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

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

THORPE MARSH: Birds and beetles

30th July 2015

Birding after a period of rain can sometimes be productive, with birds having dropped in to avoid the rain, or emerging to forage having been sheltering. I tell myself this everytime I head out locally following some rain, and very seldom do I see anything interesting! The scrape currently has vegetation growing on it and around it, so any birds there were out of view, although as the cows were in attendance there was probably not much there anyway. A pair of Linnet were calling from a bramble on the marsh. The broad was almost empty, 2 Mute Swans, a Moorhen and a Great-crested Grebe were the only species on the water. A Common Sandpiper took off from the west side of the broad and flew to the central spit, and a Common Tern flew over.

The overcast conditions meant that there were no dragonflies or damselflies flying, and few butterflies. Several Lesser Marsh Grasshoppers showed better than usual, allowing me to get a few photos to upgrade the one currently in my orthoptera guide. I added four species to my all-taxa patch list on this visit, taking me to 895 species in total. The additions were:

892 - Anthocomis rufus - A small red beetle, related to the Malachite Beetle.

893 - Turnip Sawfly - A distinctive orange and black sawfly. As well as turnips the larvae also feed on umbellifers.

894 - Skullcap Leaf Beetle - Having noticed a large patch of Common Skullcap growing, I found this beetle on the leaves.

895 - Common Hemp Nettle - Not yet in flower, but Chris informs me that it was present in the same location last year, so I must have just overlooked it in the past.

EAST NORFOLK: Burgh Castle

29th July 2015

On Wednesday Cathy & I decided to visit the old Roman fort at Burgh Castle, which neither of us had been to before. Three of the four walls still remain of the fort, which is owned by the Norfolk Archaelogical Trust and described as "the best preserved Roman monument in East Anglia". Having parked up we took the path along several fields before heading across the final one to the fort itself. As we went we checked the ladybirds we saw, looking for Adonis Ladybird. This is a species that I haven't seen yet, but is apparently commonest near the coast. We didn't see any, but did see several Small and Essex Skippers.

We reached the fort and had a look around the walls before admiring the view across the river and out onto the marshes. The Berney Arms pub and windmill were opposite, and Cantley Beet Factory was also visible on the horizon. We walked down to the riverbank to get a better look, and I noticed a plant that resembled Wild Radish but with different seedpods. A check at home revealed that the plant was the brilliantly named Bastard Cabbage. I don't why it's actually called that, but I'd like to think that it was named by an angry Victorian taxonomist sick of only having cabbage soup to eat. A shower of rain passed overhead, followed by a period of bright sunshine that brought out more butterflies. Standing near the edge of one of the walls a Brown Hawker flew up to us at eye level, no more than a couple of feet away.

On our way back we saw more dragonflies, with both Brown and Migrant Hawkers perching on the hedge in front of us. We diverted into Burgh Castle church, which had an interesting display about the history of the fort, plus some excellent stained glass windows. There are often conflicts when churches host bats, so it was good to see that the church was embracing its bat population. On Wednesday 12th August they are having a bat walk with Philip Parker. Not only can you hear about the bats, there are also infra-red cameras installed to allow you to see them exiting the church. It starts at 7pm and costs £7 if you live nearby and fancy it.

 Brown Hawker

Migrant Hawker
 This interesting chap is St Fursey
Victoria and Alfred - to celebrate two great monarchs 1000 years apart

NORTH NORFOLK: Fritillaries and Leafhoppers

27th July 2015

Despite showers being forecast I was eager to go to Holt Country Park to look for the valezina form of Silver-washed Fritillary. Whilst this species is usually orange, in some colonies a small percentage of the females are instead a bronzey-green colour. Fortunately the colony at Holt, probably the best known one in Norfolk, has this form present. I had failed to see it on previous visits, so I wasn't confident of seeing one, particularly because it was raining as we drove through Edgefield, but by the time we arrived at Holt the rain had stopped and a few butterflies were on the wing.

Last year we saw quite a few Silver-washed Fritillaries on the Buddleia at the back of the car park, and similarly on this visit two were almost immediately visible. Both were vibrating their wings, presumably heating up their flight muscles after a period of inactivity. We took a slightly circuitous route to the pond along a path that had held a valezina a week ago, but didn't see any butterflies at all. Stopping at the pond we scanned the vegetation and saw another normal-type Fritillary. Then bingo, a beautiful bronzey valezina landed on the Hogweed in front of me. I called Cathy round and we both admired the butterfly as it gave excellent views. Further round the same island of vegetation Cathy found a second one, with both showing at the same time to confirm it was a second individual.

