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: Pony poo and geese

21st December 2016 

Having dropped Cathy off in the city, I had a few hours to spare. I decided to head to Holt Lowes, where Andy Musgrove had recently seen Poronia punctata, a scarce nail fungus sp. that grows on pony dung. I had previously looked for this species unsuccessfully at Roydon Common and equally unsuccessfully for the related species Poronia erici on rabbit droppings at Holme Dunes. Whilst there is no shortage of horse dung in Norfolk, the medication given to horses tend to kill off many of the fungi that may otherwise grow, so this species only occurs where the wilder breeds of pony are used for conservation grazing. 

After heading out on to the heathland I had located some pony dung, but no nail fungus. Eventually I found some covered in small toadstools, probably Conocybe sp. Clearly this was a good age for fungal fruiting, and so it proved to be, with my first Poronia fruiting body. It hadn’t got as large as some of the ones that Andy had seen, but there we are. I considered whether to spend more time looking, but at the back of my mind there was a desire to go and look for the Todd’s Canada Goose* near Docking, which Gary had kindly texted me to say had been seen again this morning. In the end the goose won, and I headed back to the car. 

I headed past Holt and Fakenham before turning off to Docking. Out on the road to Brancaster I saw a couple of cars pulled over, so parked nearby and went to join them. There was a large flock of Pink-footed Geese, with many more behind them in fields further over, but upon scanning them I couldn’t see the Todd’s Canada Goose. The birders already present confirmed as much, several White-fronted Geese but nothing else so far. I waited whilst another large flock arrived, bringing with it several Barnacle Geese. A newly arrived birder then told us he had seen the Canada Goose in a field from the next road over, so I decided to head round that way in the hope it was still present. And it was! I was able to pull off the road and ‘scope the flock from the car, picking out the Todd’s Canada Goose without much trouble. Full of festive cheer I drove back to Norwich, arriving just in time to pick Cathy up from the city. 

* Todd’s Canada Goose is the vernacular name for Canada Geese of the subspecies ‘interior’. There are a number of subspecies of Canada Goose, of which the smaller ones now form part of a separate species, Cackling Goose – BirdGuides did a useful article on which subspecies are ascribed to which parent species. Subspecies of both Canada Goose and Cackling Goose occasionally arrive in Norfolk with wild goose flocks, and as such are ‘category A’ birds rather than the resident feral flocks, which are on category C of the British list.

WHITLINGHAM: December wildfowl count & Scaup

18th December 2016 

Justin had texted me on Saturday to wish me good luck with the final WeBS count of the year, a reference to the heavy fog that would have made counting the far edges impossible. Fortunately for me, Sunday was clear and there were no issues with the count. That said, with handover of our rented house looming and Cathy’s sister visiting from Germany, I had set myself a two-hour limit to get the count completed in. 

The Little Broad was still tricky to view because of the vegetation that has grown up around it, but it didn’t seem as busy as it has on previous occasions, 50 Gadwall being the only count of note. Moving to the Great Broad it was immediately obvious where most of the birds were! Huge numbers of Tufted Ducks and Coot in particular were spread out over the whole broad. Scanning from the west end I was mid-way through counting Tufted Ducks when I spotted a female duck that had more white on around the bill than the rest of the Tufties. A closer look revealed that the white didn’t quite meet in the middle above the bill, so when I went round and looked from a different angle the seed of doubt had been put in my mind. Side-on it looked good for Scaup, but didn’t seem noticeably larger than the Tufted Ducks in front of it. Knowing that I had a big job on to count everything I digiscoped some shots, recorded it as Scaup-like Aythya sp and carried on. At my in-laws I uploaded a photo to Twitter to ask hybird guru Dave Appleton his opinion, and having reviewed my photos and seen feedback from others it was clear that the bird was a ‘pure’ Scaup, presumably a first-winter, hence the brown centre above the bill. So a bit of a cock-up, but a reminder that this was only my third Scaup here in 10 years and fortunately it was still present by the time news went out. 

