The Whitlingham Bird Report for 2014 is now available to download here. It is stored on google drive, which sometimes condenses the photos if you view it online, this should be resolved if you download and then view. The 2013 report is still available 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, which is available here.

NORWICH AREA: Distant Scaup-related fun

19th February 2015

Early in the morning I received a text to say that a possible Lesser Scaup had been seen on Colney GPs*1 but it had flown off. I assumed that this was the bird reported the previous day as a Greater Scaup*2. As the observer who reported the bird as a possible Lesser Scaup is a well respected county birder, I decided to keep an eye on my phone and go down and have a look if I got the chance. A look at my twitter feed revealed a photo from Wednesday's bird. Unfortunately as the photo was digibinned*3 it wasn't completely sharp and the colour of the back was washed out, however the impression was of a round-headed bird, i.e. a Greater Scaup. This was also the impression of the birders who had found it on Wednesday. When an uncropped version of the photo was posted it showed that the bird was similar or maybe slightly larger than a Tufted Duck, but perhaps on the small side for Greater Scaup. It also seemed to show very little black on the bill, which was good because it reduced the likelihood that the bird was a hybrid.

Later in the morning I noticed that the Scaup had been seen again, so I headed out to have a look for myself. I parked up at the southern park car park and walked to Chapel Break, where a small group of local birders (and later some county listers) were scanning from the gateway. The bird was showing (hooray) but very distant (boo). It was initially with a group of 30-ish Tufted Ducks, before breaking away and swimming fractionally closer and eventually out of sight. I stayed for a while after, ideally hoping to see it in flight, but with no sign of it reappearing and rain hampering visibility I headed home.

Given the distance it was difficult to draw too many conclusions. There was nothing that suggested a hybrid origin, so it would seem that the ID is a straightforward Greater/Lesser shootout. The bird looked very similar in size to the Tufted Ducks, the only real pro-Lesser feature noted. I couldn't see a bump at the back of the head, but neither would I have necessarily expected to at that range. Similarly the back looked darker than in the photo, but vermaculations weren't discernible. Likelihood is that the bird was just a small Greater Scaup, but worth checking out, and I'd like to think someone with a permit to the lakes managed to get some better photos, just to be sure.


*1 Technically Bawburgh Fishing Lakes, but more commonly known as Colney Gravel Pits.
*2 In common usage just "Scaup" - The international name 'Greater Scaup' is used here just to clearly separate from Lesser Scaup.
*3 'Digibinning' is the process of taking a digital photo through binoculars.

THORPE MARSH: Jack Snipe & some fungi

16th February 2014

I had a bit of time to go out, and I decided that instead of going to Bowthorpe to see the Great White Egret I should head to Thorpe and have a look round the marsh. After parking up I walked back to the green to see if I could find the Med Gull. Despite the large amounts of gulls present there was no sign of it - as far as I'm aware it hasn't been seen since 9th Feb - please let me know via the comments if you have seen it since then. I did see a couple of ringed gulls, the Norwegian white-ringed bird J0AR and a metal-ringed 1st winter that I couldn't read the ring of.


After a while I headed back along the road and across the heavily scaffolded footbridge to Thorpe Marsh. There wasn't much on the flood and a pair of Kestrels were the only birds of interest flying around. When I got as far as the wooded area between the path and the river I decided to have a look for some fungi. I moved closer to one of the ditches and nearly stood on a Jack Snipe! It flew up from a couple of feet away, silently flew across the path and dipped down close by but out of sight amongst the rushes. This brief encounter was all the better for being the first time I've seen a Jack Snipe here for about five years.

I carried on as far as Bungalow Lane, checking extra carefully for any more Jack Snipe, but without success. I suspect there are a few (along with lots of Common Snipe) scattered throughout the innaccessible parts of the marsh. In terms of fungi I found a small Scarlet Elf Cup, Willow Barkspot, Blushing Bracket, Southern Bracket, Turkeytail, Velvet Shank and probable Bleeding Broadleaf Crust.


