The Norfolk Wing

Page 1

The Norfolk Wing

The Online Magazine of Wildlife Tours & Education


Front cover: Humpback Whale, The Sugar Bowl, Bay of Fundy. Back Cover: Red Backed Shrike, Lowestoft, Suffolk.

Contents pages: Black headed Gull, Ring Ouzel, Chinese Water Deer, Snow Bunting, Adder and Guillemot.

All photographs unless otherwise stated are copywrite owned by Wildlife Tours & Education and may not be copied in part or in full without the owners permission in writing.


The Enigmatic Ring Ouzel: A close look at this migrant thrush that visits Norfolk twice each year. PAGE 5 ---------------------------------------

Crex Crex: A brief look at the most crepuscular of species. The Corncrake PAGE 23 ---------------------------------------

Everybody loves a Puffin: A look at what is now a red data species. PAGE 41 ---------------------------------------


So why so many Sperm Whale strandings?: Norfolk had two strandings in early 2016 – the rest of the UK and Europe had a further 28. Why? PAGE 13 ---------------------------------------

Really? … Humpback Whales off the UK?: A look at British Humpback Whale occurrence's PAGE 31 ---------------------------------------



Stars in the sand: Tony Leech takes us for a walk in Norfolk’s Dunes PAGE 45 -------------------------------------------

Reptiles & Insects:

The Emperor: Some of the facts surrounding Purple Emperors. PAGE 9 ---------------------------------------

Why are so many people repulsed by Adders? Discussion around when they can be found in Norfolk PAGE 19 ---------------------------------------

The Norfolk Hawker: A brief look at one of our less well-known Norfolk insects. PAGE 39 ---------------------------------------


Suffolk Orchids: A look at some of the orchids in Suffolk PAGE 25 ---------------------------------------

Wales and its wildlife: A wildlife weekend in Wales. What to expect PAGE 35 ---------------------------------------

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Wildlife Tours and Education is now entering its sixteenth year.

It was way back in 2008 when the germ of an idea started to grow. Even as a boy I had wanted to run my own business; the opportunity came along and I grabbed it with both hands. It appeared everyone was running birding tours in Norfolk but there was definitely a gap in the market to run wildlife tours for small groups. I started the ‘Norfolk Safari’ and it wasn’t long before visitors were wanting more. ‘Norfolk Birding Days’ developed as did ‘Wildlife Photography Days’.

Customers returned asking me to take them beyond Norfolk to different parts of the UK. I duly obliged. Scotland, Wales, Northumberland, Yorkshire and Cornwall were, and still are, on the agenda.

All that wildlife to choose from but the best bit for me has to be the people. Eager for knowledge, experience and sightings. Those returning customers that keep on coming to enjoy it all. Thank you for making it all possible.


There’s just something about Ring Ouzels. Something I just can’t put my finger on.

We usually see them on our tour to central Scotland each April. This is their summer home. Mountains and deep heather clad gullies is where you will find this, the so called ‘Mountain Blackbird’; a name often used but so inapt. This bird is much more than that. The ringing song is piercing and loud. Maybe to be heard above the rushing burns and tumbling waterfalls. Despite this they are discrete. A very shy bird indeed. However, it is on migration when they pass through Norfolk they are perhaps more easily observed. Here at West Runton is one of the best places in the county where they can be seen. Twice a year irregular numbers come chattering their way across the fields to spend some time in the fields here on Water Lane. Sometimes they move straight through. If we are lucky they stay a while. It is only then that the true beauty of these large thrushes can be appreciated. The flight feather edges guild the wings in silver. The sparkling white gorget of the male always give the impression it’s dressed for dinner. It is however the tiny white feather edges on the body that do it for me. The whole bird is covered in subtle white crescents and hatching.

So much more than a Mountain Blackbird.

The enigmatic Ring Ousel 5
Ring Ousels: Photographed in Norfolk

If you think a butterfly could never be regal; think again.

The Purple Emperor (Apatura Iris) or more colloquially ‘The Iris’ is probably our most beautiful butterfly.

