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WILDLIFE SIGHTINGS in ASHWELLTHORPE – MAY 2012

Julie and Matthew Bruton-Seal have been lucky enough to have seen some more unusual creatures over the last few weeks.

May 2012 – Another toad was seen, this time inside the house opposite the toad’s breeding pond along The Street, Ashwellthorpe. This is a long time after the Toad Watch ended in the village but the colder temperatures from February to beginning April this year were not ideal for toad movement. It had hopped into the kitchen and made its way through to another room of the house! It was taken out to the new wildlife pond in the house garden where Matthew and Julie hope it will remain until it migrates back to the wood. Also, there are now  three frogs in residence in the same small pond so perhaps another toad/frog settlement will take place here rather than across the main road in the other breeding pond. We shall see what happens in 2013.

7 May 2012 – On the road bridge over the old railway along Blacksmith’s Lane in Ashwellthorpe on a rainy afternoon Matthew spotted a “snake in the grass” – an adder. It was probably about 2 ft. (60cms) long and very still; a close inspection was not taken, just in case, so it was not known whether the adder was still alive or not. But it was chilly and damp, the sort of weather when adders are not particularly mobile.

22 May 2012 – not quite in Ashwellthorpe but on the Wattlefield Road where it joins the Wymondham Road, Matthew spotted a Grass Snake. A positive identification as he had so recently seen the Adder.

What is around in December

Yes, it is going to be tempting to stay indoors with either the central heating on or a fire lit and the curtains drawn early to close out the depressing dark days, but this is a good time to get out into the countryside as wildlife is often easier to approach or see this time of year!

Why not consider a walk in the countryside by the coast or local woods over the Christmas period.

So what to look or listen for this Month.

  • Now is the time when Red foxes will make their presence known.  December and January are when they become more visible and more audible.
  • Listen and look out for Tawny Owls who are pairing up and establishing their territories this time of year.
  • Many mammals are very shy and not often seen but in the winter months when food is harder to find and the ground cover is less you may just be lucky enough  to catch sight of Stoats, Mice and Voles etc. searching for food .
  • Look for last spring’s bird nests in leafless hedges and trees.
  • Wildfowl ( ducks and geese) flock in wetlands and estuaries.
  • Look for evergreens such as holly in the countryside or hedgerows, with its rosy berries (only on the females plants) and ivy both of which  are used in wreaths, Holly berries form an important food source for many birds and small mammals, so it is important to leave them some as well.
  • Remember to feed the garden birds and also give them a fresh  supply water too, as the weather can be extremely harsh from this month onwards. Enjoy what birds you get on your bird table and watch the acrobatic tit’s and finches on your seeds and nuts. There are still lots of flocks of Redwings, Fieldfares and if you are luck Waxwings.
  • If we are unlucky we will get snow and maybe a White Christmas, but a plus point is that you can see animal and bird tracks in it.
  • The robin, so often associated with the festive season, can be particularly tame during the colder months. These are one of the few birds that can be heard singing during winter, as both the males and females maintain territories for feeding during this period, Around Christmas-time robins begin exploring other robins’ territories looking for a mate.  They then pair up by mid-January and females stop singing.
  • Look out for Mistletoe on trees. There are several bunches around the parish , ( see article on Mistletoe for further information.)
  • Teasel stems stand in clusters on road verges and their seed heads provide a favourite source of food for goldfinches, Only small birds such as these, with slim and pointed beaks, can reach the seeds within the teasel head.
  • It is worth looking around some uncultivated fields for scented Mayweed and Shepherd’s Purse, normally overlooked; also the diminutive scarlet pimpernel whose red flowers will only open during the bright mornings.
  • Look out for Green Woodpeckers on the uncultivated field, just after the sharp bend as you leave the village heading towards Wymondham.
  • Look in the hedgerows and you may see old man’s beard climbing between the branches, with its fluffy seed heads.
  • Although this is not the traditional time associated with Fungi some of the most brightest colours to be seen this month are to be found nestling in the mouldering litter of woods and under hedgerows. Some are Scarlet Elf Cups, Dead Man’s Fingers, Jew’s ear (or Jelly ear) fungus can be found growing on rotting elder branches .Also wood blewit continue to thrive!

What is around in November

November may appear to be the quietest month for watching wildlife but if you leave the cosy fire side and get outside you should be pleasantly surprised what you can find or see.

So what to look or listen for this Month.

