Spring notes from the Commons
It was mixed spring weather this year, which can be illustrated by the following local data. March recorded 20 days above and 15 nights below average temperatures. April continued the trend with 14 days above and 16 nights below average followed by May where another 22 days were above average and 12 nights were below average temperatures. It was also significant that rainfall was low, particularly during April. The following notes are of wildlife sightings made over this period primarily by Mark Clements and myself.
The first frogs’ spawn occurred in the main pond (01 Mar) and the following day (02 Mar) in the small pond and a Jack Snipe was also found on the central marsh by Mark who later recorded five Buzzards and two Red Kites passing over the Common (07 Mar). A further Red Kite was observed by David Billham (08 Mar). This early spring movement of Red Kites is becoming a regular occurrence over the Common. A more unusual passage was the first ever sighting on the Common of a Lapland Bunting made by Mark early in the morning (10 Mar). Three Shoveler, two males and one female were also seen. This is a duck that has only been recorded once before in 2006. The day also saw five species of butterfly, including a Small White. The warmth also brought out the reptiles and three Adders and a Grass Snake were noted. Firecrests were observed displaying (17 Mar) and Common Toads were spawning in the main pond. A Beetle survey was carried out by visiting experts (21 Mar) and many new records for the site were made, including a Pill Beetle, Cytilus sercerus. A few sunny and warm days brought out the first Gorse Shieldbugs and Gorse Seed Weevils (23 Mar). Many solitary bees such as the Small Willow Mining Bee were attracted to the flowering Sallows. Two Red Kites drifted over (25 Mar) and two Roe Deer were present (26 Mar). Another Red Kite was seen (27 Mar) and Mark also recorded a Marsh Harrier and Goshawk later in the day.
An influx of Chiffchaffs (01 Apr) numbered around 10 and some 45 Redwing were also noted. Both incoming and outgoing migrants present at the same time. A total of nine Buzzards passed over the Common (02 Apr). A new site record in the form of a solitary bee was found (03 Apr). This was a fresh-looking female Broad-margined Mining Bee. The first Sand Martins and Speckled Wood butterflies were recorded (11 Apr) and two Grey Lag Geese were present on the main pond. The following day (12 Mar) Mark spotted more migrants with Tree Pipit, Willow Warbler, Swallow and Wheatear noted. The first Whitethroat passed through (14 Apr) and first Holly Blues and Orange-tips were seen also a Marsh Harrier headed east. Seven Buzzards, a Red Kite and a Wheatear were recorded the following day (15 Apr) as were six Ring Ouzels seen heading south in the early morning by David Billham. A visitor spotted four Grass Snakes (16 Apr) and Mark found a Mourning Bee (18 Apr). Mark also had a Raven over (19 Apr) and two Green Tiger Beetles (21 Apr), when another new bee, the Yellow-shouldered Nomad Bee turned up. This bee is one that has moved north in recent years and is the cleptoparasite of the Small Willow Mining Bee. A cleptoparasite is where one species habitually robs other species of food, in this case during the larval stage within the nest of the host. The first Large Red Damselflies were also seen. A Garden Warbler was singing and a Red Kite passed over heading east (26 Apr). An overnight sound recording (29 Apr) picked up a Greenshank and later a Wheatear was present at the old Pill-box. A Ransoms Hoverfly was reported (30 Apr) along with Roe Deer and eight butterfly species.
The colourful Tawny Mining Bee and a Red-breasted Carrion Beetle were present (02 May) and two North East Norfolk Bird Club members, Stella Baylis and Mick Rebane reported sightings of Whinchat and Lesser Whitethroat. Mark recorded a Greenshank heading west (03 May) and two Mute Swans overflying. The following day (04 May) was busy with Mark seeing Hobby, Marsh Harrier and Ring Ouzel within a half an hour, which was followed by three Cranes (05 May). Another Ring Ouzel was noted feeding on the ground later in the day. A Cuckoo (possibly two) was present (07 May) and a Garden Warbler (08 May), which were reported by David Billham. The Meadow Longhorn (09 May) and a Red Kite (10 May) were observed by Mark and the first orchids were noted, the Common Twayblade and the Narrow-leaved Southern Marsh Orchid. A Yellow Wagtail passed over west (12 May) and a Lesser Whitethroat was present. Mark gained another ‘first for life’ and a new record for the Common when he spotted a Honey Buzzard heading west (13 May). During the day some 89 Swifts passed west, a Red Kite headed east and the first dragonflies, a Broad-bodied Chaser and an Emperor Dragonfly were noted. John Snow also reported a sighting of a Slow Worm. The annual ‘Big Sit’ took place (14 May) and recorded 45 species of bird. The idea is that participants stay in the same place and record what birds are seen from dawn to dusk or in our case from dawn till 1300hrs. A sunny day (16 May) brought out Green Hairstreak and two sun-loving moths, the Mother Shipton and Lattice Heath. The Mother Shipton is named after the 15th century Yorkshire soothsayer/witch as the moths’ wing markings resemble the typical profile attributed to witches. The Moorhen on the main pond actually nested on the ‘hotel’ and at least three chicks could be seen. Unfortunately they were soon predated once they left the platform. The first Bracken Sawfly appeared (17 May) as did the first migrant Painted Lady. Continuing with impressive Birds of Prey Mark spotted an Osprey circling the Common (18 May) and David Billham reported a Four-spotted Chaser. Also a micro moth, the Small Longhorn, was found for the first time. This moth was found on a site locally some seven years ago and ever since has been searched for on the Common. It is usually found in bright sunshine around its larval foodplant, Germander Speedwell. More bird migrants were reported, with Reed Warbler (20 May), Hobby, Nightjar and Golden Oriole (21 May). The first Keeled Skimmer appeared (22 May) and the following day (23 May) Mark managed to discover a Nightjar sleeping in an Oak tree. It only betrayed its presence by giving short infrequent bursts of its ‘churring’ call. A Hobby headed east and a Box Bug was found (24 May). Another insect, the Common Awl Robberfly was noted (30 May), however this is a bit of a misnomer as it has only been recorded twice before since 1975.
This has been a much better spring than last year with exciting new finds, which shows that the Commons are still biodiverse. There was a lot of management throughout the winter, especially around Pill-box Hill. This is mainly a long term process to reduce the bracken cover and to encourage in part fine grasses, heather and wild flowers. Continued bracken cutting in selected areas is continuing and is showing success in reducing the bracken cover and allowing other plants and grasses to return.
Francis Farrow – Hon. Warden