Norton Green | Fauna of the Green
Phillip Kettle has been a local resident in Norton Green since 1967 and is a regular walker in the Trent Valley. His observations and knowlwedge are second to none when discussing the local flora and fauna, so it is a real pleasure to have Phillip Kettles input for our community website. The following notes can be viewed by using the following links ...
Part 1 - Nature Notes 2005 Bird Life
Part 2 - Nature Notes 2010 Ecounters of the Furry kind
Part 3 - Nature Notes 2011 Recap part 1 & 2
Part 4 - Nature Notes 2012 Rich and varied Wildlife and Flora
As a life long owner of working dogs, principally lurchers and terriers, I have spent countless hours over the years out with my dogs in the local fields in all weather conditions, mooching around the hedgerows and waterways and, if not catching rabbits on land where I have permission then very often just sitting quietly watching all kinds of animals be they fur or feather, waterborne, reptilian or insects going about their business largely oblivious of my presence.
Natural Cover & Waterways
Sitting still, preferably under natural cover, can be the most effective way of observing animals. The surrounding farmland, waste places (often unused or wayside pockets of land) and local gardens provide habitat for a surprising variety of flora and fauna. Waterways such as canals, brooks, streams and pools are vital arteries linking or passing through the land.
Trees are natural citadels on their own, especially for insect life, and play an immense role from an ecological point of view. As a general rule, the more trees and waterways there are, the more diverse the animal life to be found. Norton Green still has a pleasingly healthy population of trees and, just as importantly, hedgerows, thanks to the survival of largely dairy farming in the area.
In these, the first of several compilations of notes I have made, I will endeavor dear reader to provide you with a brief overview of the local bird life. No doubt any budding or indeed seasoned ornithologists out there will scrutinize my every word. Let me reassure you that this is a true and accurate account of just some of my observations made over several decades, starting when I first moved into the area as a teenager in 1967.
Certainly one of the most unusual sightings involved a water rail in 1979. This secretive little relative of the commonly seen moorhen was unfortunately pinned by one of my terriers on the Trent on a dank winter’s day. I hurriedly took it home to examine it more closely. Miraculously it was unharmed and proceeded to run around my living room like the proverbial road runner of cartoon fame! I released it within the hour at the spot where I first came across it some 200 meters to the rear of what used to be the “Up the Vale" newsagent shop.
If you are patient you will spot a kingfisher or two on the brook and even a water dipper, although sightings of the latter are very infrequent and occur more towards Knypersley pool. ‘Herons’ are a common sighting especially during winter.
Mallards, Crows, Jackdaws & Magpies
Mallard ducks regularly nest along the brook and in marshy areas. Teal are sometimes seen and the occasional tufted duck. Members of the corvidae family, crows, are commonly seen. Rooks and crows are probably the most familiar but jays an jackdaws are well represented. Magpie numbers have exploded over the last twenty or so years and groups of fifteen or twenty birds can be regularly seen during the short winter days.
Birds of Prey
Birds of prey are always a special sight be it a kestrel hovering above waiting to descend and pin a field vole or beetle in the grass or a sparrow hawk flashing down the hedgerows with rapid bursts of speed in pursuit of a blackbird or a dunnock. Sparrow hawks, rarely seen thirty years ago, now regularly frequent our local fields and nest in secluded spots.
Buzzards, which have made a fantastic comeback in numbers nationally over recent years, were unheard of locally for a very long time. Four years ago I spotted a pair circling high above Woodhouse lane. They slowly moved off in the direction of Endon road and out of sight. I have seen several pairs locally since this time. I have not seen a barn owl for many years though I do remember the resident pair that in the early 70's inhabited the little copse behind the old rectory opposite the Norton Arms. I would regularly see them hovering silently like large ghost-like moths close to the ground in the local fields on my dawn forays. (There was also a long established rookery in the same copse. Due to increased disturbance, the familiar springtime raucous cawing of the adult birds tending to their young in the lofty nests of twigs is now a distant memory).
Tawny owls and Little owls are common locally, the latter often sighted during the day if disturbed.
Finches are my favorite birds. It is truly magical to see a "charm" (group) of goldfinches drifting in unison from one patch of thistles to another feeding on seeds. Their plumage is beautiful. Crimson, white and black faces and brilliant yellow wing bars. Their constant twittering during flight is unmistakable. Chaffinches, linnets, and greenfinches can be regularly seen, but bullfinches appear to have declined. Several pairs of reed buntings nest locally in marshy areas.
