Thursday, 31 March 2016

The Ovington Ramblers: Sparham Pools

Maureen Simmons

Continuing our mission to visit every NWT site this year, this week we went to Sparham Pools, former gravel pits near Lyng.

the bridge
Although there is a small car park at the site, we decided to leave the car near the popular Fox public house and walk the last quarter-mile to the lakes. This way we could see the beautiful ancient bridge over the river Wensum, which today was rushing and roaring after the recent heavy rains – nature showing her wild strength.

Sparham pools
Arriving at Sparham Pools we were greeted with a cacophony of bird song and the honking and clacking of wild geese. We also heard our first chiff chaff of spring.

The “pools” are actually vast lakes, but there is a well marked pathway all the way round, much of which is on higher ground providing excellent views across the water.  On the lakes we saw Canadian and greylag geese, swans, coots and a lone great crested grebe. Such a shame there was only one grebe – it would have been a special treat to watch their unique courtship display.

Marsh marigold
As always, there was plenty of gorse in flower and the honey suckle was stirring among the leafless branches of shrubs and trees. The flag irises were shooting up in the shallow water at the edge of the pools and we saw a beautiful clump of marsh marigolds reflecting their bright yellow flowers in the water. Although the marigold blooms from March to June, it is also known as mayflower – the name of the ship that carried the Pilgrim fathers to America.

This is truly a lovely part of Norfolk and well worth a visit. You never know – the great crested grebe may have found a mate!

The Ovington Ramblers are a small group of friends who have decided in their 20th year of walking together that we will try to visit all the Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserves in their 90th Anniversary year.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

The Ovington Ramblers: Narborough Railway Line

Maureen Simmons

Our chosen walk this week was along the disused railway line at Narborough. As we left the car park we met the gate warden who gave us information about the reserve and also told us about the five bovine custodians who'd been carrying out reserve management and recently left for pastures new. It was such a lovely morning with brilliant sunshine and we had an excellent view from the top of the embankment across the surrounding countryside. It really was magical because we were above the height of the multitude of birch and hazel trees on either side. We heard many birds including robins, great tits and pheasants as well as a green woodpecker.

Gorse bushes were in full bloom but couldn't match the brilliance of a patch of coltsfoot about 6ft x 3ft, all flowers turned towards the sun. We also saw our first butterfly of the year - a Brimstone. Before long the embankment reduced and we were walking on the same level as nearby fields where we spotted 3 hares in total. How they could run! They really are the Usain Bolts of the local animal population. The trees changed from birch and hazel to blackthorn ,mini oaks and even an apple tree bearing several mummified apple corpses from a previous season. We wondered if this had been generated from a core thrown out of a train window many years ago. At the end of the path we retraced our steps and on our return to the car park saw two buzzards circling overhead. One suddenly dived and we assumed he was in luck for an early lunch.

It was a fitting end to a brilliant walk and we can only imagine what it must be like later in the season when things for which the reserve is renowned appear.

 The Ovington Ramblers are a small group of friends who have decided in their 20th year of walking together that we will try to visit all the Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserves in their 90th Anniversary year.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

The Ovington Ramblers: New Buckenham Common

Maureen Simmons

Today our chosen walk was at New Buckenham Common. We approached the Common by the side of a row of Horse Chestnut trees a few of which had shed the sticky portion of their buds and chunky, green, neatly folded leaves were beginning to emerge indicating Spring to be around the corner even if the temperature didn't indicate the same.

The terrain of the Common was interesting with undulating hillocks and dips - almost looked like a BMX track! We soon came to a boggy area with many small ponds. After excessive rain of recent days we wondered if this might be the reason for their presence and if many might dry out at other times of the year. We couldn't spot any frog spawn but then it could possibly be too early and temperatures not high enough. We did see some valiant buttercups in full bloom plus a very cheery bank of yellow gorse. The thickets of bramble/gorse and hawthorn seemed to be harbouring many birds - we could hear great tits with their bicycle pump impressions. It looked a very protected area for nesting and judging by the noise, lots of birds had made it their choice of des.res. for that purpose.

We walked by the large mere and noted alder trees with their richly coloured catkins growing by the side of the water .We crossed over a swiftly flowing stream and saw ferny looking foliage floating in the water like green feathers - could this be the notorious parrot feather weed or was it something quite innocent? The end of our circular walk took us over quite flat but still wet ground and then we saw our bonus for the day - a large barn owl flying close to the ground. A wonderful sight!

This was definitely a place to return to later in the year especially to see the orchids for which the area is known.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Warden's Diary: Hungry Caterpillars of Weeting Heath

Sophie Harrison, Summer Warden at Weeting

Welcome back to Weeting Heath for which I hope will be a very successful season! For the second year running, NWT Weeting Heath is involved with Breaking New Ground projects. Last season (as part of Wings over the Brecks), Sock Cam enabled us to capture the unique behaviour from our two Godwin chicks, parented by our most experienced birds Cynthia and Hue. This season, with the support of the project, we are introducing a second solar powered camera with a zoom lens. This will enhance our film footage quality, to give us a close up view of a variety of stone curlew behaviour. Stone curlews are very nest faithful and return to the same nesting spot (give or take a couple of metres) every year. Fingers crossed they will make the return journey back from Morocco to breed here again this season.

Weeting Heath is also home to the Lunar Yellow Underwing moth (Noctua orbona). This nocturnal species is recognised by its central crescent and yellow hindwings.  Now confined to the Brecks and a couple of small holdings on the Salisbury plains, it is now a rare moth to find! It is a great habitat quality indicator and requires calcareous sites with patches of well-drained soil, bare ground and tufts of grass. This makes Weeting Heath an ideal habitat for it to thrive.

