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April 2013

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Now that things are warming up (hopefully) spring should be well under way. Birds are nesting and the first swallows are starting to arrive and will be investigating outbuildings for suitable nest sites. Many will return to the same places as last year, so make sure old nests are knocked down in case they feel lazy and try to re-use these. They will probably be too fragile to last the season resulting in the loss of eggs and young.

Teal at Cley Sheila Sims
Teal at Cley, Shiela Sims

Sunny days bring out butterflies. Often the first to be seen is the bright yellow Brimstone, followed by the Orange Tip; the female lacks the orange wing patch. Cley marshes are alive with bird activity with the spring migration; visit the hides to watch the many species of waders including the rare and beautiful Avocets which nest here. Sedge Warblers and Bearded Tits can be seen in the reeds and Yellow Wagtails return here this month.

Little Egret, Sheila Sims
Little Egret, Sheila Sims

Nightingales will be arriving at Kelling Heath, near Weybourne. This shy bird is rarely seen but on warm evenings, towards the end of the month, the male can be heard singing to attract a mate. How could she resist!

Terns will be starting to nest at Blakeney Point along with Oyster Catchers, Little Ringed Plovers and other waders. Seals are present throughout the year. Restrictions are in place during the nesting season so check with the Norfolk Wildlife Trust before going. Ring Ouzels, relatives of the blackbird usually resident in Europe, were seen at Friary Woods, near Blakeney, last year, so worth looking out for.

A Little Egret has been seen again at Briggate Mill Pond, near North Walsham, possibly the same bird that was there last year. These small, white herons visit Britain more commonly now, and will often settle at Cley.

Grass Snake, Nicki Dixon
Grass Snake, Nicki Dixon

Grass snakes emerge from hibernation this month and like to bask on sunny banks or pond edges. The males are first out, followed a couple of weeks later by the females. The female is bigger than the male measuring 90 – 110 centimetres, but larger specimens have been recorded. They are olive-grey-brown with dark spots on their sides and have a distinctive black and yellow collar, although the yellow can sometimes be diluted to cream or white and occasionally is absent. Dark (melanistic) specimens, although rare, have been seen.
Grass snakes feed mainly on frogs and toads and will sometimes take small mammals. They swim well and fish can form part of their diet.

Shed skin, Nicki Dixon
Shed skin, Nicki Dixon

Leathery, white eggs are laid in concealed places where the temperature is high, which is necessary for incubation; compost heaps are very popular. Although, when disturbed, they often adopt a threatening, hissing posture, they are harmless and rarely bite. They prefer to fool you by ‘playing dead’ or releasing a smelly fluid from the vent.

The skin is shed during the active season and can sometimes be found, turned inside out.

Events this month include
• Warden led bird walks at Cley,
• Bluebell Walks at Foxley Woods, north of Norwich
• Guided walks at Thorpe Marshes, near Norwich.
Details at Norfolk Wildlife Trust or 01603 625 540.

© Sheila Sims 2013.   Email: