Kelling Heath's environmental blog page
Enjoy the latest wildlife sightings and other natural events through the eyes of Kelling Heath's team of wildlife specialists.
Jerry has been involved in conservation and environmental education for over 25 years and is currently employed part time as a lecturer in ecology and conservation at Easton College. When not lecturing wildlife surveys and photography take up the rest of Jerry’s week.
Previous jobs have included work at local nature reserves and estates and further afield on the Isles of Rum and St. Kilda.
Born in North Norfolk in a farming family Jerry loves to travel to distant shores in pursuit of wildlife but is always drawn back to the beauty of the North Norfolk coast.
Jerry Kinsley has been leading bat and other wildlife walks at Kelling for the past two years and is currently undertaking a baseline survey of wildlife found at Kelling.
Wildlife Blog Summer 2013 We have all enjoyed a great summer at Kelling but how did our wildlife fare?
The summer took its time to arrive with a cold spring and early summer but when it did arrive it was glorious. So who were the winners and who were the losers among our wildlife? A lot depended on when the key times of year were for the different species.
I strongly suspect that it has not been a great year for bats despite them still being plentiful on my bat walks; indeed I was not rained on during the thirty or so bat walks that I lead over the season! The problem with the bats is that they emerged from hibernation into cold and windy conditions which resulted in there being very limited insect food for them and thus their breeding season was likely to be poor. Bats are comparatively long lived creatures and don't breed every year so it will be a while before we see any evidence of long term impacts. We took part in the Norfolk Bat Survey in June and while this did not come up with any surprises it did confirm our observations with a particularly productive night at the Conservation pond.
Among the other mammals Muntjac deer seemed particularly confiding this year and a number of visitors had very good views of roe deer and their kids on the fields on the far side of the railway. Hedgehogs also seemed to do well which was very encouraging given that their numbers nationally are rapidly declining.
It was very challenging early breeding season for many bird species with the changeable weather causing problems. Indeed we hear that nationally barn owls had their worst breeding season for over 30 years. At Kelling the nightjars were a little late in arriving once the main season arrived many visitors enjoyed seeing and hearing these wonderfully evocative birds of heathland. Stonechats were really down but linnets and yellowhammers seemed to do well. I had some lovely views of hobbies hunting dragonflies and the two barred crossbills caused a lot of excitement among birdwatchers as did the resident Dartford warblers.
Among the reptiles and amphibians the poor weather early in the year certainly impacted on the frogs with many clumps of spawn being spoiled by sharp frosts but the toads fared better. It was interesting to note that several of the frog and toad tadpoles were very late developers and had yet to grow all four legs by late in the season. We found several smooth newt larvae in the Conservation pond during pond dipping sessions which was very encouraging given that there are some problems with fish predation in that pond. Adders were seen in reasonable numbers and common lizards appeared to have a prolific breeding season. I personally did not see as many slow worms as usual but a number of visitors did come across them
Given the nature of the summer I was a little disappointed with dragon and damselfly numbers but this was in many ways compensated for by it being such a butterfly summer! This is just what butterflies needed after several bad years and a lot of doom and gloom about their future prospects. Once again this year had started badly with the early flying orange tips not doing well but once the summer started properly it was the best year for many years. I lead a butterfly walk during butterfly awareness week and although this coincided with one of the poorer weather days we still saw several species including really good views of the stunning little butterfly known as the green hairstreak on the heath. Other highlights included plentiful graylings and small coppers . Among the migrants we had a number of beautiful clouded yellows, along with clouds of day flying silver y moths and the occasional hummingbird hawk moth on the buddleias and honeysuckle. An owner reported seeing silver washed fritillary butterflies which is very exciting, as far as I know they have not previously been recorded on the Kelling site. For me however the overall highlight of the season was the number of silver studded blues. This is the butterfly that was reintroduced to Kelling heath a few years back and this year I have never seen so many of this iconic species on the heath.
Finally with the plants it was an unusual season with many spring flowers blooming very late and with a shorter season than usual. Some bluebells could still be found in flower in early June and that is something I have never seen before. The bell heather and ling were stunning on the heath and the warm weather seemed to really bring out the smell of the gorse flowers.
So , overall an exciting wildlife summer after a dreary spring , perhaps a taste of the future climate or else a short term remission, Whatever it was it certainly felt like a memory of a childhood summer with the buzzing of the bees and the clouds of butterflies,. Soon it will be half term and the prospect of beautiful autumn colours on the trees and if we get some rain soon a profusion of fungi.
January 2013 Sarah Kemp, Acorn Events coordinator at Kelling Heath stands in for Jerry Kinsley and takes a look at what happens when the Park closes down for its short winter break
New Year’s Eve at Kelling Heath was a grey, damp day - the temperature was relatively mild at 8 degrees. A walk over the heath and down to the fishing pond uncovered the following flora and fauna;
European (or Common) Gorse in flower
Liverwort along the path edges
Velvet Shank fungi on Gorse stems
Red Deer tracks
A flock of Siskins and a few Redpolls
4 Coal tits
A large flock (circa 15.) of Long Tailed Tits
Alexanders growing by the woodland paths
The same walk on January 25 was a different picture with temperatures during daylight hours hovering around -2. The Holiday Park was closed for its winter break and everywhere was quiet. The ground was covered in snow with a fierce wind blowing, the temperatures together with the biting wind brought wildlife nearer the site centre looking for food. There were many visible tracks and prints in the snow of Birds, Rabbit, Deer and a Fox. Ground level Flora was covered by snow, the Gorse was still visible and a welcome contrast against the white. Wildlife no longer camouflaged was easy to spot;
Roe Deer x 3
Winter walks over the heath are very different to those in warmer weather, but none the less of interest. The tracks and trails in the snow are evidence of how much wildlife the heath and woodland supports and how careful management of those habitats are essential to maintain a natural escape for all to enjoy.
