Norwich Nature Notes – May

Blog post by Roger and Jenny Jones on 21 May, 2020
The human race may have been severely affected by coronavirus but wildlife is still out and around us and largely unconcerned. As we write this, we have just heard four grasshopper warblers “reeling” all at the same time. Yes, in urban Norwich! Swifts arrived a few days ago and (at the time of writing) we are up to 13 species of butterfly.

And you can get out and see/hear them. There are plenty of open spaces in and around Norwich – parks, gardens, churchyards and our own NWT reserve – Thorpe Marshes. And, after movement restrictions have been modified, we can now travel further afield.

Some recent nature highlights:

6 April: Bluebells in flower (English ones) in the Rosary along with wood sorrel. Everything seems to be coming out at once with the warm weather.

7 April: Now up to seven Cetti's warblers at Thorpe Marshes, along with three or four chiffchaffs and a willow warbler. About 20 tufted ducks on the water but little else. Flowering plants seem well behind other sites.

13 April: Rue-leaved saxifrage turning up all over the place in Norwich!

16 April: Wherever we are walking at the moment there are masses of bluebells in flower. An excellent opportunity to study the differences between the three types – English, Spanish and the widespread hybrid.

20 April: Spring wildflowers probably at their peak – some going over very quickly. No doubt an effect of the unseasonal dry and warm weather. Patches of bluebells, together with greater stitchwort, look fantastic in the Rosary.
Swift, by Nick Appleton

Swift, by Nick Appleton

25 April: Saw our first damselfly of the year – large red down by the river, obviously only just emerged.

26 April: Today’s walk included part of Thorpe Marshes. Highlights included cuckoo, grasshopper warbler, Cetti’s warbler, sedge warbler and willow warbler. Probably lots more – we are not really birders. We have later heard a report that there are seven different warblers singing on this site including as many as six grasshopper warblers. (At the time of writing a few days later, we understand that 10 warblers have been recorded.)

28 April: An inch of rain very welcome to prevent the wild flowers (and the garden!) drying up completely.

29 April: A large mixed group of swallows and house martins seen swooping over Whitlingham Great Broad. And several family groups of greylag geese all with young.

5 May: A party of swifts swooping and screaming over the River Yare and screaming over our house two days later.

7 May: Our butterfly list for the year is now up to 13. In order of appearance: red admiral; peacock; orange tip; holly blue; comma; brimstone; small tortoiseshell; speckled wood; large white; green-veined white; common blue; small copper; green hairstreak.

8 May: The swans near the Jarrold Bridge on the River Wensum now have 8 eggs (previously reported with 3 on 28 March) and both parents are taking turns to incubate them.

It seems generally that the spring birdsong is diminishing presumably because more and more species have made nests and are incubating eggs. Some species are well past that stage though – there are several young blackbirds frequently coming to our garden.

Swift, by Nick Appleton

Large white butterfly, by Helen Brooks

We are pleased to have received a contribution from Jon and Angie Shutes at Aylsham where they have lived for 3 years, just 200 yards from the normally busy Market Square:

“April has been exceptionally sunny and warm and the peace and quiet of the lockdown has meant that wildlife seems to have become more adventurous. Or is it just that we have all been looking out for it more often?

Early April, 30 frogs appeared overnight from their garden hibernation sites and produced masses of spawn in our large garden pond. A visit at 6am by a grey heron later did nothing to reduce tadpole numbers, but they slowly diminished. We thought we had found the cause when we surprisingly discovered an American red-clawed crayfish lurking at the bottom of the pond. How it got there is a mystery but it must have made its way from the River Bure 300 yards away. Crayfish are known to wander overland in certain circumstances but how it found us we do not know.

Eventually, when all the tadpoles had gone, we found that that we had two grass snakes in residence, a male and a female the latter being much larger and more lightly marked. We are now building an incubator of grass cuttings in the hope of eggs being laid in June or July.

Mid month, we had a mid-afternoon visitation by a female muntjac accompanied by a very small fawn. The latter happily pronked around the lawn whilst its mother browsed on our bluebells. A week later we disturbed a different female asleep on the front lawn a few feet away from the road full of walkers and joggers.

The clear warm days of April allowed us hours of skywatching. One day I thought I heard cranes but could not locate them, but the noisy ring-necked parakeet was easier to locate as it shrieked overhead for a brief visit one morning. Living near to Blickling we have regular visits from the breeding resident buzzards as well as sparrowhawks who have kept the smaller birds fully alert. No cuckoos have been heard this year yet but in the last few days of the month the house martins and barn swallows announced their safe arrival back from Africa, and the swifts we know are following just behind them.

Finally, at month's end we noticed a peregrine falcon circling low over the garden. It is unlikely to be a Norwich or Cromer bird but we hope it was prospecting the Aylsham Church tower for a nesting attempt very soon. We hope so.''

We would like to keep in touch with Norwich Group members whilst we are all socially distancing so intend to produce another edition of Nature Notes in a few weeks.

If you have any observations or sightings or behaviour that you would like to share about nature in your area then please send them to

Header image by David Cooke
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