On the broad there were lots of gulls, 10 Pochard, c30 Gadwall and c40 Tufted Duck, plus some Lapwings on the shingle spit. Whilst I was scanning through the gulls I spotted a large bird of prey fly through my view. It dipped below the reeds, but when it emerged I was able to ID it as a Marsh Harrier. Marsh Harriers are fairly regular at Thorpe, but given my visits here are more sporadic than Whitlingham it was still a good patch bird to see early in the year. On my way back to the railway bridge I spotted a male Sparrowhawk perched up too so quite a productive visit!


NORTH NORFOLK: Sculthorpe finches & Water Shrew

15th February 2015

On Sunday we decided to go on our annual winter visit to Sculthorpe Moor, probably Norfolk's best nature reserve for seeing Bullfinches. On the way we briefly stopped at Three Score so I could scan for the Great White Egret (no sign of it at the time, it did turn up later). Due to some navigational failings on my part we explored rather too much of Bowthorpe and Ringland before eventually getting back to the Fakenham Road and carrying on to Sculthorpe, where we struggled to find space in a packed car park. Handily many of the birders had almost finished their mornings birding, so the reserve itself wasn't too busy.

On the first set of feeders we saw pretty much everything we had come to see; a pair of Bullfinches, a Brambling, two Nuthatches, Coal Tits and Marsh Tits, two of the latter being colour ringed. Unfortunately as they were flying in and out I couldn't get the exact codes, but there was definitely a red-and-white and a yellow-and-white in there.


Further around we saw a small flock of Siskins in the Alders. Presumably due to the mild winter I still haven't seen (or indeed heard from anyone else about) any at Whitlingham so far in 2015. We didn't stop at the woodland hide, so carried on along the path, stopping only to look at some Scarlet Elf Cups and scan along the dyke. Further along we saw some more fungi and a very skulking Wren before arriving at the fen hide. The view was much different to our last visit, as some vegetation has been cleared to give an area of open water stretching into the distance.

As usual the bird tables at either side of the hide provided most of the entertainment, and there was a constant stream of birds, particularly Chaffinches, onto them. A flock of Long-tailed Tits were also a pleasure to see. For once we didn't see any Bullfinches here (although I did hear one from the path up to the hide), but three more Brambling, a Nuthatch and some Reed Buntings were all good to see close up.



It turned out that the best sighting of the day came near the end. As we crossed the recently cleared out dyke that runs through the woodland we stopped to scan along the muddy edges. Some ripples were coming from a small section of bank, and after that some bubbles. It looked as though something had swam out from an underwater hole in the bank. For a while we could only see ripples or a bubble trail, but then suddenly a Water Shrew launched itself out of the water and onto the mud at the edge, where it disappeared into presumably another hole. A brief view, but a new mammal for me and an excellent end to our visit.

WHITLINGHAM: February bird count & Scarlet Elf Cup

7th February 2015

A couple of days of cold north-easterly winds had to bring in some interesting birds to Whitlingham didn't they? Well, no. In fact I still haven't seen so much as a Goldeneye so far this year, despite a scattering of Goosander and Smew elsewhere in East Anglia. The broads were partly frozen, and that did at least allow me to see a Black-headed Gull with a green leg ring. After a bit of squinting and zooming in and out I eventually read the lettering as JC16, which I have traced back to an area near Oslo, Norway. This is in keeping with the Scandinavian origin of most of the ringed gulls seen at Whitlingham.


Elsewhere on the broads Gadwall and Pochard numbers had roughly halved since the January count, and Tufted Duck numbers had also declined. I was surprised to see a man fishing from a boat, initially off the slipway and then later just off the conservation area bay (rather annoyingly as it meant there were no gulls on the posts or much wildfowl near to the viewing screen). I'm not completely sure whether fishing from boats is allowed at Whitlingham - I guess it doesn't really come up that much as people don't tend to bring their own boats.

