The Whitlingham Bird Report for 2016 is now available to download here.

The previous reports are also availble: 2015 here,
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 2016, which is available here.

NORWICH: Return to Catton Park

21st June 2017

At the start of the year I had decided that I would take advantage of being quite close to Catton Park by visiting at least once a month to track the changes through the year. This lasted until March, then basically the amount of wildlife increased and I split my time between Whitlingham, target species and various other ventures. On Wednesday the weather had reached a warm but not stifling balance, so I decided to pop down after work for an hours walk around.

As it was the start of rush hour I decided that instead of crossing the ring road and heading to the Oak Lane entrance (a walk that would have resembled the start of Horace Goes Skiing), I would cross at the traffic lights and go in through the woods. This immediately paid off as I was only a few paces in when I saw a Vole pearing out of its burrow. It watched me, I watched it. After a minute I reached for my camera, and it vanished into the hole.

With the visit already worthwhile, I had a wander out of the woods and into the meadow, where there was a (probably seeded) area of wildflowers, mostly Ox-eye daisies. A number of moths were flying, but on closer inspection most of them were Garden grass-veneers, which look surprisingly big in flight. I did find a more interesting moth though, the Triple-stripe Piercer (Grapholita compositella). After checking at home I found that this was a new TG21 record, which was satisfying.

A detour to check out an area of bare sandy soil was interesting, because there was a large area of Corn Spurrey, which I'd only seen as an arable weed once before. There was also a fumitory growing nearby.

Back to the meadow, and several Merodon equestris hoverflies were picked out, as well as a Slender-striped Robberfly. This species, which like the piercer was a new one for me, holds its body in a distinct pose, looking a bit like a stubby damselfly.

A quick walk across part of the parkland turned up a few common beetles and bugs, and some dried specimens of Common Broomrape. I should probably make sure I return in July!

YARE VALLEY: Strumpshaw dragonflies & beetles

18th June 2017

Sunday was Father's Day, and as dad hadn't been to Strumpshaw for over a year we decided to go there. We arrived at about 10:30, by which time it was scorching hot and packed with people, including a coach party. We had a quick look at some moths left near the reception hide, crowd-pleasingly big ones rather than rare reedbed types unfortunately. A Swallowtail flew past near the cottage as if at the head of a conga line. We decided to head for the Lackford Run end of the reserve until the crowd dispersed a little.

As we approached the railway line I heard a Grasshopper Warbler reeling close by. It didn't take us long before we found a male Scarce Chaser perched up, but the bright sunshine and my lack of photographic skills meant that the body was completely washed out in my pictures. Eventually I did manage to get one where you could see the abdomen colour, but only because it landed at an angle. The blue damselflies were very skittish - the few I did see close enough were Azure Damsels.

I kept an eye out near the Alders for White-barred Clearwings, without success. A couple of small Swallowtail caterpillars were nice to see, and a Common Lizard was found resting on the boardwalk with its legs raised in the air, presumably to avoid the hot wood! Marsh Pea was also seen from the boardwalk. Another three Swallowtails were seen flying over the reeds, but never close enough to photograph.

We retraced our steps, looking for insects as we went. I saw a yellowy soldier beetle, one of a species pair, and having failed on several previous occasions managed to get a photo of the palps. They had a dark tip, identifying it was Cantharis pallida. There were lots of reed beetles, which I have got down to Plateumaris, but am still deciding which of two similar species they are. 

Back on the reserve proper we headed for the meadow. There didn't seem to be too much about, a slight concern as I'm helping lead a walk here in a few weeks time. The dykes were quite promising however, with lots of Norfolk Hawkers and Four-spotted Chasers, plus Hairy Dragonfly and Common Emerald. We bumped into Carol, Steve and Eddie and had a chat before continuing across the meadow. The final sighting of interest was a soldierfly, Banded General, which I've wanted to see for a while.

NORWICH: A few new moths & a caddisfly

17th June 2017

After our Weeting trip we called in to see Gary and Alysia's moth haul. A Festoon would have been the highlight had I not seen two earlier in the day, so the Spinach took the honours as a new macro. Triangle-marked Roller (Ancylis achatana) was a new micro, as was Four-spotted Obscure (Oegoconia quadripuncta) (albeit the latter requires gen det to be sure, so it won't make my list proper). The large orange caddisfly Limnephilus rhombicus was also new. We had a quick look at the unpotted moths still in the trap and released the Lime Hawk Moth before heading home.

