Monday, 9 July 2012

Since last we spoke

1)    On Saturday morning – briefly and unwontedly – I saw a sky-blue-sky. Westwards as I drove, I came upon a flowering flax-field on a hill and for a moment it seemed as though the blue had come to earth to ask forgiveness for its absence.

2)    I was driving west to King’s Lynn to teach a workshop on grasshoppers and bush-crickets for Norfolk Wildlife Trust. Of all the workshops I teach in the UK, this one on Orthoptera (sometimes taught with my good friend DTH) is the most fun. Orthoptera are cute, Orthoptera are ignored by most naturalists (so you always sound really clever if you know them), there are manageably few species of them, and – best of all – most of them make identifiable noises; so if you’re a birder, accustomed to finding or surveying birds by sound, they’re a slam dunk. (Did the basketball reference there make me sound like a hip orthopterist?) We had a great time on our workshop and, despite a diluvian burst of rain and the fact that ‘hoppers are all weeks behind schedule, thanks to this dreadful summer, we saw early instars of three species: dark bush-cricket, lesser marsh grasshopper and a conehead (by habitat – coastal grasses – most likely short-winged but with such youngsters it’s impossible to be sure).

3)    Yesterday the grasshopper warbler was still singing outside my house.

4)    As I drove to the Brecks this morning, I saw, for the first time this year, some of nature's startling colours, intensified by the tin-grey sky: the mulled-wine blooms of musk thistle; the not-green-not-yellow umbels of wild parsnip; the lent-from-heaven blue of viper’s bugloss; and the joyful scarlet of common poppy.

5)    I pulled in at NWT Weeting Heath to see whether I could spot a stone curlew. These wonderful weirdos are often tricky to find but, opening the slats of the hide, I saw ten gathered before me on the bunny-scuffed breck. Superb! (A note on taxonomy: earlier in the year I saw Indian stone curlews in, well, India. These used to be considered the same species as ours but are now generally regarded as a beast in their own right. So 842 birds for the year.)

6)    I’d agreed to meet Beth, from Discovery Quest, in the car park of the RSPB’s heartening Lakenheath Fen reserve for another day of work on the DQ workbook. All around the car park cinnabar caterpillars clung to ragwort clumps and both dove’s-foot cranesbill and common stork’s-bill flowered in profusion. The trails were lined with massive frothy stands of hemlock and everywhere, like gastropod garnet and amber, were brown-lipped banded snails. As I pointed to a poplar wood, explaining to Beth that this was among the only nesting sites in the UK for golden orioles, I saw a dazzling yellow and black bird. A male! He was closely followed by his female. With juvenile marsh harriers all around (the exact colour of Green and Black’s 85% cocoa chocolate), and a Cetti's warbler plinking cheerily, we were thoroughly delighted. Here too were cuckoos, a hobby, mating blue-tailed damselflies, a female banded demoiselle and lovely lurid spikes of purple loosestrife.

7)  In the afternoon we walked nearby at NWT East Wretham Heath. Two little owls swooped across our path, setting the long-tailed tits trilling in alarm. Small heath butterflies – my first of 2012 – fidgeted over the closely-cropped sward and mild blue bugloss flowered.

8)    At Lakenheath I spied a tiny whitish legume which I didn’t know. Never one to leave a weed unknown, I resolved to look it up. On reaching home I grabbed my flora, which fell open – mirabile dictu – at the requisite page. Page 219 of 544. The plant was rough clover Trifolium scabrum, described as mostly coastal but present in the East Anglian Brecklands (I can vouch for the latter). Last year at Lakenheath I found bur medick for the first time, so it’s clearly a great site for obscure Breckland legumes (I know, I know: I really ought to get out more).

New in the Brecks today


stone curlew
Burhinus oedicnemus
golden oriole
Oriolus oriolus

2012 Totals
Mammals: 79
Birds: 843
Reptiles: 19
Amphibians: 6
Fish: 6


  1. A friend shared your blog with me. What a delight. You might be interested in taking a look at Earthlines magazine. This is what the editors say: EarthLines springs from a way of life that is rooted in the natural world and in the wild: it is created and published by independent publisher Two Ravens Press, from our working croft on the remote far western coast of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. Our focus is on a broad interdisciplinary approach to literature which explores the relationship between people and the natural world, and encourages reconnection.

  2. Thank you very much for bringing it to my attention. It looks fascinating and lovely. I shall enjoy following its progress.