On last week's moss walk at Earlham Cemetery Michelle had told me that the Scarlet Elf Cups were fruiting, and there were also some Common Bird's Nest fungi in the woods. I went and had a quick look, seeing the elf cups but unfortunately not finding the Bird's Nests. A flock of Goldcrests showed well around the woodland watchpoint.


Back at the broad I looked across the river hoping that the Mediterranean Gull at Thorpe Green would fly up, but it didn't. The mature Bramble scrub has been severely cut back here, which is a great shame as it was an excellent habitat for warblers and held Nightingales a few years ago. I understand the need to cut down some of the scrub, but the amount removed along the riverbank seems too much to me and it will be interesting to see if the number of Whitethroats etc suffers as a result. I know another birder has complained to the Broads Authority about the removal of this scrub. Certainly in future I will make sure I specifically highlight areas that hold scarce birds in the hope that they can be preserved in the next round of clearance.

NORTH NORFOLK: Felmingham Woodwose

1st February 2015

Cathy & I attended a Christening in Felmingham church, and after the service I had a look around to find a carving of a Woodwose on the pulpit. Woodwoses are 'wild men', usually depicted as men covered in hair (although this one actually looks more leafy) and usually holding a club. My interest in seeing this one stems back to an article several months ago in the Fortean Times (the only magazine I read these days) about the presence of Woodwoses in Suffolk churches. Having looked for references to them it turns out there are lots in Norfolk too, including Felmingham and North Walsham churches. So next time you find yourself with a bit of time in a church, why not see if you can find a Woodwose?


NORWICH: Earlham Cemetery moss walk

31st January 2015
For my first organised event of the year I went to Earlham Cemetery for a joint walk with the Friends of Earlham Cemetery and the Norfolk & Suffolk Bryological Group. The bryological group were mainly there to do some moss and liverwort recording, but the members kindly ensured that the non-specialists amongst us were shown some of the more interesting specimens and told a bit about their habits and biology.
There was a lot to take in (and a lot of unfamiliar scientific names!) but I had an enjoyable time and saw some interesting species. Hopefully I can also use a bit of my newly aquired knowledge to identify some more mosses at Whitlingham too. In addition to the bryophytes the four mycologists amongst us (Ian, Alex, Michelle & myself) also stopped to look at some bracket fungi growing on plum trees. We later identified these as Cushion Bracket (Phellinus pomaceus), a Prunus specialist, which was a new fungus for me. We also saw a Muntjac Deer a couple of times as it ran through the cemetery. Thanks to both groups for putting on this walk.
Bifid Crestwort (plus unidentified moss!)
 Orthotrichum lyelii
Cushion Bracket fungus

NORTH NORFOLK: Titchwell & Thornham

24th January 2015

This weekend was my birthday weekend, and as I hadn't been to the North Norfolk coast yet this year I went to Titchwell with Cathy & Margaret. We saw some Pintail and a nice range of waders, many of which showed close to the main path. One of the Avocets had a red and blue ring on one of the legs, but unfortunately the other leg wasn't visible so I couldn't find which scheme the bird was from. On our way back to the car a small group of birders was watching a Woodcock near the path, but it was only fleetingly visible so we eventually gave up trying to see it and carried on.


Before heading home we went further along the coast road to Thornham harbour. A flock of small birds were flying around, and we tracked them down nearby, confirming that they were Twite. They perched up in the Sueada, so no chance of checking them for rings. On our way back to Norwich we saw ten Grey Partridges and two Brown Hares.


Back in Norwich I saw a Peregrine fly over towards the Roman Catholic cathedral and we were just in time to drive underneath the Starling murmuration at the St Stephens roundabout.

NORWICH: Starling murmuration

23rd January 2015

Over the winter there has been an impressive Starling murmuration over Norwich, mainly around the Chapelfield/St Stephen's Street area. In the darkest days of winter it has been hapeening whilst I'm still at work, but recently I have been able to go and have a look on my way home. If you live or work around the city I highly recommend trying to see it.



