General Wildlife Information

Locally relevant wildlife information

Field fares and Redwings

These arrive in large numbers in autumn but many of us do not realise or know how to recognise them.

Field fare

Fieldfares are large, colourful thrushes, much like a mistle thrush in general size, shape and behaviour which makes it slightly larger than a Redwing, with a plain brown back, white underwings, and grey rump and rear head. The breast has a reddish wash, and the rest of the underparts are White. The breast and flanks are heavily spotted. The male has a simple chattering song, and a chattering flight and alarm call.

They stand very upright and move forward with purposeful hops. They are very social birds, spending the winter in flocks of anything from a dozen or two to several hundred strong. These straggling, chuckling flocks that roam the UK’s countryside are a delightful and attractive part of the winter scene.

Look for them in the countryside, along hedges and in fields with Hawthorn hedges with berries are being a favourite feeding area. In late winter grass fields, playing fields and arable fields with nearby trees and hedges become a favourite place, although like their cousin the Redwing they may come into gardens in severe winters when snow covers the countryside. Towards dusk, each flock settles down for the night, sometimes in a hedge or a plantation, but often along the furrows of a ploughed field or in the marshes. If a tall hedge is selected, all alight to face in the same direction.

Its English name, dating back to at least the twelfth century, derives from the Anglo Saxon feld-fere meaning “traveller through the fields”, probably from their constantly moving, foraging habits.

An abundant winter visitor to Norfolk, the fieldfare’s distribution varies, at times surprisingly, from winter to winter. The flocks arriving here mainly from Southern Norway soon make their way inland. Some years the first arrivals take place as early as August, although the migration is not risk free and often die due to adverse weather or the predation of gulls. In severe winters fieldfares are forced to retreat from East Anglia and they then head westward across the Irish Sea.

Fieldfares breed in Scandinavia and the former Soviet Union including the Baltic States. In central Europe the breeding range has extended to Holland, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and France.

Only a proportion of the Scandinavian fieldfares migrate. The remainder must be very tough and spend the winter in their home countries, often in very large numbers. By mid-November normal fieldfare emigration in Scandinavia is at an end unless weather conditions become severe. Then and particularly if the berry crop fails, ‘weather migrants’ may arrive in East Anglia at any time during December or even in January.

If you want to see a picture of a Field fare CLICK HERE or go to Photo Album > Wildlife > November

Redwing

This is a bird which lots of people do not recognise but are a common winter visitor. You may not have realised it but you may have often seen them in fields in small flocks as small as just half a dozen up to large ones of about 200.

The Redwing (Turdus iliacus) is a bird in the thrush family Turdidae, native to Europe and Asia, slightly smaller than the related Song Thrush.

Its creamy strip above the eye and orange-red flank patches make it distinctive. The English name derives from the bird’s red underwing and this is the most striking identification feature.

The redwing is most commonly encountered as a winter bird which flies into this part of the country mainly from Scandinavia. They roam across the UK’s countryside, feeding in fields and hedgerows, rarely visiting gardens, except in the coldest weather when snow covers the fields and you might be lucky to get a close view.

Migrants arrive from September, with most in October and November. They leave again in March and April, although occasionally birds stay later. In open countryside it likes hedges and orchards as well as open, grassy fields. Will come to parks and gardens. Often joins with flocks of fieldfares.

It breeds in northern regions of Europe and Asia, from Iceland south to northernmost Scotland, and east through Scandinavia, the Baltic States, northern Poland and Belarus, and through most of Russia.

If you want to see a picture of one CLICK HERE or look in the Photo Album > Wildlife > November.

Deer

The 3 species of Deer seen in Ashwellthorpe Lower Wood (and maybe on the local fields as the farmers know to their cost).

Comparison between species

Roe Deer

(Capreolus capreolus)

Adult Size. 10 to 25kg, 60 to 75cm at shoulder (bucks – males slightly larger than does – females).. This makes them just over half the size of red deer and the smallest native deer(but not the smallest as there are non native species locally)

Colouration. Summer: Black muzzle,reddish brown body. Winter: grey, pale brown or (occasionally) black. Key feature is a white rump seen as they run away

Antlers. velvety, short (<30cm), 3 tines (points) on each. Antlers much smaller than the hat rack type on male Red Deer

Lifespan. Max: 16 years. Bucks rarely exceed 5 years, does 6 to 7 years.

