The Whitlingham Bird Report for 2014 is now available to download here. It is stored on google drive, which sometimes condenses the photos if you view it online, this should be resolved if you download and then view. The 2013 report is still available here. Thanks to everyone who has contributed sightings, information and photos to these reports.

You may also be interested in Chris Durdin's Thorpe Marsh Wildlife Report, which is available here.

THORPE MARSH: Spring migrants and a catchup

14th April 2015

I haven't written up a few brief trips out, but probably not enough to do a full update post about. The highlight was an early local Common Tern, found at Whitlingham by Joe Harkness on 9th April. I was out at the time but was able to call in and see it later in the evening. Whilst the 9th April doesn't sound that early it was actually over a week earlier than my previous first  patch sighting, and may end up being the earliest site record (if you have seen an earlier one at Whitlingham then please let me know). I have also been enjoying watching the bees and bee flies in my front garden during the sunny spells we've had of late.


On the 14th I went to Thorpe Marsh after work, hoping to see some migrants. During the day a Ring Ouzel had been found at UEA (still a bird I don't have on my Norwich list), so I was hoping Thorpe would turn up one of them. I usually head to the scrape first, but knowing there had been some sandpipers on the shingle spit I headed there first. Some local kids were playing music, so I stayed long enough to pick out a Common Sandpiper and a Green Sandpiper then headed round to the bird screen.


On the broad itself a brood of six small Mallard ducklings bobbed past, but there was little else of interest. A Sedge Warbler was in full song from the ditch nearby, and a second one was singing from the marsh between the path and the railway line. There were a lot of butterflies about, mostly Small Tortoiseshells. I also heard one each of Willow Warbler and Blackcap, and got great views of a hovering Kestrel. A pleasant evening to be out, and there's still plenty of time to find that Ouzel...




BRECKLAND: A Yare Valley outing

8th April 2015

On Wednesday a select bunch of Yare Valley birders embarked on a birding day out to the Brecks. Whilst I can't compete with Jim's erudite trip report (http://jimsbirdingblog.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/the-end-of-beginning.html) or Ben's excellent Firecrest photos (http://bensbirding.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/brecks-and-strumpshaw-update.html), this is my brief summary of the day.

Ricky & I left Norwich just after six and travelled to a forest ride deep in the Brecks where we met Jim & Ben. We were hoping to locate some Golden Pheasants at a site that Jim had seen several in the past. We couldn't hear any calling, which we took as a bad sign, but nonetheless set off patrolling the rides and looking down the gaps between conifers. With no sign of any Goldies we eventually gave up, although good views of a Woodlark were of some consolation.

Jim previously lived in Suffolk, and his local knowledge allowed him to smuggle us across the border into Suffolk without alerting the border patrols. The omens were bad when I got out of Ricky's van to find that he had parked on an already-decaying dead squirrel. At this site too there was no sign of any Golden Pheasants. The highlight for me was Brittle Cinder fungus (Kretzschmaria deusta), whilst for the others probably a Nuthatch. With the smell of disappointment (or was it that squirrel?) in the air, we headed back into Norfolk.

We were running out of accessible Golden Pheasant sites, so we decided to switch focus to some other Breckland species. Santon Downham wasn't heaving with birders, but neither was it heaving with birds either. We saw some Mandarins, including one high up in a tree, plus Brambling, Lesser Redpoll and three drumming Woodpeckers, all Great-spotted. As we were preparing to leave Ben picked up a distant Goshawk over some nearby woodland.


As the day brightened up we headed to another Breckland site where we got some excellent views of a displaying Goshawk, which we all enjoyed very much. Afterwards we headed to East Wretham, having a good chat with the warden before saying goodbye to Ricky, who had to go to work. The remaining three of us headed off to Lynford Arboretum. We did spend a bit of time around the gate, seeing Brambling, Siskin and Nuthatch, but no Hawfinches. Having heard several Firecrests we finally got great views of one as it foraged amongst the Bluebell leaves, behaviour I'd never seen before from this species.

Leaving Lynford we did a bit of minor-road birding. Three Red Kites tussling over a field would have been a nice sight in itself, but they continued towards us and passed low over the car to give cracking Gigrin-eque views. A little way away we saw three Stone Curlews in a field. We all remarked that it was nice to see what they looked like without them being wobbled by heat haze.