Whilst we were here I remembered that one of the wardens was monitoring hoverfly records, so I made an effort to photograph as many species as possible. Of those that are identifiable without examination or a specimen we found eleven, quite good for a small area on an overcast day. These included three Volucella species and two new ones for me, Helophilus trivittatus and Sericomyia silentis. On our way back to the car we saw another couple of orange Silver-washed Fritillaries nectaring on thistles, plus a Red Longhorn Beetle and a Speckled Bush-cricket.

Whilst in North Norfolk we decided to carry on to Sheringham Park. Here I wanted to look for one of my target species for the year, the attractive Rhododendron Leafhopper. We had checked quite a few Rhododendrons without finding any, and then I saw some white leafhopper nymphs. We wondered if it was too early in the season, but Cathy quickly answered that question by finding some adults lower down on the same plant. Rhododendron Leafhoppers are green with red streaks and a black line through the eye, and are well worth a closer look if you see one. The NBN map for this species doesn't show any records for Norfolk, but their presence here is well known, even being mentioned on the Sheringham Park website. We ended a successful trip with chip butties at the park cafe.

WHITLINGHAM: Lesser Stag Beetle

26th July 2015

Looking ahead to the weather for my impending time off, I was less than pleased to see that it was basically rain showers for most of the week. With this in mind I decided to get a couple of hours in at Whitlingham on Sunday morning before the rain hit. Wildfowl numbers were similar to the previous week, so the avian highlights were a Kingfisher (perched up on the main island), two Buzzards that flew over and four Swifts, still lingering on in Norwich for a few more days.

In addition to looking for any storm-driven birds, I wanted to check for Willow Emerald damselflies along the south shore of the Great Broad. These damselflies are spreading rapidly now, and were present at Thorpe Marsh, Cow Tower, Cringleford and UEA last year, but not seemingly at Whitlingham. Last Sunday I had seen an Emerald Damselfly sp. (i.e. Common or Willow) fly up into an Alder, but not managed to see it well enough to confirm it was definitely a Willow Emerald. Later that day I checked my emails to find a message from a local birder who had seen a Willow Emerald in pretty much the same spot the day before. I'm being good and not counting it, and there was no sign on this visit, so the wait for my 18th patch odonate goes on.

Another thing I was checking for was for Ladybirds infected with a fungus, but I'll probably do a separate post about that particular quest! I did find a few more new species to add to my patch list, which will hopefully hit 900 in the next few weeks. Of the new species the most pleasing were Short-winged Conehead, Lesser Stag Beetle and the hoverfly Volucella inanis.

NORWICH: Scabious Mining Bees

23rd July 2015

I decided to make the most of the warm weather and head to Earlham Cemetery after work. On the first Buddleia I came to I saw a large hoverfly, the distinctive Volucella inflata, a relative of the hornet-mimic Volucella zonaria that is being seen frequently at the moment. I photographed it and have now got confirmation that it is a new species for the cemetery list. This is no mean feat, as Norfolk's hoverfly recorder lives close by and has recorded quite a few species here!

During the sunny spells I checked some of the uncut areas of the cemetery for butterflies. Two Large Skippers were still flying, and of the smaller skippers that I checked, all four were Essex Skipper. A female Common Blue butterfly was also nice to see.

My main reason for visiting the cemetery was to look for Large Scabious Mining Bees (Andrena hattorfiana). This is quite a rare species, and in Norfolk is at the northern limits of its British range. There are several colonies on the coast, but the main stronghold is the Brecks, making the Norwich colony a bit of an outlier. After a bit of searching I found the main area of Field Scabious, and straight away saw the bees. They have pale yellow hairs on the back legs, but on almost all of the bees they had turned a lovely salmon-pink colour due to the scabious pollen. Despite there also being lots of Black Knapweed nearby, the Scabious Mining Bees kept strictly to the Scabious flowers. This was another interesting species that it was nice to see so close to the city centre.

