Monday, 23 June 2014

Cley Catch-up: 18 June 2014

After the warmth and bright sun of recent days it was something of a downer to find Cley shrouded in grey cloud with a keen northerly wind whipping across the marshes today. It was no surprise therefore to find Bishop’s Hide empty, but I needed to have a look at the scrapes to see if there was anything noteworthy to report to the Visitor Centre. 

Was there ever! As soon as I opened the hide flap I was confronted with the sight of a lovely adult spoonbill standing sentinel like just a few yards in front of me. The bird spooked at my clumsy movements and I was too slow to take any snaps, but what a great way to start the day. Closer inspection of Pat’s Pool showed the water level to be much higher than of late and it seemed more water was still flowing onto the scrapes from the catch water drain system. I wondered why this might be and all was revealed when I spoke to the warden a little later in the day. There have been several spoonbills around the reserve lately, but they have mainly been frequenting parts of the reserve that are difficult for visitors to view. So, why not raise the water level on the more accessible parts whilst at the same time flooding the area with sticklebacks and various other tasty morsels that would prove irresistible to these stately birds. And it was obviously beginning to take effect with not only the spoonbill but grey herons and little egrets joining the party. A great example of how intimate knowledge of the reserve and its inhabitants can work in favour of all, allowing visitors to appreciate these nationally rare breeders at close range. 

During the course of the day a quite respectable gathering of 11 spoonbills were using the marsh. Some of these were birds of the year recognised by their smaller pinkish coloured beaks and black edges to their primaries. These youngsters were constantly haranguing their parents, chasing them across the muds and begging to be fed. Others in the group simply loafed around standing motionless on one leg with their spatula bills tucked deeply under their wings. There's nowhere else in the country you can you see this kind of thing happening. We here in Norfolk are really quite privileged to be able to witness these intimate moments of nationally rare birds, and it is no coincidence that things of this nature regularly take place at Cley Marshes; the whole reserve is managed for this very purpose.

Little ringed plovers seem to be doing quite well this year. The pair nesting close to the visitor centre have moved their young further into the field allowing building work to commence on the new education centre. The workmen still regularly catch sight of the now half grown balls of down and it seems have also discovered a second brood nearby. Pat’s Pool is currently playing host to a third pair still sitting on eggs, and there may well be yet another on Whitwell Scrape. The fact that avocet breeding numbers are somewhat down may indirectly benefit the plovers that will be able to raise their chicks without falling foul of over-zealous pied dive bombers every few minutes. 

The pair of marsh harriers are still busily feeding their young with the female of the pair, now affectionately referred to as ‘Blondie’ in recognition of her vivid cream markings, regularly being seen hunting the fields south of the reserve. She seems far more competent a hunter than the male bringing back quite sizeable prey, young rabbits, rats and similar sized offerings for her brood. The male, who may well be relatively young and inexperienced, doesn’t seem quite so able and as far as I have observed often appears in the vicinity of the nest empty-taloned. However I’m sure the young are being well cared for overall and will surely soon fledge adding yet another dimension to the Cley experience.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Wildlife Info Service: top species questions for June

Emily Nobbs, Wildlife Information Service

The species most asked about this month on the Wildlife Information Service is bee orchids followed by bees and bee nests!

Bee orchids

Bee orchid, photo by Lucy Denman
The weather this spring seems to have brought about a boom in bee orchid numbers.

Many of you have been spotting them on the edges of farmland, brownfield or industrial sites, a frequently asked question being are they protected? Unfortunately although protected when growing in the wild under the Section 13 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which makes it illegal to up-root, when they are growing on private land the landowner can do as he or she wishes; and the only thing you can do as somebody passionate about these beautiful orchids is to educate the landowner on their importance, and how the site can be managed to benefit them.

If growing on council land you could contact them and ask them if they could not mow the area until the end of July so that they have a chance to seed, if some small stakes could be put up around it, this will also help to protect them, and make people aware they are there.

Top facts about bee orchids
  1. Bee orchids typically grow on dry, grassy slopes where the soil is chalky or sandy and there aren’t many nutrients. You tend to see them in urban areas, predominantly on roadsides and old industrial sites
  2. Bee orchids take 5-8 years to develop from seed to flower. This development depends on an association between the orchid and fungi in the soil.
  3. Bee orchids produce a scent which is similar to the pheromones produce a scent which is similar to the pheromones produced by certain female bees to attract a mate. Male bees attracted by the scent then attempt to mate with the bee orchid flower, transfer pollen and fertise the bee orchids. However in England bee orchids appear to be self-pollinated.
  4. Bee orchids are notoriously unprediatble, appearing for a few years at a site in good numbers and then completely vanishing.
  5. The best time to look for bee orchids is june and early july. Nature reserves where you can see them include NWT Narborough Railway Line and NWT Holme Dunes reserve. On coastal dunes such as Holkham and Burnham Overy.
  6.   Despite their beauty they are often thought of as difficult to spot

Bees and bee nests
Bumblebees are very important pollinators for our crops and flowers, bio-diverse margins of farmlands being an important food source for bees pollinating crop.

