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

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

NORWICH: Waterloo Park Big Garden Birdwatch

26th January 2019

This Saturday was the first day of the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch weekend, a very worthy survey that gets young people and families in particular interested in their local birds. This was the 40th year of the survey and we were fortunate in that the RSPB and Friends of Waterloo Park had arranged an event five minutes walk away, so we could take Rose along. Lindsey Chapman off of Springwatch was guest of honour and was doing some of this new-fangled instagram live v-logging type things.

We had a browse of the stalls, picking up both a coveted golden Robin and a 40th anniversary House Sparrow pin badge for Rose. Some feeders had been hung up and we saw Greenfinches on these, which was good to see as I've still not had one from the garden a few hundred yards away. Coal Tits has been seen earlier, although as it was quite busy I wasn't surprised not to see them. We went on a slow stroll around the park and clocked up 15 species, not too bad at all really. I inspected some of the old birch tree trunks hoping to find resting moths. This was unsuccesful, but I did find the distinctive springtail Entomobrya albocincta, which became my first new species of 2019.

On the following day we carried out the garden birdwatch from our living room window, and in the hour we counted we saw eight individuals of six species, 2 Blue Tits, 2 Blackbirds, 1 Robin, 1 Collared Dove, 1 Woodpigeon and 1 Dunnock.

WHITLINGHAM: Cycling event every Saturday

One of the obvious downsides to having a local patch that is a country park located on the edge of a city is how busy it can get and the number of activities that take place in the water and around the area. This is something that in general can't be influenced so you just have to accept the situation. It is however useful to know when to avoid visiting - I have occasionally turned up to find that the whole park has been taken over for a triathlon or race, or even more annoying an event on the broad that has disturbed all of the birds. To be fair, at least these events are usually included on the events programme on the Whitlingham Charitable Trust website. The trust holds an annual form meeting each November when presumably this sort of thing might get discussed, but my experience is that the date is either put up very close to, or sometimes after the meeting, so I'm not sure who actually attends them. I suspect it is mainly the watersports centre and organisations rather than individual park users.

Nonetheless I was surprised to find out that there is a new initiative this year where cyclists have an event around the Great Broad every Saturday. This is in the style of the popular Park Run format that happens across the country, and has been called the Park Pedal or Park Ride (the various promoters don't seem to have settled on one name). This will happen each Saturday from 10-11 from now onwards. Whilst accepting that cycling is a healthy and popular activity so can see the attraction, several things did strike me about it:
  • There appeared to be no consultation with other park goers prior to the decision. There is currently a survey of Whitlingham users (to take part click here) - wouldn't it have made sense to ask about it there?
  • The event is scheduled in every Saturday all year - that is quite a commitment. I can't help thinking once or twice a month would be more appropraite, and perhaps some sort of trial for a few months to see how it goes?
  • The paths in some places get muddy and churned up after wet weather, will there be any additional funding for repairs caused by the increase in cyclists? A concentrated group will cause more damage than single file or casual use. Photos from one of the first events also shows some cars on the meadow near the barn, which seems like a bad idea.
  • This really needs to be flagged up better to C.P. users. Clearly if you are just going for a walk around the broad you will want to avoid 10-11 on a Saturday. I only found out about it via a tweet from Radio Norfolk, and unless you follow cycle-retated Twitter feeds you are unlikely to have known about it (there is no mention on the Whitlingham Charitable Trust website that I could find).
Pedal Revolution, one of the organisers, have put up details on their website. The statement "There will be a lot of cyclists between 10 and 11 each Saturday and we are reassuring dog walkers and pedestrians that for 6 days and 23 hours every week they will have priority access!" is presumably meant to be reassuring, but could be construed as rather sardonic given that a lot of visitors work during the week and knowing you have 'priority' for nocturnal visits isn't of great use to most of us. In fact Active Norfolk already have the event down as running 10-12 on the booking site, and there appear to be other sessions (cafe ride and cycle coaching) running from Whitlingham until 1. Given that in winter there is about 8 hours of daylight, if the events creep to 3 hours that is actually a big chunk of the day.

Time will tell how much of an impact this event will have on casual visitors, but my main gripe is simply the lack of information that shows that some of these things have been considered. From my regular visits I think that the most common reason for going to Whitlingham is some variant of "having a nice walk round the broad" and that needs to be very high on the considerations board.

WHITLINGHAM: Frosty first WeBS count of the year

20th January 2019

The morning of the first WeBS count of the year was a very cold one, necessitating the clearing of ice from both sides of the windscreen before setting off. Upon arrival there had been a hoar frost, with all of the vegetation coated in ice crystals. I allowed myself a few minutes to appreciate the landscape and the frosted umbellifers before continuing on to start my count.