BRECKLAND: Weeting Moths

17th June 2017

Saturday was initially the date for a fungus study group foray at Sculthorpe Moor, but this had been rescheduled. There were a range of places I could have gone, but I had settled on a moth and butterfly event at Weeting in the hope of seeing some Breckland specialist moths. Cathy had agreed to come with me, although she perhaps regeretted it when it became evident how hot it was going to be. Two of the main species I hoped to see were Lunar Yellow Underwing and Cream-spot Tiger moth, rare and spectacular respectively.

The event was advertised as 10-12, so I assumed that this would be about an hour going through a moth trap, followed by a short walk to look for butterflies and day-flying moths. This turned out to be a mistake on my part, as when we arrived the moth trap had been checked and the species were neatly laid out on a table, complete with labels. We had a look at them, then were taken out for a two-and-a-half hour walk!

Sadly there was no Cream-spot Tiger, but Lunar Yellow Underwing had been caught. There were several other new species for me as well, including Brown Scallop, Satin Wave, Four-dotted Footman and Plain Wave. Festoon was also new, and slightly ironic as Gary had caught one in Norwich the previous evening and invited me round to see it that afternoon.

The walk started well, I found a new plant bug, Capsus ater, and Cathy found a Dune Chafer, a nice metallic species which depsite the name does occur in some sandy inland areas like the Brecks. A bit further on a couple of birders got a Stone-curlew in their 'scope for us. After that most of the walk could be summarised by the phrases 'very hot' and 'another Meadow Brown'. It was interesting to see an area of the reserve that I'd not walked along before, including a recently reverted field. There were quite a few Small Heath butterflies, Cathy spotted two Grey Partridges and a Brown Plume was a new moth to add to the earlier ones. Once we got to Hockwold Heath we turned round, and despite the heat made it back to the car in good time.

By now rather hungry, we called in at the Brandon Country Park cafe for lunch before heading back to Norwich.

NORTH NORFOLK: Wildlife Road Trip and Polecat sighting

16th June 2017

On Friday night Cathy, Margaret & I went to Gresham's school in Holt for the opening night of the Norfolk Festival of Nature. The opening event was a talk called the Wildlife Road Trip by Martin Hughes-Games and Iolo Williams, who many readers will know through Springwatch. Martin had shown particular dedication to get there, having been broadcasting from the Isles of Scilly on Thursday, and after flying back into Exeter on Friday morning had driven across the country to get to Holt.

Both Martin and Iolo were engaging speakers and were able to describe their different wildlife experiences and career paths. We also had a chat with Iolo at the interval and we came across as a thoroughly nice guy. A bit late now, but I would recommend going to see them if they do visit your town.

The wildlife highlight of the day however occurred on the way home, when somewhere on the Holt Road between the Saxthorpe roundabout and the bridge a Polecat (or a convincing hybrid!) bounded across the road. It had the distinct Polecat face mask and dark nose, no pale bib and dark flanks. We may be at the stage where DNA evidence is required to validate records and eliminate the chance of ferret hybrids, but pragmatically I think this was a good shout for a 'proper' one.

WHITLINGHAM: June bird count & extras

11th June 2017

On Sunday I was back at Whitlingham for the June wildfowl count. There was nothing unexpected on the broad, with the local Muscovy and two Tufted Ducks and a nesting Great-crested Grebe the nominal pick of the bunch. There are now two broods of cygnets, the older family on the Little Broad (now down to three cygnets) and a younger family on the Great Broad who still have four. Of the geese numbers:

Greylag Goose 89 (2016: 133, 2015: 181)
Canada Goose 64 (2016: 36, 2015: 44)
Egyptian Goose 10 (2016: 8, 2015: 17)

So fewer Greylags than previous years (although there are always some roosting on the main island that can't be counted, this has been the same for the whole time I've counted here) and higher numbers of Canada Geese.

Apart from the birds I once again had a look at the Hogweed flowers and recorded a new beetle, Anaspis maculata. I suspect I've seen it before and not identified it (or maybe even identified it and not recorded it), but it's not on my master site list at any rate. Danish Scurvy-grass was also a site tick. Other highlights included the tortoise beetle Cassida vibex and two of the attractive hoverfly Xanthogramma pedissequum, which has day-glo yellow markings on a black background.

WHITLINGHAM: Norfolk Hawkers and fish fry

10th June 2017

With a couple of spare hours and bright sunshine, I went to Whitlingham in the hope of photographing the Lesser Emperor. Conditions were promising, Norfolk Hawkers were everywhere, with 25+ seen along the south shore of the Great Broad, sections of which aren't visible from the path. Four Emperors, two Four-spotted Chasers and at least eight Black-tailed Skimmers were also seen, and four damselfly species. Despite searching and waiting in various viewing points I only got one view of the Lesser Emperor, again a fast flypast with no hope of photographing it. The downside to the large number of dragonflies present seems to be that they are all territorial and seeing off each other!

