Tuesday, 31 May 2016

The Ovington Ramblers: East Winch Common

Joyce Woods

Our walk today took us to East Winch Common, an area of contrasts- woodland, dry heathland and wet heathland. The wooded area near the entrance to the reserve consisted mostly of oak and birch trees with a patch of gooseberry bushes by the path. We wondered just how they came to be there? Here we heard our most vocal bird of the day - a chaffinch in full voice perched on top of a dead birch tree trunk . Soon we emerged on to the heath itself. This must have been quite a joyous sight in recent weeks when the gorse bushes were in full bloom.Interspersed with these were many tiny birch trees which had been "trimmed" by the resident cattle who were observing us with interest. Other plants seen were yellow Tormentil, cushions of Cross-Leaved Heath (not quite into bloom), Lady's Smock in the damper parts of the heath and bright blue Milkweed.

We crossed over the heathland and entered another part of the woodland area. Once again there were many oak trees but this time mixed with mountain ash. These were in full bloom and looked very ornate. The woodland floor had young bracken emerging and unfolding as well as woodland of the future in the form of 5cm high seedlings of the canopy trees. We wondered if they would survive the daylight being greatly reduced in a few weeks time by the bracken and trees overhead or maybe this is Mother Nature's version of permaculture and we humans didn't come up with the idea in the first place!

Our walk today was good but a warm sunny day would have made it excellent with the variety of habitat an offer at this site.

The Ovington Ramblers are a small group of friends who have decided in their 20th year of walking together that we will try to visit all the Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserves in their 90th Anniversary year.   

Friday, 27 May 2016

Event Review: David Lindo, the Urban Birder

Ellie Howell, Cley Marketing and Engagement Intern

Yesterday at the Forum for our Wild in the City event, naturalist broadcaster, writer and birder, David Lindo, spoke about his encounters with wildlife in urban habitats. David was poignantly introduced by senior education officer, Annabel Hill, who noted that we have become disconnected with nature, but also that we have an inherent need for nature in our lives. I was excited to see how David negotiated this dilemma through his passion for urban birding.

David Lindo, photo by Susana Sanroman

As David walked on stage, I noticed his friendly countenance, which the audience warmed to immediately. He even saw me at the back scribbling away, joking that someone was already taking notes on his talk.

He began by contesting the media’s presentation of nature, of countryside programs which are unlikely to excite younger audiences. He mentioned exotic shows in places far away that might not be accessible for urban residents, calling them the ‘jaws and claws’ programs. Of course, such media is very important for enthusing and informing people about nature. But what can be done and seen within our own cities, towns and back gardens?

David started to speak more about his experiences and feelings around birding. He’s had experience of birding in Norfolk, and Cley in particular. He mentioned how profound it was to wake up to the sound of oyster catchers, and the waves lashing upon the shore in the early morning. For David, birding isn’t only about lists and numbers, but also about having a real connection to nature – especially in unlikely places. What was very unlikely, and of course what makes David so interesting, is that his experience of birding started in North London. He told us about a book of birds he got out of his local library at the age of eight, which he read from cover to cover, and almost memorised. It reminded me of a worn book which sits upon my parent’s bookshelf about British birds that I often read when I was younger.

Robin, photo by Elizabeth Dack
David was responsible for the Britain’s National Bird campaign. At school, he created a poll so that he could discover the favourite bird of his class. It was the sparrow that won. Years later, in 2015 the poll was taken and it was the robin that won. He wanted to get people talking about birds, and I certainly think he succeeded.

The challenge, then, is not finding birds for people to talk about, but actually making people more aware of them. For David, it is having an open mind, and the attitude that anything can happen, anywhere. For example, in his travels to Belgrade, the capital city of Serbia, he saw in just one urban park 22 long eared owls, as well as kestrels and rooks. He and several tourists gained access to the top of a high-rise building, and sighted white tailed eagles and Caspian gulls. In Kolka, Latvia, in a marshland just behind his hotel, he spotted cranes, stalks, and chaffinches. He said it was ‘like a slideshow’ of many types of birds all flying around him.

He concluded the talk by speaking about his local birding area, which he referred to as his ‘patch’, his inner city Fair Isle. He said that Wormwood Scrubs was in great danger of encroachment, and stressed the importance of protecting your own patch. It reminded me of the importance of not only protecting our own Norfolk land, but getting excited about it too.

