April 2015

The dawn chorus is well under way, with birds singing as soon as there is a hint of daylight, to advertise their territory and attract a mate.  Studies done at different airports have shown that the birds in these areas are starting earlier than usual. It is thought that they do this so they don’t have to compete with the sound of the morning rush of planes, which shows that they are remembering at what time this happens. This also occurs in busy cities and some, the robin and blackbird in particular, will sing during the night; the street lights confuse their sense of time.

 Dunnock Sheila Sims

Sheila Sims

A bird whose song is often confused with the robin’s is the Dunnock, sometimes called the Hedge sparrow, although it is not related to the sparrow family. It is a brown bird with a blue-grey head and chest and pretty, streaky plumage; the sexes are very similar in appearance. They are mainly ground feeders, seeking out insects and spiders, but will take seeds, especially during the winter when live food is often scarce; robins feed in the same way and will chase Dunnocks away from their territories. Dunnocks are solitary birds except during the breeding season when many are anything but!

 Dunnock's nest Sheila Sims

Cuckoo chick in a Dunnock’s nest
Sheila Sims

Unusually, for birds, the Dunnock can be quite promiscuous and will often have more than one mate. Before mating the male does a side to side hopping dance, with a lot of tail and wing flicking, behind the female who will then bend forward and allow the male to peck her vent. This causes her to eject sperm from a previous mating ensuring that the dominant male fathers most of the chicks. DNA tests have found that broods can be of mixed fatherhood and often both males will help to rear the young. The neat nest is built in a hidden place, close to the ground and is made from twigs lined in moss and soft material such as feathers, fur or wool. There are 4 – 5 bright blue eggs which are mainly incubated by the female. A Dunnock’s nest is often parasitized by a cuckoo who will remove one egg and replace it with her own.

 Sycamore flowers Sheila Sims

Sycamore flowers
Sheila Sims

Many trees come into flower this month but there are some whose blossoms you may not notice. The sycamore, for example, has greenish-yellow blooms, often overlooked as they are much the same colour as the new leaves. Both male and female flowers are present on the same tree and, like all plants, it is the male which produces the pollen. Stand by a Sycamore on a sunny day and you will hear that the tree is alive with buzzing as bees and other insects take advantage of these very attractive flowers.

 Alexander Sheila Sims

Sheila Sims

Another spring flower which is also greenish-yellow is the Alexander, the first of the umbellifers to bloom.  It was introduced to Britain by the Romans who used it as a food plant and also in herbal medicine.

 Common Dog violet Sheila Sims

Common Dog violet
Sheila Sims

                      Dog violets, hidden away amongst the grass, are also in flower this month.

 Danish Scurvy grass Sheila Sims

Danish Scurvy grass
Sheila Sims

As are clusters of small white, or pinkish white, flowers that you may have noticed lining the edges of busy roads.This is Danish Scurvy grass; scurvy is a disease caused by vitamin ‘C’ deficiency. In the days before refrigeration, long sea voyages meant that sailors had no access to fresh fruit and vegetables and consequently suffered from a lack of this vitamin. It was discovered that the plant contained very high levels and dried bunches or concentrated extracts were taken on board to prevent scurvy. It is a coastal plant at home in seaside marshes and dunes, so what is it doing growing along the sides of our main roads? The answer is simple – salt. The lorries that spread salty grit during icy winters provide an ideal habitat for this plant. The seeds are transported in the treads of tyres and blown along by air currents, caused by the movement of traffic, aiding growing colonisation of the roadsides. A good example of how nature can take advantage of human activity.

Our Norwich peregrines also do this; they are back at the cathedral on the nesting platform provided by the Hawk and Owl Trust. They have four eggs and we can look forward to following their progress on the live web cam which has a new camera and is showing very clear pictures.

The Orange tip butterfly will be flying this month after having spent the winter as a chrysalis. This is a pretty butterfly (are there any other kinds?) which has a dancing flight and the male, as the name suggests, has orange tips to his wings. The female lacks these, her wing tips being black or dark grey, so she can be confused with a Small white or a Green veined white; the undersides of the wings of both sexes are  mottled mossy-green and white. The food plants for the caterpillars are mainly Cuckoo flowers, also called Lady’s smock, and Garlic mustard. The caterpillars can be cannibalistic, so to avoid losing her whole brood the clever girl will lay only one egg to one plant.

 Female Orange tip Sheila Sims

Female Orange tip
Sheila Sims

The Eurasian lynx once roamed the forests of Britain but became extinct in this country 1,300 years ago because of hunting and deforestation. However, this could all change if a plan conceived by the Lynx UK Trust is approved. Four to six of these large cats, fitted with GPS tracking collars, would be released in each of three unfenced sites. One in Aberdeenshire, one in the Lake District and the other in Thetford forest. Naturally, this is a controversial scheme and I would be interested to know your opinions. Let’s have a look at some facts:

Good idea:

Lynx feed on deer, rabbits and hares. Britain has a large deer population, with no natural predators, and many forests are damaged by over-grazing; lynx would help to reduce the numbers.

They are shy and secretive and there are no known records of attacks on humans.

They are beautiful animals and their reintroduction would add to the biodiversity of our countryside.

Bad idea:

They have been known to take sheep.

1,300 years ago Britain was heavily forested; it isn’t now. The lynx would obviously breed, so how many could each site support? They would be bound to spread into neighbouring territory.

The human population was smaller in the past and contact with the cats would have been virtually non-existent; unlikely now.

Animals are adaptable and feeding habits change as they move into new territories; look at the fox. Once, a shy, countryside dweller feeding on countryside food, now also a bold townee visiting gardens, raiding bins and there have been reports of them entering houses. So, as the years go on and the lynx, maybe, become more accustomed to humans, would they find easier prey more attractive? Dogs? Small children? Thetford forest is visited by many people; think about Centre Parcs. And what about the lynx themselves? Their European homes are in huge areas of forest, largely uninhabited by humans, with very few roads or railways. How long would it be, in this country, before they became casualties of modern living? Also, wouldn’t the odd person quite fancy a trophy lynx head on their wall?

There is to be a public consultation about this ‘rewilding’ and your opinion is important. It’s your world and your county so, are you for, against or undecided?  Let me know what you think and I will forward your thoughts to the relevant decision makers. Email me at sheila@norfolknaturediary.uk

Thank you for your lovely photos and all your questions, please keep sending.

Activities this month include:

  • Beach clean – Cley marshes.
  • Guided walk at the new nature reserve – Taverham Mill.
  • Wild flower identification – meet at Acle library.

Details at www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk or 01603 625540.

  • Family Easter activities – Titchwell Marsh.

For details call 01485 210779.

  • Canoe trip – Strumpshaw Fen.

Details info@thecanoeman.com or 0845 4969177.

© Sheila Sims 2015.  Email:  sheila@norfolknaturediary.uk



Comments are closed.