Friday, 30 October 2020

Wet-tober

 Oct 10th  Cley

October has been a rather wet month this year. It has been raining so much that I haven't had too many days in which I could do a lot of wildlife watching. Due to this and the whole Covid-19 second wave thing, I have been feeling rather fed up and a bit depressed lately. To cheer me up somewhat, Mum took me and my brother, his wife and little Ava to Cley on a rare sunny day earlier in the month. The wind was slightly chilly while we were having a picnic before we head out onto the reserve, but at least it wasn't raining. 

Guillemots
Bird wise, the trip wasn't the most memorable in terms of rarities, seeing mostly common species I've seen many times such as wigeon, curlews, little egrets, etc, but at least I was out in the fresh air. While the rest of my family skimmed stones across the waves as they entertained Ava, I did a bit of sea watching. Gannets were easy to spot with their size, shape and plumage colours, the guillemots, on the other hand, were less obvious as they bobbed up and down on the waves close to shore. Even though they were right in front of us, they made things hard to locate them especially when they decide to dive suddenly. On the way back, the sunny day that we thought was going to last for the remainder of the visit disappeared and was replaced with a short shower that lasted until we returned to the visitor centre's car park. Typical!

Oct 19th  Catton Park

The weather continued to be a bit of a downer for the most part since that trip to Cley. The physically demanding aspect of work was taking a toll on my body, so I took a week off at the same time my parents took the same week to visit my younger brother in Cheltenham. However, I decided to stay in Norwich instead of travelling with them, partly because my bedroom window was scheduled to be repaired with a new hinge. Left to my own devices, I had to think up things to do. I decided to spend a couple of days during my break to continue my plant list. 

Because the weather had been rubbish this month, I haven't really had much opportunity to go out and add anything new, not that there's much to add at this time of year. The flowering season is pretty much over now, so I decided to focus my attention to trees. Though I have already included the more commoner species such as oak, beech, lime, London plane and silver birch, I have saved plenty of other species for this moment right now. It is autumn and the city is awash with a variety of colours on the trees. Armed with a camera and my phone's app, I took a walk around the block and to my local park to see what I could possibly can find. 

Many of the trees in my area were planted many years ago and half of them are non-native. If I thought the wild plants were hard for an amateur like me to identify, these trees were even worse as my app was suggesting all sorts of things. Many of these strange alien trees originated from either Asia or North America or even elsewhere. Along the streets as I walked towards the park included American red gum (though it could also be oriental sweet-gum), white poplar, scots pine and ginkgo to name a few. The park itself had a good mix of sweet and horse chestnuts (with their spiky conker capsules littering the ground), maple, holly, beech, yew, oak and spindle (with their bright pink and orange berries on full display). 

Spindle Berries, Yellow Stagshorn & American Red Gum Leaf (possibly?)

As well as trees, there were plenty of fungi sprouting from the ground and out of tree trunks. Plants are hard enough, fungi are even harder. I'm not making a fungi list any time soon. There are just way too many of them and a lot of them look similar to one another. However, that doesn't stop me from admiring them. There were plenty of interesting fungi in the woods, but none were as spectacular as what I believe is a yellow stagshorn sprouting like a coral on a couple of stumps. The colouring was so vivid that it was hard to miss amongst the dark shade of the woodland floor. Buzzards, jays and squirrels were also seen today.

Oct 20th  Norwich

Continuing my tree search, I took a stroll into the city armed with just the camera on my phone. The plant app on my phone was telling me what my findings were along the way including sweet cherry, Japanese crab apple, American ivy, pin oak, Norway fir, sallow, Babylon weeping willow, mountain elm and one by the Norwich Playhouse theatre that the app got confused as a fern. After lunch at the market, I visited Chapelfield Gardens. This park had plenty of foreign trees, many of which the app couldn't put a confident name too. I'm not sure if I should add any of them to my list anyway. However, I could add the autumn crocuses, that formed a wonderful display in the grass at one corner of the park, to my list with complete confidence. These crocuses were a little bigger than the ones I see growing in the spring and as their name suggests only grow in the autumn.