Summer Wildlife Blog - I am writing this blog on the first day of autumn and reflecting on what has been a contrasting and challenging summer for our wildlife.
The season started off so well with a glorious March and then with the hosepipe in place it just kept on raining and raining! Eventually in August the weather did improve and for much of the school holidays the weather was not bad at all if not a BBQ summer! September has been generally very pleasant with some hot days. So what has this changeable weather meant for wildlife at Kelling and further afield?
The wet early summer was excellent for slugs and snails, which may not sound great news but it did mean there was plenty of food for hedgehogs to eat. At Kelling many visitors saw or heard hedgehogs and judging by the profusion of droppings it looks like hedgehogs had a good early breeding season. This is great news as hedgehog numbers across the UK have been plummeting for a number of years and they need all the help they can get. The second hedgehog litters are normally born in September and it is too early to say how well they are doing but it is always a struggle for them to reach the critical 600g weight they need to survive hibernation before the cold weather sets in. Do remember that bread and milk is bad for hedgehogs and if you want to leave food out for them it is best to provide them with tinned dog food or dried food such as Spikes Dinner that has been specially formulated for them.
In contrast the early summer weather was bad news for butterflies with few sightings and low numbers of most species reported. However in recent weeks there has been something of an influx of red admirals, commas and very pleasingly even a few small tortoiseshells which is a species that is in rapid overall decline. This general pattern was similar in dragonflies with low numbers and diversity early in the season but plentiful migrant hawkers and common darters in late August and September.
We have had another good season of bat walks although we started later this year due to the weather, the conditions during the main summer holiday period were generally very good with few wet and windy evenings which are never very productive. The early summer weather is likely to have impacted on the breeding success of bats but hopefully the next few weeks will be good so that they can feed up well prior to their hibernation period. During the walks we had more sightings of Daubenton and Natterers than usual but brown long ears were infrequent and noctules were few and far between which is puzzling.
It was very noticeable that nightjars were seen and heard later in the season than is usually the case and this was a real bonus for many visitors who in many cases had their first encounter with this evocative heathland bird.
It is great news that Kelling once again has a potential breeding pair of red squirrels in the aviary after acting as a holding pen for two males this year. A female from Cornwall has joined one of our males whilst the other male has made the reverse journey to the South West to meet up with a Cornish lady. We are keeping our fingers crossed that they will breed next spring. It has been very encouraging to hear that the squirrels released in Anglesey from squirrels bred in Norfolk are doing very well and future release sites are being considered on the Welsh mainland. Kelling has been part of the breeders group for many years and we are delighted to be able to contribute to this vital conservation work.
Soon it will be the peak fungi season and we are hoping that this autumn will be spectacular after a very limited display last year. The next few weeks are critical, if it is warm and wet there should be a good display but if it is cold and dry then many of the larger, well known species may not show. Already I have seen several fly agarics, charcoal burners and common puffballs so it is looking promising. The intention is once again to run one or two fungi walks at half term.
Now we are seeing the first skeins of wild geese and their eerie calls are so evocative of the arrival of autumn. A few days ago I saw my first bramblings and siskins of the season which is another sign of the onset of cooler weather and contrasted with the plaintive late summer song of the chiffchaff and the gathering swallows preparing to head south.
Easter Wildlife Blog - Bumbles and Town Hall Clocks What a difference a few days makes, from last week’s sunny, warm days to the chilly damp and windy arrival of Easter! Spring was advancing rapidly with spring flowers blooming and birds nesting; now we will have to wait and see how wildlife responds. We had been seeing plentiful butterflies that overwintered as adults such as peacocks, commas, brimstones and small tortoiseshells. Recently they have been joined by newly emerged orange tips and the occasional holly blue.
Now with the cooler weather returning butterflies will be keeping a low profile. However not all insects are hidden away and even on a recent chilly day there were still plentiful bumblebees to be seen! You really know that spring has arrived when you see your first, plump, queen bumblebee. She is all that remains of last year’s colony and has survived the winter underground. The queen is able to fly on cold days when no other insects can be seen because she is able to shiver her flight muscles and is thus able to warm herself to 30oC. This does however take a lot of energy and like a furry hummingbird she won’t survive long without food.
Adders were out on the heath enjoying the warm early spring weather and have now mainly shed their skins and their exquisite marking can be easily seen. The females are the bigger, browner ones and the males are smaller and more silvery grey in colour. They are now a lot more active and are moving around looking for love so they can be harder to spot than when they were newly out of hibernation back in late February and early March.
Most of the winter Migrant birds are now gone from these shores but have been replaced by the early arriving summer visitors. Already Kelling reverberates with the repetitive call of chiff chaffs and the eloquent song of the blackcap.
At this time of year we welcome the song of the chiff chaff as a welcome sign of spring but as the seasons progress we tend to take its somewhat monotonous song for granted! Bluebells are just starting to come into flower but two other woodland species are in full bloom in the woods at Kelling.
The wood sorrel is a pretty, frail looking plant of the shady wooded area and may easily be seen alongside the track to the bottom pond. It has bright lime green shamrocky like trefoil leaves and delicate, nodding white flowers, faintly veined with lilac. The leaves are folded to begin with, in the shape of some episcopal hat, then open flat, like three hearts with their points joined at the stem, The plant has been used a salad vegetable since the fourteenth century but it is now considered unwise to consume it other than in very small quantities as it contains oxalates, which are salts that can cause kidney problems in humans.
