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

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

NORTH NORFOLK: Cley Marshes appeal

If you are a member of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust or read the local press, you will no doubt be aware that the NWT have launched an appeal to buy the marshes to the east of the reserve. This land has been up for sale for a while, although the asking price was apparently higher per hectare even than high-grade farmland.  It is currently being used for wildfowling, i.e. the shooting of birds, which is an added incentive to protect the area. Cley is an iconic area for birders, I first visited as a seven-year old on my first proper birding day out, and have had many memorable days there since.  I know charities send out appeals all the time, but if you have fond memories of the North Norfolk coast then please consider donating money to increase the size of the reserve.

Norfolk Wildlife Trust Cley Appeal

Cley windmill

THORPE MARSH: Some Buzzards

28th July 2012

I joined Daniel at Thorpe for another look for returning waders.  We could see some Lapwings along the edge of the scrape, but it was only later when they took to the air that we could make a proper assessment of numbers, which was around 30-35.  Looking eastwards we saw three large birds of prey soaring in the sunshine.  The top and bottom birds were definitely Common Buzzard, but the middle bird (often mobbing the top bird) appeared to be slightly structurally different (i.e. not Buzzard or Sparrowhawk).  The distance meant that we couldn't make out any plumage features, so unfortunately it remained unidentified.

There were several butterflies around, including the first Holly Blue that I've seen since the spring, and a couple of Small Coppers and Commas.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker was on one of the dead trees, and the young Great-crested Grebe was still on the river.  The only bird on the shingle was a young Pied Wagtail.  As we left we had another scan from the bridge, seeing a Buzzard up over Whitlingham Woods.

NORWICH: City Grebe

27th July 2012

You know its a quiet time of year when a Great-crested Grebe is notable, but this one was at least a Norwich city centre tick for me.  I saw it near Pull's Ferry being bullied by the local Mute Swan brood and it then swam further along towards Bishops Bridge.  After this brief bit of excitement I returned home to scratch all of my mosquito bites from yesterday.

BRECKS: Emerald & Scarce Emerald Damselflies

26th July 2012

Eager to make the most of the warm weather whilst it stays, we headed to the Brecks to look for Scarce Emerald damselflies.  These are known not only for their rarity, but also because of their similarity to Emerald Damselflies.  Indeed the best way to tell males apart is the anal appendages, which as you can expect are rather small.  As both species were present at our site, I adopted a policy of trying to photograph as many individuals as possible.  We found several Emerald sp. in long grass, and I then went to check out the vegetation along the edge of a large pool.  I found lots of Emeralds, but they were too far away or too skittish to get decent pictures.  On my way back, birds started giving alarm calls and I looked up to see a large Goshawk flying over! I called Cathy and we were able to watch it soar over the clearing and then glide off northwards.

Returning to the Emeralds, Cathy managed to expertly stalk and photograph a female Emerald Damselfly, and copying her technique I managed to get some photographs of a male Scarce Emerald.  I have included pictures of female Emerald and Scarce Emerald - note the different shape of the markings on segment 1 (2 squares in Scarce Emerald, 2 tear drops/triangles in Emerald. The female Scarce Emerald is noticeably stockier. The male Scarce Emerald has curved outer anal appendages.  The inner appendages are also curved, but this means that they aren't properly visible as they are covered by the outer ones (in male Emerald you would be able to see the straight inner appendages on the photo).  Note also the bulge to segments 8 and 9, and the prunescence only coming 2/3rds of the way down segment 2.

Female Emerald Damselfly.  Photo: Cathy Thomas
Female Scarce Emerald Damselfly
Male Scarce Emerald Damselfly

NORWICH: Mousehold for grasshoppers

25th July 2012

As the hot weather continues I decided to wander along to Mousehold Heath to look for butterflies.  There was no sign of the hoped-for White Admiral, but I did find a few Purple Hairstreaks and lots of commoner species.  Several dragonflies were around too, including the male Emperor pictured below.  My secondary target was Stripe-winged Grasshopper, only recently refound at Mousehold having previously been confined to the Brecks.  Orthoptera is not my strong point, but I did manage to find some in the clearing just north of Zaks.

