Many birds will be returning to our coasts this month from their summer homes abroad to spend the winter in Britain. In Norfolk Cley Marshes is a favourite place for ducks, geese and wading birds to over-winter. One, which is partly migratory, is the beautiful Avocet. Some breed in Europe and Asia and some are resident in Britain. This became possible in East Anglia during the second world war when coastal marshes were flooded to prevent invasion by enemy powers. Since then Avocets are to be found not only in our region but in various places around the country. They can be seen at Cley at any time of the year as can many other watery birds.
One which most people will be familiar with is the Coot. They too are resident in Britain and can be found all over the country except the far north and west of Scotland. Easily recognised by the white shield on the head, above the beak, which gives rise to the saying ‘bald as a coot.’ The Coot is a member of the rail family which also includes Moorhens, Water rails and Corncrakes. The chicks, which hatch in May, have orange-red feathers on their heads which they soon lose and become like their parents, slatey black with that white shield.
Coots are omnivorous feeding on plants, seeds, worms, insects and small crustaceans. Their long-toed feet enable them to walk on marshy ground and even briefly on the surface of the water.
Mute swan families can also to be seen at Cley and on rivers and lakes. The cygnets still have some grey-brown feathers and they won’t become completely white until they are at least a year old, which will be next spring. Meanwhile, they stay with their parents learning the life skills needed to be independent.
The hedgerows are still buzzing with life and one plant that is an important source of food for insects is Ivy. It remains in flower when most other plants are no longer blooming and provides nectar and pollen for many creatures. The flowers are followed by succulent berries relished by birds, particularly Wood pigeons which seem to love them.
Because hedgerows are often composed of many different species of plants, they are habitats for a variety of organisms. You may have noticed, as you walk beside a hedge, a white, powdery dust on Oak leaves. This is a type of mildew caused by a fungus that favours the young leaves and will often distort them as they mature. Of course, this will affect mature Oak trees as well but it is more noticeable to us on the low growing plants in the hedgerows. The fungus is thought to originate in Asia on Mango trees and possibly found its way to us on imported plants. In our country it is reported to have also infected Wisteria.
One colourful insect you may also find in hedges is the Hawthorn shield bug, one of many of our native shield bugs. This one feeds mainly on Hawthorn berries but will also eat a variety of leaves during the winter and, like other shield bugs, feeds by piercing the outer casing of the berry or leaf and sucking up the juices; shield bugs are also known as stink bugs because they emit a foul smell when disturbed.
A colourful migrant still here in September is the Large tortoiseshell butterfly. This became extinct in England in the 1960s mainly due to Dutch Elm Disease which killed most of our Elm trees; Elm leaves are the primary food for the Large tortoiseshell caterpillars. However, sightings have been reported this year in Norfolk, other Eastern counties and in the south. These will have arrived earlier in the year from European countries and it is hoped that some will stay and overwinter here to emerge in the spring and establish a native breeding colony. This butterfly looks very like its smaller cousin, the Small tortoiseshell which is common in the UK, except it is slightly larger and has an extra black spot low on the forewing.
I hope you all are still well and enjoying the last of summer and the start of autumn.
© Sheila Sims 2020. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org