The Whitlingham Bird Report 2020 is available now (click here)

For previous years (2012-2019) see the links on the Whitlingham Bird List page.

WHITLINGHAM: Record geese counts

30th June 2011

A pleasant evening at Whitlingham was notable for the large gatherings of geese on the broad. In fact, I managed to beat my highest counts of Mute Swan (123), Greylag (224), Canada Goose (64) and Egyptian Goose (54). This is not including birds on the river, which would have added another 16 swans and 37 Greylags. There was also the usual white geese and Swan Goose types, plus the presumed LWF x Ross' Goose, a Greylag x Canada Goose and a return for the Red-breasted x Barnacle hybrid, allowing me to get a few out-of-the-water shots of it. A minimum of 6 Common Terns were flying around too, another high count.

Walking around the north side of the broad I was surrounded by the sweet smell of Buddleia, which is hopefully covered in butterflies during the day. I could easily have missed out on a patch tick, but happened to be looking the right way when my first Whitlingham Turtle Dove belted past and across the river towards Thorpe. Watching a Stock Dove fly past a bit further round brought home just how fast Turtle Doves fly. I double checked the river edges for Grey Wagtails (I still am at a loss as to why I havent seen one here this year, I'd had 6 sightings at the equivalent date last year) with no luck. As I left I noticed a Black Swan on the Little Broad.

NORTH NORFOLK: White-letters and Bee Hawks

25th June 2011

Although my main interest has always been birds, I have long been interested in the gaudier insects as well. Whilst there are loads of moths, Norfolk has a list of 34 resident butterflies, which should be easily achievable. Last year I saw Chalkhill Blue (albeit the colony is introduced), which was my 31st. Earlier this year I saw Dingy and Grizzled Skipper, leaving me with just White-letter Hairstreak. A number of people had suggested sites to me (thanks guys!) but in the end I took the Butterfly Conservation website advice and headed to Holkham.

We arrived to unpromising dark clouds. Margaret assured us that it was meant to get brighter soon, an irony not lost as a Barn Owl flew out of the pines and out over the marshes. Eventually it did lighten up, and with the light came the butterflies. Loads of Meadow Browns, and a few Ringlets, including a newly emerged one with crinkly wings. A couple of White Admirals, probably my favourite butterfly, flew past but never looked like settling. Arriving at the favoured stand of Elm I spotted two hairstreaks flying near the top, but then found one lower down on the privet. Despite the overcast weather I managed to get a record shot of a White-letter Hairstreak, Norfolk butterfly number 34. Get in!

Hoping to see some Dark Green Fritillaries we carried on, but soon came across something even better as Margaret found a Broad-bordered Bee Hawk Moth on some everlasting sweet pea. As Cathy watched it fly off I found another slightly further along, and we both got some photos of this enchanting mimic. The sun had gone in again so I didnt spend long looking for fritillaries, but we did see a resting Hummingbird Hawkmoth, a Common Lizard, lots of small Toads and several Earthstars of unknown species - Holkham has records of nine different earthstars, but the likelihood is that these were the commonest one, Geastrum triplex). After a successful trip, we went home via Wells for chips.

Incidentally despite having now seen the main Norfolk butterflies I have yet to see any immigrant species (although I have seen Clouded Yellow and Silver-washed Fritillary in other counties), so I'm still keeping my eyes peeled!

NORWICH: Start as you mean to go on...

21st June 2011

Its no exaggeration to say that if I start the day in a grump, then I'll probably be grumpy for the rest of the day. Luckily the reverse is also true. This morning whilst refilling the bird feeders I startled a Fox cub, which ran and hid behind a recycling bin. Whilst watching it a Grey Squirrel jumped over my head, landing clumsily in a Privet bush. On the way back I had to avoid steeping on a large Frog, which was jumping through the garden. In the five minutes before leaving for work, newly fledged Blue and Coal Tits came and fed, as did Dunnocks, a Robin and our local tail-less Magpie. What a great start to the day!

WHITLINGHAM: At last, a Goldcrest

19th June 2011

Aware that I had had a bit of a twitchy week, I made sure I ignored the drizzle and went for a stomp around the patch. A couple of Common Terns were fishing along the far edge of the Great Broad, only the second time I've seen them here this year. With the rain getting a bit steadier I went into the woods and decided to spend some time hunting out Goldcrests, a resident species that I havent seen since the harsh spell of weather in the winter of 2009/10. After staring into the canopy for a while (probably the "type" of birding I enjoy least) and being decieved by the high-pitched calls of young Coal Tits, I did eventually find a couple of Goldcrests. Huzzah.

