Beeston & Sheringham Commons                                              sssi/sac Purple Emperor Sand Wasp with caterpillar

Summer Notes from the Commons

What a summer 2018 has been, especially after the very cold spring. The months of June, July and August have been the equal of the long hot summer of 1976. At one point the Sheringham area had not had a drop of rain for over six weeks. Such ‘drought’ conditions can affect wildlife in different ways, however, Beeston Common was an oasis as its streams continued to run and for the most part the wildflowers and insects flourished. Mark Clements and I have been out and about most days recording the rich biodiversity of the Commons and a selection of our observations follow.

With un-ending sunny days and high temperatures the Adders and Grass Snakes were out early to bask  (1 June ), however, a dead Adder was found (3 June ), which attracted the attention of numerous carrion beetles, including the Red-breasted Carrion Beetle. Another beetle seen on the heath that day was the fast moving Green Tiger Beetle, a voracious hunter of invertebrates. A Reed Warbler was singing in the central marsh reed bed and a Roe Deer was seen grazing by the side of the marsh. Mark reported a Garden Warbler (5 June), a species that is becoming scarce and that has not bred on the Common in recent years. He also noted Marsh Pug and the striking red and black Cinnabar Moth. Common Blue and Small Copper butterflies were beginning to be seen and a late Orange tip was spotted by Mark still ‘on the wing’ (6 June). A Red Kite was observed by Mark overfling the Common (8 June) and the following day (9 June) John Furse reported an overflying Tree Pipit. The first Large Skipper butterfly appeared on the central marsh (11 June), spotted by Mark as was the distinctive black and yellow striped Wasp Beetle. Keeled Skimmer dragonflies were very common in the marshes (14 June) and a Lesser Whitethroat was noted as well as Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars. A family party of six Mediterranean Gulls flew over (17 June), which was unfortunately missed by the Aldborough Wildlife Group which had just finished a guided walk that morning. They did, however, see one of the largest female Grass Snakes that has ever been seen on the Common. A Bee Orchid was also noted. The first of the true summer butterflies, a Meadow Brown was seen (19 June) as were the first flowing Marsh Helleborine and Marsh Fragrant Orchids. A Roe Deer and an overflying Curlew, a bird which again is not seen in the numbers or frequency of past years were noted along with the increasingly observed Hornet Hoverfly (22 June). The yellow and black striped caterpillars of the Cinnabar Moth and a Fox cub were noted by Mark (24 June) along with a large soldierfly known as the Banded General. Two Red Kites were observed by Mark passing at separate times over the Common (26 June) and he also spotted a rare white variety of the Marsh Helleborine a couple of days later (28 June). The following day (29 June) Mark saw another Red Kite and three Common Buzzards overflying to finish the month off in style.

Essex and Small Skipper butterflies were noted by Mark (1 July) as well as the large Brown Hawker dragonfly with its distinctive bronze wings. An Emerald Damselfly was also spotted on the small pond near Caxton Park. The first Purple Hairstreaks were present at the top of the Oak trees (4 July). These butterflies often go unnoticed by many people as they spend a considerable amount of their time in the canopy of an Oak or sometimes an Ash where they feed on ’honey dew’. The only descend to flowers occasionally and then usually as they get older. The following day (5 July) Mark found a small colony of White-letter Hairstreaks. This is a butterfly of similar habits to its cousin the Purple Hairstreak although it requires Wych Elm or an Elm variety instead of Oak. In 2017 Storm ‘Doris’ destroyed the Japanese hybrid Elm that had been home to these butterflies so it was thought that the colony was lost. A White Admiral butterfly was also spotted. A Red Kite was seen heading east over the Common (7 July) and an Emperor Dragonfly was also noted. The Norfolk Branch of Butterfly Conservation visited (14 July) and although a somewhat cloudy day some 17 species of butterfly were seen including a number of Silver-washed Fritillaries. Two Adders were also noted. Another Red Kite passed over heading west (18 July) and a number of Tunnel-web Spiders were noted. A Brown-footed Leaf-cutter Bee was seen visiting some flowers (20 July) and the next day (21 July) Mark saw two Brown Argus butterflies, the last of the small summer species to appear. A winged form of Roesel’s Bush Cricket was present (23 July), which is not that common. An even rarer sighting occurred the following day (24 July) when Mark spotted a female Purple Emperor in some Sallows. This is the second year running that this butterfly has turned up on the Common. A second individual was seen two days later (26 July) and a further two sightings occurred the following day (27 July). It is more than likely that the Purple Emperors are breeding in the area, which would be the first time in Norfolk since the 1970s. More Silver-washed Fritillaries were also seen, which is another butterfly that has returned to Norfolk after a 40 year absence. A total of 25 butterfly species were seen during July. Also spotted was the large day-flying Oak Egger moth and there were also sightings of both Adder and Grass Snake.

The resident pair of Moorhens was seen with four young (2 August), which was good news as they had lost an earlier clutch of eggs to a predator, possibly a Carrion Crow. Butterflies were still very much in evidence with Brimstone, Peacock and Painted Lady putting in an appearance during the first week of August. A Banded Demoiselle was spotted (6 August) and Mark found a Speckled Bush-cricket (11 August). The Norfolk Wildlife Trust held the first of two workshops (12 August) for their Commons project where participants were introduced to butterfly identification and 13 species were found. Four Adders and a Grass Snake were also seen. Phasia hemiptera, a parasitic fly that attacks Shieldbugs was present (14 August). Lesser Whitethroat and Willow Warbler were seen by Mark (15 August) and these were probably non-breeding birds from northern areas that were already on their migration to Africa. Similarly a Spotted Flycatcher was seen a few days later (16 August) and there was an increase in young Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers. The NWT returned (18 August) to run a workshop on Bumblebee identification, unfortunately it was quite a dull day and not many species were found. Another Lesser Whitethroat turned up (21 August) and Mark also had a flock of 35 Swallows heading east over the Common. A Greenshank, calling with its distinctive triple note, passed over heading west and the first Ivy Bee of the year was seen. A Sand Wasp that catches moth caterpillars and paralyses them before burying them in a burrow as a food source for its larvae was watched for 20 minutes carrying out its gruesome deed (25 August).  A returning migrant Garden Warbler was noted by Mark (26 August) as was a flock of 26 Cormorants heading west. An unusual sighting of two Crossbills was made by Mark (28 August) as they passed west over the Common. More migrants were noted later in the week (30 August) with a Redstart and Garden Warbler observed feeding on Elder berries and Mark spotting a Whimbrel overflying west. As the month drew to a close (31 August) Mark found a new moth for the Common – Maiden’s Blush.

It look like the first part of the autumn could be in the main quite calm but as always UK weather is changeable and if Atlantic winds come our way then it could be a bit breezy.


Spotted Flycatcher