The Whitlingham Bird Report 2018 is available now (click here)

For previous years (2012-2017) see the links on the Whitlingham Bird List page.

WHITLINGHAM: Changes afoot...

In the words of Bob Dylan, "Better stay away from those / that carry around a fire hose." Sorry I meant "The times they are a changin'"

This week it was announced that Whitlingham Charitable Trust, the people responsible for Whitlingham Country Park, are ending their contract with the Broads Authority to run the C.P. as of 31st March 2020. This was unexpected, firstly because the Broads Authority staff have been present since the park opened so I assumed that this was a successful and long-term arrangement, and secondly because BA and the Whitlingham Charitable Trust have very close ties - the registered address of the Trust is the Broads Authority offices, and the Broads Authority also has the right to appoint trustees to the Whitlingham Charitable Trust.

You can read the initial article and statements on the EDP website here (if you can get passed the caption of the photo, in which someone demonstrates an issue with their Flag Iris identification). Article 1 (of 3) focussed on the reaction of the Broads Authority and thanking them for their work to date. The only bit relating to the future is:
"The trustees have however decided that the next phase in the Country Park's development is to be led by the charity independently from the Broads Authority. A plan to transition to the new arrangements is under development with a start date of 1 April 2020."
This adds very little information as to how the C.P. will be managed (up until recently Whitlingham Charitable Trust had no employees, so it would presumably involve recruiting a whole team) and just a note that a plan is under development.

A day later and those "daffodils" returned with a further statement about the future of Whitlingham, with the headline announcement 
"Whitlingham Country Park will become larger, easier to access and with a broader range of activities, its trustees said after severing ties with the Broads Authority"
The full article (2) is here. It goes on to say
"Following the decision to manage the site ourselves, we have developed new plans for enhancing the visitor offer and building on the work that has been done to date"
"The plans, which are currently being finalised, will include enlarging the site to offer more access to the surrounding land and improvements to the current barn and café area"

These stories were circulated on social media and commented on under the articles, but didn't seem to attract that much attention as far as I could see. Whitlingham tends to attract two types of comment, one saying how nice it is and one moaning about the parking (a rather tedious pursuit - most of the revenue to maintain the C.P. comes from paying to use the car park, so the cost is a necessary one).

It was then a further surprise to see yet another Whitlingham based story in the EDP today (article 3), assuring visitors that there were no plans to limit access, charge for access or change the parking arrangements.
"We are currently finalising the plans for Whitlingham Country Park and hope to be able to unveil them in the coming months. We would, however, like to reassure all the users that there are no significant plans to rethink any parking arrangements and opening times, or for our visitors to be charged to enter the site. We want any changes we undertake to make the site more accessible and enhance the current offering."

So, lots to take in there - what does it actually mean for visitors? Well firstly I'll be sorry to see some of the long-standing members of BA staff leave, although hopefully they will all go to jobs elsewhere in the Broads. The tourist information desk will close, and I assume that the solar boat will also go. The cafe will presumably continue on. Beyond that it is hard to say. I have two initial concerns:
1) The maintenance of Whitlingham C.P. for wildlife (it is designated as a local nature reserve, although I don't think there is anything on site that says that). There is currently a management plan in place put together by Broads Authority ecologists - professionals who know the local area, so it is imperative that the next management plan for 2020 onwards builds on this knowledge and is both compiled by an experienced ecologist and acted upon by those managing the park.
2) The idea of opening up more of the site, which would presumably mean some of the land behind the picnic meadow sounds quite interesting, but the articles make reference to additional activities. Whilst it is understandable that additional things should be considered, the last time major changes were suggested (2012) some of the ideas were not in keeping with the idea of quiet recreation for example building a spa and a hotel. I am also aware of places like High Lodge in Thetford, where there are lots of activities but the area is a sterile piece of woodland avoided by those who just want a peaceful walk. I hope that any plans this time will be more sensitive to why people actually visit.

Of course at the moment we can only speculate as to what will happen next year, and what effect these decisions will have. The Whitlingham Charitable Trust hold an "open forum" each November so more information may emerge there, although the date doesn't always seem to be published online in time for people to attend - the page to check is here:

EAST NORFOLK: Bacton Woods insects & fungi

28th September 2019

Fancying a walk in the woods, Cathy & I took Rose and our mothers to Bacton Woods for a stroll and a picnic. This was during a spell of wet weather, but we managed to get round in the dry and avoid getting too muddy either. The wildlife highlight of the walk was yet another leaf-mining sawfly (which have been something of a feature of 2019). This one was Metallus albipes, a miner of Raspberry, and constituted the first record for VC27 (East Norfolk) and only the second county record.

