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: A dusk visit

30th January 2016

On Saturday I decided to head to Thorpe Marsh rather than Whitlingham. I timed my visit for late afternoon so that I would still be present at dusk and able to check for owls. As the footbridge is still closed for another two months I headed down Bungalow Lane, dodging the large puddles.

The path running east to west across the marsh was closed due to flooding, so I headed to the main path along the wooded northern edge of the marsh. There were a couple of particularly muddy bits, but it wasn't as bad as I had been expecting. Scanning from the bird screen I saw a group of 41 Pochard, with another fifteen or so spread out across the rest of the broad. A few large gulls were dropping in, but all were Herring Gulls. Walking further around the broad I heard a Water Rail calling from Whitlingham. This set off one close by the path at Thorpe, although it steadfastedly kept out of sight. I walked towards the footbridge to have a look at the swanky new interpretation board.

Walking past the cattle pound I heard a Meadow Pipit flying overhead and saw an overwintering Chiffchaff in some bramble scrub. Further patch ticks were three Linnets and a Grey Wagtail, both also flying westwards, and a Coal Tit calling from the wooded area as I worked my way back to the end of Bungalow Lane. I found myself a good viewpoint over the marsh and waited until it got dark, hoping to see a Barn Owl, but had no luck. I did get good views of two Chinese Water Deer feeding out on the marsh before calling it a day and carefully making my way back along the lane.

WHITLINGHAM: Yellow Brain fungus & wildfowl

24th January 2016

With the brief cold spell seemingly at an end, I made an early morning visit to Whitlingham. As I arrived the unseasonably mild weather was evident straight away. The overcast conditions meant less people than in previous weekends. I stopped briefly to watch three Grey Squirrels near the car park, before heading briskly for the bird screen. On the way I stopped to look at some fresh Yellow Brain fungus (Tremella sp, probably T. mesenterica) growing on a young tree.

One of the things you notice early on in the day is that the ducks are spread out across the broad (as the day goes on disturbance causes more to move into the relatively undisturbed bay of the conservation area). This does make counts a bit more time consuming, and as I was going out for a meal at lunch I decided not to make any proper counts. The Shoveler showed nicely in the bay, but there was no sign of the Wigeon seen on Saturday by several birders. Canada Geese surrounded the island (I counted 20 in total), recently arrived birds as only three have been wintering here. I examined the underside of some bramble leaves to look for the spores of Violet Bramble Rust, and disturbed a tiny pale yellowy-green leafhopper.

On my way to the east end of the broad I heard and then saw a Song Thrush high up in the willows - my first of the year here. In recent times there has been some disturbance across the river at Thorpe, with people feeling its appropriate to walk out onto the middle of the broad to fish. Luckily nobody was doing that today, but there was a man standing right in the middle of the scrape. The NWT reserves manager has been informed about these incursions, so perhaps some big signs or more fencing will be needed to keep some of the area as a refuge for the birds.

As I walked back along the south shore of the Great Broad I got good views of some Pochard that were feeding close in to the bank. A Cetti's Warbler gave a brief burst of song halfway along. There was no sign of any ringed Black-headed Gulls on the slipway, but the Pintail x Mallard did make an appearance. Brief views of Kingfisher and Green Woodpecker were a nice way to end my visit.

NORTH NORFOLK: Cley day out

23rd January 2016

My birthday weekend, so I thought it would be worth going slightly further afield than Whitlingham. We settled on Cley, a reserve I have a good deal of affection for having been there for my first ever birding trip 25 years ago. Before going to Cley we stopped in at Bowthorpe Marsh (another of my favoured areas, having briefly been my local patch when I lived at Three Score). Our target was the returning Great White Egret, but despite it having shown well earlier in the morning there was no sign of it at Bowthorpe or further across on Earlham Marsh whilst we were there. We did get some nice views of some common  birds, including an obliging male Siskin that Cathy had heard call near to the path.

