The Whitlingham Bird Report for 2015 is now available to download here. If you are interested in reports from previous years you can still download the 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 2015, which is available here.

WHITLINGHAM: July count with bonus Muscovy

23rd July 2016

On Saturday afternoon I was back at Whitlingham to carry out the July WeBS count. It was a hot day and the country park was busy, but luckily the oversummering wildfowl are fairly resilient to the disturbance. The Little Broad was quiet with the exception of a couple of Common Terns. Walking away a pair of Kingfishers flew over and towards the far corner. The largest Great Broad counts (2015 in square brackets) were:

Mute Swan - 74 [67]
Greylag Goose - 20 [49]
Canada Goose - 40 [51]
Egyptian Goose - 37 [35]
Mallard - 76 [101]
Coot - 28 [36]
Great-crested Grebe - 8 [3]

Five Common Terns (plus the two on the Little Broad) were rather high for a non-migratory count, although Drew has had ten on one occasion this summer. The star of the count was the Thorpe St Andrew Muscovy Duck, which was on the slipway and came over and very patiently stood near me, even when it became clear I didn't have any food.

There were quite a few dragonflies about, including Black-taled Skimmers at most of the small bays along the south shore and some Red-tailed Damselflies on the amphibious bistort. Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Comma, Small Tortoiseshell and Small or Essex Skipper were also present around the Great Broad.

There were a couple of other interesting things, some picture-winged flies associated with burdock, Terellia tussilaginis, and a gall made up of a rosette of sallow leaves, caused by Rabdophaga rosaria.

WHITLINGHAM: Pied Wagtails and a new leaf-mine

21st July 2016

On Thursday evening I went for a pre-dusk stroll at Whitlingham. The temperature had dropped to a bearable level, but it was a bit late for seeing insects. The broad was quiet, with no sign of the neck-banded Greylag Goose present earlier in the month. A family of Pied Wagtails were catching insects along the slipway, and I also noticed a new Cranefly (although I've not identified it yet) and a leaf mine in burdock caused by Phytomyza lappae.

NORWICH: Mousehold solitary wasps

21st July 2016

As it was still hot after work on Thursday I headed up to Mousehold Heath to have a look for butterflies and anything else that might be of interest. Along one of the footpaths were a row of holes made by digger wasp spp. I watched them flying in and out, although they were tricky to observe, flying in close to their burrow and peering out before they emerged.

Before leaving I checked along one of the woodland edges where White Admirals have been reported before. I didn't see any, but did see a new hoverfly, Xylota sylvarum (although the angle makes it look a bit like X. xanthocnema here so I might get a second opinion). I also gathered a few leaf mines to try to key out.

MID-NORFOLK: Sculthorpe Woodcock & beetles

17th July 2016

One of Cathy's aunts has been staying with her mum this week, and they had asked if we could go out for the day and see some wildlife. Rather than go to the coast, which would probably be packed with sun-worshippers, we went to Sculthorpe Moor. There were relatively few visitors, although the Hawk & Owl Trust were having a party for their volunteers in the visitors centre.

There weren't many birds visible on the first section of the boardwalk, although a couple of Marsh Tits were coming to the feeders at old gits corner. We stopped a while on the bridge over the stream, and further along I noticed some ripples. Suspecting a Water Vole, I moved position so that I could see past some overhanging vegetation to the source of the movement. To my surprise it turned out to be a Woodcock! There was enough distance between it and us that we could all watch as it bathed along the stream edge, stretching and occasionally flapping. A very unexpected but pleasing sight.

Along the river we watched Emperors and Four-spotted Chasers disputing territory, with Large Red, Azure and Blue-tailed Damselflies amongst the vegetation. At the next hide along we watched a family of Collared Doves on the bird table and a Buzzard flew over. Cathy was enjoying watching some small fish spinning side one, showing a silvery gleam, until a Little Grebe came right up to the hide and started eating them.

On the way back Cathy was carefully watching the boardwalk as she had found several small frogs and toads earlier. This time she found something more unsusual, a Sausage Ground Beetle*. As we got back to the car I noticed a pale cream coloured ladybird. It turned out to be a 14-spot Ladybird, which I see quite regularly, but usually with a deeper yellow colour and with some spots joined up.

