July, August and September 2014

Carl Brooker takes a look back at his visits to Kelling Heath during the summer months of July, August and September 2014.

The weather at Kelling Heath during July, August and September was very warm and dry. On July 4th Weybourne, at 28.4c was the hottest place in the UK. There were a few thunderstorms towards the end of the month but on whole it’s fair to say we have had a proper summer this year.

Summer is a time of plenty and leisure for Kelling's wildlife. Most of the birds will have fledged their chicks, our mammals will have raised their kits, cubs and pups and insects are in full flight. During this period at Kelling Heath Nature is in full flow with the vegetation – trees, bushes and wild flowers –all at their best, as the woods, heaths and hedgerows are awash with green and dotted here and there with swathes of colour.

Did you walk over the heath late summer? The Bell and Ling heathers were absolutely stunning this season. This is not always a good time to spot the birdlife but the chicks still dependant on food from Mum and Dad can be heard cheeping loudly from the trees. By mid-August the parents would have stopped singing and often appear to disappear into thin air (in reality they are hiding away to moult into fresh feathers) what is more evident at this time is the steady hum of the insects and baby rabbits and young Deer can be seen at the edge of the forest clearings with a bit of patience.

The abundance of warm sunny days this summer has been one of the best Dragonfly years I have ever experienced on Kelling Heath. The usual suspects were spotted around the conservation pond such as Four Spotted Chaser, Emperor, Southern Hawker and Broad Bodied Chaser with an abundance of migrant Hawkers appearing in September.

We also had a first for Kelling in the Small Red Eye Damsel. First seen in this country in 1999 and is spreading across southern and eastern England. This is a really insect to id as they very rarely stay still for long. The body has an X shape on the tip of its tail and it took a while to get a good enough view to confirm. I was about 99% sure and then a local naturalist reported to me that he had seen one too.

Did you know that our Dragons and Damsels spend up to 3 years as larvae in the mud at the bottom of ponds emerging in summer as an adult but living no longer than about six weeks? They moult their skin around 15 times before climbing a stem and metamorphosing in to the adult form that we see zipping over the conservation pond at high speed catching insects and fighting for territory.

As mentioned in my last blog, our Bats had a good start when they emerged at Easter as the warm spell provided plenty of insects for them to feed on. With the good weather continuing it has been a good summer for them and if you joined Jerry or me on the wildlife at dusk walks would not have been disappointed by the numbers hawking for insects over the ponds. As Bats need to put on a lot weight over the summer in order to help them survive the winter months I reckon this was a good Bat summer.

As I write this they will be heading off to their hibernation roosts to sleep through the cold insect free winter months. Another species that has had a good season is the butterflies. White Admiral was seen along the woodland glades in late July while and though there were less Sliver Studded Blues this year on the heath there was an abundance of the ‘Browns’, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Wall brown and Grayling.

Were you with us on a Sunday afternoon ramble in July when we found good numbers of Grayling? A really difficult one to spot as it has a habit of ‘disappearing’ when it lands due to its fantastic camouflage against bare earth and stones. We had to follow them as they flew past and then watch them settle in order to see them but it was worth the wait as we had 22 that afternoon. Late August gave us a few Clouded Yellow Butterflies. This golden yellow migrant species is a regular visitor to our coastline and is known to have occasional mass migrations which are fondly known as “Clouded Yellow Years” by butterfly specialists.

July/August was a good time to see Green Tiger beetles on the heath. This iridescent green beetle digs small round holes on bare patches of ground in which it lays an egg. When the egg hatches the larvae lay in wait for passing spiders or ants which they drag down into the hole to feed on. The Usain Bolt of the insect world, the adult beetle can run at speeds of up to five miles per hour. Look out for their burrows in august along the track by the railway line.

On one of my family nature rambles in August we were lucky enough to hear the gentle call of a turtle dove from a birch tree on across the other side of the railway crossing. I say lucky because Turtle doves are in serious decline. A migratory species, they have suffered a 95% UK population decline since 1970 and a 74% decline across Europe since 1980. Their call is quite something to be heard, a gentle purr is the best way to describe it. Luckily I had the telescope with me and on closer inspection found that we had both a male and a female.

Other notable bird species observed this summer include Yellow Hammers, Linnets, Stonechats and Dartford Warbler on the heath. Whilst in the woodland areas apart from our Kelling regulars such as Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Common Whitethroat and Blackcap, Our highlights include Great Spotted Woodpecker, Tree creeper and a Common Buzzard nesting.

Apart from the remnants of hurricane Bertha in august, it was yet another fantastic summer season at Kelling Heath with an abundance of wildlife. If you are planning to visit in the New Year why not join me on our New Year’s Day nature ramble.