Autumn Crocuses

And that was the last real wildlife-based outing I've made this month. I was going to visit Strumpshaw today (Oct 30th), but annoyingly I have developed a cold and I don't want to risk making it worse out in the damp cold. I'm at least thankful that it isn't Covid, but it really sums up this month to me. I really have felt down in the dumps this month with reports of rare birds showing up along the coast (including a 'mega' of a sighting in the form of a rufous bush chat in which thousands of people gathered at Stiffkey like some mass pilgrimage with the social distancing rules seeming to be thrown out of the window) and I just couldn't travel to any of them and not to mention all the torrential rain and the threat of Covid-19 keeping me from wanting to go out in the first place. And now I'm sick with a cold. It has not been a great month for me has it?

Friday, 25 September 2020

Butcher Bird


 Sep 24th  Wells Woods

A brown shrike had been hanging around for around a week in North Norfolk and I couldn't organize a trip sooner due to no way of getting to it. Yesterday was my only opportunity as Dad was free to take me. However, it had not been seen since Tuesday. The weather was bad that day and I thought it may reappear again. It wasn't to be, sadly. I had missed my chance. If only I was there a couple of days ago. When we got to Warham Greens, where the bird had been reported, all we found were hundreds of greylags, the first skeins of pink-footed geese, a great white egret and a friendly birdwatcher who ended up tagging along with us to our next destination.

Wells Woods has been a bit of a migrant hotspot recently. In the last few days there was a red-breasted flycatcher, a red-backed shrike and a yellow-browed warbler and to my amazement, they were still around during our visit. The only thing is I didn't know where about on the site they were. We had vague landmarks and directions by passers by, but nothing from stopping us from accidently straying away from their whereabouts. The spot for the flycatcher was the only obvious location marked by a few birdwatchers, but the bird itself was nowhere to be seen. We were told it was last seen an hour and a half ago, so we decided to check out the shrike first. However, we missed the turning and ended up walking down towards Holkham Pines by mistake. 

Red Kite

Realising our mistake, we retraced our steps, had lunch at a bench and returned to the flycatcher spot. Still no flycatcher in sight, though it did apparently reappeared 30 minutes before I showed up again. I waited for a short while, but the only notable thing to be seen was a red kite. We decided to move on to the shrike, following the correct path this time, passing a field of pink-footed geese. A group of people standing along a barbed wired fence and leaning on some hay bales pointing their cameras in the same direction gave us hope and we were instantly directed to the bird sitting on another section of wire.

Red-backed Shrike and those watching it!

Believe it or not, this was my first red-backed shrike in the UK. I did see a couple while in France in 2016, but never in this country. They had been another one of those birds that have eluded me for so long, until now that is. This bird is a juvenile, lacking the colours and bold black masks of the adults. We watched as it jumped between the fence, the ground and a low hanging bramble branch, hoping to see if it catches something to do what most shrikes are known for; stashing its prey on thorns or barbs on a wire. This is why they are also called butcher birds. I was slightly disappointed not to witness such behaviour, though kind of relieved at the same time. This may not have been the brown shrike that I was intended in seeing, but I'm still satisfied in adding this particular shrike to my British list.

After spending some time with this wonderful bird, it was time to try our luck with the flycatcher one more time. On the way, 3-4 red kites circled around above our heads, one was even low enough to see every detail of it. They were joined by two buzzards circling even higher than they were. It made up for the lack of flycatcher as it yet again never showed itself while I was around. While waiting for it, a sudden short downpour caught us by surprise, though it was at this point someone managed to spot a possible tree pipit while it was raining. No red-breasted flycatcher or yellow-browed warbler, but at least I was lucky with the shrike. One out of three is a success in my book.

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Back To Normal?

Sep 4th  Cley

It is September and migrant season has well and truly been happening while I have been stuck in Norwich. As I haven't been able to travel to the coast, I have been missing everything that has passed through so far. Red-backed shrikes, greenish warblers, pied flycatchers, wrynecks, I have missed them all. I want to at least see something before it disappears for warmer climes further south. So on Friday 4th, Dad took me out to Cley to see what we can find.

Since my last visit, two hides are now reopen to visitors, Bishop's and Babcock. The three central hides are still closed, but for the other two you need to wear a mask. From Bishop's Hide, there were avocets, ruff, wigeon, godwits, a green sandpiper, a kestrel and a marsh harrier. A good mix of migrants and the usual suspects, but nothing completely out of the unusual. From the shelter at the top of the East Bank, I watched a curlew sandpiper mingling with a flock of dunlin out on Arnold's Marsh, while behind them were large gathering of sandwich and common terns and then a hobby flew over and spooked them all up. There were migrants a plenty here.

