Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Fantastic Foxley

Rachael Wright, Seasonal Education Officer

I was lucky enough to have spent Saturday working at NWT FoxleyWood amongst the beautiful ancient trees. We set up camp for the weekend running minibeasts hunting sessions. It’s a really great site for minibeast hunting with lots of different areas to explore. Starting in the undergrowth and rooting between log piles we found woodlice, centipedes, millipedes, earwigs, worms and slugs. We then moved to the long grass and used sweeping nets to investigate the minibeasts there; we found ladybirds and lots of different types of spiders and bugs. Moving to the bushes, the children got to use beating trays to discover which minibeasts lived in this environment. My favourite find in the bushes was a tiny bright green spider perfectly camouflaged on the leaves but standing out in our white beating tray. 

Most people had come to Foxley Wood however to see something entirely different. To see something that can only be seen at this time of year and only for a short period of time. It is bluebell season, and this flower thrives in ancient woodland. Unfortunately ancient woodlands only cover a very small area of the country, and therefore Foxley Wood is one of the best places to see bluebells in this habitat. 

NWT Foxley Wood bluebells, photo by Rachael Wright

There is a bluebell trail set up at Foxley Wood at the moment with information and signs for a self-guided walk. One visitor asked me how long it would take to walk. This is dependent on the individual though, as you could easily spend hours marvelling at the beauty of the bluebells. 

Close-up of the bluebells, photo by Rachael Wright
 After I finished minibeast hunting for the day I went to walk the bluebell trail. I was blown away by the beautiful site and the temporary transformation of the woodland. The whole floor was a carpet of purple and blue contrasting fantastically with the green and brown colours of the woodland. It was not only a visual experience but one for all the senses, the smell from the bluebells was wonderful and it was so quiet and peaceful in the woods with just the sound of birds. I really enjoy photographing wildlife but found it difficult to capture this beauty on camera; I just couldn’t do it justice. 

In some sense it’s sad that the bluebells can only be seen for a few weeks a year, but this adds to their beauty and makes the experience extra special. To make sure you don’t miss out, head down to Foxley Wood next weekend for a day of minibeast hunting and bluebells.

Monday, 28 April 2014

HIlgay in late April

Nick Carter, Conservation Officer (Fens)

Three hares, photo by Nick Carter
I was watching three brown hares this week boxing and chasing each other; someone hasn’t told them it is nearly May! Several roe deer are also seen regularly on the site and there was also a herd of about a dozen red deer on the neighbouring Methwold site recently. 

With more water present (more of this later) waders have been passing through in small numbers. At least three green sandpipers have been present and single greenshank and dunlin, the latter coming into summer plumage, have joined the lapwings, redshanks, little ringed plovers and oystercatchers. Disappointingly only two sand martins have been seen so far feeding over the lagoon area. It may mean we will have to scrape some of the sandy ditches each year to encourage them to excavate new burrows. Interestingly a pair of little grebe is now regular on the site and mallard, gadwall, shoveler, teal, shelduck and tufted duck are all still present. So far only mallard ducklings have been seen.
Water violet on site, photo by Nick Carter
Aquatic plants have started to colonise the site naturally and we will be monitoring this development. A small patch of water violet has appeared in one of the internal ditches to make a colourful addition to the flora of the site.
Unfortunately the abstraction system has sprung another leak so we are unable to draw water from the River Wissey from our summer abstraction licence. The site is still relatively wet following the winter so it is not too critical and rain last week will have helped too. We hope to get the leak fixed a soon as possible and re-start abstraction. On a positive note the perimeter bund has now been completed, which is another major milestone in the development.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Have you heard of Ken?

 Eilish Rothney, Trinity Broads Warden

Ken the cuckoo, photo BTO
Ken the famous Trinity Broads cuckoo that is. He is named after Ken Saul, a long standing volunteer who has been active on Burgh Common for 30 years where “Ken” was caught last summer and had a tracking tag fitted.

Why? I can hear you asking. The 'Red Listed' cuckoo is one of the UK's fastest declining migrants and, until recently, was one of which we knew least about once it left the UK. Would a British Spring be complete without the cuckoos’ distinctive call that we take so much for granted? It is worrying to know we have lost over half of our breeding cuckoos during the last twenty-five years. Clearly we need to understand all aspects of the cuckoo’s annual cycle before we can begin to suggest what might be driving the decline.
Cuckoo on River Ant at Ludham, photo by Liz Dack
Whilst the cuckoo has been well studied during the breeding season here in the UK, once they head off on migration very little was known about the routes they take or where in Africa they spent the winter months. There has only been one recovery of a young bird that was found in mid-winter in Cameroon and that was 82 years ago. If we can pinpoint areas of importance then we can look at whether there are pressures there which could explain the losses of the British cuckoo.

