Wildlife Travel: a spring of Wildlife Travelling

Page 1


a spring of Wildlife Travelling May-July 2021

spring of #WildlifeTravelling

The Fen Edge 17th to 21st May 2021

with Sarah Lambert and Chris Kirby-Lambert 2 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling 18th May 2021. Clare Country Our day in John Clare Country began with a visit to Barnack Hills and Holes National Nature Reserve (NNR), an area of species-rich limestone grassland of European importance. The unique hummocky landscape of the Hills and Holes was created by quarrying for limestone: the stone, known as Barnack Rag, was a valuable building material first exploited by the Romans and quarried through to medieval times, when most famously, stone from Barnack was used to build Peterborough and Ely Cathedrals. By the year 1500, all the useful stone had been removed, and the bare heaps of limestone rubble gradually became covered by a rich carpet of wild flowers, a surviving remnant of the flower-rich Emmonsail Heath that John Clare wrote about. Because of the very cold spring, and heavy winter sheep-grazing by Natural England, which is necessary to control the coarser grasses, the sward was less flowery than normal, but the lateness of the season meant there were still good displays of Pasqueflower Pulsatilla vulgaris and Early Purple-orchid Orchis mascula. There was also a good show of the surprisingly large flowers of Purple Milk-vetch Astragalus danicus, especially on south-facing slopes. Another south-facing slope allowed us our first views of Man Orchid Orchis anthropophora, with a small cluster of the tall yellowish-green flowering spikes just coming into bloom. Many of the more characteristic limestone flowers took a bit more hunting, but we eventually found flowers of Common Rock-rose Helianthemum nummularium, Horseshoe Vetch Hippocrepis comosa and Common Milkwort Polygala vulgaris and viewed the leaf rosettes of many more! Some enjoyed close views of Rare Spring-sedge Carex ericetorum, a tiny species only a couple of centimetres in height, which is restricted to a small number of dry, grazed calcareous grasslands from Cambridgeshire to Cumbria. It is a poor competitor and soon disappears if under-grazing allows the sward to become too rank. Invertebrates responded almost immediately to the sun coming out and within seconds the flowering Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna scrub was alive with St Mark’s Fly and the scarce Bigheaded Mining Bee. This species feeds mainly on Hawthorn and Field Maple Acer campestre. It is particularly associated with scrubby calcareous grassland and Barnack Hills and Holes supports a massive population. Females nest communally, and more than two-hundred can share a nest entrance, each with their own chamber within the structure. Despite this, they exhibit no true social behaviour, with every female provisioning and caring for her own nest chamber. The sun also bought out one of Barnack’s star species, the Green Hairstreak. This tiny and strikingly green butterfly could be seen flitting around the Hawthorn before almost immediately disappearing into the fresh green foliage upon landing. After a dry and occasionally sunny walk round Barnack, the first heavy shower of the day arrived when we were on the coach. The showery weather continued during our walk round Swaddywell, a nature reserve now owned by the Langdyke Countryside Trust. Swaddywell was one of England’s earliest nature reserves, leased by the National Trust between 1915 and 1924. Charles Rothschild, included Swaddywelll on his 1912 list of the country’s most important nature conservation sites, and John Clare wrote about the area several times. Swaddywell was sold in 1924 and quarrying resumed, before being used as a bomb dump during the Second World War. During the 1980’s the quarry was a rubbish tip and more recently, in 1997, it was used as a Volkswagen racetrack. 3 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling

Clockwise from top left: Pasqueflower; Big-headed Mining Bee; Common Milkwort, Rare Spring-sedge, Green Hairstreak, Man Orchid. 4 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling On entering the old quarry pit we were greeted by the bizarre calls of a Water Rail, and some of the group spotted a Stoat flash across the track ahead. We took advantage of a dry spell to get a closer view of flowering Man Orchid, and to appreciate the many annual plant that grow in this brownfield site, including Sticky Mouse-ear Cerastium glomeratum, Wall Speedwell Veronica arvensis, Common Cudweed Filago vulgaris and the charming and diminutive Changing Forget-me-not Myosotis discolor, whose tiny flowers are initially creamy-yellow in colour, before changing to clear sky-blue. One of the most exciting botanical finds of the day was a small amount of Clustered Stonewort Tolypella glomerata, a Nationally Scarce species. which was not previously known from the site. The open brownfield habitat also produced our first and only Small Heath of the trip, a Green Woodpecker we disturbed from its lunch of ants, and a very obliging Viviparous Lizard basked on a pile of rubble. Lunch was taken on a sheltered bank overlooking a reedbed which was alive with calling Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Reed Bunting. The scrub along the top of the cliffs supported a good range of warblers, Linnet and Meadow Pipit fed along the path and a circling Sparrowhawk seemed almost as interested in the birds as we were! Our final visit was Castor Hanglands NNR, a complex of ancient woodland, calcareous grassland, fen meadow and ponds. Castor Hanglands wood is thought to have existed for over 1,000 years: the woodland in Castor is mentioned in the Domesday Book (1087), and the name ‘hangra’ is Old English for a wood on a hill. The Western boundary of the NNR follows King Street, a Roman Road connecting Castor and Bourne. The open land was ploughed around 800 years ago, leaving distinct ridges and furrows, some of which can still be seen today. In about 1350, cultivation was abandoned, and the Heath became common land, grazed by commoners in the village of Ailsworth. The Heath was later celebrated in the writings of Helpston’s ‘peasant poet’, John Clare, who was the first person to record many of the plants, birds and other wildlife on the site. In 1953 the site was declared as one of Britain’s first National Nature Reserves. We spotted a variety of characteristic Ancient Woodland Indicator species on our walk through the woodland including the yellow-green flowers of Wood Spurge Euphorbia amygdaloides, here towards the northern limit of its range in the UK, and the graceful flowers of Wood Melick Melica uniflora, growing alongside clouds of creamy-white Pignut Conopodium majus. We also noted the very characteristic three-dimensional leaves of Woolly Thistle Cirsium eriophorum. We headed out of the trees onto Ailsworth Heath to listen to Nightingales. Two males were singing at the northern end of the Heath, giving us a beautiful serenade before dying down in the deteriorating weather. Fortunately, the worst of the rain was over by the time we reached the pond and surrounding fen meadow, and we were able to appreciate some of the special plants including Water-soldier Stratiotes aloides and Floating Bur-reed Sparganium natans in the pond. The wet ground limited our access to the fen meadow, but we were still able to appreciate good shows of flowering Marshmarigold Caltha palustris, as well as the subtle pinkish flowers of Marsh Valerian Valeriana dioica and primeval spikes of Water Horsetail Equisetum fluviatilis. The cold spring meant that none of the spectacular hybrid swarm of Marsh-orchids Dactylorhiza spp. were flowering, but we were able to see many spotted and ringed leaf rosettes. We also found Twayblade Neottia ovata, and a number of fronds of Adder’s-tongue fern Ophioglossum vulgatum. The passing of the heavy rain had also stimulated a rousing chorus of birdsong and we were treated to numerous singing Blackcaps, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Common Whitethroats to see us off the site. 5 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling 19th May. Rockingham Forest Today the focus of our visits was the Rockingham Forest, created by William I as 'an area of land reserved for hunting by the King'. There would have been individual landowners within the forest, but under 'forest law' only the King was allowed to hunt for deer or boar. Landowners and peasants were allowed to collect fallen and deadwood, but could not cut down trees. For a fee, villagers were allowed to graze their animals in certain areas. Anyone caught committing offences 'against Vert and Venison of the Forest' was liable to punishment. The morning was spent at Bedford Purlieus NNR, one of the largest remaining fragments of the Forest. Prior to its inclusion in Rockingham Forest it was a major iron smelting centre. In Roman times, and later it became part of the estates of the Duke of Bedford who was responsible for much of the draining of the fens. Between 1862 and 1868 the western half of the wood was grubbed up and converted to agricultural land and the former ‘Centre Tree’ now lies on the western boundary of the site. It was declared a NNR in 2000 and is managed by Forestry England. It is notable for potentially having a wider variety of herbaceous woodland plants than almost any other English woodland. There were 462 species of vascular plants listed as present in the woods in 1975. A principal reason for this is the variety of soil types, resulting from a geology that ranges from highly calcareous limestone and tufa through to highly acidic sands and silts. The variety of woodland types, the management history, the wide grassland rides, and even the periodic disturbances caused by coppicing, felling and other interventions such as the wartime installations have all added habitats that maintain the diversity of species within the woods. We arrived at the site in glorious sunshine, and immediately made our way to the small colony of Fly Orchid Ophrys insectifera. Although the individual flowers are beautiful, the plants are remarkably easy to overlook, and it took us a few moments to find them. We found several other interesting species in this general area, including some fine flowering Early Purple-orchid, native Columbine Aquilegia vulgaris (which was not quite in bloom) and a population of Hairy Lady’smantle Alchemilla filicaulis subsp. vestita. A circular walk through the ancient woodland allowed us to compare the flora associated with the differing soil types. Areas of neutral soil supported sheets of flowering Bluebell Hyacinthoides nonscripta, interspersed with the white flowers of Wood Anemone Anemone nemorosa, and Wood Spurge. We found several interesting plants on the more acid soils including Hairy Woodrush Luzula pilosa, Greater Woodrush Luzula sylvatica and Pill Sedge Carex pilulifera. The botanical highlights of the acid areas were sheets of Lily-of-the-valley Convallaria majalis, which was flowering nicely, and a small population of Hard Fern Blechnum spicant, whose unfurling croziers were remarkably beautiful. The more base-rich areas of the site were dominated by Dog’s Mercury Mercurialis perennis, but we also found a clump of Mountain Melick Melica nutans, which has very graceful nodding flowers. This species has a northern distribution in the UK, being associated with basic rocks in northern England, and the population at Bedford Purlieus is close to its southern limit. It wasn’t long before the group noticed columns of relentlessly marching Wood Ants scouring the wood for food and material with which to construct their impressive nest mounds. It is generally believed that they were introduced to the wood some time prior to 1933, perhaps as food for pheasants, although there is no formal documentation of any introduction. Whilst admiring a 6 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling particularly impressive Wood Ant nest we were lucky enough to encounter a freshly emerged Fourspotted Leaf Beetle escaping the nest. The larvae of this striking species develop within ant nests, where they feed on detritus. At Bedford Purlieus they are strongly associated with Wood Ant nests. The adults emerge from the nest and move away to feed on surrounding foliage. We arrived back at the coach and made the short trip to Sacrewell Farm where we were able to buy coffee to accompany our packed lunches. By this time the clouds had bubbled up, and we could see showers in the distance, but fortunately we managed to avoid them for the rest of the day. The afternoon was spent at Old Sulehay NR, which is owned by the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire (BCN). The site is a mosaic of limestone quarries, grassland, woodland and wetland habitats and covers over 210 acres. It includes Old Sulehay Forest, another fragment of the ancient Rockingham Forest, and Stonepit Close which was exploited for its limestone. We spent the first part of our visit in Stonepit Close, admiring the very species-rich grassland sward, which has a wide variety of annual plants including Little Mouse-ear Cerastium semidecandrum, Parsley-piert Aphanes arvensis, Early-flowering Forget-me-not Myosotis ramosissima, Field Madder Sherardia arvensis and Small-flowered Buttercup Ranunculus parviflorus. The sunny and relatively sheltered conditions in Stonepit Close finally provided ideal conditions for butterflies, and in a short time we had seen several Grizzled Skippers and dozens of Dingy Skippers. Both of these skipper species are quite scarce, forming discrete colonies in areas of suitable habitat. Most of the largest populations are now found in brownfield sites that provide the warm, dry, microclimate they prefer. In addition to butterflies, solitary bees were quite noticeable. Two species of nomad bee were spotted, the Flavous Nomad Bee and Gooden’s Nomad Bee; both are cuckoos of mining bees in the genus Andrena, laying their eggs in the mining bee nests where their larvae feed on the pollen store. Another cuckoo bee, this time of furrow-bees in the genus Lasioglossum, was spotted in the form of the Bare-saddled Blood Bee. We also managed to net a smart female Red-tailed Mason Bee, allowing everyone to properly admire her. The female makes her nest in empty snail shells. The profusion of botanists lying down to get a closer look at small annual plants attracted a very curious Red Kite, perhaps wondering if any of us might make a nice meal. We then headed towards Old Sulehay Forest, stopping to admire a fine Wild Service-tree Sorbus torminalis on our way, as well as many bushes of Spurge-laurel Daphne laureola, a species which has spread locally as a result of recent warmer, wetter winters. We spotted a couple of flowering Twayblade on the margins of the main ride, and then found a population of Herb-paris Paris quadrifolia, at the peak of flowering. Our route through this wonderful ancient woodland took us through sheets of flowering Ramsons Allium ursinum and Bluebell, past some spectacular pollarded Field Maple on the wood boundary and through an area known as the King’s Oaks, where we saw ancient coppice stools of Pedunculate Oak Quercus robur and Small-leaved Lime Tilia cordata, now grown to massive proportions. There was plenty of butterfly activity along the sunny woodland rides: Speckled Wood was abundant, a pair of Brimstone flirted over the path and a strikingly fresh Red Admiral posed on the track. At the western edge of the forest we stopped to enjoy more singing Nightingales, this time uninterrupted by heavy rain! After taking some time to fully appreciate the serenade we began to make our way back out of the wood, hearing the distinctive call of Marsh Tit. 7 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling

