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.

WHITLINGHAM: Early Sand Martins

28th March 2015

During the morning I had a call from Justin to tell me that he had found a Mediterranean Gull at Whitlingham amongst the Black-headed Gulls, and had also seen four Sand Martins fly through. I was busy until after lunch, but later in the afternoon (and after it had stopped raining) I went down for a quick look.

Walking along the south shore it was evident how much of an effect the weather has on visitor numbers, as the C.P. was almost deserted. I walked all the way to the pump house and scanned through the Black-headed Gull flock, but unfortunately the Med Gull had departed. As I scanned back and forth I happened to glance up and saw two Sand Martins battling against the wind. Sand Martins are usually one of the earlier migrants to arrive back, but these were my earliest ever at Whitlingham, two days earlier than those seen on 30th March 2009. Walking back I heard a couple of Oystercatchers flying around calling to each other. They flew past over the picnic meadow and then ended up on the jetty opposite the flint barn, where they seemed quite content.

As I walked past the ruined hall I decided to check the Daffodils, and a small fly on one of the flowers looks like it could be the aptly named Daffodil Fly.

WHITLINGHAM: Chiffchaffs and Treecreepers

22nd March 2015

I had a bit of free time on Sunday afternoon and headed down to Whitlingham to look for early spring migrants. As with my previous visit the sunny weather had brought many families and walkers to the country park, making for a busy circuit. A Chiffchaff was calling close to the second car park and was visible high up in a nearby tree. Further round I heard another one singing from Thorpe, whilst a third bird was too busy flycatching do do any singing.

Other than the Chiffchaffs, it was all a bit quiet really. There was still quite a few Tufted Ducks about, but only a single Gadwall and several Teal on Thorpe Broad. Walking slowly back along the south shore of the Little Broad I stopped to watch some Goldcrests close by, and whilst stopped noticed two Treecreepers on nearby Alder trunks.

NORWICH: Solar eclipse

20th March 2015

Norwich was covered in cloud, which rather dampened the enthusiasm, but the partial solar eclipse was just visible several times around ten o'clock.

THORPE MARSH: A few birds and a lichenocolous fungus

15th March 2015

I managed to get down to Thorpe Marsh for a couple of hours, hoping to see one of the waders that others have seen flying over in recent days (Golden Plover, Curlew, Ringed Plover) or perhaps an early summer migrant. A White-tailed Eagle flying around the county gave an added incentive to keep looking up as I walked round. Sadly none of the aformentioned species did fly over. The highlight was excellent views of a male Sparrowhawk as it swept past at head height and landed in a nearby tree. A couple of Meadow Pipits were the only addition to my yearly patch list.

With few birds about I went and had a look at some of the lichen covered trees in order to put my recently gained lichen knowledge to the test. I took quite a few photos to confirm at my leisure, but the most interesting find was a tiny pink fungus called Illosporiopsis christiansenii that parisitises Physcia lichens.It is in the photo below, but you may need to click to enlarge it before you can see it!

NORTH NORFOLK: Lichen walk

8th March 2015

On Sunday I went to Blickling Park to attend a NNNS walk looking at lichens on trees. The walk was led by county recorder Peter Lambley, and was well focused on beginners, allowing the participants to get an idea of how to identify some of the commoner species. We walked amongst some of the old parkland trees towards the lake, before heading across to the woods. Stopping for a short lunch break we saw flocks of Redwings and Fieldfares flying over, whilst we also heard several Nuthatches and a drumming Great-spotted Woodpecker. Whilst in the woods we visited the mausoleum, said to be Norfolk's only pyramid. We saw around 30 species of lichen, and hopefully I will now be able to identify some of them at Whitlingham too. Thanks to Peter for a very informative walk.

Cladonia fimbriata

Xanthoria parietina showing positive reaction with bleach

The Blickling pyramid

WHITLINGHAM: March wildfowl count

7th March 2015

On Saturday I headed down to Whitlingham for March's wildfowl count. The weather was unseasonably warm, with the accompanying huge increase in people. Despite the sunshine I didn't see a single butterfly, although as there were few flowers out they had probably made a wise decision. Another omission were any singing Chiffchaffs, which I had hoped to hear. The final thing that I didn't see was Garganey. The arrival of five of these ducks at Titchwell had raised hopes of one locally, but my wait for a patch one goes on. 

Wildfowl numbers had continued to decline since last month. There were still quite a few Tufted Ducks, but the only Gadwall were across the river at Thorpe Broad. Great-crested Grebes were all in breeding plumage, and the absence of all but two Egyptian Geese suggest that some are currently incubating. Two of the Herring Gulls were of interest, one with a red VKB ring is a bird I've seen here several times and was ringed as a pullus at Havergate in Suffolk. The other one had a particularly long bill, giving it a rather Caspian Gull-like appearance, albeit without some of the other features you would look for in that species. The only 'new' bird for the year was an Oystercatcher on the shingle at Thorpe.

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.