Monday, 29 June 2015

Recent Sightings - June 2015

Blimey! It’s been a sizzling June! With recent temperatures soring over 30oC it’s been a lovely time to be on the reserve.

The month started with a boom, a Bitten boom that is! Repeated sightings have led to rumours of a breeding pair however our observations thus far have been inconclusive.

It has been a good  year for small birds. The lovely Bearded Tits at Overy have successfully reared at least 13 broods, a great success considering the size of the reedbed! The biggest surprise to me however was finding a Pied Wagtail nest in the woodpile in the work yard. Despite the odds the diligent parents raised 3 out of the 6 chicks (I watched the 2 become Barn Owl food!).

Bearded Tits are funny looking birds! The males
have black 'moustaches' and they are very noisy

and distinctive 'ping' call.

The Kingfisher has been darting up and down in front of Washington Hide from the pool to the dyke. The Crossbills have been very lively in the pine woods and a number of out-of-season Siskins continue to pass through the reserve. Sea birds were making quite a show as well this month with both Max Shearwaters and Gannets passing through.

Kingfishers fly quick and low over slow 
moving water and hunt fish from 
riverside perches such as reeds. 
Occasionally they even hover over 
the water's surface.

Rare sightings this month.
The most exciting rarity this month was a Woodchat Shrike. We found it while conducting a lapwing count at the start of the month. The Shrike was observed making a larder in a nearby blackthorn bush but moved on soon after.

 The prey caught by the Woodchat Shrike 
was taken to a larder where it was impaled 
on a thorn or wedged in a fork and saved 
for later.

A personal highlight for me this month was the Turtle Dove, an increasingly rare sight. This was my first sighting of this very distinctive bird.  Although protected in Britain they are aggressively shot in Malta during migration. Turtle Doves have declined more than 90% between 1997 and 2010 and are now a red listed bird facing the threat of extinction.

The hot sunny weather brought an explosion of invertebrates with large numbers of moths, butterflies and dragonflies. We had one of our most productive trapping days yet. Here are some of the highlights:

Hornet moth

Pine Hawk Moth

Little Elephant Hawk Moth

Butterflies have been adding lots of colour to the day, but they are best seen in the mornings. The highlights are:

White Admiral

Dark Green Fritillary

Large Skipper

Fingers crossed this lovely weather continues and you can come and see the reserve in full bloom!

Happy birding!

Jonathan Holt


Monday, 22 June 2015

Saving Private Natterjack

As I make my way over to the Natterjack toad pools the time is 9:06 and the sun is already beating down fiercely. The dry spell has been going on for months here at Hokham NNR and while the drying out of these shallow pools is an important part of Natterjack ecology if it happens too early it will kill the fragile tadpoles before they can undergo metamorphosis. Having taken measurements, I calculated that almost 400 litres of water is being evaporated from the ponds each day!

The Natterjack is also known as the ‘running toad’ as the 
short hind limbs allow it to run after prey rather than hop.

So with no rain in sight, it’s time for some drastic action! Today I have brought reinforcements. Using a borrowed 1000 litre water water Tank and a fair bit of ingenuity we intend to top up the pools over this dry spell. This is no easy feat as the topography of the reserve makes it very difficult for the water tank to get close enough to the slacks. As well as avoiding rabbit holes the water (1.5 tonnes) needs to flow downhill in a trickle, this enables warm water to enter the pools, if the water was too cold then the tadpoles would take longer to metamorphose and that would mean a likelihood of higher predation.

It was difficult finding a hosepipe long enough to reach
the ponds! 

Getting the water levels right is crucial for the Natterjack toads to breed successfully. Too much water could spell disaster because the tadpoles could be eaten by diving beetle and dragonfly larvae, too little and the ephemeral ponds will dry out before they have had chance to change.

Depending on the weather Natterjacks breed from 
April to June in Britain.

Why go to all this trouble I hear you ask? In the UK Natterjack populations are small, fragmented and threatened by habitat loss. They are also one of Britain’s rarest amphibians. Holkham NNR is one of only 60 sites in the UK where Natterjack toads can be found. It is therefore vital that we take action to help the Natterjack toads through the breeding season by preventing the ponds from drying out.

Natterjacks are described as being Europe's noisiest 
amphibian. On still, sunny evenings its chorus can be heard 
over several kilometres.

Be sure to check back in a couple of months to see how successful our rescue mission has been.

Please note
As a European protected species, under The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, schedule 2 and 5, it is an offence to capture, possess, disturb, kill, injure, or trade individuals of this species. It is also an offence to destroy the places they use for breeding or resting. Therefore we ask you to stick to the paths, tread carefully and enjoy listening to these charismatic noisy amphibians. Please do not go off to look for toads in the dunes, pools, and fields or enter any pools (including dogs) as this can cause disturbance.

Jonathan Holt

Monday, 8 June 2015

World Oceans Day at Holkham

World Oceans Day is a celebration of the beauty and importance that the ocean provides in everyone’s life. When people think of the ocean their minds turn too the coral reefs, vast sandy beaches and crystal blue waters of the far away Mediterranean or tropical waters and think the UK coast is a cold grey mass devoid of life. This could not be further from the truth. The seas around the UK have the potential to be among the most productive and wildlife-rich on Earth. From gentle giants like basking sharks to the beautiful colours of sea slugs the seas around Britain are full of fascinating and wonderful surprises.

