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

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

NORWICH: Not just a small brown moth

(but no, it wasn't an M&S, luxury patterned small brown moth either)

24th February 2016

Working on the third floor of a building in Norwich city centre, I don't tend to get many insects in the room. Occasionally something interesting will land on the window, the best of which came last year when I caught a bug that turned out to be only the second Norfolk record. On Wednesday afternoon I noticed a small ichneumon wasp on the window. I looked at it, and (to the chagrin of some naturalists I'm sure) decided that there was no way I'd be identifying that to species level, so I should open the window and let it out. Whilst doing this, I noticed a small brown moth on the windowsill. I delayed the release of the ichneumon until I had potted* the moth to have a better look.

What followed was a series of ups and downs. To be honest, whilst interesting, it wasn't exciting enough to justify the term 'emotional rollercoaster', but probably a scaled down version would be appropriate. Maybe emotional homemade BMX ramps. I like moths, so finding one was an up. I didn't recognise it, so it was probably a species I hadn't seen before, so that was a bigger up. As I put it into a pot it became evident the moth was dead, which was a down, and so on. I photographed it and retained the pot in case it was something really rare.

Later that evening I transferred my photos onto the computer and set about identifying the moth. My first port of call was the excellent Norfolk Moths website. As well as having a page for every species recorded in Norfolk, it has a section called Flying Tonight? This is really useful, because it uses all of the moth records in the database to display them in order of most seen for a particular period. So if you are new to moth trapping and put a trap out in your garden in May, using the flying tonight option you can bring up a list of the 100 most common species for May, and chances are you will find most of the moths you've just caught. The problem is, in winter not many moths are recorded, particularly micro moths** of which this was one.

My next port of call was the Field Guide to the Micro Moths of Great Britain and Ireland (Sterling & Parsons) with illustrations by renowned wildlife artist Richard Lewington. I couldn't find my moth there either. Was I overlooking something obvious, or was my moth particularly rare? Option three was turn to social media for help. If you are on Twitter and use the hashtag #teammoth, moth experts from around the country come to your aid with ID help. I decided to keep my tweet a bit more local by not using the hashtag, knowing that some of my Norfolk friends are very knowledgeable moth folk. And so it proved, my moth was identified within minutes by Andy & Ian as Duponchelia fovealis, a moth with only around ten Norfolk records.

Duponchelia fovealis

This wsn't quite the end of the story though. I went back on the Norfolk Moths website to report my sighting to the county moth recorder, and noticed that in the species account was the line "The larvae feed on house plants, causing sufficient damage to be a serious pest in some areas, occurrence should be reported to MAFF Plant Health and Seeds Inspectorate". Blimey. However, when I thought about it, MAFF no longer exists, having been subsumed into DEFRA, and my specimen wasn't likely to cause sufficient damage to anything, what with it being dead and all. I asked for advice on the Norfolk Moth Survey Facebook page, and was given the contact details for an ecologist at FERA, who has passed my query on to one of their moth specialists. I haven't heard back yet, but I like to think he is sitting at a desk with two large red buttons in front of him, one reading "PANIC" and one "IGNORE". I'll update the post if I hear back!

* Often an insect looks interesting, but flies off before you get a good look, so it pays to keep a small plastic pot nearby.
** Moth books and websites tend to split moths into macro moths and micro moths. This division is somewhat arbitrary, as there are some big micros and small macros, but it is generally understood, and if you can work out which one your specimen is likely to be, it saves searching through the whole lot.


23rd February 2016

The short winter days can be frustrating, with no opportunity to look for wildlife in the evenings. Now we are near the end of February this situation is starting to change, allowing the possibility of brief excursions. On Tuesday I got a phonecall from Justin, telling me that he was watching a Bittern at Whitlingham. This bird has been reported a couple of times so far this year, but presumably been present for much of the winter, unobtrusively going about its business amongst the reeds. I decided to make the most of the sunshine and slightly later sunset by hurrying down to Whitlingham after work.