We arrived at Cley in time for lunch, although just too late to get a jacket potato. We almost couldn't sit down either, but a kind couple gave us their table as they were finishing up. A scan of the reserve whilst we waited for food turned up several year ticks (Brent Goose, Avocet, Shelduck, Wigeon). A redhead Smew had been reported on Pat's Pool, so we headed to Bishop's Hide for a look, but we couldn't see it, so we carried on to the Babcock Hide.

I hadn't been to Cley since the opening of the new Attenborough Walk and Babcock Hide on the recently aquired Salthouse Marshes. My main impression was one of lots of mud, particularly at the gate off East Bank. The pool in front of Babcock Hide (Watling Water) looks good, and in addition to the Grey Phalarope and Water Pipit, there was a range of waders feeding on the muddy areas. The hide held some familiar faces, including a UEA/NGB delegation planning their next heist twitch.

Grey Phalarope

On the way back to the car I had a look at some of the yellow lichen growing on the scrub. I had hoped it might be one of the more unsual species, but I think it was just the common Xanthoria parietina. We took the coast road back and called in at Salthouse duck pond. There was nothing particularly unsusual, nor any colour-ringed gulls, but Cathy did notice a dark green Mallard that was differently plumaged on its left and right sides.

Same bird, different sides

WHITLINGHAM: January count & ringed gulls

17th January 2016

It was early afternoon by the time I got down to Whitlingham to carry out the January wildfowl counts. The shady areas were still covered in frost, but the sunshine had brought out lots of people who are still manfully keeping to their new year's resolutions. About a third of the Little Broad was frozen over, with a flock of 108 Black-headed Gulls loafing on the ice. After counting them I re-scanned to look for colour-ringed gulls. I found one, but it was quite distant. After a change of position and some squinting I worked out that it was White J5JE, a Norwegian bird that has been present for the past three winters.

Moving on to the Great Broad I had to decide which way to go. Usually I walk anti-clockwise, but if there is a lot of birds in the conservation area bay then I would go there first. A scan showed that the birds were scattered completely across the broad, so I stuck to my usual plan. There was no sign of the Pintail x Mallard hybrid, so my next port of call was the slipway, where after counting the area I once again checked the Black-headed Gulls for rings. As luck would have it I found two, only a couple of birds apart. One was White A341, a returning bird that was ringed in Germany, but the other one, White 926 (it looked like 9Z6 in the field, but looking at the photos the Z is actually a 2) hasn't been reported here before as far as I know. It appears to be from a Danish scheme, so I have reported it to them and await a response.

Heading along the south shore the next major counting point was opposite the main island. Here the main point of interest appeared to be the sleeping Shoveler, 20 in total. However to my delight whilst scanning the inlets around the island a female Pintail emerged. This bird was first seen last Sunday morning, but I hadn't seen it in the afternoon that day. It had been seen once during the week (albeit at Thorpe Broad), but has been very elusive. Indeed it proved to be, as I was unable to relocate it later on.

I looked across to Thorpe Broad, and was about to begin counting when some of the ducks flew up. I noticed that the reason for this was three people had walked out onto the central spit, one of whom then got out a fishing rod and began to fish. This would normally be very annoying, but as it was almost all of the ducks landed back on the broad a bit further out, so it was only a bit annoying. The pick of the birds was a Goldeneye, with a couple of Snipe steadfastedly refusing to move from the spit. The combined Whitlingham & Thorpe counts of Gadwall (213), Pochard (70) and Coot (205) were of note. In addition to the Pintail I added three birds to my patch year list, all heard only, which were Great-spotted Woodpecker, Redwing and Bullfinch, taking me up to 50 for the year.

As I was leaving there were some nice clouds over the meadows. I used to know what the formations were called, but that knowledge has long been replaced by some random scientific names for fungi. At home I set about entering the WeBS data, recording the overall species lists on BirdTrack, reporting the male/female Pochard split for the Duck Specialist Group Pochard Survey and reported the three ringed Black-headed Gulls to the ringers in Norway, Germany and Denmark respectively. Having done my bit for citizen science, I treated myself to a beer!