On my walk home that evening, instead of walking down St. Giles Street, I decided to stroll through Chapelfield Park. I was open to the possibility that I might see anything, and joyful at the realisation that I was not as distant from nature as I first thought. 

There are two more Wild in the City talks taking place:

Kate Blincoe on Green Parenting, featuring well-known local farmer (and Kate's father) Chris Skinner: Wednesday 1 June, 6.30pm

Nick Acheson on 90 years of Norfolk Wildlife Trust's history and achievements. Meeting bitterns, cranes, stone curlews, rare flowers and the people who have striven to save them. Thursday 2 June, 4.30pm 

Thursday, 26 May 2016


 Chris Durdin, volunteer guide at Thorpe Marshes

Large jawed orb web spider
Tetragnatha montana (Derek Longe)
A damselfly is caught in a spider’s web. The spider is lurking, but taking time to move in for the kill. It’s a red-eyed damselfly, an immature, very recently emerged, an interesting species, but not especially rare.

What would you do? Rescue the damselfly from the web or let nature take its course?

This is happening with a group of a dozen on the Thorpe Marshes monthly wildlife walk who can all see it and are wondering what I’ll do. One of the group is the NWT’s reserves officer. No pressure, then.

A snap decision was needed. I released the damselfly and the photo shows it at rest on my telescope’s cover before it flew away.

Red-eyed Damselfly (Chris Durdin)

The feeling of guilt about the spider’s loss of a meal – a large jawed orb web spider, no less – didn’t last. Seconds later, there was a common blue damselfly in the same web. This time the spider was on it immediately: there was no time to ponder the same question.

Well, what would you have done?


The bridge is open: the pedestrian entrance into the reserve over the railway bridge in Whitlingham Lane is open again after major repairs. The marshes are looking good after their winter cut by the NWT’s reserve team, who have also rebuilt the main path, installed signs and are adding a pond-dipping for educational use. In short, it’s a great time to visit. 

Chris Durdin leads monthly wildlife walks at NWT Thorpe Marshes. Details of these and recent sightings on the reserve are on www.honeyguide.co.uk/thorpemarshes.htm.

Friday, 20 May 2016

The Ovington Ramblers: Ranworth Broad

Maureen Simmons

We parked our car in the NWT car park and then had a short walk along the boardwalk to the floating visitor centre to start our boat trip.  This short walk took us through carr woodland which was so interesting that we literally almost missed the boat!  Luckily Carolyn, our NWT guide, was waiting for us and we were quickly fitted with life jackets and off we went.  The weather was perfect – warm with no wind – and we thoroughly enjoyed our trip.

The terns usual nesting sites had been taken over by noisy black headed gulls this year – beautiful birds but not as graceful as the elegant terns diving and dipping into the water around us.  We also saw mallards, shellducks, tufted ducks, coots, geese, herons, swallows and lots of great crested grebes. Ranworth Broad holds the highest concentration of great crested grebes on The Broads. These beautiful water fowl were almost extinct a hundred years ago when they were killed for their feathers to decorate the hats of Victorian ladies.  Because of this the Fur and Feather League was founded to change peoples' attitude towards the persecution of birds and animals for human adornments.  The Fur and Feather League later became the RSPB which we know today.

We saw an excellent example of “succession” which our guide explained to us as we passed by.  This is an area of reed beds that have been left to grow naturally, without management. Here water-loving saplings of alder, willow and silver birch had grown amongst the reeds.  Over a period of 20 or 30 years they had grown bigger and heavier and eventually had started to sink deeper in the water, thus becoming water-logged and dying.  The remaining stark leafless branches of these trees provide the perfect roosting perches for a huge number of cormorants.  It is quite usual to see 400 cormorants coming to roost in the evening, making it the largest roost site in the UK.

Another interesting sight was the “pond within a pond” which has been constructed by NWT to develop ways to encourage the growth of aquatic plants. There is very little plant life in the Broads waterways, due to the run-off of fertilizers into the rivers and lakes which started shortly after WWII. The fertilizer encouraged the growth of algae which became so dense it cut off the sunlight to the beds of rivers and lakes which stopped the growth of aquatic plants.  All these years later it still has an effect.

After the boat trip we took our time walking back through the carr woodland looking for the orchids and guelder rose in flower which our guide had pointed out. We finally had to stop and stare at the wonderful old oak trees;  so huge it would take six people to link hands around the base of the trunks.

