Trunch Wildlife Watch

Contributions about the wonders of nature around us

Until recently the main editor of this topic was Anne Horsefield who very sadly passed from us. Anne was a very accomplished scientist and botanist with an enormous passion for butterflies and dragonflies. Her observations, many of them from her own garden or from the Rectory Meadow – a wild habitation she was instrumental in establishing close to the village cemetry – were shared with villagers in her Wildlife Watch articles which enlivend the Trunch Mardle for many years.

June 2009

Two ‘good news’ reports this month.

The blackbirds who lost their first brood of chicks to a predator have nested in the conifer tree beside the bathroom window. There are now two pink new hatchlings and the parents are busy feeding them. I hope the young will successfully fledge this time.

There are now fledgling Blue, Great (left) and Longtail Tits about the garden – all successful outcomes.

The Brimstone butterfly eggs that were laid on our Buckthorn bushes have hatched and we have found about a dozen little green caterpillars. They are exactly the same green as the leaves and rest along the leaf midribs so are quite difficult to find. Often finches and tits perch in the bushes so the caterpillars are living dangerously. (The Buckthorn berries are poisonous to humans so I wonder if the larvae get a chemical from the leaves and taste nasty to birds.)

The butterfly laid some eggs right at the end of the twigs, amongst the leaf and flower buds. This is a good strategy because the tiny new caterpillar can eat and hide amongst tender growing leaves. The biggest caterpillars are now nearly an inch long and are eating bigger tougher leaves.

The Buckthorn has many tiny yellowish flowers that must have lots of nectar as they are constantly visited by bees. A really useful plant for wildlife – perhaps plant one in a damp corner of the garden?

I really enjoyed the BBC’s Springwatch this year. Great photography and information. I am sure you have seen the Painted Lady butterflies (see below) about the gardens. They are big and orange and fly very fast. They have migrated to Britain in vast numbers this year. Their life was history was explained on Springwatch.

In February, in Morocco, a generation of Painted Ladies flew north across the Mediterranean Sea to France. Here they bred on the lush vegetation in March/April and a new generation of butterflies flew over the Channel to UK to breed on our lush vegetation in May/June/July. Any butterflies emerging in our autumn will not survive the winter sadly. Perhaps, as Springwatch suggested, some fly south to Morocco to start the cycle again.

It’s an amazing story and just shows how wildlife continually looks for new opportunities to feed and breed. Wildlife adapts all the time and, in fact, has done so during the 5 or 6 ice ages that have occurred in the last half a million years. Climate change is not unique. What is unique is that man is monitoring it and coming to unproven conclusions. Man even thinks he can control it! We can put less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere but we cannot control the variable output of heat from the sun.

July 09

Good news first. The second brood of blackbirds successfully fledged. Amazingly, it only took eleven days for the tiny, pink helpless hatchlings to become scruffy, fully feathered fledglings. They had been fed on insects, grubs and worms.

I phoned Bill Drayton to report visits of a Nuthatch (left) and Marsh Tit (right). He said these were uncommon sightings for Trunch. He also commented that this spring had been a good year for garden birds as there were so many juveniles about.

Brewery Road pond was the nesting place for a Moorhen. Paul Farmer phoned to say he saw the new family on the pond. I wonder where they are now?

Now the bad news. The number of Brimstone caterpillars (left: Brimstone butterfly) decreased each day until we couldn’t find any at all on the leaves of the Buckthorn shrubs. I did see a Blue Tit eat one. The food chain at work again and the Brimstones lost out.

This summer two new species of insect bred in the garden by making underground nests – good protection against birds! In the spring a queen wasp came out of hibernation and found a vole hole in a flower border. She made some cells, laid some eggs and nurtured these to be the first worker wasps for the colony. These workers further excavated the hole, made more cells for the queen’s eggs and looked after the resulting brood. Thus the colony size increased.
The wasps are carnivorous and feed their grubs on pulped insects. Wasps cannot make wax (like bees) but make their nests and cells from wood that they have chewed and pulped.
In late summer special cells are produced and queen wasps and male wasps emerge from these. The old queen does not lay any more eggs so the workers have nothing to do. It is now that they can become nuisances around jam, fruit, ice-cream, etc.
The new queens mate and hibernate. All the other wasps die in the cold. In winter I will try to dig up the nest.

In the sandy soil beside the garage wall, I found ten little “volcanoes”. Each one had been made by a female Tawny Mining Bee (image left). Underground, she would have made five or six side chambers and lined them with wax. Here she would have laid her eggs and provisioned the chamber with pollen and other suitable food for the grub. She then left the burrow, her work having been completed. Next spring new Tawny Mining Bees should emerge from the “volcanoes”.

Something new every year!

August/September 2009

The last week of July and the first week of August saw an explosion of butterflies in our garden. When the sun was on the Buddleia bushes the purple flower spikes were covered with Peacocks and Whites, all avidly drinking nectar. There must have been twenty or more Peacocks per bush and we have two big bushes. I don’t know if the Peacocks were ‘home grown’ or if they migrated here from the continent. Let’s hope they all find somewhere secure to hibernate through the winter and then start a new generation in the spring.