Siskins, Blue Tits, Longtailed Tits
Flocks of up to fifty or so siskins (delicate little green colored birds) can be seen at times during the winter feeding on the seeds of alder tree cones along the course of the Trent as it winds its way through our gentle little valley. Sometimes 'blue tits' and 'long tailed tits' will join them on their feeding forays.
Wren, Jenny Wren
The wren or Jenny wren as it is sometimes called is often regarded as our smallest bird but the goldcrest is smaller still, Europe's smallest bird in fact. Whereas the wren is locally common, the goldcrest is a rarity. I have probably seen twenty of these tiny little insect eaters in as many years in the local fields.
Blackbird, Song Thrush
The familiar songster the blackbird, known by us all, is common but that other similar sized beauty the song thrush with it's striking spotted breast is definitely not as widespread as it used to be. Changing farming methods and the "sanitation" of our environment via the use of pesticides and herbicides may be factors. The debate is still open.
Mistle Thrush, Storm Cock, Skylarks
The larger mistle thrush or storm cock can still be seen surveying lawns and other grassy areas for worms. The once common starlings and 'house sparrows' have also declined in numbers. Skylarks have all but disappeared locally as have yellow hammers. Cuckoos are rarely heard nowadays. Corncrakes have long been absent. Probably some of our elderly residents have childhood memories of listening to the grating call of the elusive Corncrake Woodpeckers appear to be holding on well.
Green woodpeckers are frequently seen if you sit and wait long enough, in fact 1 very often hear them before 1 spot them, the familiar tapping sound of their beaks resonating from afar as they hack away at tree bark and decaying wood. Just a week ago (mid May) I watched a pair of great spotted woodpeckers feeding young in the trunk of an old 'ash tree' just a minutes walk from my house.
Game birds such as pheasant and grey partridge are ever present though the numbers of partridge have markedly declined since the 1970's. Small numbers of jack snipe are regular winter visitors to the more waterlogged fields. Canada geese, now classed as a pest species, fly over regularly at dawn and dusk to and from Knypersley pool.
The list of species is considerable and it would entail the writing of a small book to cover them all in detail. Wood pigeons are widespread. Collared doves are growing in numbers. Nuthatches, tree creepers, pied wagtails, lapwings, and those harbingers of spring. ... willow warblers all can be spotted locally, even the odd nesting pair of curlews, and every garden has its resident robin!
I hope my observations have given you a taste of the wide variety of bird life that can be seen in our local fields and gardens.
Let us keep our "Green" truly green for the sake of our birds and other forms of wild life. Take your binoculars out with you, sit and enjoy! top
My last article concentrated on the bird life I have observed over the years in and around the surrounding farmland of the Green. To begin with, just a short update regarding this …
Despite research showing a national decline in some species of birds such as finches, house sparrows and starlings I have to say that locally we appear to be bucking the trend. Despite the last severe winter, many finch species appear to have fared surprisingly well and certainly house sparrows and starlings appear to be on the increase again albeit gradually. Certainly the growing trend of people putting out bird feeders in their gardens has been a significant factor. I have regularly seen flocks or charms of goldfinches across the fields this summer as well as many linnets and greenfinches. Late cut fields certainly help, providing valuable wild seed and insect harvests for such birds. Buzzards are becoming a regular sight in the skies above the fields. Tawny and Little owls are common, though sadly barn owls are a rarity.
Now onto the mammalian, amphibious and reptile species to be found in and around our shallow valley from the Green to Knypersley Resevoir. Firstly and probably most problematic for local farmers and poultry keepers … foxes. They are on the increase as in most suburban and urban areas.
The Brassington family who farm the land behind my premises and are doing an admirable job in keeping the Green green, know only too well the devastating results foxes can inflict on free ranging and enclosed poultry. Of course vixens with their cubs often in tow are only seeking out an easy meal but nevertheless they can be serious nuisances and of course many people leave food out for foxes, hence the increase in the local fox population, infact I would say there are probably more foxes about locally than rabbits!
