Spring notes from the Commons
This year spring started with a return to winter - with a vengeance as the ‘Beast from the East’ hit us the first week of March. Everything stalled and most wildlife just hunkered down until the thaw. Although it was not quite the end as freezing winds returned later in the month. April was reasonably sunny and May started off with both sun and heat but unfortunately deteriorated towards the end of the month. Consequently many butterflies and flowers were late in appearing.
The first Adder was reported by regular Common’s observer, Mark Clements (06 March) and Frog’s spawn was noted (10 March) about eight days later than last year. What was remarkable was the fact that the frogs returned to the pond and spawned overnight. A Mealy Redpoll was found by Mark amongst 12 Lesser Redpolls. Mealy Redpolls are winter visitors to the UK and are larger and paler than our native Lesser Redpoll. A male Stonechat appeared (11 March) and a Chiffchaff was also spotted. Mark found a Firecrest (12 March) and watched 25 Siskin feeding in the Alders. A pair of Smooth Newts was also seen in the small pond. The Firecrest was still present in the South of the Common (14 March) as was a Tawney Owl and a Woodcock. The first butterfly of the year was a Small Tortoiseshell found by Mark also on 14 March. An Orange Underwing moth was noted (19 March). This is a day flying moth that is on the wing between March and April. Three Red Kites passing over the Common heading west (22 March) were noted by Mark as were 30 Redwings heading east. Another Red Kite, a Grass Snake and a Comma butterfly were seen by Mark (24 March). A hoverfly new to Norfolk – Cheilosia chrysocoma, was observed (26 March) sitting on a piece of dead wood. These hoverflies look very much like solitary bees and fly early in the year so it may be that they are overlooked in many places. Common Toads were seen in the pond (27 March) and a Red Admiral was spotted by Mark. A Fox was seen by Nick Owens (28 March) and the first frog tadpoles were noted.
The Firecrest was still present (01 April) and three Chiffchaffs were calling from different areas of the Common. A Short-eared Owl spotted by Mark flew south over the Common (05 April) and a Blackcap was singing. On the heath Dark-edged Bee-fly and Green Tiger Beetle were also noted. As the temperature began to rise Mark found four Adders and three Grass Snakes basking on the edge of the heath (06 April). Butterflies were coming out of hibernation with Brimstone, Peacock, Comma and Small Tortoiseshell all ’on the wing’ (07 April). Some winter visitors were seen over the next few days, Woodcock (10 April), Brambling and Redwing (14 April). Some nocturnal migration was picked up (15 April) with Wigeon, Golden Plover and Redwings passing over. During the day (16 April) Mark recorded Marsh Harrier, Red Kite, Lesser Whitethroat, Tawny Mining Bee and Common Lizard. A Red Admiral, Wood Anemones and Marsh Marigolds were also seen (18 April). The following day (19 April) Mark recorded Willow Warbler, a bird species that is declining in south and east Britain and hasn’t bred on the Common for at least three years. It is, however, increasing in Scotland and recent studies indicate a 16% rise in numbers. Three ladybirds were also seen, Kidney-spot, Orange and Cream-spot. These are mainly woodland species, which feed on scale insects, mildew and aphids respectively. Two Mediterranean Gulls also flew over the Common. The first Swallows over the Common were observed by Mark (23 April) and the Mourning Bee, first recorded last year on the site, turned up at the same patch of Green Alkanet. A Woodlark flew over Pill Box Hill (26 April) and the first spring butterflies were noted by Mark – Holly Blue, Orange-tip and Speckled Wood. A Whimbrel call was picked up during nocturnal recording as it passed over the Common (27 April).
May started exceptionally sunny and hot although it then rapidly descended into cool and cloudy with frequent sea frets rolling in. The first day (01 May) was one to remember as Mark spotted a male Pied Flycatcher resplendent in its black and white breeding plumage, then a bit later a female, which has brown plumage. This is only the second spring record, normally we see migrants in the autumn which have changed to dull brown plumage so sexes are alike. The first damselfly of the year, the Large Red Damselfly was also seen. Mark recorded five warblers (03 May) – Common Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff along with the Wild Garlic loving hoverfly known as the Ramsons Hoverfly. The small green butterfly of spring, the Green Hairstreak was seen (05 May) along with Bogbean in the marshes and some eight Common Buzzards were drifting over the Common in the thermals and on the marsh Bogbean was in flower. The first Swifts were over the Common (07 May) and a Hornet was seen drinking from the small pond (08 May) and on the next day (09 May) a Ruby Tiger moth was spotted. A small metallic green micro moth, the Meadow Longhorn, which likes to visit Cuckoo Flower was observed (13 May) as were the first green-flowered Orchids, the Common Twayblade. On the emerging Bracken (14 May) Mark finds the first of many Bracken Sawfly this year laying its eggs. It is very rare for males to be seen and it is possible that the sawfly can reproduce by parthenogenesis (a natural form of asexual reproduction). The first migrant Painted Lady butterfly was noted (19 May) and the next day (20 May) Mark recorded a Common Blue butterfly and both Broad-bodied Chaser and Four-spotted Chaser dragonflies. The Mint Moth (Small Purple and Gold) was also seen. Mark saw a Hobby overflying the Common (21 May) and the first Small Copper butterflies were present as was the first Keeled Skimmer. A vixen and two cubs were seen (23 May) and a Reed Warbler was singing (24 May). A small Grass Snake (approx. 20cms) was watched swimming in the Main Pond. The only Cuckoo heard this year on the Common was at 4.50am (28 May) and later that day another Painted Lady was seen on Beeston Back Common. The Pea Moth was found among some vetches (31 May) which is its natural habitat rather than the peas in the vegetable plot, also seen was the striking red and black Cinnabar Moth.
With some uncertainty about which way the weather will turn for the start of summer we can look back at what has been a very interesting spring.