  • Look for flocks of waders, wildfowl and geese especially at coastal estuaries, marshland or nature reserves.
  • Geese are often seen flying locally in a V formation. Gulls and some wildfowl will do the same.
  • Woodlands are a good place in the late afternoon to see birds and squirrels (unfortunately grey ones locally), busily feeding. We saw a Barn owl flying around the fields next to Ashwellthorpe wood at 3.30pm this week , already out hunting.
  • As the trees start to lose their leaves it is a good time to look out for Mistletoe, Ivy and Bracket fungi (fungi growing on the base of tree trunks.) also you can see old bird’s nests. That includes woodpecker hole in the trees especially in the local woods.
  • Due to the very dry late summer and early autumn the fungi have been late to appear but after the rain over the last few weeks there is a lot more emerging. Remember some are poisonous so only pick and eat them if you are sure!
  • Look out for tracks and signs -footprints of mammals and birds in the mud or soft ground or shells of nuts that have been eaten by small mammals.
  • Look out for feathers and Owl pellets these are undigested skin, bones and fur of their prey which has been regurgitated. You may see skulls of small mammals.
  • Large spiders coming into the house for shelter as the weather get colder.(Please do not squash them or flush them down the sink. Try catching them in a glass, slide a thin piece of cardboard between the glass and the surface they are on and release them out side in a sheltered place.
  • Flocks of Starlings especially going to roost.
  • Flocks of Redwings and Fieldfares have arrived from Scandinavia. Listen to their loud clacking calls as they flight over head See pages on these in General Info on Wildlife page
  • Pied wagtails are congregating.
  • A splash of colour flying into the hedges could be Bullfinches.
  • Look for lots of different berries in the hedgerows.
  • Worth keeping the nuts and other bird food topped up especially in cold weather as it could attract some long-tailed, coal and marsh tits. Plus help all the other species.
  • This is a good time to think of digging a pond which will help wildlife especially in the spring. Also putting up nest boxes which might be used in the spring.Work like this will keep you warm in the garden.

What is around in October

This month is when we all notice that the mornings and evenings are cooler, mistier and darker

The leaves are changing colour, the summer migrants have left and the winter visitors arriving and the weather is not so inviting to watch Nature but there is a lot to see and hear!

So what to look or listen for this Month.

  • Leaves changing colour.
  • Deer rutting.
  • Tawny Owl hooting.
  • Mushrooms and Toadstools.
  • Flocks of Starlings, Redwings, Fieldfares, Geese to name a few.
  • Seals including new Grey seal pups (if you fancy a trip to the coast).
  • Spiders spinning.
  • Ground Beetles.

The bright red, orange and yellow colour of the leaves is due to the shorten daylight hours – less sunlight the chlorophyll pigment ,that makes the leaves green, drains away revealing the other colours on the leaves caused by the other chemicals ie. Carotenoids ( which create red and orange colour as in carrots ) and Flavenoids (producing the yellow shades).Go and look around the countryside especially Ashwellthorpe Wood ,take your camera – see what stunning pictures you can get and enjoy the leaves before they drop!

We are very fortunate that both species of seal- Common and Grey seal can be found around the Norfolk coast, especially North Norfolk and the Wash area. The Grey seal is our largest wild mammal to breed on land. This can be told apart from the Common seal, which is far less common than its cousin, not actually by the colour as both can vary but by the shape of face. The Grey seal has a pointed face with a Roman nose where as the Common seal has a rounded more friendlier face!,  You maybe lucky enough to see newly born Grey pups long the coast or try a  Seal trip which  can be arranged from Blakeney or Morston   villages.

In October there is a lot of noise from owls as they are trying to compete for territories to supply a food supply for the winter months and suitable sites for roosting and breeding next year. The Tawny owl is our largest owl and can be found in our local woods. Try imitating a Tawny Owl by blowing between your thumbs into an air tight cavity produced by your cupped hands. Even a bad impression can get a resident owl calling and it is almost guaranteed that you can see an owl by torchlight BUT once you have seen them please leave off imitating so to let the owl return to its business!   Also locally we have seen Barn Owls one in the fields near Ashwellthorpe Wood and another flying around the fields in Traice Road. Also  we have seen Little Owls in the fields opposite Roseacre Swimming pool and near the industrial Estate just before you go down Gravel Pit Hill. These sighting have not all been in the evening so  listen out for screening noises and keep your eyes open.