The other sight of note was the huge number of fish dry in several of the sheltered bays. I'm not sure of the species (or if it can be determined easily at this age).

NORWICH: More interesting bees

10th June 2017

After dropping Cathy off in the city I headed to Earlham Cemetery, where I hoped to catch up with a bee that Vanna (by now being called the Bee Whisperer by her husband) had found in the week. The bee in question was Wool Carder Bee. This interesting species gets its name from the behaviour of scraping hairs from hairy plant leaves and carrying them back to line the nest. It is also one of our more distinct bee species, having a pattern on bright dots or bars along the edge of the abdomen. One of its favoured plants is Lamb's Ears (Stachys byzantina), and once I had located the plant, I immediately noticed the bee.

Originally I had intended to head on to Whitlingham, but instead I detoured slightly to see Vanna and Jeremy. I had received an email to say that they had a potentially very interesting bee, one not recorded in Norfolk since 1879. It was the Little Yellow-face (Hylaeus pictipes), and due in part to the scarcity and in part to the potential difficulty in separating it from similar species, they had caught it to show Tim Strudwick, the county recorder. I popped round and took a few photos, which although not great do show the facial groove heading above the eyes and curving in towards the central ocelli, which is the key ID feature. As expected, Tim confirmed the record, so another great find for Vanna!

Whilst there I admitted that I hadn't actually recorded any of the yellow-faced bees before, so we had a quick look around the Ox-eye Daisies that are their preferred flower in the garden. We quickly spotted some, with Vanna finding a female Common Yellow-face (Hylaeus communus) and I noticed some males, of which we caught one and Vanna identified it as Hairy Yellow-face (Hylaeus hyalinatus). Both of last week's scarce Anthophoras, A. furcata and A. quadrimaculata were also still present. As I was about to leave A Chrysotoxum hoverfly, pragmatically although not definitely Chrysotoxum cautum flew into the garden and landed briefly.

Thanks again to Vanna and Jeremy for their hospitality and letting me know about their rare bee - their suburban Norwich garden bee list now stands at an amazing 44, and I wouldn't bet against the 50 being reached by the end of the year.

NORFOLK: Some wildlife snippets

w/c 5th July 2017

I'm not actively participating in the Wildlife Trust's 30 days wild thingy, but if I was, then the following observations (mostly around Norwich) would have been of note.

Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gulls have been moving into towns and cities for some time now - last week I noticed these LBB Gulls mating on a flat roof in the city centre.

When Cathy & I found a beetle on its back in our porch, the most likely species would have been one of the violet ground beetles. However, when I turned it over (carefully - look at the jaws!) it was a Lesser Stag Beetle.

I regularly walk down Lakenham Way, and there are quite a few different types of Cranesbill growing there. This group can be tricky to identify, but this is a relatively easy one because of the nice pattern, called Pencilled Cranesbill.

On Friday Karl and I went to a beer festival at Buxton Church as part of the Twelve Towers Festival. Beer was supplied by Wildcraft Brewery, who are particularly into foraging for ingredients. Three of the beers I tried contained foraged ingredients - the pictured one was made using Sloes, whilst I also tried beers containing Stinging Nettles and Yarrow. The Sloe one was nicest (although one using cherries got Karl's vote).

WHITLINGHAM: Water Scorpion & other inverts

7th June 2016

The weather since Sunday had been rather rough, so a sunny spell on Wednesday evening was my first opportunity to head back to Whitlingham to try to photograph the Lesser Emperor(s). Unfortunately the winds were still strong, and I didn't see a single dragonfly. I would expect that they are still present, so please keep an eye out if you are there.

Whilst checking the bays for dragonflies I saw a Water Scorpion, which would have been unexpected had Murray not photographed one here on Monday. As well as the regular things like Swollen-thighed beetles and Malachite Beetles, a small beetle with a pointy rear was identified as Tumbling Flower Beetle by Martin Collier (the county beetle recorder) and was a new one for me. A lacehopper, Cixius nervosus, was a patch tick, as was White-barred Tortrix moth.

 Tumbling Flower Beetle
 Water Scorpion
 Malachite Beetle
 Cixius nervosus
White-barred Tortrix

NORWICH: Art and bees (mostly bees)

4th June 2017

We are currently in the middle of Norfolk & Norwich open studios 2017, a chance to visit the studios of local artists, chat to them and buy artwork. One of the people opening her studio in Norwich is Vanna Bartlett, who has some excellent linocuts and paintings on display. I know Vanna and her husband Jeremy from the Friends of Earlham Cemetery, and had an ulterior motive for visiting as they have a garden that is managed with wildlife in mind, and as a result attract some interesting insects, particularly bees.

