Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Three heaths and three new vertebrates

24th July

Heath No.1: Dersingham Bog

This was an early-morning shimmy in the hope of seeing a tree pipit. I can't believe I've got this far through 2012 and not seen a tree pipit; but with the weather we've had and all the travelling I've done it's understandable. After my visit this morning, I still haven't seen a tree pipit but in such a beautiful place, and with so many other glorious creatures to see, who cares?

In the thump of summer sunshine the grasshoppers have finally begun to sing. All along the paths were the long percussive trills of the common green grasshopper and the soft oft-repeated buzz of the mottled grasshopper (a personal favourite). In the bog, bog asphodel (good name) was in flower, the exact colour of the yolk in a hard-boiled egg. Coal tits were gossipping in the pines and overhead bounded both a green woodpecker and a great spotted.

Well done to Natural England for the work they've been doing to restore this beautiful place.

Heath No. 2: NWT Roydon Common

You can't talk heaths in Norfolk without talking Roydon. Big, wild, and wondrous it's among the most significant heathland sites in East Anglia. I was supposed to be leading a wildflower walk for Norfolk Wildlife Trust but true to form I veered off into all sorts of other subjects. If only nature weren't so fascinating.

To my credit, I did talk wildflowers. The car park was bright with common ragwort, common stork's-bill, dove's-foot crane's-bill, hare's-foot clover and hop trefoil. In the shady birch-wood leading to the heath were rough chervil and upright hedge parsley (I'm a sucker for obscure Apiaceae) and on the heath were acres and acres of common heather, diligently grazed by our glossy herd of Dartmoor ponies, the best reserve wardens a heath could hope for.

Through the centre of the heath the valley mire was ablaze with more flowers of bog asphodel, but there were numberless other delights at Roydon too. In the car park I heard my first meadow grasshoppers and Roesel's bush-crickets of the year, plus field and mottled grasshoppers. One day I hope to find or foster a kindred soul who gets as excited about Orthoptera as I do. Odonata, though, are accessible to everyone, especially the big, bright ones; and none is bigger or brighter than the emperor dragonfly. One zig-zagged over a pond (stonechats and cross-leaved heath here too) while another quartered the heather, plucking midges from the limitless blue sky. By the tea-dark pond we also saw common emerald damselflies, a four-spotted chaser and common darters. There were Lepidoptera too: small coppers, gatekeepers, meadow browns, ringlets and an Essex skipper. Summer at last.

As we reached the car park a voice piped up: Is that a grass snake? It was an adder, my first of the year and a beauty.

Heath No. 3: Kelling Heath

The dragonfly theme continued here. Around the wildlife pond were large red, common blue, blue-tailed and small red-eyed damsels, while in the water were legions of three-spined sticklebacks and many other things to keep young pond-dipping minds happy. The honeysuckled woods about the ponds were bright with crisp white admirals, a rarity when I was a child here and special still.

In the evening, on my first nightjar walk of the season, we heard a singing male of the eponymous nightbird and saw a female sway past us, metres away in the gloaming, on her slender, continent-crossing wings. As we walked back from the heath common pipistrelles juddered on my bat detector and wove through the tops of the birches and pines.

What happiness there is to be had on heaths.

When the bees’ feet shake the bells of the heather, and the ruddy strings of the sap-stealing dodder are twined about the green spikes of the furze, it is summertime on the commons.

Henry Williamson
Tarka the Otter

Act One, scene i, Gonzalo:

Now I would give a thousand furlongs of sea for an acre of barren ground, long heath, brown furze, any thing.

William Shakespeare
The Tempest

New on Norfolk’s sunny heaths today


common pipistrelle
Pipistrellus pipistrellus


European nightjar
Caprimulgus europaeus


Vipera berus

2012 Totals

Mammals: 80
Birds: 845
Reptiles: 20
Amphibians: 7
Fish: 6

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