The other woodland plant that can be seen flowering is much of the wooded area Kelling is the moschatel or town hall clock. This is a very subtle, delicate plant and warrants a close look. It is unlike any other plant, and is placed a family of its own. It flowers in a tight head of 4-6, each tiny inconspicuous flower facing a different direction – hence its common name – Town Hall Clock!
November, December, January & February Sarah Nichols, Acorn Events coordinator at Kelling Heath stands
in for Jerry Kinsley and takes a look at what happens when the Park closes down
for its short winter break
The weather at Kelling Heath during December and January was very kind - after a busy Christmas and New Year the park closed for the season on January 2nd and it looked as though Spring was just around the corner with tree buds swelling and male hazel catkins a welcome site, but February blew in with an icy blast with heavy snow and cold temperatures down to -8 which proved a challenge for wildlife.
With the park closed and everywhere peaceful, Muntjac and Roe Deer took the opportunity to come in closer to the Park Centre and could be seen nudging their way along snow and ice peppered trails and paths quiet and undisturbed, a very different scene from the previous 6 weeks when there was an air of Christmas and New Year excitement as families followed trails, children searched for feathers, sticks and other forest floor treasures and inquisitive dogs looked hopefully at scurrying grey squirrels and startled pheasants.
When all was still, we caught the moonlight sighting of the woodcock, so well camouflaged amongst the winter undergrowth at the entrance to Kelling, but if we dared to disturb them they took off, zigzagging their way back into the woodland darkness.
The ponds and their surroundings changed overnight from the greens of spring starting to show its face, complemented by the tans, reds and oranges of autumn leaves still hanging around; subtle, vibrant colours contrasted by the grey winter skies and dark water where the moorhens darted about going about their business amongst the reeds . Then came the snow and ice as winter arrived and it was a very different picture albeit a very beautiful one. Then just as if a light had been switched on, the brightness and crisp whiteness of snow and ice reflected and shone, it was breath taking to be amongst it.
A layer of ice covered the water, and the snow sat for days on branches and paths. There was a whole new game to be played, tracking. It soon became apparent that as soon as your back was turned or when nightfall descended, this still quiet environment became a hive of activity as the Kelling Heath resident wildlife left their tracks and footprint marks in the snow and ice.
As quickly as it arrived, the snow and ice vanished. Spring can resume its steady march towards a time of renewal and revitalisation of woodland and the surrounding environment. The dawn chorus, bluebells and spring flowers will take over from snow drops and icicles as the kaleidoscope of nature turns her hand and continues to show us how resilient she really is.
September & October 2011 The weather in late September certainly sprang a few surprises on us with temperatures reaching the late twenties, combined with dry, sunny conditions. We will have to wait and see what impact the unseasonal weather has had on wildlife. Certainly it has had a major effect on fungi this autumn with very few species fruiting and those that did, not in the abundance of last year.
Fungi tend to fruit best in a mild, damp autumn and if we get these conditions in November, then some of the commoner species such as Fly agaric and Clouded funnel may put on a show, but for most species it is too late in the year and we will have to see what next year brings.
The unseasonal warm weather seemed to also persuade a number of summer migrant birds to stay on a bit longer than is usual. In early September, with the help of licensed bat handler Sam Phillips we checked the bat boxes at Kelling and we found a number of bats and three of the five species of bat found at Kelling –Noctule, Natterer’s and Brown long eared. Some of the bat boxes are beginning to show their age and we will replace some this winter and will add additional boxes in suitable locations. When I put out live catch, small mammal traps as part of the mammals session during the October half term I was delighted to catch a good number of bank voles as well as the usual woodmice. The catch included some immature animals indicating that this species has had a good breeding season this year.
There seem to be very good number of geese this year with large skeins of Brent and Pinkfoot geese moving around the coastal area. One of the most exciting species to be recorded at Kelling this year was a solitary short eared owl that was seen hunting over Kelling Heath for a couple of days in late October. This may have been one of a group of over 40 that were seen on the Northwest Norfolk coast earlier in October.
Short eared owls are mainly diurnal, that is they hunt by day, so they can be easy to observe. Short eared owls are capable of travelling long distances and often migrate from Europe in autumn, often making landfalls with other classic October migrants like the woodcock. It is this link between the species that explains its old name of woodcock owl. The short-eared owl’s main diet is composed of small mammals, particularly voles and so the bird at Kelling was probably appreciating the abundance of prey.
Another classic September/October sight and sound is the arrival of flocks of redwings and fieldfares from Scandinavia. This autumn some of the flocks have seemed particularly large. The flight call of the redwing is really atmospheric and in many ways warns us that summer is over and winter is on its way. Much of the migration of redwings takes place at night and in an average winter as many as a million are thought to arrive in this country. Most bird species from the far north have little contact with humans and usually exhibit remarkable tameness but redwings buck the trend. They are far more flighty and nervous than other thrushes.
The Redwing is second only to the Fieldfare in terms of beauty and since the two species are often together, they provide a double spectacle. Perched redwings show a reddish/orange crescent along the flank but the Redwing name comes from a large patch of rufous chestnut across the whole of the underwing coverts which are visible in flight. Fieldfares are known as Fulfers in Norfolk and with their loud chacking calls and contrasting colours they really are stunning birds. They are usually a lot less shy than redwings and seem really good at tracking down the last berries at the end of winter.
Last winter was exceptional for the number of waxwings reaching these shores and it is certainly worth looking out for these exciting birds once again this year as already a few birds have landed on our shores.
July & August 2011 After the hot, dry early summer and spring the weather developed into a typical British summer once the school holidays began. There were still some hot, sunny days but there were also a lot of grey and damp days.
We had a number of wildlife highlights over the summer with the discovery of Daubenton bats hunting over the fishing pond on a regular basis being really special and taking the total number of bat species recorded at Kelling to six. Daubenton bats are sometimes called the water bat due to their habit of often hunting only 5-20cm above the water surface and frequently dipping down to catch their insect prey. We will shortly be doing the annual check on the bat boxes and it will be really interesting to see what species we find this year.