The rabbit population has again been decimated by the dreaded myxomatosis disease which has a cyclical pattern, usually hitting the rabbit population every three to four years. Yet, rabbits always seem to bounce back and certainly many have built up a resistance to this cruel human- introduced disease. I have ferreted many rabbits which I eat ) which show signs of facial scarring, having survived the flea-borne virus. Hares are unfortunately increasingly rare now thinned out by over poaching. I still see hares on the top fields near Tongue lane and Knypersley pool and marshy fields near the canal where there is less disturbance which is encouraging for these noble creatures. True athletes of the animal world with stunning bursts of speed and agility.
The biggest threat to our local fauna is without doubt the mink. Introduced originally from N. America for the fur trade escapees, of this non-indigenous species is having a devastating effect along our wetlands and waterways.
Our local brook, head of the Trent used to have healthy populations of moorhens, kingfishers, fish and watervoles. No longer the case Iím afraid. Although watervoles have supposedly been decimated by a viral infection nationally, research has shown without doubt that mink have been responsible for wiping out whole populations of voles. Mink will kill and eat virtually anything small enough to tackle, even newborn lambs. There are NO watervoles along our brook anymore. They were common there and along the canal in the 1970ís. No longer. Well meaning but totally irresponsible antiís also contributed to the rise and spread of these natural born killers by raiding and releasing them into the wild from fur farms. I regularly see mink along the brook and canal. Where I have permission, I will shoot them on sight, but they are very elusive and mostly hunt at night. A major problem Iím afraid that is not going to go away without a concerted effort via responsible shooting and trapping.
Rats! Well, this last winter has seen a marked increase in their presence without any doubt. The old ‘brownies′ have been invading farm walls as they do and more worryingly, many peoples gardens. The main reason? Once again, well meaning residents ( myself included ) putting out bird feeders and scraps for the birds. Absolute manna from heaven for these disease - ridden rodents. A sobering thought … 50% of all brown rats carry Weilís Disease, potentially fatal to humans if left untreated. It degrades the liver resulting in major organ failure. I am not being alarmist. If you have an open graze or cut on your hand for example and you happen to expose that area to a spot where a rat has urinated you have some chance of being infected. It is thankfully rare but nevertheless a potential health threat.
I have live trapped (cage traps) a number of rats over the last six months and humanely disposed of them. Even a rat deserves no undue suffering. But rats have been an increasing problem in the Green. They will inhabit sheds, garages, wooden decking and ( hopefully not ) your houses. They will eventually gnaw their way through anything, and worryingly , even electric cables. Be alert and contact the council or a reputable pest controller if in doubt.Mice are not a major problem. Field mice, shrews, short tailed field voles and moles are common locally and always will be.
I am delighted to say that based on my own observations and those of some local residents, our local bat population seems to be stable. I am no expert on bats but I regularly see every evening near dusk, Pipsistrelle or common bats flighting above the fields and near the houses and on occasions long eared bats further across the fields, skirting the large ash and sycamore trees for moths. Mel Brassington and her family have a genuine fondness for our bats. Brilliant! May I also thank the Fox family for their contributions and their superb gardens.
Badgers & Grey Squirrel
Inspirational. Badgers? Thriving due to their full protection under law now.True natives of our country. Grey squirrels abound … almost to nuisance levels. Known raiders of bird nests, eating eggs and fledglings. Again I have no qualms about shooting them. There are simply too many and they pose a problem to our bird life without doubt. The ones I shoot I eat. No different to rabbit meat. Tasty and cholesterol free.
The Mustelidae family, well, Ivíe already mentioned the menace of mink but stoats and weasels though elusive, appear to be doing fine. I have picked up on occasions either abandoned ferrets or individuals that have escaped. Once feral they can be a bit aggressive but soon tame down again after a week or so.
Reptiles & Amphibians
The only local reptile I come across is the grass snake. Harmless and enchanting in my humble opinion. Amphibians, well, despite our loss of ponds, frogs appear to be coping well but I have noticed toads are less common. Newts … again Iím no expert on but the common newt is " hanging on " in some isolated ponds, though they are without doubt far less common than they used to be locally. Silage pollution and the filling in of ponds is having a marked effect. A great shame.
To finish I would say confidently that our local fauna are coping reasonably well in our ever increasingly busy and fast world. Squashed hedgehogs on our roads always saddens me though. A sign of the times I guess, but we all must do our bit to nurture our wild fauna where we can. I will always be a passionate bird watcher, but also a life-long rabbit catcher. The full cycle of nature as I see it. Habitat loss is the biggest threat. That is why I passionately believe in keeping Norton Green "green!".
