The Whitlingham Bird Report for 2016 is now available to download here.

The previous reports are also availble: 2015 here,
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 2016, which is available here.

Birthday odds and sods

23rd & 24th January 2010
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My birthday weekend (I'm like royalty - I claim two days), and a necessary reduction in birding to avoid alienating my family. I pulled rank and still went to Whitlingham for dawn on the Saturday, in the vain hope that the Slav was still around. It wasn't. The supporting cast were still there, I directed four birders to the R-N Grebe, although they were all very pleasant, nowhere near as dippy as those that Jono Leadley met. Incidentally my favourite question so far has been if the "Great Throated" Diver is still there, having walked past the GND. It could have just been a spoonerism. Maybe. We also saw the Smew, Ruddy Duck and Goosander, before my wildfowl scanning was disrupted by a) fog, b) canoeists, and the final disgrace, c) men with their remote control yachts. The dubious highlight was a lone Greenfinch, my 65th patch bird of the year so far.
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Leaving the broad, we went to the White Horse in Trowse for lunch. In the evening the great and good of North Walsham High School alumni joined us for drinks at the Rose Tavern and Eaton Cottage. Amongst the topics of discussion was our Scottish birding holiday later in the year, something to look forward to!
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On Sunday in between visiting relatives in Edingthorpe and a family meal at the Poacher's Pocket I got half an hour at Sea Palling. The tide wasn't fully in, so I had to make due with distant views of Purple Sandpiper, but a flock of Turnstones & 6 Sanderling came closer to feed on the strandline. Cath found a cuttlefish, the first one I can remember seeing locally. On the way between Walcott and Sea Palling we had a quick look at the Brent flock from the car, seeing 25-30 Pale-bellied Brents. Earlier in the week James Appleton had 44. This is probably the biggest flock for over 20 years, 23 at Salthouse (1996) and 38 in Salthouse (1985) (Birds of Norfolk, Taylor et al.) being the only comparable recent maxima.

Its not looking good for my 5 Grebe haul

I'm sure it hasn't escaped anyones notice that after my last post, a Slavonian Grebe did indeed turn up at Whitlingham. The thing is, I haven't seen it. Bollocks. The main problem with winter is the going to work and returning in the dark, and accordingly I only managed to get down to the country park today (fridays are POETS days). In the fading light I picked out Red-necked Grebe, 2 Smew and a Goosander, whilst the Great Northern Diver was also there. I'll be back down in the morning in case it was just sheltering from the rain, but I have a nasty suspicion its left for good. Darn darn darn.

4 out of 5 grebes prefer Whitlingham*

* based on a non-scientific observation study of grebes on Whitlingham, carried out Jan 2010. When asked to explain the absence from said water body, a Slavonian Grebe replied that "I would rather freeze my arse off being battered by waves a mile off Titchwell than turn up at that hellhole". Which I think was rather offish.
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The day started in Big W carpark (Soon to be Big W SSSI), where we watched the rather tubby Waxwing, still gorging itself on apples. We then went down to Whitlingham, where we watched the diver, still going strong. There were only a couple of other birders there, but as luck goes the one I talked to told us that one of the first birds he had seen that day was a Red-necked Grebe. The bird was soon relocated, close to the bank near the watersports centre. A lovely little bird, starting to gain summer plumage, with a deal of red on the neck. I also counted 28+ Great Crested Grebes and a Little Grebe. This brings up the strange situation where a Slav Grebe in the next fortnight would bring the complete set within a month, so cross any spare limbs!
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A series of quick and fruitless trips to several locations in the west of the county were interspersed between trips to Snettisham and Titchwell. At Snettisham I added to my meagre wader list for the year, with Knot and Grey Plover. A Water Rail happily fed in the open in the paddock near the carpark. At the far end, a Shorelark happily hopped around, although whenever I tried to photograph it, it turned its back on me.
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At Titchwell the carpark was heaving, anyone would think that something good had been seen there. After a lengthy queue for hot food, we sat down for lunch. Walking down the main path we saw some Ruff fly over, and 2 Water Pipits on the freshmarsh. The sea was full of Goldeneye, and Adam made a failed attempt to direct us to a bird by announcing "it's to the left of it", without telling us what he was referring to as it. This quickly became a catchphrase, and may appear at opportune moments. A small flock of Common Scoter were also offshore, as were 3 Red-breasted Mergansers.
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What should have been a happy day with the Red-necked Grebe at Whitlingham was slightly soured with the news that a Bittern (and a Scaup) was seen in the afternoon, as I know I can't get down there until next weekend. Still, no-one can see everything. On another note, I again failed to see Little Owl and Tawny Owl today, if anyone knows any good local sites then I'd appreciate an email or pm :)