I power-walked along the southern edge of the broad, stopping to look at my first patch Oystercatchers of the year standing on one of the floating rafts. A Kestrel flew low over the picnic meadow. The reedy areas along the northern shore of the conservation area bay cannot all be viewed from one place, so I stopped in several places and scanned, hoping that the different angles might help locate the Bittern. With no luck west of the island, I carried on past the island and set up my telescope on the area of reeds just to the east.

The area I was focusing on hosts quite a large Magpie roost over the winter. As I was going to be staring in that direction for some time, I decided to count the roosting Magpies. Some were alrady in the bushes, so I started by counting all of the perched up birds (around 30), and then counting the rest as they flew in. I ended up with a count of 148, easily my highest ever, although a way short of the record count here. With the light beginning to fade, I started to walk back, but stopping again west of the island to scan. And there it was, the Bittern, standing amongst the reeds. It took a step right to the edge of the broad then turned side on, clambering onto some debris before launching into flight. Its legs dangled down like a giant Water Rail, suggesting that it wasn't flying far. A brilliant end to a very pleasant evening.

WHITLINGHAM: Bat checks and wildfowl count

21st February 2016

Whitlingham has two locations where bats hibernate over the winter, and monitoring of these hibernacula is carried out by a licenced bat worker from the Norwich Bat Group. A small number of bat group members are allowed to attend these checks to learn more about bat monitoring, and on Sunday I joined them. Firstly we checked the old Lime Kiln in Whitlingham Woods, where we found three Daubentons Bats and one Natterer's Bat. We then headed back down Whitlingham Lane to the old railway tunnel off Trowse water meadow, where there was one Daubenton's Bat. Overall these numbers were lower than normal, probably due to the mild conditions.

Following the bat checks, I returned to the country park to carry out February's WeBS counts. A flock of 47 Greylag Geese were grazing on the field opposite the car parks. Ten Pochard were on the Little Broad, and slightly surprisingly they were the only ones I saw on my visit. A selection of species and the equivalent count last year [in brackets] are listed below:
  • Mallard 32 [58]
  • Gadwall 27 [93]
  • Tufted Duck 145 [155]
  • Coot 69 [217]
  • Cormorant 31 [16]
  • Black-headed Gull 313 [410] 
That rather illustrates the current low numbers of waterbirds, albeit with similar Tufted Duck numbers to last year, and more Cormorants.

Once I had completed the count I returned to the slipway to check for ringed gulls. I only saw the regular Norwegian-ringed bird, so I spent a bit of time reading the metal rings on the Mute Swans. I read four, one of which I had read the previous week, taking my overall tally this year to seven. The BTO have responded to my reports of all of them, and predicatably they were all ringed at Whitlingham, at varying times between 2009 and 2014. A metal-ringed Canada Goose had also been ringed in 2014 at Whitlingham.

YARE VALLEY: Wheatfen fungus foray

20th February 2016

On Saturday the Norfolk Fungus Study Group met for the first time this year at Wheatfen. There was a good turn out, and David the long-serving warden took us through the woods to an area called Tuck's Wood that is off-limits to the public in the hope that we could contribute some additional species to the site records. Despite the time of year we found lots of species, several of which I've not come across before. As expected most of them were growing on wood, with a tendency towards brackets and crust fungi rather than gilled species. Several specimens were taken for determination, so hopefully there will be a few more additions to my preliminary list too.

The first new species for me is called Glue Crust (Hymenochaete corrugata). It would be very easy to miss, but gets its name from the habit of growing between branches, sticking them together.

The next new one was Hypoxylon petriniae, a rather non-descript brownish crust fungus on Ash.

The third new species was one I've wanted to see for a while. It was an old specimen of Shaggy Bracket (Inonotus hispidus), which was black and hairy-looking. Nearby I was also shown an Artist's Bracket with galls underneath. These galls are caused by a scarce fly called Agathomyia wankowiczii. It is one of very few (possibly the only one?) insects to cause galls on a fungus rather than on plants. It is also useful as it only grows on Ganoderma applanatum, which can otherwise be difficult to separate in the field from the commoner Ganoderma australe.

