Beeston & Sheringham Commons                                              sssi/sac Hornet ‘mating ball’ Alder Sawfly larva Common Earthball Marsh Tit

Autumn notes from the Commons.

The autumn months, September, October and November were characterised this year by the three named storms of Agnes, Babet and Ciarán, which were both very windy and wet. The largest amount of rainfall came from Babet (18-21 Oct) and the extreme weather caused localised flooding. Throughout this period wildlife were recorded, mainly by Mark Clements and me and the following is a summary of the highlights.

Summer transitioned into autumn in a gentle way at the beginning of September with many butterflies still seen on the wing. A Brassica Shieldbug was found (03 Sept) which had yellow markings over the generally blue-black background. The bugs can also be either red- or white-spotted or occasionally orange on occasions. Fungi are beginning to put in an appearance with the Common Earthball being particularly noticeable on the heathy areas. A particularly warm day (07 Sept) saw a Noctule Bat out early, around 5.30pm, hunting along the treeline near the layby. The following day (08 Sept) Mark spotted a Hobby heading south and a moth trap run overnight included an Old Lady moth and 20 Spiked Shieldbugs. A sound recorder run overnight (09 Sept) ‘captured’ the call of a Barn Owl, which gives the bird its alternative name ‘Screech Owl’.  In the south-west corner, a favourite spot, a Firecrest was noted (11 Sept). The first Ivy Bee of the year was present (13 Sept) and the returning Pink-footed Geese were heard in the mist (14 Sept). Mark had a brief view of a Redstart (15 Sept) and visitor, Sandi Monger found two male Adders (17 Sept). Another Hobby headed south and Pink-footed Geese flocks were overflying west (18 Sept), also Mark spotted three Grass Snakes and six Siskins. A second-only record of a Hoverfly, Riponnensia splendens was found (19 Sept), the first record being back in 1989 made by a visiting entomologist. A fresh-looking Painted Lady was seen (20 Sept), a butterfly that has been scarce this year. It is a migrant butterfly that originates from North Africa and in some years can arrive in vast numbers. It will breed in the UK then the new generation will make a return migration. A Red Kite passed over heading west (22 Sept) and the strange-looking Alder Sawfly larva was found. Another Red Kite and Painted Lady turned up (25 Sept) followed by two Firecrests (29 Sept), again reported from the south-west corner.

A Painted Lady was present (02 Oct) and a Grey Wagtail flew over. Mark reported in influx of thrushes (08 Oct) with 215 Redwing, 8 Fieldfare, 2 Mistle Thrush, 2 Song Thrush and a Ring Ouzel all heading south. Also that day a Red Kite (west), 9 Grey Heron (southwest) and 6 Brambling south. Sandi returned to the Common (09 Oct) and recorded 6 Grass Snakes, 2 Adders, 5 Wasp Spider egg-sacs plus a female spider and Fly Agaric fungi. A Vapourer moth female was spotted on a Silver Birch trunk and was attracting four males. The female moth is flightless. They have vestigial wings and a large abdomen and tend to stay where they emerge releasing a pheromone to attract a male to mate with and then deposit eggs. The adults die shortly after and the eggs overwinter and hatch   early in the following spring. Also in the wooded area a ‘mating ball’ of Hornets was found. This consisted of a queen surrounded by 5 or 6 suitors. A new bird was added to the Common’s list (10 Oct) when Mark picked up an overflying Richard’s Pipit. These birds are a scarce visitor to the UK, which are usually seen in the autumn. They normally breed in east Asia to China and winter in India and south-east Asia. A Greenshank was noted overflying (12 Oct) and a Kingfisher (15th Oct) plus a Noon Fly was seen. Mark reported two Grass Snakes and found a new moth for the site (16 Oct). The moth was the Golden-brown Fern moth, which only arrived in the UK (Dorset) in 2009. It originates from Australia and New Zealand and is thought to have arrived with imported ferns. The first Norfolk record comes from Horsford in 2020. The day after storm Babet passed through (21 Oct)  a ‘ring-tail’ Hen Harrier was present in the north-east corner. A Mealy Redpoll was part of a small flock of Lesser Redpolls feeding in the ‘wet’ wood (25 Oct) and a Shelduck flew east. A further influx of thrushes occurred (27 Oct) with some 60 Fieldfares, 11 Redwings and 2 Mistle Thrushes. A Sallow moth was found resting on a birch trunk (30 Oct). Flocks of thrushes continued to fly in (31 Oct), with 54 Redwing, 19 Fieldfare,4 Mistle Thush and 4 Song Thrushes recorded also 15 Lesser Redpolls and a Tawny Owl were seen.

November arrived with the force of storm Ciarán but again there was little damage caused apart from minor flooding of paths. After the storm (03 Nov) Marsh Tit, Brambling and Bullfinch were recorded. A Grass Snake was still around (06 Nov) and a Red Kite headed east. The first Waxwings in the area of what was to turn into a good year for them were seen by Mark as a flock of 23 headed west (09 Nov). Waxwings are known as an ‘irruptive’ species as they move in search of food. If their favourite, Rowen berries, are scarce in their native Fennoscadia and western Russia breeding grounds they will move through northern Europe and eventually arrive in the UK. A flock of 24 Lesser Redpoll was present (13 Nov) and two Red Kites headed west. A few days later (20 Nov) some 10-15 Waxwings spent a day in the tall poplars along the A149 at the north-west end of the Common, where they put on some superb flying acrobatics as they chased insects. This fly-catching behaviour is entirely different to the berry eating normally associated with this species. It was a warm still and very sunny day which also saw Peacock butterfly and Common Darter dragonfly on the wing. Apart from flocks of Pink-footed Geese passing over (22 Nov) very little of note was reported up to the end of the month except for a wintering Chiffchaff (28 Nov).

For an up to date daily sighting record please visit

Francis Farrow – Hon. Warden

Vapourer moth (f)