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

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

BOOK REVIEW: Arthropedia

Regular readers will be familiar with Vanna Bartlett, as I regularly blog about trips to the Norwich garden that her and Jeremy maintain for wildlife, seeing a number of new insects, many of them bees, in the process. I first met them through the Friends of Earlham Cemetery, and we have also been on several wildlife-related trips out. Anyway, Vanna is an excellent wildlife artist, and waas due to celebrate the release of a new Arthropod-themed book at Natural Surroundings next month. Covid-19 has scuppered that, meaning no release event, no bookshops to browse in and manynot accepting new stock. I don't usually review books on my blog but am happy to make an exception for this one, so please see below for my review (which is actually written for the forthcoming NNNS Natterjack) and checkout the website https://arthropedia.co.uk/arthropedia/ for more details and a link to order online if you like the look of it.






Being familiar with Vanna Bartlett’s wildlife artwork (and having also visited the wildlife garden that her and her husband are rightly proud of), I was excited to receive an advance copy of Arthropedia to review. As the title suggests, the subjects of the book are terrestrial arthropods (insects, arachnids, isopods and myriapods), most of them Norfolk species and a good percentage seen in Vanna’s garden. This localism is also extended to include the use of Norfolk-based designers and printers in the production of the book.

The central thread of Arthropedia is a series of beautiful colour wildlife plates, one for each letter of the alphabet. The connection to the letter varies, sometimes it is straightforward (e.g. B = Bees), sometimes the link is a word (E = Emperors features a butterfly, moth and dragonfly) and occasionally the link is more obscure (K = Kaleidoscope, featuring a large mixture of species displayed in a kaleidoscopic fashion). These pictures have all been worked up from the author's own photographs along with field sketches and really capture the character of the organism. Each species is numbered and referred to in the text, which is also interspersed with many black-and-white drawings to illustrate additional species or aspects of behaviour. There are also additional topographic illustrations showing the different parts of the species referred to.

Whilst this book could stand alone as a volume of wildlife art, to treat it as such overlooks the large amount of information included between plates. The passionate narrative of the author and artist used to describe finding and observing the species illustrated serves not only to connect with and inform the reader, but also to encourage him or her to seek out and value these species. This is done in part by the accompanying descriptions, but also more overtly in the final chapter that describes in depth the setting up and planting of the author’s wildlife garden.

Due to the current pandemic the launch event for Arthropedia has had to be cancelled, and there is a risk that this wonderful book will not receive the attention that it deserves - I heartily recommend that you seek out a copy. You can find out more information about the project at https://arthropedia.co.uk/ and can order a copy direct from Mascot Media via https://www.mascotmedia.co.uk/books/arthropedia-an-illustrated-alphabet-of-invertebrates.html

James Emerson (March 2020)

YARE VALLEY: Strumpshaw Clarke's Mining Bees

15th March 2020

With an inkling that freely moving around the county might not be possible soon, we called in at Strumpshaw Fen for an afternoon walk. Close views of a Marsh Tit were had near the reception hide, with a Marsh Harrier and a calling Chiffchaff also of note. On the insect front there was little seen, but we did stop to watch the Andrena clarkella bee colony by the side of the path.



WHITLINGHAM: A brief early March catchup

Early March 2020

One evening after work we called in at Whitlingham where a Barn Owl had been showing regularly around dusk. We were successful, watching it distantly perched up in trees south of the lane. As I no longer tend to visit particularly early or late this was my first patch Owl for quite some time.

I was back on Sunday 8th for the WeBS count, which given the situation later in the month was rather fortunate to fall early in the month. The Little Broad was busy with canoeists, which had undoubtedly scattered the Little Egrets and anything else that would have been around the far edge. There appeared to have been some disturbance on the Great Broad too as there was only around 140 Tufted Ducks but Gary had counted about 100 more than that at the start of the day. There was a handful of Pochard too, but the highlight of the day was a Water Rail that walked across the main path around the Great Broad. A bit of hesistant Chiffchaff song heralded our first migrant warbler arrival too. I tried to quickly read a few goose and swan rings too, with one new one that had been ringed earlier in the year by the UEA ringing group.



NORTH NORFOLK: Blickling Goosander and hoverfly

29th February 2020

We headed to Blickling Hall for a childrens' trail associated with one of Nick Butterworth's 'Percy The Park Keeper' books, which was very nice. Afterwards we headed into the grounds, where I was a bit surprised to see four redhead Goosander on the lake. These have been present for quite a while, but given the number of people walking around the area I would have expected them to have flown off. A hybrid Ruddy Shelduck x Egyptian Goose was also present in the area, and a Buzzard flew over.




In the slightly more sheltered formal bit of the gardens I saw my first hoverfly of the year, a female Eristalis tenax.


NORWICH: Rue-leaved Saxifrage amongst the cobbles

Late February 2020

On my way into work I noticed that it seemed to be a very good year for Rue-leaved Saxifrage, with large numbers of the distinctive basal rosettes amongst some cobbles. A few plants had begun to flower.



NORWICH: Plantation Gardens lichens & invertebrates

22nd February 2020

With an hour or so of free time in Norwich city centre I went for a walk down to the Plantation Gardens, a small and sheltered ornamental garden hidden away behind the Roman Catholic Cathedral.



There wasn't much about in the way of insect life, but I spent some time looking at the old walls, seeing a few lichens and springtails that I didn't recognise, plus an interesting fly that turned out to be Liancalus virens, a new species for me. Whilst looking in the flower beds I also noticed Bluebell Rust (Uromyces muscari) on some Bluebell leaves.





