Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Wild at Weeting

By Abi Nell and Sophie Harrison

At Weeting Heath despite the wind and rain, pair 1 persisted and hatched two fluffy chicks on Sunday 8 May. Earlier that day the female was captured on Sock Cam taking egg shell pieces away from the nest. This important behaviour removes any smells and traces of hatching and lures predators away from the nest site. At 3.15pm the first chick was born, and while one parent brooded the chick, the other went in search for worms and insects to feed it with. The second chick then hatched at 4:23pm and soon both were tumbling about the nest.

When the adult returns with the food parcel, the brooding bird lets one chick out at a time so they get their fair share of the food. This maximises survival of both chicks when food is abundant. This behaviour is different from other birds, as it is usually a scramble for food and survival of the fittest when the adult returns to the nest with food. However, if the weather turns and food availability is limited, the parents will focus on and feed the larger chick. As brutal as this may sound, it is better to rear one healthy chick than lose two chicks to lack of food.

After the excitement of watching the chicks hatch, they were closely monitored every day until day seven, when they were predated by crows. The adult stone curlews are still on the Heath and have been seen displaying but we have had no confirmed sightings of them making a new scrape or laying a second clutch of eggs.

As we finish writing this blog, the weather got worse and we have been treated to torrential rain and strong winds. Not good news for ground or tree nesting birds! Fingers crossed that June will bring kinder more consistent weather to save the breeding season for the stone curlews of Weeting Heath.

In celebration of Norfolk Wildlife Trust's 90th anniversary, we held a family fun day on the May bank holiday called ‘Wild at Weeting’. There was a lot going on from kids activities and a cake stall, to a guided walk and a moth demonstration. With a huge team effort from both staff and volunteers, the event was a great success and raised more than £550 for the Norfolk Wildlife Trust. 

From left to right John Davies, Maddie Moate, and two children enjoying the fayre all taken by Abi Nell

Our next upcoming event is ‘Fantastic Nightfall Flyers’ on Saturday 10 September. We go in search for nightjars, bats and moths across the reserve. The event runs from 8 until 10 pm and includes a walk around the reserve, inspection of the moth traps and hot chocolate in the Visitor Centre afterwards. Open to adults, children and families. To book your place please phone 01603 625540.

May has brought a few more migrants back to the Brecks. The first cuckoo heard was heard calling on 4 May, and the first hobbys were seen on 5 May. Our spotted flycatchers returned on 6 May are have been busy feeding up and establishing territories. We hope June will see them nesting and fledging some spotty chicks.

The weather warmed up enough to bring out the first holly blue of the season on 1 May! In the first butterfly transect of the season we recorded 42 individuals and 11 different species including speckled wood and small skipper.

Moth trapping has also been more slightly more successful this month. Highlights so far include a chocolate tip and a frosted green. While we have been out on butterfly transects we have spotted some rather striking day-flying moths. The cinnabars are now out in force, hunting out ragwort for their caterpillars to devour. We also came across this beautiful Mother Shipton moth, named after a 16th century witch from Yorkshire!

Green veined white, speckled wood and mother Shipton moth all taken by Abi Nell
Sophie, Abi and the volunteers have been out surveying the rare Breckland plants on an arable weed reserve. Breckland speedwell, (Veronica praecox) fingered speedwell (Veronica triphyllos) and spring speedwell (Veronica verna) are all rare Breckland specialist plants. They are monitored annually for population size and distribution for reserve records. We spent several rainy days on our hands and knees counting these rare specimens. They are easily confused with other similar common species, germander speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) and wall speedwell (Veronica arvensis) which is why we had to get so up close and personal with the plants. The three species are very alike in basic structure but there are a few tell tail signs to help identify them.

Spring speedwell stands upright and is renowned for having the tiniest of dark blue flowers. Another telling feature is that its lower leaves have five distinctive lobes. Breckland speedwell has a flattened heart shaped seed pod, and its lower leaves have a deep red colouration underneath. Fingered speedwell is the rarest of the three species, has small blue flowers and leaves that look like three fat fingers. We used coloured sticks to indicate the presence of a species, blue for Breckland speedwell and pink for spring speedwell. Fingered speedwell was so uncommon that we didn’t need many sticks for that! Safe to say we all dreamt of counting speedwells in our sleep.

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