At Whitlingham Marsh the old bird hide has been replaced by a reed screen. This isn't a big problem, there was usually very little to see anyway, although I'm not sure some sections of the public will find it as good for business. Nothing of interest at the sewage works either, and a paltry 7 spikes of Pyramidal Orchids in the meadows opposite the woods. A search of the scrub between the Little Broad carparks and the broad yielded Marsh Tit, female Blackcap and some young Chiffchaffs. Butterfly wise I saw another 2 Ringlets, and an unidentified orange butterfly sp. flew frustrating past and vanished behind a tree.

[Edit] Also, so bizarre that I blanked it from my mind, for some reason there was a Bantam scratching about in the undergrowth near the main carpark. What's that about? Sculthorpe get Golden Pheasants, we get a Bantam. Ridiculous.

NORWICH: Keep a lookout for a Parakeet

18th June 2011

Having agreed to have a lay-in at the weekend I turned down a lift to see the Caspian Tern, and turned my phone off as well. Whilst having my breakfast and a cup of tea I turned it back on and received a message from Adam to say he had seen a Parakeet at Jenny Lind Park, opposite our old house on Trinity Street. he cautioned that it could have been an escape, but I thought it was worth checking it out anyway, so I walked across to the park, and conducted a tree-by-tree search. The park is small enough to assume that if I couldnt see or hear it then it was gone, so I moved on to Chapefield Park and similarly drew a blank. It could well be in the area still, and I'd be interested in seeing it even if it turns out to be one of the green parakeets other than Ring-necked. I've made sure my feeders are well stocked in case it moves on to Earlham Cemetery!

Walking back from the city a brief spell of sunshine allowed some butterflies to come out, including my first Ringlets of the year on Lakenham Way. In the afternoon we went to Pulham Market, and on the way returned via Stoke Holy Cross. I found a Little Egret hunting in the shallows of the river opposite Lakenham Mill, my second at this location and third around Norwich this year.

EAST NORFOLK: Rainy Red-foot

17th June 2011

With rain forecast for the weekend, Neil & I decided to go and have a look at the long-staying Red-footed Falcon at Horsey after work. The slight flaw in our plan - the rain had started already. Nevertheless we set out along the Nelson's Head track, and as we approached the dunes we saw Julian Bhalerao and another birder, who told us that the falcon was currently sheltering in a bush close to the path. It was well tucked-in, and slightly poetic that my first view of a Red-footed Falcon was off a pair of red feet. Incidentally these are magic feet. Check out the redness of those, compared to the orangey yellow of the feet on some photos of this bird, e.g. Gary's:

Moving round to view the tree from the other side we could see a bit more of the bird, and were able to watch it at a range that I could only have hoped for. I had always imagined that it would be best to see an adult male, but this 1st-summer male changed my mind. I rather like the orangey bit on the back of the head, it gives character. Rather soggy, we walked back along the track, very glad we'd braved the weather. On the way back to the car we saw a singing Yellowhammer and a brood of newly fledged Whitethroats. Between Sea Palling and Ingham I saw a Little Owl sitting on a gatepost, but it flew off before I could get any photos.

SUFFOLK: Cannabalistic Magpies and a Marvellous Roller

13th June 2011

Firstly I do apologise if a) if you read a lot of East Anglian blogs and have heard about the Roller 20 times, and b) if you live in East Anglia but couldn't go and see it. You have my sympathies.

Anyway. At lunchtime I checked BirdGuides and found that a Roller had gone through the punctuation marks ("?" - We're not sure if this is genuine. "!" - Oh goodness, it is genuine). Birds seen on Mondays tend to be frustrating, because it means I have to hope that they stay until the next weekend for me to have a chance of seeing them. The difference with the Roller was that it envoked the "IT'S BLUE FOR HEAVENS SAKE" arguement, and whether genuinely excited or simply humouring me, Cathy & Margaret agreed to give me a lift into Suffolk to see this most delightful of birds.

On the way through deepest Suffolk we arrived at Blythburgh, where my attention was grabbed by what appeared to be a black, white and red bird. What the hell is that? I thought, until my brain caught up and I realised it was a recently deceased Magpie. Cathy said it was a shame that one of a pair had died (another Magpie was sat by the road) and I was about to agree, until it ran into the road and grabbed some giblets from the recently deceased bird, then squabbled over the juiceiest bits with another Magpie! I know Magpies often commit cannabalistic infanticide, but this is the first time I've seen one actually eat another adult bird.

