Friday, 15 July 2016

County Wildlife Action Surveys

Angela Collins, Volunteer Coordinator

Today I went to visit some of the volunteer Community Surveyors who are taking part in our County Wildlife Action Project. I began at Barrow Common in Brancaster where Jenny, Linda, Mary and Rosalind were habitat mapping with Gemma the NWT Project Officer. This means walking the whole of the site, while making up a map of the different habitat areas. I arrived in time for their lunch break picnic and an un-forecasted very heavy rainstorm. This didn’t deter their spirits and as the rain started to ease they set out to do some more surveying. Unfortunately the rain soon started again, and as writing down what they see is such a  crucial part of the survey it was decided that it was not practical to continue, so arrangements were soon made for a date to continue the survey, and some of us headed to a warm and dry tea shop to finish my interview with the team.

Next on to Bowthorpe Riverside, an interesting County Wildlife Site right next door to a modern housing estate. I was warmly welcomed by the group - Sally, Stacey, Carolyn and John - and offered a spray of insect repellent as Stacey had been unlucky to get 31 bites on one visit! There are two other members of the group, Paula and Dominic, who unfortunately couldn’t make today.

The previous heavy rain and the presence of ponies made the going very muddy and difficult at times, but the group was not to be deterred and searched out plants that they had not recorded on a previous visit, and together helped to identify the less common.   
What struck me about both groups was the positive lets get on with it attitude and the way that they helped and learnt from each other throughout the whole process. Both groups were strangers when they first joined the project, but they have quickly formed teams and friendships, dividing tasks, working out who can do what and when, and getting the job done, which is to survey these County Wildlife sites in order that management plans can be drawn up by the Trust.

Thank you to the Barrow Common and Bowthorpe Riverside teams for letting me join them for a few hours and answering my many questions. I very much enjoyed meeting them and seeing them in action. More than 200 community surveyors are involved in the project this year, they are doing a fabulous job and our thanks go to all of them.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

A Skylark's Song: concluding Cley Calling with the North Norfolk Sinfonia

Ellie Howell, Cley Marketing Intern

On Sunday evening, the North Norfolk Sinfonia played a wonderful array of classical music inspired by bird life to conclude Cley Calling at St Margaret’s Church. The evening marked the opening of Cley16, an exhibition of contemporary art organised by the North Norfolk Exhibition Project.

Living in Norfolk means we are inherently tied to its diverse landscape and to its countryside – it is a kind of special natural heritage that is passed to us by the landscape itself. The North Norfolk Sinfonia channelled this feeling throughout their performance. Bassoon player Ian said it was ‘a joy to perform for Norfolk Wildlife Trust’, having been a member for over twenty years He also said that Cley Calling has ‘brought the community together and showcased the work the NWT do at ground level.’

The last piece of music played by the Sinfonia was The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams, featuring the fantastic violin soloist Thomas Leate. Remarkably between movements a skylark could be heard.

It was a poignant end to a week of fantastic events which brought audiences new and old, members and non-members alike. It was a joy to host such a diverse group of people and events, especially since the weather was particularly pleasant throughout. Those who travelled from far and wide were particularly endeared to the Cley Marshes and many wanted to return in the future. Who can blame them?

Friday, 8 July 2016

Cley Calling: Rozi Plain

Ellie Howell, Cley Marketing Intern

It was a memorable evening last night at the NWT Cley Marshes Visitor Centre, where we were lucky enough to host the talented musicians Rozi Plain and Milly Hirst. The Simon Aspinall WildlifeEducation Centre, which is an unmissable part to any visit to NWT CleyMarshes, was transformed into a striking space for the first music event of Cley Calling

Milly Hirst with a view of the marshes in the background. During her set, Milly said that Cley has a very special place in her heart as she was married at Cley Windmill in the spring

Rozi’s merchandise

Rozi with her support Rachel Horwood, taken in front of our wildflower area

A beautiful sunset washed over the horizon as Rozi’s set concluded with a song aptly called ‘Marshes’.

After the music had finished, attendees moved from the Centre outside to the reserve and to the dimly sunlit landscape, reporting sights of barn owls, skylarks and marsh harriers.

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.


Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Summer at Ranworth

Barry Madden, NWT Volunteer

It always takes me by surprise how quickly the year turns. We enter January full of optimism, plummet down to earth through long, cold February nights, have a brief flirtation with the sun during early spring when everything emerges fresh and eager, only to plod through this cool, cloudy often wet and windy summer. Before you know it the solstice has come and gone and people are talking of their hope for an Indian summer. Another year has well and truly matured. 

The visual evidence of how the season has sped by can now be seen very clearly at NWTRanworth Broad. Here a walk along the boardwalk will take you through lushly vegetated wetland where head high reed sways in the breeze, their ranks speckled with pastel pink valerian, purple spikes of marsh thistles, white umbels of milk parsley and yellow spires of loosestrife. In the wet swamp carr, woodbine, perfumed sweet, entwines with woody bittersweet and the Royal fern thrusts its spore laden fingers skyward. Rich summer profusion.

But it is perhaps the activity of the birds that indicates how we have moved from the frantic urgency of spring; the chasing, screeching, posturing and skirmishing, to the more focused task of fledging this year’s offspring. And the most obvious species to be encountered as you look out over the broad from our floating visitor centre are the grebes, terns and the swallows.

One pair of grebes are busy looking after a pair of humbug-striped chicks quite close to the observation windows where they can be observed catching fish to satisfy the incessant hunger of their prodigy. Great-crested grebes are good parents that in the early stages of the chicks’ development will keep them very close, warding off any potential predator. Unlike the mallards that let their ducklings scatter and swim wildly hither and thither: easy prey for herons, gulls and marauding marsh harriers. The parent grebes are now finding quite large fish to offer to the eager young ones who will raise their heads skywards to gulp the fish down head first. A couple of weeks ago one over optimistic parent gave a very large fish to one of the small chicks that gamely tried but ultimately failed to force it down its gullet. Being able to watch these dagger billed aquatics in such intimate detail is a true privilege.

The swallows enliven the immediate vicinity of the Visitor Centre during the summer months with their breath-taking aerial ballet. They nest under the eaves where they are totally protected from the rigours of the northerly wind and sheeting rain. Three pairs have taken up residence this year and can be watched hawking insects over the broad which they cram into the mouths of their well grown brood. They will breed again once the current nestfuls have fledged and may well try for a third time during August. 

And then there are the terns; feisty, screeching, aerodynamic perfection.  After a late start these graceful wanderers are now nesting on the specially constructed rafts, the adults making regular trips to Malthouse Broad to catch small fish for their newly hatched young. It is worth spending a while watching these sharp eyed birds swooping through the air, plunging into the water to remove a fish with clinical precision. For me they embody the spirit of this place.

Norfolk Wildlife Trust run lots of beginner and family events at Ranworth during the summer from pond dipping to moth trapping Have a look to find one that suits you.

Read more of Barry’s wildlife observations at