Lots of birds are flocking together and in the parish this month I have seen a lot of Bluetits, Great Tits and Long-Tail Tits all flying around together. The Long -Tail tits can generally be heard first by a sound which is a low “zup” continuously repeated.  Goldfinches and Chaffinches suddenly reappear Jays are seen often flying with acorns in their beaks and Green Woodpeckers are heard waffling- a loud echoing laugh and flying in an undulating manner. All three species of woodpecker (Green, Greater Spotted and Lesser Spotted  can be seen in the woods locally.

Ashwellthorpe Wood has a great variety of Fungi and three species of Deer. Obviously you can see them all .particularly the Fungi other places….so kept your eyes open!

Do not assume what you see is usual. Recently we have seen a family of Harriers at Old Buckenham, Attleborough Hethel and flying over Wymnodham Railway Station.

To see pictures of wildlife that you might see at this time of year    CLICK HERE

What is around in September

September is time of change and Autumn gets underway. Though the weather can still be delightful   morning mists cloak the meadows and gossamer webs are laden with ephemeral pearls. During the course of September we can get all types of weather from a heat wave…like last year to autumn gales.

Autumn will bring great changes.  Many plants die back to their storage roots below ground, deciduous trees and shrubs loose their leaves to protect them from the winter when the ground may be frozen and water scarce. In the bird world things are on the move with autumn migration reaching a peak with some leaving whilst new ones arrive. The last of the wild flowers and insects still clinging on may be seen especially on warm days. Animals are fatting up for their winter hibernation. This is the month when these changes start, but it is not until November when Autumn comes to a conclusion.

So what to look or listen for this Month.

  • Summer breeding birds move to their wintering grounds in Africa where they can be sure of food.
  • Look around the countryside, estuaries and even gardens for the return of over wintering birds
  • Hedgerows for Blackberries, elderberries, rosehips, rowanberries sloes and hops
  • Late butterflies and moths
  • Dragonflies and damselflies near water
  • Fungi appearing in woodlands and grasslands including Puffballs,
  • Fly Agarics, Shaggy ink cap and stinkhorn. Remember lots of fungi are poisonous!
  • Bats still on the wing
  • Trees like Horse Chestnut, Hazel, and Beech with their nuts and the Oak with Acorns have an exclusive set of allies.  Jays and grey squirrels pick these up and stash them in the ground to get them through the harsh winter to come. Ash and Sycamore have their” Keys “
  • Many leaves are starting to change colour especially after our dry summer.
  • Craneflies….”Daddy Long legs” blundering about lampshades and external lights can be seen. These are the adult form of the leather jackets which cause damage in grassland although luckily Rooks love a snack of leather jackets and can be seen feeding on fields.
  • Ivy- this is one of the few late flowering plants and the nectar forms an important food source for bees and wasps.
  • Himalayan balsam, which has become a scourge of the river bank, is at its peak. I have seen some on the stretch of the River Tiffey near Wymondham Abbey.

What is around in August

August is the month when high summer turns to late summer and it has its final fling .It is often the most settled fine weather of the year but we have already been very lucky in late June and July. Schools are on holiday and it is a great time for families to get out into the countryside or to visits the seaside.  This is a great time to search along the sandy seashore, and investigate rock pools for goby fish, shrimps, crabs, sea anemones, snails, shellfish worms and empty shells on the beach. There is still plenty around to see with wildflowers reaching their zenith and many butterflies moths and dragonflies still flying about especially on warm days. Unfortunately August sees the true start of the autumn migration with large flocks of waders passing through Britain on their return journey from their breeding grounds in the Artic to South Africa. Also soon we will be missing the screeching of the Swifts as they start their long journey to warmer climes. The weather has been hot and the countryside starts to look parched and tired, as grasses brown and even tree leaves start to wilt.  In the hedgerows the blackberries have already started to ripen, going from green to red then finally black   Elderberries, hawthorn (‘haws’), sloes and rose hips are also ripening. . All of these are good to pick either to eat, or make into jams, jellies or wine. Remember to leave some as they will provide sustenance for many species either now for hungry birds such as starlings and blackbirds or through the winter months.

So what is there to look or listen for this month.