Since 2011 the British Trust for Ornithology has been attaching satellite-tracking devices to cuckoos from Norfolk to find out more about their important stop-over sites and wintering destinations on the way to and from Africa. The tags are new technology and are solar-powered, transmitting for 10 hours and then going into 'sleep' mode for 48 hours, to allow the solar panel to recharge the battery. Transmissions are 'blogged' on the BTO website, follow the link below. And you can follow Ken's journey from Burgh Common to East Gabon for Christmas and now we are tracking him back to Norfolk – as of 19 March he had reached the Ivory Coast already covering nearly 1,000 miles.

If you are interested in sponsoring Ken – please see the BTO website.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Reader responds: nettle patches for butterflies

Dave Showler, ecological consultant and NWT member

I noted in the Spring 2014 edition of NWT's Tern ‘What are the best plants to grow to attract butterflies to my garden?’ that it suggests that a small patch of nettles in a sunny location may attract red admirals, commas, peacocks and small tortoiseshells (the larvae of which use nettle as a foodplant) to lay eggs. Although often stated - by many UK nature conservation organisations and in publications giving advice on wildlife-friendly gardening - that small patches of common (stinging) nettle in gardens attract these four nymphalid butterflies, there is little evidence of benefits for them as general observations and at least one  published study indicate that such patches are in fact rarely used.
Red Admiral, photo by Elizabeth Dack
As part of the ‘Biodiversity of Urban Gardens in Sheffield’ (BUGS) project, small patches of nettles were created in 20 urban gardens to provide breeding sites for red admiral, comma, peacock and small tortoiseshell (Gaston et al. 2005). Over the three-year study period (2000-2002) only two comma caterpillars were found on a single patch in one year (2000). Some patches were, however, used by six common specialist nettle-feeding insect species, including two micro-moths. Failure to attract butterflies was not unexpected, two main reasons for this are suggested: 
  1. Nettle patches were small and patch size is known to influence use of nettles, larger patches being preferred (at least by peacock and small tortoiseshell to support their gregarious larvae), but even larger patches in gardens examined had no caterpillars;
  2. Nettle is one of the UK’s most common and widespread plants, as such nettle is unlikely to be a limiting resource (and nettles outside of gardens are mostly used).
It would be interesting to record if NWT members have any of these butterflies using nettle patches in their gardens, and if so the approximate size and location of these patches.

I introduced wild hop to my urban Norwich garden seven years ago where it grows up a trellis on a south-facing wall open to sunlight. Two years later I had at least nine comma larvae (impressive caterpillars, flecked brown and black with a whitish ‘saddle’ giving the appearance of a bird dropping) with subsequently two chrysalises observed. In the following year two larvae were seen but I have recorded none subsequently.  

Holly blue, photo by Bob Carpenter
In truth, for most butterflies most gardens represent sub-optimal breeding habitat as they rarely provide conditions capable of supporting many larvae to maturity. One species perhaps bucking this trend is a small and fairly inconspicuous butterfly that is frequent in Norwich and other urbanised areas in the county, the holly blue. It has two broods; holly is eaten by caterpillars of the spring generation and ivy by the second in late summer. Adults, on the wing from early spring, may be seen flitting around gardens where its larval food plants are present.

For adult butterflies, growing appropriate nectar-providing flowers in gardens should certainly be encouraged as they offer forage resources for numerous more dispersive species (especially nymphalids including the migratory painted lady, and small, large and green veined whites), as well as many other insects such as bees and hoverflies. This is especially important considering the scarcity of nectar and pollen-providing flowers (other than spring-flowering, oil-seed rape) in the present-day, intensively cultivated agricultural landscape.


Asher J., Warren M., Fox, R., Harding P., Jeffcoate G. & Jeffcoate S. (2001) The Millenium Atlas of Butterflies in Britain and Ireland. Oxford University Press, UK.

Gaston K.J., Smith R.M., Thompson K. & Warren P.H. (2005) Urban domestic gardens (II): experimental tests of methods for increasing biodiversity. Biodiversity and Conservation, 14, 395-413. http://www.bugs.group.shef.ac.uk/BUGS1/sources/bugs-reprint2.pdf

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Cley Catch-up: 23 April 2014