Solitary, forming small groups in winter.

These were the most common deer in the middle ages and later disappeared but the reason is not known. Just over 100 years ago they were reintroduced and have spread so that now there are thought to be over 500,000 in Britain

Red Deer

(Cervus elaphus)

Recognition. Our largest land-mammal. Summer coat is reddish brown to brown, winter coat is brown to grey. No spots present in adult coat. Large, highly branched antlers in the stag (male). Note NO white rump like the Roe Deer. The Red Deer has a buff coloured rump

Adult size. Stags 90-190kg, 107-137cm at shoulder. Females (hinds) 63-120kg, up to 107-122cm at shoulder. Deer on the open hill in Scotland are smaller than those in English woodland such as Aswellthorpe Lower Wood and the Red Deer is the largest and most impressive of the deer in our wood.

Antlers. Highly branched. The number of branches increases with age. Up to 16 points in native animals.

Life span. Possibly up to 18 years.

Red Deer have survived due to conservation (to allow hunting) since Saxon times and through the middle ages. No numbers are available for England but it is thought that there are 300,000 in Scotland with 50-70,000 culled each year.

Muntjac

(Muntiacus reevesi)

The mention of Reeves in the name is due to the man who first brought the species back to the UK

Recognition. Small, stocky, russet brown in summer, grey brown in winter. short antlers and visible upper canines in bucks. Very large facial glands below the eyes. Ginger forehead with pronounced black lines Haunches higher than withers, giving a hunched appearance (this is key identification feature). Fairly wide tail, which is held erect when disturbed. These are the smallest deer seen locally and are about the size of a medium sized dog. The similarity to dogs continues with the fact that they bark.

Adult size. Bucks (males): 10 to 18kg, 44 to 52cm at shoulder. Does (females): 9 to 16kg, 43 to 52cm at shoulder.

Antlers. Short (up to 10cm) but on long pedicles. Usually unbranched but brow tine occasionally found in old bucks.

Life span. Bucks: up to 16 years. Does: up to 19 years, but these are exceptional.

Origins. Muntjac were originally brought to the UK for the Duke of Bedford and escaped (or were released) from Woburn Park and have since spread widely across the UK in less than 100 years.

Note large rear quarters (key identification feature with size)

Feeding the Birds in Winter

Feeding Wild Birds in your garden

Many people like to supplement their garden birds’ diet with extra food – especially in the winter. This can be a real life-saver in harsh weather. What benefits the birds also benefits the human inhabitants of the house, by the addition of beautiful wild creatures and hours of entertainment.

There is also an important knock-on effect for the organic gardener – birds will get used to searching for food in your garden and will search for greenfly, caterpillars and snails during the rest of the year.

Different species of birds have different feeding habits. Hanging food is ideal for members of the tit family, so using a peanut dispenser is fine. Site it high enough up so that cats can’t get at it.

If the food is too exposed, the birds may be in danger from sparrowhawks, so it is best to provide cover nearby, like trees or hedges.

Bird tables have the benefit of being off the ground so other foraging animals like mice and rats can’t get at it. A roof to the bird table helps to keep rain off but is not essential.

Many birds prefer to eat on the ground, so put food on the lawn – well away from shrubs which can be hiding a cat. Don’t put too much out at once – if it’s still there when night comes, the rodent population will flourish! If you attract rats they will kill all the baby birds they can find which defeats the object

Fresh water should be provided at all times, in a shallow container.

What to give?

  • High energy foods, various nuts and seeds. Try grating a few peanuts for wrens or robins
  • Soaked bread (white or brown) – dry bread swells in the stomach. NB This also prevents large pieces of bread which attract rooks and pigeons who deter other birds.
  • Leftovers, e.g. cake, cooked rice etc. are fine, but no spicy or salty foods, or “gone off” foods.
  • Apples, cut in half are excellent for blackbirds and robins.
  • Fat is great for energy but unlike us they need saturated fat so no unsaturated fat margarine

Toads

Thursday 24 February 2011 – The Toad Watch Patrols have just begun their work for this year’s breeding migration. The (human) volunteers on Toad Watch operate between the Road Toad Warning signs, at present between 6.00 p.m. and 8.00/9.00 p.m. when dusk/dark is falling and The Street is at its busiest. The conditions the toads require for their migration are damp after-dusk evenings, with a temperature no lower than 5 to 9 degrees. The first patrol was 23 February but no amphibian was sighted – although wet and relatively mild, probably still just too cold. Today’s occurrence of migration is classed as “Medium”.