A spot of sea watching didn't produce much other than gannets, the same tern species again, the usual gull species and a seal. Seeing a wheatear whilst walking along the beach was as good as it got when it came to migrants of interest. I also came across 3 devil's coach horse beetles, a rather ferocious beetle that raises its abdomen when threatened.  

Wheatear and Devil's Coach Horse Beetle

Sep 8th  Strumpshaw Fen

A second visit to Strumpshaw with Dad since lockdown. With Covid-19 spiking again, it has meant that my return as a volunteer is uncertain right now. However, the reserve feels like it is almost back to the way it was. Apart from a makeshift booth at the entrance of Reception Hide for one volunteer to man, the other two hides are reopen but with limited benches and you need to wear a mask and the one-way route system is abandoned for most of the reserve's paths. Only the Lackford Run was one-way only.

Otter, Grass Snake, Garganey and Great White Egret

 When we arrived, we were greeted by an otter and a passing kingfisher from Reception Hide's blind. We found a willow emerald damselfly at the new pond, we walked by at least 20 or so lizards and a few interesting solitary wasp species along Sandy Wall, bearded tits and Cetti's warblers were calling here and there, dark bush crickets were sitting atop of bramble leaves and signs of autumn were abundant throughout the reserve from fruit and seeds to fungi. The best place to be, however, was Tower Hide. There seemed to be more things here than anywhere else at Strumpshaw. Below the hide, a grass snake basks in the sun coiled atop of a patch of flattened dried reed. Many ducks in eclipse phased plumage were out on the pool in front of the hide, including a garganey, which you could ID with the white stripes sandwiching the eye. A couple of kingfishers flit by back and forth in a heated territorial dispute, a marsh harrier and a kestrel were busy hunting over the reserve's reed beds and a great white egret appeared after a while to sit atop of a shrub. 

Sep 15th Cley

Yesterday, I returned to Cley. This time I was with Mum, who celebrated a big birthday recently. I started the visit with a spot of sea watching near the beach car park, not that there was much to see as it was rather misty. A few gannets, cormorants, gulls and a seal were all I could work out through the strange grey murk on this hot sunny day. There were more beach goers on the beach than there were seabirds it seemed. From Bishop's Hide, there appeared to be fewer birds than there were earlier in the month. Avocets, wigeons and many of the other things I saw from last time were nowhere to be found on the pools and scrapes, though lapwings,a few godwits and a green sandpiper still remain and were now joined by a large gaggle of  Canada geese and there was a kestrel using the thatched roofs of the three central hides that still are unused as its vantage point.

Curlew Sandpiper

As we walked along the East Bank, I noticed that the curlew sandpiper was closer to the path this time, feeding along the edge of a meandering pool with some dunlin and redshanks. On the way back, someone pointed out a peregrine that was sitting on a bank on the far side of the marsh. Mum was hoping to see a marsh harrier, but she was bamboozled when she mistook a buzzard flying into the blinding sun as one. She was fairly disappointed when I corrected her.

Friday, 28 August 2020

Calms Between Storms

Aug 13th, 15th & 26th  Norwich

This month had started in extreme heat and was unbearable for me t want to go outside. But, after the first week, all this changed and the plants had a bit of life back into them as the rain arrived. August was to become a very stormy month with thunderstorms, torrential rain and strong winds plaguing the remaining few weeks. With the weather being unpredictable, I haven't been going out much apart from work and family outings.

New plant species have also been few and far between. My list has suddenly come to a crawl. However, I did manage to find the odd new addition to my list on my walks around the city. Along the edge of Anglia Square's car parks were sun spurge, a green flowering plant that everyone seems to take no notice. Growing from a few bollards by another car park next to the A147 bridge were some gallant soldiers, which look like tiny daisies clumped together. I've also found soapwort, perennial wall rocket and corn marigold on walks to work and to my parent's house, not to mention that ivy is now in flower.

