What a lark!

Today I managed a couple of very pleasant hours making a visit to Kelling Heath: It’s a lovely area south of Salthouse and Kelling on the Norfolk coast, and somewhere I haven’t been to for a few years. The weather was reasonable, if a little windy, and just after I crossed the line for the North Norfolk Railway one of their steam locomotives passed by.

Kelling Heath where it’s crossed by the North Norfolk Railway

There are several particular species found in this area of heath (as with other heathlands in the UK). I was hoping for perhaps some new summer warblers, but the three species of particular interest were turtle dove, Dartford warbler and woodlark. Of these I have seen quite a few turtle doves over the years, but they are one of the most rapidly declining species in the UK, due to habitat loss and other issues.It was perhaps a little early in the year to see one, and even though I have seen them at Kelling before their diminishing status means there’s no guarantee of any this year. I certainly didn’t see or hear one today.

Dartford warblers are resident in the UK but have very limited range. There are perhaps a handful on Kelling Heath but though I have looked for them a few times I have never seen them in the UK, and have only ever seen one female in southern Spain a few years ago. I didn’t find any today either!

But woodlark – this is a major omission on my life list. They’re not common, but are fairly widespread in the right habitat. I’ve just never seen one! I wasn’t particularly hopeful today, but knew that it was the correct habitat. Maybe I’d get lucky and catch a glimpse of one. This seemed to be being borne out when I heard a call I wasn’t sure about and got a brief glimpse of what was obviously a lark of some sort before it flew off. My feeling was that it was a woodlark, but I wasn’t going to add it to my life list on such an unclear sighting. So I waited around, but there was no more sign. I moved on after a few minutes to a slightly different part of the heath, and then I heard it: The lovely descending flight display song of a woodlark – something I had never heard live before. And there was the bird itself displaying up above. A different flight pattern from a skylark, but with a song, though perhaps simpler, certainly just as entrancing.

After a minute or so the bird descended and landed on a fence post by the railway line, and not only did I get the chance to look at it properly I even managed some photos.

woodlark at Kelling Heath

During the walk I saw two, possibly three, separate birds, so this was a perfect way to remove this particular block from my bird list.

Brenda writes: “Last night we had wind and rain and today, although dry, we still had a wicked east wind. Nevertheless, in the afternoon I wrapped up warm and headed out for a walk to the Bogs of Leslie, the walk we did on January 1st in the fog. Heading into the village of Leslie I was delighted to see what I thought were patches of butterbur by the Gadie burn. However I’ve seen butterbur quite often and it didn’t seem quite right, because it should have pinky white flowers in dense spikes whereas this had white flowers in looser spikes. So I did a bit of research online and discovered that “white butterbur’s main distribution within GB is concentrated in NE Scotland. It was imported as a garden ornamental from mainland Europe and SW Asia and escaped into the wild.” [Scottish Invasive Species Initiative website] I suppose I should report it!

Just above the water line was a flower Steve and I have laughed about down the years because it has such a long name for a very tiny flower – opposite-leaved golden saxifrage. You can just see it at the bottom of the picture of the butterbur.

The invasive white butterbur…but can you spot the opposite-leaved golden saxifrage?

Turning left I headed up the hill, noticing a solitary late snowdrop, then saw something that wasn’t a snowdrop. Having consulted the field guide and looked online I’m pretty sure it was three cornered leek, which originates from the mediterranean and is apparently good to eat!

Anyone for a spot of three cornered leek stew?

The lane goes along the valley above and parallel to the burn and then heads upward once more past a couple of houses before becoming a track with a forestry wood on the right and fields on the left. It’s a bit of a climb but it’s worth it for the view from the top.

I called it a day when the land levelled out at, my sat nav tells me, 1142ft, but could have gone a lot further. Another time… On the way I was hearing lots of skylarks and eventually saw one, and also a lovely flock of yellowhammer. Three birds flew into a tree which I was pretty sure were redwing and then up at the top of the woodland I saw a flock of about forty! On my way back there were three fieldfare in a field. Presumably they’re on their way north. If I’m to take this race seriously there’s one flower species I’ve been ignoring and should have recorded, grape hyacinth.”        

grape hyacinth

New species for April 12th:
Birds: woodlark
Flowers: white butterbur, three cornered leek, grape hyacinth, opposite-leaved golden saxifrage