I carried on around the broad, tallying up the ducks. I don’t actually add up the final number until I get home, so whilst I knew it would be a big number (I had to go onto the next page for both Tufted Ducks and Coot), I hadn’t realised that the Tufted Duck count actually appears to be a new high count for Whitlingham – 384 birds, whilst the 371 Coot is the highest since 2010 as far as I know. It is interesting that despite the winter not being a harsh one, several species are present in markedly higher numbers than in 2015. 

December comparison figures below (2015 in brackets)
  • Gadwall 252 (106) 
  • Pochard 31 (48) 
  • Tufted Duck 384 (198) 
  • Coot 371 (261) 
Other birds of note included a drake Wigeon in the conservation area bay but only visible from the south shore, and the female Ferruginous Duck x Pochard hybrid.

WEST NORFOLK: Last fungus foray of the year

17th December 2016 

A mixture of packing, decorating, moving house and cleaning meant that I had little time for nature-related activities during late November and early December, but by mid month things had settled down. Unfortunately there have been delays in sorting out internet access to our new house, so I’m taking the opportunity to chronicle my pre-Christmas trips in a multi-post extravaganza. 

On Saturday I was invited to lunch at Sandringham, albeit at the country park cafĂ© rather than the royal house. The purpose was mainly to plan next years Fungus Study Group programme, but also to have a short foray beforehand. I set out early, partly because of the dense fog, but also because I wanted to make a diversion in west Norfolk to a site where I had been told that the recently named earthstar Geastrum britannicum grows. This species had been recorded in Norfolk for several years but thought to be merely a variety of Geastrum quadrificatum until morphological and genetic studies showed it to be a distinct species. You can read more about the discovery should you choose in the paper Geastrum britannicum – a surprisingly common new species in Britain, published in Field Mycology but available through ResearchGate. I managed to see it, which was pleasing as it had been one of my target species. Although unlikely, Earthstars have in the past been taken by collectors, so I’m not naming the site on here lest you wonder about my vagueness around the location. 

Setting off back into the fog I arrived at Sandringham, and it became clear that there was a good turnout (12 people). It also became obvious that despite our scepticism about the amount of fungi at the time of year, there was lots about – we could have easily kept going for longer than the 90 minutes we had before our meal was booked. Without seeing the final species list I know that I saw at least five new species, including the Mycena adonis var coccinea, coral Ramaria decurrens, Blue-leg Brownie and a white ‘snow-ice’ like species. I found a spikey mould growing from bird poo that Tony later confirmed as a third for Norfolk, the first two records being from Ted Ellis in the 1950s! Other commoner but interesting species were Collared Earthstar, Sessile Earthstar, Common Bird’s-nest and Pipe Club. 

We had a nice lunch and managed to come up with a draft programme for next year that covered the different corners of Norfolk and a mixture of well and lesser-known sites. Thanks must go to Steve and Yvonne for their organising of the Norfolk Fungus Study Group activities, the forays this year have been excelllent. Incidentally one of the species from this foray is provisionally my 600th fungus species – provisional because taxonomic shuffling means that undoubtedly some of the species on my list can now only be regarded as senus lato (‘in the broadest sense’) when they have been split afterwards.

WHITLINGHAM: Pochard x Ferruginous Duck

26th November 2016

A lovely bright morning, so I nipped down to Whitlingham for a quick walk along the southern shore of the Great Broad. Arriving in the middle car park I could immediately hear Siskins, and there was a large flock of them in the willows and Alders between here and the Little Broad. Moving along I heard a Mistle Thrush singing, followed by several others calling. There were a few Black-headed Gulls on the slipway, but no ringed ones whilst I was there.

It was evident that both Coot and Tufted Duck numbers have built up nicely - I didn't have the time to attempt proper counts but at an estimate there was a minimum of 200 of each. There were still eleven Little Grebes, but they had split up, with two on the Little Broad, two near the observation screen and a group of seven in the bay. The Pochard x Ferruginous Duck was still present, accompanying the Pochard just west of the main island. A Brambling called from somewhere behind me. All too soon it was time to head back home.