Much of the Little Broad was frozen, but my attention was drawn to the trees in the corner where three Little Egrets had presumably roosted overnight and were chasing each other around in the reeds. A Kingfisher perched up behind the egrets and a male Shoveler circled round looking for some open water to land.

Moving across to the Great Broad it was evident that there had been a large influx of Gadwall due to the cold weather, with nearly 400 present. Gary had done a count the previous day and there had only been 165, so this was a large increase. Seven Goldeneye was a high count for me, although one away from the site high of eight that was equalled this winter. Eight Grey Herons was also notable, particularly as they were all spread out across about 100m of broad edge from the island and just east.

The site still looked nice but was now much busier - I was overtaken by a 'walking for health' group, before passing a Nordic walkers group. Ironically several of the latter did go ahead of me, but only because they apparently couldn't hear the leader whistling and calling them back, which I found mildly amusing as a parallel with the amount of not-particularly-under-control dogs around. Having seen few passerines on my first visit of the year I added a few more today including Siskin, but didn't see any Redpolls or the Brambling seen previously.

NORWICH: Black-tailed Godwits at Earlham

12th January 2019

On the previous weekend some Black-tailed Godwits had been found on the flooded field at Earlham Marshes, on the western edge of Norwich. Either Godwit would be a very good find in the Norwich area - these had a rather inauspicious start as the first person to see them didn't have his binoculars and thought they were Redshank, and the next person did identify them correctly but didn't realise they were particularly interesting. Fortunately as the sightings were reported on Twitter other local birders popped down and saw them.

I didn't hold out much hope that the godwits would stay the whole week, but going for a look just in case I was pleased to find at least four of them on the marshes. They managed to blend in quite well with the background, as demonstrated by the pictures below. A quick scan revealed at least 35 Teal and 2 Gadwall, plus a scattering of gulls and corvids. Black-tailed Godwit was a new Norwich species for me, so a good start to the birding year.

NORTH NORFOLK: Cley art exhibition

6th January 2019

The old visitors centre at Cley hosts art exhibitions throughout the year, and the one over Christmas was by Steve Cale. Cathy & I are both big fans of Steve's work, so we were keen to go and have a look before it finished. We had lunch in the cafe first, before going through to have a good look. Steve was in residence and we had a good chat about his paintings and birding in general. It was also nice to have a chat with Bob from the CleySpy shop. Having bought a print that took our fancy we returned to the shop for a look around.

We decided not to go onto the reserve itself, but quite a few species were visible scanning out from the centre, including my first Black-tailed Godwits, Shelduck, Shoveler and Great Black-backed Gulls of the year. Sighting of the day was a Peregrine that had flown in and was visible on the ground near the back of the reserve (apparently on a kill, although we couldn't see that because of the vegetation).

WHITLINGHAM: First visit of the year

1st January 2019

Having spent new year's eve at home (impossible to describe it as a quiet night in because nearby households had managed to accumulate more fireworks than the televised London display) my morning birding consisted of staring out of the lounge window. This was reasonably productive, with 15 species seen. Unfortunately that probably represents about half of my annual house list, but there we go. As we left the house some Godfinches called nearby, and later a Pied Wagtail flew across Queen's Road.

We had planned quite a short walk along the southern edge of the Great Broad in case Rose got cold or upset, but actually because she likes dogs as well as birds she probably thought Whitlingham was an amazing wildlife park. A Pheasant on Trowse Meadow became my first patch bird of the year, and in total we recorded 29 species. As always there were some big omissions, mostly amongst the smaller birds, but Goldeneye and Stock Dove were decent first-day birds. The highlight was a flock of 14 Brambling along the Lime Tree Avenue. There was quite a big flock of Black-headed Gulls around the slipway, but no ringed ones.


Thanks to everyone who has reported sightings from Whitlingham during 2018, along with those who have kindly allowed me to use their photographs. You can download the report by clicking on the link below the cover picture.

Download the report here.

EAST NORFOLK: Last trip out of the year

30th December 2018

I had planned on one final wildlife trip of the year, but was planning on it being a low key affair, walking around some of the green spaces of east Norwich (Mousehold, Kett's Hill, Rosary Cemetery & Lion Wood), However, news of a Black-bellied Dipper at Ebridge Mill proved too much of a lure. It wasn't just the species, although Dippers are great, but growing up in North Walsham we used to pass the mill every weekend to visit my grandparents. It was never my local patch, but along with Bacton Woods it is an area I have a great deal of fondness for, and having not known about the 1999 bird at the time, I was keen to go and have a look.

This degree of sentimentality could have been scuppered had the Dipper been further along the canal at Briggate, but fortunately for me it was showing well at Ebridge when I arrived. It wasn't particularly close so my photos were very much record shots (in the actual meaning of the phrase, not the "I used my £5000 worth of equipment but there was a small twig sticking into frame near the side" meaning). Popping across the road I recorded Phytomyza ilicis on the nearby Holly, and noticed some Tawny Funnels too.

