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

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