CENTRAL NORFOLK: Fungi on the Lizard

19th November 2016

My weekends are currently being mostly spent decorating, but I did head out on Saturday morning to attend a fungus study group foray at The Lizard on the outskirts of Wymondham (not to be confused with the more scenic and wildlife-filled Lizard peninsula in Cornwall). As it was for the couple of hours I was there we spent most of the time in an area of pools and wet woodland alongside the A47, which I don't think is technically part of the Lizard, but I don't know if it has a 'proper' name.

A quick look along the lane leading to the parking area had turned up zero fungi, so as we met my expectations had been tuned down a notch. This was soon dismiseed however, as a short way in we found a clearing covered in Jellybabies (the fungus not the sweet). Wrinkled Club was also numerous, and several other species were seen including a new one for me, Scurfy Deceiver.

 Wrinkled Club - not usually as branched as this

Clambering over some wood we reached a pool, and found one species of Tricholoma to be particularly common. The combination of brownish scaly cap, a small ring and growing with Willows identified it as Girdled Knight, another new one, so the trip was already worth making.

Emerging into an open grassy area, we saw Silky Pinkgill and Galerina laevis, the latter confirmed at home by Yvonne. It had been a cold night previously, and out of the sun more Girdled Knights were covered in frost. Heading through some scrub Alex noticed some small Scaly Fibrecaps growing along the path edge, whilst Neil found a huge Earthball. Also in this area I found some Toad's Ear and a Hawthorn Shieldbug.

Scaly Fibercaps

We took a path into an area of thorny trees, and I was excited to see a large purple trumpet-like fungus, only to find that it was actually a very large and deformed Amethyst Deceiver. After looking at a few Mycena it was time for me to head off and do some painting, but I was buoyed by the knowledge that I'd seen at least five new species - quite a productive morning.

It was more purple in real life!

NORWICH: Waxwings

15th November 2016

In good Waxwing years I usually bump into some around the outskirts of Norwich, but given that there was a flock at Jenny Lind Park, about 10 minutes from the city centre, I decided to pop and have a look on my lunch break. Unfortunately it was raining when I went, but I definitely saw the silhouettes of at least 30 Waxwings perched up in trees in the park. Hopefully I'll get better views of some in the weeks to come.

WHITLINGHAM: November WeBS, Velvet Scoter & Brent Goose

13th November 2016

After a busy week I was looking forward to getting to Whitlingham to carry out the November WeBS count. The Velvet Scoter found mid-week was still present on Saturday at dusk, and various other winter birds had been seen in the past few days, including flyover Bewick's Swans, Goosander, Brambling and Redpoll.

I arrived early, aiming to maximise flyover bird potential and hopefully beat any boating activity. The Little Broad is rather grown up around the edges, so it took multiple viewpoints to count the Gadwall and Shoveler amassed at the western end. Whilst counting a Lesser Redpoll flew over, my first of the year here after a mild winter period. Whilst stood at the east end I met Steve and Jo, and a Siskin called in the distance as we had a brief chat before carrying on.

On the slipway I scanned the Black-headed Gulls to look for ringed ones (in addition to our Norwegian returner, a 'new' German-ringed bird was seen in the week). None of the gulls on the pontoon were ringed, so I turned back to the broad and began counting the Coot and Tufted Ducks. I got a text from Gary to say that he was further along the broad shore and there was still some Bramblings around. Before leaving the slipway Steve pointed out that a 1st-year swan was rather late in moulting. I agreed, then noticed it had a ring on. The swan was very tame, but if anything that hindered viewing it side on. The ring was on upside down, so I gave up trying to read it in the field and just photographed it instead.

I had to leave the shore of the broad temporarily as the model yachters had closed off a small section. I had just set up my telescope to make sure I hadn't missed anything when a small dark goose flew past heading westwards. I raised my binoculars and saw that it was a Brent Goose! Looking ahead I noticed that Steve and Jo hadn't seen it, but at that point the Brent swung round and headed back east. I called Gary, hoping he would see it flying past, only to find out that he had seen it on the Great Broad initially, before it had flown up. He had texted me but I hadn't noticed the beep. Steve & Jo did see it as it flew back (Steve kindly came running back pointing in case I hadn't noticed it), so we all got to see this rare inland bird. This is my second patch record, after the February 2012 bird found by Cathy & I.