Our final stop of the day was an area of forest where we hoped to see Willow Tit. We walked down the main path full of expectation. As it was we managed to save ourselves the trouble of writing out a pesky description for the rarities committee by not seeing any. We did see a Roe Deer. It stared back at us for quite some time, but as it turned away first we claimed victory over this denizen of the woods.


Despite missing out on the Golden Pheasants and Willow Tits we all had a good day out, thanks to Jim for composing our itinery, and to Jim & Ricky for sharing driving duties.

YARE VALLEY: Hardley Staithe

3rd April 2015

Over the past couple of weeks a drake Ring-necked Duck had been seen on-and-off at some fishing pits near Hardley Staithe. Having only seen females before I decided to head down to Hardley with Cathy & Margaret on Good Friday to see if it was still around. As we approached I wondered if we had taken a wrong turning, with the end of the road to the staithe looking a bit like a farmyard. Luckily we could see boats at the end and parked up at the end of the cut. A birder was just leaving, and told us that he had been present all morning and there was no sign of the Ring-necked Duck.

We carried on anyway, taking in the cold but scenic surroundings. Several birders were still present, so we stopped alongside them and scanned the pits for an hour or so in the hope that the bird would emerge from the reedy margins or fly in from Cantley. It didn't, but there was quite a bit to keep an eye on, including at least five Little Grebes, a Redshank and a pair of Shelduck. A female Scaup was also present, although it spent most of the time we were there asleep, so it took quite a while to confirm that it was definitely a Scaup. We were also treated to a hunting Short-eared Owl, initially in the distance, but later on quite a bit closer to the back of the pits. With no sign of the Ring-necked Duck we headed home the scenic route via Claxton and Rockland.



NORTH-EAST NORFOLK: East Ruston

1st April 2015

On Wednesday Cathy & I took our mums to East Ruston Vicarage Gardens for a late Mother's Day trip (it was shut in March). Despite growing up nearby, I had never been before. We had a pleasant afternoon looking through the various different garden areas, followed by a big piece of cake in the tea room. In the summer I can imagine the gardens would be very good for insects, but because of the time of year we were mainly restricted to a few Bumblebees and Honey Bees. Bird-wise the highlight was a small flock of Yellowhammers. Before we left I noticed a couple of unusual ducks on a small pond. They were clearly hybrids of some sort, Dave Appleton has confirmed that they are Wood Duck x White-cheeked Pintail.

Afterwards we stopped at Walcott for ice cream, where we saw 18 Turnstones. I did keep scanning out to see whilst we were parked up, but didn't see anything of note passing through.



WHITLINGHAM: Early Sand Martins

28th March 2015

During the morning I had a call from Justin to tell me that he had found a Mediterranean Gull at Whitlingham amongst the Black-headed Gulls, and had also seen four Sand Martins fly through. I was busy until after lunch, but later in the afternoon (and after it had stopped raining) I went down for a quick look.

Walking along the south shore it was evident how much of an effect the weather has on visitor numbers, as the C.P. was almost deserted. I walked all the way to the pump house and scanned through the Black-headed Gull flock, but unfortunately the Med Gull had departed. As I scanned back and forth I happened to glance up and saw two Sand Martins battling against the wind. Sand Martins are usually one of the earlier migrants to arrive back, but these were my earliest ever at Whitlingham, two days earlier than those seen on 30th March 2009. Walking back I heard a couple of Oystercatchers flying around calling to each other. They flew past over the picnic meadow and then ended up on the jetty opposite the flint barn, where they seemed quite content.


As I walked past the ruined hall I decided to check the Daffodils, and a small fly on one of the flowers looks like it could be the aptly named Daffodil Fly.


WHITLINGHAM: Chiffchaffs and Treecreepers

22nd March 2015

I had a bit of free time on Sunday afternoon and headed down to Whitlingham to look for early spring migrants. As with my previous visit the sunny weather had brought many families and walkers to the country park, making for a busy circuit. A Chiffchaff was calling close to the second car park and was visible high up in a nearby tree. Further round I heard another one singing from Thorpe, whilst a third bird was too busy flycatching do do any singing.