Cloaked in a sometimes-imperceptible satin purple and finished with a regal eye-spot this butterfly has disappeared from its former range and only survives in a few central and southern woodlands. You would think something so bright with a wingspan of over 8cms would be easily found well there are two restricting factors. Firstly, the weather plays such an important part in the date of the emergence there’s no guarantee that The Iris will occur when expected. Secondly their domain is the very top of trees; out of reach … out of sight. Only occasionally do they come to the ground to take salts. That’s the best chance to see them.

The most enigmatic of butterflies but the wait is worth it.

The Emperor
Purple Emperor: Photographed on our Purple Emperor Day

The truth is we will never know

the answer to why so many Sperm Whales stranded in the North Sea in early 2016; around 30 in all. Perhaps they just took the wrong course or followed a pod of squid down from the high arctic. We don’t know … but we do know many things about these enigmatic animals.

Watching Sperm Whales is wonderful, but it has to be said they are not the showiest animals in the world. They lack the display qualities of other whales such as Humpbacks; not often breaching and rarely approach boats. Spending a relatively short amount of time on the surface they are difficult to observe. However; they are without doubt one of the most fascinating animals on the planet; superbly adapted to their environment.

Sperm Whales regularly dive to great depths. A 2-kilometre dive is commonplace. An animal that can hold its breath for up to 90 minutes and cope with pressures as great as 200 atmospheres has to have some wondrous physiological adaptions; and indeed, the Sperm Whale has.

The head of the animal takes up around a third of the body length. Much of it is filled with Spermaceti oil; the fineness of which was so desired by the whalers of old. This oil rapidly turns solid when it cools, it therefore gets denser. The Sperm Whale is able to pump sea water up through the Spermaceti sack to cool it before each dive and therefore make the nose end of the

whale denser. This enables it to sink without expending as much energy and thereby use less oxygen.

The blood inside these deep divers contains a specially adapted myoglobin enabling it to carry more oxygen. A network of blood vessels around the spine enable it to store more blood. All adaptions to ensure the animal has more time at depth to feed on its favourite prey item; squid.

In the depths beyond a few hundred meters there is no light. Listening from the surface with a hydrophone it’s possible to hear the ‘click… click… click’ produced by the animal pushing air through a set of lips in the animal's ‘nose’. These lips were nicknamed ‘Monkey-lips’ by whalers due to their resemblance to … you guessed it, the lips or muzzle of a monkey. These click are loud. It is the loudest sound produced by any animal. Woe betide any diver that is ‘clicked’ by a Sperm Whale. Any prey item detected by this sonar would undoubtedly be debilitated long before the sperm whale reached it. The Spermaceti organ also acts as a lens focusing these sound pulses to home in on prey. Even the skull shape is designed to act as a reflective dish for sound emissions.

The thick blubber of a Sperm Whale protects it from the inevitable cold at depth. The temperature at a 2km depth is around 4 degrees centigrade. This can be a 20-degree difference to the surface temperature.

All these adaptions, even before we start talking about the size of internal organs like the heart, the largest of any animal, make Sperm Whales my firm favourite.

why so many Sperm Whale strandings?
The first Sperm Whale to be stranded at Hunstanton in Norfolk

Above: Hunstanton: Without doubt the enigma of a Sperm Whale stranding generates much interest

Below: Hunstanton: The Cetacean stranding Investigation Programme (CSIP) Team attend the second of the two Sperm Whale strandings in Norfolk during January 2016

Large Bull Sperm Whale upending before entering the deeps off Pico in the Azores
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Why are so many people repulsed by Adders?

Count me out … I’m not!

However, so many people are.

We come across Adders in early spring on our Norfolk Safari’s. Our only poisonous snake and the most northerly occurring reptile. An early morning and bright conditions are required to see them.

It doesn’t have to be hot. I’ve even seen them out when snow is still on the ground in February. As long as it’s bright and there’s a small sheltered area aside one of the heaths where they can bask and warm-up they will be there, but they can sometimes take some finding; they are masters of camouflage.

