THE SILENCE of the pinewoods
comes as a surprise after a walk along the shore. The cushion of
needles absorbs every footfall and the high canopy keeps away the
wind. So the scurry of a grey squirrel or the cone-tearing activity
of a flock of crossbills can sound like a riot. Three kinds of pines
grow in the woods, Corsican (grey trunk, small cones), Scots (orange
upper trunk) and maritime (large cones in tree-top clusters).
The dense shade and thick carpet of needles make life difficult
for most other plants but there are a few specialities, such as
the pretty little creeping lady's-tresses orchid and yellow birds
nest. Where the canopy lets in a little more light there are patches
of bramble, privet and honeysuckle, and on the wood-edge there are
even some holm oaks (quercus ilex) planted along with the pine trees,
by the 3rd Earl of Leicester who brought them over from Holkham
Park where they had grown since being imported from the Mediterranean
in the 18th Century.
Insects along paths and glades
Broad-bordered bee hawk and humming bird hawk-moths visit
campion flowers in the spring.
Dragonflies, especially ruddy darter, migrant hawker and southern
hawker are around through summer and autumn.
Scarce butterflies include green and purple hairstreak, comma
and holly blue. Clouded yellow or even Camberwell beauty are
possible in good years.
Big furry caterpillars basking in the sunshine will probably
be drinker-moth or fox-moth. Bottle-brush, tufted caterpillars
in a hurry will be white ermine.
Sand-dune sun-traps are always busy with hunting wasps and
solitary bees, making their nests in burrows. Robber-flies
and assassin flies sit around waiting for prey.
its landward side the ribbon of pines is edged by deciduous scrub,
a priceless asset to the nature reserve. In summer the birches and
brambles provide nest sites and feeding areas for breeding warblers
such as lesser whitethroat, blackcap and willow warbler. In autumn
the place to look for Siberian waifs like yellow-browed and Pallas'
warblers - tiny vagrants well adrift from their usual migration routes.
The main Pinewoods/Holkham
Gap track runs through the scrub and is always a good place to see
both birds and butterflies. In spring the early flowers attract
post-hibernating species like die brimstone and the peacock; these
are followed by the orange tip, then the meadow brown, ringlet,
common blue and large skipper.