Finally from the initial batch of new species was Fenugreek Stalkball. Apparently these small stalkballs do smell of Fenugreek when dried, but these were wet and didn't.

Whilst we were concentrating on fungi I did see a new flowering plant, Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage, which is very common around part of the reserve. Alex Prendergast also identified a Scaly Male Fern as D. a. cambrensis (Golden Scaly Male Fern), which I've not knowingly seen before. Some members stayed for lunch and a microscopy session in the afternoon, but I headed home after a successful morning.

THORPE MARSH: Guided walk & Chinese Water Deer

19th February 2016

Every month Chris Durdin leads a guided walk around Thorpe Marsh on behalf of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust. Because the walks are typically during the week I am usually at work, but as I was off today I decided to go along. After a sharp frost the weather warmed up nicely, and around 15 people were present. It was good to see several readers of my blog and/or people that I have communicated with via email but not met in person before. At the end of Bungalow Lane were some House Sparrows, a species that I haven't seen actually on my patch in over five years. We also stopped to look at some Cherry Plum blossom, a species often confused with Blackthorn.

We walked along Bungalow Lane and then west along the wooded edge of the marsh, stopping to admire a small Scarlet Elf Cup growing on the edge of the path. Scanning the broad the highlight were two drake Shoveler amongst the commoner ducks. A Cormorant was drying its wings on the spit, and I was able to describe how you would check the gular angle to determine the subspecies - this one was a sinensis bird. We paused to listen to a nearby Cetti's Warbler, which predictably stopped calling, and saw some Yellow Brain fungus growing on a riverside Ash tree.

We stopped to scan from the shingle broad edge, and one of the group spotted a Chinese Water Deer walkin galong the edge of the broad. A large queen bumblebee flew past, unfortunately not stopping long enough to identify it. High over towards Broadland Business Park a Buzzard was soaring, being mobbed by a Carrion Crow. As I watched it in the telescope it flew past two more distant Buzzards. We also saw a Sparrowhawk flying over the railway line. Our next stop was to see some egg-laying scars left by Willow Emerald Damselflies, and some Snipe were put up off the marshes. 

Our final sighting of note was of two Great-spotted Woodpeckers. I spotted them in the wooded area and initially thought they were a pair as they followed each other around, mimicking each other as if in courtship. It was only when Chris got better views of them and saw that they both had red on the back of the head that it became evident they were actually both males, and having a territorial battle. We watched them follow each other around the trees for a while before heading back along Bungalow Lane and across the railway. It was a very pleasant walk, and one I would recommend to others, particularly if you are not familiar with the area. The next walk is on Wednesday 30th March, and the remaining dates can be found on the right hand side of the Thorpe Marsh website here.

BRECKLAND: West Stow country park

17th February 2016

For Cathy's birthday we headed across the border to West Stow in Suffolk. Here there is a reconstructed Anglo Saxon village along with a finds museum. Each of the huts is constructed in a different way, as part of experimental archeology, so that historians can compare different theories, which seems like a good way of investigating these things. Arriving early afternoon, we first had lunch in the cafe, before heading to the visitors centre. Outside are two large planter pots filled with examples of Breckland flora. This seems to be a good idea, to raise awareness and familiarity with these rare and specialist species, although due to the time of year nothing was flowering.

Having watched a short video clip about the site, we headed off an looked around the huts. Whilst looking round I saw some finches perched on a nearby hedge. I raised my binoculars and noticed they were Bullfinches, twelve in total. I think this may well be the most I've ever seen in one flock. After having a look around the village we headed to the museum, pausing on the way to watch birds coming to an area of feeders (Marsh Tits and Coal Tits being the highlights).

After looking around the museum we had a brief walk out into the country park. A flock of Siskin flew over our heads and off towards Lackford. We saw two Muntjacs and various common bird species before heading back to the car park.

WHITLINGHAM: Scarlet Elf Cups & ringed birds

15th February 2016

With temperatures dropping overnight (including some brief snow flurries) I was interested to see if any birds were on the move at Whitlingham. During my stay I was treated to sunshine, drizzle and on several occasions hailstones, which began to fill up some Scarlet Elf Cups I was photographing at the time.

