Nature Notes – December 2015

The “running deer” warning sign on Suffolk roads is not just for local colour. There are several species present in our area, and sometimes they present a real hazard to traffic when they cross the roads, especially at night. We have two of the larger deer in the valley. Perhaps the one more likely to be seen is the Fallow Deer, quite large and with the characteristic wide, flattened antlers in the buck. The colour is usually brown, with pale spots (which are less obvious in the winter), but some individuals can be white, and some almost black. I see them most often, in small groups, towards Great Glemham, and on the roads towards Framlingham. Fallow Deer were introduced by the Normans for hunting, and are still associated with deer parks. In Suffolk, they are commonest in the wild in the forests to the east of us. The Red Deer is also seen locally coming out of the woods to feed in the fields. It is even larger, a darker reddish-brown without spots, and in the breeding season with large branched antlers in the older males. Red deer are native, but the Suffolk stock probably originated in re-introductions in the past. So look out for our largest British land mammal. (Our neighbour met a large stag in their drive a couple of years ago).

Our stretch of the river Alde is only a short stretch from the tidal estuary beginning at Snape. It is perhaps surprising how few estuary birds such as Shelduck and waders get up this far. I have occasionally heard Oystercatchers or Curlew flying over, but very seldom. Exceptions are a few of the freshwater waders which sometimes use the flooded fields in the valley. I have mentioned the Snipe in other winters. Less common, but visiting in most winters is the Green Sandpiper, a small migrant wader which visits Britain on passage in the autumn, but occasionally stays for the winter. Very hard to see unless they are flushed, when they fly off very quickly with a loud piping call, Green Sandpipers are very dark (not apparently green at all), but with a brilliant white rump, not unlike a House Martin.

Jays have been very conspicuous in the late autumn as they gather acorns to eat or to store for the winter. They will probably remain so in the winter as they search for their hidden caches. Jays carry their acorns in a special pouch beneath the tongue, and can probably carry up to nine at one time. They have been recorded gathering and hiding some 5,000 in a single autumn. I have referred before to studies which show they can memorise almost all of these hiding places, even when the ground is altered by a covering of snow! This autumn the Jays near our house have been very busy in the evergreen Holm Oaks, which seem to have plenty of acorns, although they are smaller than those of the native Oak.

Last time I mentioned Goldcrests which, as well as being resident birds, are among the migrants which reach us in late autumn from across the North Sea. In fact, during October, we were in Norfolk during a period of strong north-easterly winds. These brought a huge influx of Goldcrests, and there were literally hundreds of them in the pine trees behind the shore. Perhaps by now some of these will have reached Suffolk.

By Geoffrey Abbott