  • Bats on the wing
  • Dragonflies and damselflies near water
  • Butterflies and moths including the meadow brown, small skipper large whites and Gatekeepers. These are particularly attractive orange and brown butterfly currently on the wing, and can be found near hedgerows.
  • Plants on the sea shore including Sea Lavender, Sea Poppies,
  • Animals and ,invertebrates in seashore rock pools
  • Generally empty shells on the seashores.
  • Flocks of waders passing through the country as passerines
  • Birds will return to the garden as the breeding season draws to close but as some are moulting they may rather skulk around.  Put out water for the birds now as other sources may not be available especially after the dry summer.
  • Cuckoo Pints ….(Lords and Ladies) are seen in the base of many hedges. Their foliage has totally died down and only the poisonous red berries can be seen.
  • Remember to look in photo album ..August to help with identification
  • Birds will return to the garden as the breeding season draws to close but as some are moulting they may rather skulk around.  Put out water for the birds now as other sources may not be available especially after the dry summer.
  • Cuckoo Pints ….(Lords and Ladies)  are seen in the base of many hedges. Their foliage has totally died down and only the poisonous red berries can be seen.
  • Remember to look in photo album August to help with identification

What is around in July

July is the height of summer with still a lot of breeding and flowering activity still going on all around us. The countryside has taken on a rich uniform green, punctuated with contrasting golden squares, where the hay and silage has been cut, or the barley is ripening. The wild flower meadows are still looking good at the beginning of the month and there are large splashes of brilliant red in some fields from the field poppy. The air has a scent of cut grass and frizzes with insects. This is generally one of the warmest months. The chances of hearing the Cuckoo are diminishing; not only because their numbers are in decline, but those birds that arrived here to breed will already have left their progeny to the care of their foster parents and will be migrating back to their wintering grounds. Followed soon by the swifts, their screaming behaviour low over our rooftops will be lost for another year. The hedgerows are full of colour with many wild flowers or “Weeds”  like hedge parsley, greater bindweed burdock, cleavers, creeping thistle, meadow crane’s-bill,  and plump with green foliage of nettles, and tall upright grasses setting seed.. Last month in our parish a bee orchid was seen and masses of caterpillars were seen eating away all the foliage of some Hawthorn bushes….. (you can see some photo’s at the start of the nature page). The days are still very long so get out side, enjoy them and see what is around just on your doorstep.

So what is there to look or listen for this Month.

  • Bats are about from around sunset searching for food.
  • Owls can be seen also especially at dusk busily searching for food for their young.
  • Dragon flies –Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire is a hotspot for then or just  look at  your garden pond .There could be some flying low over it ….we are luck enough to have them!
  • Lots of flying insects. around There are lots of black and gold insects which are not bees, or wasps, but are in fact harmless like the hoverfly or a wasp beetle or a hornet moth.
  • Swifts, swallows and house martins chasing insects
  • Butterflies some very pretty and some the gardeners enemy…the cabbage white!
  • Moths are now plentiful and can be attracted with lights at night.
  • Finally remember if you see anything interesting please share the details with either Norfolk Biodiversity information Service at nbis@ norfolk.gov.uk or to the parish website at ashfun-pc@hotmail.co.uk

What is around in June

Midsummer is here, lets hope the weather remembers that and behaviours accordingly So with plenty of daylight to enjoy make the most of it by spending as much time outside watching and enjoying the wildlife. The countryside is lush and the hedgerows, meadows and woodlands are bursting with growth.  Trees are now all fully in leaf.  Most have started to lose their spring freshness by the end of May, with the bright green exchanged for a darker and mellower hue. . There is so much to see either on your doorstep or head to the coast for one of our greatest wildlife spectacles: the seabird colonies. Blakeney Point is excellent for Terns and also the Seals. Most of the Norfolk and Suffolk coastline will have many Waders busy at the tide line. There is a wealth of wildflowers especially in the meadows and our local woods. In the daylight hours insects including bees butterflies beetles etc will be busy also will Birds, snakes, squirrels and amphibians.  The bats will be flying about at dusk so will the moths and the foxes and badgers will be out hunting with the owls and hedgehogs. I wonder how many of these you will be lucky enough to see!

So what to look or listen for this Month

  • Birds nesting, especially sea cliffs or on the marsh areas close to the sea or maybe nearer to home in your hedge .
  • Song birds still singing – ‘the dawn chorus’
  • Butterflies and dragonflies. This is when the first wave of the true summer butterflies will fly. Common blue and Speckled wood.
  • Worth looking out for moths, some examples are the secretive Dingy Skipper the Cinnabar and the Lime Hawk moth. Don’t they have great names?
  • Bats on the wing
  • Meadow flowers, including orchids especially in the local woods. Lower wood Ashwellthorpe has at least 4 different species and this year is one of the best years for a while and there are orchids all over the place.
  • Swifts, swallows and house martins chasing insects.
  • Fox cubs frolicking ….if you are very luck. Get over to the fields or wood early and keep quiet.
  • Froglets and Toadlets ….keep your eye’s open for them especially if we have  a rain shower later in the month.
  • Elderflowers are in full bloom…..Maybe pick some and make cordial or Champagne with some!
  • Look out for the light pink of the wild dog roses and the honeysuckle peppering the hedgerows along with the flowers of the bramble (blackberry), the meadow crane’s-bills and the first flowering of the foxgloves should also appear.
  • Remember to look at the Photo Album. Wildlife to help you with identification of  some of the species mentioned.