WHITLINGHAM: January counts

18th January 2015

I was looking forward to todays WeBS counts, with the forecast cold weather raising the possibility of some winter ducks appearing. I was also wary of the possibility of snow showers inhibiting visibility and impeding the counts. As it happened, I needn't have worried. The overnight chill amounted to a light frost, and there was no snow or precipitation of any sort. I arrived to an eerie landscape broken only by the yaffling of a Green Woodpecker, but departed to a bright day full of runners, dog walkers and other park visitors.


Ducks were spread across the Little Broad, making the counting process that bit more difficult. The pick of the bunch was six Shovelers together at the eastern end. On the Great Broad I scanned through the Black-headed Gulls for ringed birds, unsuccessfully. Further along I did find a red-ringed Herring Gull. Although too distant to read the ring from the south shore I did locate the bird again from the bird screen. It was VKB, a gull ringed as a pullus at Havergate Island in 2012. I had seen it previously here in 2014, and several other birders have also reported it from here.


I had been hoping to find the Great Northern Diver that had gone missing from the Strumpshaw/Rockland area, but there was no sign of it. The 2009/10 bird took several weeks to make its way to Whitlingham, so I would advise everyone to be on the lookout. With no other new wildfowl I completed my counts. The combined counts for Little Broad, Great Broad and Thorpe Broad included 80 Pochard, 220 Tufted Ducks, 209 Gadwall, 104+ Teal, 232 Coot and nearly 500 Black-headed Gulls. I did repeatedly check for the Mediterranean Gull, but as it turns out it was still at Thorpe St Andrew and unfortunately you can't see the green from Whitlingham.

NORTH WALSHAM AREA: Ebridge & Witton Woods

11th January 2015

Having given Cathy & Sophie a lift to North Walsham I had a couple of hours free to do a bit of birding. I decided to go to Ebridge Mill, and firstly walked along the western side of the old canal. A Grey Wagtail flew past, several Meadow Pipits called and I could hear Teal in the distance. Two Buzzards circling over Witton Woods were my first of the year. About halfway along the path I looked across and spotted two Muntjac Deer. The one in front was aware of my presence, but was content with the distance between us and kept browsing. I moved slightly further back and watched them as they fed amongst the rushes.



Having reached the end of the path I retraced my steps and then took the permissive path across to Witton Woods. Some Redwings called from the hedgerow before I entered the woods. There were quite a few walkers about, so I took a small path through some young trees, flushing another Muntjac Deer which bounded off from the path. In the coniferous part of the wood I saw some Goldcrests and Coal Tits. Possibly the most interesting sighting of the trip was a leaf-mine in Primrose leaves. Having looked for the organism that makes the mines it seems likely that it is a type of fly that is very scarce locally, although I'm still hoping to find a leaf-mining diptera expert to confirm my ID!



NORWICH: Thorpe St Andrew Med Gull

11th January 2015

On Saturday afternoon Justin had found a Mediterranean Gull with a flock of Black-headed Gulls on the riverside green at Thorpe St Andrew. I had never seen a Med Gull near Norwich, and the green is within a stones throw of Whitlingham too (I use the railway line as my arbitrary patch boundary). Considering this I popped down to Thorpe on Sunday morning in the hope that it was still around.

I arrived at around nine, and had the green almost to myself. There were hardly any gulls, so I kept scanning the tops of the lamp-posts where the Black-headed Gulls seemed to be congregating. I sat down on one of the benches and soon the gulls began to arrive and group together along the edge of the green. After several scans I had found the two ringed Black-headed Gulls that Justin had also seen yesterday, but no sign of the Med. By this time the gulls had been scared into the water by a dog, but upon their return I noticed the 1st-winter Med Gull had joined them. It was close, allowing excellent views, but it was constantly preening, making for rubbish photos.