About twelve years ago we were at Horsey beach enjoying the seascape and sun. Peter then realised that Small Tortoiseshell butterflies were flying from the sea, up the beach and over the sea wall onto the dunes. About one butterfly every ten seconds.

We followed them into the dunes and found them hungrily nectaring on vetches and other flowers. They must have come from Denmark/the Continent – a long flight over the sea – so they must have been in need of a re-fuel!

This summer there has been ‘invasions’ from Painted Lady butterflies and, more recently, Ladybirds. We saw many of the latter at Mundesley and still have some in the garden. They seem to like the washing on the line as they each leave a signature orange stain! I hope these will wash out!

The sudden profusion of butterflies also happened in Rectory Meadow. The many Buddleia bushes were smothered! Wonderful to see. In contrast to the large numbers of Peacocks, Painted Ladies and Whites we were just as thrilled to see a few individuals of Common Blues and Small Skippers – two species of small butterfly.

Amongst all this wealth of butterflies there is one species missing. The Red Admiral. I recorded seeing one on June 14th and then none until August 12th. Very strange, as they are usually so common. We may see a late summer emergence when the Michaelmas Daisies flower.

As the butterfly count increased in the garden the bird count decreased. Now we mainly have juveniles as the adults are hiding away while they moult. Dragonflies have been emerging from ponds and they patrol around the trees catching midges and other insects. We have seen a Common Darter female laying eggs in our pond, so assuring the next generation.

Swallows

Most of our swallows have left for southern regions in Africa where there will new generations of insects for them to feed on. They do not like flying long distances over the sea so they go towards France and Spain and cross over the Straits of Gibraltar. They travel in great flocks and sadly many get shot or caught in nets in the Pyrenees for ‘sport’ or for ‘food’. The pickled breast meat of migrating birds is a considered a great delicacy in expensive restaurants so locals can make money. This problem also occurs in the Mediterranean islands. Needless to say conservation organisations are trying to stop this hateful trade.

The swallows’ journey can take them over the Sahara and the equatorial forests and then onto the wide savannahs of East Africa. Here they can feed again and recover. Some go further to South Africa.

Some years ago I had a holiday in the Serengeti and had a day in the vast Ngorongoro Crater – a vast volcanic crater with sides 3000 feet high. Down on the crater floor there are many habitats and plenty of water and food for the great variety of wildlife there. Elephants, hippos, a rhino with young, buffaloes, antelopes, lions, cheetahs, jackals and many birds. Flocks of storks and flamingos, colonies of weavers birds, all sorts of ducks, egrets with buffaloes, kites in the air but the commonest species was the swallow. I went in February and they were swooping low over the grass and water feeding avidly on the many insects. They were making up their fat reserves ready for their migration north in March and April.

That day in the crater was one of the special days of my life. In all we saw 76 species of bird and got so close to lions and other big animals. Quite wonderful and much better than the TV.

 

Trunch Wildlife Watch October 09

To round off the summer bird watch I want to pass on the fascinating facts (gleaned from Radio 4) about the feeding habits of swifts, house martins and swallows. All three species catch flying insects.

Swifts live their lives on the wing (except when nesting). They cruise at great heights with their mouths wide open to trap the small insects that form the plankton of the atmosphere. With their long wings they are not very manoeuvrable. They can be likened to basking sharks – large fish that collect plankton from the water.

House martins are active flyers and can twist and turn to chase and catch their prey. The latter are medium sized insects found in the first few hundred feet above the ground.

Most agile of the three species is the swallow. In flight they can change direction very quickly. They are able to catch big insects like common flies and insects found around livestock.

With these three different feeding strategies, our summer visitors do not encroach onto each others’ food source.

The summer visitors have departed but the winter visitors are arriving. For a short time we had a pair of goldcrests in the garden – having a break on their journey south. At the feeding station I saw a pair of bramblings last week. Today (14 October) Peter saw redwings roost for a while in the tree tops.

At the beginning of the month Rectory Meadow had its autumn tidy-up. George Dennis came and mowed the meadow and hacked down brambles. As he cut the grass a family of short-tailed voles scurried away, I hope to their reserve burrow. We saw at least 15 frogs of various ages that had been living in the damp tufty grass.

A few days later Nick Hurst pruned the shrubs and hedge and cleared away the cut brambles and nettles. The borders are full of coarse grass but the ground is too hard to dig at the moment – we need rain! Nick hand pulled the long grass stems so the borders do look tidy for now.

Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NWT) are organising a survey of four animals and want help from the public. Unfortunately and annoyingly I am confined to the house at the moment. I hope you will do some spotting for me please?

NWT wants to know the locations of BARN OWLS, BROWN HARES (see below), HARVEST MICE and GREY PARTRIDGES. The first two are easy to identify. You are unlikely to see a harvest mouse but at this time of year their cricket-ball sized breeding nests can be found above ground, intertwined with several tall grass and plant stems in an area of dense vegetation. Most of the partridges seen are the red-legged or french patridge. They have distinctive barred markings on their wings.

Grey partridges have orange-brown heads and throats, mottled grey and brown backs and wings. The male has a dark brown horseshoe mark on his belly.