More snowy bird related fun

9th January 2010

With a thick coating of snow, ice everywhere and minus temperatures, driving very far would have been madness. Luckily, Gary laughs in the face of madness, so we just went a bit slower than normal. We had a few targets for Gary's yearlist, with the first being Blackborough End Tip for Iceland Gull. On the way we stopped off at Flitcham, missing the access road the first time as it blended in with the rest of the snow covered bank. A heart-warming scene along the hedge, where a rat was up on its hind legs getting seed from a Pheasant feeder, whilst a Field Mouse sat alongside, eating the leftovers. No sign of the Little Owl, but we did see Grey Partridge, Curlew and Tree Sparrow. The Tree Sparrows were welcome vindication for Gary, who had been hearing them for ages, possibly echoing around in his head. 4+ Bullfinches and a Yellowhammer were also made to look even better against the pale backdrop.
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It was my first trip to Blackborough, and I won't be putting it on a list of favourite holiday destinations. The cold weather minimised the smell, but the sheer volume of gulls was rather overwhelming. We saw a 2nd winter Med Gull, but no sign of any Caspian or the Iceland Gulls. On the way back to the car a Green Woodpecker flew from tree to tree out of site of Cath & Claire, and a Buzzard did a fly past. The second part of our gull double-header was to look for the Glauc at Titchwell, so we headed north. We turned off towards Wolferton on the off chance, and I spotted a stunning male Golden Pheasant just in from the roadside. Regardless of their introduced status, they still look great, and much nicer than the juvenile male I saw last year.
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We called in at Thornham, where the Red Kite was out of sight, though no doubt still around. This was my first North Norfolk site of the year, so almost everything was a year tick, Golden Plover, Ringed Plover, Redshank, Bar-tailed Godwit and Black-tailed Godwit etc. We arrived at Titchwell to be greeted by a Robin. Knowing how hard it must be for small birds, I offered it part of my jaffa cake. It flew over, looked at me, then flew straight over my shoulder, ignoring my offering. Haughty little bugger. Cath continued to live up to her "Queen of the Water Rails" status by finding another two by the main path. The Island hide was pants, but we did see Pintail and the juvenile Glaucous Gull, woohoo. We didn't spend much time at the beach as the wind was ridiculously strong, but there were Sanderling on the beach and Eider on the sea.
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Sunday was mine & Cath's anniversary, so no birding. I did manage two decent birds on the bird table, Long-tailed Tit and Pied Wagtail, the latter has been for mealworms for the past three days. I also caught the last 10 minutes of Bill Bailey's Birdwatching Bonanza on Sky. What a load of bollocks that looks. Serious question, what is the target audience of that programme? I was going to make a suggestion, but I won't in case anyone who reads this loves it, I don't want to upset either of my readers. I will give a complete show a look, just in case I saw a duff bit, but if you saw it, do comment and let me know what you thought.

Keep off the ice, fools.

Whitlingham looks very nice in the snow, but I still couldn't believe that a camera crew had braved the weather just to film some snow. It turns out that people have been walking out onto the ice, with some enterprising muppet even moving a bench out onto the Little Broad! There is a strong arguement for seeing it as evolution in action, but unfortunately if people start getting hospitalised it will no doubt reduce access for non-suicidal visitors. Read the story on http://www.eveningnews24.co.uk/.
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Anyway, there were also some birds in the ice holes. The Great Northern Diver continues to shoot up and down the shoreline, the Ruddy Duck was asleep but drifting equally quickly, and redhead Smew and Goosander were near the bridge. The most interesting bird was a large gull, with a slate grey back, fleshy yellow-pink legs, dark streaking around the eye and a distinctive greyish bill with a bright yellow tip. The bill doesn't match exactly with any pictures I've found, but I'm presuming it was a 3rd winter graellsii. If you can make out anything else from my poor quality photo (intermedius, maybe Britain's first Heuglin's Gull etc) then please do.
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There were two candidates for bird of the day, the first being a male Sparrowhawk. I was drawn to it by the agitated calls of Long-tailed Tits, and it sat in a tree close to the side of the road before gliding into the woods. The second bird was a Cetti's Warbler in reeds alongside the river. It hopped about, regularly coming to the top of the reeds, providing me with my best views of this species for ages. I also got my first Whitlingham Song Thrush and Great Spotted Woodpecker of the year, plus a Kingfisher at Trowse Meadow.

Whitlingham ice rink

4th January 2010
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Yes that's right folks, the GN Diver is still here so why not come and slide your way around the huge ice basin. All of the Little Broad and most of the Great Broad was completely frozen when I arrived. The Great Northern Diver and Ruddy Duck were still about, but it looks like the Smew has buggered off. Adam had seen the Shag early morning, but I couldn't locate it. Around 100 Teal had managed to keep a small amount of water near the island ice free. Around 20 Snipe were around the edges, and I fortuitously found a Jack Snipe.
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The conservation area bay was frozen completely, but the alders held a small group of Redpoll, all Lesser that I could see. Long-tailed Tit was a whit-year tick. Finally scanning through the masses of gulls standing on the ice paid off as I refound a Little Gull that had been seen earlier in the day (and possibly on the 1st as well, I vaguely remember someone mentioning seeing one). A paltry 2 Siskin were in the alders along the Little Broad, and 2 Collared Doves were in the Little Broad car park.

