The Whitlingham Bird Report for 2015 is now available to download here. If you are interested in reports from previous years you can still download the 2014 report here and the 2013 report 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 for 2015, which is available here.

WHITLINGHAM: August WeBS count & new hoverflies

21st August 2016

A hot and busy day at Whitlingham to complete the August WeBS count. There was a further reduction in wildfowl numbers from July, and no Greylag Geese on the broads at all. This complete clearout struck me as unusual, but actually last year there was only six recorded from the August count, so a similar thing happened last year as well. There were no terns or singing warblers, but a couple of House Martins flew over and a Bullfinch was heard in the conservation area. The vegetation around the Little Broad has grown up so much that it was tricky to see the whole of the broad, but hopefully some of it will die back soon. Twelve Greylag Geese were on the slipway at Broadland Boat Club, along with a white Call Duck.

Selected counts (2015 totals in brackets) were:
Mute Swan 60 (74)
Greylag Goose 0 (6)
Canada Goose 4 (3)
Egyptian Goose 21 (23)
Mallard 98 (120)
Gadwall 4 (0)
Tufted Duck 4 (0)
Coot 48 (44)

Potentially the most interesting sighting of the day was one that got away. A small brown butterfly nectaring on Ragwort between the two broads looked very much like a Brown Argus, a species I've not recorded here, but it flew off and I couldn't be 100% sure it wasn't a female Common Blue, so I'm not counting it. Whilst loitering nearby in the hope that it would return I noticed an unfamiliar green plant, later confirmed online as Lesser Swine-cress, a new species for me.

Lesser Swine-cress

I also added two hoverflies to my patch list, Xanthogramma pedisequum (also a Norfolk tick having seen it just over the border at Brandon CP earlier in the summer) and Helophilus trivittatus, possibly a migrant. Other interesting sightings included galls on Persicaria sp and Alder. The first one took the form of bright red swellings along the stem, which were very noticeable so I don't know how I;ve overlooked it in the past. The second was a species I have wanted to see for a while, Alder Tongue Gall. This was found near the bird screen, and I only saw it because I stopped to watch a flock of Long-tailed Tits flying past.

 Xanthogramma pedisequum
 Helophilus trivittatus
 Gall caused by the gall midge Wachtliella persicariae
Alder Tongue Gall, caused by the fungus Taphrina alni

WHITLINGHAM: Grasshoppers and lots more

16th August 2016

On Tuesday evening I headed out after work, intending to have a quick stroll around Trowse Meadow and the common behind the church, which I haven't visited in years. A combination of work and football parking meant that there was nowhere to pull up along Whitlingham Lane, so I changed plans and instead headed off to the woodland car park.

My first port of call was the woodland watchpoint, although tree growth in front of it means that hardly any of Thorpe Marsh can be seen. I had a look at a decaying tree nearby in case the Coral Tooth fungus was fruiting, but there was no sign of it yet. Out of the woods I visited the lime tree that had attracted so many insects on my last visit, but it was no longer flowering. There were quite a few hoverflies on the Buddleia and knapweed flowers, so I decided to walk along the wildflower meadow to the Great Broad, then to the east end of the Great Broad before retracing my steps.

I saw lots of invertebrates, so this account is just the selected highlights. During a period of sunshine I stopped and heard some grasshoppers calling. Previously I have only recorded Field and Meadow Grasshoppers here, so I was keen to check them both out as Common Green Grasshopper should occur here too. The first grasshopper was green, and looked promising, but I was a bit concerned about the lack of white on the edge of the scutellum markings, and after posting I double-checked and I now think it is a Meadow Grasshopper. The second one was definitely Meadow Grasshopper. Dark Bush Crickets were also calling, but I didn't attempt to find any.

 Meadow Grasshopper - greener than the more 'typical' one shown below
 Meadow Grasshopper

Along the Great Broad shore I noticed a dark looking wasp. I had seen one a few visits ago and it had eluded me, but this one at least allowed one photo before vanishing. It appears to be a worker Median Wasp, a new species for me. As is so often the case whilst I was inspecting the foliage carefully I found another interesting species, the very colourful Black Willow Bark Aphid (you may need to click on the photo to see the white and orange spots).

Despite checking lots of hoverflies, they all appeared to be species I'd seen before except two. The first one. Epistrophe grossulariae, is new for me provided I've identified it correctly. The second looked initally interesting in the field, but turned out to be Eristalinus sepulchralis, a species that I have recorded here once before.

Scorpion flies are a common sight throughout the country, but not everyone realises that there is more than one species. Only the males can be identified in the field, and then it requires a good view of the genital capsule. I saw one basking and thought it looked a bit daintier than normal, but I managed to get close enough to photograph it and it was Panorpis germanica, the commonest species.