Birdwise Coal Tit, Goldcrest and Long-tailed Tit were seen in a flock in the pines, and we saw a few beetles, Woodland Dor Beetle, Notiophilus bigutattus and Gorse Weevil. I noted a few leaf mines as well, including an occupied mine of Stigmella samiatella in Sweet Chestnut.

Of the fungi, False Chanterelle, Bovine Bolete, False Death Cap and Rooting Shank were some of the highlights.

NORWICH: Another encounter with an Otter

18th September 2019

Early in the year I was fortunate to see an Otter on my way to work a couple of times. As a result if I see ripples in the river I always wait a minute to see what will emerge. The previous week I had done this and up popped a Cormorant, but today I once again waited, and up popped an Otter! It quickly dived again and moved further away from the edge before I had to move on to go to work.

WHITLINGHAM: September WeBS and some sawflies

15th September 2019

I seldom end up walking along the Trowse end of Whitlingham Lane at the moment, but having seen on Twitter that some Ivy Bees were present on a patch of ivy there I stopped on my way to Whitlingham to have a look. There was a nice sunny area, and with more time I would have stayed to see what else turned up, but a handful of Ivy Bees and two Myathropa florea hoverflies suffised for now.

The continuing presence of the Barnacle Goose livened up the WeBS count, although I once again missed the regular Mandarin, which appears to come in and roost at Whitlingham but departs early morning. The best bird was a female-type Goldeneye (first noted by Justin on the 7th), which is our first ever September Goldeneye here. There were signs that species were beginning to return for the winter, including 3 Gadwall, 1 Tufted Duck and 25 Cormorants.

I nipped into the woodland edge, where a scarce bracket fungus found by Anne Crotty was still present on a Beech log. The fungus in question was Clustered Bracket, Inonotus cuticularis, which was new to me and the site.

As I walked round I paid particular attention to the Alders, and was rewarded with several interesting sawfly larvae. I had suspected that Heterarthrus vagans was present base don some vacated leaf mines seen previously, but this time I confirmed it by finding an occupied mine. The powder white larvae of Eriocampa ovata is something I've seen here before, but the larva of Nematinus fuscipennis was a new one for me. An occupied leaf mine in Bramble proved to be Metallus pumilis, another species new to the site. Incidentally I have updated the Whitlingham Sawfly guide with these new species - you can view or download it from the species guides tab at the top of the blog.

NORWICH: Thorow-wax and poplar mines

8th September 2019

After the Heydon Hall fungus foray I headed back to west Norwich to drop Ian off, and he mentioned that there was a Thorow-wax plant growing in Earlham Cemetery. This is a scarce species, and one I'd not seen before, so Ian kindly agreed to show me where he'd found it. Fortunately even though it was past its best it was still quite distinctive.

On my way back to the car I had a look at a couple of large Black Poplar trees. Whilst undoubtedly planted here, 'true' Black Poplars are quite rare nowadays. A couple of mines were visible, the moth Stigmella trimaculella and the Agromyzid Aulagromyza populicola, whilst there were also some nice twisted galls caused by the aphid Pemphigus spyrothecae.

NORTH NORFOLK: Heydon fungus foray

8th September 2019

The first Norfolk Fungus Study Group foray of the autumn was held at the picturesque surroundings of Heydon Hall, and upon arrival the Lady of the house very kindly invited us in for a pre-walk coffee. Part of the estate is open to the public, but we had been allowed to look around some of the private areas too.

As with the Catfield foray last month, we built up a good list but with quite a lot of plant fungi and relatively few agarics. Some of the new species for me were Conocybe emiglobata, Psathyrella pseudogracilis and Resinomycena saccharifa, whilst Stewart pointed out that the white tips to Creeping Thistle that I've seen quite frequently are caused by a fungus called Phoma macrostoma. We stopped for lunch under a large and photogenic old Sweet Chestnut tree.

 The roof of a restored former sheep shed

The afternoon carried on in a similar vein, with Peniophora laeta on Hornbeam the highlight. We also saw some cups on Sweet Chestnut cases. The scientific name for these is Lanzia echinophila, although some wag has managed to get the official vernacular name for this species to be Hairy Nuts Disco. Laugh? I thought I'd never start.

