Thursday, 7 July 2016

Weeting Warden's Diary: June

By Sophie Harrison and Abi Nell

The end of May was wet and cold, but despite this a new pair of stone curlews arrived and started sitting on eggs at NWT Weeting Heath. After sifting through our records we discovered that the male bird with ring combination (BTO, ORG, RED, RED) was originally ringed back in 2012 not far from Weeting. He had been previously recorded at Weeting in both 2013 and 2014 with a first nesting attempt recorded on neighbouring land in 2015. His partner with ring combination (LBU, -, LGN, DG/BTO) was first ringed in 2012 on Hockwold heath and had her first breeding attempt with another male in 2014. Stone curlews mate for life and only change partners if one passes away. This male is therefore her second partner and more her own age.

A heat wave at the beginning of June gave this pair a fighting chance and they were spotted taking turns to incubate the eggs a few days later. We were able to capture this pair on camera on 6 June and hopes were raised that this pair could rescue this year's breeding population at Weeting. However, a few days before hatching these hoped were dashed! Late one night, a hungry passing opportunist in the form of a vixen took quiet a fancy to these eggs… and had herself a tasty midnight snack! She was first seen at 23:19pm when she carried off the first egg. The crafty vixen then returned to gobble the second egg a minute later. The birds were then seen at 23:25pm when they returned to their empty nest. Dismayed, they abandoned the scrape. Their dismay was also shared by the team here at Weeting!

Since this happening on 12 June, this pair has been feeling sorry for themselves and have been seen moping about the heath looking a bit lost! We have been watching this pair very closely to see if they will have one last breeding attempt before the end of the season. However, as June begins to draw to a close, this look less likely as the stonies will require three weeks for egg incubation and six weeks for the chicks to fledge.  Earlier this week the pair were seen displaying and giving each other food parcels. Maybe this is in consolidation over their loss or it may be a positive sign signalling another breeding attempt! Fingers crossed that July's blog will have some hopeful news!

On Saturday 4 June, Weeting Heath held the event ‘Fantastic Night Fall Flyers’. The aim of the evening was to see if we could find bats, moths and nightjars unique to Weeting Heath. The event was a huge success with a great turnout! Many thanks to Matthew Blissett for his fantastic tepee moth trap set up! This trap along with four others running that night produced some fantastic moths!  Highlights included the Breckland specialist Lunar Yellow Underwing, and also fox moth, clouded buff, and elephant hawk moth (heathland specialists).

However it was the Cream Spot Tiger with its striking distinct colouration that stole the show! Cream Spot Tigers  feed on dandelion, dock and plantain. When threatened, they flash their bright red abdomen and yellow and orange underwing to avoid being eaten! (Rumour on the bird grape vine also informs me that they don’t taste very nice either!!) It may be one of the UK’s most beautiful and distinguishable moths with its striking pale spots, but this defence is necessary when they have one of the UK’s smallest population distributions!
We were out in force with bat detectors that evening,  and  picked up Soprano and common pipistrelle. Even the stone curlews were playing ball that night, as right on cue a pair soared over the pine belt during the late night walk in full view calling loudly to each other! The evening was rounded up with hot chocolates (complete with marsh mellows and cream of course!) and home baked cookies from Weeting’s star baker- Abi Nell.

The weather hasn’t made its mind up this month so has greatly confused many of our breeding species here at Weeting. Consequently, spotted flycatchers have not yet been able to breed successfully in the pines and butterfly counts have been low and in-frequent. However, when the sun decided to shine we had Holly Blues emerge and the first generation of Meadow Browns for the season! The only species that has been unaffected by this weather is the treecreepers! Terry and Teresa that decided to nest behind the VC sign last year decided they wanted a change of scenery. They relocated behind a drainpipe on the side of the west hide. This move was clearly a well thought out idea as they successfully fledged all four chicks!

This month was also the relaunch of the Breckland Local Group. The first meeting was a huge success with guest speakers Matthew Blissett and Sam Neal talking about the fantastic wildlife and reserves in the Brecks, and how important it is to get involved with monitoring and conservation work. The next event is a guided walk at Weeting Heath at 10am on Sunday 10 July. Come and discover the great variety of flora and fauna that Weeting Heath has to offer! Entry is £2 for members and £3.75 for non-members. Pop into Weeting Heath Visitor Centre for more information or contact the Breckland Local Group on 01953 548304 for more information.

An easy way to get involved with wildlife monitoring or recording in the Brecks  is to find out what NBIS (Norfolk and Norwich Naturalist Society) has to offer. Sophie and Abi have been taking advantage of the fantastic free courses from NBIS as part of their Little Ouse Wildlife Recording Festival this month. One Tuesday night they attended a freshwater invertebrates identification session with Dan Hoare (Norfolk and Norwich Naturalist Society) and the NBIS team at St Helens picnic site. The sections of the Little Ouse we sampled were full of life, with many keystone species and species that indicate river health. We discovered larvae a plently including this rather smiley beetle larvae and were amazed by the number of tiny stickle-backs, minnows and bullheads that found their way into the net! Follow the link to find out more about the NBIS events programme.

Now live: watch Sophie show YouTuber, Maddie Moate our stone curlews in NWT's 9 for 90 film in celebration of our 90th anniversary.


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