Other than the Chiffchaffs, it was all a bit quiet really. There was still quite a few Tufted Ducks about, but only a single Gadwall and several Teal on Thorpe Broad. Walking slowly back along the south shore of the Little Broad I stopped to watch some Goldcrests close by, and whilst stopped noticed two Treecreepers on nearby Alder trunks.


NORWICH: Solar eclipse

20th March 2015

Norwich was covered in cloud, which rather dampened the enthusiasm, but the partial solar eclipse was just visible several times around ten o'clock.



THORPE MARSH: A few birds and a lichenocolous fungus

15th March 2015

I managed to get down to Thorpe Marsh for a couple of hours, hoping to see one of the waders that others have seen flying over in recent days (Golden Plover, Curlew, Ringed Plover) or perhaps an early summer migrant. A White-tailed Eagle flying around the county gave an added incentive to keep looking up as I walked round. Sadly none of the aformentioned species did fly over. The highlight was excellent views of a male Sparrowhawk as it swept past at head height and landed in a nearby tree. A couple of Meadow Pipits were the only addition to my yearly patch list.


With few birds about I went and had a look at some of the lichen covered trees in order to put my recently gained lichen knowledge to the test. I took quite a few photos to confirm at my leisure, but the most interesting find was a tiny pink fungus called Illosporiopsis christiansenii that parisitises Physcia lichens.It is in the photo below, but you may need to click to enlarge it before you can see it!


NORTH NORFOLK: Lichen walk

8th March 2015

On Sunday I went to Blickling Park to attend a NNNS walk looking at lichens on trees. The walk was led by county recorder Peter Lambley, and was well focused on beginners, allowing the participants to get an idea of how to identify some of the commoner species. We walked amongst some of the old parkland trees towards the lake, before heading across to the woods. Stopping for a short lunch break we saw flocks of Redwings and Fieldfares flying over, whilst we also heard several Nuthatches and a drumming Great-spotted Woodpecker. Whilst in the woods we visited the mausoleum, said to be Norfolk's only pyramid. We saw around 30 species of lichen, and hopefully I will now be able to identify some of them at Whitlingham too. Thanks to Peter for a very informative walk.

Cladonia fimbriata

Xanthoria parietina showing positive reaction with bleach

The Blickling pyramid

WHITLINGHAM: March wildfowl count

7th March 2015

On Saturday I headed down to Whitlingham for March's wildfowl count. The weather was unseasonably warm, with the accompanying huge increase in people. Despite the sunshine I didn't see a single butterfly, although as there were few flowers out they had probably made a wise decision. Another omission were any singing Chiffchaffs, which I had hoped to hear. The final thing that I didn't see was Garganey. The arrival of five of these ducks at Titchwell had raised hopes of one locally, but my wait for a patch one goes on. 

Wildfowl numbers had continued to decline since last month. There were still quite a few Tufted Ducks, but the only Gadwall were across the river at Thorpe Broad. Great-crested Grebes were all in breeding plumage, and the absence of all but two Egyptian Geese suggest that some are currently incubating. Two of the Herring Gulls were of interest, one with a red VKB ring is a bird I've seen here several times and was ringed as a pullus at Havergate in Suffolk. The other one had a particularly long bill, giving it a rather Caspian Gull-like appearance, albeit without some of the other features you would look for in that species. The only 'new' bird for the year was an Oystercatcher on the shingle at Thorpe.

NORWICH AREA: Distant Scaup-related fun

19th February 2015

Early in the morning I received a text to say that a possible Lesser Scaup had been seen on Colney GPs*1 but it had flown off. I assumed that this was the bird reported the previous day as a Greater Scaup*2. As the observer who reported the bird as a possible Lesser Scaup is a well respected county birder, I decided to keep an eye on my phone and go down and have a look if I got the chance. A look at my twitter feed revealed a photo from Wednesday's bird. Unfortunately as the photo was digibinned*3 it wasn't completely sharp and the colour of the back was washed out, however the impression was of a round-headed bird, i.e. a Greater Scaup. This was also the impression of the birders who had found it on Wednesday. When an uncropped version of the photo was posted it showed that the bird was similar or maybe slightly larger than a Tufted Duck, but perhaps on the small side for Greater Scaup. It also seemed to show very little black on the bill, which was good because it reduced the likelihood that the bird was a hybrid.

