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. 

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