On the bird front we have had some really good sightings of Siskins and Crossbills near to the conservation pond. Crossbills are heavy billed, brightly coloured birds that in some ways resemble parrots as they sidle along a pine branch to extract seeds from cones with their specialist bill. One of the best clues to their presence is a flurry of papery seed wings from a pine tree and the occasional noise as an empty pine cone hits the deck.
At this time of year some of the warblers such as whitethroats have swapped their usual diet of insects for berries, with elderberries being a particular favourite. We have also heard the chiffchaffs breaking into a rather feeble song that is a bittersweet reminder of their cheerful spring song.
Although it often seemed to rain during the Thursday pond dipping sessions we were still able to find a lot of interesting beasts with highlights for many being dragonfly nymphs and newt larvae as well as lots of sticklebacks. The adult dragonflies and damselflies were scarce when the weather was poor but typically as soon as the sun came out they put on a wonderful display. On our best day we saw nine different species of dragonfly and four species of damselfly.
A common question is what is the difference between a dragonfly and a damselfly? Generally speaking damselflies are more delicate and when at rest hold their wings along the line of their body. The front and back wings are all the same shape and the head has eyes on either side, rather like a hammerhead shark! Dragonflies are chunky looking and when at rest they hold their wings out flat at right angles to the body. The front and back wings are different shapes, with the front wings narrower than the back ones. They have rounded heads and their enormous eyes usually meet at the top of the head. All dragonflies are predators, both in the larval and adult stages. The larvae are mainly ambush hunters, lurking in vegetation or sediment at the bottom of ponds.
Adult dragonflies hunt on the wing, taking anything from small flies to butterflies and even smaller dragonflies. At the conservation pond Southern Hawker dragonflies were very noticeable as they appeared to be inquisitive and almost friendly. In reality they are strongly territorial and will patrol a stretch of the water’s edge until a female enters the area.
Towards the end of August common and ruddy darters were the most obvious species. They were frequently seen posing on reed stems and on the picnic tables!
Finally it seems to have been a good summer for deer at Kelling with visitors spotting roe on a number of occasions, a red deer stag near the site entrance and muntjac across the site on many occasions.
May & June 2011 May was a continuation of the dry sunny weather of the early spring. These conditions brought forward the flowering period of many plants by a couple of weeks with bluebells being dried up and almost disappeared from sight by early May when they would have been in full bloom in a typical year. June was more mixed month with once again, some hot sunny weather but at last some occasional heavy rain.
This year has thus far been a very good one for butterflies which is just as well as most species have been in steep decline. There have been really good numbers of the commoner butterflies such as speckled wood, red admiral and small tortoiseshells. The spectacular white admirals have been flying earlier than usual and I was delighted to see a beautiful purple hairstreak butterfly near to the ground level. These butterflies spend most of their time high in the canopy of oak trees and the gazebo at Sheringham Park is well known as a hotspot for seeing them. Unusually for butterflies they are often active late afternoon and early evening at a time when many species will have settled down in cover for the night.
May and June have been very productive for bats with excellent views of common and soprano pipistrelles, particularly near the conservation pond. We have also had occasional sightings of noctules, one of our biggest bats that flies high and fast over the heath and can often be seen before sunset. It is interesting to see a number of repeat visitors are now bringing their own bat detectors.
May saw the return from Africa of that most evocative of heathland birds, the nightjar. This once scarce summer migrant is now found in very good numbers at Kelling. Nightjars feed at dawn and dusk and sleep by day, roosting lengthwise along a tree branch or on the ground, where they are protected by an almost perfect camouflage. Their churring call is almost insect like and the dry, throaty, mechanical notes pour out at a rate of 28-42 a second and every now and then the sound subtly modulates – a shift in tempo and pitch as the bird turns its head. To spot a singing nightjar is never an easy exercise. In the half light of dusk the males are difficult to pick out as they perform on an exposed tree limb. The sound, which is without any obvious beginning or end, is strongly ventriloguial and gives the impression that the bird is calling some distance from where it is actually found.
Hobbies have been seen on a number of occasions over the heath and this small and spectacular raptor is always a thrill to see. As well as being fast flying it also demonstrates incredible aerial flexibility and is able to catch dragonflies, swifts and even bats in flight. When they catch the dragonflies they are able to pull them apart and eat them as they fly with hardly a pause in their pursuit of other prey. It is so encouraging to note that this wonderful bird is increasing in numbers and appears to be thriving in some farmland areas as well as its traditional heathland habitat.
May and June were really good months and as well as the spectacular night flying species such as Pine Hawk moths and Eyed Hawk moths it was a good time to see day flying species such as the six spot burnet moth and the Cinnabar. The caterpillars of the latter feed on ragwort and their black and yellow colouration warns potential predators that they are as poisonous as their foodplant..
Once again there have been good numbers of dragon and damselflies at the conservation pond but more about them next month. It has also been good to see a number of bumblebee species foraging around the park in particular in the wildflower meadow. It seems to have been a mixed breeding season for birds with some species doing well but others such as blackbirds struggling to find enough food for their youngsters due to their dry conditions meaning that worms are found deep down in the soil.
Many species such as stonechats (found on Kelling heath) are capable of having two or three broods and this means that if they struggled getting enough food for the first clutch they may have better luck with the next batch.
April 2011 What an amazing month! Incredibly dry and sunny, so much for April showers. We tend to think of early May as the peak time for bluebells but this year they have flowered two to three weeks early.