Clockwise from top left: Herb Paris, Lily-of-the-Valley, Dingy Skipper, exploring Old Sulehay, Bluebells, Grizzled Skipper. 8 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling 20th May. The Great Fen The day started cool and overcast and there were periods of heavy rain from lunchtime onwards. Nevertheless, this didn’t stop our intrepid travellers from enjoying their time in the Fens. We reversed our planned itinerary, driving out to Upwood Meadows NNR first, to make the most of the good weather. Designated a National Nature Reserve for its floristic diversity, the site is a real gem, located right on the Fen Edge. Our visit was timed perfectly to catch the vivid display of purple and yellow provided by thousands of Green-winged Orchid Anacamptis morio in a sea of Cowslip Primula veris and Bulbous Buttercup Ranunculus bulbosus. While most of the orchids were the classic magenta colour, we found one beautiful white-flowered spike which showed up the green lines on the lateral petals to perfection, as well as several soft-pink versions. Heath Dog-violet Viola canina subsp. canina was also in full flower at the northern end of the meadow, growing among a range of species characteristic of unimproved grassland on mildly acid soils such as Tormentil Potentilla erecta, Saw-wort Serratula tinctoria, Devil’s-bit Scabious Succisa pratensis and Betony Betonica officinalis. The damper parts of the meadow also supported abundant Great Burnet Sanguisorba officinalis, whose zig-zag edged leaves are nearly as attractive as the flowers. We spotted the flowers of Thread-leaved Water-crowfoot Ranunculus trichophyllus in an ancient dew pond, as well as the leaves of Tubular Water-dropwort Oenanthe fistulosa. The trampled mud adjacent to a cattle trough produced one of the real stars of the trip – a thriving population of Mousetail Myosurus minimus, a tiny member of the Buttercup family with translucent cream petals and a spike of developing achenes that looks uncannily like a mouse’s tail. The surrounding mature hedgerows provide nesting habitats for many birds. Perhaps the most important of these is Turtle Dove, and their distinctive purring call was whilst we were admiring the orchids, although the bird never left the dense hedge it was calling from. Woodwalton Fen NNR provided a significant contrast to Upwood Meadows. Located at the heart of the Great Fen project, the site is owned by the Wildlife Trust for BCN and is managed by Natural England. It is one of only four remaining fragments of the ancient wild fens that once stretched for 1,350 square miles across the area and is a last haven for many rare fen species. The site was purchased by Charles Rothschild in 1910 to preserve a small part of the Fens, which had been almost entirely drained by this point. The financier-turned-conservationist was deeply concerned by the loss of natural habitats and wildlife across the country and was instrumental in the formation of the nature conservation movement in the UK. He drew up the first list of important wildlife sites in Britain, which went on to form a framework for the creation of the first National Nature Reserves in 1953. Woodwalton Fen was made a National Nature Reserve in 1954 and remains one of the most important wildlife sites in the country. The Rothschild Bungalow, built to act as a field station for his frequent collecting trips, can still be seen in the heart of the fen and is still used to this day. We spent a couple of hours wandering along paths edged with reed-lined ditches, where interesting plants included the round floating leaves of Frogbit Hydrocharis morsus-ranae and the feathery leaves of Water-violet Hottonia palustris, which was just sending up the first of its beautiful pink flower-spikes. Despite the cold weather numerous Hairy Dragonfly were emerging from the more sheltered ditch margins, and no fewer than three Cuckoos could be heard calling as we walked through the site. 9 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling As we reached the western margin of the fen, we climbed up on to the West Bank to get a view across Darlows and Middle Farms. Darlows Farm was the first area of farmland incorporated into the Great Fen and has now been in restoration for almost twenty years. The rush pasture, wet grassland and shallow pools that have replaced arable farmland now support a diverse fauna and beautifully illustrate the principles behind the Great Fen Project. From the West Bank it is possible to see over much of the project area, allowing the group to appreciate the scale of ambition involved in the creation of the Great Fen. The worst of the rain was over by the time we arrived at our final site, Holme Fen NNR. Formerly a raised bog on the edge of the fens, the site is now one of the finest silver birch woodlands in lowland England, and is of particular importance for its fungi and invertebrates. We wandered the tracks, taking in the variety of vegetation along the way. Areas of damp woodland had a very primeval feel with the huge emerging shuttlecocks of Scaly Male-fern Dryopteris affinis agg. accompanied by stands of vicious Saw-sedge Cladium mariscus and bog-loving shrubs such as Alder Buckthorn Frangula alnus and Bog-myrtle Myrica gale, which has very sweetly-scented leaves. Bracken Pteridium aquilinum was dominant in drier areas of woodland with abundant Climbing Corydalis Ceratocapnos claviculate, which was first recorded in 1989 and has now spread throughout the reserve. We also saw open areas with abundant Heather Calluna vulgaris and Purple Moor-grass Molinia caerulea. Many of the paths were edged with Sheep’s Sorrel Rumex acetosella, Heath Woodrush Luzula multiflora and Tormentil, while Wall Lettuce Mycelis muralis was locally abundant along one of the more shaded paths. We spotted the local nesting Ravens, calling raucously and playing in the trees. The pair had already fledged at least four adorably clumsy chicks despite the miserable weather at the start of the year. Ravens have only recently recolonised the Peterborough area, having been wiped out by human persecution in the 19th century. Thankfully they are now back in force! On our way out of Holme Fen we made a quick stop at the Holme Post. When the decision was made to drain the neighbouring Whittlesea Mere a wooden post was sunk down to the underlying clay, with its top level with the soil surface, to measure peat shrinkage resulting from the drying out of the land. The post was replaced by an iron one, supposedly salvaged from the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace, soon after. The peat shrank rapidly in the years following the drainage and has continued to shrink more slowly ever since. The land is now 2.75 metres below sea level, almost the lowest land point in Great Britain and the Holme Post protrudes some four metres above the current ground level. Our final brief stop of the day was at Engine Farm, towards the north-east corner of the Great Fen. The land here is slightly drier and large areas have been seeded to create flower rich meadows that will provide nectar sources for invertebrates and food and habitat for farmland birds. This area is also home to trial “paludiculture” plots, testing the viability of various wetland crops that may allow productive and wildlife friendly agriculture to continue on areas of rewetted peatland in the future. By this point the group had heads filled to bursting with facts and thoughts about the Great Fen Project, and the decision was made to retreat to the hotel to warm up before our final meal together. Sarah Lambert and Chris Kirby-Lambert, Wildlife Travel. May 2021.