NORWICH: An encounter with the Bee Wolf

22nd July 2015

A discussion on the Norfolk Wildlife facebook page recently had mentioned a large colony of predatory solitary wasps known as Bee Wolves on the North Norfolk coast. The Bee Wolf hunts Honey Bees, and in the typical photographic pose can be seen carrying them, legs clamped round, back to the burrow. A good photo showing this can be seen here:

The particular colony being discussed turned out to be on private land, but as alternative sites were mentioned one in particular stuck out, Norwich castle gardens. Whilst in Norfolk the Bee Wolf is mainly found in dunes, some have found an area of sandy soil in the centre of Norwich to their liking. I decided to have lunch in the castle gardens, and after a bit of searching I found the colony, and spent a while watching the Bee Wolves excavating their burrows and going about their business. I did see one bring in a Honey Bee, but it was far too fast for my photography skills. Watching these wasps that up until the previous day I hadn't even known they were there made me think about how many other interesting species are close by but I'm yet to see...

WHITLINGHAM: July wildfowl count & more hoverflies

21st July 2015

As I hadn't been able to carry out the wildfowl counts on Sunday I managed to go to Whitlingham on Tuesday after work. As I walked along the lane four young Kestrels were making a racket as they chased each other over the meadow. The vegetation around the Little Broad was so high that I had to go to the gates near the watersports centre to view it, seeing seven Mallard and a couple of Mute Swans.

On the Great Broad I counted 65 Mute Swans, 49 Greylag Geese, 51 Canada Geese, 35 Egyptian Geese and 94 Mallard, plus smaller amounts of other regular species. With the exception of the Egyptian Geese count, which is very close to last year, the rest are all well down on the equivalent 2014 count. The highlight of the count was an unseasonal female Wigeon.

Lots of Hogweed has now gone to seed, but there were still enough flowers to draw in some interesting insects as I went round. A 16-spot Ladybird, a new species for me, was probably the best one, but unfortunately it flew off before I could photograph it. I also found a new hoverfly, Cheilosia illustrata, and the always impressive Hornet-mimic Hoverfly Volucella zonaria.

An additional new species was a small tachnid fly with red sides to the abdomen. Tim Hodge kindly identified it for me as Eriothrix rufomaculata. The final interesting species of the day was a Four-banded Longhorn Beetle. I had never seen one until I visited Ormesby a couple of weeks ago, but now it's on the Whitlingham list.

WHITLINGHAM: Orchids and shieldbugs

19th July 2015

On Sunday I headed down to Whitlingham in the morning to do the monthly wildfowl count, only to notice some posters advertising an "open water event". Further down Whitlingham Lane there were cones and temporary traffic lights, and finally the sound of a public address system. Clearly there was no point starting to count the wildfowl properly, so I decided to head out onto the picnic meadow and then the woods to make sure my visit wasn't wasted.

I did walk down to the slipway to have a quick look, and was rewarded with a Common Sandpiper flying languidly west over the broad. Crossing over onto the meadow I immediately heard some Roesel's Bush Crickets and Long-winged Coneheads. The pick of the insects was a large sawfly/ichneumon that I initially thought was a Wood wasp, but actually it seems to be something similar. I also found a Red-legged Shieldbug, a species I have seen here before but not photographed.

Looking at the clumps of trees in the middle of the meadow I noted a couple of new galls for my species guide, one causing rolled up Ash leaves and one forming a gall on Turkey Oak catkins. The woods were relatively quiet, although it was nice to see the large amounts of Enchanter's Nightshade in flower. I left the woods and crossed over to look at the river. A Norfolk Hawker flew past, and a shoal of Roach were visible in the shallows.

Walking back to the country park I looked into the long grass where Pyramidal Orchids can be found. I was pleased to see two pale pink flowering spikes, clearly different to the usual deeper pink flower spikes. A Birch Shieldbug was also of interest and a patch tick for me.

CAMBRIDGESHIRE: Devil's Dyke Marbled Whites

18th July 2015

Amongst my wildlife interests, butterflies rank highly, so this summer I wanted to see at least one new butterfly species. The easiest one to go for seemed to be Marbled White, not present in Norfolk but common at a site called Devil's Dyke just into Cambridgeshire.

Having driven past miles of racecourses we arrived, only to have a slight unplanned issue, as there was a race event on at the July course and the road that people usually park on was being used. Happily we found a place to park close by, and walked back to the Devil's Dyke. The main path runs along the top of a raised earthwork, with a steep slope down to the main ditch part along the western edge. The tannoy from the racetrack was clearly audible, commentating on races, announcing withdrawals and at one point giving out the latest England score from the Ashes. All of this contributed to a rather idiosyncratic location!