On my way back I stopped to look at a Caddisfly on an Alder. Whilst looking at it I saw a large sawfly larva on the next leaf up. The appearance and host plant suggest that this is the Large Alder Sawfly, Cimbex connatus, that was only re-discovered in Norfolk five or so years ago after a long absence. We currently don't have a Norfolk Sawfly recorder, but I have asked Tony, one of our top dipterists, if he is aware of any other Norwich area records.

 Caddisfly sp.
 Sawfly larva on Alder

In fact there was another new species too, a solitary wasp called Lestiphorus bicinctus. So there we go, a highly productive hour and a half, particularly as I hadn't intended to go to that area originally.

Lestiphorus bicinctus

NORWICH: Plantation Garden moth workshop

13th August 2016

Having returned home from the Strumpshaw moth morning, I had nine moth free hours before heading to another event. Saturday evening saw the third of four wildlife workshops being run to help record and encourage recording at the Plantation Garden in Norwich. This session was in two parts, so that people could see the moth traps being used tonight and could have a look at the catch on Sunday morning. I was busy on Sunday, so popped along to lend a hand in the evening.

I arrived just before nine, and although it was beginning to get dark we knew it would be a little while before the moths started to arrive. I had taken my bat detector, so I showed a few people how to use it, although sadly the only bats detected were brief flypasts. By the time the moths had begun to arrive the group had decreased in size, although it look like many people came to have a look in the morning.

Species seen whilst I was present included Common Emerald, Brimstone moth, Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing, Marbled Beauty, Copper Underwing agg and a V-pug. A micro moth, Cydia fagiglandana, identified from photos, was a new one for me. The final workshop in the series takes place in October.

Chequered Fruit Tree Tortrix

YARE VALLEY: Strumpshaw moth morning

13th August 2016

On Saturday morning Cathy, Margaret & I headed to Strumpshaw Fen for one of the reserves moth mornings. Typically there are three of these a year, one in June, July and August, and by attending one a year for the last few years I have racked up a Strumpshaw moth list of well over 200 species. 

This year moth numbers seem to have been down on recent years, but across the two traps (one in the fen and one in the woods) we saw at least 90 species. Of the macro moths there were three new ones for me, the one I was most pleased about was Tree-lichen Beauty, a small greenish migrant species. Twin-spotted Wainscot and Phoenix were the other two new ones. There were also the usual crowd pleasers like Garden Tiger and Poplar Hawk Moth, plus scarcities like Double Kidney.

In addition to the moths the trap had also caught lots of Whirligig Beetles and one Great Silver Water Beetle. Carrion Beetles are regularly attracted to moth traps, and there was a Nicrophorus investigator, typically mite-infested. We had to move some of the moths when a predatory Robin flew in and began to eat some, and just before we left a Brown Hawker caught a Speckled Wood and perched up in a tree nearby to eat it.

EAST NORFOLK: Target species - Harbour Porpoise

12th August 2016

One of my target species from the start of the year was Harbour Porpoise, Norfolk's commonest cetacean. I didn't really know much about the status of porpoises around the county, but thanks to Carl Chapman's Norfolk Cetaceans Blog and twitter I was aware that the east coast of Norfolk produced quite a lot of sightings. At the start of the week Patrick Goffin had let me know that he had seen porpoises three days in a row off Winterton, so on Friday afternoon Cathy & I headed to the dunes for a seawatch.

It was a hot day and quite busy, but handily Winterton is large enough for us to pick a quiet spot on the edge of the dunes. I set up my telescope and after about 15 minutes picked out a small triangular fin poking up between the waves. For some reason I was rather surprised, but a second look was unequivocal, I had seen a Harbour Porpoise! In fact there were two, and despite their rather erratic appearances above the sea, Cathy managed to see one too. When the Porpoises had gone I kept scanning for birds, but other than a couple of Common Scoter it was mostly Terns, Gulls and Gannets. Just before we left a Marram Weevil landed on my hand, and a couple of Graylings were seen in the dunes.

LINCOLNSHIRE: Burghley House

10th August 2016

To celebrate our wedding anniversary Cathy & I went to Burghley House, a stately home in south Lincolnshire. We had a nice look around the house and a meal at the orangery restaurant, but for the purposes of the blog I will mention a few of the insects that we saw within the grounds. As we walked across to the entrance Cathy spotted a pair of Common Blue Damselflies at the side of the road:

In the afternoon we walked through the sculpture garden, taking in a large lake. A Red-eyed Damselfly was seen in vegetation along the edge, and a Figwort Sawfly was on its foodplant close by. The most interesting sighting for me was a Common Furrow-bee (Lasioglossum calceatum) feeding on Water Mint.

