Welcome to Wildlife Watching 19th – 30th June 2020, the last of the 30 Days Wild blogs summarising the creatures seen and heard during the last 10 days of June. Some highlights:
19th June – a day spent walking around heathland to the north of Norwich. First a stroll across Marsham Heath which has undergone much restoration work by Norfolk Wildlife Trust in association with the local council. Restoring these habitats is time consuming work and requires a lot of heavy duty scraping, scrub clearance and perpetual maintenance. It costs a lot of money and significant manpower. A cleared site can look awful for a year or two, but when the gorse and heather starts to return and burst into coconut scented yellow and bright purple blooms respectively, it shows the effort to be worthwhile. I remember dealing with an irate local who visited the NWT stand at the Royal Norfolk Show a few years ago. The conversation went something like this:
Him: ‘What the hell have you been doing to Marsham Heath?’
Me: ‘Nothing as far as I know’. It was true, I knew nothing about it.
Him: ‘ It’s being ruined and looks terrible’. The penny began to drop that maybe there was restoration work in progress.
Me: ‘Well, whenever these projects commence the place can look like a battlefield for a couple of years’. I went on to try and reassure him ‘Don’t worry, it will recover and look better than ever’
Him: ‘But you’ve taken out all the trees’
Me ‘Surely not all of them? It’s part of the process of restoring a very precious habitat of lowland heath which is a nationally scarce habitat. We’re very lucky to have these remnants and when they are restored, they look beautiful and can be enjoyed by lots of wildlife and people. The heather in bloom will be well worth seeing’
Him: ‘But you’ve taken out all the trees’
Oh dear! People don’t like trees being felled, even when it is invasive birch smothering the heather and ling that struggles to survive. But happily the trip today to this rather hidden and tranquil spot proved me right. It does look lovely and was full of colour and wildlife, amongst which some people were enjoying horse riding or a gentle walk. Butterflies were thin on the ground, but I was pleasantly surprised by the numbers of linnets singing from the gorse bushes and even more satisfied with being able to watch and listen to the beautiful song of a woodlark adjacent to an area of recent clearance. This bird sat on overhead wires pouring firth its jumble of liquid notes quite unconcerned by human presence. Lovely to hear.
A couple of miles south, Buxton Heath is a joy for the naturalist. With its undulating contours and consequent dry and wet spots, it plays host to an array of scarce plants and animals. A couple of weeks ago we saw tree pipit, woodlark and a few keeled skimmer dragonflies as well as a healthy colony of silver-studded blue butterflies there. Today, a short walk produced more of these rather gorgeous and quite confiding blues that don’t seem to stray very far from their place of emergence. This goes some way to explaining their inability to colonise other suitable heathland, such as Marsham, which is separated by the insurmountable barrier of agricultural land. This colony has been established with the help of man and is thriving. These butterflies have a symbiotic relationship with certain species of black ants, whereby in return for secreting an irresistible sugary solution, the ants take the larvae into their nest thus protecting it from predators. There it pupates and the adult emerges the following spring. Isn’t nature wonderful?
20th June – a trip to Strumpshaw Fen where we could only walk along the lane bordering the reserve which of course remained closed at that point. It was good to see numbers of small tortoiseshells adorning the bramble flowers as well as meadow browns, ringlets and gatekeepers. We saw no swallowtails however. Other notables were large numbers of 7-spot ladybirds and their larvae as well as a newly emerged large yellow underwing moth that presumably had run into difficulties.
Back in the garden a delight awaited in the form of a red-belted clearwing moth, the 2nd clearwing species I’ve recorded in the garden this year, and for that matter ever.
21st June – overnight moth trapping produced a few goodies, 4 elephant hawkmoths and a lovely buff tip being the macro highlights. It was a bit chilly during the night, so only 19 species were present, but some micros provided identification challenges which certainly helped pass the time.
22nd June – a bright, sunny day lured us to the eastern coastline between Horsey and Waxham. Here, after a bit of foraging around the dunes, we found some nectaring dark-green fritillaries, beautiful insects but quite flighty. I couldn’t get close to one, so had to be content with relatively long-range snaps. The brambles were the source of sweet liquid, bringing home to me just how valuable they are for insects of all kinds. Cultivate a small area in your own garden and the number of insects you can see will amaze. Great to see these large, powerful flyers that cling on to just a few sites in the county together with plenty of small heath butterflies that would fly up from under your feet, flutter a few yards and then land and virtually disappear. So well camouflaged against the sand and grass stems.
Later, a walk around the NWT reserve at Hickling Broad produced a beautiful swallowtail, once again making use of bramble blossom. Linnets here too.
23rd June – I’ve been experimenting with taking video clips with my DSLR camera and macro lens. It works quite well, but a tripod is essential for really stable imagery, and that’s not always practical. The thing that surprises me is the amount of background noise that is picked up by the audio. Whilst going about your everyday business, you simply filter out the drone of ring-road traffic, overhead aircraft, hammering from DIY projects and human utterances; coughing, yap and suchlike! But of course, the recording picks it all up, including irritating wind noise, making some kind of overdub essential. That is until I did some video of a scarce chaser dragonfly at Wheatfen this evening. The only thing you can hear in the background is the call of a cuckoo and the chuntering of reed dwelling birds. No other distractions, just the sounds of nature. What a wonderful place this is, so peaceful and stuffed full of wildlife. Taking advantage of the golden warmth of a late evening were all kinds of basking insects, whilst a gorgeous male marsh harrier glided sedately over the fen, its rich browns and greys being highlighted to perfection by the setting sun.
A curious incident on the way back to the car park in the form of a road kill shrew, clearly dead and quite flat, but nonetheless moving. This phenomenon was quickly explained by the emergence of a sexton beetle from underneath the body. This fascinating struggle, which involved the beetle wanting to carry the dead shrew to a place of burial so as to lay its eggs in the carcass, seemed to be bit of a mismatch; the shrew must have weighed the proverbial ton and was proving too much for the beetle to handle. Great to witness such a tussle.
The next few days I spent in and around the garden trying, with much frustration, to capture some local wildlife on video. Eventually I managed some half decent footage which I’ll edit together at some point and post. Just a few more still images of some insects I did manage to photograph – happy to be corrected if I’ve got the ID wrong – those hoverflies are buggers!
For more of my general wildlife scribbles click here.