix of waders was very impressive. Avocets, redshank and lapwings were to be expected. Half a dozen dunlins were nice as was a single greenshank; a grey plover in full summer plumage showed why in North America they are known as black-bellied plover. A little ringer plover repeatedly flew around and there were three male ruffs with white, black and rufous breeding plumage.

Two cranes beyond the gate; greylag & Canada geese, cormorants and gadwalls nearer.

Looking down the open area just beyond the end of Brendan’s Marsh we struck lucky, as a family of cranes was in the open beyond a metal gate. As well as two adults there were two young cranes, in the colour that prompted the late John Buxton at Horsey to call them ‘goldies’, though the young birds were mostly out of sight in long vegetation. There was added drama when a fox appeared on our side of the gate. Foxes are predators of young cranes, so it was surprising to see how unanimated the adults seem to be, as they must have known it was there.

It became cooler and by a ditch we found various damselflies settling onto reeds, namely azure, variable and blue-tailed. Closer still was a fabulous four-spotted chaser. If you look all their wings, should they be called eight-spotted chaser?

Four-spotted chaser.
Seven black-tailed godwits flew through and when we reached the visitor centre end of Brendan’s Marsh there was a flock of 18. A small group of ringed plovers flew in: it’s not often you see ringed plover and little ringed plover in the same place.

By now it was raining properly, and we sheltered and had coffee in or by the visitor centre. A female hairy dragonfly was trapped on the inside of a very high window: the visitor centre team were still puzzling over how best to rescue it later.

We decided to brave the rain and walk the circuit around the reserve, taking advantage of hides. From the first there was a Chinese water deer and we saw nesting black-headed gulls get agitated whenever a feeding little egret was too near. A cuckoo was calling and we could see it on a distant tree: interestingly the cuckoo's musical interval was a major third rather than the usual (though especially early season) minor third.

From the next stretch of path through the reeds we were lucky enough to have a good, if brief, view of a bearded tit, and a reed warbler. Looking at the oaks along the way it was plainly a good year for oak apples; many gall on oaks are caused by gall wasp species, in this case Biorhiza pallida.

Oak apples at Hickling (photographed a few days ago).

There have been many hobbies at Hickling recently, and seeing hunting birds in flight is usual. Which begs the question: where do they go when it rains? From Bittern Hide, Helen scanned and found the answer: this is where they perch, today four of them spread along the row of dead trees in the distance.

Ann was constantly on the look-out for caterpillars and other smaller creatures. The picture has the caterpillars we saw that were the biggest and easiest to identify. There were also Ann’s trademark, cigar galls, on many reeds.

Caterpillars of garden tiger moth (woolly bear) and drinker moth.

Being May, bird song mustn’t be forgotten. Twice we had good views of whitethroats. There were willow warblers, blackcaps, chaffinches, Cetti’s and sedge warblers and others, and often vocal common terns were flying around. We heard bitterns several times and had a brief view on one in flight, and of course there were marsh harriers. With the richness of NWT Hickling, these once rare birds are so routine it could be all too easy to take them for granted.

Chris Durdin

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