I had rather resigned myself to not patch-ticking the gull when more dog walkers sent the gulls into the air. The Med Gull was easy to keep track of, and it flew over the river but then back round and landed back on the green. Less than a minute later the flock were put up again, but this time some canoeists went past and the Med Gull flew up, over the railway line and well into Whitlingham airspace. Hopefully it will hang around for a while, because it would be nice to see it on the Great Broad rather than just in the air close by!

1st-winter Mediterranean Gull
Colour-ringed Black-headed Gull J0AR

EAST NORFOLK: Time & Tide Museum

10th January 2015

Having enjoyed the Wonder of Birds exhibition at the Castle Museum last year I had mentioned to Cathy that I would like to see the Waterways exhibition, focusing on art and nature of the broads. This one is being held at the Time & Tide Museum in Great Yarmouth, a place neither of us had visited before. The exhibition is at the end of a loop, so before we got there we looked around the rest of the museum. The first part has recreated part of the tightly packed 'rows' district, and if you buy a guidebook you can borrow handsets that tell you about the people who lived and worked there in authentic Norfolk accents.

The next section was devoted to the Herring industry, and as it features the original curing houses there was still a smell of fish in the air (we didn't mind it, but some might). Upstairs was a series of rooms with artifacts from Yarmouth through the ages, plus some stone arrowheads and borrowed real Woolly Mammoth fur. After going through a room dedicated to World War II we arrived at the broads exhibition. The first room had some excellent photography from Great Yarmouth High School and East Norfolk Sixth Form. Further along were some sketches from Arthur Patterson and several photos from famous namesake (and distant relative??) P.H. Emerson. The amount of broadland pictures and photos was perhaps less than I had expected, but it was very nicely laid out.

If you find yourself with some free time in Yarmouth and are interested in local history then I would highly recommend a visit - take into account the museum is only open 12-4 though.

 The Rows (recreations of local houses/shops)
 Fisherman selling Herring
 A person from East Norfolk
The one on the left is from Whitlingham, hurrah!

2015 Target species

During 2014 I came up with a list of 30 target species that I wanted to see. By the end of the year I had managed 12 of the 30. As well as the enjoyment of seeing species that in some cases I had wanted to see for years, it also ensured that I visited some different places, so I have decided to set myself a target list for this year too. Two things that became apparent from 2014 were that 30 species was too many to aim for, and that having birds on the list was rather pointless (most of the birds I would like to see are difficult to predict where and when they will occur, and I'd go to see them regardless of whether they were on the list). So for 2015 I have come up with 20 species, 12 carried over from 2014 and eight 'new' ones.

My 2015 Targets:
Mammals
1) Barbastelle Bat (Carried over from 2014) - I tried to see these at Paston Barn but without success. Norwich Bat Group did see some at a wood south of Norwich, so that is another option.
2) Yellow-necked Mouse (Carried over from 2014) - To see these I'll need to attend a small-mammal trapping event at a site that has them - I have booked onto the small mammal event at Wheatfen.
3) Harbour Porpoise (New) - I have seen a dead one, and some distant fins on a Sheringham seawatch that were probably Harbour Porpoises, but it would be nice to see an unequivical one.

Amphibians
4) Natterjack Toad (New) - I've wanted to see Natterjacks for a while, maybe this is the year!

Butterflies
5) Marbled White (Carried over from 2014) - I had hoped to see these at Devil's Dyke last year but didn't get round to going.
(If any Yellow-legged Tortoiseshells successfully overwintered I'd like to see those too)

Dragonflies
(I didn't see Lesser Emperor at Filby in 2014 - if any are seen again here or Felbrigg I'd like to see one)

Moths
6) Hornet Moth (Carried over from 2014) - I hope to find a fairly local site for these.
7) Scorched Wing Moth (Carried over from 2014) - Fingers crossed for one this year