 Liancalus virens,
 Lepidocyrtus sp.
Bluebell Rust

NORTH NORFOLK: Birds, churches & a new moth

19th February 2020

It seems an age away, but back in mid-February I went back to North Walsham to meet up with Adam and head to north Norfolk for a day of birding. We stopped at Bayfield Lake, where several Red Kites and a minimum of six Buzzards were soaring over the woods. Various common waterbirds were around the lake, along with several White-fronted Geese.



We both have a liking for churches, so we decided to call in at Wiveton Church for an unlikely moth twitch. A Lichen Button (Acleris literana) had been seen overwintering on the outside of the church a couple of months earlier by Rob Yaxley. Despite not being particularly uncommon they are very well camouflaged on lichen-covered surfaces and I'd not see one before - we might well have still not seen one if it hadn't been for a kind local who guessed what we were looking for and pointed out where it was hiding. Inside the church I noticed a dedication to Daniel Riviere (son of BB Riviere, who wrote early books about the birds of Norfolk) and an interesting panel including a winged lion.






Next stop was on the outskirts of Wells, where the wintering Rough-legged Buzzard showed distantly. We hoped we might encounter a Raven at Holkham, but first walked out into the bay for a look on the sea. There was a huge raft of Common Scoter and several Red-breasted Mergansers, whilst Sanderling on the beach was new for the year. Walking back around the roped-off area we got good views of a flock of Snow Buntings and five Shorelarks. A slow drive around the nearby area failed to find the Raven, but we saw some Brown Hares and Stock Doves.



On the way back we called in at Barningham Winter Church, a ruined church situated on a private estate. We initially tried to reach it via a public footpath, but the signs through the farmyard weren't very clear, so in the end we used the driveway. We saw some Teal on a flooded area near the estate lake and got close views of a Buzzard, but not too much else.


YARE VALLEY: Off-season Strumpshaw fungus foray

15th February 2020

The first Norfolk Fungus Study Group foray of the year had been in doubt due to the strong winds that had caused numerous site closures the previous week, but with a thorough risk assessment and some volunteer warden guides we carried out a short foray of some of the more open fen areas. By the end we had racked up a very respectable 80-odd species, which would have been much less impressive had Stewart not arrived first and recorded about 50 of them on the main reserve before the rest of us arrived.

We only saw three gilled fungi, but one of them was a species I've wanted to see for a while - Reed Bonnet. This fungus has a distribution centred on the Broads and tends to grow on cut reed stems, so is recorded fairly often by conservation volunteers but less often on forays. The remaining nine new species that I saw were all small fungi on old stems or wood, but they did include some rather interestingly shaped species, some of which I've included below.


 Reed Bonnet - Mycena belliarum
 Acrospermum compressum
 The tiny yellow one near the centre is Yellow Mascara Disco (Belonidium sulphureum)
 Glyphium elatum
Styctis stellata

Other than the fungi there wasn't too much of note around - I flushed several Snipe from an area of cut reed and heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling.

NORWICH: That river is so low I can see the receycling bins

12th February 2020

Walking in to work one morning I was surprised to see how low the water level was in the river near the outer ring road. This stretch isn't tidal because of the level drop at New Mills, and although Norfolk had been affected more by strong winds than rain, it had by no means been dry recently. The answer turned out to be quite prosaic, the Environment Agency had opened the sluice gates to allow more water through. This was apparently a trial to see what effect the lower levels could have on wildlife and flood risk (see the Evening News article here). As you can see there were some muddy margins exposed that could well attract some passage waders, which would be nice. Note also that a resident was so surprised at the water levels that he or she pushed her recycling bin into the river.




WHITLINGHAM: February WeBS count - Mandarin at last

8th February 2020

The second WeBS count of the year, and there was a welcome sight at the slipway where the regular drake Mandarin was present. This bird has been seen at Whitlingham on and off for around a year (with an absence of several months over the summer) but tended to arive late in the day, roost and then depart early morning. Since having a child I have seldom visited particularly early or late, so I had managed over 20 visits without seeing it until now!


The rest of the count was fairly standard, with some selected combined Whitlingham/Thorpe counts including:
Gadwall:70 (2019: 48, 2018: 54)
Tufted Duck: 239 (2019: 219, 2018: 221)
Pochard: 26 (2019: 17, 2018: 39)
Goldeneye: 1 (2019: 4, 2018: 0)
Coot: 94 (2019: 99, 2018: 68)


Also of note was a Treecreeper showing well on one of the Alders near the slipway, and several birds heard singing that weren't noted during January, like Song Thrush and Greenfinch. I managed to read the metal ring of a Mute Swan whilst counting on the slipway - not an individual that I had recorded before, but predictably one that was ringed at Whitlingham a couple of years ago. I had a look in a few thistle stems hoping to find Agromyzid larvae, but instead only found an interesting but unidentifable orangey-pink larva.


NORWICH: Sparrowhawk hunting sparrows

4th February 2020

I see Sparrowhawks reasonably regularly around Norwich, but had a treat one morning down Lakenham Way when I watched one hunt House Sparrows. The sparrows spend much of their time in scrub along the top of the high walls either side of the footpath, and the Sparrowhawk made several passes at them. The first time some sparrows were flushed out and it almost got one, but after that they sensibly kept tucked in. When I left the Sparrowhawk was perched up in a nearby tree - I wonder how long it waited before giving up?


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).