The ponds are alive with tadpoles, was it a coincidence that ‘Save the frogs day’ coincided with the nuptials of a certain prince on the 29th of April! We will have to wait and see what the implications of the early spring are for wildlife at Kelling but it certainly seems to be the general case across the country that birds and insects are getting out of synch. The timing of life for both birds and insects has changed but insects have changed more, and faster with the result that some birds are beginning to breed after the supply of their favourite food has peaked. They find themselves breeding at the wrong time of year: only by a week or so, but that’s enough to affect the numbers of young they raise.
We have had some of our best bat walks over the Easter and bank holiday periods with large numbers of Common and Soprano Pipistrelles particularly around the conservation pond.
The bat walks, have coincided with appearances by a ‘roding’ Woodcock flying the boundaries of its territory. The roding male flies a circuit at dawn and dusk, with an owlish flight and interrupted wing beats, uttering two distinct notes - a rather sibilant ‘twisick’ and a froglike croak. The woodcock’s plumage has been described as one of the best examples of soft camouflage in the world of nature. The rich, rusty brown patterns of the most unwader-like of waders has the same kind of complexity as that of another Kelling favourite, the Nightjar. It also shares the Nightjars nocturnal feeding habits. Any day now the first Nightjar’s will arrive at Kelling from their wintering grounds in Senegal.
Both April dawn chorus walks were lovely spring mornings and guests were rewarded for their early start with beautiful songs and sightings of a good range of birds including: - Willow warblers, Chiffchaffs, Linnets, Yellowhammer and Whitethroats. Numerous Blackcaps were heard and seen and it was fortunate that a Blackcap and a Garden warbler have both established territories near to the fishing pond so we were able to compare their similar songs.
A real highlight of the first walk was a wonderful view of a Barn owl hunting in the woodland. This is quite unusual behaviour as they normally prefer to hunt over more open grassland areas. We were rewarded with superb close up views as the bird seemed oblivious to our presence. One group of guests started a day long bird watch with the dawn chorus walk at Kelling and then visited several well known nature reserves in North Norfolk before returning to Kelling in time to see the ‘roding’ Woodcock. This bird brought their tally of bird species for that day up to 104 which is quite an achievement.
March 2011 has apparently been the driest for 40 years and it certainly has been a month of contrasts with some freezing nights and some warm, sunny days up to 18 centigrade. March is always a transition month and this seems particularly the case this year. March is a time of some wildlife departing and some arriving.
At times there is an interesting crossover and here at Kelling I noticed this on a warm, sunny day in late March. Large flocks of redpolls and siskins were noisily feeding in the tips of the birch trees. Siskins are the smallest finch in Northern Europe and along with the stunning redpolls move south into Britain during the winter from their Scandinavian homeland. Whilst these wintering birds were feeding, the songs of chiffchaff and blackcaps could be heard and these birds are summer migrants and a sure sign that spring is on its way!
Another bird highlight for Kelling during March was a Rustic bunting. This bird I unfortunately did not see but it was identified and photographed by a lucky guest. This is a really stunning little bird which again originates in NE Europe and usually migrates to Britain in small numbers in the autumn, so it is particularly unusual to see one here in the spring.
After such a cold winter, few sights are more welcome than the first butterflies of the year and we have been fortunate to see brimstones, comma, peacock and small tortoiseshell at Kelling in March. On the last day of March I also saw my first orange tip of the year and this butterfly is really the essence of spring. Orange tip is a less than imaginative name compared with some exotic sounding butterflies, but this newly emerged specimen was really stunning. Its flight period is usually during April and May so it was really good to see it in March.
The early spring flowers are now showing well with a number of primroses in the woodland areas and even a few bluebells starting to burst into flower in sunny corners. The true early spring flowers however are rather subtle and easily overlooked. Firstly the dogs mercury which is found in the shadiest parts of the woodland and has very small inconspicuous flowers and secondly the much more interesting moschatel or town hall clock, named because its flower head is multi faced like a town hall clock.
Bats are also on the wing now and during the warm evenings towards the end of March many common and soprano pipistrelles were actively feeding with lots of social calling. Hopefully the weather will stay good over Easter and I will be able lead some bat walks!
February 2011 Well, so far the weather since Christmas has been largely mild and dry, quite a respite for wildlife after the severe conditions in December.
Already at Kelling it seems as if spring is on the way with bluebell, cuckoopint and wild garlic shoots poking through the leaf litter and lesser celandine in flower. Robins, dunnocks and great tits are singing and there is frantic activity by the resident tawny owl population in preparation for the breeding season.
The tawny owl has been described as the most musical of owls with up to ten different basic calls of adults in the breeding season. The ‘normal’ song the familiar hooting of the male functions as both a territorial and a courtship call. The contact call ‘kewick’ is the most frequent call of the female but is also used by the male. At this time of year the female may answer the male’s hoot with ‘kewick’ as a kind of duet.
The flocks of chaffinches around the birdfeeders have been joined by good numbers of bramblings. This strikingly beautify finch has orange epaulettes and a bright yellow-orange breast. The males have dark heads, lightened by pale feather fringes that will wear away in the spring to reveal black heads. The females are drabber, but with greyish and peachy-orange washes over the tortoiseshell plumage. The birds nasal calls will help you identify them flying overhead or if they are perched out of site high in the trees. Most of the bramblings that visit us are from Scandinavian and western Russia, where they breed in birch and conifer forests, so the woods are Kelling will seem very familiar to them.
Hopefully we will have some warm, sunny days in late February and early March and then we may be treated to the sight of Brimstone, Comma or Small Tortoiseshell butterflies as all these species overwinter as adults and on warm days will be foraging for nectar from the early spring flowers. Brimstones in particular are very active butterflies and will travel long distances looking for nectar sources and for buckthorn plants to lay their eggs on. I had my first sight of frogs moving back to their breeding pond last week during a rain shower and newts are on the move in the ‘conservation’ pond area.