10 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling

Clockwise from top left: White form of Green-winged Orchid; Heath Dog-violet; Mouse-tail; emerging Hairy Dragonfly; Water-violet; athrong of Green-winged Orchid and Bulbous Buttercup. 11 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling

Norfolk 7th to 11th June 2021

with James Lowen and Philip Precey 12 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling 8th June 2021. North Norfolk Coast Overnight, James ran a mercury vapour moth trap in the hotel garden, and so our first morning started with us going through some of the highlights of the night’s catch, a great introduction to the world of moth-ing… We were introduced to some fantastic masters of camouflage, with the Buff-tip doing its finest broken stick impression, the tiny Chinese Character an accomplished bird-droppingmimic, Waved Umber taking on the peeled bark and the beautiful Coxcomb Prominent. Brimstone Moth was as colourful as any so-called butterfly, and it wasn’t hard to imagine how the Poplar Hawk-moth could catch the attention. Moths released, we headed up towards the North Norfolk Coast, an AONB and famous for its many nature reserves, where we first stopped at Kelling Heath. Walking across the heath, we found interesting plants including Black Horehound, Heath Groundsel, Sand Spurrey and the bizarre parasitic Dodder, pink strings entangled around the low-growing gorse. A Red Kite circled overhead, with two Buzzard a little further in the distance, a Cuckoo was heard calling, while Skylarks sang high overhead. Just to prove that moths aren’t all creatures of the night, we enjoyed a good variety of day-flying species, starting with the wonderful (but very speedy) Broad-bordered Bee Hawk-moth, zipping past. Cinnabar added a flash of colour, one or two Silver Ys had travelled as far as the Painted Lady that flew past, both Common Heath and the very similar Latticed Heath flitted about, and we found an early-flying July Belle, disturbed from the gorse on which its caterpillars feed. Some flashes of colour came in the form of Green Tiger Beetles, dashing about on the warm bare sandy soil; the deep red blood bees, busy searching for mining bee nests in which to lay their eggs; and a single Green Hairstreak, posing nicely on the gorse. From Kelling, we headed along country lanes lined with the lime-yellow Alexanders, to Lady Anne’s Drive at Holkham. Here at least five Little Egrets were feeding out in the grazing marshes, along with a fine adult Mediterranean Gull, Marsh Harriers quartered the marshes and we also spotted Brown Hare and Muntjac during the afternoon. Fed and watered, we headed westwards along the back of the pines. In a sheltered patch of sandy soil, we found what we were looking for: the cone-shaped pits in the sand dug as traps by the larvae of Euroleon nostras, a European ant-lion known in the UK only from here and the sandy Suffolk heaths around Minsmere. The larva sits quietly at the bottom of the pit, with just its over-sized jaws above the surface, waiting for a passing ant or springtail to stumble in… Around Meals House, we found some interesting plants, with Green Alkanet, Bugloss, Yellow Figwort, Green Hellebore and Pink Wood Sorrel all probably originating from the house gardens. From the Joe Jordan Hide, we had good views out over the grazing marshes, where a group of newly-fledged Spoonbills were gathered on one of the pools. Spoonbills were lost as a UK breeding bird by the end of the 17th century, and it was 400 years before they would return, with the successful nesting of 6 pairs here at Holkham in 2010. Since then, the colony has gone from 13 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling strength to strength, with at least 30 pairs now nesting here. Whilst watching the Spoonbills, a Great White Egret flew past and then, quite remarkably, a Common Crane walked out from the reeds behind them all… We ended our day with a boat trip out from Morston Quay across to Blakeney Point. Unfortunately, the Common Seals which are normally hauled out on the Point had moved away in the last few days, and we could just about make out around 20 on a far distant sand bank out to the west. At least one Grey Seal was swimming about, but not quite the seal show that we were hoping for. But where the seals were lacking, the birds certainly made up for it: Arctic-bound waders included 7 Bar-tailed Godwits, a trio of Sanderling and 2 Knot; pairs of Little Terns were patrolling the shallows, calling and flirting with each other, while out on the Point the large colonies of Common and Sandwich Terns were great to see. Two adult Kittiwakes were amongst the Sandwich Terns, a very unseasonal Red-breasted Merganser was busy diving in the incoming tide, and most peculiar of all was a group of 35 Canada Geese looking very out of place on the end of the Point, before flying out to sea. Back on dry land, and as we were boarding the bus, a Red Kite flew low overhead: one last ‘hurrah’ from the North Norfolk coast. 9th June 2021. Broadland A shorter journey this morning had us heading south eastwards, to the Yare Valley and the RSPB reserve at Strumpshaw Fen. Our walk took us through the woodland, damp meadows and reedbeds to the River Yare. Dragonflies were a notable highlight of the morning, with several species out enjoying the warm weather and bright sunshine. A very fresh male Scarce Chaser posed by a small pond for us, allowing close inspection and comparison with the nearby Four-spotted Chasers. More chasers were, not surprisingly, chasing out across the meadows and along the ditches, along with several Hairy Dragonflies, with territorial disputes between the various species taking place. Larger than them all, and seemingly unbothered by the pesky chasers, the sleek, brown Norfolk Hawker was quartering the same ditch, with its apple-green eyes on show. Large Red Damselfly, Azure Damselfly, Common Blue Damselfly, Blue-tailed Damselfly and Banded Demoiselle all added to the odonatan list. Out on the meadow, a couple of Chinese Water Deer bumbled away from us and into the denser reeds. This East Asian species was introduced to Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire in the late 19th century and to Whipsnade in 1930: individuals escaped (or were deliberately released) and the species is now well established in the Cambridgeshire Fens and the wetlands of Norfolk and Suffolk, as well as areas around Bedfordshire. The English population probably numbers more than 2,000 individuals, and with the Asian populations now in decline, this is thought to represent around 10% of the world population. By one of the ponds, we found the delicate Milk Parsley growing. This wetland umbellifer is famously the food plant of the real star of the Strumpshaw show, Britain’s largest butterfly… but 14 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling one who, thus far, hadn’t put in an appearance. However, all that was to change, thanks to a tip off from a RSPB volunteer, who pointed us in the right direction. Here, in a sheltered corner of a nettley meadow, we found her, a freshly-emerged Swallowtail butterfly basking in the sun. After giving everyone their photo opportunities, she flew up and over the trees, our sign to find a picnic spot out of the sun. After lunch, and some tasty local ice-creams, we were back on board the bus and off down some narrow Norfolk country lanes to the dunes and beach at Winterton. Alas, the Rose-coloured Starling that James had found here just an hour before our holiday started on Monday night was last seen flying north on Tuesday evening… but we were happy enough to ‘make do’ with an early Emperor dragonfly hawking the dunes, one or two Small Heath butterflies, and the chance to dip a toe into the North Sea. 10th June 2021. Breckland Today it was the turn of the Brecks, heading west through the country roads to avoid the roadworks around Norwich. Our first stop was in the less-than-promising environs of a light industrial estate on the edge of Brandon… Here, a tiny pocket of land no larger than a tennis court preserves the vast majority of the UK population of Field Wormwood, a rare plant with very specific requirements, needing the sandy soils and occasional disturbance that is a feature of the Brecks, but without any grazing: a rare combination of conditions in such a rabbit- and deer-nibbled part of the world. These conditions are obviously well provided here, as the plant seems to be flourishing both within the confines of the reserve and on the verges in the surrounding industrial estate. From here we headed ten minutes up the road to the other extreme, a nature reserve with grasslands stretching towards the horizons, at Weeting Heath, where we had a date with some more moths… The warden of this Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve had kindly set his moth trap running over night for us, and we had a great time picking through its contents, under James’s expert guidance. The catch included a veritable menagerie: pink Small Elephant Hawkmoth, rusty Fox Moth, a beautiful Creamspot Tiger, White Ermine and a superb Lobster Moth were all in the trap, along with two local specialities, both listed in the Red Data Book: Marbled Clover and Grey Carpet. Once we’d gorged ourselves on moths, we headed out to the hide. The local Rabbit population obviously isn’t as high as it might be, and the grass was a little long, but we eventually picked up an adult Stone Curlew, one of the three pairs currently on the reserve, for which the site is most famous. Back to the bus, and another short hop took us to another area of Breckland grassland surrounded by the trees of Thetford Forest at Cranwich Heath. This site, once an army camp amongst other things, now protects some of the best remnants of Breckland heath, with two particularly rare plants more usually found in the Mediterranean. We found the Proliferous Pink growing in its rather precarious habitat of the cracks in the concrete, just not quite in flower yet. And then, after some 15 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling searching of the grassland, we struck ‘gold’ with several plants of the lovely, delicate Spanish Catchfly out in full flower. Purple Milk Vetch, Field Mouse-ear, Viper’s Bugloss and Wild Mignonette were other notable plants out on the heath, while some of us were also lucky enough to catch sight of another very rare dayflying moth, the pinkish-flushed Tawny Wave, while Green Woodpeckers yaffled and a Muntjac skipped across the path. After lunch in the sun, we had one more. short journey to the nearby RSPB reserve at Lakenheath Fen. Where 20 years ago there were just carrot fields with a scattering of poplar plantations, there is now a large wetland, with reedbeds, grazing marshes, channels and pools. We spent our afternoon walking a loop around the reserve, stopping first to check out the shallow waters and muddy edges of Hockwold Washes, just across the river. Here we found ten Avocets, a handful of Redshank and plenty of Gadwall. A bit more searching revealed a single drake Garganey, apparently paired with a female Shoveler, dabbling in the shallow water. A Hobby came low overhead. And a party of 11 Black-tailed Godwits flew in to land briefly on the bank, before circling around again and heading off back whence they came. Walking along the river bank and around the edge of East Wood, we came to New Fen. Along the way we enjoyed close-up views of Black-tailed Skimmer, Four-spotted Chaser, Banded Demoiselle and Azure Damselfly, while Scarce Chaser and Hairy Dragonfly zoomed by. Cuckoos called in every direction, a Little Egret flew up from a pool, a couple of Bearded Tits were heard pinging, and the path was obviously the place to be, with family groups of Mute Swan and Greylag Geese all settled firmly in the way. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the afternoon though was the mating pair of Eyed Hawkmoths we found, settled in the nettles right next to the track. A suitably moth-y end to our time in the field. From here it was just a matter of sampling yet more flavours of Ronaldo’s Norfolk ice cream, and then the journey back to Norwich for our last al fresco dinner… Philip Precey, Wildlife Travel. June 2021.

