June, July and August 2015

Carl Brooker looks back at the Summer of 2015 at Kelling Heath

The weather at Kelling Heath during June, July and August was a very mixed bag. At the start of July there was very hot air over the UK apparently blowing off Spain, something they seem to have starting calling a ‘Spanish Plume’. After this, however, the month was typified by a westerly Atlantic weather type, bringing cool and rather changeable weather generally, with rain or showers for much of the time, and only a few dry and warm days.

The weather during August was mostly unsettled and fairly cool, temperatures frequently struggled to reach average levels, although there were some warmer days, with temperatures up to around 25 °C, and then we had heavy rain and thundery downpours, particularly during the second half of the month.

But where we deterred by this weather? Of course not. We never let the weather get to us at Kelling, there’s so much to see and do especially when it comes to wildlife watching. June, July and August are some of the best months to wildlife watch at Kelling; we are really spoilt for choice when it comes to varying habitat.We have prime Heath land, Coniferous woodland, deciduous woodland and 2 lovely ponds.

Let’s start with the Heath. I’ve probably mentioned before in my blogging that Heath is a rare habitat to find in the UK these days and it is estimated that since the 1800’s we have lost over 80% of our Heathland to agriculture and urban development. If you’ve walked over there on a warm summer evening at dusk you could not have failed to hear the strange ‘Churring’ noise made by the Nightjar.

The Nightjar is an amazing bird that arrives on Kelling Heath late April from Africa. It is what’s known as a crepuscular bird, which is one that is active at dusk. You’ll be lucky to spot it during the day as it has amazing camouflage. The song or the ‘churring’ that we hear is really an incredible 30 notes per second and it’s not difficult to imagine why these creatures are steeped in folklore. It used to be known as a Goat Sucker – people believed they drank milk from goats!

Now I have been wildlife watching for more years than I care to remember but I’m still amazed by this magnificent bird. In late June a group of us were out on Wildlife at Dusk walk and we were hearing about 6 individuals singing but not seeing any. As we headed back along the track to the view point I heard a strange croaking noise that I put down to a Woodcock flying over, as we often see one when bat walking. Then suddenly, less than 4 feet above our heads (I actually felt the draft from the wings) 2 male Nightjars, who it appears were having a territorial dispute, began flying at each other while making this noise and clapping their wings over their backs. In all my years at Kelling or indeed as a naturalist I have never heard them making that noise before. A night to remember.

Other highlights on the Heath, I had the pleasure of having a walk with a local expert on Adders at the start of June. This often misunderstood creature can be found basking in the sun at the edge of paths through the heath but we are lucky if we actually see them as they are very sensitive and on hearing us approaching will immediately dive for cover. The adder is the only venomous snake native to Britain but they are not aggressive animals.

Adders will only use their venom as a last means of defence, usually if caught or trodden on. During our search we found about 10 individuals including, believe it or not, a Black Adder! There have been quite a few Lizards on the heath this year. Where you there one a Family Nature Ramble in July when one sat on my shoulder? I spotted a Lizard running into a tussock and when I bent down to part the grass so we could get a better look it ran up my arm and sat happily on my shoulder for a good five minutes. Honestly fellow walkers, it wasn’t a trained one.

Bird highlights include Turtle Dove along with Woodlark, Dartford Warbler and we had quite a few Common Buzzard sightings. There has been plenty of activity in and around the Ponds this summer. Dragonflies and Damsels were in abundance on the warmer days. Starting with the Damsels we had Common Blue, Blue Tailed, Azure and Norfolk Damsels. And, a new species for Kelling Heath, the Red Eyed Damsel.

On the Dragonfly front we had Four Spot Chaser, Emperor, Migrant and Southern Hawker. Early in June we found a few exuvia or cast off skin of the Four Spotted Chaser. Dragonflies spend a large part of their life as a Larvae at the bottom of the pond then climb up a reed stem at the edge of the pond to moult (shed their old skin) and emerge as a winged Dragonfly. This year several of the frog and toad tadpoles were very late developers and had yet to grow all four legs by late in the season.

Unfortunately they will not survive to become adults. It may seem to be teeming with life in the ponds at Kelling but life in a pond is a constant struggle for the creatures that inhabit it. Not only are you at risk of being eaten by another creature but your habitat is constantly changing. It gets warmed by the sun during the day and then the temperature plummets every night. Then as the plants react with sunlight during the day to oxygenate the water, when the sun goes down there is barely enough oxygen to able to breathe.Any creature living here must be able to adapt quickly to the changes or it will not survive.

Not such a good Butterfly year but Orange Tip seemed to fare well as did Speckled Wood. 2015 was probably one of the best years in a while (for me anyway) for White Admiral.

All in all it’s been another fantastic season for spotting wildlife at Kelling Heath and it was so nice to meet so many of you on my Family Nature Rambles and Wild life at Dusk walks.