Any day now the adders will be emerging from hibernation on the heath. The adult males emerge first, then the females and finally the immatures. Each individual adder remains under cover until about 10am, when they emerge and stay out until the middle of the afternoon when they go back into cover. At this time of year they are very lethargic and do not feed, so it is often the time of year when most visitors can see them rather than later in the year when they are a lot more active.
The countryside team at Kelling have put up a number of new nest boxes around the park so hopefully they will be as successful as the bat boxes we checked in the autumn.
December 2010 & January 2011 December signalled the return of the extreme winter weather that had occurred at the start of 2010.
Once again, the last few weeks have been a very challenging time for our wildlife with heavy snowfall and extreme temperatures. Being near the coast Kelling has not suffered as badly as further inland but the weather has still had a major effect on our wildlife. How desperate birds have been for food has been very apparent as the bird feeders at Kelling have been heaving with birds, with constant skirmishes due to the tensions created by cold weather and a limited food supply.
The resident birds have been joined by bramblings, which are northerly cousins of the chaffinch. Whilst birds such as blue tits, and chaffinches are able to survive thanks to food provided by us it is a different matter for birds that stay away from humans and particularly the insect eaters.
We will once again have to keep our fingers crossed that the Dartford warblers at Kelling have survived the recent cold spell. Where possible they continue to feed on spiders throughout the winter, finding their prey under the canopy of the gorse bushes.
One of the most evocative sounds heard at Kelling at this time of year is the sound of large skeins of geese flying overhead. As well as the resident feral greylag and Canada geese there are large flocks of Brent geese. These small, dark geese have travelled from Russia to over winter on our warmer shores! However much we think we know our home patch and the wildlife that it shelters, a walk in the snow can be an enlightening experience. Using footprints as clues we can identify who has been around the last few days.
Foxes are not often seen at Kelling but the evidence from their footprints is that they are quite common and at this time of year they can also be heard at night, as now is the peak period of their mating season and they are very vocal. They produce a triple bark followed by what can only be described as a scream. In addition the musky smell of fox is also a lot more obvious as they patrol their territories.
Generally at this time of year invertebrates are very few and far between but one moth is very obvious, in front of car headlights and at lighted windows . The winter moth is a rather drab and uninteresting looking creature and the female is unable to fly but it is a real winter survivor and can remain active even in sub zero temperatures as its body contains a form of antifreeze which prevents frost destroying the cells in its body. Antifreeze is also found in the snowdrop plant and hopefully they will start to flower in the next few weeks to give us the first sign of warmer and longer days ahead!
October 2010 It is sometimes easy to think that by autumn much of the wildlife interest is gone, but this is actually far from being the case. October half term produced some good weather at Kelling and we were lucky to see many varied and interesting species of fungi on the fungi walk. The year has seen exceptionally high numbers of many fungi species particularly in late summer and early autumn and whilst many of the larger species such as the Boletes have finished fruiting, we were able to see such interesting species as false chanterelle, amethyst deceivers, clouded funnels and wood blewits. It was really encouraging to see the enthusiasm for spotting fungi shown by many of the younger members on the walk, as they would frequently dive into the bushes to find something that had caught their eye.
At the end of October I checked the bat boxes at Kelling with the help of Sam Phillips from the Norwich Bat Group (who is a licensed bat handler). We found 20 individuals from 4 species including the Natterer's bat, which is a new record for Kelling. Our best haul was a box with 13 individuals within! Most of the bat boxes have been in place for many years and credit must go to the people who made them as most were in really good condition. We intend to check the boxes again in the spring and hope for some more surprises!
We plan to introduce wildlife photography courses for visitors next year and I have been investigating wildlife photographic opportunities around the park with my colleague Mike Powles. The results of the wildlife surveys I have carried out this year indicate just how diverse the wildlife is a Kelling so we are looking forward to some interesting wildlife opportunities.
On the 1st of November I saw Common Hawker Dragonflies still egg laying in the conservation pond and peacock and red admiral butterflies feeding on some late nectar. What with the buzz of honeybees collecting nectar from the Ivy flowers it could almost have been summer!
The winter migrant birds have arrived at Kelling in the shape of fieldfares and redwings feeding on hawthorn berries and large skeins of Brent geese flying over the site. I have not seen any waxwings at Kelling yet but a number have been seen locally and already more have been seen in Britain than during the whole of last winter. Their presence in high numbers in this country usually is a result of low food supplies in Scandinavia. They are a really unmistakable bird with a large crest, plump and short tailed in appearance with a generally pinkish brown colour and a high-pitched sreeee call. Certainly this is a bird to look out for feeding on berries.
August & September 2010 What a difference a month makes after the hot dry days of early July, August has been generally cool, cloudy and a lot wetter! However this has not affected the wildlife and visitors to Kelling continued to have really good wildlife encounters.
Indeed some of the bat walks I have led have been some of the most productive as regards bat numbers. Visitors have been able to see Brown long eared bats emerging from a bat box, noctules over the heath and feeding frenzies of Pipistrelles along some of the fire breaks.
Nightjars were still on show during the third week of august and on the 30th of September I saw a large flock of swifts hunting over the heath and this is very late as most swifts have already flown south.
It has been a mixed season for butterflies, but there were good numbers of White Admirals and recently Red Admirals and Commas have been plentiful. There are still plenty of dragon flies to see at the conservation pond with some very confiding Migrant and Southern Hawkers checking out visitors to their patch.
