Winter Notes from the Commons
The 2016-17 winter months (December, January and February) were again been pretty mild locally. Having visited Wheatfen (The Ted Ellis Trust reserve) last November and been shown the world’s largest aphid I was hoping to find it on the Common. After some searching of the Sallows some small colonies of the Large Willow Aphid were found (1st Dec ). These aphids have been something of a mystery for some time. They feed on the sap of the willows but surprisingly disappear from around the end of January for four months just as the sap is rising. For a long time it was not known where the aphids had gone but recent research suggests that they enter cracks and fissures in the trunk of the willows but why is still not known. While searching the trees for the aphids Kidney-spot Ladybirds were also found. A Woodcock was flushed from some scrub (2nd Dec) and a wintering Chiffchaff was found (4th Dec) by regular recorder, Mark Clements. An Otter ‘spraint’ was noted on a sleeper bridge by the Newt Pond (8th Dec), which may have been ‘deposited’ by a dog Otter noted by Peter Beard in November. Water Rails were heard calling from deep cover over a stream (11th Dec) and a flock of 24 Fieldfares and one Redwing were noted heading west (12th Dec). A Kingfisher became a frequent visitor to the Newt Pond from 17th Dec. With the weather being very mild prior to Christmas it was not surprising that some insects would be out and about but it was a little surprising to hear of two Adders noted on the central marsh (24th Dec) by Karen Moore. Mark spotted a Firecrest and a Chiffchaff (26th Dec) in the southern wooded area, also in this area a Snowdrop was found flowering (31st Dec) by Ellie Farrow.
January continued with the mild weather interspersed with some frosts. A few skiens of Pink-footed Geese were passing overhead (3rd Jan) and a Weasel was spotted around the pond by Mark. The Kingfisher returned (5th Jan) and a Chiffchaff was present (7th Jan) and a Common Frog was also seen. Another Chiffchaff was noted by Mark (12th Jan) and a Firecrest was seen to fly into willows on the Back Bog. For a few days from 16th Jan, contractors removed thick gorse and tree cover from two heathland areas, where with the increased light reaching the soil grasses and Ling should germinate as well as new Gorse to create a mosaic of habitats that should benefit a wide range of invertebrates that will in turn be good for other wildlife. By 17th Jan up to three Great-spotted Woodpeckers were heard ‘drumming’, which was a few days earlier than 2016. Following some strong winds a male Teal spent some time resting on and around the pond (22nd Dec). Another Firecrest along with Siskins and Redpolls were in the wooded area (23rd Jan). A sunny but cool day (3°C) followed (24th Jan) and some 1000+ Pink-footed Geese passed over east and in the afternoon a small Adder was found basking on a low gorse bush. A Little Egret passed over heading south (26th Jan). The Firecrest and Kingfisher were again noted (30th Jan) by Mark and a Common Snipe was spotted overflying the central marsh.
February proved to be a colder month with many mornings starting with a ground frost, although it was generally a drier month with some great sunny days. Plants were beginning to be seen with Stinking Hellebore and Spurge Laurel showing off their greenish flowers in the woodland areas of Sheringham Common. The Kingfisher was present at the pond (2nd Feb) and a Firecrest was noted by Mark to still be present in the south of the Common (5th Feb). A Weasel was again seen near the pond (11th Feb) by Mark and up to 20 Siskins were feeding on Alder seeds in the south-west corner. Honey Bees were visiting Gorse flowers (14th Feb) and Adders were seen basking (19th Feb) on Pill-box Hill, which is about 2 days later than last year although a Green Tiger Beetle noted by Mark was very early as they are not usually seen until the end of March/beginning of April. With continuing good weather Gorse Shieldbugs put in an appearance (21st Feb) as did a Small Tortoiseshell and Tree Bumblebee. Jane Fairweather reported two male Stonechats (22nd Feb), which stayed until the end of the month. This is the third year running that Stonechats have made an appearance on the Common although previously it has been in March. On 23rd Feb storm ‘Doris’ struck and blew over a fair number of trees including a large Japanese Elm near Caxton Park. The tree came down between two bungalows without causing too much damage although it did wreck a summerhouse. As far as the Common is concerned the loss of this tree may mean the loss of the White-letter Hairstreak. This butterfly’s caterpillars feed only on Elm-type trees and suffered badly when Dutch Elm disease killed many English Elms. It has remarkably managed to survive using sucker Elms and moving across to the disease resistant hybrid Japanese Elms. We will have to wait and see if the butterfly has moved to any of the sucker Elms around the Common. The beautiful spring fungus Scarlet Elf-cup was found (25th Feb) for the first time on the Common, although confirmation is still waiting as it could be the closely related Ruby Elf-cup. The first Common Frogs were noted in the small pond (26th Feb) but no spawn was seen and a Dotted Boarder moth was noted (28th Feb) by Mark near the layby.
At the moment it is an uncertain year with some wildlife showing early signs and others coming out later. As usual nowadays we must watch and wait as things happen differently in this changing world.