16 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling

Top left: Spanish Catchfly Silene otites. Top right: Field Wormwood Artemisia campestris Bottom left: Common Tern (top) and Sandwich Tern (bottom). Bottom right: Red Kite www.wildlife-travel.co.uk


spring of #WildlifeTravelling

Norfolk Moths. Clockwise, from top left: Eyed Hawk-moth, Poplar Hawk-moth, Cream-spot Tiger, Fox Moth www.wildlife-travel.co.uk


spring of #WildlifeTravelling

Mute Swan (top) and Scarce Chaser (bottom)

19 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling

Dorset 14th to 18th June 2021

with Dr Phil Saunders and Philip Precey 20 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling 15th June 2021. Purbeck Heaths Our first morning saw us driving the short distance, via Corfe Castle and its gap in the chalk ridge, to that most ‘Dorset’ of habitats, the lowland heaths of the newly-created ‘mega reserve’ of Purbeck Heaths National Nature Reserve. We explored the Hartland Moor sector of what is now amongst the largest nature reserves in the country, formed by joining up three earlier National Nature Reserves, and protecting some of the very best lowland heathland habitat in the world… With the recent sunny weather continuing through the day, it was a little too warm to stand much of a chance of finding any reptiles, for which the area is so famous, but the conditions were pretty near perfect to give us the opportunity to find some of the area’s special invertebrates. A trio of day-flying moths got us off to a good start, with the nationally scarce Small Grass Emerald, a Four-dotted Footman (not to be confused with the Four-spotted Footman of course…) and a wellmarked Grass Wave, all specialities of the Dorset heaths. Silver-studded Blues were newly emerged, with several resting amongst the heather. Heading to a peaty-edged pond, we found our first dragonflies of the morning: Azure Damselfly and Four-spotted Chasers were zipping across the open water, while the newly-emerged Keeled Skimmers were resting in the rushes. Around the damp edges, we also found the sticky leaves of sundews, with all three species present here: Oblong-leaved Sundew around the pond, Roundleaved Sundews on the damp tracks and a small group of Great Sundew by a smaller pool. A larger pond was on a clay-ier part of the site, with muddy edges and less acidic water, more to the liking of Emperor Dragonfly, Broad-bodied Chaser and Black-tailed Skimmer, with Common Blue and Blue-tailed Damselflies around the reeds. Water Forget-me-not and Blue Water Speedwell were growing around the marshy margins, with the large white flowers of Lesser Water Plantain, a particularly scarce plant that has a liking for base-rich peaty water. Phil led us to another damp reedy area, where Southern Marsh Orchid, Ragged Robin, Marsh Pennywort and Meadow Thistle were growing. The thistles seemed to be a favourite nectar source for the rare Brown-banded Carder Bee, while one of the real stars of the morning was the dainty Southern Damselfly, with several pairs flitting about amongst the rushes and posing enough for us to see the characteristic ‘mercury’ symbol on the 2nd abdominal segment through binoculars. We then headed east across the site. Stonechat families were calling from the tops of gorse bushes, and a couple of jaunty Dartford Warblers hopped up, with their scratchy song and floppy-tailed song flight. As we walked along the tramway, the remnants of Dorset’s very first ‘railway’, a couple of Green Tiger Beetles flew up from the path in front of us. Phil was paying particular attention to the hot, bare sand along the track edge, where various bees and wasps were zipping about, the sand dotted with their nest holes. And before too long, his searching was rewarded with a lovely little darkblotched, delta-winged fly, the Mottled Bee-fly. This is a ‘cuckoo’ nest parasite of the Hairy Sand Wasps which were particularly obvious along this section of the path, and yet another speciality of these southern heaths. 21 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling Around the corner, and yet another little buzzer put in an appearance, this time perhaps the rarest animal we would see all week: the Purbeck Mason Wasp, a very smart black, white and red species which is all-but endemic to the Purbeck Heaths, with one other population… in Iran, of all places! Along the raised bank of the tramway we saw at least five or six, including a particularly approachable mating pair, with the female wandering about feeding on Thyme flowers while the smaller male just held on and hoped for the best… We reached the bus in time for lunch, before heading the short distance to the RSPB reserve at Arne for our desserts, with the first of several local ice creams sampled. During the afternoon we walked a circuit across the heathland to look over the Middlebere Channel and out towards Poole Harbour and Brownsea Island. A flock of Little Egrets were gathered in one of the distant channels, with Shelduck and Oystercatchers on the mud. Unfortunately the local pair of Ospreys weren’t in attendance today, probably deterred by the presence of a class of ecology students out across the marshes. In the woods, several heaped nests of the scarce Southern Hairy Wood Ant were teeming with life, going about their business with just the occasional squirt of formic acid to deter the onlookers… After dinner, we boarded the bus one more time, negotiating the narrow country lanes to head back out to the heaths as dusk fell. After a short wait we were rewarded with the ‘gewick’ calls, wing-clapping displays and churring song of several Nightjars. At least six different birds were around us, with one male putting on a particularly exciting display as he clapped his wings and angled his white tail spots to both deter an interloping young male and proclaim his territory to the female nearby. 16th June 2021. Portland A longer journey this morning had us heading westwards, past the White Horse at Osmington and the resort town of Weymouth, then crossing the low-lying causeway of Chesil Beach to the ‘island’ of Portland. Our first stop was in the seemingly insalubrious setting of an industrial estate, where we found the Dorset Wildlife Trust reserve Tout Quarry. Another sunny day brought out more butterflies, with our first Dingy Skippers, single Meadow Brown and Large Skipper, and a few Small Heaths and Common Blues. Amongst the rocks and sculptures were plenty of interesting plants: Woolly Thistle, Slender Thistle and Carline Thistle, sturdy Perennial Wall Rocket and several spikes of Ivy Broomrape, a parasitic plant which here grows in a yellow form. Walking over to the cliff, we had spectacular views out across Chesil Beach reaching back across to the ‘mainland’ and the saline lagoon of The Fleet behind it.