NORTH NORFOLK: Red-veined Darters

24th July 2012

Following Sunday's butterfly trip, I fancied a trip to have a look for a dragonfly that I haven't seen before, Red-veined Darter.  Several of these migrant dragonflies arrived on the North Norfolk coast a few weeks ago, and I had heard that they were still present at Kelling Water Meadows.  As it was we found at least four male Red-veined Darters, one on the path level with the pool, and at least three more males flying around along the northern edge.  Everyone else who has visited seems to have got some great perched up photos, but whilst I was there they only perched on rushes a bit away from the path, so I only got this record shot.  For some much better shots try David Bradnum's Blog.  We also saw several other odonates and loads of butterflies.

Male Red-veined Darter perched on a rush stem

THORPE MARSH: Summer lull part 1

23rd July 2012

A typically uneventful walk around Thorpe Marsh, which was notable only for a few Brown Hawkers, a Skylark and a young Great-crested Grebe on the river.

Grebe stealth mode

NORTH NORFOLK: Holt Fritillaries

22nd July 2012

Aside from birds I do particularly like butterflies, stemming back to my garden in North Walsham where I used to watch Small Tortoiseshells and Peacocks on the Buddleia as a kid.  Last year Cathy & I attempted to see all of the resident Norfolk species throughout the year, but that still left Clouded Yellow and Silver-washed Fritillary.  I had seen both in other counties, but not in Norfolk. After seeing John Furse's excellent photo of one of the latter species at Holt C.P, we decided to go and have a look for them.  Despite the sunny conditions and other butterflies we had only got a glimpse of one of the Silver-washed Fritillaries flying up amongst the trees whilst walking the paths.  We were almost back to the carpark when a Fritillary flew across our path and landed on a hawthorn.  Before I could focus my camera it was off again, flying up and over the bushes towards the pond.  A brief butterfly encounter, but a satisfying one.

WHITLINGHAM: Poll results

22nd July 2012

Many thanks to everyone who voted in the Whitlingham poll, which is now closed.  As expected the majority were against any alterations, an understandable view but sadly not one that will happen.  Two people were in favour of turning it back into a quarry - this was suggested to me when discussing plans for Thorpe Marsh recently, the point being that quarries can be better for birds than sterile lakes.  Interesting Lafarge (who created Whitlingham) currently have a large quarry (Mangreen Quarry) just south of Norwich near Dunston.  Unfortunately there is no nearby public access, and I believe the plans are to return it to agricultural land once quarrying is complete.

Of the three people that did vote for one of the three proposals, all of them went for Feilden & Mawson, which includes the Spa with built in restaurant.  There was an emphasis on zero-carbon holidaying and the possibility of a bird hide (where I wonder?). This proposal has one other thing going for it that I didn't tell you before - whilst not mentioned in the details, a close look at the birds in the top right corner of one of their artists impressions suggests that they will look to introduce a Gigrin-style Red Kite feeding station.


21st July 2012

Well it looks like the Caspian Tern has left the valley, so instead I went looking for gulls.  In the past few days there has been a large build up of Med Gulls in the south (nearly 500 in West Sussex on Thursday) and an even larger build up of Little Gulls in Yorkshire (820 at Hornsea last Sunday).  They would make a nice addition to the six Lesser Black-backs that are at Whitlingham now.  Maybe next time?

With hardly any gulls or anything of interest on the Great Broad I was checking the scrub when I saw a Grass Snake basking by the path.  Unfortunately it saw me at the same time and slithered away into the long grass.  This was my first reptile at Whitlingham, although a dog walker did tell me last year that he had seen one crossing Whitlingham Lane.  I didn't see anything scanning across to Thorpe, so I carried on along the river and round to Whitlingham Marsh, seeing a Treecreeper on the way.

Reaching the river at the far end of the patch I looked along towards Postwick in the hope of a Grey Wagtail. I saw a small yellow flower that I didn't recognise, which I stuck on Ispot.  It was identified as Common Fiddleneck, a naturalised American species.  That is as exciting as it got.  The path from the marshes to the sewage works was overgrown, and in one place had a fallen Yew tree across it, resplendent with Jew's Ear fungus.  One sleeping Oystercatcher was near the stirring tanks, but as I walked back towards Whitlingham it flew over calling manically, and was joined by five equally noisy friends.  Nothing much seen on the walk back  Fingers crossed for some local excitement soon - Red Kite and Whimbrel would represent a productive summer I think.