After my Whitlingham visit and lunch, Cathy & I headed round to Jeremy and Vanna's house. We admired the artwork before relocating to a big patch of Catmint. It was here that two Anthophora species had been seen regularly visiting. If you have been watching Springwatch that name might ring a vague bell, as Anthophora plumipes is the Hairy Footed Flower-bee, which was shown in some amazing footage early in the series. I have seen lots of A. plumipes, but hadn't seen any other members of the genus.

We hadn't been there long when Vanna pointed out the first of the two species currently visiting, Anthophora furcata. It was quite a small bee, with a yellow face and black eyes. We had set off for a look around the rest of the garden when we were called back, as the star attraction had arrived. This was Anthophora quadrimaculata, another small bee, this time with pale hairs on the tergite edges and greenish eyes. This species is rare in Norfolk - Nick Owens recent Bees of Norfolk book shows only three tetrads for it, an older Norwich record and recent ones from Gorleston and this garden! 

Vanna clearly knew the bee's behaviour well, describing how it came in and fed in a similar way to Treecreepers, in that it flew low onto a flower spike and worked its way up, stopping before it reached the top and flying to another spike to start again. Knowing this enabled me to focus above it and get at least one photo in focus!

Other wildlife highlights from the garden included a Speckled Bush-cricket, Large Red Damselfly, Conopid fly sp and another bee, Megachile centicularis. Thanks to Jeremy and Vanna for their hospitality - open studios is still running until the weekend, so why not go and buy some art?

WHITLINGHAM: Local mega - Lesser Emperor dragonfly

4th June 2017

On Sunday monring I received a message from Dave Andrews to tell me that he had seen a probable Lesser Emperor dragonfly at Whitlingham, so to keep a look out. Shortly afterwards he got better views of a second individual and was able to confirm that there definitely were some present. This species is a rare migrant to Norfolk, but has seemingly established low-level populations at Ormesby Little Broad and possibly Felbrigg Lake. As far as I'm aware this is the first Whitlingham record.

I headed down to Whitlingham late morning, and after a while managed to get a couple of flypast views, enough to identify the dragonfly as Lesser Emperor, but too quick to get my camera on it! The sun went in and I didn't see it again, so I had to leave for home. I also saw a couple of Emperors, lots of Black-tailed Skimmers and several species of damselfly. At least another two people managed to see a Lesser Emperor later in the day, around the pump-house area.

If anyone does manage to get photographs of the Lesser Emperor(s) then I would be grateful for one to add to my Whitlingham odonata guide, and also to ease the passing of the record with the county recorder. If you are going to look then the area to focus on is the south shore, anywhere from about level with the main island eastwards to the end of the Great Broad.

On my way back I checked a couple of areas that had Bee Orchids last year, but only found one flowering spike, near the entrance to the barn car park.

EAST NORFOLK: Winterton lichens

3rd June 2017

Earlier in the year I had attended a walk at Sparham looking at lichens with the county recorder, Peter Lambley. Afterwards Peter had agreed to hold several other walks later in the spring for anyone who wanted to learn a bit more about lichens in different habitats. I had been unable to attend the first of these at Salle church, but met Peter on Saturday at Winterton dunes to have a look at some dune Cladonia species. I had previously been on a lichen workshop in the Brecks, so this gave me the opportunity to compare some inland heath and coastal heath species.

Whilst the dunes didn't hold as many different species as woodland, churchyards etc, the species present occurred in good numbers. We had a look at Cladonia arbuscula, which had long bent-over tips with 3 or 4 branches near the end and swept in the same direction, and compared it with the abundant Cladonia portentosa which had the tips swept in different directions.

 Cladonia arbuscula
 Cladonia portentosa

One of the highlights for me was seeing lots of red-tipped lichens. I must have seen these before but don't remember it, and despite their small size they look spectacular. Most were Cladonia diversa, with red blobs around the edge of the 'cups', but there was also Cladonia floerkeana, which has the blobs on thin stalks.

Most of the lichens we looked at were growing on the ground or on the stunted trees, but we did also see four species growing on a concrete telecoms block, and an unassuming new species for me, Lecanora conizaeoides, was found on the totem pole. In addition to the lichens we saw a good stand of Royal Fern, two Red-veined Darters (the first of which was more obliging than the one I saw at Beeston earlier in the week), a gall on Aspen, Marram Weevil and around 30 Bee Orchids.

 Lecanora conizaeoides

My thanks to Peter Lambley for giving up his time to show me the lichen flora of this area.