NORWICH: Plantation Garden foxes

17th January 2015

On Sunday morning I went to the Plantation Garden off Earlham Road, an attractive Victorian garden with a gothic fountain that many people living in Norwich may never have even been to. The garden has been restored and cared for, but in recent times there hasn't been much wildlife recording, so I attended a meeting to discuss possible plans to rectify this situation. Whilst we stood and talked in the gardens, I noticed a Fox run out from a wall off to the right. It was followed by two more, and as we stood still two of them ran towards us, before darting off into the borders. Foxes are common around Norwich, but daylight encounters are always exciting. Once the meeting was over we had a walk around the garden, but the frost meant there was little in the way of wildlife about.

WHITLINGHAM: Lots of Shoveler & a new ladybird

10th January 2016

I had planned to head down to Whitlingham on Sunday, and a call from Justin telling me that he had found a female Pintail, a scarce bird locally, was further motivation. Firstly I headed back to Carrow Hill for a third unsuccessful look for the Firecrest. I gave it 15 minutes or so and walked down to Whitlingham. I took advantage of the sunny weather to look amongst the hedges for any early-emerging insects. I did see a couple of patch ticks, firstly Alexanders Rust (my eye was in for this having seen lots of it at Carrow Hill) but more pleasingly my first patch Kidney-spot Ladybird on some Ivy.

Along the Little Broad I saw my first Treecreeper of the year, plus a decent sized flock of Siskins. I headed round to the conservation area bay, where I scanned through the assortment of ducks. The most interesting thing was the number of Shoveler, there are around 20 present (possibly as many as 22) but the females in particular are hard to pick out whilst asleep. Despite scanning the edges and inlets I didn't see the Pintail. One drake Gadwall in particular had a rather pale face, although probably within range for this species.

There were hardly any Pochard on the Great Broad today, it appeared that most had flown across to Thorpe Broad, as had at least one of the Goldeneyes. On the way back I stopped to watch some of the Cormorants going in to roost, and had a chat with Mark and another birder. Whilst we stood there a Kingfihser flew past a couple of times - they seem to be very showy this winter so far. There was a steady stream of Magpies flying in too, mostly in twos and threes, but I wanted to get home so I didn't stop to count them. It was dusk as I walked across Trowse Meadow, and dark by the time I got home. Roll on longer days.

YARE VALLEY: Strumpshaw fungi & Buckenham corvid roost

9th January 2016

Having looked unsuccessfully for the Firecrest, the next thing on Saturday's to do list was to visit Strumpshaw. Last February Ben had found a rare type of earthstar (Weathered Earthstar, Geastrum corollinum) on the reserve, and he had offered to keep an eye out in case it fruited again this year. On Friday he had found an earthstar in the same place, but wasn't sure if it was the same species. I had planned to drive us there, but on Friday night the car started making some unsettling banging noises when I started it, so Margaret kindly agreed to take us.

It started to rain as we arrived at Strumpshaw, but luckily it wasn't too heavy. After calling in at the reception hide we headed off and soon located the earthstar. As Ben had suspected it was an old specimen of Collared Earthstar (Geastrum triplex). It is not unsual for more than one earthstar to grow in the same location, presumably many of them have similar habitat requirements. We spent a bit of time looking around nearby, finding more than 10 species of fungi, which was good for the time of year. These included Scarlet Elf Cup (Sarcoscypha sp.), Crystal Brain fungus (Exidia nucleata) and Tripe Fungus (Auricularia mesenterica).

By now it was around 3 o'clock, so we headed down to Buckenham to see the corvid roost. As we drove down some nearby lanes there were already some flocks of Jackdaws gathering in the fields. Having parked up near the station and walked back along the lane, we waited for the corvids to fly in. Some large flocks flew around and covered the larger trees, but showed no sign of heading to roost. Eventually after sunset passed they rose up and flew towards Buckenham Carrs. I thought it was impressive, but fewer birds than I expected, until another birder told us to look past the church. Rising up from beyond the woods were thousands more corvids, rising up to form a blanket of black shapes. The calls merged together, sounding like rushing water. They finally began to land, coating the tree tops. A spectacular sight, and definitely worth the visit if you haven't been. This spectacle is also the focus of Mark Cocker's book Crow Country.