YARE VALLEY: Caspian Tern at Buckenham

19th July 2012 

Caspian Terns have a bit of a reputation for being tricky to pin down, so today's after work jaunt with Neil was done with more hope than expectation. We headed for Buckenham, which seemed to be the centre-point of this birds wanderings. We parked at the station and headed down to the fishermen's car park at around 16:45. The tern hadn't been seen for a couple of hours, but almost immediately a birder on the bank picked it up flying swiftly along the river towards Strumpshaw. 15 minutes or so later and it was back. This time the Caspian Tern left the river and flew behind us over the marshes, giving crippling views against the dark skies as it drew level with us. It then headed towards the mill, circled and headed off towards Cantley Beet Factory. It was noticeable just how quickly and powerfully it flew with a definite sense of purpose as it disappeared into the distance. 

With the Caspian Tern flying at will up and down the Yare Valley between Strumpshaw and Breydon, it is surely not out of the question that it will venture further west to Whitlingham if it lingers much longer. Fingers crossed!

WHITLINGHAM: Consultation deadline tomorrow

Just a reminder to anyone that wishes to have a say and hasn't, tomorrow is the final deadline for commenting on the three tourist proposals for Whitlingham C.P.  The form is rather brief, you have to rate each proposal 0-5, and there is space to comment on what sort of facilities & accommodation you would like to see.

One of the proposals will be chosen over the summer, and the chosen architects appointed in the autumn.  Another (presumably equally brief) public consultation has been promised this year, before a planning application is made in Spring 2013, which will also be subject to a public consultation.

The Broads Authority are the planning authority for Whitlingham C.P.  Their draft document on the subject states:
Whitlingham C.P. will continue to be managed to provide recreation and quiet enjoyment.  Further development of buildings will be supported where they:

  • Contribute positively to the river valley landscape and the setting of Crown Point Estate.
  • Avoid a proliferation of buildings in the area and provide for shared use where practical.
  • Make appropriate provision for cycling, pedestrians and car parking
  • Do not generate levels or types of traffic which would have adverse impacts on safety and amenity on Whitlingham Lane.
I'm sure this won't be the my last post on the subject...

THORPE MARSH: Wader check - none

14th July 2012

With waders starting to pass through again I decided to go to Thorpe in search of a Pectoral Sandpiper (or failing that a Greenshank).  The closest I got was 14 Lapwings, but there's still plenty of time yet.  A young Grey Heron flew onto the scrape and was chased off by an adult.  This spooked the Lapwing up, and enabled me to be reasonably sure that there wasn't anything else lurking behind the rushes.  The Skylark was still singing away overhead, and a male Marsh Harrier flew along the treeline and off towards Postwick.  The water level was high on the broad, with just a Pied Wagtail on the small area of shingle that was above water.  One Common Tern circled over then headed back to Whitlingham.

On the way back I called in to Carey's Meadow, seeing a Fox.  The avian highlight was a Bullfinch calling from deep within a bush near the railway line.  Several butterflies were around, mostly Meadow Brown and Ringlets, with one Large Skipper.

WHITLINGHAM: More info on the tourist proposals

7th July 2012

Ok, so I went to Whitlingham today to look at the architects displays.  I also had a look around the country park, but there were hardly any birds of note, so I'll concentrate on the plans.  Firstly the good news, which is that much of the development is meant for the overflow carpark and a field that is currently used for agriculture behind the picnic meadow, so the impact on the look of the park isn't as great as I first feared.  From the amount of work that has gone in it is clear that one of these will happen, and assuming (perhaps erroneously) that the decision can be influenced, I have been considering which option to back.

The option that I want least is LSIs Boutique Hotel.  The hotel would have probably been bad enough on its own, but they are also proposing to build an extension linked by a sort of perspex tunnel onto the barn, and developing their tree houses in an area of woodland that is currently undisturbed.  The coup-de-grace was their plan to add another jetty to the Great Broad to get more watersports happening.

The other two options aren't as offensive.  The Hudsons are planning to only build in the overflow carpark area, with the field being used for camping and an equestrian centre up one corner.  The picnic meadow would be used for events, but also retained as a picnic meadow.  Their idea includes some wildflower planting and an orchard.

