Spring Notes from the Commons 2019
Spring has given us both warm and cold days with not a lot of consistency but overall because of the mild winter many wildlife species have put in an early appearance on the Commons. The following observations are mainly from regular contributor, Mark Clements and me.
A Pintail drake that had been on the Priory ponds for a few days overflew the Common with a pair of Mallards (March 03) and a Mealy Redpoll was present with Lesser Redpolls in some scrub near Caxton Park. A Mute Swan was observed overflying (March 04) and is thought to have come from the Priory where there had been an incident with the male swan being shot. The injured swan was taken to a rehabilitation centre and later released. At least two Mealy Redpolls were present with around 12 Lesser Redpolls and a Siskin in the scrub area, also five Adders were noted around the heathland (March 07). A spectacular flyover of 25 Common Buzzards heading south was witnessed by Mark (March 08) and six Adders were seen. A flock of 22 Lesser Black-backed Gulls headed west over the Common (March 09) and a Red Kite drifted south (March 13). A Grass Snake and eight Adders were reported as well as two Mealy Redpolls and 12 Lesser Redpolls (March 15). Many Common Toads were in the main pond (March 17) and a Barn Owl, two Red Kites heading west and a Mistle Thrush were also seen. A Fox, two Orange Underwing moths and Dark-edged Bee-flies were noted (March 20). Three adult and one juvenile Muntjac were seen as well as a Smooth Newt and Red-tailed Bumblebee (March 21). Some 35 Lesser Redpolls in a flock flew over the Pill-box and one Mealy Redpoll remained in the scrub area (March 22). Another Red Kite drifted east (March 23) and the Lesser Redpolls had decreased to eight in number. The Lesser Redpolls later built up again to 15 (March 28) and a flock of 12 Redwings were present. One Mealy Redpoll was present with around 20 Lesser Redpolls and a Siskin in the scrub (March 29) and also another Red Kite heading east was seen. On the heath the first Green Tiger Beetle for the year was noted. John Furse reported the Mourning Bee visiting the flowers of Green Alkanet (March 30). A Grass Snake, four Adders and another easterly heading Red Kite were noted along with three Common Buzzards (March 31).
The spring butterflies, especially the Small Tortoiseshell were much in evidence (April 01) when 11 were seen with two Peacocks and a Holly Blue. The large flock of Lesser Redpolls that had been visiting the scrub area near Caxton Park were now down to single figures with eight seen (April 04). The following day (April 05), 15 Chiffchaffs were reported as well as four Blackcaps. Red Admiral and Comma butterflies were also present. A Wheatear flew south over the Pill-box (April 08) and a Roe Deer was observed as well as a Grass Snake. A ‘black’ Adder (melanistic form) and a normal coloured one were seen (April 09). A Willow Warbler was singing (April 18), however, as for the last four years it moved on after a day or two. It seems the Willow Warbler is now lost as a breeding bird on the Common with populations shifting northwards. Since the early 1990s the Willow Warbler has declined by 28% in England yet in Scotland it has increased by 33% over the same period. A pair of Mute Swans was observed on the main pond (possibly the pair from the Priory, where the male had suffered an attack last month). The pond is probably too small to support the swans and it was a wonder how they managed to take off from such a limited space. Two Wheatears were present on Pill-box Hill (April 19) and four Grey-lag Geese headed east (April 20). A Redwing was noted (April 22), also a Slow Worm and Simon Chidwick reported the first Green Hairstreaks and Large Red Damselfly for the year. A female Redstart and a Hobby were noted (April 23) as well as a Fox and a ‘black’(melanistic) Rabbit. More migrants, as well as the Redstart, in the form of a Tree Pipit and Sand Martin were noted (April 24) and a passing Red Kite was also seen. A young Muntjac with two females was also present. The grey bodied Ramsons Hoverfly turned up in the patch of Wild Garlic (April 26) and two Brambling were present. At the end of the month (April 30) a Common Crane headed east, a Red Kite drifted west and the first of the year Bracken Sawfly was found.
The pair of Mute Swans returned to the main pond (May 01) and some 10 Smooth Newts were present in the small pond. A small micro moth associated with Cuckoo Flower, the Meadow Longhorn was seen (May 02) as was a Willow Warbler and two Swallows. The Willow Warbler (or another) was present (May 07) and two House Martins and a Swift flew over. A young dead Muntjac attracted the Red-breasted Carrion Beetle and another called Thanatophilus rugosus. The adult carrion beetles lay eggs on or near a decomposing carcass. The young larvae emerge in about a week and will feed on the carcass for up to a month before pupating. The first orchids were begininning to flower (May 08) – these were the recently re-named Narrow-leaved Southern Marsh Orchids, having been subject to DNA testing at Kew. Previous to the DNA investigation it was thought they were a hybrid between the Southern Marsh Orchid and the Narrow-leaved Orchid but now the experts say it is a separate species. A Reed Warbler was singing (May 09) and a nettle patch had a multitude of Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars. Mark was again lucky to observe 22 Common Buzzards drifting southwest over the Common (May 10) and to see 24 Swifts flying over plus hearing both Reed Warbler and Garden Warbler. The first Brown Argus butterfly was also seen. A Cuckoo was heard calling as it flew over the Common (May 12), which was just prior to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust (North Group) walk later that morning. A Cinnabar moth and Cream-spot Ladybird were noted (May 14) along with 10 species of butterfly. The first Common Blue butterfly and Mother Shipton moth as well as Brown Argus, Green Hairstreak and Brimstone were noted (May 16). Bush Vetch and Three-cornered Leek were flowering (May 17) and following day (May 18) 16 Swallows headed north and a Treecreeper family were seen. The Natural World Group Walk (May 21) saw a Red Kite and the first of the year Broad-bodied Chaser plus a Mother Shipton moth and Green Tiger Beetles. On Hoary Cress a number of Brassica Shieldbugs were seen (May 22) and also that day a Roe Deer and the large Lake Pondskater Aquarius paludum. Another Shieldbug known as the Bishop’s Mitre, due to its shape resembling the headgear of a Bishop, was found (May 23). This was primarily a southern insect that has over the last few years moved steadily northwards as the climate changes. A Common Malachite Beetle, Wasp Beetle and Hairy Shieldbug were found in the northern grassland area of the Common (May 24) and the Red-legged Robberfly was seen in the same area (May 28). Common Spotted Orchid was flowering (May 30) as was Cross-leaved Heath. Broad-bodied and Four-spotted Chasers were over the pond and an Emperor Dragonfly was seen over the central mire (May 31). A Cuckoo was heard calling in the evening.
As we enter summer we look forward to the long days and hope some of them at least will be warm and sunny.
Francis Farrow – Hon. Warden