Monday, 24 March 2014

Buckenham Marshes and UEA

It's been a while since I've had a moment to update my blog, what with all the exciting things that have been happening, so this may be a little long!

The Havergate Hares

Buckenham Marshes - 23rd March 2014

About a year ago today I decided I wanted to see brown hares in the wild because I really had never seen one before. One of my favourite characters in Alice in Wonderland has always been the Mad March Hare. We decided to go to Havergate Island in Suffolk, and we were not disappointed; although the hares were decidedly chilled out and seemed to have no inclination to entertain us by boxing.

I was inspired to try to see them again this year, so I checked out the best place to see them on the BBC Wildlife Magazine website ( Unfortunately, Havergate seems to have been hit badly by storms during the extreme weather this winter, so we decided to try somewhere closer to home, but still somewhere we hadn't been before. The RSPBs Buckenham Marshes seemed like the perfect place, only a stones throw away from one of usual local patches, Strumpshaw Fen, and seemingly full of wildlife (

Lapwing at Buckenham
The hares were nowhere to be seen this weekend, but I don't blame them. Whilst we were there, the weather turned from glorious sunshine to biting wind and torrential rain. We still saw some pretty amazing things though. Our first spot were the lapwings. I've always loved these birds since I spotted them for the first time at Cley a few years ago. Their tumbling display flights with alternate flashes of their black and white wings and beautiful bubbling calls, along with their usual pee-wit, are enchanting.

Little egret
Lapwings were not the only beautiful birds present at Buckenham though. I also saw my very first wigeon - and there were thousands of them. I have no idea how I have managed to not see these birds at all during the seven years I have lived in Norfolk. These little birds with their gorgeous auburn heads and their gold highlights are adorable. A snow white little egret also graced us with its presence, as did a number of shovelers, teal, shelduck, greylags, redshank, linnets, moorhen, coot, mute swans, a grey heron, a kestrel and a marsh harrier.

Wigeon at Buckenham

Mixed flock (or raft, as a group of ducks are apparently called on water) at Buckenham, mainly wigeon

A shoveler pair at Buckenham

Kestrel perching near the car park

Common linnet perching in the car park

The Broads at the University of East Anglia - 16th March 2014

I've gone from somewhere new to somewhere familiar with this post. I studied for my BSc Ecology degree at the University of East Anglia, and I have many fond memories of walking around the UEA 'lake' (really a part of the broads) and the surrounding woodland for bird spotting and bird ringing with the other ecologists. I also remember several of them being exasperated with me for not being able to tell the difference between the various warbler species by their song (... I still can't). Along with warblers, it was also where I spotted my first black caps and whitethroats.

On this visit, we didn't see any of the above, but it was a sunny spring day and there were butterflies and blossoms aplenty. Along with a chiff chaff singing his heart out, some robins and long tailed tits, great tits and chaffinches.

The broads at UEA

Small tortoiseshell

Blackthorn blossom

Willow catkins

Posing chaffinch
I feel that I would like to end this post with one of my favourite visitors to our bird feeders recently. I should also explain that the reason for my tardiness in writing this blog post is due to a rather busy week or two at work, including my TV debut on BBC Look East ( about this blog and my nature work at school. But that's a post for another day!

One of my favourites: one of four or so goldfinches regularly visiting our feeders

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Butterflies at Bacton Wood

Bacton Woods
What a beautiful day to visit the woods! The sun is shining, the birds are singing and it's a soaring 18 °C! As we were walking through the pine trees we could here crackling noises all around and above us, almost as though there were rain drops hitting the canopy. Eventually, after being hit by a couple of small seed-like things, we decided it must be the pine cones opening up in the heat and releasing their seeds. A very strange experience.

