Thursday, 18 December 2014

Dec 18th Mousehold Heath, Norwich

Red-green Carpet
Mousehold Heath is my favourite local patch. It is like a nature reserve and a city park combined. A landscape filled with woodland trees and open heathland just a stones throw away from the city centre of Norwich. I help out the site's warden, Will Stewart, with butterfly and bird surveys during the spring and summer. I also come along to some of his group walks to provide my knowledge on the local wildlife. Today, I had joined Will, a naturalist called Peter and a small group of locals for a winter walk around Mousehold. Peter is a keen moth enthusiast and he usually brings some moths to show us. He didn't disappoint us. He brought along a few  in hibernation that he caught in October. The best one was a Red-green Carpet.

The site is devided by a main road and split in two halves. We began our walk on a side that has a resturant called 'Zak's' on it. It was pretty muddy in places but that didn't put us off from looking for life in the woods. We came to a clearing that has the new pond that was built a couple of years ago. Circling above us here was a female sparrowhawk soaring high above the trees. It looks like a flying 'capital T' with those broad wings spread out and long tail trailing.

Woodpigeon Nest

Grey Squirrel Drey
As the trees are bare during winter months, strange objects that would normally be hidden beneath the leaf canopy are now visible into plain sight. They look like bundles of leaves and sticks stuffed between branches. Well technically speaking that is what they are. These weird objects were built by something. Here are three examples of what I found. First, a pile of sticks which appears neatly sitting on a few branches (though a bit sloppy around the edges) is a woodpigeon nest. A bundle of leaves stuffed  between a base of a branch and the trunk is a squirrel's winter drey, where it can shelter when it gets freezingly cold. And finally, an odd blob of sticks hanging from the thin branches of a birch tree, that is a fungal growth called a Witch's Broom. It is a parasite to the tree that creates this scruffy stick-like structure which is known as a gall.

Witch's Broom

If you thought those things were peculiar, then finding a flying butterfly in December will blow your mind. We came across a red admiral floating around seemingly confused as we made our way back for lunch. What was it doing flying around at this time of year I hear you ask? My hunch is because it was an unusually warm winter's day and the butterfly must have woken up from hibernation thinking it was spring. You often find red admirals hiding away in sheds until winter is over, so this one must have hidden for winter in a tree. That is what I believe anyway.

Slime Mould
Not far from where we found the red admiral, I found myself staring at a log covered in yellow mucus. Did someone sneezed? No. Welcome to the wonderful world of slime moulds, where weird gets weirder. Slime moulds are not animals, plants nor fungi, it is an organism type of its own. They are colourful oddities that act like the creature from the movie 'The Blob', slowly moving and devouring anything in its path. Well, thats half correct. It moves through damp soil or through damp wood on the hunt for bacteria to feast on. It then expands across the area, in this case a log, to form a network of vein and blob-like film of slime. If you find one yourself, come back to it day after day and you will discover that it has moved since you last saw it, though very, very slowly.
View of Norwich from St James' Hill
After lunch, we walked across the road to the other half of the site. Our walk took us to St James' Hill, a view point overlooking the city of Norwich and the site where Norwich Prison sits behind it. A flock of black-headed gulls circled above us with a few common gulls within their ranks. But it was the spire of Norwich Cathedral we were more interested in. Using Peter's telescope, we had a peregrine falcon in our sights sitting near the very top of the spire. Peregrines only moved back to breed in Norwich since 2011 for the first time in 100 years. I can't wait to see how they get on in 2015.

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