Beeston & Sheringham Commons                                              sssi/sac Ornate Shieldbug Chiffchaff Mourning Bee

Spring Notes from the Commons

 These spring notes have been delayed as the Covid-19 lockdown interuppted publication of ‘The Sheringham Independent’. While on lockdown the daily walks allowed visits to the Commons and most of it was in excellent weather. The following observations and sightings cover the period through March, April and May which have been reported to the Beeston Common website, mainly by regular contributor Mark Clements and myself.

The first week of March three Red Kites drifted over and a hybrid Carrion x Hooded Crow were noted (Mar 02) also frogs were spawning in the main pond. A Peacock butterfly was seen (Mar 06) followed by two more (Mar 11) when three Adders were also seen. The first Grass Snake of the year and Small Tortoiseshell were noted later in the week (Mar 13). A female Stonechat turned up, south of the Pill-box (Mar 16). This is a species that has arrived in March quite regularly for the last few years – probably the result of local movements after winter. A Red Admiral was also seen and up to six Chiffchaffs were calling indicating the species had returned from southern wintering areas. Other birds were also on the move, particularly raptors, with a Marsh Harrier and two Red Kites passing over the Commons (Mar 17). A male Stonechat put in a brief appearance (Mar 21) and a Fox and Brimstone butterfly were seen (Mar 26) with the first Green Tiger Beetle seen on the heath at the end of the month (Mar 31).

A Common Crane flew over north towards Beeston Bump (Apr 04) and another Stonechat turned up (Apr 05). Three Spoonbills were a new addition to the site list (Apr 06) as they headed west in the early evening, having been spotted over Aylsham a short time earlier. A Marsh Harrier was sighted also heading west (Apr 07) and two Bramblings were seen flying east. Another Marsh Harrier headed south (Apr 08) and two Willow Warblers were noted. The Orange-tip, a true spring butterfly was ‘on the wing’ also. The spectacular looking Mourning Bees, including a dark form female were nectaring on Green Alkanet, as were its host, the Hairy-footed Flower Bee (Apr 12). The Mourning Bee is a cleptoparasite ie laying its eggs in the nests of its host and its larvae on hatching eats the host egg or grub and then consumes the stored pollen. A large parasitic wasp, Ichneumon xanthorius, was also present as was a strange looking ‘long-nosed’ hoverfly, Rhingia  campestris. Three Red Kites came over the Common within a few minutes of each other (Apr 15) and the following day (Apr 16) a Goshawk was seen off by a female Sparrowhawk, which was nesting nearby. A male Ring Ouzel flew south (Apr 23) and a Green Hairstreak was reported. A visitor, Richard Eagling, saw a Large Tortoiseshell butterfly (Apr 26), which was one of a number of sightings of this rare butterfly throughout Norfolk this spring. All are most likely immigrants from the Continent but with so many reported it is possible some may breed and eventually re-establish in the County. The Whitethroats finally arrived (Apr 30), almost a week later than normal – a contrast to many other species which arrived early.

The first week of May had six species of warblers singing around the site – Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat and Garden Warbler, which was reminiscent of earlier years. After some searching of a line of scrubby Elms near the layby the larvae of the Zig-zag Sawfly were found with their characteristic feeding pattern (May 05). This species has only been in Britain since 2017 when it was first discovered in Surrey. Another new-comer was found the following day (May 06) – the Ornate Shieldbug. This insect has been in the UK since 1997 but was only present along a coastal fringe of Dorset, Hampshire and Sussex until recently and had reached the London area in 2019. Mark was pleased to hear that his find was a ‘first for Norfolk’. A Spotted Flycatcher was reported the same day by visitor, Jane Fairweather. Broad-bodied Chaser, Bracken Sawfly, Bishop’s Mitre Shieldbug, and the micro-moth, Meadow Long-horn all put in an appearance on schedule during the second week of May. A single Spoonbill headed east (May 16), a Broad-bordered Bee Hawkmoth was seen (May 18) and a Hobby was reported (May 19 & 20). Other highlights included a migrant dragonfly, a male Red-veined Darter (May 23), an overflying Greenshank, juvenile Grass Snake and a Mother Shipton moth (May 25). A calling Cuckoo was reported by Cherry Farrow in the evening (May 26) and at the end of the month a moth trap was ran and 30 species were identified. May had a glorious run of hot sunny weather, unfortunately the small pond began to dry out and a rescue of the majority of the tadpoles had to be undertaken to transfer them to the main pond. Within a couple of days of carrying out this transfer the heavens opened and the pond refilled!

Francis Farrow

Hon.Warden – Beeston Common SSI/SAC