December 2016, January & February 2017

Winter at Kelling has been relatively dry this year compared to the past few years but with a very cold biting North Easterly wind coming off the sea.

A little bit of snow mid January briefly gave Kelling Heath a winter wonderland look but we really don’t seem to be having the type of winters I remember as a boy. At least not in North Norfolk….

New Year’s Day saw a hardy group of twelve of us braving the elements for a Family Nature Ramble through the woods and over the Heath before heading to the Bar for a nice warming hot chocolate! The non human animals of Kelling Heath like our deer, foxes, squirrels, birds and others have no such choice and are really up against it this time of year and wander far and wide to find food.

Winter is of course the toughest season of all for our wildlife it really is a time of life or death. They must either sleep their way through this bleak time in a state of hibernation in order to conserve energy or head away from our shores to warmer climes where food is more abundant.

But that doesn’t mean there is no wildlife to spot. Mammals become much braver and venture out in the open more – On New Year’s day we saw a Muntjac deer outside reception – and the Birds gather in huge flocks like the Crows and Starlings or Geese. A large portion of estimated 300,000 Pink Footed Geese that winter in the UK, are regularly spotted in the skies above Kelling Heath as they visit North Norfolk from their summer breeding areas such as Iceland and Greenland. Of all the Geese that visit North Norfolk in the winter there are none quite so charismatic as the “Pink Feet” and I must admit I get quite excited at the sight and sound when skeins of these lovely birds pass overhead.(I think the New Year’s day group probably noticed how excited I get!) The lookout point on the heath is a great place to watch for Pink Feet as they fly up and down the coast to their regular feeding points between November and late March, easy to indentify as they always fly in a very tight V formation and making their “Wink….Wink…” call.

Other Birds of note on our walk were six lovely Yellowhammers, two males and four females in a large birch tree on the heath who were patient enough to wait for my cold hands to extend the legs on the tripod of my telescope. Lovely show of Long Tailed Tits in the wood behind the railway platform and we lost count of the number of Robins present. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many in all the years I’ve been wandering Kelling woods.

On our February half term week walk was a much brighter day almost spring like. The aim of the walk was to see if there were any signs of spring. The first catkins of the year were hanging from the Hazel trees near the path down to the fishing pond. The catkin if you look closely, is actually a slim flower cluster with no petals it hangs down using the breeze to spread its pollen. Hazel is always one of the first trees to produce flowers in the spring. Catkins were also found on the Alder trees by the fishing pond. Alder is a common tree in Britain often found growing by ponds and other standing water but unusual in that it displays Catkins and tiny cones at the same time. The cones are actually left over from last year but they are female and the Catkin is male.

The Gorse bushes were in flower but that’s not really a spring indicator. There is an old saying “If Gorse is out of flower, kissing’s out of season” as they bloom for most of the year. On the woodland floor the tips of Bluebells were just pushing their way through the leaf litter and in a quite a few places the ever present Alexander. Alexander is an introduced plant, believed to have been brought here by the Romans and was used as a vegetable. The young shoots can be eaten and have a Celery taste. Just about all the plant was eaten and was also used for cattle food. It only grows in close proximity to the Sea and if you drive inland only a mile or two from the coast it disappears.

So there are a few signs of spring starting around Kelling. As I write this it is March and the two ponds are alive with Frogs patrolling the edges looking for a mate and the Pussy Willow is starting to show. I expect to be hearing the lovely call of the Chiffchaff (song clue in the name!) in the bottom woods soon. I don’t know about you but I love spring most of all the seasons the days get longer, the nights shorter and it’s the time of year when everything in nature is changing. It literally is a breath of fresh air.

Why not join me in the spring for one of my Family Nature Rambles and see why Kelling Heath is such a special place for nature.