Gallant Soldier (left) and Perennial Wall Rocket
Away from plants, I've also enjoyed a night listening to several tawny owls calling from outside my flat. Though it was really dark to see, I believed I heard at least 2 males hooting and a female 'kewicking'. I attempted to call one over and it seemed to have worked as one appeared to be calling much closer than before.

Aug 22nd  Titchwell


Birdwatching with a mask
On Saturday, Mum and I went to visit Titchwell. The reserve was almost back to normal to the way it was before lockdown, but with a few difference. You can no longer leave your membership card on the dashboard like you did before, so if you are thinking of visiting, remember to take it with you. Another change is that only two hides are open again and you need to wear a mask whenever you enter them. Birdwatching with a mask is a bit annoying as it causes your breath to constantly fog up the binoculars. I found a better alternative is to use the benches outside along the main path as you not only don't need to wear a mask, but also have good views of the birds on the pools whilst sitting down. The perfect makeshift hides, that is as long as no one else is sitting on them.

The main highlight of the visit was seeing about 9-10 spoonbills mostly sleeping out on the freshwater pool. We also saw curlews, ruffs, oystercatchers, redshanks, dunlin, common terns, lapwing, godwits, shelducks, hundreds of gulls, a kestrel, a lizard darting in front of us and a few blood-nosed beetles crawling across the path.
Spoonbills and Bloody-nosed Beetle

Sunday, 9 August 2020

Aug 1st Cley & Aug 8th Catton Park

Aug 1st  Cley

This was my first visit to the coast since lockdown began. It was kind of a strange feeling to see the sea and walk along shingled beaches once again after many months stuck further inland. Cley was open again and as popular as ever. Just like Hickling and Strumpshaw, there were some restrictions at this reserve that followed Covid-19 guidelines. The hides were closed off, but you could still walk the main looping route of the main reserve (in either direction). The visitor centre was only open for the cafĂ© for takeaway only, while volunteers were outside greeting people at a makeshift reception area complete with a sightings board and nearby was a mobile toilet block for those who really need to go while the centre's toilets are out of bounds.

Chicory
Mum and I only had time to walk from the main car park to the beach and back via the East Bank this time around. However, this was just enough to satisfy what we've missed about this place. The East Bank and the shingle dunes were covered in plants I couldn't add to my lockdown list as this wasn't Norwich. Chicory, yellow-horned poppies and sticky groundsel were all tempting for me to break my own list rules, but no, I resisted! Other than plants, I saw the usual coastal birds such as avocets, curlews, and other waders, including a common sandpiper. Out over the waves were mainly sandwich terns, but not much else. I had a brief sighting of a bearded tit, but was disappointed to not see a single marsh harrier. I was also unfortunate to not find any grayling butterflies on the dunes despite being told that they were around there.

Aug 8th  Catton Park

It has been an extremely hot week this week. It was so overwhelmingly hot that I didn't really had the energy to want to go anywhere other than to work. But yesterday (Aug 8th) was a lot cooler, so I went for a walk around my local park to see if there was anything to add to my plant list. However, it was rather slim pickings. As there hasn't been much rain in the last couple of weeks, the plants looked dried out and dead. The fields were no longer yellow but purple as knapweed dominated the uncut areas of the park. Wild carrot were the most visible umbellifer poking out amongst all this purple. Some of them have their heads clenched up like a weaver's basket.

Green-veined White on Knapweed
August is often known as the quiet month. The sound of bird song of spring is now replaced by the chirping of grasshoppers and crickets. Common blue butterflies and other butterfly species were still on the wing but were changing their nectar pallets from bird's-foot trefoil to the abundant knapweeds. While most of the other birds have now fall silent, I still managed to hear the yaffle of the green woodpecker before catching a glimpse of it flying into the woods. I also saw its smaller cousin, the great spotted woodpecker searching the bark of a dead ancient oak.


I have a feeling that I might struggle to find new additions to my plant list this month. In July, I was given a list of plant species to look for and where to find them. I had a bit of mixed fortune with that particular list, but now I would like to know if there is anything else I should look out for during August. It can be anything from broad-leaved or green flowered helleborines to autumn hawksbeard, hop or common toadflax, for example. I'll even include invasive species such as knotweed and orange balsam, etc. Don't forget, they must be within Norwich.