* so named because the small raised areas between the ridges resemble a string of sausages

NORTH NORFOLK: Moths and a Gatekeeper aberration

16th July 2016

One of my target species this year is the Lappet Moth. Lappets are quite rare in Norfolk, and our hopes for seeing one were pinned on the open day at Holme NOA where one was caught last year. We arrived at the headquarters of the Norfolk Ornithologists Association to see a small group assembled ready to go through some traps. The first moths we were shown had been caught on the outside of one of the traps, and were a positive start - two of them were new for me, Kent Black Arches and Small Emerald.

The first trap we went through had been brought from Hunstanton, and contained mostly common species. The first Holme trap had a few nice species in, including several Ruby Tigers, but nothing new. There were two more traps to check, so we went to have a look. A Pine Hawkmoth and some Early Thorns were of note, and a Shore Wainscot was another new moth. Unfortunately there was no Lappets, but there we go. Back at the observatory we were shown a Barred Red that Trevor had caught, and some Large Thorns that had been bred from eggs.

Whilst with the traps a female Common Crossbill had been calling from a pine tree nearby, and back at the car park a Grasshopper Warbler reeled from close by. "It was showing well in that Hawthorn 30 seconds ago" was the message from other birders.

After lunch we called in at Holt Country Park to look for a plant I'd been told about, but there we failed to find it and after staring at leaf litter for a while we decided to give up. Near our car I had seen the hoverfly Seriocomyia silentis and there were two other sightings of note. Firstly my first Gatekeeper of the year was made more interesting by the presence of some extra black dots. Lepidopterists have long been fascinated by anything a bit out of the ordinary, and gave many of them names. This Gatekeeper appears to be an aberration named 'ab excessa.' The second interesting species was a slime mould, but a rather unusual looking one, probably from the genus Stemonitis, growing on some piling at the back of the car park.

WHITLINGHAM: Looking at brambles

15th July 2016

Readers who take an interest in moths or plants will undoubtedly be familiar with the concept of 'aggregates' of species. With moths theses aggregates typically cover two or three very similar species that either cannot be reliably separated from each other, or where to do so would require close examination of a specimen. There are some well-known plant aggregates, but unlike moths they tend to cover large numbers of micro-species. Common examples of plant aggregates include Brambles, Dandelions and Hawkweeds. These groups can be learnt if you put in the time, but the easiest way to find out what species you have is to get a friendly botanist to visit.

I had been wondering for a while what species/microspecies of brambles were present at Whitlingham, so when batologist* Alex Prendergast offered to meet me and have a look at the various plants, I readily agreed. Another fly in the ointment for bramble ID is that they can often only be conclusively identified in summer, usually around July, when they display a complete range of useful characteristics.

We met near the Little Broad, and the first bramble we saw was Rubus conjungens, growing up against the rowing club fence. A little further round we saw the first of many Rubus armeniacus bushes, the largest bramble here. I had previously sent Alex some photos of an interesting low-growing bramble from along the Little Broad shore and in the field he agreed with his initial ID, that it was a hybrid involving Rubus caesius. A bramble with nice pink flowers was R. boreanus and a fourth species nearby was R. boudiccae.

 Rubus conjungens
 Rubus armeniacus

A large bush in the car park was identified as Rubus vestitus. This one was covered with Violet Bramble Rust - perhaps this species of bramble is more susceptible, something that I will look into. We walked along the road down to the start of Whitlingham Woods, before looping back along the Great Broad shore. On this walk we added R. pruinosus, R. adscitus, R. nemoralis and best of all Rubus armipotens. This last species is only known from one other current site in Norfolk, so was a good discovery. Also whilst out I noticed a lot of green leafhoppers, which I identified at home as Cicadella viridis, another new species for the patch. My thanks go to Alex for sharing his knowledge of all things bramble.

 Rubus vestitus
 Rubus armipotens
 Cicadella viridis

* A batologist is someone who studies brambles. Someone who studies bats is a chiropterologist.

NORTHAMPTONSHIRE: A few last insect records

10th July 2016

For the unprecedented third and final part of my Fermyn trip, here are some of the non-butterfly species we saw on Sunday. If there is a moral here, it is that many presumably common species of insect away from the really popular groups (butterflies, moths, dragonflies) are under-recorded! Based on the NBN data one, possibly two of the species I saw are county firsts for Northamptonshire, whilst several others are new 10km square records.

Our day begun at Carl's house at Hungry Hill, and as we had a look around the garden I noticed some interesting looking flies on lily pads that were floating on his wildlife pond. I photographed them and was able to identify them at home as Poecilobothrus nobilitatus, which seems to have no TG23 records. Later in the day I found the same thing again at Fermyn, which again has no NBN records.