Feilden and Mawsons spa, whilst completely unnecessary doesn't look too bad.  I have to disagree with their reasoning: "while spas may have a reputation as havens for the wealthy to be pampered, that misconception is rapidly being dispelled.  People no longer see it as a luxury, but as an entitlement."  Do they?  But they ended that piece with "= Viable concept", which amuses me.  Their houses look a bit Teletubbyish, but they are the only architects that emphasised natural aspects of the plans, suggesting that amongst the outdoor activities there should be moth trapping (which the Broads Authority aren't running this year btw).

In the end I just took the form and contact details and I'll have a think what proposal to go for and what comments to make.  I have included some photos from the display for anyone who can't make it in person.

Hudson plan:

Feilden & Mawson spa plan

Feilden & Mawson accommodation

LSI Architects plans

RIP Robin Abel

7th July 2012

I haven't had an obituary post on here before, but I just thought I would say RIP Robin Abel.  I only met him a few times, but it was enough to pick up on his passion and knowledge of birds and listing in Norfolk.  My thoughts are with his family and those who knew him well.  Lee Evans has written a short piece here.

WHITLINGHAM: A spa? A boutique hotel? No thanks.

6th July 2012

I got a shock today when I was looking at the EDP website.  Finding an article about Whitlingham I casually began reading; "Bold visions for the development of Whitlingham CP include everything from a spa and open air theatre to water lodges built on stilts around a new lake".  Before this sunk in, I picked out the phrase "boutique hotel" from the next paragraph and was overcome with bemusement.  You can read the whole article here (EDP website).  

I later came back to the article and read it a bit more.  It turns out there are three options being considered, with the brief appearing to be a novel building, weird accommodation of some sort and then extra other buildings or activities.  The obvious question is "Why?"  I have never heard a person go to a country park and say "well its nice, but if only there was a hotel built in the middle of it".  Ditto the spa.

Here are the three options:

Option 1 - Feilden and Mawson say they were inspired by "the peace of the site" - and intend to shatter it with a high-level rope walk, mountain biking and a courtyard for cafes and workshops.  They want either a spa or classical music venue, and three types of accommodation including timber pods built half into the ground.

Option 2 - Hudson Architects want to build a restaurant with training kitchen and retail outlets (which lets face it, sounds a bit like a town centre doesn't it).  They would move the car park away from the broad, which is probably a good thing.  Mr Hudson also suggests an orchard and wildlife-friendly planting, which is also good.  He then somewhat spoils it by wanting an equestrian centre, conference centre, backpackers hostel and his wacky accommodation choice, "upmarket shepherd's huts"

Option 3 - LSI Architects want to "take advantage of the seclusion of the site" by building a boutique hotel (that sound you heard was a golden goose dying).  They also want an amphitheatre, and their bonkers accommodation is tree houses and lodges built on stilts above a new lake.

There is a public display of these plans at the flint barn at Whitlingham, so I intend to go and find out more about this idea.  It is only up for less that two weeks, which doesn't sound very promising if they are taking the public consultation seriously, but I'll go and have my say, and I would encourage anyone else who has an interest in Whitlingham to do the same.

Incidentally there were seven suggestions, and presumably these were the three "best" ones.  If you can come up with one of the rejected options (remember the unwanted large building plus weird accommodation combo) then please comment with your ideas.  I'm also setting up a poll to gauge other peoples views, so please vote in that too.

THE FENS: Squacco Heron

1st July 2012

Squacco Heron is a bird I have wanted to see in Norfolk for some time, so when news came out that the bird was still present* we set off for Welney.  Upon arrival we found room in the reedbed hide and were soon given excellent views of the upper half of the bird as it fed in the waterside vegetation, occasionally vanishing behind the large stands of docks.  After watching the Squacco Heron for a while we left to free up some space, seeing various butterflies and damselflies on the walk back to the observatory.  Here we spent some time watching the House Martins come right up to the window as they flew into their nests.  The WWT guide-in-the-hide told us that the Squacco had been in the area for a week as she had seen it beside a road nearby in the rain on Sunday past, but that it had only been seen on the reserve yesterday.

 Good view, poor photo as always
A more typical view, showing the plumes

* Usually I'm all for going and looking for a reported bird and trying to find it, but Welney has that dubious combination of being the furthest Norfolk reserve from home, and the most expensive to get into, so it makes sense to wait for news.