Stubb Mill

3rd January 2010
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An afternoon visit to Stubb Mill saw Merlins evade me for a 3rd time. Or maybe they're just too quick for me to see. Other than that, about 20 Cranes in, including a group of 7, loads of Marsh Harriers, an obliging Yellowhammer, Sparrowhawk, Barn Owl and a Chinese Water Deer. Bird of the evening was a male Hen Harrier, which glided through from left to right without stopping. On the way back several Woodcock shot over our heads, and a Tawny Owl hooted deridingly, knowing I'm not due to see another one until 2019.

Whitlingham & East Norfolk

2nd January 2010
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Gary's bid to take the Norfolk yearlist title began on the 1st with a commendable 107 species, but he still needed some Whitlingham goodies. We got there about 9, and soon refound the Black-necked Grebe, Goosander and Great Northern Diver, a now famous trio. Whilst we were there a redhead Smew was seen briefly, so we decided to stick around to try and relocate it. In doing so, Gary found a female Ruddy Duck, my first Whitlingham tick of 2010. RBA didn't put it out, so we told some other birders onsite, and eventually we saw the Smew too. Bonza.
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We then proceeded to take a tour around the east of the county, aiming to see some winter wildfowl before it buggers off. First stop, Cantley, where we found the White-fronted Geese and Taiga Bean Geese, along with a couple of Marsh Harriers. Two Chinese Water Deer were also mooching about. Next stop, Strumpshaw. We heard a redpoll calling, and tracked it to the woods - Lesser Redpoll. Also in the woods, GS Woodpecker, Nuthatch and lots of Marsh Tits. After scanning each one, a thick-necked individual showing the white cheek area and buff flanks of Willow Tit. Wanting to be sure, we waited until it called. Whilst listening to a recorded version, the Willow Tit flew onto the path next to us, responding to the call with some Willow Tit beats of its own. A session in the fen hide saw us record lots of ice.
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We arrived at Wroxham Broad, and along with Bob Cobbold and Andy Kane we stood in the scrub by the fence waiting for the Ring-necked Duck to emerge from the Yacht Club. Bob had gone by the time Gary picked it up. It had been in front of us for a little while, but remained asleep. We headed to a heavily frozen Barton where the male Ferruginous Duck was still around, although spending most of its time behind a reedy spit. We cut through Ludham and scanned the Bewick's Swan flock, picking out a few Whooper Swans.
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We ended the day at Stubb Mill, although it was already gloomy. A flyover Yellowhammer was a year tick, and a steady stream of Cranes flew in. Many Marsh Harriers, but no sign of any Hen Harriers or Merlin. A Little Egret and a Barn Owl flew through, last bird of the day was Woodcock, with at least 5 flying out of the trees.

New Year's Day at Whitlingham

1st January 2010
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The early morning walk home from the Playhouse was birdless with the exception of a Robin singing in the darkness. 9 hours later and it was off to Whitlingham to start the birding year. Predictably it was a popular destination for first of January birders, thanks to the Black-necked Grebe and Great Northern Diver, both of which I had watched on my own a few days ago, but now attracted crowds. Still, there was a good atmosphere and was nice to see some familiar faces.
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We started in the car park, where two Marsh Tits fed from the bird table along with Blue Tit, Great Tit and Robin. On the way down Whitlingham Lane an Egyptian Goose had been surveying its territory from a cut tree, Canada and Greylags were on the slipway. The broad was awash with Mallard, Tufted Duck, Gadwall and Coot, whilst Cormorants were also present. A look through the gulls produced only Common & Black-headed. I was quickly put onto the Black-necked Grebe, still diving a lot. A snow flurry lowered visibility, but the Great Northern Diver was bulky enough to stick out regardless.
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Looking across the river we saw a Grey Heron and some Herring Gulls. The conservation area bay held around 20 Teal, 1 Wigeon and a Snipe, but no Shoveler. Further along we saw three Bullfinches, including a nice perched male. We had also added flyover Skylark and Redwing by this point. Near the watersports centre a redhead Goosander was a bonus, meaning we had seen about 40 species with the Little Broad still to stomp round.
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Walking along the alders we saw a small flock of Siskins feeding above us. Waiting near the east end I found a Kingfisher, which to my delight had just caught a fish, and proceeded to bash it against a branch before eating it. I can't remember if I've actually seen one eating before, so many sightings are of the back of one! Along the road we saw Mistle Thrush and Treecreeper, with House Sparrow back at Cath's to make a round 50 for the day. A nice day to start the year.