I started at the country park, where I hoped the gulls would be loafing undisturbed. I was concerned to see a large water search & rescue van parked on the slipway, but there didn't appear to be any rescue in progress, so perhaps they were doing some training. The only ringed Black-headed Gull I saw was regular bird white J5JE. I did notice a metal-ringed Mallard, but only managed to partly read the code before it headed off onto the water. Earlier in the week Dave Leech of the BTO had mentioned that relatively few Egyptian Goose rings are read every year, so I made sure that I got the codes from the pair on the southern shore of the broad and have reported them. I have heard back regarding one of the so far - it was ringed at Whitlingham in December 2010.

Having scanned through the birds on the broad I headed off into the woods. A Coal Tit showed well in the trees along the telegraph pole alley, and some Goldcrests called from high up in the pines. Near the lime kiln I paused to look for the Scarlet Elf Cups, and found several large specimens growing on a branch. The scarce bracket fungus Fomitopsis pinicola was also back, growing on the gatepost near the road.

I carried on along the lane to Whitlingham Marsh, where despite another shower I had a brief look for the Siberian Chiffchaff that had been reported a few days previously. I couldn't see or hear any Chiffchaffs, so I completed a circuit of the marsh, walking back along the riverbank. Back at the Great Broad I saw four Kingfishers, a nice way to end my visit.

WEST NORFOLK: Third time lucky - Pallid Harrier

13th February 2016

I called in briefly at Whitlingham around midday, mainly to check out the gulls. This was largely scuppered as the model yachters were using the slipway again, so the gulls were on the water. I scanned through as many as I could find in the hope that the Mediterranean Gull present on Monday would be amongst them, but I couldn't see it. I headed along the south shore as far as the island, scanning the bay and the reed edges, 6+ Shoveler and c30 being the pick of the birds. On my way back the gulls were beginning to return, but no rings were visible.

After returning home for lunch I then headed to Roydon Common, hoping to see a Pallid Harrier. Twice in December I had looked for this overwintering bird at Flitcham. On the first occasion it wasn't seen all day, and the second time the area was closed for a royal shooting party. I had decided I wouldn't try a third time, but in recent weeks the same bird had been seen coming into the harrier roost at Roydon daily, and this seemed a better bet.

Doing my research I noticed that the Pallid Harrier arrived at Roydon at varying times, anywhere between 15:00-17:00. To be on the safe side, and also because it was an overcast day, I aimed to arrive about three. With no sign of any raptors, I passed ten minutes checking the pony dung for Nail fungi. I didn't find any (again), but I did find some Dung Roundheads. A lichen-covered tree also turned up some bright pink splodges of Illosporiopsis christiansenii, which is probably common everywhere but rather under-recorded.

I decided to head along to a viewpoint overlooking the area that the harriers roost and wait until dusk. It was only about 15:20 when we looked up at a Kestrel flying over. Suddenly another bird of prey appeared below it - a ringtail, and more specifically the Pallid Harrier! It had appeared over the ridge from the south, which we weren't expecting, and soared around close to us, giving exceptional side, underpart and upperpart views as it glided round. It flew into the distance and landed on the ground, barely visible. A bit later on the Pallid Harrier gave prolonged flight views before perching on a post. It really was a beautiful bird, and I was glad that I had made the effort to look for it again. I also saw a ringtail Hen Harrier and a Barn Owl before heading back to Norwich. My photo attempts were rubbish, so I've attached a drawing instead.

NORWICH: Starling murmuration passes 2000

8th February 2016

Last year lots of people enjoyed watching the Starling murmuration over St Stephen's Street. The sheer numbers of birds, whilst not comparable to the larget reedbed roosts was quite enough to distract shoppers and people who usually wouldn't look twice at a bird. This year numbers have been building up, although varying day to day. Last week I photographed the flock on one day and counted the birds from my photo, counting 520 birds. This week the flock was visibly much larger - in fact it was difficult to fit them all in when photographing them. The strong winds meant that the murmuration was moving quickly and frequently spreading into a long ribbon of birds. Having just about managed to fit them all into a photograph a(nd after an evening of counting) I reached the total - 2134 birds! Of course this method isn't completely accurate (and there were probably a few birds out of shot), but 2130 is a reasonable estimate for the birds in the flock on Monday. Will it continue to grow?!

