17th April 2016
On Sunday I attended a North-east Norfolk Bird Club event at Swanton Novers Great Wood. This event had stood out from their programme, as Swanton Novers is a national nature reserve with no public access. There are a number of largely inaccessible wildlife areas in Norfolk for varying reasons. Some, such as Swanton Novers and Sutton Fen are sensitive to disturbance and not suitable for large numbers of people. Different examples would be places like Scolt Head, which are tricky to get to because of the tide cutting you off, or STANTA, where you have the risk of getting shot or blown up. Numbers for the walk were limited to 20, and fortunately I was one of them.
We met at the Swanton Novers raptor watchpoint at nine. The weather was bright but breezy, and rain the previous day meant that conditions were wet under foot. At least three Buzzards soared over the woods, and the sound of Skylarks was constant around us. We also saw Yellowhammers and Chiffchaffs around the watchpoint, and a Willow Warbler called in the distance. The warden arrived and we condensed into fewer cars before heading off in convoy into the wood.
Swanton Novers has a very large species list, partly due to the mixture of habitats present, but also because it has been extensively studied. The most interesting aspect of the day was seeing and being told about the different habitats present. Deep down the wood is on chalk, but covered by acidic soils, which means that there are both acidic and basic habitats present. Some areas are relict heathland, whilst others are ancient coppiced woodland. Along one boundary is a conifer plantation to add to the mixture. Of the pools, at least one is thought to be a natural pingo, whilst others were cut for cattle drinking or for removal of raw materials.
Being fairly early into spring, and with a large group moving about, the birds we saw were largely the expected woodland species. We got good views of Nuthatch, Great-spotted Woodpecker, Marsh Tit, Coal Tit, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Siskin. Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and Buzzard were seen flying over, and we heard Treecreeper and Blackcaps. Bluebells, Early Dog Violet, Wood Sorrel and Wood Anemone were all flowering, whilst Wild Garlic was in bud and it was too early for Lily-of-the-valley. I was told that that May Lily, formerly a specialty here, had died out. I had hoped to see Lemon-scented Fern, but it was too early for it.
Bluebells and Wood Anemone
We spent around three and a half hours exploring the wood, and still only covered less than half of it. On our way back we walked down a wide ride that plays host to numerous insects in the summer, before looking at an area of newly recreated wet heathland, where we saw lots of Green Tiger Beetles. Many thanks to both NENBC and Robert, the Natural England warden, for facillitating our visit.
Green Tiger Beetle (honest!)