This year Breaking New Ground (BNG) are holding a series of events across the Brecks. One Thursday evening on 4 February, BNG in partnership with Butterfly Conservation (BC) ran a Lunar Yellow Underwing caterpillar event at Weeting Heath.  Sharon Hearle and Sam Neal delivered an interesting talk about the caterpillars and then it was off to the heath to hunt them down! With torches in hand we went across the heath to see what we could find! Lunar Yellow Underwing caterpillars have a long larva life cycle from November to March, which is also reflected in their long flight period from July to September. By February, the caterpillars are significantly larger (and easier to spot) than if you went caterpillar hunting in November. Optimum temperatures for caterpillar hunting is ideally above 4-5 degrees.

Photo by Matt Blissett

In the Brecks, these hungry caterpillars prefer to feed on sheep fescue, wavy hair grass and brown bent. Avoiding the rabbit holes, we searched the tops of these grasses where they like to perch. However, these caterpillars can be easily confused with Square Spot Rustics, which are nearly identical in colouration. The key difference is that the Lunar Yellow Underwing (LYU) has a curled upright posture, and a chocolate brown underside, whereas the Square Spot Rustic lacks this colouration and is a lot paler. Matthew Blissett our new Breckland Reserves Manager managed to capture the hungry (LYU) caterpillars on camera in their larval stage

However, some of us found all sorts of creepy crawlies hanging out on the tufts of grass that clearly weren’t caterpillars...

Photo by Matt Blissett

This variety of invertebrates provides an excellent food source for our stone curlews!

For more information on other exciting Breaking New Ground events and projects follow this link.

For more information on the important work of Butterfly Conservation go to:

Last season, Terry and Teresa the treecreepers fledged all five chicks from behind the NWT sign on the front of the visitor centre. Both our firecrests and spotted flycatchers also bred successfully in the pines last year. Hopefully they will return again this season. Come and see if you can spot our nuthatches and great spotted woodpecker returning to nest down by the woodland hide. You may be lucky and may even discover a grass snake hiding under one of our reptile tins!

Flocks of lapwing have already started to congregate on the heath, and skylarks have been seen hovering to display and mark their territory. Weeting also hosts a fantastic range of fungi. Down the path to the Woodland Hide, fruiting bodies of Earth Star fungi (Astraeus hygrometricus) have started to develop.

Photo by Sophie Harrison
Earth Star fungi are puff ball lookalikes in their earlier stages. As they grow and the fruiting body develops, the outer tissue of the ball splits to form a star shape, giving them their name. This fungus requires light sandy soils, making Weeting an ideal habitat for it to grow.

Weeting Heath reopens this season on Easter Weekend on Friday 25 March. Come and visit to see what wildlife you can find, and join in with our Easter activities to celebrate the 90th Anniversary of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust!

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Tour of Rosary Cemetery with NWT volunteers

 Angela Collins, Volunteer Coordinator

Photo by Elizabeth Dack
This weekend I was pleased to meet some of our education and event volunteers who had joined together with staff to learn more about what is happening in the Trust in 2016. This is a lovely opportunity for volunteers to meet each other, and staff to offer their thanks for their support. They have all helped, or will be helping at numerous family and school events on our reserves and at public events such as the Norfolk Show and Wild about Norfolk. We would not be able to reach so many people without their enthusiastic support. 

Our meeting started in Bewick House where Annabel Hill, our Senior Education Officer, discussed some of the activities coming up as part of our 90th birthday celebrations this year. Including the exciting two weeks that Norfolk Wildlife Trust will be celebrating in the centre of Norwich, with wonderful displays and activities in the Forum form Saturday 21 May to Sunday 5 June. 

Gemma Walker then talked about her exciting new Norfolk County Wildlife Action project, which is running for two years and will get lots of new people out surveying their local wildlife areas. This is a big project to work with local communities on 100 churchyards and County Wildlife Sites across Norfolk. Encouraging communities to visit, enjoy and learn about the wildlife on their local sites, with more people getting involved in wildlife surveying. 

Winter flowering heliotrope, photo by Elizabeth Dack
We then headed to nearby Rosary Cemetery. This is an oasis of peace and calm so close to the city centre, that most people are completely unaware of. The lower half of the cemetery is a County Wildlife Site, and an important refuge and stepping stone for local wildlife. Roger Jones, who is a valuable NWT volunteer and part of the local community team that help looks after the cemetery, kindly, gave us all a guided tour. The cemetery is highly regarded for its spring flowering plants, and even though the weather was grey and wet, perhaps not the best day for a visit, there was a still a remarkable number of plants on show. Primroses and crocus were abundant, and we could see where meadow saxifrage and wood sorrel were beginning to emerge. There was also lots of winter flowering heliotrope, Roger advised that over recent years this plant was becoming quite invasive in the cemetery.  Roger was able to point out a lot of local memorial stones and mausoleums for famous Norwich residents, and discuss how the site is managed. There is some frustration with contractors using brushcutters, and it was disheartening to see where a large swathe of bulbs had been swiped with all their heads cut off. This is something which is being looked into with the help of NWT. It was however great to see standing dead wood, with evidence that this was being visited by woodpeckers. We also heard goldcrest and nuthatch, and saw barren strawberry, wood sedge & celandine.

Jelly Fungus by Elizabeth Dack
We were surprised to see what looked like frog’s spawn lying in the middle of the path, we are still awaiting a formal identification but it is in fact a type of jelly fungus. 

Rosary Cemetery is well worth a visit, particularly in the spring.  Many thanks to Roger for such an interesting tour, and many many thanks to all the volunteers who support our work in so many ways. 
If you are interested in volunteering or getting involved in County Wildlife Action please contact me on