Later in the morning I noticed that the Scaup had been seen again, so I headed out to have a look for myself. I parked up at the southern park car park and walked to Chapel Break, where a small group of local birders (and later some county listers) were scanning from the gateway. The bird was showing (hooray) but very distant (boo). It was initially with a group of 30-ish Tufted Ducks, before breaking away and swimming fractionally closer and eventually out of sight. I stayed for a while after, ideally hoping to see it in flight, but with no sign of it reappearing and rain hampering visibility I headed home.

Given the distance it was difficult to draw too many conclusions. There was nothing that suggested a hybrid origin, so it would seem that the ID is a straightforward Greater/Lesser shootout. The bird looked very similar in size to the Tufted Ducks, the only real pro-Lesser feature noted. I couldn't see a bump at the back of the head, but neither would I have necessarily expected to at that range. Similarly the back looked darker than in the photo, but vermaculations weren't discernible. Likelihood is that the bird was just a small Greater Scaup, but worth checking out, and I'd like to think someone with a permit to the lakes managed to get some better photos, just to be sure.


*1 Technically Bawburgh Fishing Lakes, but more commonly known as Colney Gravel Pits.
*2 In common usage just "Scaup" - The international name 'Greater Scaup' is used here just to clearly separate from Lesser Scaup.
*3 'Digibinning' is the process of taking a digital photo through binoculars.

THORPE MARSH: Jack Snipe & some fungi

16th February 2014

I had a bit of time to go out, and I decided that instead of going to Bowthorpe to see the Great White Egret I should head to Thorpe and have a look round the marsh. After parking up I walked back to the green to see if I could find the Med Gull. Despite the large amounts of gulls present there was no sign of it - as far as I'm aware it hasn't been seen since 9th Feb - please let me know via the comments if you have seen it since then. I did see a couple of ringed gulls, the Norwegian white-ringed bird J0AR and a metal-ringed 1st winter that I couldn't read the ring of.


After a while I headed back along the road and across the heavily scaffolded footbridge to Thorpe Marsh. There wasn't much on the flood and a pair of Kestrels were the only birds of interest flying around. When I got as far as the wooded area between the path and the river I decided to have a look for some fungi. I moved closer to one of the ditches and nearly stood on a Jack Snipe! It flew up from a couple of feet away, silently flew across the path and dipped down close by but out of sight amongst the rushes. This brief encounter was all the better for being the first time I've seen a Jack Snipe here for about five years.

I carried on as far as Bungalow Lane, checking extra carefully for any more Jack Snipe, but without success. I suspect there are a few (along with lots of Common Snipe) scattered throughout the innaccessible parts of the marsh. In terms of fungi I found a small Scarlet Elf Cup, Willow Barkspot, Blushing Bracket, Southern Bracket, Turkeytail, Velvet Shank and probable Bleeding Broadleaf Crust.


On the broad there were lots of gulls, 10 Pochard, c30 Gadwall and c40 Tufted Duck, plus some Lapwings on the shingle spit. Whilst I was scanning through the gulls I spotted a large bird of prey fly through my view. It dipped below the reeds, but when it emerged I was able to ID it as a Marsh Harrier. Marsh Harriers are fairly regular at Thorpe, but given my visits here are more sporadic than Whitlingham it was still a good patch bird to see early in the year. On my way back to the railway bridge I spotted a male Sparrowhawk perched up too so quite a productive visit!


NORTH NORFOLK: Sculthorpe finches & Water Shrew

15th February 2015

On Sunday we decided to go on our annual winter visit to Sculthorpe Moor, probably Norfolk's best nature reserve for seeing Bullfinches. On the way we briefly stopped at Three Score so I could scan for the Great White Egret (no sign of it at the time, it did turn up later). Due to some navigational failings on my part we explored rather too much of Bowthorpe and Ringland before eventually getting back to the Fakenham Road and carrying on to Sculthorpe, where we struggled to find space in a packed car park. Handily many of the birders had almost finished their mornings birding, so the reserve itself wasn't too busy.

