The Whitlingham Bird Report 2019 is available now (click here)

For previous years (2012-2018) see the links on the Whitlingham Bird List page.

EAST NORFOLK: Walcott seafront and beach

2nd February 2020

A combination of illness and the weather meant little of note was seen in late January (Greylag Goose was added to the house list by virtue of some calling birds heard whilst indoors, and Sparrowhawk and Grey Wagtail were seen in the city centre). 

One of the deferred activities was a meal with mum at the Sugar and Spice Cafe (a cafe in Bacton, not to be confused with the table-dancing club of the same name in Norwich). After a nice meal we headed a bit further down the road and parked up at Walcott. We wanted to show Rose the Turnstones, and having got out of the car and stood by the sea wall we were soon treated to a walk past by one of these charismatic birds (later a flock of 23 flew in).

We then went for a walk along the beach, the first time I've been back since the sandscaping. I picked up a couple of bits of seaweed for further inspection, trying to identify them using a guide to seaweeds of the east coast produced by Norfolk marine county recorders Dawn Watson and Rob Spray. The first was Eyelash Weed (Calliblepharis ciliata), and a closer look revealed a colony of Bryozoans, Electra pilosa, the first time I've noted them although I'm sure in the past I wouldn't have looked close enough to realise that the small pale patch was other creatures. I struggled to identify the other red seaweed as there are a lot of similarly feathery ones, but fortunately Dawn is on Facebook and identified it for me as Heterosiphonia plumosa.

WHITLINGHAM: January WeBS count (with bonus Goosander)

12th January 2020

The first WeBS count of the year at Whitlingham turned from a rather standard affair to an interesting one with the find of a drake Goosander in the conservation area bay. These sawbills have become a bit less regular in the Norwich area of late, althought there were quite a few sightings in 2019. In fact my last Whitlingham one was back in 2015, albeit I've not visited as much in the past couple of years. This bird appeared whilst I was scanning the bay from the path, giving the peachy glow that marks out the males, but then vanished by the time I tried to scan again from a different angle.

Other than the Goosander, selected species counts below (combined Great Broad/Little Broad):

Gadwall: 185 (2019: 430, 2018: 262)
Shoveler: 0 (2019: 7, 2018: 39)
Tufted Duck: 289 (2019: 307, 2018: 327)
Pochard: 14 (2019: 30, 2018: 59)
Coot: 87 (2019: 227, 2018: 192)
Little Egret: 5 (2019: 3, 2018: 0)

As you can see, the overwhelming trend is one of much lower numbers than the past few years. The mild weather this winter will undoubtedly be part of that - whilst I make cursory weather notes (windy, sunny etc) and record any ice cover, I wonder if I should be making a record of the temperature and weather pattern for each count to provide a bit more analysis of why numbers might be different. Tufted Duck numbers were only slightly down, but Coot numbers were only half the equivalent counts of late. The 2019 Gadwall count had been exceptional, but 185 is still well below the 2018 count, and the few Shoveler present on 1st Jan had departed.

A few other bits and bobs were noted on the walk. The common Agromyzid miner Phytomyza chaerophylli was evident in Cow Parsley, and there was a nice group of Common Inkcaps too. Alex Prendergast had asked naturalists to send him photos of winter-flowering Dandelions (most flower in April) because there are some rare/under-recorded species, and he initially wondered if I had found one of them called Taraxacum subericinum, but having consulted an expert it was decided that it wasn't. Dandelions, like Brambles, are actually an aggregate of many apomictic species (sometimes described as microspecies, although the term is frowned upon by those that study them).

NORWICH: Earlham Cemetery plant hunt & fungi

4th January 2020

Continuing the theme of Norwich-based excursions, Cathy, Rose and I went to Earlham Cemetery to take part in the Friends of Earlham Cemetery event for BSBI's New Year Plant Hunt. There seemed to be fewer plants in flower than recent times, but I think the final total didn't necessarily back up that observation. We got a brief glimpse of a Muntjac, which pleased Rose (although not as much as the cat that accompanied us around a section of the cemetery).

Highlights of the visit were probably non-floral - we saw some good specimens of Striated Earthstar, before being shown some Lacquered Bracket (Ganoderma lucidum) and the eggs of a Vapourer Moth, laid on the cocoon that the female would have originally emerged from (the females are wingless in this species).

Having left the cemetery and gone shopping, I had a call from Gary White to say that he had found a Waxwing showing well on Edinburgh Road. I took a rather winding way home to look for it, intitially with no success, before hearing it call nearby. A look down the next road along and hey presto, a Waxwing perched up on a TV aerial on College Road. It didn't stay long, flying back towards the original location, but always nice to see this species around the city.