There were also a couple of plant sightings of interest, but neither likely to be 'wild'. Firstly I was looking at some ferns in the water garden. I didn't recognise one of them, and as it was growing with Maidenhair Spleenwort I thought it might be native to the area, however as there were lots of planted ferns a bit further on it probably wasn't. The second plant was a Corncockle. These attractive pink flowers used to occur as arable weeds, but are now very rare. The reason you are likely to have heard the name if you are not a botanist is because there was a ridiculous scare story about them in the papers a few years back. They are poisonous, likely many plants, but only if you eat them. As a result, the Telegraph were outraged that seed packets contained Corncockle Seeds. You can still read Patrick Barkham's response in the Guardian here:

 Unknown and dubiously wild fern sp.
 Corncockle. Don't look at it too long or it might get you.

SOUTH NORFOLK: Tyrrel's Wood

9th August 2016

With a bit of free time in the afternoon, Cathy & I visited Tyrrel's Wood near Long Stratton. It wasn't a site that I had been to before, so I was interested to have a look around. It is widely described as a SSSI, although there doesn't appear to be a citation for it on the Natural England website unless it is called something different.

We hadn't walked far into the wood when we stopped to investigate some squeaking noises. We looked to the side of one of the path and saw six Common Shrews, presumably a family party although two of them were scrapping with each other. They seemed rather oblivious to us, but too fast to get photos of. Buoyed by this early sighting we carried on into the older part of the wood, where we saw Nuthatch and Treecreeper. Sadly there didn't seem to be many open glades, so nectar-loving insects were scarce.

Tyrrel's Wood is looked after by the Woodland Trust, and there were several wooden bridges and bits of boardwalk over some boggy areas. Unfortunately the damp areas also meant lots of midges, and Cathy got bitten quite heavily, so we would recommend strong insect repellant! I got off lightly, with just a couple of bites. There are no specific waymarked trails or maps, which has positives and negatives - the obvious negative being that as we took a winding path back we were never really sure how far from the exit we were!

Two other species seen of note in the woods were a Black Arches moth found resting on a tree, and some Oak Bracket fungus (Inonotus dryadeus), a fungus that exudes water droplets.

WEST NORFOLK: Dagger moth

8th August 2016

After my Whitlingham visit Cathy & I went to West Newton, on the edge of the Sandringham estate, to have lunch with a family friend. After we had eaten I went for a walk around her garden, seeing a young Green Woodpecker and a Nuthatch. I was particularly pleased to find the well camouflaged Grey or Dark Dagger moth. Theses species can't be separated in the field as adults, but the caterpillars do look noticeably different. Incidentally of the two, I have seen many more Grey Dagger caterpillars.

WHITLINGHAM: Swan count and leaf miners

8th August 2016

On Monday morning I headed to Whitlingham to conduct a count of the Mute Swans. Later on in the day Adam Manvell had organised a complete count on the river, so together it would give us a good estimate of the total number in the area. Ideally we were going to check some rings too, but all of the Whitlingham birds bar one sleeping one were on the water, so that didn't work out. I counted 82 adult birds at Whitlingham, plus 5 cygnets across three broods. I tried not to be too distracted by other things, but did note a few leaf miners, including the following:

Cerodontha iraeos (a fly that mines Yellow Flag Iris)
 Phyllocnistis saligna (a moth that mines willows)
Phyllonorycter coryli (a moth that mines Hazel). Note also a Stigmella sp. mine in the bottom centre.

NORTH NORFOLK: Burnham Overy flora & fauna

7th August 2016

On Sunday I joined a group of botanists at Burnham Overy for a 'Wildflowers Revealed' walk. These sessions, of which there are usually one or two a year, are an opportunity for naturalists with an interest in plants to accompany experienced members of the Norfolk Flora Group to survey a particular habitat. The Flora Group are a well-oiled recording machine, with GPS units for checking grid references, tables of previously recorded species and years of experience, but these combined sessions tend to strike a good balance between recording, seeing scarce plants and helping less experienced botanists to learn how to separate similar species.

Upon arrival at Burnham Overy the tide was at its highest, which was fortunate because it was a big tide and had flooded most of the car park. Having parked up and been treated to some almond puddings made by Jo, we headed off along the sea wall towards the dunes. As well as the botanists we were also firtunate to have Sarah, Holkham's conservation manager, accompanying us and she told us a bit about the site as we went along. The landward half of the path was coloured pink and yellow by a mixture of Common Mallow and Black Mustard, with lots of Sea Beet adding greenery. As we neared the dunes the mallow and mustard were replaced by large areas of Bristly Oxtongue and Creeping Thistle. Other plants pointed out along the sea wall included Sea Wormwood, Upright Hedge Parsley and Tall Melilot.

At the start of the dunes we looked at a few plants that I was familiar with like Common Centaury, Lady's Bedstraw and Common Storksbill. A bit further along we saw Wild Cotoneaster, which was a new one for me. We also had a good look at a sweet pea, although my photos came out blurry due to the strong wind. It was identified as Lathyrus heterophyllus, sometimes called Norfolk Everlasting Pea. Mike made a strong case for not using this name, as it is a non-native species with no real connection with Norfolk other than first being recorded here as an introduction. Whilst looking at the pea I spotted a small Natterjack Toad heading for the vegetation - my first 'adult' having only seen large tadpoles before.