Last year I began to look more carefully at hoverflies, and there were several new ones for me at Fermyn, including Chrysotoxum caustum, which Cathy persisted with after I had thought it might be a wasp. Melangyna umbellatarum and Meliscaeva auricollis were also new. Volucella inflata is a species that I found near Norwich last year, but looks like its new for the Fermyn 10km square.

 Melangyna umbellatarum
 Meliscaeva auricollis
 Volucella inflata

It wsn't just hoverflies that were visible on flowers in the sunny glades. Most of the longhorn beetles were the common Rutpela maculata (Yellow-and-black Longhorn), but I also saw two Stictoleptura rubra. The data for this species suggests that it hadn't been recorded at all in Northamptionshire!

The final species of note was perhaps more understandably overlooked, a leaf mine in Figwort leaves caused by Amauromyza verbasci. This seems under-recorded nationally, and again not previously recorded from Northants. I have reported all of these sightings to the Northamptionshire Biological Records Centre to do my bit for cross-county recording!

NORTHMAPTONSHIRE: Extra Fermyn butterflies

10th July 2016

Whilst our trip to Fermyn Woods was mainly about the Purple Emperors, we saw a lot of butterflies, definitely more than I'd seen in Norfolk on any day this year. Silver-washed Fritillaries and White Admirals were the pick of the bunch, but there were also lots of Speckled Wood, Ringlet, Meadow Brown, Large Skippers and whites.

White Admiral
 Large Skipper
Speckled Wood

TARGET SPECIES: Purple Emperor at Fermyn

10th July 2016

One of my main target species for this year was the Purple Emperor butterfly, a large and charismatic species that readers of Patrick Barkham or Matthew Oates will be well familiar with. This species was once present in Norfolk, indeed there is a record from Whitlingham in the 1800s, but the last population at Foxley Wood seemed to die out in the 1960s/70s. Since then there have been a few sightings, a couple of confirmed ones and quite a few unconfirmed, presumably relating to either migrants or releases. The species does appear to be colonising eastwards in recent times, and there are a few people that feel it may have been present but unseen for 40 years plus, so who knows whether it will be found in Norfolk at some point in the future.

Anyway, with little chance of seeing one in Norfolk, Cathy & I decided to book onto a trip to Northamptonshire with friend and wildlife tour guide Carl Chapman. We arrived at part of the Fermyn Woods complex at around ten, and were having a cup of tea when we were called to the entrance of the wood. A couple had just been for a walk without seeing any Purple Emperors, when they returned to their car one had landed on the ground just feet away!

After a few photos with wings open, the Purple Emperor flew powerfully around the car parking area, then landed again, this time wings closed. Despite drizzle beginning to fall, the butterfly remained for around ten minutes, before soaring up to the tree tops. We were close enough to see the lemon-yellow tongue licking the ground, and get an impression of the bold nature of this species. As we headed into the woods the rain begin to fall heavier, but the pressure was off, we had already seen our target species.

Heading further into the wood we stopped along a wide ride, where a small bit of sunshine had brought some butterflies out, including two Silver-washed Fritillaries. I shall post pictures of the extra species that we saw separately. Our next Purple Emperor sighting came as we walked along a path surrounded by farmland - it had apparently flown out of the woods up ahead. In the second wood we took the right-hand path, where we found another four Purple Emperors. The first one was flying around the tree tops, but the second one gave us our first views of one feeding on dog faeces, one of the major attractants of this species to the ground.

Further along another Purple Emperor was resting on the path, although as the sun came out it became skittish, only settling briefly in one place. We walked back to have our lunch, and were almost back at the car when a cyclist skidded to a halt. He had almost ridden over a Purple Emperor, and he picked it up off the path. When he carried on his way he passed ot to me, and it sat happily on my finger.

After lunch we headed back through the woods, but this time took the left-hand path. We continued to see Purple Emperors at intervals. One flying around a Sallow may have been our only sighting of a female, as all of the grounded individuals were males. Before turning back we saw two Purple Emperors together on the path, again allowing some excellent photo opportunities. One of them even landed on my boot, too close to photograph! On our way back Cathy pointed out a last Purple Emperor resting high up on a Blackthorn. Looking up at it I noticed a Hairstreak perched up nearby, which after a bit of faffing we managed to identify as a White-letter Hairstreak.

After an excellent day at Fermyn we headed back to Norfolk, arriving in time to watch the second half of the European championship final.