NORWICH: Kett's Heights

3rd January 2020

Having a couple of hours free, I headed up to Mousehold Heath and then walked across to St James' Hill, where you can get a fine view out across the city. I then carried on to visit a new site for me, Ketts Heights. This place, so-called because it was the meeting place for Robert Kett and his men in the 1749 attempt to take the city, is something of a hidden gem, with access through some unassuming gates off a busy road. I took some lunch up and had a very peaceful time, looking out over the cathedral. The view is arguably as good as that from St James' Hill, but it is more restricted by trees either side.

NORWICH: Train Wood and environs

2nd January 2020

Our Whitlingham trip on the first had come at a slight cost, with a nail in the tire. Unfortunately I didn't realise straight away and the tire was unrepairable, but fortunately when I did discover it I was at my in-laws nearby, as I didn't have a torch with me so changing it would have been tricky. Anyway, that meant that the next day was spent taking the car in to have a new tire fitted. Whilst I waited I went for a walk in Train Wood, adding a handful of extra birds to the previous day's total. A Coal Tit called from a conifer near the entrance, whilst a Long-tailed Tit flock roamed the wood. Having not seen Egyptian Geese at Whitlingham I noted a pair across the river at Wensum Park. I made a note of some plants in flower and some fungi, including a couple of small Scarlet Elf Cups.

Next along the path was Anderson's Meadow, and whilst recording Phytomyza chaerophylli, a common winter leaf miner in Cow Parsley, I noted some mines in Goosegrass. I had hoped it would be identifiable from the mine, but Barry Warrington advised me that it was likely to be an Aulagromyza but ideally wanted to be bred through for a firm ID.

It was a similar story further along at Sweetbriar. I spot checked a few ivy-covered trees in the hope of finding a small green spider that Vanna has found here recently, but was distracted by some leaf mines in Pendulous Sedge. They struck me as similar to the ones that I saw at Whitwell recently, that had been parasitised before pupation. At least one here did contain a puparium, which I photographed and hope that will be identified in due course. I then took walked across and joined the Marriott's Way path for a slow walk back home.

YARE VALLEY: End of 2019, start of 2020

1st January 2020

The end of 2019 saw a couple of short visits that I didn't get round to blogging about. Firstly a visit to a flooded Thorpe Marshes, where I was surprised by the amount of tree removal that had gone on, meaning the pools south of the marsh path are now completely visible and the edge of the broad has an open area. Of course its swings and roundabouts, there is now less scrub for small birds in that area but some potentially interesting new edge habitats. Two Stonechats were the only birds of note.

 Note that this is the path rather than a dyke

We also called in to Strumpshaw as a family one afternoon. Having shown Rose a Chinese Water Deer out on the marsh she announced she wanted to see "more deer". On our way back we then spotted two Muntjacs in the woods. Rather than satisfy her desire to see deer, this was greeted by "MORE deer" - I hope that each trip out isn't now going to be judged solely on the presence or absence of deer sightings.

The new year began in similar style to the previous one, as we had stayed at home watched Jools Holland and said rude words about people releasing fireworks all the time (seriously, if you have bought fireworks to celebrate New Years Eve, why release them at 23:30 or 00:30?) I managed to see 14 species from the house/garden, one up on 2019, followed by a Jay that flew over as we got in the car. We then headed down to Whitlingham for a family walk, seeing 24 species. The resident Barnacle Goose plus Shoveler and Little Egret were probably the most notable birds - Justin's drake Red-crested Pochards from the morning had departed and there was no sign of Schrodinger's Mandarin, which seems to exist in a quantum dimension inhabited only by other birders.


January 2020

Happy New Year everyone. Are you missing 2019 yet? Well why not look back on the previous year at Whitlingham and Thorpe using this handy bird report?

 Whitlingham Bird Report 2019


2019 wildlife highlights

As its nearly the end of the year, I have allowed myself a nostalgic stroll back through 2019, and compiled ten highlights. As usual in no particular order and a mixture of species, places, surveys and searches, which avid readers will have already read about.

1. Bradfield Woods
Cathy & I have a sort of tradition where we make sure that we visit a wood with lots of Bluebells every spring, and this year we decided to make a first visit to Bradfield Woods in Suffolk. One of the reasons for choosing this site was that it also contains Oxlips, a scarce species that I'd never seen and where the native populations are probably extinct in Norfolk. It was a chilly day as we sat at a picnic bench for our lunch, before setting off on a walk around the wood. We saw lots of woodland flowers including the hoped for Oxlips, and as a bonus I recorded the several tachinids including my favourite, Phasia hemiptera, and one possib ly new to Suffolk, Tachina lurida.