Having been successful much quicker than I had allowed for, I decided to call in at Barton Broad on my way back to Norwich. After parking up at the car park about a mile away I decided to pass the time on the journey by recording the plants in flower for the BSBI's New Year Plant Hunt (I know it isn't the new year yet - it runs a few days either side of Jan 1st). I managed 12, not great but then it wasn't my main objective. A couple of slime moulds were also seen along the road.

 Wood Avens
 Trichia cf decipiens
 Dog's Sick Slime Mould (Mustacea crucilago)

At Heron's Carr, the boardwalk at the bottom of Barton Broad I recorded Phytomyza ilicis again on the Holly, then carried on to the watchpoint. A small flock of Wigeon flew over, and Marsh Tit and Siskins called unseen. The birds were mostly distant, but I picked out the two female Scaup at the back with a flock of Goldeneye (36 counted in total). There was no sign of the long-staying Long-tailed Duck, which seems to be a bit elusive. Another birder told me that he had seen it when it first arrived but not again on several visits since. I had a bit of lunch, by which time three Goldeneye had come much closer and a Kingfisher flew across the corner of the broad.

Back in Norwich I called into Whitlingham for a quick look around. Despite lots of Black-headed Gulls around the slipway there were no ringed ones, and I could only find one Goldeneye (Gary had a flock of seven earlier in the day). A walk back along the picnic meadow saw two Green Woodpeckers fly up into the tree belt, and I recorded the distinctive springtail Orchesella cincta.

Here's to a wildlife filled 2019 everyone.

My 2018 wildlife highlights

This year saw the birth of my daughter, with the attendant change in priorities and outlook that comes with having a small child. Thanks to the support of my lovely wife I was still able to indulge my hobby, but there was a change in emphasis with fewer early mornings and all day trips, no travelling outside East Anglia and more time spent around Norwich. I have come up with ten of my highlights from the year, taking in particular species, trips and groups. Because of the varying nature of these experiences I have not attempted to rank them.

1) The Hornet Moth Experience

My only previous Hornet Moth sighting had been one attracted to a lure in James Lowen's garden. Whilst impressive, I wanted to find one on a poplar, and over the past few years have checked the base of various poplars, often finding emergence holes but no moths. Having found a few local trees with these holes I visited regularly for a period, narrowly missing out as I found freshly evacuated chrysalises but no moths. That was until one day, when I noticed a chrysalis sticking out of a hole with the moth still inside. I was just in time, it emerged several minutes later. I was able to watch it pump up its wings before returning it to the tree trunk. An amazing creature to see and well worth the effort.

2) Whitlingham Wheatear

In spring at the coast when amost every bird you see moving is a Wheatear, they can get a bit frustrating, but inland they are usually a good find. This one had been found at Thorpe Marshes by Gary White one evening in April, and having not seen a patch one in 11 years of trying I was keen to see it. For those who keep lists, or even a mental note of what has been seen, any new bird is exciting, but this was just a really enjoyable evening. Upon arrival the Wheatear was soon on view on a gatepost. It flew down onto the marsh for a bit when some people walked past, but then returned to its post, showing beautifully in the evening sunshine.

3) Postwick wildlife survey

In spring I was asked to help carry out an informal wildlife survey of some private woodland near Postwick along with Jeremy & Vanna Bartlett, Ian Senior and Nick. I made two visits, seeing a range of species and enjoyed spending some time in a new and relatively unexplored location. On the second visit we found a long-term target species of mine, the Cramp Ball Weevil Platyrhinus resinosus, and other new species included Alder Signal Moth.

4) Nomada bees

Bees in the genus Nomada are attractive yellow, black and sometimes red banded solitary bees that could easily be mistaken for wasps. Up until this year I had only recorded two species - I knew I had seen more but couldn't identify them (many species are very similar). Thanks to Steve Falk's book, the tutelage of Vanna Bartlett and feedback from people like Nick Owens, Tim Strudwick and the BWARS verifiers, I recorded eight species in 2018, six of them new. This included the three very similar species in the flava group, which I caught, photographed the key bits and released. This is a very good example of how recording can progress when a detailed, accessible and affordable guide is released for a species group (I underwent a similar upskilling with the release of the Morris & Ball Hoverflies WildGuides book).

