Trip reports

Sculthorpe Moor and Foxley Wood

Sculthorpe Moor and Foxley Wood
Swimming Frogs - Narisa Togo

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Some early group arrivals had booked in at the visitor centre, chatted to the duty volunteer who pointed-out two video screens, one linked to two feeding stations on the reserve and a tawny owl on a nest, also on the reserve. A small flock of brambling were shown at one of the feeding stations and the tawny owl was sitting on four chicks although only two could be seen on the screen. The other screen was linked to a peregrine falcon nest on Norwich Cathedral, which the Trust had helped to set-up. The peregrine was incubating eggs. On a display table an aquarium, partly filled with sawdust and some vegetation, contained two endearing harvest mice. Out on the terrace lawn, a pair of toads, the male on the back of the female, were making their way across the grass.

Once all had assembled, we set-off along the track, leading to the start of the boardwalk. The beauty of this reserve is its comprehensive boardwalk pathways, making easy access for all, without detracting from the natural ambiance. We all heard and saw a chiffchaff; a sign that, at last, the migrant birds are starting to arrive. In the wood there were several species of tits and on the feeders' siskin and lesser redpoll. Further on, at one of the nest boxes, we watched a nuthatch entering and exiting. A few yards further on, a viewing platform over-looks a dyke and beyond, fenland and dry wood scrubland with trees forming a boundary to the reserve. Many frogs gathered in the dyke, some mating and others apparently enjoying the warmth of the sun. As we stood looking out over the fen and dry wood, three buzzards were soaring over the trees and a red kite flew very close to us.

We made our way to the Whitley (fen) hide and on the feeding tray were several bramblings as well as reed bunting and chaffinch. For some of us, it was the first time of hearing contact calls of brambling, at first wondering what could be making the unusual sounds. On the ground a wood mouse quickly ran out from the vegetation, grabbed some food before disappearing again.

At the river Wesum we walked along the riverside path to the scrape hides. A male marsh harrier was quartering over the reedbed as we made our way. With little to see from the hides, we soon re-traced our steps, calling in at the Frank Jarvis (woodland) hide where there were more brambling on the feeders. Continuing our way back to the centre, we stopped at a small pond where the male frogs were croaking from amongst the vast volumes of frog spawn. Back at centre, we sat to eat our lunch and were entertained by a pair of red kite as they flew close overhead. Several small tortoiseshell butterflies fed on nearby colt's foot flowers. In fact, more of this species than we some of us had seen during the whole of 2012!

In the afternoon we made our way to Foxley wood. At 300 acres, this is the largest remaining ancient woodland in Norfolk. It is thought to be about 6,000 years old and is mentioned in the Domesday Book, providing "pannage for 300 swine". Over the centuries the wood was cut by local people to provide a continuous source of poles, fuel and timber. In the 20th century the demand for these products fell and the wood was neglected. In the 1960's large areas were planted with conifers and since the Norfolk Wildlife Trust purchased the wood in 1980, it has started to restore the wood to its former state. Most of the conifer trees have been removed and coppicing has been re-established, cutting the trees close to the ground. This encourages new shoots to spring up around the stump and the long straight stems are harvested every seven to ten years. The trees that are coppiced are mostly ash, with some field maple, sallow and small leaved lime. Unfortunately there are notices to say that there is ash dieback (Chalara fraxinea) present in the wood; at the moment the trees are not yet in leaf and so we could not see the effects of this disease. We had a lovely walk along the rides and could hear a few tits but the birds were very difficult to see. Our target bird here was lesser spotted woodpecker a bird that has been seen in this wood, but unfortunately, not by us this day! There were signs of spring; on the edge of one of the rides there was a lovely small carpet of wood anemone. The woodland floor was carpeted in vast swathes of bluebell plants but it would be two to three weeks before the wonderful display of blue flowers. As we strolled around, comma and peacock butterflies flitted in the glades and along the rides. A very pleasant walk around this large, old wood, rounded off another superb day out.

Many thanks go to Andrew for arranging yet another superb group field trip.