As the summer period ended the actual summer weather continued mainly throughout September but with October came a long period of easterly winds which swung to the north at the beginning of November and autumn was well and truly with us, although this area had generally escaped any frost. The following observations were made mainly by Mark Clements and me over September, October and November, although work took me away from the Commons from mid-October until mid-November.
September is usually when bird migration starts to take off and a Wryneck turned up (Sept 1st) in an old hawthorn tree. These brownish birds are related to the woodpeckers and get their name from the many interesting angles they place their heads! Over the last 50 years Wrynecks have decreased as a breeding bird in the UK but are usually noted during their annual migrations between Scandinavia and Africa. Other migrants seen were the Lesser Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Hobby and a Painted Lady butterfly. A Slow-worm was present (Sept 5th) as were two Common Buzzards drifting west. A Peregrine overflew north then west (Sept 6th) and a Brown Argus butterfly was noted. A number of fungi were seen on a wood chip pile (Sept 7th) and amongst them were the Magenta Rustgill (Gymnopilus dilepis), a fungus that first turned up on the Common in 2001, which, at that time, turned out to be the 3rd British record. Although now found in much of Europe the fungus originated from South-east Asia. Some seven Common Buzzards were observed heading east (Sept 8th) and Mark discovered a new damselfly species for the Common – a Willow Damselfly, which had arrived with eight Common Emerald Damselflies. Over the next few days up to 30 Willow Emeralds were noted including some pairs. The Willow Emerald is unusual among the damselflies as it does not lay its eggs in water but prefers to insert single eggs under the bark of overhanging trees, notably willows. The presence of the egg under the bark stimulates the tree to react and produce a slight swelling. The swellings are in lines and these ‘ovipositing tracts’ are clearly defined on the willow branches. Once the egg hatches the damselfly nymphs just drop into the water or if not directly over the water they will crawl through the vegetation towards it. Around this time another ‘newcomer’ the Ivy Bee was discovered ‘nesting’ for the first time. The bee was first seen in 2014 on the Common, having only arrived in Norfolk the previous year. A migrant Spotted Flycatcher was present (Sept 12th) as was a Lesser Whitethroat and a Green Sandpiper was also seen. Up to 10 Small Copper butterflies were noted (Sept 14th), which was good as nationally these small butterflies had ‘crashed’ with numbers down some 30%. A female Teal took up residence on the pond (Sept 17th) for a few days. It was probably exhausted after battling some strong winds. Further migrants in the form of two Whinchats turned up (Sept 18th) and remained for a couple of days. A Kingfisher was present at the pond (Sept 21st) and was also seen over the following days. A hint that although the weather was not so autumnal the seasons were changing as the first skeins of Pink-footed Geese passed overhead having recently arrived from Iceland. Another visitor (Sept 26th) from a bit further north, Russia’s Ural Mountains in fact, has since the late 1950s gradually increased in numbers in the UK each autumn. This is the Yellow-browed Warbler, which normally winters in China. It is possible we are witnessing a subtle shift in wintering range, with regular dispersal having become successful and leading to overwintering and a subsequent return migration. Maybe the birds we are seeing have become genetically programmed to migrate this way, with Britain and Europe now on a new migration path and a new winter range slowly evolving. Willow Emeralds were still present (Sept 28th) in mating pairs and Migrant Hawkers were also patrolling the pond.
Throughout the month of October Yellow-browed Warblers, either one or two were observed most days. A Peregrine headed south (Oct 3rd) and the ‘winter thrushes’ Fieldfare and Redwing also made an appearance. Deep inside the bramble bushes those with keen hearing could listen to the ‘chirps’ of male Dark Bush-crickets and if eyesight was also keen pick out the brown female cricket sitting on a leaf. Mark also picked up on the subtle yellow and pink hues of the Pink-barred Sallow moth as it slept within the bramble bush (Oct 4th). There is nothing subtle about the Fly Agaric – the classic white-spotted red-capped fungus. A few of these beautiful fungi were present (Oct 6th) on the edge of a birch copse on the southern side of Pill-box Hill. A male Ring Ouzel was spotted by Peter Beard overflying west (Oct 7th). These birds, similar to Blackbirds but with a white ‘bib’ nest in the north of England and migrate south for the winter, to the arid Atlas mountains of Morocco. Winter visitors to Norfolk were on the increase with more Redwings and Fieldfares being seen and the odd Brambling over the next few days. A pair of geese overlying (Oct 17th) proved to be a rare spot when they turned out to be White-fronted Geese, a species that has not been seen in the Commons area since 1963. A Mealy Redpoll was with a large flock of around 34 Lesser Repolls (Oct 25th) and the diminutive Jack Snipe was noted along with a flypast of five Egyptian Geese west (Oct 30th). The last day of October (Oct 31st) saw a Red Admiral, a Common Darter and a Migrant Hawker ‘on the wing’.
In November the north wind did blow and temperatures were somewhat lower but still frosts were scarce. Woodcock began to turn up (Nov 3rd) as did the Goldcrest. The old naturalists called the Goldcrest the ‘pilot bird’ as it generally arrived in the UK just ahead of the Woodcock and it was thought it showed them the way, in fact some believed the Goldcrest even hitched a ride on the Woodcock’s back. The somewhat scarcer relation of the Goldcrest, the Firecrest was noted (Nov 7th) within a favourite Holly tree. Other ‘incomers’ were over a dozen Red-legged Partridge (Nov 8th) and a Common Snipe. During the early part of November the central marsh was mown using a Fen Harvester. This is a special machine designed to cut wetlands without damaging the sensitive habitats. It is basically a low impact tracked vehicle that mows and collects the vegetation as it goes. At the moment the wetlands are cut on a two-year rotation. A Firecrest was still present (Nov 13th) along the southern boundary path and an Orange Ladybird was also present in the area (Nov 15th). A Kingfisher made a welcome return to the pond (Nov 18th) and was seen throughout the rest of the month. The following day (Nov 19th) proved very exciting for Mark as he discovered a Dartford Warbler. This bird just hangs on in the UK and in hard winters suffers badly. The exceptional winter of 1962-63 reduced the population to just 11 pairs, however successive mild winters have enabled the population to recover and expand its range from the south coast to East Anglia. It started breeding in North Norfolk around 2008 and this bird maybe one of the local birds exploring new territory. Due to the lack of frosts there were still some fungi in evidence (Nov 24th) including the Purple Jellydisc (Ascocoryne sarcoides) that frequents tree stumps. Another rare visitor to the Commons area was a Marsh Harrier, spotted by Mark passing high over the SSSI (Nov 29th). If you have found this summary interesting please visit the website for day by day sightings and further information (www.beestoncommon.org.uk).
With a few frosts having occurred most of the leaves have dropped from the trees and the Common is getting a wintery look, however, snow and ice is not on the East Anglian forecast and it is not expected this side of Christmas at least.
Francis Farrow – Hon. Warden