NORWICH: Looking for a Firecrest

8th January 2016

One of the frustrating things about winter is that its dark after work, so if something interesting is found during the day, you have to hope that it is still present at the weekend. On Wednesday a Firecrest was found at Carrow Hill, quite close to my house. I didn't find out at the time, but then on Friday Justin went and saw that it was still there, so after work I power-walked to the ruined wall in the hope there would just be enough light to see it. There wasn't.

I headed back on Saturday morning for another look, but there was no sign of it. The trees here continue along the ridge, so hopefully it is still around, but a bit of luck will be needed to see it. The only new bird for the year was a Sparrowhawk that glided over, scattering the Feral Pigeons. I also noticed some evacuated leaf mines in Oxford Ragwort leaves, and the Alexanders was covered in Alexanders Rust, a fungus that is more prevalent at the coast.

 Alexanders Rust
Leaf-mine in Oxford Ragwort

2016 Target species

For the past couple of years I have set myself a list of target species. Typically these are showy or unusual species, or species from my favoured groups that I have never seen (or seen badly/not photographed). So this year in addition to spending time at Whitlingham & Thorpe (about 30 species to go before I hit the 1000 species mark across all groups), visiting some new reserves and attending a few training workshops to improve my knowledge of different wildlife, I have also put together a list of wildlife that I will attempt to see at some point in 2016..

1) I’ve been ‘stuck’ on seven species of bat for a bit now, Serotine or Barbastelle are the two most likely candidates for my eighth.
2) Having done very little seawatching this year (about 30 minutes worth!) I am still to see an unequivocable Harbour Porpoise, so that stays on the target list.
3) Last year I found out that there is a small population of Wall Lizards established at the Spa Gardens in Felixstowe. There was a lot of work done there in 2015, although the contractors were aware of the lizards so were meant to make sure they weren’t affected. I would like to go and have a look for them over the summer.
4) In 2014 I looked unsuccessfully for Marsh or Edible frogs in Norfolk, so I might try a few sites again this year. I haven’t seen Pool Frog either, but I’m not sure about the ‘arc’ site and the relocation site at Thompson has no public access.
5) Purple Emperor – We’ll be heading to Northamptonshire to look for these in early summer.
6) I’d like to see at least one more butterfly species. Having seen all of the Norfolk species, one of the next closest species is Black Hairstreak (Cambridgeshire), although a trip further afield to see Marsh Fritillary in Lincolnshire, Brown Hairstreak in Lincs or Duke of Burgundy & Small Blue in the Chilterns may be possible.
7) Hornet Moth –This one has been on the target list for a while. In 2015 I saw some emergence holes in trees at Thorpe St Andrews, but I’m not sure how recent they are.
8) Lappet – These have been seen on the last two Holme NOA moth days, so I think we will try to attend that this year.
Dragonflies & damselflies 
9) I think the closest new odonate to Norfolk would probably be White-legged Damselfly in south Suffolk or Cambridgeshire. I still haven’t seen Beautiful Demoiselle, does anyone know where the closest population of them to Norfolk are?
Grasshoppers & Crickets 
10) Again I’ve seen the Norfolk species so Suffolk seems the best bet, with either Grey Bush-cricket on coastal shingle or Woodland Grasshopper near Westleton. Both might take some searching though, so it remains to be seen whether I’ll see a new orthopteran in 2016.
11) There are still lots of Shieldbugs I haven’t seen. I’d like to see Tortoise Shieldbug, which is usually found in the Brecks but was found at Beeston in 2015. Spiked Shieldbug is probably the commonest species I haven’t seen, with Juniper and Bishop’s Mitre Shieldbg also species I’d like to see.
12) A new ladybird - there are six species of Ladybird in Norfolk that I haven’t seen. The easiest one to find is probably Cream-streaked Ladybird, which was reported frequently near Sheringham this year. If anyone knows reliable sites for Larch, Heather, Striped, 18-spot or 13-spot ladybirds then I’d be glad to hear from you.
13) A new Earthstar species – I’ve now seen five, but there are plenty more to see. The recently named Geastrum britannicum would be nice to see, whist there was an interesting one at Strumpshaw in 2015 that I don’t think has grown back but may do in 2016.
14) Another new Waxcap – quite a few possibilities here, although Crimson Waxcap would be the most spectacular.
15) Moonwort – this used to grow in the dunes slacks between Wells and Holkham but will probably be hard to find. Does anyone know if it is still present?
16) Man Orchid – the last Norfolk orchid that I haven’t seen (not counting Bog Orchid, which I think died out in 2001 ish). I won’t blog about this one if I do see it, as the site where this species is present don’t publicise it.
17) One from either Violet Helleborine (Suffolk) or White Helleborine (Cambridgeshire). Fly Orchid also occurs in Suffolk, but at least one of the two sites is private and I don’t know the other one.
Other flowering plants 
18) Yellow Bird’s-nest – An interesting plant that doesn’t photosynthesise. It grows in a few woods in Norfolk, including Holkham, although I have a feeling it might be another tricky one to find.
19) Purple Broomrape – Due to other commitments I looked for this twice in 2015, once too early and once too late, so this year I’ll make sure I look at the right time!
20) Specialist Breckland plant species. I’d like to sort access to see Spiked Speedwell, but if not there are lots of other Breckland plants that I haven’t seen.