You don’t even have to be quiet, just gentle where you tread. They pick up vibrations through the ground and will slither away at the first heavy footstep, if they sense you nearby.

If we are really lucky, we will see the males ‘dancing’; fighting for the privilege of mating with a nearby, much browner coloured, female.

Adders, males and female photographed in Norfolk with two males ‘dancing’

Never has a Latin name befitted a bird so well.

The repetitive crex crex call uttered loudly and frequently continuously through late spring nights has been known to drive western isles crofters almost to insanity. We have visited Mull in May during previous years One of the many reasons for that tour was to see this African migrant on its breeding grounds amid the small crofting fields on the island.

Any earlier in May than our visit and they haven’t arrived; any later and the vegetation will have grown so high as to hide these very elusive crepuscular creatures.

Yes, they are indeed the most elusive of birds. To see one at all is a blessing. I have spoken with individuals who have lived with the croaking call all their lives but never yet seen a Corncrake!

These birds now breed in East Anglia, so it is possible to see them without a visit North.

Crex Crex

A few more can be found in Suffolk..

The thing about orchids is some are distinctive and easy to identify; like Birds Nest or Lizard Orchid. Others like Pugsley’s Orchid are a little bit more difficult. Whatever, they are and regardless of their difficulty to identify they are without doubt all beautiful.

Opposite: Pyramidal Orchid

Following pages: Bee Orchid, Frog Orchid, Southern Marsh Orchid and Lizard Orchid

Suffolk Orchids
Of the 50 or more orchids that are found within the UK, 20 or so species can be found in Norfolk.

There have always been

Humpback Whales visiting the waters around

the UK

but it is not until recently they have become expected. Looking at all the reported sightings around Great Britain each year the exact figure is difficult to quantify because of some obvious duplication that no doubt occurred.

So why the recent resurgence in records? Easy really. We are no longer killing them. Numbers worldwide are increasing and here in the UK, we are feeling the benefit. Humpbacks are showy animals. The term ‘shrinking violet’ does not belong in a Humpbacks vocabulary.

If you see one expect to see breaching, tail and flipper slapping as well as the occasional spy hop! This also means if they are in your area, you are unlikely to miss them.

The range of sightings range from Dover to Shetland sightings have also been made off Suffolk prior to sightings off Norfolk too!

Photos of Humpbacks: Opposite – Showing the baleen off Tadoussac in the St Lawrence river, Canada.

Next pages, Looking down the blowhole on Stellwagen Bank off Massachusetts, USA. Heading straight for the ship off Tadoussac in the St Lawrence river, Canada.

Before a dive in Monterey Bay, California, USA.

Really? …
Humpback Whales off the UK?

So, what’s so special about Wales?

Red Kites are now all over the UK. After years of hard work reintroducing this apex predator you no longer have to travel to central Wales to see this Iconic raptor. But hey!… watching Red Kites floating over the carriageways of the M25 is never going to stir your imagination like seeing a flock of 200 etching circles in the sky around a Welsh farm snuggled in a craggy landscape.

If you live on the East side of England there are few steeply sided valleys clad in canopies of Oak. In Wales they abound. This is the realm of the Pied and Spotted Flycatcher, Redstart and Wood Warbler. Try finding those here in the east and although it’s not impossible, you have your work cut out. Dippers and Grey Wagtails populate the brooks and streams and offshore Harbour Porpoise and Bottlenose Dolphins cut the waves. All these topped off with Peregrines, Auks and the Enigmatic Chough and you have a proper compendium of wildlife.

Wales is indeed truly special.


Wales and its wildlife
Photo opposite: Red Kite, Gigrin, Wales pages: Wood Warbler and Bottlenose Dolphins. Wales

Norfolk has a couple of iconic insects.

The Swallowtail Butterfly is probably the best known. Playing second fiddle is the far less well known, and much drabber garbed Norfolk Hawker. This is a dragonfly confined within the UK to a sliver of Norfolk on the coast mainly encompassing The Norfolk Broads. Just occasionally one or two turn up in neighbouring counties but Norfolk is the hotbed.