Holkham Beach is a beautiful stretch of sand and shingle 
spanning  8 miles.

Sometimes these natural treasures are washed up onto our shores. They can be simple shells and sometimes they can be a 1 tonne sunfish, like the ones which came onshore on the Norfolk coast this January.

But the oceans are under threat from the growing wave of plastics that are discarded into the sea each year. Most plastics never really ‘go way’ they simply break down into smaller and smaller pieces.  On average there are is a staggering 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in every square mile of ocean! Huge whales, cliff nesting Fulmars and even the fish we eat are digesting these fragments of plastics which can cause starvation as they fill up the animal’s stomach or they become entangled causing great discomfort and even death. Luckily we can all do something about this! By picking up litter when you visit the beach you can save wildlife and make the beach a better place for everyone.

A Grey seal at Blakeney Point with a Frisbee tight 
around its neck.

So how can you celebrate this auspicious date? How can you show your appreciation for the ocean?

Well, by beachcombing of course! It’s a great activity for all the family.

From the car park at Lady Anne’s Drive, it’s a short walk down the boardwalk to the beach. Be treated to some stunning views of Holkham Gap and North Sea. The best shells are found along the high tide line where it’s a little shingly.

There are many beautiful things to be found in the tide line. 
Like this lovely pebble!

Remember check the tide table and the weather and remember to wash your hands afterwards.

To identify your finds and find out more about them print out the spotter sheet below!

You can download it: HERE

Happy World Oceans Day!

Jonathan Holt

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Recent Sightings - May 2015

The rain has just started to patter down on office windows here on the North Norfolk Coast, our first proper rainfall in months. While many holiday makers will be cursing their misfortune I am counting my lucky stars. The Natterjack Ponds need filling up!

Watching the sheets of rain sweeping over Norton is 
always impressive.

The hot summer weather has brought the reserve to life with the ‘swishing’ of leaves, the ‘buzzing’ of insects, the ‘bark’ of natterjacks, the ‘chirp’ of new life and the surprised ‘skwark!’ of ducklings before they are eaten by a Harrier. Overy is currently my favourite part of the reserve, not only can you hear the boom of Bittern and the call of a Cuckoo but also the growl of the Natterjacks, what a cacophony!

AAARRRRRR! Shiver me-timbers! Some Dutch pirates 
sighted off the Beach.

The waders have been very slow this year by Holkham standards; 28 Dunlin11 Ruff45 Avocets, 6 Greenshank, 4 Whimbrel, 100 Sanderlings, 10 Little Ringed Plover and an impressive flock of 450 Black-tailed godwits. The wader list was further added to by Curlew Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper and a Temmick Stint which could be seen on the grazing marsh’s.

Black-tailed godwits feast on insects, worms and snails, 
but also some beetles, grasshoppers and other small 
insects found in the long grass of the grazing marsh.

While the Citril Finch caused much excitement at the west end of the pine woods there has been relatively few rarities present on the reserve this month. Also the number of migrants has been way down compared to previous years. Despite this Holkham NNR can still boast continued sightings of Spotted Flycatcher, Redstart, Crossbill, Yellow Hammer and our ever present Spoonbills all from the Hides.

Seeing Spoonbills never gets boring!

And now the good news!
This month started in style for our birds of prey with the sighting of not 1 but 2 Little Owl territories on the edge of the reserve this is the first time since 1980s. Not only that but this year’s first Osprey was seen the same day! Our birds of prey tally for this year now stands at 15 species with Merlin and Monty Harrier sightings remaining elusive.

Its great to see the little owls back after so long.
 It just goes to show how our continuing work on 
the reserve is paying off.

At Overy and Norton the warblers (Sedge, Willow, Grasshopper and Cetti’s) which started the month with such gusto have quietened down as they start nesting however there are still Lesser Whitethroat’s singing, plenty of Whitethroats, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Chaffinch, Wheatear and Whinchat. Also keep an ear out for our 5 Cuckoos in the pine woods and marshes.

Always check the fence posts at Holkham. Lots of birds 
perch on then from Barn Owls too this Whinchat

While the birds might be slow this year the insects have certainly had a great spring!  A Bedstraw Hawk Moth kicked the summer off in style followed closely by Green Hairstreak, Holly Blue and Small Copper and my personal favourite Orange-tip butterfly but it was the Broad-boarded Bee Hawk-Moth that really impressed.

Broad-boarded Bee Hawk-Moth look like little 
hummingbirds feeding from the flowers.

Harder to see but just as rewarding, the Damselfly and Dragonfly’s have just started to emerge from reedy areas. The Four-Spotted Chaser was the first to be seen. Look out for Blue Tail and Azure Damselfly’s fliting through the vegetation. It looks like it’s going to be a successful year for these strange but wonderful creatures.

Look out for areas of ermine moth caterpillars which cover 
large areas in thick cobwebs, gross and fascinating!

The best place to see these colourful pieces of summer is around Meals House as well as Holkham Dunes on a warm windless day. Broad Boarded Bee Hawk Moths are particularly difficult to see but with a keen eye and a little patience you’re bound to see something interesting.

Happy birding!

Jonathan Holt