If you can suggest sites for any of the species that I’ve only got vague information about then I’d be grateful to hear from you! Hopefully going to see these species will result in visiting some interesting new places to blog about too.

WHITLINGHAM: A proper look round

3rd January 2015

With rain forecast for the afternoon I headed to Whitlingham in the morning to get a proper lap. Near the slipway there was a welcome return for the Pintail x Mallard hybrid (I didn't see it in the last week of the year). It even did the decent thing and emerged from the area of vegetation that it usually frequents, allowing some unobscurred photos of it. Dunnock and Robin in the scrub nearby were birds I missed on January 1st.

Partway along I met Justin, who was completing his lap. As we chatted three flocks of Siskins flew up and joined together, at least 80 birds. A Kingfisher also flew past over the Great Broad. On the 1st Justin had seen an interesting looking Pochard, a dark female that may well be a hybrid, although we aren't sure what with. I managed to find it, but my digiscoped photos were out of focus and it flew off before I had a chance to look again further onwards. Carol had told us that there had been around 20 Shoveler the previous evening, which is a very good count here. Justin had counted 19 earlier, but I could only muster 17 (still a good count here).

Scanning across to Thorpe Broad I added Snipe, Lapwing and Stock Dove to my year list. 41 Pochard were on the broad, although most of them had previously been on the Great Broad. There was a lot of Tufted Ducks, but I didn't attempt to count them. A yellowy woodlouse looked interesting, but as suspected was just a Common Striped Woodlouse.

Once again the conservation are bay was packed with birds, but the only new bird for the year was a Little Grebe, which I had probably overlooked earlier. Just outside the bay there were two female Goldeneye, with a third one along the north shore of the Great Broad. On the lawn outside the watersports centre there was a clump of fungi including a particularly large one. At the time I wasn't sure what they were, but having thought about it I think they are just large Common Inkcaps. I kept an eye out for plants in flower on the way round, noticing seven, and also leaf-mines in Cow Parsley, Sow-thistle and Ground Ivy.

 Probably Common Inkcap, although I will get a second opinion!
 Leaf mine in sow-thistle. There are two near identical possibilities.

Whitlingham Bird Report 2015

Before 2015 fades into a distant memory I have put together the Whitlingham Bird Report for 2015, which I hope you may find interesting. Thanks to everyone who has passed on sightings throughout the year.

You can download it here:
Whitlingham Bird Report 2015

WHITLINGHAM: Ringed Coot & Eyelash fungus

1st January 2016

As part of the days birding I went to Whitlingham with Cathy & Margaret. A pair of Egyptian Geese and some Greylags were on the meadow opposite the country park, and a Jay flew across the road. As soon as we were out of the car there were Blue Tits, Long-tailed Tits, Goldfinches and a Goldcrest in the trees nearby. Walking through towards the Little Broad we stopped to look at some fungi, and looking up saw another Goldcrest and a couple of Siskin feeding quietly in an Alder.