Upton Broad and Marshes

We  only had a short walk here along the river Bure. A heron watched us as we walked past and cattle grazed in the fields. A very peaceful place to visit. 

The Ovington Ramblers are a small group of friends who have decided in their 20th year of walking together that we will try to visit all the Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserves in their 90th Anniversary year.  

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Weeting Warden's diary: April snow showers

Sophie Harrison and Abi Nell

After our last blog post the weather and the fortunes of the stone curlews at Weeting Heath took a dramatic turn for the worse. April came with bitter winds and showers of hail, sleet and snow mixed with tantalising glimpses of a warm spring sun. The butterf
lies and moths of the warm days of March have been most confused, as have the migrant birds arriving expecting to find food a plenty after their long and difficult journey.

Screenshot from the camera
After a few weeks for feeding, preening and staking out territories, all 6 of our stone curlews settled into 3 nesting pairs. Our most experienced pair (Pair 2) were first to lay, but also unfortunately, first to abandon their eggs to the cold after a particularly sharp frost. Pairs 1 and 3 had also settled onto nests a few days after Cynthia and Hew, but pair 3 likewise decided that this English weather was not the best start for their offspring, so also abandoned. These four birds left the heathland in search of shelter and food, and we are waiting to see if they will return to attempt to nest again.

Brave pair 1 have stuck it out, and have made it through the foul weather to enjoy the relief of warm sun in early May. Due to pair ones’ dedication to their brood and some clever camera instillation, we are able to bring you views of the nest live into the visitor’s centre. Sock cam has returned with an upgrade and facelift to capture the important milestones in pair ones nesting attempt. So far we have seen regular nest change overs, the parents defending their eggs against jackdaws and rooks, wheatears scampering around in the background as well as preening and feeding behaviour.

Volunteer Phil Hasell planting pines
As part of the Breaking New Ground project in the Brecks, we were given 25 pine trees to help develop the pine line. The pine lines of the Brecks are an iconic feature and provide several benefits to the local environment. They work as a wind break to protect the heathland, and also provide food and shelter for several species of bird (goldcrest, chiffchaff, and crossbills). Their other key role is to act as wildlife corridors to link habitats together, thus supporting rare Breckland specialist moths and beetles. Both staff and volunteers got stuck in to plant the young trees! Over the upcoming months the team at Weeting will be giving them some TLC and lots of watering to help them establish and grow to the size of their ancestors.
On Saturday the 23 April, the Breckland Flora group paid us a visit. They were running a workshop on Breckland Speedwell Identification. This allowed members to get their ‘eye in’ on the species, and to aid them in monitoring their own local patch. This monitoring programme has been set up to enable consistent and accurate recording of specialist Breckland Flora. If you are interested in becoming part of this programme and for more information please email Sophie.

The migrant birds have trickled into the Brecks but a few nice days in April gave us several species being sighted for the first time this season on the same day. Firecrest and willow warbler picked the 10 April to make their presence known. We also had two visitors which managed to spot two ring ouzel passing through on the 10th. The first swallows were seen over Weeting on 4 April, closely followed by blackcap on the 5th. Woodlarks and wheatears have been seen fairly regularly on the heath and from the forest walk on the finer days of the month. The first tree pipits and turtle doves have been reported on the 24 and 30 April, a nice finish to a rather quiet month.

We had a little flurry of birds of prey at the beginning of the month with a male and female peregrine spotted on the forest walk on 1 April. A goshawk sighting was also reported on that day. Sparrowhawks, kestrels and buzzards are seen regularly hunting in the pines and on the heathland around the visitors centre. 

We have been unable to run the moth trap during April as night time temperatures were nowhere near the ideal 10 degrees needed for most night flying moths. We hope to return to regular weekly trapping into May so look out for that in next month's blog. 

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

The Ovington Ramblers: Wayland Wood

Maureen Simmons

Our walk this week took us just a short distance away to Wayland Wood- always a lovely site to visit but particularly at this time of the year. We chose a lovely sunny morning and emerging from the car park we saw quite a large clump of bluebells. Soon afterwards we saw the first of many early purple orchids. They really are increasing in number and grow in profusion where they never used to be. We also noted yellow archangel, pink campion and white star of Bethlehem (sadly we didn't see the yellow version and made a note to look earlier next year). The birds were very vocal particularly the chiffchaffs. The bird cherry trees were in full bloom. Many white flowers smell gorgeous but this can't be said of the blossom of the bird cherry!