One really interesting result of the wet, warmish, weather in August is that we have numerous species of fungi carpeting the woodland floor in many places. This is a real contrast from last year when late summer and autumn was incredibly poor for fungi. Species that are easy to spot include the Fly Agaric – the classic fairy story toadstool and the Birch Bolete. Both of these species have a mutual benefit relationship with the silver birch tree which is one of the commonest trees at Kelling.
The heath looks at its most beautiful at this time of year with flowering Ling or common heather, Bell heather the spectacular coconut scented flowers of the Gorse and the dried seedheads of Tufted Hairgrass and Red Fescue creating a stunning scene particularly with an early morning mist. Soon we will be greeting the arrival of the autumn migrant birds along with more fungi and changing colours of the trees.
July 2010 The hot and sunny weather at the end of June and beginning of July has been a challenging time for our wildlife but has been a pleasure for wildlife watchers at Kelling.Thus far all the bat walks have encountered lots of bats with the still, warm evenings combined with plenty of flying insects creating ideal conditions for bat watching. In contrast to last year most bats have been seen in the vicinity of the Conservation pond.
Visitors have reported excellent views of nightjars on the nightjar walks and stonechats and Dartford warblers have been seen on the Heath. It is really good news that the Dartford warblers survived the winter as they are a resident warbler that is very vulnerable to harsh winter weather. Butterfly numbers are really good with lots of meadow browns and gatekeepers and clouds of ringlets, particularly in the wildflower meadow. I recorded my first white admiral butterflies of the season during the first week of July. These spectacular black and white butterflies are my favourite and are a species that has increased its range in contrast to most butterfly species. The caterpillars feed on honeysuckle and the adults tend to be seen feeding on blackberry flowers. Both of these plant species are prolific in the woodlands at Kelling and with a number of open sunny areas present, this creates ideal conditions for this species.
Interesting plants to spot in July are the Sanicle, subtle but elegant woodland plant and Hay rattle in the wild flower meadow. Hay rattle sometimes called yellow rattle gets its name from the noise of the seeds in the seedcases and most of this plant is now at the seeding stage due to the long hot dry spell. The plant is partly parasitic on grasses and where it grows it checks the growth of grass allowing other wildflowers to flourish.
The warm, sunny weather has been excellent for dragonfly and damselfly watching at the Conservation pond and up to 10 species have been seen in the pond vicinity. Emperor, Southern Hawker and Broad bodied chaser dragonflies and Large red, Azure and small red-eyed damselflies.
May/June 2010 The dry, warm weather for much of May brought forward a lot of wildlife but still the general consensus seems to be that most flowering plants are flowering about two weeks later than in recent years. For me the flower of the month at Kelling was a very understated little plant called Moschatel or Town Hall Clock so called because the flower heads face in all directions. Although not a colourful, striking flower it merits a close look.
First impressions are that many birds have thus far had a good breeding season with some good clutches of chicks fledging successfully. It was particularly pleasing to see a family group of long tailed tits, two adults with 6 youngsters have recently left the nest, and this is a species of bird that was hit badly by the severe weather last winter.
The end of May saw my first bat walk of the year on what was probably the worst day weather wise of the month ,with strong winds and some rain . Still even on this occasion we were able to locate a few pipistrelle bats in sheltered areas. The second bat walk during the half term holiday was a glorious evening with lots of bats,roding woodcock and nightjars bringing the evening to a close.
The roding woodcock caused a lot of interest among younger members of the group as they seem like a combination of frog, bat and nocturnal bird. The bird flew several circuits round us on the walk ,giving its strange call which sounds almost froglike following by a high ‘twisich ‘ sound. At this time the females are for more secretive as they alone undertake incubation of the eggs.
Butterflies are appearing in good numbers and may well have been helped by the proper winter! Holly blues, Orange tips, Peacocks and Speckled woods were very active when the sun was shining.
Finally June is the month when the wildflower meadow really starts to come into its own and is a really good spot to see lots of bees foraging as well as butterflies and dayflying moths such as silver Y'.s
April 2010 The Easter Holidays have been dry and generally warm with a number of very warm days but chilly nights. Initially it looked as if the wildlife season would be very late after the long cold winter but the recent weather seems to have fast-forwarded every thing into spring.
The most obvious flowers in the woodlands are Wood Sorrel, Lesser Celandine and Dog violets with a good show of Primroses along the railway embankments. Wood sorrel has clover shaped foliage which folds up in late afternoon; the solitary flowers emerge direct from the creeping roots and have white petals with violet veins. Lesser celandine flowers light up the undergrowth with their glossy golden sheen and although Dog violets lack the delicious scent of Sweet violets their presence never fails to lift the spirits after the end of the winter gloom.A few bluebells are starting to come into flower but it will be a couple of weeks before they are at their peak. The cold winter will have suited bluebells so it promises to be a spectacular flowering this spring.
In the bird world the newly arrived migrants such as Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow warbler are singing well and on April 17th I heard my first Cuckoo at Kelling which is the earliest I have heard this harbinger of spring for a number of years. Cuckoos have dramatically declined in numbers nationally so this may unfortunately be one of the last years we get to hear their familiar call. They share the same claim as the Chiffchaff in that they are among a few birds that are named after their song.
The warm weather has suited butterflies and species that have overwintered as adults have been plentiful especially, Peacock, Small tortoiseshell and Commas. On April 18th I saw my first newly emerged Orange tip and I am hoping that butterflies will have another good season this year after disastrous seasons in 2007 and 2008.
Last year was good for many species and the cold winter will have done them no harm so hopefully the promising start will continue.
Pipistrelle bats have been out foraging and I am looking forward to leading bat walks once again from June onwards.
Peter Walton is a naturalist and specialist in moths who lives and works in Norfolk. Peter has been running bird and wildlife courses for Norfolk County Council Adult Education since
the early eighties and been leadingwildlifewalks at KellingHeath for fifteen years and is well qualified to write about the species he has seen during his visits.