22 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling Back on board, and we moved down to Portland Bill. At the very tip of the ‘island’ we had Rock Pipit flying around the rocks, with Razorbills and Guillemots just offshore. A few Gannets flew slowly past along with a pair of Kittiwakes at one of their very few nesting sites in Dorset. Then, out amongst the Guillemots feeding in the currents offshore, Phil picked out a single Puffin, a good bird to see before it drifted further out, turning into a tiny dark blob out amongst the waves… Plants on the cliffs included Rock Samphire, Golden Samphire, Sea Beet and the uncommon Rock Sea Spurrey. After a picnic lunch with sea views, we walked up onto the slopes above the Bill. Although it was warm, the sun kept hiding behind the clouds, and the butterflies here weren’t quite what we had hoped, although we still found Small Blue, Meadow Brown, Small Heath and Large Skippers, while a fast-flying medium-sized orange fritillary flew past us and away… the one that got away. Day-flying moths included both Six-spot and Five-spot Burnet Moths, Cinnabar, Yellow Shell and a very well marked Mother Shipton, but the star was perhaps the stunning Cream-spot Tiger that posed for everyone’s cameras. The grassland had plenty to keep the botanically minded enthralled. Several lovely Bee Orchid spikes were looking particularly fresh, while the Pyramidal Orchid buds were just about bursting. Corky-fruited Water Dropwort, Crow Garlic, Slender Tare, Yellow Vetchling and Bastard Toadflax were amongst the scarcities, while perhaps the rarest of the plants were the two spikes of Early Gentian, an early-flowering, dwarf version of the more familiar Autumn Gentian. Heading downslope, we visited the small quarry, where a Little Owl was scowling at us from the rocks, along with a couple of Stock Doves. At the famous Portland Bird Observatory, we were welcomed into the garden by the long-time warden Martin Cade, who had saved the contents of last night’s moth trap for us to enjoy, most notably several handsome Small Elephant Hawkmoths, as well as plenty of ‘brown jobs’ with amazing names such as Heart and Dart, Bright-line Brown-eye, Setaceous Hebrew Character, Shoulder-striped Wainscot and Light Brocade. Time to head homewards, passing a Little Tern flying at the east end of the Fleet before the lure of a short bus-nap proved too much to resist… 17th June 2021. Jurassic Coast Today it was the turn of the famous Jurassic Coast, heading south west to the famous (or should that be infamous, after the summer of 2020?) Durdle Door. As we made our way down the sunny slope to take in the iconic Dorset scenery, we could hear both Yellowhammer and Corn Bunting singing from the fence higher up the hill. Alongside the great views of the ‘Door’ itself, we were very pleased to find Lulworth Skippers on the wing. This small, olive-golden skipper can only be found on the hottest, sunniest, southward-facing slopes, and the conditions here fit the bill perfectly. 23 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling

24 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling More Lulworth Skippers were found during our walk across to Lulworth Cove, along with a couple of lovely bright Adonis Blues, Small Blue, Brown Argus, Dingy Skipper, Large Skipper and an early Small Skipper. Phil found three more day flying moths: Citron Plume, Silver-barred Sable and Chalk Carpet. After another sunny picnic at Lulworth Cove, we got back on board the bus, chalk-dusting the driver’s freshly swept steps, and headed a little way east, through the resort town of Swanage, to Durlston Head NNR. Much of our attention here was focussed out to sea, where Guillemots and Razorbills, Shag and Fulmar were all flying to and from their nest sites, hidden beneath us on the cliffs. A pair of Great Black-backed Gulls had three fluffy youngsters, looking very sweet: not at all the Guillemotswallowing brutes that they would soon become. Rock Pipits flitted about the cliffs, a handful of Gannets passed by, with a pair of adult Mediterranean Gulls flying westwards and a Little Egret heading in the same direction a little further out. After some of us visited the lighthouse, finding a jewel-like Rose Chafer along the way, we headed back towards the visitor centre… but not before we all had great views of a Peregrine cruising along the cliff beneath us. One last sampling of the local ice cream flavours, and then it was back on board the bus. As if on cue, the rain arrived… bringing to a conclusion our enjoyable short break in Dorset. Philip Precey, Wildlife Travel. June 2021.

25 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling

Left (from top): Lulworth Skipper, Cream-spot Tiger, Purbeck Mason Wasp, Mottled Bee-fly Right (from top): Southern Damselfly, Adonis Blue 26 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling

Clockwise, from top left: Lesser Water Plantain, Corky-fruited Water Dropwort, Yellow Vetchling, Great Sundew 27 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling


28th June to 2nd July 2021 with Laurie Jackson and Philip Precey

28 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling 29th June. Knepp Wildland and Old Lodge, Ashdown Forest. A short journey took us north to Knepp Wildland, located just south of Horsham. The Knepp Estate, once home to an arable and dairy enterprise, is now the home of a large ecological restoration project using five species of free-roaming 'megaherbivores' (English Longhorn cattle, Exmoor ponies, Fallow Deer, Red Deer and Tamworth pigs), which are proxies for their wild ancestors. The course of the project is determined by natural processes such as vegetation succession and natural disturbance, an approach now more familiarly known as rewilding. The estate's long driveway gave us a feel for the landscape that we would be exploring, with large oak trees sitting amid a mosaic of grazed land and patches of woody shrubs. Setting off into the Wildland on foot we were soon in the 'scrubland': former arable fields on the heavy Low Weald clay that are now a mix of open grassland, scattered and established scrub. There were plenty of Whitethroats issuing their scratchy ditties with occasional bursts of song flight between shrubs. The Whitethroats were joined by Dunnocks, Bullfinches, a Yellowhammer and a rattling Lesser Whitethroat, and a croaking from deep in cover gave away the presence of a Nightingale; one of Knepp's success stories there are now thought to be at least 30 territorial males on site. As we walked we looked at the effect of the Knepp megafauna: topiaried shrubs, stripped bark and bonsaied oaks, which contribute to the habitat diversity. Among the 'rootled' patches created by the Tamworth pigs we found a range of annual plants including Thyme-leaved Speedwell Veronica serpyllifolia, Hoary Ragwort Jacobaea erucifolia, Marsh Cudweed Gnaphalium uliginosum and Sharp-leaved Fluellen Kickxia elatine. Walking along one of the many laggs, marshy grasslands surrounding small ditches and streams, we spotted Beautiful Demoiselles drifting low over the Hemlock Water Dropwort Oenanthe crocata and Water Pepper Persicaria hydropiper. Through a woodland that had received the attentions of the pigs, we passed back into the scrubland, where a treehouse gave a view over the landscape and an appreciation of the extent of the Estate's 3,500 acres. Amongst the scrub we caught glimpses of Fallow Deer before finding a bachelor herd, black tails flicking as they watched us approach, before scattering away into the shelter of the old overgrown hedgerows. After lunch alongside a small pond, we left Knepp behind and headed west towards the High Weald. With a noticeable change in the scenery, we entered Ashdown Forest, located on the highest sandy ridge of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Ashdown Forest was a medieval hunting forest, and now enhoys multiple conservation designations in recognition of its extensive heathland habitat, semi-natural woodland, wet flushes and bogs. Our arrival at Old Lodge, a site managed by Sussex Wildlife Trust, coincided with the transition of the late morning drizzle into a more determined rain shower, but we were not deterred, and headed out into the heart of the Forest. Stone-tapping calls gave away the location of a pair of Stonechats, and closeby we spotted a Dartford Warbler busying itself amongst the gorse and pine saplings. Alongside the Heather Calluna vulgaris and Bell Heather Erica cinerea there was plenty of Tormentil Potentilla erecta and Heath Bedstraw Galium saxatile, along with tufts of Bilberry Vaccinium myrtillus. As we walked slowly downwards we picked up two distinct descending songs: the beautiful lilting notes of a Woodlark, managing to stay just out of site, and the sweetly 29 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling melancholic trill of the Willow Warbler. A pair of Coal Tits, looked suitably disheveled to be harassed parents at this important time of year for birds, and flashes of rusty-red tail alerted us to a pair of Redstarts moving through the trees. The pink bells of Cross-leaved Heath Erica tetralix began to appear as we approached a wetter area, along with our first of several Heath Spotted Orchids Dactylorhiza maculata. Here too we found Common Cotton-grass Eriophorum angustifolium, Deer Grass Trichphorum cespitosum and several spikes of Bog Asphodel Narthecium ossifragum, its starry, yellow flowers just beginning to open. Brown China-marks were flying around a series of ponds containing Bog Pondweed Potamogeton polygonifolius, occasionally settling on vegetation, allowing us a view of their patterned wings, as several curious Belted Galloway and British White cattle looked on. Philip spotted a Buff-tip moth doing its best snapped twig impression amongst the Bilberry, which along with a surprise Cuckoo calling, provided a distraction from the rain as we made our way back towards the bus. 30th June. South Downs National Park: Friston Forest and Lullington Heath. We set off east along the edge of the South Downs towards the small village of Jevington. The South Downs National Park is England's newest National Park, designated in 2010, and includes swathes of chalk grassland, along with the woodlands and heathlands of the western Weald. Climbing a path whose verges were rich in wildflowers we found Kidney Vetch Anthyllis vulneraria, Bladder Campion Silene vulgaris, Common Restharrow Ononis repens, Pale Flax Linum bienne, Rough Chervil Chaerophyllum temulum and more. The path brought us to the edge of Friston Forest, an extensive beech woodland that was planted in the 1920s to protect the Eastbourne Aquifer below. The clouds stifled butterfly activity beyond the ubiquitous Meadow Browns, but we soon spotted Marbled Whites joining various bumblebees and hoverflies dozing on flowerheads as they waited for the sun to reappear. Our walk brought us to the South Downs Way, accompanied by Skylark and Whitethroat song as we reached Lullington Heath. Designated a National Nature Reserve, Lullington Heath comprises chalk grassland, alongside a rare habitat known as chalk heath, in which acidic soil deposits over the underlying chalk support a fascinating mix of chalk grassland plants alongside those more typical of heathland. We set out to explore this unlikely combination of plants, clipped short by Herdwick Sheep and Exmoor Ponies: Salad Burnet Sanguisorba minor, Heather, Burnet Rose Rosa pimpinellifolia, Betony Stachys officinalis, Tormentil and Common Milkwort Polygala vulgaris mingled freely. Among the anthills we found the smallest plants including Thyme-leaved Sandwort Arenaria serpyllifolia and Parsley-piert Aphanes arvensis, along with Wild Thyme Thymus polytrichus, some of which had been infiltrated by Thyme Gall Mites Aceria thomasi, causing them to produce thickened, hairy leaves. We found a couple of interesting bees here: Orange-legged Furrow Bee Halictus rubicundus and the large Vestal Cuckoo Bee Bombus vestalis, a brood parasite that takes over the nest of the Buff-tailed Bumblebee Bombus terrestris, coercing the host's workers to raise its own young. Flashes of orange alerted us to several freshly-emerged Dark-green Fritillaries that were focusing their attention on a fenced-off area containing plentiful Dropwort Filipendula vulgaris and Wild Mignonette Reseda 30 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling lutea, along with a single spike of Round-headed Rampion Phyteuma orbiculare (the Sussex county flower). Following a lunch stop with views over Friston Forest and out to sea, our walk brought us back to the edge of the Forest. Walking along its flowery edge we found a patch of Long-stalked Crane's-bill Geranium columbinum, along with several gamboling Small Skippers and the large hoverfly Bumblebee Plumehorn Volucella bombylans, doings its best to convince us it was really a bee. A wide path through a scrubby valley brought us back to the South Downs Way, where we turned west for the final part of our walk. We spotted several new plants alongside the wide track here including the vividly yellow Dyer's Greenweed Genista tinctoria, Yellow-wort Blackstonia perfoliata, delicate Squinancywort Asperula cynnchica and Quaking Grass Briza media, and a trio of orchids: Common Spotted Orchid Dactylorhiza fuchsii, a single Fragrant Orchid Gymnadenia conopsea, and plentiful Pyramidal Orchids Anacamptis pyramidalis. Reaching the small village of Litlington there was some time for a local ice cream before we made our way back west to the hotel. 1st July. Seaford Head Nature Reserve and Shoreham Beach Local Nature Reserve Today saw us travelling east again, before we turned south, passing alongside the extensive Lewes Brooks, part of the River Ouse floodplain. Driving along the seafront in Seaford, we could see the iconic chalk cliffs of the Seaford to Beachy Head Site of Special Scientific Interest rising infront of us. The start of our walk took us through a scrubby area with plenty of birds hopping around including several brightly-coloured male Linnets. The vegetation was taller here, with Stinking Iris Iris foetidissima, Viper's-bugloss Echium vulgare and a patch of Deadly Nightshade Atropa belladonna. There were plenty of Small Heaths flying low to the ground, along with Common Blues and a Painted Lady, which had seen better days. As we approached the cliff edge the scrub gave way to a shorter chalk grassland sward with Common Centuary Centaurium erythraea, Fairy Flax Linum catharticum, Mouse-ear Hawkweed Pilosella officinarum and Smith's Pepperwort Lepidium heterophyllum, and among bare ground we found the tiny Annual Pearlwort Sagina apetala. Amongst the Wild Thyme we found the beautiful green-eyed Four-lined Horsefly Atylotus rusticus and the Scarce Purple and Gold, a small brightlycoloured moth, with several individuals hopping between flowers. From an area known as Hope Gap there was time to enjoy the views towards the rolling cliffs of the Seven Sisters, watching over a tranquil sea. There were several new plants in this area including small patches of Thrift Armeria maritima, Musk Mallow Malva moschata and Common Stork's-bill Erodium cicutarium. Down on the exposed foreshore a noisy Oystercatcher joined a Little Egret picking through the rocks, while a Great Black-backed Gull took the opportunity for a rest. A short climb to higher ground and we stopped for lunch to take advantage of the views along the coast and back along the Cuckmere Valley under the watchful eye of a Herring Gull. During lunch we had fly-bys both from a single Fulmar and the Goodyear Blimp.

31 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling

Top: Seven Sisters from Seaford Head. Left: Greater Knapweed. Right: Musk Mallow 32 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling The path took us down to sea level and the shingle beach at Cuckmere Haven. Around one small pool we found Greater Sea-spurrey Spegularia media, Sea Purslane Atriplex portulacoides and Sea Beet Beta vulgaris, with three Rock Pipits foraging at the water's edge. Walking through the floodplains of the Haven there was plentiful Sea Couch Elytrigia atherica and Sea Plantain Plantago maritima, along with Sea Mayweed Tripleuropermum maritimum, Sea Aster Aster tripolium, Sea Wormwood Artemesia maritima and Rock Samphire Crithmum maritimum, and a small patch of Common Sea Lavender Limonium vulgare. A couple of Ringed Plovers dashed along the edges of the channel, and several fly-by Little Egrets. Back on the bus we headed west again to another stretch of the Sussex coastline: Shoreham Beach, which sits at the mouth of the River Adur. At our first stop, the path was lined with Purple Toadflax Linaria purpurea and the non-native Red Valerian Valeriana ruber. Bumblebees were bustling around a patch of Black Horehound Ballota nigra, and amongst them we found the lovely little Green-eyed Flower Bee and the chunky Wool Carder Bee. Down on the beach was a mass of Hare's-foot Clover Trifolium arvense, along with the yellow flowers of Biting Stonecrop Sedum acre and sprawling Spear-leaved Orache Atriplex prostrata. Within their midst we found the plant we had come to see, Childing Pink Petrorhagia nanteuilii growing here at one of only two British mainland sites. The population here was almost lost to development but there is now a reasonable population, albeit in a tiny area. Moving on to Shoreham Fort, built in the 1850s during a period of political unrest, we explored the vegetated shingle habitat of Shoreham Beach Local Nature Reserve. Clouds of Sea Kale Crambe maritima were interspersed with Viper's-bugloss and Yellow-horned Poppy, along with the nonnative Silver Ragwort Jacobaea maritima, Shrubby Ragwort Brachyglottis x jubar and Red Valerian. A inconspicuous-looking clover was revealed as Rough Clover Trifolium scabrum a species of dry soils, usually by the coast. Buck's-horn Plantain Plantago coronopus, Tree Mallow Malva arborea, and the white flowers of English Stonecrop Sedum anglicum were spotted before we found our second 'exclusive plant': Starry Clover Trifolium stellatum. The clover's small white flowers sit within a large crimson, star-shaped calyx, giving it its common name. First recorded in 1804 at the Beach and considered a naturalised species, Starry Clover is common in the Mediterranean but in Britain is only known from one other site in Hampshire. As we made our way back to the bus we spotted one of the Beach's other specialities: a Wall Lizard. Widespread in mainland Europe, although not native to England there are a number of colonies established, including three in Sussex. Following a day of exploring some of the variety of the Sussex coastline we returned to the hotel for a round-up of our sightings during the trip and our final dinner together. Thank you to all the travellers for joining us to explore Sussex Laurie Jackson, Wildlife Travel, July 2021