‘What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?
W H Davies

Barry Madden, Volunteer Bird Guide at NWT Cley Marshes 

Skylark, photo by Barry Madden
Have you ever listened to a skylark? I mean really stood there craning your neck skywards to espy the small songster, cupped your ears to fully receive the stream of music pouring forth from the small dark speck floating effortlessly on the spring breeze? I must confess that it is not something I do often enough. The song is generally something of a background noise; an accompaniment to other activity. But not today. Today I did stand still and listen. Today I watched the bird slowly rising on quivering wings up into the clear April sky. Sweet music; myriad notes, individually indiscernible to my ear but collectively beautiful, became my focus for an all too brief couple of minutes. Then after uttering a few single plaintive calls the bird signalled an end to the performance, opened its wings fully and allowed itself to gracefully glide back down to earth. Heart lifting stuff made all the more welcoming because despite the attempts of the North Sea to obliterate all greenery under a carpet of shingle, a small but oh so valuable area of rough grassland has survived along the shingle ridge at NWT Cley Marshes. Here the skylarks cling on serenading us with their liquid melody.

The skylarks were just one spring songster on show at Cley today. Male reed buntings, resplendent in their fine black-fronted livery were delivering their short song from atop prominent bushes around the reserve. A sedge warbler, newly arrived from its sub-Saharan wintering grounds, could be detected chuntering away by the coast road whilst bearded tits, mercifully having survived the December floods, had returned to ‘ping’ their way through the thick mass of reed stems, frustrating any birder who wanted a good look at one. I saw four gorgeous wheatears (one of my favourite birds) on the Eye field and a steady trickle of sand martins and swallows made their way westwards.

But for a real experience of spring fervour Bishop’s Hide is the place to be. Here you have a great view of Pat’s Pool, the shingle ridge and the reed beds with the advantage of having excellent lighting conditions. At this time of year everything is a whirl with activity; the avocets are busy bickering over prime nesting spots, the shelduck are chasing each other in the quest for mates, lapwings are plunge diving over the scrapes at breakneck speed whilst marsh harriers gracefully glide over the reed beds. 

Marsh harrier, photo by Barry Madden
The harriers are always worth watching. There is a particular female bird that has the most wonderful plumage. Its bright creamy breast band and shoulder patches really catch the eye. They have certainly caught the eye of a more appropriate suitor and he was wooing his lady all day long. The pair put on a great show cruising high and low in the course of their courtship. Passing buzzards – and there were quite a number moving west during mid-morning – were unceremoniously sent packing as were stray harriers that chanced their arm. This pair look like setting up home reasonably close to the hide which means visitors will be treated to close views all through the summer. Maybe not such good news for the avocets though.

Speaking of Cley’s most noisy and belligerent bird, I counted over 150 on Pat’s Pool alone which gives as good an indication as any of the success of this nature reserve and the continuing health of the environment. It will be interesting to see how these birds fare over the coming months and the degree to which the salt water inundation has depleted food availability. If the strike rate of the birds I watched today is any indication then we have nothing to worry about – each bird seemed to snare a small titbit with every sweep of their elegant upturned bill.     

Cley Marshes is buzzing at the moment and full of birdlife. A stroll around the reserve will raise the spirits. So, why not pay a visit and harvest the reward of taking time to stand and stare.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Rocking Time at West Runton Beach

Rachael Wright, Seasonal Education Officer

What a fantastic start to the season we are having! For our first rockpool rummage and rocks and relics sessions we spent a beautiful sunny and rather windy day at West Runton beach. Shoals flocked to the beach to learn about life under the waves and we had the pleasure of running a rockpool session for 162 people! It was great to see so many people exploring the rockpools that were full of life. 

Rockpooling at West Runton, photo by Matthew Roberts
We had some wonderful finds including a large spider crab which are rare to find in rockpools as they tend to favour deeper waters. Crabs shed their carapace in order to grow. One group were lucky enough to watch a crab moulting in their bucket. It’s great to see a natural process like this happen before your eyes and it’s something I have never seen before either. Other great finds included blennies, scorpion fish, shrimp, lots of crab, anemones, periwinkles and whelks. 

In the afternoon we ran a rocks and relics session, taking a walk through time and exploring the fantastic selection of fossils at West Runton. We had another great turn out with 113 people to guide along the beach it was quite a challenge but great to see so many people keen to  know more about Norfolk’s changing coastline. 

We started by exploring the ice age, and then went on to look for fossils in the ancient river bed. West Runton is particularly famous for the fossil of an ancient mammoth/ elephant that was found sticking out of the rocks about 20 years ago. We reconstructed this giant mammal using ourselves as part of the artwork to try and understand the scale of this huge animal. Walking back through time even further we investigated the chalk laying on the sand at West Runton beach. Both the children and adults had a great time hunting for paramoudras and belemnites along the beach. 

If you missed out this time, then don’t worry you can join us again on our next session on Tuesday 27 May. Why not visit the website for information on other events activities we will be running throughout the summer season.  Hope to see you at an event soon.