Early Nomad - Nomada leucophthalma
 Marsham's Nomad - Nomada marshamella
Flavous Nomad - Nomada flava

5) Garden mothing

Most of the rented houses I stayed in following university were terraces with bisected or small highly overlooked gardens. Light pollution and neighbours meant that moth-trapping was unsuccessful or impractical, and my trap had mainly been used at my in-laws in south Norwich. It has therefore been a joy to be able to run a trap in my own garden and actually catch some moths! Trapping most weekends from spring through to late summer I caught a modest 160 species (light pollution is still quite an issue). This total has undoubtedly been helped by some sympathetic planting by my wife - the Nicotiana didn't attract a Convulvulous Hawk Moth this year, but patience is a virtue. Highlights included a vice county first, Scythris limbella, and red data book species Small Ranunculus, whilst Pine Hawk Moth and Elephant Hawk Moth were welcome additions to the garden list. I'm already looking forward to adding to our fledgeling garden list next year.

 Scythris limbella
 Small Ranunculus
 Pine Hawk Moth
Elephant Hawk Moth

6) Leaf mine recording 

The great thing about recording leaf mines is that you can do it whilst out and about. I recorded at least two species of fly new to Norfolk this year, one on the way to work and the other at Whitlingham doing some general wildlife recording. I also recorded a new species of moth to Norfolk, Paracrania chrysolepidella, from leaf mines at Wayland Wood whilst nominally looking for fungi. It's not all about new species either - I am now well in the habit of checking every Holly for the distinctive mine of Phytomyza ilicis. It is probably the commonest (definitely the most visible) mine to record, but each record contributes to the overall distribution information for this species.

 Paracrania chrysolepidella mine in Hazel (with beetle interloper)
My Phytomyza ilicis sightings (map from iRecord)
Nemorimyza posticata mine in Canadian Goldenrod

7) Snowy Owl at Thornham Point

Doesn't really need a reason - it was a Snowy Owl! A bird I'd wanted to see since getting my first bird book but had never really expected to see in Norfolk.

8) Buxton Heath

This excellent site is only a few miles north of Norwich, but I don't visit very often. A brief visit this year was very productive - I finally saw my first Marsh Gentians, saw some (reintroduced) Marsh Clubmoss, added a couple of new bees and generating most excitement was a Lesser Thorn-tipped Longhorn Beetle.

9) Crowned Earthstar

Earthstars are one of the most popular fungi groups (along with things like Waxcaps), but I seldom come across new species. Norfolk has records of almost all of the species found in the UK, but some have only been recorded once, or not for many years. Whilst discussing this with Mark Joy, who has travelled around the country seeing and finding earthstars, he mentioned that he had seen Crowned Earthstars in the Brecks and kindly gave me directions. This was Cathy & I's last wildlife trip out before Rose was born, and we had a nice walk in the woods, seeing the Crowned Earthstars and some Striated Earthstars nearby as a bonus.

 Crowned Earthstar
Striated Earthstar

10) Essex orchids
My one wildlife related trip that wasn't in Norfolk or north Suffolk was to Essex, where a small population of Tongue Orchids had been discovered the previous year. Local botanists and Essex Wildlife Trust had put a lot of work into organising limited access, and I managed to book a place on a walk to see them. We met nearby, and after a short walk to the site were taken to see them a few at a time. This was my first new orchid in a few years (admittedly mostly due to my inactivity in travelling outside Norfolk than because I've seen loads), and the intrigue around it all added to the experience. Unfortunately the landowner later had second thoughts and revoked access permission, so I didn't blog about it at the time and I'm not in a position to reveal the site, sorry.

WHITLINGHAM: December fungi & moths

19th December 2018

A rainy visit to Whitlingham, and I attempted to cover the south shore of the Great Broad, the woods and the marsh. This didn't quite work out as some bits were closed for tree felling, but I still got a good walk in. 

On the decaying log near the visitors centre there was a good display of Oyster Fungus and several other species, including Big Smoky Bracket. Checking through the Black-headed Gulls I thought I had spotted an old returning bird, white J5JE, but then I realised this was a 1st-winter bird. After getting a bit closer I read the ring, 5NE, a bird ringed in Denmark. I have emailed the ringer requesting information about the gull, but not heard back yet.

Walking along the riverbank I recorded two microfungi on Ash keys that Stewart had shown me at Guybons Wood. Along the edge of the A47 at Whitlingham Marsh there were some Dog Stinkhorns and various other fungi, inlcuding some nice Crepidotus sp.

Walking back along Whitlingham Lane I stopped to check the large amounts of Hartstongue Ferns for fly mines. There is a species of Agromyzid common in western Britain that has yet to be recorded in East Anglia that I'd like to find. No luck with those, but I did find a micromoth larva feeding on the underside of one of the ferns. It had a black head, meaning it was Psychoides verhuella, the rarer of the two similar fern-feeding species. A Winter Moth was also a new patch moth for me.

This might end up being my last patch visit of the year - there will be a brief year highlights post after Christmas and then the Whitlingham Bird Report for 2018 to come in the New Year.

Merry Christmas to everyone who reads the blog.