33 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling

Viper’s Bugloss (top) and White Stork (bottom) 34 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling

Left (from top): Rough Clover, Starry Clover, Dark Green Fritillary, Marbled White Right (from top): Childing Pink, Dyer’s Greenweed 35 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling


14th to 18th July 2021 with Mike Symes 36 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling 15th July 2021 The local Peregrines provided a welcome distraction at the B&B on our first morning, with the recently fledged youngsters calling repeatedly from the adjacent rock face, and occasionally flying over the garden area and surrounding woodland. Once we’d met up with our driver Peter, we stopped briefly to buy sandwiches before heading off to explore east Devon, with our first destination being Aylesbeare Common RSPB reserve, which forms part of the largest area of lowland heathland in the county (known as the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths). This area of heathland has recently been designated as a National Nature Reserve, in recognition of its high wildlife value and the rare and threatened species that it supports. As we entered the site we paused to identify some of the typical plants of the area, including Common Centaury, Slender St John’s-wort, Tormentil and Wood Sage, before pointing out the differences between three species of heather (Ling, Bell and Cross-leaved Heath) which were growing amongst each other and creating a glorious purple haze across the landscape. Exploring a bit further, we stopped to watch a Golden-ringed Dragonfly patrolling along the track, with an equally impressive male Emperor Dragonfly flying past us a few moments later. As the day began to warm up, more insects emerged and we soon enjoyed views of Small Heath and Large Skipper butterflies, as well as a prettily marked Common Heath moth. A bright male Linnet perched accommodatingly atop a gorse bush, a Meadow Pipit flew over our heads and a singing Yellowhammer remained frustratingly out of sight despite our best efforts to locate it. The track we were following dropped down into a shallow valley, where a small wet flush hosted two interesting carnivorous plant species: Round-leaved Sundew and Pale Butterwort. This latter species in particular is quite scarce, and we spent some time appreciating the delicate flower and sticky leaves, which roll inwards from the edges to trap and digest any unwary insects that happen to land on them. On the south-facing slope of the valley a number of tins or reptile ‘refugia’ have been placed amongst the heather and low gorse, and it was here that we next turned our attention. Searching for reptiles can be very hit and miss, with cooler conditions often being more productive as the animals take longer to warm up and tend to remain under the refugia for a greater period of time. Unfortunately the rising temperatures, though very welcome, probably counted against us in our search as the first few tins were empty. However, under the very last tin we found a beautiful female Adder, which allowed brief views before slowly and quietly disappearing deeper into the vegetation. As we started to head back up the hill towards the bus, we noted both male and female Keeled Skimmer dragonflies, Azure Damselfly, Silver Y moth, and both Common Buzzard and Raven were seen circling overhead. When we were about to leave the site, one of the heathland’s key characteristic bird species decided to put in the briefest of appearances – a Dartford Warbler flew alongside and then across the track in between members of the group, providing no more than a fleeting glimpse to a couple of us. Despite some effort, it could not be relocated…