On the drive up we saw countless bright yellow butterflies in the fields, and there were even more around Bacton wood. I initially thought they were Brimstone butterflies, but on checking my i.d. guide, they shouldn't be on the wing until June. I am none the wiser as to what they could be, so if anyone has any ideas, please do comment below. This is the first time this year that I have seen butterflies, and they are just everywhere! Our mystery yellow butterflies being one species, but also Peacocks and Commas were flying and dancing all around us.
A couple of the bright yellow butterflies

We also saw our first bees of the year today as well; a few different species, but I am not sure what they were as they did some very fast fly-bys. I am convinced we also saw a bee-fly as well, from below it looked like a very large and chubby hoverfly, but it was too high up to get a proper look.
Peacock butterfly

Comma butterfly

Kestrel resting 
Bacton woods, although busy at the weekend with walkers and cyclists, is also a bit of a haven for birds. The trees are fairly diverse so it attracts a large range of species. Unfortunately, none of the birds we heard and saw would oblige us with a decent photo opportunity, and I confess that we heard more than we saw.

Barely 100 yards from the carpark, we heard and saw little yellow-green flashes in one of the young trees. There was a small group of siskins fluttering from branch to branch and across the path in front of us too. We also soon saw the cause of their distress. A kestrel flew over and landed not far from them in a tree, rested for a while, then took off, continuing his hunt.

Budding blossom
Once the siskins had settled and moved on, so did we. All around us, birds were calling and singing. We heard and saw blue tits, great tits, chaffinches... But we did not get far before hearing a very familiar song of chiff-chiff-chaff, chiff-chiff-chiff-chaff... Our first chiffchaff of the year! It feels like summer is here already.

An interesting tree in Bacton woods

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Rescuing Frogs!

Midweek Update

I had to rescue these two rather amorous common frogs the other day... They were erm... Mating on top of a speed hump (make any puns out of that if you wish...). I couldn't quite believe my eyes a I cycled passed, and had to go back and rescue them. I was just in time, a mini almost drove over them!

We also had an observatory training session last night in Reepham, unfortunately it was very cloudy so we didn't see any exciting objects. However, on walking back to the main school in the dark, I could hear the eerie hoots of tawny owls from the trees surrounding the school field.

In other news, the bird box on my lab now has feathers in it! Hopefully that means our blue tits are beginning nest making!

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Foxley Wood

Foxley wood is one of my favourite places to go in Norfolk. Slightly off the beaten track, it is never busy, even at weekends. In spring there are beautiful swathes of bluebells as far as the eye can see in some areas. At this time of year the flora is rather bare, but it is almost buzzing with signs that spring is around the corner.

As soon as we stepped out of the car, an enormous shadow passed overhead, and before I had chance to ready my camera, a buzzard lazily glided from side to side above us until he was too far away to see. For once, I was not appropriately dressed for the conditions. I have never seen the paths as wet and muddy as they were today, so off we went, with me slipping and sliding at every opportunity...

As soon as we were surrounded by woodland on all sides, the trees came to life with birdsong, mainly blue tits, great tits and robins, but there were a few I couldn't place.Looking up at the tree tops at all times, some movement caught our eye. It turned out to be a pair of redwings, the first I have seen all winter, and they will soon be heading back to Northern Europe to breed.

Roe deer track
Badger tracks
It turned out to be a blessing that the ground was so wet underfoot, my fiancĂ©’s keen eyes made out tracks below us as I kept my eyes trained on the tops of the trees. Before Christmas, I bought the 'RSPB Nature Tracker's Handbook' by Nick Baker, which I've been dying to try out. We found two distinct sets of tracks, one was definitely a deer, I think a Roe deer based on their shape and size. The other was something with five easily distinguishable toes, which we decided must be a badger. Thankfully, the wonderful people of iSpot ( agreed with us there!

There are certain areas of the wood that are regularly coppiced. This creates a rather alien and lunar-like landscape and I'm sure will generate some interesting biodiversity later in the year.

Hazel catkins
As we continued walking into the denser part of the woods, the damage done by the recent storms was very evident; twigs were strewn haphazardly across the floor and a number of entire trees had fallen across paths and into other trees. Hopefully with this amount of dead wood, the insect species diversity will be even better than usual...

On taking the last path that headed back to the carpark, I couldn't resist taking a photo of rather lovely looking catkins hanging from a small tree. At first, I was at a complete loss as to what they could be, but have now come realised that they must be hanging from a hazel tree.

In other news

At school this week, we have been keeping a close eye on activity in our bird box. The blue tits have certainly been visiting far more regularly; we have seen them in the afternoon in the box for the first time and they have been pecking at the entrance hole. Here is the diary that I and my tutor group have been keeping of their visits throughout the day.