Many thanks to all
Phill Kettle. Norton Green. August 2010. top
A brief update on the Fauna on the 'Grayn …
Following my previous articles on the Fauna of Norton Green this is a relatively short overview of the last twelve months based on my observations mooching around the local fields with my dogs in tow as ever. This is not a fully comprehensive report. Following two very harsh winters some negative effects have been evident this spring and summer.
Beginning with Birds
There has been a marked decline in the blue tit population. In fact many small birds were undoubtedly affected by the at times severe sub zero temperatures and prolonged snowfalls of this last winter in particular. Residents putting out bird feeders will have helped such birds but Nature can be harsh. Surprisingly, goldfinches and linnets are thriving like never before as are the ever present chaffinches.
Bull finches I see fleetingly in isolated pairs. Kingfishers will have been hit hard but I do see the odd one or two along the brook. Buzzards remain a regular sight over the Green as do sparrow hawks. I have seen numerous sightings of willow warblers this summer and some wood warblers, whitethroats, tree creepers and nuthatches.
House sparrows and starlings still appear to be bucking the national trend as their numbers according to my observations are still on the increase. For me this is personally pleasing. Our yards, gardens and roof tops simply wouldnít be the same without their at times noisy squabbling presence!
Blackbirds are holding their own as ever but song thrushes are not doing so well. The RSPB are continuing their extensive research as to why certain species are in significant decline. Changing farming methods and the continued over use of herbicides and pesticides are undoubtedly a contributing factor.
Little owls and tawny owls are doing fine. I hear the Tawnies hooting away on many nights in the sycamore and oak trees locally.
Woodpigeons are increasing rapidly, I have never seen so many this year. Collared doves continue to thrive well as do the ever present mobs of magpies.
From Feather to Fur
Foxes are thriving (much to the annoyance of some local farmers I have to say as hens go missing quite regularly!).
Badgers abound and have been problematic. One or two farms have been affected as a result due to badgers being carriers of bovine tuberculosis which affects all cattle on infected land.
Hares and rabbits are in serious decline locally, in fact rabbits are now virtually non-existent in most local fields. I believe cyclical myxomatosis is not now the major culprit. A relatively new threat, VIRAL HAEMORRHAGIC disease, originating from Chinese imported pet rabbits has now hit the wild rabbits with devastating effect in many pockets of counties nationally. The virus acts swiftly causing massive internal bleeding, the rabbits dying within hours, either unseen underground or dying above ground only to be snapped up by foxes and carrion eaters like buzzards. I have never known so few rabbits about locally.
Rats are definitely still on the increase … the ultimate opportunists and survivors. They carry several very nasty diseases, the most worrying being Weilís disease which 50% of all rats carry. Not being alarmist, this can be fatal to humans if not treated in its early stages. Rat urine is a major source of this nasty disease. The need to eradicate rats at every opportunity is essential from a public health point of view. My terriers are excellent ratters and do a good if small service locally. If local residents experience any rat problems I suggest they contact the Council pest control department (or me! free of charge). Always wear gloves if you handle a dead rat if disposing it.
Mink remain a problem along our waterways, killing virtually any form of small to medium sized animal species they can snatch. Our Trent brook and the canals are their main domain.
Very briefly, amphibians - Frogs appear to be thriving well and due to climate changes are now spawning earlier. I spotted the first frogspawn at the very end of February this year, unheard of even twenty years ago, mid to late March being the normal time in the not too distant past. Newts of all kinds are in serious decline due to the disappearance of many old ponds. So, a brief up-date. Many positives, but rats and mink remain a real problem.
All the best and thanks for your attention folks.
Phill Kettle. Norton Green. July 2011 top
2012 …the year when the rain never seemed to stop!
A harsh winter was followed by a wet spring. Disastrous for fledgling birds.
Summer was no better in fact some months were the wettest on record and the Green saw some flooding as the Trent rose and breached, flowing over the road. Flash flooding occurred on two occasions.
Autumn remains relatively quiet to date but still it rains on most days.
There are some notable absences regarding our local wildlife …
How many song thrushes have you seen in your gardens or at your bird tables?
I would hazard a guess at around the odd one or two. They are in decline nationally. A cumulative effect of the changes in modern farming and the “tidying up” of farmland and suburban gardens.