On the first set of feeders we saw pretty much everything we had come to see; a pair of Bullfinches, a Brambling, two Nuthatches, Coal Tits and Marsh Tits, two of the latter being colour ringed. Unfortunately as they were flying in and out I couldn't get the exact codes, but there was definitely a red-and-white and a yellow-and-white in there.


Further around we saw a small flock of Siskins in the Alders. Presumably due to the mild winter I still haven't seen (or indeed heard from anyone else about) any at Whitlingham so far in 2015. We didn't stop at the woodland hide, so carried on along the path, stopping only to look at some Scarlet Elf Cups and scan along the dyke. Further along we saw some more fungi and a very skulking Wren before arriving at the fen hide. The view was much different to our last visit, as some vegetation has been cleared to give an area of open water stretching into the distance.

As usual the bird tables at either side of the hide provided most of the entertainment, and there was a constant stream of birds, particularly Chaffinches, onto them. A flock of Long-tailed Tits were also a pleasure to see. For once we didn't see any Bullfinches here (although I did hear one from the path up to the hide), but three more Brambling, a Nuthatch and some Reed Buntings were all good to see close up.



It turned out that the best sighting of the day came near the end. As we crossed the recently cleared out dyke that runs through the woodland we stopped to scan along the muddy edges. Some ripples were coming from a small section of bank, and after that some bubbles. It looked as though something had swam out from an underwater hole in the bank. For a while we could only see ripples or a bubble trail, but then suddenly a Water Shrew launched itself out of the water and onto the mud at the edge, where it disappeared into presumably another hole. A brief view, but a new mammal for me and an excellent end to our visit.

WHITLINGHAM: February bird count & Scarlet Elf Cup

7th February 2015

A couple of days of cold north-easterly winds had to bring in some interesting birds to Whitlingham didn't they? Well, no. In fact I still haven't seen so much as a Goldeneye so far this year, despite a scattering of Goosander and Smew elsewhere in East Anglia. The broads were partly frozen, and that did at least allow me to see a Black-headed Gull with a green leg ring. After a bit of squinting and zooming in and out I eventually read the lettering as JC16, which I have traced back to an area near Oslo, Norway. This is in keeping with the Scandinavian origin of most of the ringed gulls seen at Whitlingham.


Elsewhere on the broads Gadwall and Pochard numbers had roughly halved since the January count, and Tufted Duck numbers had also declined. I was surprised to see a man fishing from a boat, initially off the slipway and then later just off the conservation area bay (rather annoyingly as it meant there were no gulls on the posts or much wildfowl near to the viewing screen). I'm not completely sure whether fishing from boats is allowed at Whitlingham - I guess it doesn't really come up that much as people don't tend to bring their own boats.

On last week's moss walk at Earlham Cemetery Michelle had told me that the Scarlet Elf Cups were fruiting, and there were also some Common Bird's Nest fungi in the woods. I went and had a quick look, seeing the elf cups but unfortunately not finding the Bird's Nests. A flock of Goldcrests showed well around the woodland watchpoint.


Back at the broad I looked across the river hoping that the Mediterranean Gull at Thorpe Green would fly up, but it didn't. The mature Bramble scrub has been severely cut back here, which is a great shame as it was an excellent habitat for warblers and held Nightingales a few years ago. I understand the need to cut down some of the scrub, but the amount removed along the riverbank seems too much to me and it will be interesting to see if the number of Whitethroats etc suffers as a result. I know another birder has complained to the Broads Authority about the removal of this scrub. Certainly in future I will make sure I specifically highlight areas that hold scarce birds in the hope that they can be preserved in the next round of clearance.

NORTH NORFOLK: Felmingham Woodwose

1st February 2015

Cathy & I attended a Christening in Felmingham church, and after the service I had a look around to find a carving of a Woodwose on the pulpit. Woodwoses are 'wild men', usually depicted as men covered in hair (although this one actually looks more leafy) and usually holding a club. My interest in seeing this one stems back to an article several months ago in the Fortean Times (the only magazine I read these days) about the presence of Woodwoses in Suffolk churches. Having looked for references to them it turns out there are lots in Norfolk too, including Felmingham and North Walsham churches. So next time you find yourself with a bit of time in a church, why not see if you can find a Woodwose?