The Latin name of Aeshna isoceles denotes the triangle on the thorax. However, perhaps the most distinctive feature of this avian delight are the green eyes. As it hovers and flies over ditches and broads it is this feature that betrays the identification, even from a distance.

We search out this wonderful insect on our summer day tours in Norfolk.

Norfolk Hawker

This charming member of the Auk family is limited to our craggy and cliff lined shorelines. Notably absent from the south east of the UK an occurrence off the Norfolk or Suffolk coast always stirs an interest. Although they do nest at Flamborough in small numbers it is further north in Northumberland and Scotland where they can be said to be relatively common. The Puffin is a pelagic bird; it spends much of its year far offshore. Only when it gets close to the breeding season in spring do they venture back to inshore waters, eventually occupying their burrows to raise another single chick. Sadly, this is yet another amber listed species with numbers plummeting in recent years; although we still have many thousands around us on the Farne Islands. There is no more comical site than a Puffin with a beak full dodging the marauding gulls to dive into their burrows. With a supporting cast of Razorbills, Guillemots, Shags and Terns the place is a wildlife photographers dream.

So why does this species warrant an amber listing? Numbers in their strongholds are plummeting. The seabirds are not returning to the cliffs in their former abundance. The Fair Isle puffin colony has halved in 30 years. The reason? A firm finger is being pointed at overfishing as the main cause and Marine Conservation Zones (MCZ’s) should tackle that issue. However, global warming, Avian Influenza and pollutant affects must also be contributing factors.

Everybody loves a Puffin
There is no bird that is guaranteed to raise a smile more than the clown of the sea.
All photos taken on the Farne Islands, Northumberland 41

Tony Leech Norfolk’s fungi recorder takes us for a walk in the dunes.

If you want to see a wide range of fungi, visit a mature wood in October after a wet spell. But other habitats are available. One you probably wouldn’t think of is a sand dune. Even on bare sand between marram tufts you can find half-a-dozen species which you won’t find anywhere else. It was in search of such fungi, and other dune specialities, that a group from the Norfolk & Norwich Naturalists’ Society visited the dunes at the end of the sea wall stretching northwards from Burnham Overy Staithe, in the company of Holkham Estate Ranger, Andy Bloomfield.

Our first find was Agaricus devoniensis (most of the dune fungi are not widespread enough to have been blessed with an English name), a true mushroom which, although edible, would defy the cook to remove the sand which invariably covers it. Not far away, a couple of delicate Dune Inkcaps, with paper-thin caps less than an inch across, caused much interest . This was only the second Norfolk record and none of us had seen this species before.

The Stinkhorn s a common fungus which makes its presence known in woods from mid-summer onwards by its strong smell of carrion (or sewage, if you prefer) to attract flies that eat and disperse its spores. It is said that Charles Darwin’s Aunt Etty would go out at dawn and knock them over with a stick to prevent the servants being offended by its phallic appearance! The Dune Stinkhorn, which we also found, is very similar but lacks such a pungent smell and is sometimes flushed with a delicate violet hue.

Stars in the sand

The target species for several in the group was the well-named Tiny Earthstar, often less than an inch from ‘fingertip to fingertip’. Earthstars are related to puffballs but their thick outer skin splits to form ‘arms’ which arch to lift the spore sac clear of the ground. Norfolk is the only county from which all 18 British species have been recorded. For many years since its discovery there in 1959, Holkham dunes were the only site for the Tiny Earthstar in Britain but recently it has been recorded from Cumbria, Suffolk and at a second site in Norfolk. Tiny Earthstars occur in swarms on the rabbit-grazed fixed dunes where mosses are the predominant green plant. This is also the habitat for several species of earthtongue, with their black finger-like fruiting bodies, and for the magnificently crimson Dune Waxcap. We saw both on a day which delivered all we hoped for.

Following pages: Earthtongues, Dune Waxcap: Tony Leech

Tony Leech, Chairman Norfolk & Norwich Naturalists’ Society. Tiny Earthstar – Tony Leech
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