Whitlingham Brent Goose - photo courtesy of Gary White

Further along I met up with Gary, and Rob & Jill Wilson overtook us looking for the Velvet Scoter. After counting another section of the broad we reached them, and scanning across towards the island we saw the Velvet Scoter, an excellent addition to the local WeBS list. In a flurry of activity we concentrated on some Brambling close by in Willow scrub (crazily my first here since 2008!). About five flew out, there were at least another five left, when two more large flocks flew up and combined. Gary counted around 90 in the combined super-flock, but whilst he was counting them I turned back and watched the Otter that had swam in front of the scoter! Unsurprisingly the Velvet Scoter flew off, but after a similar lap to the Brent Goose it headed to the east end of the broad and landed there.

Walking further along the Great Broad we drew up level with a big Aythya and Coot flock, which contained the Velvet Scoter. The sun was out and we got good views as it swam about, diving occasionally. I had plans for the afternoon, so I had to leave the scoter and carry on around the broad. There was very little on Thorpe Broad, but quite a few birds in the conservation area bay, including 40+ Teal and a group of 11 Little Grebes, my highest count here and quite impressive all together, bobbing around a swan.

With all this excitement the actual counts were something of a secondary consideration, but here are some of the main counts, compared against last year (brackets = Nov 2015):

Gadwall 112 (29) - Dec 2015 (106)
Mallard 64 (67)
Teal 45 (2) - Dec 2015 (42)
Tufted Duck 194 (141) - Dec 2015 (198)
Pochard 7 (18)
Great-crested Grebe 9 (4) - Dec 2015 (8)
Little Grebe 11 (0)
Cormorant 30 (65) - Dec 2015 (37)
Coot 254 (157) - Dec 2015 (264)
Black-headed Gull 96 (300)

With the exception of Mallards, the November counts seem completely different to the equivalent 2015 data. However, looking at the whole of last years data, six of the ten here actually have similar numbers to the December 2015 counts, so anecdotally it looks like winter has arrived one month earlier than last year!

WHITLINGHAM: Velvet Scoter on Great Broad

8th November 2016

This afternoon I received a phone call from Justin to tell me that he had found a Velvet Scoter at Whitlingham. Whilst Common Scoters turn up fairly regularly inland, Velvets are much less frequent away from the coast, and I'm not aware of any previous Whitlingham records. Unfortunately for me I was still at work, but once I had finished I was kindly allowed to go a bit early, and as a result I go to Whitlingham just after sunset. Luckily the Velvet Scoter was still present, and there was still enough light to see it just to the west of the island, swimming about and doing the distinctive diving action that they are known for. Hopefully it will still be present tomorrow to give more people the chance to see it.

SOUTH NORFOLK: Ashwellthorpe moss meeting

6th November 2016

On Sunday I headed to Ashwellthorpe Lower Wood for a joint NNNS/Norfolk & Suffolk Bryology Group 'Mossing for Beginners' session. We began by comparing pleurocarpous and acrocarpous growth forms of mosses, and separating mosses and liverworts (not always as straightforward as you would think). Having not done much moss recording in the past, around half of the species we saw were new to me, but it was also useful to re-aquaint myself with some of the commoner species. Two of the most interesting species were the moss Homalia trichomanoides and the liverwort Pellia andiivifolia, pictured below.

 Homalia trichomanoides
 Pellia andiivifolia

The rain and cold meant that there weren't many insects about, but a Feathered Thorn was nice to see, particularly as I had only seen one before. There was also quite a bit of fungi about, including a branch full of Green Elf Cups. Whilst others were looking at mosses growing on some branches, I noticed one of the 'hand-writing' lichens, and some Two-toothed Door Snails were also present.

We stopped for lunch on a large log, and nearby there were lots of King Alfred's Cakes and Dryad's Saddle. Andy found some Spurge Laurel, and later we were able to compare it to Wood Spurge. Along the edge of the wood we heard and then saw a Kingfisher, seeming very incongruous on the edge of a small pond. There was time for a few more interesting fungi, in particular the bright reddish-orange Pluteus aurantiorugosus growing on a fallen log.