We arrived at Upper Hollesley Common and the Roller was immediately visible, gleefully found by Cathy with the naked eye whilst I was scanning the fence with my 'scope. It proceeded to give great views at mid-distance, spending most of its time perched on a fence or small tree, with occasional feeding forays onto the ground. This sparked an interesting debate with Cathy, who whilst being initially excited to see the Roller, didn't understand why I would want to keep watching the bird just sitting there for so long, when it "wasn't doing anything interesting". I was just happy it was sat out in the open (hours spent watching scrub waiting for Barred, Dusky and Radde's Warblers still give me flashbacks). My sincere thanks to the finders of this amazing bird.

The best of my many record attempts, this one being unusual in that it is in focus. If you don't know what a Roller looks like you really should take the time to find out. For much better pictures of the bird see

WHITLINGHAM: 'NWT' Thorpe Marshes

12th June 2011

A drizzly day, and with no-one wanting to go very far I went out to spend an hour at Thorpe Marshes. When I arrived I found a shiny new sign announcing "NWT Thorpe Marshes". Too late now, but calling it "NWT Thorpe Station Marshes" would avoid the constant confusion with sighitngs from Thorpe Marshes near Haddiscoe. I thought they had built a radical new hide as well, but on closer inspection it turned out to be the wooden cabin of a boat built in the childrens play area across the river. I had been told that the NWT were helping with the management of the site, but I wasn't sure whether it would eventually become one of their reserves. I guess its a good thing, although several locals I spoke to a while back were concerned about a reduction in access. I will look out for any information regarding the wildlife trusts involvement and report back here.

Birdwise the broad was quiet with no waders at all, although there were dogwalkers on the edge of the broad - blocking the open shingle that leads from the path to the waters edge should be a priority as people just use this now that the main route is gated. Swifts and hirundines hawked low because of the weather, but there was no sign of the long-anticipated Hobby. I was reduced to looking through the waterside vegetation, eventually finding a Brown China-mark moth. Various warblers were still singing, but that was pretty much it.

WHITLINGHAM: A new hybrid goose

11th June 2011

Exciting times this afternoon, as I found a new hybrid goose at Whitlingham! Superficially resembling a Barnacle Goose in size, beak shape and head pattern, the back was dark and there was a brown tinge to the back of the white on the face. It was with a large flock of Canada Geese and a Canada x Greylag hybrid (also pictured). If anyone wants to comment on parentage, or has seen this goose elsewhere in Norfolk or North Suffolk then I would be pleased to hear from you.

Click to enlarge if you really want to...

Other than this goose there wasn't much to write home about. No sign of the Spotfly, but there was a singing Garden Warbler near the Little Broad carpark. A Norfolk Hawker and several Black-tailed Skimmers were flying along the south shore, whilst a Cinnabar Moth and a Large Skipper were found amongst the vegetation. Rather than walk around the back of the broad I went up to the end of the Lime Tree Avenue to search for partridges. Whilst here I saw some Meadow Browns, then absent mindedly looked at the skyline above the meadows. Ah. Up until last week I had never seen a Peregrine at Whitlingham, and yet all this time there was a vantage point where I could have set up my 'scope, brought some sandwiches and just waited to see one flying up to the cathedral. No wonder I never see anything, I'm not paying attention!

Who put that there?

EAST NORFOLK: Hickling Broad for insects

5th June 2011

For the last day of the Whitsun holiday we decided to go and see some Swallowtails. Cathy isn't a big fan of Strumpshaw, so we bucked the trend and went to Hickling instead. On the way we detoured to Yarmouth to have a quick look for a Channel Wagtail mentioned to us the previous night by Justin L, but we didn't find it.

We arrived at Hickling with a cloudy sky, and we arrived at the observation hide having not seen a single dragonfly or butterfly. Luckily the sun was beginning to come out, and we soon saw 2 Swallowtails, a Norfolk Hawker, two Four-spot Chasers and a Hairy Dragonfly. Walking back to the visitors centre we saw at least six more Swallowtails, loads of Black-tailed Skimmers including a yellow-and-blue immature male, and lots of Blue-tailed and Azure Damselflies. We also saw a Cuckoo, which was the 9th or 10th one I've seen or heard this year, suggesting anecdotally that they are doing well this year!


Norfolk Hawker

Four-spotted Chaser

I laid on the ground to get this dragonflys eye view of a Black-tailed Skimmer

Immature male Black-tailed Skimmer, changing from 'female-type' yellow to typical male blue.