Common bumblebees in England:
  • ·         Buff-tailed bumblebee  Bombus terrestris
  • ·         White- tailed bumblebee  Bombus lucorum
  • ·         Garden bumblebee  Bombus hortorum
  • ·         Early bumblebee  Bombus pratorum
  • ·         Common carder bee  Bombus pascuorum
  • ·         Red-tailed bumblebee  Bombus lapidaries
  • ·         Tree bumblebee  Bombus hypnorum
  • ·         Heath bumblebee  Bombus jonellus
Bees are non-aggressive and will only sting if they are threatened or disturbed, if not they will go about their day doing a great job of pollinating and making honey.

Top facts about bees
Honey bee, photo by Peter Dent
  1. Male bees do sting
  2.  Tree bumblebee is the newest bee in the Uk, This species was first found in the UK in 2001
  3. Sussex university is currently decoding the honey bee waggle dances to determine the movement of honey bees in apple orchards in order to understand apple pollination better. This project is part of Nick Balfour's PhD on "Helping Bees and Agricultural Pollination in Farm Land" which is part of the "Sussex Plan for Honey Bee Health & Well Being"
  4. Only honey bees swarm
  5.  To raise the temperature of the flight muscles high enough to enable flight the bumblebee shivers, rather the same way we do when we are cold. This can easily be seen in a grounded bee as her abdomen will pump to ventilate the flight muscles.
For more information about bees and bee nests please visit the Bumble Bee Conservation Trust website:  

Bee nests
It is important to know that bees rarely nest in the same place, so if you have them in your garden this year, it is unlikely you will have them the following year. We understand that sometimes the positioning of bee’s nests can be awkward and as a last resort you or a local bee expert may have to move the nest to another location. To find out more about how to move a bee nest please check out the Bumble Bee Conservation Trust’s website:

Friday, 20 June 2014

If you like stone curlews then you should put a ring on it...

Matt Twydell, Weeting Heath Summer Warden

So like the line from that song (I really shouldn’t admit to knowing it!) we decided to ring the chick outside the hide last week. Fortunately the weather was favourable, as the chick - as you can see from the photo - is quite big now. This chick is one of the two from the video I took on the last blog. The chicks are rung in conjunction with the RSPB, for monitoring purposes.

The plan was  simple, several of us were to position ourselves in the hides directing Tim from the RSPB as to where the chick was. Usually stone curlew chicks, like other ground nesting birds, will “hit the ground” and keep completely still, relying on camouflage to hide from predators.

This one, however, decided to be a “runner”, and as soon as Tim got close, it went off like the road runner (meep meep), and this made for quite comical few minutes watching Tim chase the bird from the hide!

It  was back in May that we found the scrape and the mottled camouflaged eggs.

It was quite amazing to get up close to a stone curlew, from my normal view point through a scope. Seeing their huge eyes up close, was particularity interesting.

 The whole process of recording weight - which was 336g for this chick - and other data as well as fixing the rings only takes around 10 minutes. So disturbance to the bird is minimal, and the parents who watch from a distance returned within 10 minutes of us leaving the chick in the undergrowth.

So keep your eyes out for this chick and this ring combination from the hides!

This chick has now fledged and been kicked out by its parents. This pair will hopefully decide to re-lay over the next week, and fingers crossed we shall have another set of chicks in July.

The pair of stone curlews who lost both of their chicks early on in May, have successfully brooded two more, and they have been viewable from the West hide the past few days.

Stone curlews have a varied diet of invertebrates. I have witnessed them eating big worms and running around trying to snap butterflies from the air. But the other day I saw a peculiar sight, when one parent tried to eat and then feed a chick a young mole, needless to say the chick had trouble finishing its meal!

Other Wildlife news at Weeting Heath


A pair of spotted flycatchers have nested in one of the pine trees not far from the Visitor Centre. They have been more active snapping moths and flies out of the air this last week so probably have hungry chicks to feed.

We also had  two common cranes fly over the centre last week, which was quite exciting as these are the first I have seen in this country, heading in the direction of Lakenheath.

Living on site, I often see bats at night flying around the visitor centre. I was curious as to what species we had here. So I decided to take part in the Norfolk Bat Survey. Anyone can take part, you can find more details on

I picked up the equipment and set it up over three days, the memory card was then sent to be analysed. The results showed that I recorded an amazing 10 species of bat at Weeting Heath, these were common pipistrelle, soprano pipistrelle, noctule, barbastelle, brown long-eared, Daubentons, serotine, leislers, and low confidence of whiskered and nathusius pipistrelle.

The bats will be mostly feeding on moths, here at Weeting Heath over 300 species of moth have been recorded, including these from the latest moth trap.

It’s amazing what species are around us that we don’t know about.

Butterflies and damselflies have also been abundant in the last few weeks, with 15 species being recorded including the first meadow browns, large skippers and ringlets being seen.