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May 2013

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Hawthorn blossom
Hawthorn blossom, Sheila Sims

This month May blossom, the flower of the Hawthorn tree, fills the hedgerows, providing welcome nectar for many insects.

Nightjars arrive at Kelling Heath and Winterton and the male’s distinctive ‘churring’ call can be heard at dusk as they hawk night-flying insects.

Peregrine Falcons have nested again on the spire at Norwich Cathedral. At the time of writing they have four eggs which, hopefully, will hatch soon. See them on the Hawk and Owl Trust webcam. Many cities now have Peregrines – the high buildings are attractive nest sites because they are similar to the coastal cliffs where they would normally breed. The pigeons taste good, as well!

Adders, Britain’s only venomous snakes, like warm heaths and sandy places. They will be basking on the dunes at Winterton and Sea Palling and have also been seen at Sheringham Park; they are easily recognised by the dark zig-zag pattern down their backs. They will only bite if disturbed and dogs will be curious about them, so best to keep your pets on the lead when walking in the type of habitat these snakes prefer.

Peacock, Sheila Sims
Peacock, Sheila Sims

If you hear a ‘plop’ while walking by water, you may have just missed seeing a Water Vole. These little animals are endangered due to habitat destruction and predation by the introduced American Mink, but one of their main strongholds in Britain is in our county. Sometimes known as Water Rats (Ratty in ‘Wind in the Willows’ was a Water vole) they are often confused with Brown Rats, which also swim well. The voles, however, have round, blunt heads and stockier bodies. They are active during the day and early summer can be a good time to see them especially if you are on the water.

Peacock butterflies will be flying on warm, sunny days – be kind to them and leave a few nettles. Peacocks lay their eggs on these and the emerging caterpillars feed on the leaves. Great to have something that actually eats nettles!

Although large numbers of pheasants are reared every year and released for shooting, there is also a well-established wild population. Originating in Asia, they are thought to have been introduced by the Romans. We take them for granted because they are so common but the cock must be one of our most beautiful birds. He will have a harem of several hens and will protect them within his territory, driving other cocks away. This year one decided that his territory was around our house and fearlessly attacked us and anyone else in the vicinity. He chased vehicles down the lane which, unfortunately, brought him to a sad end. Shame – we’d got rather fond of him.

Pheasants feed on seeds, vegetation, and insects and will occasionally take small reptiles, mammals and birds.

Cock Pheasant, Sheila Sims

They are nesting, now, making a scrape, roughly lined with dried grass and leaves, hidden in vegetation. Ten to fifteen pale olive eggs are incubated by the hen only. Last year one nested against the wall of our house and we were intrigued that none of our three Lurchers detected her, although they were often very close to the nest. This was interesting, because the dogs can easily pick up the scent of a bird in the field; they were carefully watched. The hen remained for the full incubation period, over three weeks, then one morning was gone, leaving a heap of broken shells, which the dogs immediately found. Ate the lot!

I have learnt that studies done on wading birds, which are also ground nesters, have found that the oil from the preen gland, at the base of the tail, changes during the sitting period and is not as volatile as before, therefore the scent cannot be easily detected by predators. It is also known that partridges are able to close their vents, which would be another source of scent. It is probable that pheasants go through the same processes to avoid detection.

The hen’s mottled brown plumage is also excellent camouflage.

Events this month include:
• Bats and moths at Beacon Park, Gorleston.
• Bure Valley canoe voyages.
• Hickling Broad boat trips.
• Good family outings: ‘Go Wild’ at Barton Broad.
• Rock pool ‘rummage’ at West Runton.
For further details contact Norfolk Wildlife Trust or call 01603-625540.

© Sheila Sims 2013.