Upper photo: Lesser Scaup (second from right) with Tufted Ducks Bawburgh Fisheries June 2023
Lower photo: Wasp Spider (Argiope bruennichi) Eaton Park, Norwich September 2021
'Wildlife roundup published in the Winter issue of 'Tern' magazine by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust covering period April-September 2023 by Robin Chittenden
There was excitement in the birding community with three birds seen in Norfolk for the first time over this summer. One, the Brown Booby, would have been classified as unthinkable, as a species to see in the UK, let alone Norfolk, only a matter of a few years ago. But this brown and white Gannet like bird, from tropical seas, has been turning up in the UK since 2019, and not necessarily just the odd one, but a few at a time. Most have occurred on the south-west side of the UK, but this year a few made it into the North Sea. The Norfolk bird was only seen flying, distantly, past three north Norfolk coastal locations, and may well have been the same bird.
The Black-winged Kite was perhaps a little more expected, but thinking back a decade or two, this was also a species firmly placed in the highly unlikely camp to occur in the UK. Then it was restricted to breeding in a few spots in the driest locations in Portugal and the extreme west of Spain. In the blink of an eye it has expanded its range and is now breeding in northern France. The Black-winged Kite is a gorgeous pale grey and black bird with gleaming red eyes, which hovers like a Kestrel, when hunting for larger insects and small mammals, such as the Short-tailed Field Vole.
The first for the UK was seen for less than an hour this spring in Wales, and perhaps it was this bird, that dropped in at NWT Hickling Broad this autumn, having summered undiscovered in the UK. After a few days it relocated to south Suffolk and then to north Essex, before presumably heading across the Channel. Could it come back next year with some friends? There is an eastern form of Black-winged Kite, which is also expanding rapidly in the middle-east. Apparently they are non-stop breeders so we may be on the verge of experiencing the beginning of a ‘Collared Dove moment’. The Collard Dove spread rapidly from the middle-east in the 1950’s and was suddenly everywhere in the UK. You never know but perhaps the Black-winged Kite could be on the verge of colonizing the UK by a pincer movement from the south and east, by the two different forms of Black-winged Kite.
Of the three it was only a matter of time before a Lesser Scaup was found in Norfolk at Bawburgh Lakes, also known as Colney GPs. The only surprising thing was that it took so long for one to be found. This American diving duck although rare in the UK has become more than annual. The Lesser Scaup looks only subtly different from a Greater Scaup (which winters in Norfolk in small numbers) and was initially dismissed as ‘only’ a Greater Scaup, despite it being in Summer. Luckily it hung around for a few weeks, giving plenty of time for the mis-identification to be corrected. The Lesser Scaup was associating with Tufted Ducks, and had taken a fancy to one of the female Tufted Ducks.
Bushcrickets seemed to do very well this summer, which saw a range expansion of the Great Green Bushcricket. This used to be restricted to an area around Reedham, but seemed to be popping up anywhere this summer. When densities of the Great Green Bushcricket get high, in an area, a greater proportion of them develop longer wings, which presumably means they are more likely to fly further and as a result more likely to spread to new suitable habitats.
Over the last few years several hundred Large Marsh Grasshoppers have been released in suitable habitats in west Norfolk in an attempt to re-introduce the species. It became extinct in Norfolk in the 1960s. Hopefully with near relatives doing so well the reintroduction could not have timed it better. However there is some ink in the ointment, as one predator of Grasshoppers is also doing very. The charismatically scary looking, but completely harmless to humans, Wasp Spider can now be found almost anywhere in rough grassland in Norfolk. They have a penchant for Grasshoppers, admittedly a bit smaller than the Great Green Bushcricket, but the Large Marsh Grasshopper could be on the menu.
Not sure how some of the rare butterflies did this year in Norfolk, but there was a sighting of a Silver-spotted Skipper. This butterfly is normally restricted to the south-east UK. What with many European butterflies, such as the Black-veined White and the Queen of Spain Fritillary being released at various sites in England, who knows where this one came from.
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