Upper photo: Tawny Owl (Strix aluco) Norwich March 2021
Lower photo: Little Gull (Larus minutus) Thorpe Marshes Norwich April 2021
Birdline East Anglia report February -April 2021 for 'Tern' published by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust by Robin Chittenden
Not surprisingly there was a reduced amount of wildlife news this winter, especially with some reserves being effectively closed and with reduced numbers visiting them. There was more local news though. Churchyards were perhaps visited more regularly than normal and resulted in the discovery of a new colony of a certain fungi near Norwich that were a type of Earthstar. But these were not any old Earthstar but Geastrum britannicum. This species was only discovered in 2000 at Cockley Cley, and as yet has no English name. The big news was not only were they a new species for the world but they have only ever been found in Norfolk. A world endemic in Norfolk. Two of them growing next to each other look a bit like two people holding hands
Throughout the winter two Slavonian Grebes, a Long-tailed Duck and up to four Smew wintered on the Trinity Broads. This group of Broads are connected by non-navigable links to the River Bure and hence are relatively undisturbed, and as a result are more likely to attract, more unusual waterbirds, especially in winter. They are a Special Area of Conservation and comprise: Ormesby, Ormesby Little, Rollesby, Filby and Lily Broads. The Slavonian Grebes were still present at the end of April and had by then moulted from their black and white winter plumage to their radiant breeding plumage, replete with striking golden ear tufts and rich red-orange breast and flanks. In the UK they breed in small numbers in Scotland, so these two will be on the move soon, as will the Long-tailed Duck, which breed in the Arctic, and the Smew, which breed mainly in Siberia.
Local WhatsApp groups are a friendly way of passing on wildlife snippets. Norwich has one that has been particularly active this year. Highlights during the cold snap were a Black-necked Grebe at Whitlingham Country Park (CP), just for one day, and a Smew there and at the nearby NWT Thorpe Marshes. Also present for a few days was a Bittern. This skulking brown marsh heron, will often be forced to move from their winter homes, when they freeze over. In the case of Norwich this means they can, with luck, be found in areas that are last to freeze, which can include marginal habitat along River Yare and Wensum, and around Whitlingham CP. It would seem that the Great Broad at Whitlingham is deeper than your average broad and as a result takes longer to chill. This also explains why wildfowl numbers build up their during a period of cold weather. As shallower lakes and boards freeze over Whitlingham is one of the last that will remain ice-free.
Strong bitterly cold northerly winds in March resulted in several Kittiwakes being seen at Whitlingham CP. There only been a handful of previous records there. This Gull is normally only found out to sea, so most did not hang about, but one found it to its liking and spent a few days happily feeding alongside the regular Black-headed Gulls there. The nearest breeding colonies are at Lowestoft and Sizewell, so it may not have gone far.
NWT Thorpe Marshes, the quieter neighbour across the River Yare from Whitlingham CP, comes into is own in the spring, as many species of Warblers find it to its liking. St Andrews Broad there, can also attract interesting birds. This spring one or perhaps two Little Gulls spent over three weeks there and by mid-April had moulted into full summer plumage, even developing an eye-catching pink flush to its underside. What a smart bird, with is pale upper surfaces, black hood and dark underwings.
On the other side of Norwich at Sweet Briar Marshes, a pair of Tawny Owls, had fledged three rather cheeky, fluffy youngsters. And they were cheeky. I watched one pull at and then pick up the foot of another with its bill. Not that its sibling seemed to mind. This area is a triangular wedge of greenery comprising, wet meadow, scrub and woodland that is the floodplain of the River Wensum. It penetrates almost to the heart of the city centre. A casual exploration of the area will reveal some different species from as little as twenty years ago. First you may hear the sound of reversing lorries, not that uncommon by the recycling centre, you might think, but the noise could come from something flying. Egyptian Geese calling as they fly along the river can emit a rasping sound not unlike the warning sound from lorries. A little further up river some Rose-ringed Parakeets that have purloined a nest hole high up in a Popular tree. At ground level are Common Pheasants and Reeves’s Muntjac deer. These four species have one thing in common. They are non-native. That is their normal ‘natural’ breeding range is miles from the UK. Egyptian Geese originate from Africa, and Rose-ringed Parakeets, Pheasant and Reeves’s Muntjac deer from Asia. They have established populations in the UK as a result of escapes from collections or in the case of Pheasants many millions are released every year for shooting. Walk the same path as little as twenty years ago and you would have just seen the Pheasant out of the four.
One of the WhatsApp members had the good fortune to spot a thousand or so hibernating Sixteen-spot Ladybirds. These tiny Ladybirds only 2-3 mm long had covered part of a fence post by a public footpath near Trowse, but despite their number would have been easy to miss if quickly walking by.
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