Friday, 31 July 2020

Return To Strumpshaw

July 22nd  Norwich

I spent the afternoon plant hunting in parts of Norwich I didn't visit yet. First was Earlham Cemetery where I was told broad-leaved helleborines had been seen up until last year when they were apparently mowed down before they could flower. Did the cemetery owners learned a lesson and left these scarce city orchids to recover? Not that I could tell. I couldn't find them in the whereabouts that I was directed to. So I think these orchids are no more sadly.
 
After walking to the market for lunch, I made my way to a patch of unused grass along Queens Road where I was told that narrow-leaved ragwort grew. I found the plant surprisingly easily. It has ragwort like flowers, but were more loose than growing in a cluster like most ragworts I've seen and the leaves were noticeably thin as the name suggested. However, when it came to looking it up in my plant ID books when I got home, I couldn't find it in any of them. I had to look it up online to learn more about it. Apparently, this is an escapee originating from South Africa that has now colonised across Europe.
 
July 28th  Norwich
 
A walk along the river Wensum. I didn't find too many new things for my plant list. However, I did discover new locations of plants that I found before such as fumitory, hare's-foot clover and flowering rush (that was growing much closer to my side of the river). New additions include upright hedge parsley, rose campion and teasel.
 
July 30th  Strumpshaw Fen
 
It feels like forever since I was last here. The last time I was at Strumpshaw was in March on the day they made the decision to close up half way into my shift due to lockdown. At the start of July, the reserve finally reopened itself to the public albeit with restrictions as the staff had to come up ways to follow regulation rules to keep everyone safe yet allow everyone to enjoy nature. Yesterday, I finally had the opportunity to visit with Dad to see what changes were made.

Reception Hide Post Lockdown
 
First thing I noticed was the Reception Hide area. Picnic benches were placed near the fence of the courtyard, signs were placed everywhere including one telling you that only one family/person was allowed in the toilets at a time and, perhaps the most drastic change, the blind by the hide (currently locked) had the back panel opened up for easy access for one family at a time to view the broad.
 
A one-way system was put in place across the reserve with arrowed signs telling you where and where not to go. At the top of Sandy Wall, you then had the choice to go either towards the pumphouse and the woods or along the river and down the Lackford Run. Either direction led to a long walk to get back to the reserve's entrance without disobeying the arrow system. I encountered only 2 families going back the wrong direction along Sandy Wall, everyone else seemed fine with this system. Another thing I noticed was that as all the hides were closed, the path leading to Fen Hide was now overgrown completely.
 
It was a very hot day on my return to Strumpshaw, a complete contrast to when I was last here in March. I have missed this place. I have missed the wildlife, the familiar faces I see every week and even the hectic chaos of the swallowtail season. Though, I did see a swallowtail at Hickling last month, it didn't have the same fanfare of having hundreds of people from far and wide armed with cameras crowding around one fluttering over the flower bed. The swallowtail season is now over (at least for the first wave) and now the baton is handed over to the next impressive butterfly on the reserve, the silver-washed fritillary. Though my priority was to explore post-lockdown Strumpshaw, seeing one of these butterflies would make my day even better.
 
Exploring the reserve on such a hot day was energy sapping and the wildlife mirrored this feeling. It was very quiet and only insects seemed to be the most visible lifeforms around, everything else appeared to be hiding, sheltering from the heat. Dad and I sat down on the platformed bench at the top of Sandy Wall for a moment. Suddenly, we noticed something cat-sized stroll by like a cat with a crow or something in its mouth, wings being dragged along the ground before disappearing part way down Sandy Wall into a reed bed. What was it? I wasn't sure, but I think possibly a mink, though it could also had been a stoat. All I saw was something brown with slightly fluffy or waterlogged fur and was as big as a cat, perhaps an inch or two smaller. It went by so fast in its leisurely pace that I couldn't grab the camera quick enough.
 
Silver-washed Fritillary
After lunch on the new-ish platform over a ditch after walking by the pumphouse, we continued our walk into the woodland trail. Along the way, our first silver-washed fritillary flew over us. It wasn't to be the last as we encountered a few more along a clearing with plenty of bramble bushes. We found yet another on the buddleia behind Reception Hide when we completed our guided loop around the reserve. We also saw a marsh harrier, a kestrel, orange balsam and a bunch of other plants that I can't include to my Norwich list and heard buzzards, Cetti's warblers, green woodpeckers and a kingfisher. We also made a short visit to Buckenham Marshes after our Strumpshaw walk, seeing a Chinese water deer and a strange swarm of flies flying over my dad's head like a moving black dotted cloud.