NORWICH: Mousehold Moths

4th June 2011

Over the weekend the NWT organised a number of events to promote the awareness of urban wildlife. Cathy & I were out during the day, but went to a moth trapping session at Mousehold once it got dark. The number of species was disappointing, partly due to a light drizzle and gusty wind, but we did get a couple of good ones in the form of Beautiful Golden Y and Green Silver-lines. As unfortunately tends to be the case with events held after dark near Norwich we got a small amount of hassle from some kids, who decided to throw stones at us from a distance, but eventually they got bored and left.

YORKSHIRE: Bempton Cliffs - Its another photo special!

3rd June 2011

Norfolk is a great county for birding, but it does lack moorland and seabird cliffs. Natural England keep turning down my proposals to introduce all four species of Grouse to the Holt-Cromer ridge, so I haven't even bothered submitting my Hunstanton Razorbill cliff proposals. Anyway, if you want to see seabirds nesting the closest place is Bempton. Cathy & I did indeed want to see seabirds nesting, so that is where we went. After costing and rejecting several public transport related options, we decided to go on a day trip with Chris Lansdell of Oenanthe Birding Adventures. You can find out details here if you are interested:

Bempton is an RSPB reserve set back from the cliff, and the first thing you notice is how many Tree Sparrows there are, not just on the feeders but even nesting in the visitors centre roof! A short walk over the fields and you reach the cliff, the sight, sound and smell are all unforgettable.

Tree Sparrow

The cliffs looking south





Puffin - Not as numerous as the other seabirds, but several were mixed in with the other auks on the sea, plus this little fella

'Bridled' Guillemot - click to enlarge

A Razorbill watches a Kittiwake be weird

Afterwards we had a quick look at Hornea Mere, which was rather quiet other than half of the world's population of Canada Geese (and Swan Goose x greylag, Canada x Greylag...just like home). Our final stop of the day was at Narborough Railway Line. Very few butterflies about, a first Meadow Brown of the year and a few Common Blues was about it. The first Pyramidal Orchids were poking through, and a female Emperor Dragonfly was also new for the year.

WHITLINGHAM: Spotfly, Cuckoo and Peregrines

2nd June 2011

I spent a sunny morning wandering slowly around the Great Broad, checking each blue damselfly looking for azures or variables, but every single one was a Common Blue. I heard a Cuckoo calling from south of the picnic meadow, but a quick investigation found that it was out of sight range. Further round I heard another, this time coming from the the trees near the NE of the Great Broad where I had heard one earlier in the year. This time I wasn't the wrong side of the river, and soon located the Cuckoo sitting up in a large willow before being mobbed around the plantation. Checking the ruins of Trowse Newton Hall and the surrounding trees I found the hoped for Spotted Flycatcher, which endulged me with some flycatching before flying down to the ruins for a root around. On my way back I caught sight of a Peregrine flying from the city over the waste ground. A quick backtrack allowed me to watch it fly over the river and firmly onto the patch!

In terms of insects, hundreds if not thousands of Common Blue Damselflies and a lovely violescens-type immature Blue-tailed Damsefly, plus 2 Banded Demoiselles. Also Mullein Moth caterpillars on the mullein near the woods.

EAST NORFOLK: Breydon Broad-bill

1st June 2011

Despite Norfolk having a good spring vagrant wise, most birds have been one-evening wonders and I hadn't caught up with any of them. The appearance of another Broad-billed Sandpiper (as opposed to the re-appearance of the weekend bird - is what the cool kids on the ground are saying) seemed too good to pass up on, so having got Cathy's engagement ring we had lunch then set off for Breydon.

Jim arrived at the same time as us, so we walked along the south shore until we reached a couple of birders, who uttered the immortal "it flew off a minute ago" line so beloved of birders. We walked further along, scanning groups of Dunlin and Ringed Plover, until at the third group Jim and one of the birders we spoke to earlier simultaneously spotted the Broad-billed Sandpiper as it came over the ridge of the channel. We got good but brief views before having to move to allow cyclists past.

Typically the bird had disappeared back onto the water-side of the channel when several other birders joined us. Their hopes were briefly raised by a a mystery pale wader (could this be the leucistic Ringed Plover?) but having seen the well marked BB Sand we had to stick to our "it was here, and that isn't it" guns until it eventually did re-emerge. Even then it took a while to get everyone on it, every direction being related to groups of two or three Shelduck above and then between the Ringed Plover (there were loads of both). Whilst feeding it had a slightly long billed look (the legs did look a bit long too but maybe that was just posture), and a steady, methodical feeding action quite different from the nearby Dunlin.