A scan of the two broads added Tufted Duck, Common Gull, Moorhen, Coot, Mute Swan and great-crested Grebe before we moved on to the slipway. Three Canada Geese were present, but excitingly I noticed a Coot had a green ring on. I read it through bins before it went back into the water. I wanted to see it again to double check I'd got the code right, and luckily it did re-emerge. The code was white A164 on a green ring, and in the evening I reported it to the ringing scheme, finding out that it was ringed over the summer at Frederikstad in Norway.

We carried on along the south shore, adding Lesser Black-backed Gull, Gadwall, Pochard, Shoveler, Herring Gull and Grey Heron. We stopped at the island, and I picked up two brownhead Goldeneye diving along the north shore. There was no sign of any Goosander, something later confirmed by Justin who had done a more thorough walk around the whole broad. We headed back to the visitors centre for a cup of tea, but before we got there we stopped at a large cut log. Cathy walked round it and found at least six species of fungi, including Olive Oysterling, Velvet Shank and one of the Eyelash fungi (Scutellinia sp.)

 Olive Oysterling
 Velvet Shank
 Eyelash fungus

In total we saw 34 species + 1 heard only. The Coot was definitely the 'best' bird of the visit, although as I failed to see Siskin and Goldeneye here in January 2015 they were good to see too.

EAST NORFOLK: New year's day Swallow

1st January 2016

Happy New Year.

We stayed over with friends on the 31st December, so awoke in Badersfield. Very few birds flew over whilst I was looking out of the windows, Woodpigeon and Black-headed Gull the only recognisable ones. As we left I had to stop to de-ice the car, something of a novelty in recent times, and we added Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Rook and Jackdaw. Back on the North Walsham-Norwich road a Grey Heron flew over from the direction of Horstead mill, and the most interesting bird of the journey was a Little Egret flying over the White Horse at Crostwick.

After calling in at home (adding Magpie on the TV aerial nearby) we headed to Whitlingham with Margaret, which I shall post about separately. After a walk there and some food in the cafe, we set off for a leisurely circuit taking in Acle, Horsey and Walcott.

Along the A47 we picked up the expected Kestrel and Pheasant, before turning off at Acle. Usually there are Lapwings in the fields here, but we could only see corvids and Starlings. Some Red-legged Partridges near Martham were the only addition up to Horsey, where a Marsh Harrier was hunting over the marsh, appropriately enough. Around 30 swans were feeding in the distance, but there was nowhere convenient to stop and they looked like Mute Swans.

Carrying on to Horsey Corner we got stuck in a queue of traffic. It became apparent that this wasn't due to an accident, it was due to the large number of people wanting to park up to see the seals. A field had been converted into a car park and was heaving with cars. I was a bit bemused by this. The seals at Blakeney Point have been popular for ages, but never elicited this type of reaction. Could the difference really be it was a bit cheaper to pay for parking than a boat trip. I know that I should probably be pleased that so many people want to connect with nature in this way, but the impact of this sheer volume of people on the local roads and dunes are hopefully being monitored. Of course a big part of it could be the 'January the 1st effect', where everyone goes out for one walk a year. Apparently North Norfolk was also very busy, which seemed to annoy some birders visiting from out-of-the county, with no apparent sense of irony.

Anyway, as I considered all this (and read the new-looking Horsey Estate seal viewing area sign) a Swallow flew over the car heading north-west. I knew there had been one at Winterton recently, but it was still a complete surprise to see it here. I got it in my binoculars to check that it wasn't Red-rumped, but was chuffed to have 'just' Swallow on my January 1st list. Once we got past the queuing traffic we carried on, and as we reached Sea Palling I suggested we have a look for the Cattle Egret nearby. There was no sign of it (I later found out it hadn't been seen all day) but there was a flock of Fieldfares and Starlings milling about, which was nice to see. Further along the road we saw a black tenebrosus Pheasant and a small skein of Pink-footed Geese flew over.

We back-tracked a little and headed to Walcott, but there was no space to park along the front and no sign of the Turnstones on the wall either, so we headed back to Norwich. My final day total was 47 (+ Robin heard only!), a nice start to the year.