Friday, 17 July 2020

Lockdown Lifts, Plant Hunting Continues!

July 9th  Waterloo Park

 
The weather had been playing me around last week. It had been raining most days and last Thursday was no exception. I was making my way to work, opting to walking to the other side of the city and avoiding the bus where it is compulsory to wear a mask. But avoiding the mask isn't the real reason why I walk to work since lockdown began, it also gives me the chance to plant hunt. A good chunk of my plant findings is from these kind of walks.
Dark Mullein
During this particular walk, I made a quick pop in to Waterloo Park where I was told that there was a dark mullein nearby the main gate entrance which I had missed beforehand. It didn't take long until I found it in the spitting rain. Compared to the other mullein surrounding it, this was much smaller and daintier. A mullein on a diet. But what it lacked in size, it gained in attractiveness. The flowers are yellow like the other mulleins, but the anthers are reddish purple. I made a few quick photos with my phone before leaving.
 
July 11th Catton Park
 
I was back at Catton Park hoping to locate the three plants I was looking for during the weekend before. The sand spurrey and the flixweed still eluded me and what's more, the area I was told they were in was mowed down for the most part. However, it wasn't a complete waste of time as I discovered the fig-leaved goosefoot that was the other plant from that trio on my list. It didn't look like it was anything special as it was mostly leaves with barely anything that resembles flowers growing on it.
 
Thankfully, there were a few other more attractive plants in and around the park that I was more than happy to add to my Norwich plant list. First, a couple of stands of centaury with bright pink flowers poking out of the mowed grass in front of the park's lodge building. I was amazed on how they managed to escape the mower. Meanwhile, a walk along the horse paddock outside the park revealed a clump of thyme (I think) and a few fox-and-cubs (a bright orange garden escapee that has now naturalized).
 
July 14th  Cary's Meadow & Whitlingham Broad
 
Dad took me out plant hunting on Tuesday. Our first stop was Cary's Meadow. The orchids from last time were now gone, though I did find one pyramidal orchid. The site may have been lacking in orchids, however, this site was still producing new additions of other kinds of plants. Water mint, apple mint, vervain, ribbed melilot and red bartsia to name a few.
 
We then had a quick walk at some wooded footpath in Trowse, only adding an enchanter's nightshade. After that, we went around Whitlingham Broad. I showed Dad the pyramidal orchid field and the various other plants I found there and the edge of the main broad from my previous visit. On this occasion, I chalked up a few new species such square-stalked St John's-wort, meadow cranesbill, perennial sowthistle (which was like a very tall dandelion type of thing), snowberry and bristly oxtongue (another dandelion like thing but with spiky, hairy leaves). I couldn't find any bur-marigolds or any other things I was told to find, but I guess the car park ticket put pressure on our search as time on it was running out.
 
July 17th  Mousehold Heath
 
I could finally join Will the Mousehold warden to help him with a butterfly survey. During lockdown, he had been doing it by himself due to social distancing regulations. Today, he was confident to have me tag along. The only drawback was that I had to make my own way to and from Mousehold on foot as he couldn't pick me up due to these regulations. I was more used to walking everywhere at this point to really let that bother me.
 
The weather was good and it led to possibly the best survey we've ever recorded at Mousehold. In total, we counted 178 butterflies. This included 35 gatekeepers, 27 meadow browns, 26 large whites, 23 small whites, 10 ringlets, 10 purple hairstreaks, 10 holly blues, 9 small/Essex skippers, 7 speckled woods, 5 green-veined whites, 4 commas, 3 peacocks, 2 red admirals and 2 large skippers.
Purple Hairstreak &Sand Spurrey
I was also delighted to finally tick off sand spurrey off my list. A friend of mine found them a week or so ago nearby a particular oak tree and when I went with him on Saturday, they appeared to have finished flowering. So I completely surprised while doing the butterfly transect with Will that they were in flower once again. Are these extremely tiny flowers always this temperamental?