There weren't too many interesting insects seen, although Chrysoesthia drurella mines on Fat Hen are always nice to see and Stewart pointed out a cone on Sycamore caused by Caloptila rufipennella and two Beech leaves stuck together by Strophedra weirana. I saw the green spider Diae dorsata, and we saw three Hobbies flying over. Despite the lack of large fungi (unsurprising in the dry conditions) we had a lovely day in idyllic surroundings, finishing with views of the church as we walked back.

SUFFOLK: Minsmere Adder and bees

Late August 2019

Our last visit to Minsmere had been fairly short, so we decided to visit again and spend a bit more time on the reserve. After lunch we headed down to the north bushes, where we were treated to views of both Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, at one point in the same tree until a Robin started chasing them out. There were fewer bees than our last visit (although still quite a lot of Bee-wolves), but a Silvery leaf-cutter bee (Megachile leachella) was a fairly common new species for me.

Further along the path I was keeping an eye out amongst the trefoil in case a late Six-belted Clearwing was still around when I heard a squeak. Trying to see where the noise had come from I noticed an Adder! Neither Cathy or Rose had seen a wild snake before, so I managed to draw their attention to it. I expected that it was basking and would soon slither off, but it actually moved further into view. I then saw what was going on - it had just caught a rodent! It was determined to eat it, and we were able to stand at the edge of the path and watch as it stretched its mouth over the vole(?). Once it had more than half in its mouth, and presumably therefore a good grip, it turned round and slithered off into the undergrowth. I've been fortunate to see Adders and Grass Snakes quite a bit since I was a kid, but have never witnessed this before so I was delighted, and even more to be able to share it with my family.

Reaching the beach Cathy struggled manfully to push the pushchair through areas of loose sand, developing a good technique by the end of it! On the way we got close views of a Dartford Warbler near the tank traps, and after searching a couple of patches of Restharrow I found a new agromyzid leaf miner, Liriomyza cicerina. Dune Villa (a type of Bee-fly) and a Sharp-tailed Bee sp were also noted here. We continued our lap back to the visitors centre, having seen a excellent range of species.

EAST NORFOLK: Looking for migrants and damselflies

Late August 2019

Near the end of the month Adam & I had set a day aside for birding. There had been an arrival of Wrynecks and Whinchats along the east coast a few days previously and also several sightings of Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly on the pools at Winterton, a species I've never seen, so we decided to head to Horsey and then walk to Winterton and back.

We arrived in light drizzle, which was eventually replaced with bright sunshine by the time we left. Despite the seemingly favourable weather conditions there were not many migrants about. Several local Stonechat families were seen, as was a big mixed Linnet/Goldfinch flock, two Whinchats and a few warblers. Surprise sighting of the day went to a Green Sandpiper that flew up off one of the pools, and a Pied Flycatcher was heard but not seen within some willows.

Unfortunately there wasn't much better luck with the Damselflies. There were lots of Emerald Damselflies, but the only other damsel found was a female Blue-tailed, which proved a bit of an ID challenge because it looked particularly small and dowdy. I assumed it was teneral, but actually some old females look like that. Some Donacia beetles were also noted on the pools, although I'm never completely convinced I've keyed them out correctly so I still need to double check the ID.

The highlight of the visit therefore was the leaf mine of the Nationally Scarce B micro moth, Phyllonorcyter quinquegutella on Creeping Willow. Back at Horsey Mill car park we stopped for a drink and had a walk around the garden, seeing several Rhingia campestris hoverflies.

WHITLINGHAM: Barnacle Goose & new patch insects

Mid-August 2019

A fairly brief mid-summer visit to Whitlingham was livened up almost straight away when I found a Barnacle Goose on the slipway. It was unringed but not particularly wary - I would assume it's from one of the feral populations that now breed in East Anglia, for example the free-flying colony at Pensthorpe.

A walk along the south shore of the Great Broad resulted in a number of new patch species, some of which were particularly interesting. These included a Buff-tip caterpillar, leaf mine of the sawfly Metallus lanceolatus in Wood Avens, Nomada rufipes, a leaf mine in birch caused by the weevil Orchestes rusci (note that this is quite similar to the moth mine from Hoe in the previous post) and the leaf mine of Stigmella catharticella in Buckthorn.