 Phasia hemiptera
Tachina lurida

2. Duke of Burgundy
A few years ago I'd looked for Duke of Burgundy in the Chilterns without success, so this years trip outside East Anglia was a return visit with Carl Chapman. We visited the same area although at the other end of the ridge, and this time I got to see them! Our first sighting was of one flying past at speed, and I was worried that would be it, but fortunately I then found one on some Hawthorn blossom and we went on to see quite a few more of these lovely orange butterflies.

3. Small Fungus Weevil (Platystomos albinus)
Who lives in a fungus and looks like bird poo? No it's not Spongebob Squarepants, it's a small fungus weevil called Platystomos albinus. It's listed as Nationally Scarce B, but it might well be overlooked. After many years of looking I had finally seen it's larger relative the Scarce Fungus Weevil in 2018, so I was very pleased to find this out of the blue whilst in the Chilterns. I found it near a small gate so everyone had to wait for me to photograph it before they could come past!

4. Wheatfen Cowbane rust hunt
A brief description of the day could have been "a small group searched for a small rust fungus on umbellifer leaves and didn't find it", which doesn't really sound like a highlight. However brief descriptions often omit some key detail (remember the viral Wizard of Oz summary "Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again"). In fact I had a thoroughly enjoyable time boating around channels and broads, checking out each clump of Cowbane we saw, and although we didn't find the fungus we were looking for being out on the water was a perfect break, particularly for someone who grew up reading Arthur Ransome books. Afterwards we had tea with the warden and then the group gamely set off into some boggy tidal carr woodland, all to look for a rare moss that most of them hadn't heard of (and we did find that!).

5. Rhombic Leatherbug
Shieldbugs and leatherbugs are two of my favourite groups, and Rhombic Leatherbug was probably the commonest species that I hadn't seen before. As described at the time I did my best to still not see it, accidentally dismissing it as a juvenile Dock Bug before being put right. As is so often the case, having seen it for the first time I saw three more later in the year, firstly at Earlham Cemetery and then finding a couple more in the Brecks.

6. Wildlife gardening
Each year the garden has developed a bit more, and this year we did some pond dipping with Rose, grew some Raspberries (in turn attracting some sawfly larvae), watched a spider shed its exoskeleton, had regular visits from two Coal Tits and various other species. I didn't do much moth trapping in 2019, but coming home over summer and being able to spend a bit of time out in the garden was definitely a highlight.

 Cladus brullei

7. The garden of the bees
One of the best wildlife sites for insects in Norwich must surely be the Bartlett's garden, and I was fortunate to visit on several occasions to see interesting things. Some seem to be attracted by the flowers and habitat generally, whilst for others a particular plant has been grown to attract them, as was the case with the Mignonette Yellow-face Bee. Of course attracting them is only half the job, and Vanna still has to identify them! Nomada zonata and Coelioxys inermis were two of the other new species that I saw there this year.

 Mignonette Yellow-face Bee
 Nomada zonata
 Coelioxys inermis

8. Minsmere
Despite being in Suffolk Minsmere actually has a lot going for it for the naturalist who wants to go out with the family, including some decent surfaced paths (albeit not all of the way round, hence on one visit Cathy gamely pushed the pushchair through some very loose sand along the eastern edge!), a cafe, baby changing facilities and of course lots of wildlife. We ended up visiting four times, with interesting stuff seen on each one. Our amazing encounter with an Adder swallowing its prey has to be the most notable, but I also enjoyed seeing (and hearing) Green-eyed Flower Bees, plus my best ever views of Dartford Warbler and lots of interesting fungi as well.

 Green-eyed Flower Bee
 Fluted Birds-nest
Fly Agaric

9. Sawfly leaf mines
In recent years I've recorded quite a few fly and moth leaf mines, so this year I tried to pay a bit more attention to the mines caused by sawflies. Handily Andy Musgrove has put together a website for Norfolk sawflies, so I was able to see how many species there were to look out for in the main tribe of leaf miners, the Fenusini. There were 21 species down for Norfolk, and I managed to find 14 of them, plus one not recorded in Norfolk before, Heterarthrus cuneifrons.

 Fenusella glaucopis in Aspen
Heterarthrus cuneifrons in Sycamore

10. A Breckland jaunt
In late summer I headed down to the Brecks with Jeremy and Vanna for a multi-site visit looking for a mixture or scarce plants and invertebrates. At Santon we saw large numbers of a type of Treehopper found with Broom, whilst I don't think we actually reached Cranwich Heath proper due to the time spent looking along the plants growing at the edges of the main ride. We saw Smooth Rupturewort, possibly the least impressive flowering plant I've seen, but also things like Small Scabious Mining Bee and a new conopid, all in glorious sunshine surrounded by Breckland plants.

 Gargara genistae
 Small Scabious Mining Bee
 Hedychrum sp
Smooth Rupturewort