37 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling It was time to move on, so we travelled the short distance to Bystock DWT reserve, a wildlife-rich area of unimproved grassland, lowland heath, woodland and pools. We ate our picnic lunch in a flower-filled meadow surrounded by Common Knapweed, Eyebright, Bird’s-foot Trefoil and Common Spotted Orchids, before slowly walking through the nature reserve. By now it was very hot, and several butterflies were seen in the strong sunshine: striking Marbled Whites, impressive Silver-washed Fritillaries, Brimstone, Purple Hairstreak, Small and Large Skippers, Ringlet, Gatekeeper and numerous Meadow Browns were all noted. We also saw several colourful Six-spot Burnet Moths, drifting lazily from flower to flower, as well as the orange and black striped caterpillars of the Cinnabar Moth, munching their way through the scattered Ragwort plants. We found our second reptile species of the day in the form of a female Slow-worm, and the bird interest was provided by a vocal juvenile Green Woodpecker, a Common Buzzard low overhead and a male Bullfinch which eventually revealed itself to us after trying its best to stay hidden amongst the foliage. As we continued to explore the site we reached an area of small acidic pools and seepages which supported some interesting wetland plants such as Round-leaved Sundew, Bog Pimpernel, Black Bog-rush and a lovely patch of Bog Asphodel. In this area we also saw several Keeled Skimmer dragonflies, Emperor and the rare Small Red Damselfly, which perched openly and allowed us to point out the red legs and all-red abdomen, two key features which distinguish the males of this species from the more common Large Red Damselfly (which has black legs and black markings towards the tip of the abdomen). By the time we reached the main pond we had added Beautiful Demoiselle, Common Blue Damselfly, Azure Damselfly and Large Red Damselfly to our growing species list. From here we re-joined the bus and continued to the village of Otterton for a well-deserved icecream stop, before exploring one of the side channels of the River Otter to look for evidence of beaver activity, and to discuss the Devon Beaver Project: this is a pioneering project led by Devon Wildlife Trust to monitor the wild Beaver population and study the impacts these animals have on the local environment; it was great to hear how supportive the local community has been to the project, as well as learning about how important landowner engagement is when managing an increasing Beaver population in the river catchment. After an early dinner in the nearby village of East Budleigh, we returned to Otterton and walked down river in search of Beavers! As the shadows lengthened we waited patiently, and after a little while we struck gold, as a large female Beaver swam downstream towards us, dragging a piece of willow back to the lodge, presumably to feed her young which remained out of view. This female, with its pink ear tag, is well known to the project, and has successfully raised several young over the last few years. Then a little later she emerged again, and swam to the far bank where she proceeded to spend several minutes grooming and having a good scratch; when seen out of the water, you could really get a sense of the size of the animal. She then slipped into the water again, and glided downstream leaving her band of admirers to reflect upon a great encounter! By now it was time to return to base, to bring to an end a long but rewarding first full day in Devon. 38 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling 16th July 2021 It was another glorious hot, sunny day as we set off for Dawlish Warren National Nature Reserve, situated at the mouth of the River Exe. After hurrying past the amusement arcades at the entrance to this popular holiday resort, we walked through the car park and into the nature reserve, where thankfully we could avoid the crowds and enjoy some of the wonderful wildlife the site has to offer. The dune slacks behind the beach are botanically very diverse, and it didn’t take us long to find a range of interesting plant species. The carpets of Marsh Helleborine were particularly impressive, interspersed with the diminutive Adder’s-tongue Fern and Marsh Pennywort, whilst other areas of the site were dominated by a stunning combination of Purple Loosestrife and Meadowsweet, alongside the showy Yellow Bartsia, Sea Club-rush, Parsley Water-dropwort, Fairy Flax and Common Centaury. In the short turf we noted Lady’s Bedstraw, Common Stork’s-bill, Common Restharrow, Hare’s-foot Clover and the rare Strawberry Clover and Lesser Centaury. One or two Bee Orchids were just about still flowering, in a fenced off enclosure, whereas the Southern Marsh Orchids had clearly finished some time ago. We spent some time examining the Evening Primrose plants, which were abundant across the site, and identified that two species were present: the tall, showy Largeflowered Evening Primrose, and also the shorter, narrower-leaved and redder Fragrant Evening Primrose. Lifting our heads upwards for a moment we heard and then saw a male Cirl Bunting, a real Devon speciality and one that is gradually increasing its range north and eastwards. This individual then proceeded to sing from its favoured perch for several minutes, allowing us all to enjoy great views. Common Whitethroat, Reed Bunting, Linnet, Chiffchaff and Greenfinch were also recorded, alongside perky Stonechats and a confiding Reed Warbler which showed itself at close quarters. Butterflies comprised Gatekeeper, Small White, Common Blue and a beautiful Small Copper, whilst other invertebrate highlights included Emperor Dragonfly, Blue-tailed Damselfly and a group of Red Poplar Leaf Beetles feeding on the young willow shoots. We climbed up to the dune ridge, which is subject to the full force of the sea and in recent years has been severely damaged by winter storms. From here, with views across the estuary to Exmouth, we saw Cormorants and Sandwich Terns fishing offshore, while at ground level a range of salttolerant plants were growing amongst the dunes including Sea Sandwort, Sea Radish and Sea Bindweed. After we’d enjoyed the cooling sea breeze for a few moments more, we began to retrace our steps, pausing for lunch in the dune slacks and listening to a chuntering Reed Warbler trying to compete with the more melodic fluty notes of a Blackcap. By now our next destination was beckoning, so we returned to the bus and drove to Stover Country Park. Here we enjoyed walking around the scenic lake, fringed by mixed woodland, and saw a nice range of birds including Mute Swan, Moorhen, Coot, Tufted Duck, the exotic Mandarin Duck (though the males look rather less gaudy at this time of year), and a pair of nesting Great-crested Grebes which were observed building up their nest with fresh plant material, and at least one chick could be seen when the adults moved position. Stover Lake has recently been designated as a ‘Dragonfly Hotspot’ (one of only fourteen in the UK), and is home to a wide range of dragonflies and damselflies, including some rarities. As we walked 39 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling around the far side of the lake, where a number of small pools with abundant emergent and marginal vegetation have been created, we began to encounter a range of species: Common Blue Damselfly, Azure Damselfly, Large Red Damselfly and the elegant Emerald Damselfly were all seen, along with Emperor Dragonfly and our first Four-spotted Chaser of the trip. As we continued around the lake, we scanned the floating vegetation and found some Red-eyed Damselflies; this is quite a scarce species in Devon, being typically found further east in the UK, and it is quite distinctive with its bulging red eyes, black body and pale blue tip to the abdomen. After spending some time trying to get good views, just a few metres along the track one of our group found another individual in a much clearer position, allowing us all to have a good look at this local rarity. After we had enjoyed good views of a male Black-tailed Skimmer, and had compared it to yesterday’s Keeled Skimmer, noting the slightly larger size and black pterostigma (coloured cell on leading edge of wing near tip; yellowish in Keeled Skimmer), we reached an aerial walkway which has been constructed through part of the woodland. Here a bird feeding station has been set up, though it was generally quiet during our visit, with Chaffinch, Blue Tit and Great Tit on the feeder and Stock Dove together with several Grey Squirrels foraging on the ground beneath. We returned to the B&B for a rest and a chance to freshen up before heading out again for a pub dinner near Buckfastleigh. After an enjoyable meal we drove the short distance into the town where we learned about the work of the recent Devon Greater Horseshoe Bat Project, a National Lottery Heritage Funded partnership project which was led by the Devon Wildlife Trust, and which finished earlier this year. This project worked with landowners and communities around 11 Greater Horseshoe Bat maternity roosts in the county to raise awareness of this rare species, and to provide land management advice to ensure that the landscapes surrounding the roosts continue to support healthy bat populations into the future. As we waited for dusk to fall, the anticipation was building as the first Common Pipistrelle bats emerged and began to hunt for insects amongst the trees. As the light levels dropped further, larger bats began to stream past us – Greater Horseshoes! From our location alongside the river we proceeded to watch several hundreds of these large bats fly past and in front of us, heading out from their roost – the largest Greater Horseshoe Bat roost in northern Europe – to feed on large insects in the nearby fields and hedgerows. We used bat detectors which convert the bats’ echolocation calls to audible frequencies, and the sight and sounds (bizarre warbling on the detector) of these bats coming towards us at eye level, and flying around within a few feet of us, was a remarkable experience and not one that we'll forget any time soon! 17th July 2021 Our destination this morning was Bovey Valley Woodlands, a beautiful area of wooded river valley on the edge of Dartmoor National Park. The site, and indeed the wider landscape, supports a healthy population of another rare mammal, the Hazel Dormouse, which benefits from the mosaic of woodland and scrub habitats linked by bushy hedgerows that provide plenty of feeding and nesting opportunities for these delightful little animals. 40 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling The sun shone as we met up with local expert Matt, who has been monitoring the Dormouse population here for several years, and he began by talking about the species’ ecology and habitat requirements, before showing us example breeding and hibernation nests and passing round nibbled hazelnuts – the shape of the hole and the teeth markings on the nuts are distinctive, and can be reliably used to confirm Dormouse presence in a woodland. As we slowly walked along the river Bovey, following it upstream into the reserve which is managed by Natural England and the Woodland Trust, several butterfly species were enjoying the warm conditions including Ringlet, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Red Admiral, Silver-washed Fritillary and a stunning White Admiral, which posed in the sunshine for us. After we reached the historic Hisley Bridge, we climbed uphill, noting the pale yellow flowers of Common Cow-wheat along the way, towards the Dormouse monitoring area where the nest boxes were located. Matt took time to explain the woodland management techniques being undertaken here, which include pre-emptively felling the larch in a gradual way, and re-planting with native broadleaved trees. This pre-emptive felling is vastly preferable to waiting and potentially facing the risk of Phytophthora ramorum (a serious disease which kills larch trees) reaching the site; this would result in the need for clear felling large areas of larch, which would be much more damaging for the Dormouse population. Excitement was building as we followed Matt into the trees to check a few boxes. The first box was empty, but Matt’s confidence was well-founded and it didn’t take long for us to see our target species – a lovely female Dormouse was found in the next box! We all enjoyed great views of this ridiculously cute little mammal, as she seemed quite relaxed in Matt’s hands and gave plenty of opportunities for us to photograph and appreciate this seldom-seen animal. Once safely back in her box again, we left her in peace and retreated back to the track, very satisfied indeed with another top wildlife sighting. In high spirits we started to walk back down the river towards the bus, adding Comma and Brimstone to our butterfly list, and noting Trailing St John’s-wort and Betony beside the footpath. We stopped briefly by a bridge where Matt showed us signs that an Otter had passed through – footprints, scraped sand and a spraint could be seen – before we parted company with Matt, thanking him for guiding us around the site and for sharing his knowledge of the local wildlife. By now stomachs were rumbling and thirsts needed quenching, so we visited a nearby café and farm shop for lunch. Feeling suitably refreshed, we continued on to explore one of Devon’s most famous landscapes, Dartmoor National Park, an extensive area of wild moorland and deep river valleys which is home to a range of interesting flora and fauna. We enjoyed good views of the impressive granite tors which are so typical of Dartmoor before stopping to explore Emsworthy Mire DWT reserve near Haytor. Birds seen here included frequent Meadow Pipits, Stonechat, Mistle Thrush, Starling, Linnet and a female Redstart which flitted amongst the stone walls and low branches of the Hawthorn trees. We walked down to the valley bottom and spent time botanising in the wet flushes and marshy streamside vegetation, which were full of interesting plants. We found several noteworthy species including the carnivorous Round-leaved Sundew, Marsh Lousewort, Bogbean, Marsh St John’s-wort, 41 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling Bog Pimpernel, Bog Pondweed, Lesser Skullcap, Bog Asphodel, Marsh Willowherb and perhaps best of all, the delicate Ivy-leaved Bellflower. Keeled Skimmer, Large Red Damselfly, Green-veined White and an Emperor Dragonfly provided the invertebrate interest. We started to head back up the hill, noting a juvenile Northern Wheatear on the way, before rejoining our bus and continuing to the picturesque Dartmoor village of Widecombe in the Moor, where no Devon holiday would be complete without indulging in a cream tea. Fully sated, we returned to the B&B where we had time to relax before meeting up to go through the day’s key sightings. We enjoyed one last group dinner together, where we could reflect on the highlights of what had been an action-packed few days in the south-west, leaving us all with great memories of Devon’s special wildlife and landscapes, and with a deeper appreciation of how local conservationists are working hard to monitor and protect some of the county’s iconic species.

Mike Symes, Wildlife Travel, July 2021

42 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling

Clockwise, from top left: Yellow Bartsia, Small Red Damselfly, Cirl Bunting, Hazel Dormouse

43 www.wildlife-travel.co.uk

spring of #WildlifeTravelling

www.wildlife-travel.co.uk 01954 713575 wildlifetravel@wildlifebcn.org




The Manor House, Broad Street, Great Cambourne, Cambridge CB23 6DH Clockwise, from top left: Yellow Bartsia, Small Red Damselfly, Adder’s Tongue Fern, Red Poplar Leaf Beetle