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WHITLINGHAM: After the cold snap

22nd November 2015

Following a mild start to the autumn it came as a bit of a surprise that the forecast snow actually fell on Norwich on Saturday evening. By Sunday morning much of it had melted, but the cold snap and the strong winds battering the coast persuaded me to head down to Whitlingham just in case a Little Auk had flown this far inland. It doesn't happen very often here, although much further inland Graffham held Long-tailed Duck, Great Skua, Kittiwake and Arctic Tern as a reminder of the possibilities.

I had a good look around the slipway for the Goosander, but it seemed to be absent. Quite a few Black-headed Gulls were perched up on the solar boat dock, all lacking colour rings. I didn't attempt to do any counts, but there looked like there was more Tufted Ducks than last week, and probably a few more Pochard too. A couple of Goldeneyes were also on the Great Broad, but as there have been up to five at Thorpe recently these are probably commuting between the two. A drake Shoveler was the first I've seen here this winter period (there were probably two females too, but visibility was poor).

By now it had begun to rain steadily, so I decided to loop around through part of the woods and back around the picnic meadow. I heard some Goldcrests calling and watched three of them feeding close by, never staying still enough to get an in-focus photo. There was still some fungi growing, including Brittle Cinder (Kretschmaria deusta) and Split Gill (Schizophyllum commune). The former wasn't a Whitlingham tick by virtue of some seen at Trowse Woods last year, but the latter was new.

Brittle Cinder fungus

NORWICH: A few more Earlham Cemetery fungi

15th November 2015

After my Whitlingham bird count I went home for lunch then back out, this time to Earlham Cemetery for the second fungi walk of the autumn. This time Ian was present, so he was able to show the group some different areas to those that we visited in October. Despite an overall drop in fungi numbers we still found a good range of species, including several that were new to the cemetery. These species included Toad Ear (Otidea bufonia) and White Saddle (Helvella crispa). A grey parisitic fungus growing on Crested Coral (Helminthosphaeria clavariarum) was one that I hadn't seen before, and there was just time to check out some buff-coloured Clavaria spindles that will almost certainly be new if we can identify them!

WHITLINGHAM: November count & Goosander

15th November 2015

Another overcast day on Sunday for the Whitlingham WeBS count. The most interesting bird was the Goosander that has been seen in the area on and off since the summer. It had been showing very well on the main slipway, but had been disturbed by the time I worked my way round, and I caught up with it a bit further east. 

Two other interesting sightings were a Goldeneye on Thorpe Broad (the 2014/15 winter was quite mild so I didn't see any here earlier in the year) and a combined Whitlingham/Thorpe count of 65 Cormorants, which is my highest ever count here, and possibly the highest count in general. Other species with reasonably high counts included 92 Greylag Geese, 67 Mallard, 133 Tufted Ducks, 157 Coots and around 300 Black-headed Gulls.

New species were rather hard to come by. Last time I was at Whitlingham I had noticed a leaf miner in Hazel and been told that in order to separate two similar species of moth caterpillar I had to have a closer look at the pattern of the frass (a posh word for leaf-miner poo). I did this, and it looks like this one is Stigmella floslactella.

NORFOLK - Heathland lichens part 2

8th November 2015

Weeting Heath is usually closed to visitors once the Stone Curlews depart, but as part of our workshop we had been granted access to some of the heathland. Whilst I waited for the rest of the group to arrive from Thetford Warren, Andy Musgrove showed me some leaf mines in the nearby Oak and Buckthorn trees.

On the heathland south of the hides we saw three additional Cladonia species to those seen at Thetford Warren, Cladonia foliacea, Cladonia pocillum and Cladonia rangiformis. A rare breckland species, Diploschistes muscorum, was also found in this area, along with some Wild Thyme and Toasted Waxcap (Hygrocybe colemanniana). On the way back to the car park I noticed a number of large Collared Earthstars, my 5th erathstar species of the year.

 Cladonia pocillum
 Toasted Waxcap (note the cross veins)
Collared Earthstar (Geastrum triplex)

Several of the group left, but the remaining participants crossed the road and went onto the north part of the heath. Our targets here were three tiny lichens that have all but vanished from the Brecks, now only found in an old sand pit at Weeting. They took some searching, but Peter eventually found all three target species - Catapyrenium lachneum, Psora decipiens and Toninia sedifolia.

 Psora decipiens
 Toninia sedifolia

Thanks to Peter Lambley for leading the workshop, Breaking New Ground and NBIS for organising it, and NWT for allowing access to Weeting. Further lichen workshops are planned for next year, so if this sounds like you sort of thing then keep an eye out for announcements on the Breaking New Ground website:

NORFOLK(ISH) - Heathland lichens part 1

8th November 2015

On Sunday I attended a heathland lichen workshop organised by the Breaking New Ground project and NBIS. We spent the morning at Thetford Warren, now firmly in Norfolk, but part of the Watsonian Vice County of West Suffolk. The main group of lichens that we were looking at were Cladonias. These are mostly green or greenish grey, and are the ones sometimes colloquially referred to as 'Pixie Cups'.

In a couple of hours we saw seven different Cladonia lichens, taking time to examine each for critical features and in some cases to compare against similar species. This was particularly useful, and I'll definitely be trying to identify some for myself based on what we were shown. Unsurprisingly six of the seven were new species for me.

 Cladonia ciliata
 Cladonia portentosa
Cladonia chlorophaea

Near the car park lots of fungi had been left, presumably remnants of nearby forays. Whilst looking for lichens we did see quite a bit more. In particular Moor Clubs were common and a new species for me. Some Common Bird's-nests meant that I have seen all three of the regularly found bird's-nest fungi in the past month. What might have been the most interesting fungus was some tiny yellow stalked blobs growing on moss, which several knowledgeable mycologists agree "looks interesting", but as yet nobody can name it.