Other insects
8) Rhododendron Leafhopper (New) - Very little eats Rhododendrons, but these do and they look cool. Present at Sheringham Park, maybe also places like Holt CP? (Update - I have been told they occur at Hoveton Hall Gardens, so that sounds like a good bet, provided they are open to the public at the time the leafhoppers are out). See here: http://www.britishbugs.org.uk/homoptera/Cicadellidae/Graphocephala_fennahi.html
9) A Colletes Bee sp. (New) - These banded bees are often quite specific to a single plant. Scabious Mining Bee occurs at Earlham Cemetery, whilst Sea Aster Mining Bee is locally common along the North Norfolk coast and Ivy Bee spread to Norfolk last year.
10) A new Shieldbug sp. (New) - I haven't seen that many, so this should be fairly simple. Bishop's Mitre Shieldbug (http://www.britishbugs.org.uk/heteroptera/Pentatomidae/aelia_acuminata.html) or Juniper Shieldbug (http://www.britishbugs.org.uk/heteroptera/Acanthosomatidae/cyphostethus_tristriatus.html) would be good.

Fungi
11) Hoof Fungus (New) - Spreading into Norfolk, present at several sites including Deringham Bog.
12) One of the red Waxcap sp. (New) - Either Scarlet or Crimson Waxcap would be nice.
13) Fluted Bird's Nest Fungus (New) - Having seen Common & Field Bird's Nests I'd very much like to see this one. I don't know of any seen in the past few years in Norfolk though (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyathus_striatus)

Ferns
14) Narrow Buckler Fern (Carried over from 2014) - BSBI maps suggest these occur close to Norwich so I may just need to work on my fern ID!

Orchids
15) Frog Orchid (Carried over from 2014) - I had hoped to get to Wink's Meadow last year but didn't get time.
16) Lizard Orchid (Carried over from 2014) - present at Devil's Dyke.

Other flowering plants
17) Purple Broomrape (Carried over from 2014) - Present in north-east Norfolk, although I failed to find it near Overstrand several years ago.
18) Chaffweed (Carried over from 2014) - Only present at one site in Norfolk, I didn't get round to visiting last year.
19) Any Breckland Speedwell sp (Carried over from 2014) - We visited a site for two of these last year but were in slightly the wrong place - I have some proper directions this time!
20) Maiden Pink (Carried over from 2014) - One of loads of Breckland plants I've never seen.

So there we are, the 20 (plus two possible extras) species that I hope to track down this year in between the Whitlingham visits and birding. Incidentally my Whitlingham all-species list is currently just over 810 species, so I hope to push that towards the 850 mark too.


WHITLINGHAM: A few more birds & BSBI plant hunt

3rd January 2014

A grey and rainy day, but with my Christmas holiday coming to a close I decided to give Whitlingham a look anyway. The Little Broad was rather low on ducks, but it turned out that many of them had simply moved on to the Great Broad. Near the bird screen a Snipe flew up out of the vegetation and across the bay. There was no sign of any Little Grebes (perhaps on the river?) but a few Teal and Shoveler were still present. At least 50 Pochard were on the Great Broad, with good numbers of Tufted Ducks and Gadwall, but nothing out of the ordinary. As I went round I paid particular attention to the tit flocks, trying to find one of the overwintering Chiffchaffs. I didn't see any, but this approach did pay off with a Goldcrest and a Treecreeper. A couple of Marsh Tits were also of note, and my Whitlingham list is now up to 40.

In addition to looking for birds I was also keeping an eye out for flowering plants as the BSBI* were conducting a survey to see what plants were in flower across Britain between 1st-4th January. I managed 12, none of which were particularly unusual. There was quite a bit of fungi about too, the most interesting of which turned out to be some circles on violet leaves. I suspect whatever it turns out to be will be under-recorded - I initially thought that the damage might be caused by a leaf miner of some sort.
Possibly Ramularia lactea on a Viola leaf
Beech Tar Crust

* The Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland

WHITLINGHAM BIRD REPORT 2014

I have now completed the Whitlingham Bird Report for 2014, based on a combination of my sightings, those told or emailed to me by other local birders and sightings posted on the internet. Hopefully other local birders will find something of interest amongst it. You can download a copy from this link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B_juW4cq34V3TXVFTzl1bWw3MG8/view?usp=sharing .