Autumn Notes from the Commons
This autumn was quite dry and virtually frost free until the last week of November when the weather turned a bit more wintery. Back in September though at the beginning of this seasonal period Mark Clements and I were still in summer mood as we counted up to 10 butterflies and six dragonfly species on ‘the wing’. Male Ivy Bees were building up in numbers, some 60+ (02 Sept), as they waited for a female to emerge from a burrow. The bees nest in the ground, often in large aggregations. Once emerged the female would be pounced on by the males forming a mating ball until a ‘victor’ flies off with his prize (the female). Mark was lucky to see a Marsh Harrier overfly the Common and also found a Sedge Warbler present, 06 Sept. On 09 Sept. the first Willow Damselfly of the year was noted by Mark. By 11 Sept. shieldbugs were present throughout the Common with Common Green, Hawthorn and Gorse found by Mark. The Gorse Shieldbug was particularly interesting as it was a late summer adult, a form which is not usually seen on the Common. A Miller Moth caterpillar was noted, 15 Sept. – this is a general feeder, found on many tree species, although Birch is a favourite. It is an unmistakable green caterpillar covered in long creamy-white hairs. Grass Snakes, both adult and juvenile, were very much in evidence and notably, 16 Sept., a mating ‘ball’ was found , which consisted of two males and a female. It was unusual to find mating behaviour this late in the year as it is claimed that it ceases in June. An Otter ‘spraint’ was found on a bridge by the pond, 17 Sept., indicating that this elusive mammal had passed by also an immature Red-veined Darter was seen basking on the heath. Mark reported a Firecrest, 18 Sept., moving around with a flock of Long-tailed Tits and also found the Woundwort Shieldbug. The following day a Whinchat was present and six Swallows were seen overflying. The Firecrest was again present with the tit flock, 20 Sept., and a pair of Stonechats was noted as well as the first Fly Agaric of the year. The rare Yellow-browed Warbler made a brief appearance, 21 Sept., and on 22 Sept., Mark observed a Woodlark, juvenile Hobby and Spotted Flycatcher as well as a Slow-worm. Another Whinchat turned up, 26 Sept., and a Ruddy Darter was also present. A Common Redstart was spotted by Mark, 28 Sept., which marked the end the autumn migration as far as summer birds returning south.
In October, the Firecrest was again noted by Mark, (03 Oct.), as were Pink-footed Geese overflying, a mating pair of Willow Emeralds and two Adders. A very small Adder, some 6”/15cm long was found basking on a path, 9 Oct. Winter visitors were now being seen heading over the Common from the north, 10 Oct. These were mainly members of the thrush family, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Redwings, although another Yellow-browed Warbler, a Firecrest and two Mistle Thrushes were noted, 14 Oct., by Mark. A Red Admiral was seen 15 Oct., as were Giant Willow Aphids. A Fieldfare was noted, 19 Oct., and Mark spotted a Brambling, 23 Oct., along with nine Siskins and two Chiffchaffs plus a 4”/ 10cm Grass Snake. Three Bearded Tits were found by Mark in the central marsh reeds, 26 Oct., however, they soon departed westwards. Two Hawfinches were seen overflying, 28 Oct. This autumn has seen a large influx of these finches with flocks of 40 or more being observed along the coast. Such numbers are unprecedented as these are normally scarce birds seen only rarely, however, it is thought that the food source in Europe, generally Beech mast or the Cherry crop, may have failed and the shortage of food has prompted this unusual irruption. The Kingfisher returned to the pond 30 Oct., and on 31 Oct., Mark flushed a Woodcock and Red-legged Partridge.
A flock of 20 Fieldfares passed west over the Common, 03 Nov., and a very tiny fungus, Fenugreek Stalk-ball, was found by Alex Prendergast. This fungus grows on bark and is probably overlooked due to its small size. Mark reported Kingfisher and Firecrest, 05 Nov., and another Hawfinch, 06 Nov., with further sightings of the Kingfisher, two Firecrests, a Brambling and two Red Admirals. A Water Rail was heard calling, 09 Nov., and the two Firecrests, Kingfisher and Brambling were still present. A Fox was watched in daylight, 12 Nov., which was the first for quite a while and a Little Egret was spotted overflying, 14 Nov. Lapwings were moving west, 18 Nov., and on a very sunny 19 Nov., up to four Common Darters were still flying. On 22 Nov., the contractors came to cut some of the fens and grassland and used a very large but low impact machine known as a Pisten Bully 300. The machine travelled on wide tracks mowing and collecting as it went. It was so efficient that the cutting programme was completed in one day. Firecrest, Kingfisher, Little Egret, Siskin and Redpoll were all recorded by Mark, 23 Nov., along with an Orange Ladybird. The Sheringham Loke RiverCare Group was out 25 Nov., and collected an assortment of litter and fly-tipped rubbish from the streams around the Back Common, Top Common and Layby. As the month ended the weather became more wintery and the temperature dropped. There were more frosts yet the Firecrest was still present as were a Chiffchaff and the last butterfly was a Red Admiral recorded by Mark, 26 Nov.
The forecast is for colder weather in December interspersed with milder periods so the winter is ‘stop and go’ making it hard for us to adjust as well as the wildlife. Remember that you can see daily updates of the Commons wildlife on www.beestoncommon.org.uk