Continuing across the dunes we stopped to look at some dainty Fairy Flax before heading down into some damper dune slacks. I stopped to watch a Wall butterfly, and retraced my steps to watch a Hummingbird Hawk Moth that some of the group had found. A Grayling butterfly nearby was also of interest. Walking eastwards there was lots of Sea Spurge, some seedheads of Marsh Helleborine, Distant Sedge (Carex distans) and Sand Cats-tail (Phleum arenarium). The latter two were unsurprisngly new species for me as I know very little about sedges and grasses. Some flowering Sea Holly was nice to see, and we walked through a swathe of flowering Rosebay Willowherb before stopping for lunch.

 Fairy Flax
 Sea Holly
 Hummingbird Hawk Moth

Our lunch spot, a sheltered area on the edge of the pines proved to be very good for insects. Before sitting down I found my first Tachina grossa, a large black tachinid fly. Whilst eating we were surrounded by Ruddy Darters, and in a sunny area of bramble we could see Common Blue, Small Copper and Brown Argus butterflies. At least one Dark Green Fritillary flew past too. After lunch we continued along the dune/pine interface, finding some Blue Fleabane. We then headed into the woods to see the Creeping Lady's Tresses, which have had a good year here. I hadn't seen this species since I was in my teens and regular at Holt CP, so it was good to get reacquainted with it.

 Blue Fleabane
 Creeping Lady's Tresses

We walked south through the pines to join up with the main path, where Mary pointed out pale patches of White Cushion Moss (Leucopbryum glaucum). Three Red Longhorn Beetles were observed on a fallen log. Walking back towards the dunes we stopped at a sunny glade, where Hemp Agrimony was attracting lots of insects. A fritillary flew past, and it turned out to be Silver-washed, a recent arrival at Holkham. Whilst waiting in case it settled nearby, I noticed a Purple Hairstreak fly down and briefly settle in front of us.

Emerging back out onto the dunes we had a quick and unsuccessful look for Ant-lion pits, before heading westwards to look for Jersey Cudweed, a rare species found at only two sites in Norfolk. We found several flowering spikes on a private part of reserve, and also saw Strawberry Clover and Creeping Willow nearby. On our way back we saw some gone-over Autumn Gentians, unusual for the site, and also the unusual 'string of sausages' lichen Usnea articulata.

 Jersey Cudweed
 Strawberry Clover
 Usnea articulata

Thanks to Sarah for guiding us, and to the members of the Norfolk Flora Group and NNNS for their expertise.

WHITLINGHAM: Soldierfly searching

4th August 2016

Tim Hodge had let me know that he had done some wildlife recording at Whitlingham at the weekend, and one of the species he had seen was a soldierfly called a Banded General. I've not seen any of the 'Generals', so after work on Thursday I took advantage of some early evening sunshine to go and have a look at the flowers along the riverbank near the woods.

Upon arrival I was saddened to see a dead Sparrowhawk along the edge of the woods. There was no sign that anything untoward had occurred, so after checking for rings I left it where it was and carried on.

There were Peacock and Red Admiral butterflies on the Buddleia near to the car park, and a Volucella zonaria hoverfly on some brambles. Approaching a lime tree with lots of flowers, I could immediately see lots of bees and hoverflies. A smaller relative of the previous species, Volucella inanis was resting on one of the leaves. A third Volucella was also present - I thought at the time that it was V. inflata because of the large black middle to Tergite 2, but I was concerned about the dark scutellum, and having spoken to the county recorder he says it is an atypical Volucella pellucens.

 Volucella zonaria
 Volucella inanis
 Volucella pellucens (more typically this species has a complete band)

With no sign of the Banded General I headed along to Whitlingham Marsh. Here I did see a new patch hoverfly, Chrysotoxum bicinctum, although it flew off before I could photograph it. Walking alongside the A47 I saw a new leafhopper (Eupteryx aurata) and a Willow Emerald damselfly. I was keeping a look out for a spiky shrub with fine-leaves that Tim had mentioned earlier. When I found it I noticed that one had green blackberry-like fruits, and wondered if it could be a Rubus species. This turned out to be a good guess, it was Parsley-leaved Bramble (Rubus lacianatus).

 Eupteryx aurata
 Willow Emerald
 Parsley-leaved Bramble

It was beginning to drizzle, so I headed back to the car, calling in briefly at the lime again. I saw a bracket fungus growing from an Ash tree along the riverbank, and realised it was Shaggy Bracket (Inonotus hispidus), a new patch fungus, to round off a productive hours walk.