House sparrows appear to be bucking the national trend in that the local population seems to be holding up well although starlings, once a very common bird, continue to be reduced in numbers. Finches in general are doing well, especially goldfinches and chaffinches.
Rabbits were a common sight in many fields even a decade ago. Now most of them have gone. Reasons? Well myxomatosis still affects rabbit colonies killing many but some do survive this cruel disease and build up immunity. So why are rabbits a virtual rarity on most local farms?
My guess is that a disease introduced into the country via domestic rabbits from China in the 90’s may well be the culprit. Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD) is a rapid killer of rabbits causing internal bleeding.
The rabbits die in their burrows or fall prey to buzzards (and the latter are now a common sight locally). Though not conclusive, the evidence suggests this might be the reason.
Foxes remain a common sight in fields if you know where to look for them. They are best seen at dawn or during the night. I see them regularly when out walking the fields. They are creatures of habit and their narrow foot trails can be seen in fields and leading into gardens. I often see a fox and sometimes a pair of foxes (probably near full grown siblings) sitting in the main road in the early hours when only the odd taxi is about.
They do their rounds of the gardens and local hedgerows after scraps, mice or earth worms till daylight sees them retreat to their earths, often under garden sheds or in dense cover. Foxes are the ultimate opportunists and will raid hen houses or even the pens of pet rabbits. There have been local cases of this during the summer. They will regularly walk the local streets at night.
The activity of badgers is very evident around the fields, large patches of grass torn up where they have clawed for worms and plant roots during the night ,and their latrines beside hedges, consisting of several holes again clawed out, in which they communally deposit their tar- like faeces.
Evidence of the increase in badgers is the sad sight of their corpses at roadsides across the county the result of being hit by cars. I have seen two badgers killed by cars in the Green this year on Endon road.
Of course badgers have been featured a lot on the national news again lately, blamed as carriers of bovine TB which infects cattle and several local farms have been affected.
The decline of hedgehogs has also been blamed on the increase in badgers. They will eat hedgehogs as part of their varied diet. True omnivores they will eat anything from frogs, ground nesting birds, worms and the honey combs of wild bees and wasps to berries and the bulbous roots of some plants. I have seen evidence of this many times. Hedgehogs used to be common locally. I have only seen a few this year and most of them were dead ones squashed on the road by cars. The brook remains largely bereft of water birds and water voles.
Mink and rats are a constant problem. My dogs have flushed a few mink along the brook and feeders this year.
They are not native to this country and are a genuine nuisance killing anything from frogs to birds and even hens that are not locked up securely.
Brown Trout & Wild Flowers
There are Brown Trout in the Trent, a good indicator of the improving quality of the water. The sheer variety of wild flowers growing beside the brook is a pleasure to see in the spring and summer months... view pictures
I very often sit and rest under a large oak or sycamore tree along the hedgerows. If you sit still for long enough it is surprising what you will see. You will observe far more animals by doing this than walking around.
Rich & varied wildlife species
Today for example, (early November) I sat beneath a very large ash tree surrounded by hazel and within the hour I spotted a charm of goldfinches pass by feeding on the last of the thistle heads in the field and soon after a mixed group of tits, long tailed, Blue, Great and two Coal tits appeared and came within feet of me.
What really made my day though was the presence of a tiny gold crest with them literally just two feet away from my head as I looked up. This is the first time I have seen one of these (Europe’s smallest bird) locally for several years.
There is a surprisingly rich and varied number of wildlife species in Norton Green if you know when and where to look. This depends on the time of day and of course the changing seasons. It also depends on experience.
I have spent most of my 60 years both man and boy observing our wildlife. I have also been a rabbit catcher within and beyond the county for more years than I care to remember. I eat or give away what I catch with my dogs and ferrets. Of course it’s all about the understanding of balance in Nature.
Nature can provide so much of what we need if we seek it sensibly, be it the visual reward of watching birds, the pure auditory delight of listening to their birdsong, the joy of experiencing the smell of the field soils on a warm sunny morning after rainfall, or the taste of a nourishing rabbit stew on a winter’s night after a cold and hard days ferreting.
I feel privileged to be a Norton Greener. We have a village that is still bordered by substantial areas of largely unspoilt farm land. This enables us to enjoy a wide variety of flora and fauna. That for me is the ultimate privilege.
Phill Kettle. Norton Green. 2012 top