The first butterflies we saw were Chalkhill Blues, and they continued to be the commonest butterfly species all along the stretch we walked. This was an upgrade of sorts, as the only ones I had seen before were at Warham Fort in North Norfolk. Whilst this population now appears to be self-sustaining, it originated from an unauthorised release and there is limited suitable habitat nearby. Crossing over from the first half of this section of the dyke we soon came across our first Marbled White. It was spending most of the time at the bottom of the dyke, so I carefully walked down and tracked it and another one nearby. Despite the windy conditions I managed to get some photos, and noted that one of them had a red parisitic mite on it.

We spent a while watching the Marbled Whites, which looked excellent and had a very pleasing fluttery flight. Heading back along the path I noticed some bright yellow chrysalises (I'm not convinced that is the correct plural!) on Knapweed stems, which I think belong to Six-spot Burnet Moths. A Hawthorn Shieldbug landed on my back, and Cathy noticed a Bloody-nosed Beetle walking across in front of us. We enjoyed our walk along this stretch of the dyke, and a couple photographing butterflies suggested trying the stretch near Reach, so perhaps we will try that another year.

NORTH NORFOLK: Knapweed Broomrape

12th July 2015

On Sunday afternoon we went back to North Walsham to see friends, but we left a bit early to check out a couple of roadside nature reserves. My targets were Knapweed Broomrape and Purple Broomrape, two parisitic plants that I had searched for earlier in the season before they had emerged. The first one was the easiest to find - Knapweed Broomrape is also known as Tall Broomrape, and having located some Greater Knapweed I soon saw several spikes of it's companion plant. The flowers were old and orangey-brown, but still had attracted several insects including a Hairy Shieldbug.

I had less luck at the second site, with no sign of any Purple Broomrape. It might not have flowered there this year, but it might just be that I left it too late in the season. It wasn't a complete loss though, as well as my first Gatekeeper of the year I also saw a Latticed Heath moth, a new species for me.

In addition to the two Broomrapes I have seen (Common and Knapweed), and the one I missed (Purple), Great Broomrape also grows in Norfolk. It was thought extinct for a time, but found again on private land somewhere a few years back. It may well be re-found elsewhere in the county, so if you see a large Broomrape plant growing close to gorse or broom (it's main host plants) on land with public access then I would appreciate an email!

EAST NORFOLK: Lesser Emperor and other inverts

11th July 2015

In 2012 I had a very good year for odonata (dragonflies and damselflies). In terms of damselflies I saw Scarce Emerald and Small Red Damselflies for the first time, along with the recently colonised Willow Emerald and the vagrant Southern Emerald. Of the dragonflies I finally saw Black Darter, and also saw the now fairly regular migrant Red-veined Darter. These additions took me up to 29 Norfolk species (including Yellow-winged Darter from an invasion year in the 1990s). With this in mind I was interested to hear in 2014 when several Lesser Emperor dragonflies, a species that I hadn't seen, turned up in Norfolk at Felbrigg and Filby. I went to Filby to have a look, but didn't manage to see one.

Fast-forward a year, and Lesser Emperors were once again seen at Felbrigg and Filby. Feedback from an observer last week was that sightings were less frequest as the temperature dropped, so rather than trying after work I waited until the weekend, and luckily Saturday morning was sunny. Cathy & I arrived and set off along the boardwalk to look out over Ormesby Little Broad, which seemed to be more reliable for sightings than the Filby Broad boardwalk that I had tried last year. Several people were at the viewpoint and confirmed that there ad already been sightings that morning. Most of the dragonflies zooming past were Norfolk Hawkers, but it wasn't long before we got our first sighting of a Lesser Emperor flying past. A while later we got another look, once again flight views only. There didn't seem much chance of it settling, but I was just happy to get to see a new species.

On our way back to the car park we saw a wide range of invertebrates.The two highlights were the attractive hoverfly Chrysotoxum bicinctum, found by Cathy, and Four-banded Longhorn Beetle, of which I found two. There was also a range of bees, hoverflies and the commoner Yellow-and-black Longhorn Beetle. A White Admiral butterfly was also nice to see, although it dodn't stop to be photographed. A Common Emerald damselfly and a Brown Hawker were also new for the year.

Chrysotoxum bicinctum
Four-banded Longhorn Beetle
Yellow-and-black Longhorn Beetle