September 2010 - a seasons view It’s official – forget the weather, it’s been yet another great summer for wildlife at Kelling Heath! I think this may be my fifteenth season of running events at Kelling and it is interesting to look back at some of the changes over this period of time.
Effective habitat management has undoubtedly increased our natural diversity here and whereas we are now recording species which were previously not present (I don’t think we overlooked them!), I am glad to say there aren’t many things which have actually disappeared. On the negative side, Tree Pipit jumps to mind. Only occasionally do we now catch a passing spring migrant and sadly we no longer get to enjoy the trilling repertoire as a bird parachutes from the sky to alight on the top of a pine. But this is a species which has also declined elsewhere and there is little we can do here to rectify the situation.
There were Woodlarks displaying on the heath earlier in the year. They haven’t always been here and what a star performer and singing virtuoso this bird really is. Also on the heath, Dartford Warblers (although not that well established) have been quite obliging, one male being particularly visible and vocal and Stonechats too have been more than holding their own and producing a good number of young. Always a good way to find a Dartford Warbler is to find the more obvious Stonechat first, as there exists an interesting bond between these two very different species.
From time to time we have been able to enjoy the lovely purring sound of nationally fast declining Turtle Doves. I am happy to say there has certainly been more of a presence of these exquisite doves in 2010 than there has been in the last few years.
And the Nightjars? They are doing just fine. In the spring, this year’s dawn chorus event joys included singing Golden Oriole (Yes, what a surprise and a treat!) and big flocks of Crossbills – 120 one day was definitely a site record for me.
Silver-studded Blue butterflies, now well established (not so 15 years ago) added colour to our heathland strolls in the second part of June and the first part of July and I understand White Admirals put in another good showing around the park.
If I’m honest, I did coincide with a bit too much of the dingier summer days for my liking and as a consequence missed out on some of the fine array of dragonfly and damselfly species on offer here in 2010. The Conservation Pond now boasts the range expanding Small Red-eyed Damselfly, which I have yet to see here myself. Oh well, roll on 2011.
I have however been compensated with lots and lots of moths, which many people have enjoyed with me at our regular moth soirees. Last Wednesday I ran my first series of wildlife events at the Woodhill Park site at West Runton. The mothing was great, as were the seabirds, and I look forward to offering more events at this new location next year.
Two more things to say. Number one; do think about joining us for an ‘off season’ wildlife weekend in November. We visit all the top spots in the region – Cley, Holkham, Pensthorpe, Titchwell and others – in addition to our usual Kelling Heath events. If it’s mild, there could be some late autumn moth species. We did very well for birds last year, so much so that some of the participants have booked again.
(See Accommodation section on this website for more details or contact me directly, if you wish, by e-mail email@example.com or phone 07780 514276.) Secondly, if you want to know a bit more about my background and what courses and activities I am offering this autumn, you can either visit my webpage www.wildlifenorfolk.co.uk or read the article in this Saturday’s (4 Sept 2010) Eastern Daily Press Sunday supplement - the Kelling Heath photos were taken on a glorious early September afternoon.
April 2009 In this months blog Peter Walton talks about the large number of moths seen at Kelling including the Purple Thorn. Butterflies are beginning to show with several species on parade including Brimstones and Commas whilst a number of warblers are visiting the park the Willow Warbler amongst them.
Peter also talks about BBC Springwatch which has been filming at Kelling Heath in readiness for the next series live from Pensthorpe
There was welcome fine and mild weather over the Easter holidays and this was certainly a boon for our Kelling Heath moth events. In fact we recorded 17 different species of ‘macros' on Good Friday including a gorgeous Purple Thorn to go with the smart first generation Early Thorns which have recently been appearing. Immaculate Red-green Carpets just emerged from hibernation, an early Nut-tree Tussock on my favourite illuminated wall, Oak Beauty, Early Tooth-striped, the Engrailled,... The list goes on. I can't deny the enjoyment it gives me to call out these indulgent Victorian names, which fortunately remain unchanged two centuries on.
This was the first week when butterflies really started to perform, Peacocks, Small Tortoiseshells, Brimstones and Commas all taking to the wing after their extended siestas.
Three species of warblers were singing heartily for us on our dawn chorus walks, Blackcaps the loudest, Chiffchaffs the most persistent, plus newly arrived Willow Warblers adding their lilting refrains. Spring had sprung! A scarce Firecrest in a new location took up the baton after last year's surprise cluster of summer residents. These are miniature gems of birds and easy to overlook, especially as the foliage thickens. A keen ear is required to separate the ‘stuck on one note' song from that of the cascading Goldcrest.
By the end of April, twittering Linnets and vivid Yellowhammers were moving back on to their seasonal nesting territories around the heath. There was still the occasional chip chip chipping of a roaming flock of about 16 Crossbills, usually in rapid transit from A to B. Perhaps most exciting of all, however, were the Redpolls, especially since they tended to arrive out of the sky in a bumper group of 30 or 40 individuals. This charming and busy little finch has become scarce in recent years. In amongst the party were brick red, vocal males and even the odd silvery ‘Mealy' form, which normally resides further north.
In fact, BBC Springwatch caught some of the Kelling Heath wildlife on film, when presenter, Martin, joined me out walking in the bright sunshine to talk about Adders (now breeding and elusive) and in the early morning to listen to the birds. Watch out for clips of us in action during the series and then in the wildlife holidays ‘special' to be broadcast on Tuesday 16 June.
On a broader front, I am really busy running Adult Education courses countywide at this time of year at dawn, dusk and all times in between. Apologies therefore for my well overdue blog entry and watch out for the next one in a couple of weeks or so. Roll on tho
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