I see today (Thurs) someone reported the Sandpiper to Birdguides as being on the Suffolk side of the river. Maybe only visible from the top of the Watsonian high ground eh? :-p

"See the three Shelduck? Well to the left are two Shelduck, and below them are..."

On the way back (and it was quite a long walk back!) Cathy found a Small Heath butterfly and a number of Common Blues, whilst I spotted a Hairy Dragonfly and a rufescens-type immature Blue-tailed Damselfly.

Oh, and one other thing from the past few days. I didn't bother getting involved in the flyover Black Stork debate a while back when one was photographed and put on Surfbirds, but I see that news of one on the east coast one morning recently was put out. I have no issues if people choose to put out the birds they find or not (although obviously I'm grateful to those who do), but people are generally quick to criticise, so I just want to say "nice one" to whoever put this one out, I and I'm sure many other people, appreciate it.

I am engaged!

Long-time readers and those of you that know me may be interested to know that Cathy & I got engaged earlier this week! To everyone else, apologies, I shall go back to posting about birds shortly.


30th May-1st June 2011

Cathy & I went for a short break staying in a teepee (or tipi, take your pick) at Burnham Deepdale. The main purpose of the trip will become apparent, but the secondary one was to try and at least hear a Quail, now the commonest British breeding bird that I am yet to see or hear.

30th May - Having left Norwich in glorious sunshine, we arrived to the first meaningful rain in over two months. It continued raining all through the evening and overnight. Bugger. We had a nice meal at the White Horse (the first pub I've been to that has its own Tapas menu) and I had a pint of Oystercatcher Ale, brewed by the local Brancaster Brewery. The field behind our teepee was a potato field, scuppering my hopes of a Quail closeby, but we did hear Cuckoo, Tawny Owl and see Red-legged Partridges there.

31st May - After a brief walk and a few rain showers, I headed off along the coast path around Burnham Norton marshes, where Quails have been heard recently. It was mid afternoon, and accordingly I wasn't successful. It was a lovely day, and I got much more satisfaction from seeing Avocets and Marsh Harrier than I would have at a reserve. I heard a Grasshopper Warbler and saw a 4-spotted Chaser along the bank. Walking inland I momentarily got my hopes up that I had found another target, Marsh Warbler, but it soon became apparent that the mimicry I heard was from a Sedge Warbler. Walking back along some farmland I saw a Stoat.

1st June - On the way back to Norwich we checked out Beacon Hill, seeing some Grey Partridges.

NORTH NORFOLK: I blame it on the wind

29th May 2011

Gary & I went for a relaxing days birding in North Norfolk, aiming to catch up with a few raptors and generally see some good birds. We started at Swanton Novers raptor watchpoint, hoping to see Honey Buzzard. We left haing seen a few Common Buzzards and a Sparrowhawk, bu then it was quite windy. We had lunch at Sculthorpe Mill, a pub that has a reputation for being home to Grey Wagtails and Spotted Flycatchers. We didn't see them, but then it was windy, with a bit of drizzle. No luck with the Monties either, although we did see Buzzard, Marsh Harrier and 2 Red Kites, so that wasn't bad. Titchwell? Don't even ask. It was windy though.

NORWICH AREA: A quick roundup

Late May 2011

Friday 27th - After work we went for a quick tour of some more local villages, the best find being eight Yellowhammers singing around the village of Carelton Rode.

Saturday 28th - Today was allocated to looking at the brewer's market and going to the pub, but before meeting some friends we went to the Cathedral to check on the Peregrines. We didn't see them - the female was off hunting and the male was sitting on the egg, but we picked up the following information from Nigel Middleton's wife (sorry I can't remember her name!):
1) If the egg doesn't hatch in the next few days (i.e. by the time I'm typing this) then its unlikely to hatch at all.
2) Up to four Peregrines have been seen around the Cathedral in recent days.
3) The breeding female has lost several feathers from its tail, making it quite distinctive at the moment.

Sunday 29th - Part three of our trawl around local villages, we stopped at Bawburgh so I could look/laugh at a Muscovy, when a Kingfisher peeyood downriver.

Monday 30th - A small emergence of Large Skipper butterflies in Cathy's garden, along with a Cinnabar moth. A Treble Brown Spot Moth was also disturbed from the hedge.