THORPE MARSH: Stonechats

5th November 2016

Before deciding to go to Minsmere to see the Cliff Swallow, I had been planning to go to Whitlingham to look for recent arrivals and any visible migration. After the successful Suffolk trip I didn't want to be out for much longer before heading home, but decided to make a quick diversion to Thorpe Marsh. On Monday Ricky had seen a pair of Stonechats at the marsh, and I had only seen one Stonechat in the area, and that back in 2008. With the clocks going back evening visits are out now, so I hoped that they were still present.

After parking up I hurried over the footbridge and along the permissive path to the cattle compound. Scanning the favoured area of Bramble I couldn't see any birds perched up, but a bit further along I noticed a bird land on a gatepost. Binoculars up, it was a male Stonechat! The female also briefly perched up on a different gate, but soon disappeared onto the marsh behind. The male stayed around long enough to get excellent views and some photos. Stonechats sometimes overwinter west of Norwich at Earlham Marsh, so hopefully these may stay here for the winter. On my way back I heard a Water Rail squealing from beside the path.

SUFFOLK: Minsmere Cliff Swallow

5th November 2016

On Friday evening news emerged on Twitter of two very rare birds - a Cliff Swallow at Minsmere and an Eyebrowed Thrush in Northumberland. The thrush looked particularly nice, but I had no intention of going that far. The Cliff Swallow on the otherhand was tempting - Minsmere is just as close to get to as Titchwell, and there hadn't been any previous East Anglian records, so there was no imminent sign of one turning up in Norfolk. I hadn't made up my mind when I received a message from Andy Musgrove, who was going and had space in his car. This was the spur I needed to decide to go and have a look.

The Cliff Swallow had been seen going to roost in the reedbed, so we left early in the hope that we would see it shortly after leaving the roost. As it was we arrived and were told that it had flown south with seven Swallows about ten minutes earlier. Undiscouraged we waited, and it wasn't long until a group of hirundines returned. There was a brief period where we could clearly see eight Swallow spp at a distance but not make out which was the Cliff Swallow, but luckily they flew right past us, and the pale rump and distinctive shape stood out.

I had been prepared for flight views only, but the dull weather was probably poor for feeding, and the flock settled in a small tree between the Sand Martin cliff and the north wall. We obtained excellent views, both perched and in flight, although the Cliff Swallow was often facing the opposite direction to the swallows. I took a few record shots, the first one in poor light and the latter with the Cliff Swallow (the bird of the left) looking away from us. Still, there were lots of birders there, so if you want to see a better photo I'm sure you can track one down on one of the other blogs linked on the right hand panel. A flock of five Bewick's Swans flew over whilst we were watching the Swallows.

Nb. These photos are "record shots" - not very sharp or good colour, but if you enlarge or squint you can make out what the bird is, just. Some pseudo-modest photographers insist that their otherwise pin sharp flight shot taken with £5000+ worth of equipment is only a record shot because a bee flew through the bottom corner of the shot. They are mistaken.

After a while we decied to do a lap of the reserve. We saw a couple of Stonechats along the path, and Andy swept an interestingly-shaped spider called Cyclosa conica from the vegetation. There was quite a bit of fungi about in the short grassland, including Hairy Parachute, False Chanterelle and a couple of different yellow spindle types. Near the sluice we had a closer look at the Tamarisk, and I was shown a Tamarsik-specialist bug called Tuponia brevirostris. On the way back round we also saw a Musk Mallow specialist Weevil, Aspidapion soror. A final delight came in the form of a spider with the English name 'Marsh Knobhead'. In the interests of accuracy an ecologist pointed out that a rare confusion species for the spider does also occur at Minsmere, which although usually not overwintering, could do this year because of the warm weather. So technically it is a probable Marsh Knobhead.

 Probably a Marsh Knobhead
 A scarce weevil.

On the way home we were near Hempnall when Mike said that the fields looked good for Golden Plover. Less than a minute later we saw a small flock of Golden Plover. Hopefully these predictive powers can be put to better use with a rarer species at some point. Thanks to Andy for driving, and also to the staff at Minsmere, who have now had to cope with several big twitches this year and have coped admirably.