Before long we came to the main bluebell area of the wood. What a wonderful sight with dappled sun shining through the tree canopy on to what looked like a sea of blue! The scent of the bluebells was quite strong too-so different from the Spanish bluebells of garden cultivation. In the same area we saw many wood anemones plus a few tiny wood sorrel and ferns uncurling to take over as summer begins.

Wayland Wood has so much to recommend it with it being a circular walk AND it never seems to be crowded. Even though it provides the annual bluebell 'fix' for walkers it is also a wonderful walk at any time of the year. The downside is that although the wood is designated as a dog free area it is frequented by owners and their dogs usually not on leads. On this occasion we saw a lady in full running kit plus 2 dogs using the paths as a training ground and on a previous occasion we saw a large dog breakfasting on the eggs belonging to a ground nesting bird. How can this be changed?

The Ovington Ramblers are a small group of friends who have decided in their 20th year of walking together that we will try to visit all the Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserves in their 90th Anniversary year. 

Monday, 9 May 2016

Ranworth in May

Barry Madden, NWT Volunteer

There are few better places to spend a sunny May morning than at NWT Ranworth Broad. A week ago the skies were grey, the water turbulent and the air chill with the tendrils of winter still holding sway. Today it was fresh and bright, the water reflectively calm and the endless possibilities of summer hanging in the air.

At this season the difference a mere seven days makes can be quite profound. Whereas on the penultimate day of April only a few common terns were hawking over the broad now they are everywhere; chasing each other in courtship, vying with the black headed gulls for nest sites, squabbling over favoured perches and generally gracing the scene with their buoyant passage through air. A week ago the television screens in the visitor centre were trained on empty, forlorn and deserted swallow’s nests; today these so welcome harbingers of summer were fastidiously attending to their fragile cups of dried mud, tossing aside the accumulated detritus of winter ready to rebuild, reline and reproduce. On my last volunteering visit it was hard to believe any bird of the open fen could possibly incubate a clutch to hatching, but today the dedication and resilience of these hardy creatures was evident with broods of mallard, coot and moorhen being attended to by proud and protective parents. A lively scene then and surely one to celebrate.

But there was more to Ranworth today than just the regular resident and seasonal cast. Today was a special day, a day when some rather beautiful and irregular visitors stopped to say hello. The weather is to thank; low pressure bubbling up from the Continent sending spiralling anticlockwise airflows into the English Channel. Birds trying to migrate into the North Sea with the intention of reaching the Low Countries are met with strong breezes which sweep them along our south coast and displace them on our western shores. Black terns, gorgeous, dainty and lost. With the breeding imperative upon them they waste little time reorienting and head swiftly eastwards directly across country. It is at these times, occurring every few years, that we get a chance to see these lovely creatures refuelling over our waterways. The window is slight, perhaps only a day or two, and today was such a day.

Sensing some chance of an encounter, my first action on arriving at the visitor centre was to scan the open water hoping to see smaller, darker birds amongst the milling common terns. And sure enough there they were, three at least, hawking insects from the water surface at the back of the broad. Hoping to get better views, I hitched a lift on ‘Damselfly’ the boat we use for ferrying people to and from the staithe and for running our very popular Water Trail trips. Once aboard this spacious boat, the true tranquillity of the environment can be appreciated. On a day such as this one it was a pleasure to float close to dancing grebes, drift past unconcerned waterfowl and just take in the soporific atmosphere of this wonderful broadland retreat. 

We saw herons diving into the broad for fish, witnessed a kingfisher skimming the dead calm surface a couple of metres from where we sat, watched marsh harriers and buzzards lazily drifting on the warm air and spooked a party of loafing cormorants from their roost site. But we could not get close to the black terns; at least not close enough for me. They were there, tantalisingly present, but too full of life and too far away for satisfying views. Wherever the boat drifted, they would appear on the opposite side of the broad. There we could see them dancing together over the skyline before plunging towards the watery expanse to pick some tiny morsel from the surface. Time and again all morning they would perform in this way, but never close to.  Does it matter that I couldn’t get a close up photograph? Not one jot. What really matters is that they were there, these monochrome sprites that for a few hours on a sunny May morning brightened the lives of all who saw them.

Read Barry's blog at http://easternbushchat.blogspot.co.uk