What is around in May

Where ever you are in the country side this month there is plenty to see. Many birds are in the middle of rearing their first brood. Summer visitors are returning and are busy nest building. Wild flowers are beginning to be at their best, Butterflies, amphibians, reptiles, dragonflies and some mammals are easier to see. Our local woods will be a bright mass of colour. Do remember to go and look and if you are quiet you could be lucky to see deer, fox, woodpeckers and even owls and bats if you go in the evening. We are very luck in Norfolk to have the Swallowtail butterfly exclusively to the Broads area. Also a rare bird the Stone Curlew has limited distribution in the country and can only be found in Wiltshire and in our Breckland area and at Cley. People will travel from all parts of England to see these two species!

So what to look or listen for this Month

  • Hedgehogs mating.
  • Trees and hedgerows in flower. The fantastic “Candelabra on the Horse Chestnut Trees. The blossom on other trees and hedge rows will include the Hawthorn (also known as May) etc all seems to be especially good this year after the very cold hard winter. Towards to end of the month the elder also flowers with big odorous saucers of tiny flowers.
  • Most birds are busy nesting and this will include the summer visitors that have just returned from far a field. With the Swifts being one of the last to arrive.
  • Song birds singing – the ‘dawn chorus’ It is  worth getting up early and going to our local wood or just wandering around your garden!
  • Butterflies emerging.
  • Woodland flowers and meadow flowers, including orchids. May seems to be a month of lots of Mauve and blue! The Bluebells will be out in Lower wood ,Ashwellthorpe as well as Early Spotted Orchids, Dog toothed Violet ,Lady’s Smock Wood anemone (some are pinkish) to name but a few in that colour range.
  • On a warm day in May the first of the Dragonflies and Damselflies are emerging.
  • Insects start to make a big impact this month, quite literally.  If you hear a thump against the outside of a window it may well be a cockchafer beetle.  This is one of our largest beetles and the brown, slightly fury adult appears in May, and heads towards street lights and lit windows in search of a mate.  The pupae live for two years as plump ‘c’ shaped larva in the soil and form an important food source for rooks and crows.

What is around in April

April is a fabulous month for wildlife, it is a magical time of rebirth and renewal. Everything seems to be happening at once with the trees and shrubs bursting into leaf with fresh, vibrant green foliage. Flowers are blooming, insects emerging ,bird song growing in volume and diversity with early morning sleep disturbed by a strident blackbird or song thrush. In the countryside on sunny days the chiff-chaff and blackcap will be singing, and you will see the rest of the of the summer migrants arriving. Remember that if you get caught in an April shower it will freshen everything up and the smell will be wonderful!

So what to look or listen for this Month

  • Returning summer visitors (birds) and seabirds nestingSong birds singing. Even if you cannot identify them just listen and enjoy it.
  • Trees and hedgerows in leaf .
  • Look out for Butterflies emerging especially for Orange-tip Butterflies (Wood Lady) the males being very easy to recognize! Some butterflies will be rather ragged and they will be the ones which managed to survive the winter hidden up somewhere.
  • Early meadow flowers including orchids. Remember there are orchids in Lower wood , Ashwellthorpe and Talcolneston wood and many more local areas.
  • Woodland flowers especially in Lower Wood , Ashwellthorpe the floor can be a mass of white wood anemone, ramson’s flowers –wild garlic , and slightly later a blue carpet packed with bluebells. It is possible to catch their heady scent even before you are under the filling treetop canopy
  • Look for new Molehills but hopefully not in your lawn. If you see a large one amongst them this could be the Fortress -the molehill that contains a football sized nest where the young are being raised.
  • Listen out for the Cuckoo. I have not heard them in this Parish for a few years but I have heard them around the Hethel area!
  • Look out for the amphibians -Frogs, Toads, Newts and their spawn. (Remember our Toad Watch! and look on the special page about it) Also this month’s wildlife article is on Amphibians.
  • Slow- worms emerging from hibernation may be seen basking in the sun.