The volunteers’ task is to ferry toads, frogs and newts across the road to avoid the carnage that used to happen some years ago when hundreds were squashed by passing traffic. Not that very long ago, it was even impossible to walk along the pavement in The Street without actively trying not to stand on a toad or frog!

The Ashwellthorpe colony of toads lives in Ashwellthorpe Wood but once the breeding season starts, the toads will make their way from the Wood to their breeding pond which is just over the hedge on the south side of The Street, opposite Red Squirrels. Toads can live for up to 40 years so their breeding pond is of great importance to them and they will return to it every year. There is a rota of volunteers who will place the toads etc. in buckets and carry them across the road to the grass verge near the pond.

The Toad Road Signs are opened each evening; extra warning signage is put out on the grass verges each evening; the volunteers will be wearing reflective tabards and carrying torches and they will take every care of passing traffic for their own safety.

This page will keep you informed of the numbers “saved” which are also forwarded to Toadwatch for collation (along with numbers of those who were killed) for an overall view. Toad Patrols are also operating in Great and Little Melton, Bowthorpe, Costessey, Cockley Cley and Cranwich.

The Ashwellthorpe co-ordinator can be found on 01508 489432 or ashwellthorpe@todwatch.org

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Monday 29 March 2010 – The Toad Watch ferry patrol has finished for this year.  Now the clocks have changed and dusk is nearer 8.00 p.m., the evening traffic rush-hour has finished before the toads and frogs start to move.

In fact, whilst in operation, the patrols started at about 6.30 p.m. and on some evenings went through until 9.30 p.m. In total numbers were few – 11 Toads, 4 Frogs and 1 Common Newt (with only 1 other toad lost to the traffic) were ferried across The Street  to their breeding pond. There may well have been many more who, in nature’s way, made it across The Street by themselves! But, perhaps even this small “rescue” will enable the Ashwellthorpe Toad colony to enlarge next year.

An appeal for 2011 “Toad ferry patrollers” will be made in January 2011.

Jennifer Robbie

Friday 19 March 2010 – There were six patrollers this evening between 6.40 p.m. and 10.00 p.m. and frogs, toads and newts were carried across the road.  Numbers will appear later.

The first Toad Crossing patrol took place this evening (Thursday 18 March 2010) between 6.30 p.m. and 8.00 p.m.; it was a mild evening and drizzly rain set in by about 7.15 p.m. – perfect conditions for the start of a mass migration of toads from Ashwellthorpe Street Wood to the breeding pond. Four “patrollers” met up with Mary Plage one of the Toad Watch co-ordinators who advised everyone on what to do and how to go about it.  Up until 8.00 p.m. 3 TOADS and 1 FROG were ferried in buckets across The Street to the hedgerow/fence a few metres from the pond. If you want to volunteer to join one of these patrols, which should continue for about two to three weeks, please get in touch.

J Robbie

Toadwatch helps toads in several villages to reach their breeding ponds safely during the spring migration – there is information at www.toadwatch.org There are road warning signs in Ashwellthorpe where the toads are crossing from the woods to the pond, but no organised patrol has operated in recent years. Toads can live for 40 years and will return to their breeding pond every year. Toadwatch was asked by some villagers to explain how the patrols are organised in other villages. A meeting was held in Ashwellthorpe White Horse on Monday 8 February 2010 at 8.00 p.m.and people who wanted to help, signed up to create patrols once the first toad movements had been seen – it need only take an hour on a few evenings in  March. As at 10 March 2010, no toad movemnts have been detected but the weather is still rather cold for them to have started their trek.  Let us know if you see any.

The Toad Watch contact is John Heaser 01603 812472