NWT + SWT nature reserve land appeals

In recent weeks two important appeals for funds have been launched. Both seek to raise £1million, which is ambitious, but hopefully they will get there. Should you wish to look into these schemes and maybe donate some cash, the details are below.

1) Hickling Broad - Many people take it for granted that the nature reserves they visit are owned by the conservation bodies that manage them, but this is not always the case. At Hickling, the Norfolk Wildlife Trust own part of the reserve but rent the rest. The land recently went up for sale, and the NWT now have the opportunity to buy the rest of the reserve and associated land. You can read more about it here: and donate here: or here:

2) It is perhaps unfortunate timing that the Hickling Broad appeal was launched slightly after the Suffolk Wildlife Trust launched their own £1 million appeal to buy land near their Carlton Marshes reserve. This land will join up existing reserves to create a large 'super reserve' in the northern broads. Read about it here: and donate here:

WHITLINGHAM: False Ladybird beetle

28th October 2016

In the morning I called in at Whitlingham for a quick walk round. At least three Shoveler had joined the Gadwall at the western end of the Little Broad, and I got prolonged views of a Treecreeper working its way up a large Horse Chestnut. There was a lot of boating taking place on the Great Broad, so there wasn't much in the way of wildfowl there, although 150+ Coot were spread out at the eastern end.

The highlight of the trip was finding three False Ladybird beetles, a species that eats fungi. Amongst an old woodchip pile I found some stalked cup fungi, probably one of the similar Cudoniella species. Also of interest was a leaf mine in Alder caused by the fly Agromyza alnivora, which has a distinctive double row of frass down the mine.

EAST NORFOLK: Happisburgh & Bacton Woods

27th October 2016

On Thursday I met up with Adam in North Walsham, and we headed off to Happisburgh to have a look for any migrant birds that may have trickled along the coast. As we walked along a well vegetated lane we saw a group of birders along the clifftop and wondered if we were walking towards something good, but it turned out they were on a guided Limosa walk. Once they had gone we spent a while around the scrub and nearby buildings in case anything popped out, but found nothing better than Reed Buntings, Meadow Pipits and Redwing. On a large puddle nearby two Dunlin looked quite incongruous to the surroundings.

We had a look out to sea, where there were large numbers of gulls on the groynes and waves. A couple of Red-throated Divers were on the sea, but not much was moving. Walking south along the clifftop path we saw a Stonechat, but that was the highlight. Having heard and distantly seen a flock of Pink-footed Geese, we decided to leave and try to locate the goose flock, before meandering to Bacton Woods. We only managed to locate a small flock of Pink-feet, that didn't included any other species. As we drove slowly along a Kestrel flew down off a post and flew low in front of us, and at that point a Stoat chased a Rabbit out of the hedge in front of the Kestrel, providing us with excellent views of an apparent three-way chase!

We stopped off at East Ruston, where Adam wanted to show me some large boletes that he had seen in previous years. We found several of them and they were Penny Buns, the largest of the boletes that we get locally. There was a range of other species too, including Fly Agarics and an interesting toothed crust on a branch.

 Penny Bun - large but mouldy

Whilst travelling along the edge of Bacton Woods we noticed an unprecedented number of cars parked along the side of the road, suggesting that maybe the car park was full. Once again it seemed we had chosen a location where an event was going on, in this case a children's Halloween walk. The woods was aboslutely packed with fungi, and as many of the species were ones I have talked about in recent posts I won't go over them all. Four of the more interesting ones were Yellowleg Bonnet, Black Bulgar, Ear Pick Fungus (a small velvetty fungus that grows on pine cones and has teeth not gills) and new to me Wood Oysterling (reddish brown stipeless caps growing from a branch).

The other sighting of interest was the shear number of Dor Beetles about. We saw over 20, many wandering across the path but some unfortunately squashed. The poor light meant my photos of them weren't particularly sharp, which means that annoyingly I might not be able to identify them to species.

Incidentally for stats fans, this is my 1000th blog post, in my 8th year of keeping this blog. How time flies eh?