 Moor Clubs
 Common Bird's-nest fungi

As well as the lichens and fungi there were still some plants in flower, including the tiny Bird's-foot, which I have only seen on one occasion prior to this. After a productive morning session, we then stopped for lunch before moving on to Weeting Heath for the afternoon.


CENTRAL NORFOLK: Whitwell Common

1st November 2015

On Sunday afternoon Cathy & I decided to go for a walk, but without a destination in mind I chose a site from my 'I should really go and have a look around there at some point' list. That site was Whitwell Common, a SSSI near Reepham. We parked up at the small pull in near one of the entrances to the common and had a look at the map on one of several professional-looking display boards. Despite being nominally a common we read that there was no specific public rights of way, but there was a permissive circular trail that was regularly cut. As it turned out, this was the most sensible route anyway as much of the site was quite wet.

There are quite a few fungus records for Whitwell Common, including Crimson Waxcap, but I didn't notice any grassland fungi, or indeed any dry grassland areas where they would normally grow. I did notice some Giant Horsetail growing in an area of wet woodland between a path and the road. This large version of the commoner horsetails is rather scarce in Norfolk - I had only seen it once before. As we emerged from the wooded area I raised my arm to shield my eyes from the sun, and within seconds a Common Darter dragonfly had landed on my hand. It flew up and returned briefly, before relocating to a nearby branch. This was a very satisfying feeling, somehow connecting with the landscape.

After walking through some wet reedbed areas we crossed a ditch into the woodland. On our left hand side was a small river (I'm not sure which one, but I think it is a tributary of the River Ainse). We saw some bright-pink seeded Spindle trees, but not much else of note until we were almost back at the road, where there was a flush of fungi. I heard a Treecreeper calling, and spotted it working its way up a nearby Oak. This was a nice site, and I'm sure in the spring there would be many more things of interest to look for.

WHITLINGHAM: Snails, trees, fungi & a moth

31st October 2015

On Saturday I headed down to Whitlingham, but as it was a sunny day and rather busy, I decided to start off in the woods. As I entered the woods I noticed some Norway Maple saplings. I had previously not counted Norway Maple on my patch list as it would have been planted originally, but as it appears to be regenerating naturally, on it goes (958). The next thing I noticed was a caterpillar inside a leaf mine on a Hazel leaf. I photographed this, hoping that the pattern of the mine and the 'frass' (leaf miner poo!) would enable me to identify it at home. I was almost right - I got it down to two species of micro moth, but have been advised that I need to take a picture lighting up the mine more clearly to be sure which one it is.

 Norway Maple
Mine in Hazel caused by a Phyllonorycter sp.

As it has been a wet week there were lots of snails about. Many of them were different patterned versions of the White-lipped Banded Snail, but I did find a new species for me, Hygromia cinctella, which I keyed out at home (959). Plaited Door Snail was another interesting snail, but one that I had seen in the woods several times before. There was a bit of fungi about, but not as much as there has been in the other places I've visited recently. One interesting species was the Fire-rug Inkcap, so called because the mycelium forms an orangey-brown furry mat, which is often visible on logs. Along the telegraph pole alley I photographed an adult Hawthorn Shieldbug, which I will add to my Shieldbugs species guide soon (currently there is only a late instar photo in it).

 Hygromia cinctella
 Plaited Door Snail
 Fire-rug Inkcap - note the orangey 'fire rug'
 Hawthorn Shieldbug

The next new species on my list was a Harvestman, Leiobunum rotundum (960). The males of this species are round and orangey, but they need to be looked at carefully to separate them from L. blackwalli. The key bit to look at is between the eyes, which is black on rotundum but white on blackwalli. In a hedgerow I saw the bright pink flowers seed cases of Wild Spindle. I wasn't sure whether this would have been planted or grown naturally, however I later saw it in a second location. The most recent Flora of Norfolk says that Spindle is "not infrequent on base rich soils", and given the chalky nature of Whitlingham Woods I reckon this is reasonable (961).

 Leiobunum rotundum
 Wild Spindle

Emerging from the woods I walked back as far as the island to scan for birds. A flock of Tufted Ducks flew east and most of the gulls had left the water and were circling around, making me suspect a Peregrine had just flown through, but I didn't see it. When the birds settled I picked out at least six Pochard and seven Great-crested Grebes, but not much else of note. I walked as far as the eastern end of the broad to scan over to Thorpe, but didn't see any of the Goldeneye that have been frequenting Thorpe Broad of late. On my way back I did noticed some very inconspicuous fungi, Slender Clubs, growing on some bark chippings (962). These could easily be mistaken for dead bits of leaf or shoots, and was a species that I hadn't seen for years, so were pleasing to see.

Slender Clubs

There was still time for a couple more interesting sightings. Firstly a brightly-coloured Comma butterfly was resting on some ivy. Probably the latest I've seen one flying, only a day off November. The second sighting was pure luck, I spotted a 'growth' on a tree branch and upon investigation it was a Vapourer moth cocoon, covered in eggs. Well camouflaged next to it I found the female moth. Female Vapourers are flightless, having only stubby vestigial wings. They emerge from their cocoon, attract a male by releasing pheromones and then lay their eggs on the cocoon they emerged from, often hardly moving at all as an adult! I think several other moths undergo a similar life cycle, but Vapourer is the most familiar one.

Female Vapourer moth and eggs