Murmuration in groups of 20 birds - this took a while!

WHITLINGHAM: Lichenicolous fungus and ringed gulls

6th February 2016

The recent unsettled weather meant that I went to Whitlingham on Saturday hoping that something a bit unusual might be present or flying over. I started with a scan of the scrub near the Little Broad. Many of the bushes here are covered in the common yellow lichen Xanthoria parietina, and whilst looking at the lichen I noticed that some of the apothecia (the round 'jam tart' shaped fruits) were covered in a sooty black. This is a paristic fungus called Xanthoriicola physciae, which is very common apparently, but I'd never recorded it before. Certainly a bonus species to look out for if you record all the wildlife in your garden or local patch.

Spring flowers were out in force - Snowdrops, Lesser Celandine, Primrose, Daffodil and the unobtrusive green flowers of Dog's Mercury.

The local model yacht club were using the slipway, so there were no gulls to check through as I walked around the Great Broad. Graham (@Dissbirder) had called in for an hours birding, so we had a chat before scanning the area around the main island. One Little Grebe was present east of the island, but duck numbers had decreased since my last visit. It was slightly better at Thorpe Broad, with reasonable numbers of Pochard, Tufted Ducks, Teal and Gadwall. Looking from the path down to the bird screen I counted at least nine Shovelers hauled out and asleep on the island. 

When I finished my lap the yachters had gone and gulls were returning to the slipway, so I went to check for ringed birds. I spotted the Norwegian gull with a white ring J5JE, a bird that can be seen here most winters. I then spotted another ringed Black-headed Gull, this time only a metal ring. These require close views and patience to read, so I found a place to watch from and set about reading the code on the ring. I was a couple of numbers in when I realised that the ring had been put on upside down! This made reading it more difficult, but as I remembered a previous gull reported to me had an upside down ring, I suspected it would be that one. I only managed to read "..2109.." before it flew off, but thanks to Justin (who managed to read the ring on Sunday) and James Appleton (who had seen the gull before in 2013 and 2014) I now know it is a Finnish bird, and another returning individual.

Easier to read if you stand on your head.

NORTH NORFOLK: Pigney's Wood

31st January 2016

After dropping Cathy off in Tuttington I had a couple of hours to spend in north-east Norfolk, so I decided to head to Pigney's Wood. As with Cley and Bowthorpe Marsh the previous weekend I feel a bit of a connection with Pigney's, as when I was a young boy I came out here with a mini-bus load of other North Walsham residents to plant trees. The younger woodland is probably the least interesting part of the site, but its a nice feeling to know that you were part of creating a small bit of the natural landscape.

It was raining as I arrived, so I headed to the hide in case it got harder. You can see how that went:

On the way down to the hide a flock of Siskins flew over, and the hedge was packed with Redwings. The hide looks out over a nice newish area of reeds and open water. Two Greylag Geese and some Mute Swans were the only birds visible, but the star attraction was at least one Bearded Tit, which has been overwintering here (up to four have been present). Unfortunately it/they didn't show, but did call several times from near the middle of the reedbed. When I lived in North Walsham I never thought I'd record this species anywhere nearby, so this bit of habitat creation gets a thumbs up from me.

After a while I gave up waiting for the Bearded Tit, and moved to the edge of the canal to walk along the southern edge of the site. About halfway along a Water Rail flushed from the adjacent ditch, flying straight up like a helicopter with long legs dangling beneath, moving horizontally across into the reeds and then dropping out of sight. I took the bridge across the ditch, pausing to watch a male Reed Bunting perched on a dead tree. I saw an interesting fungus (possibly Split-gill), annoyingly out of reach across a dyke.

I headed up to the old barn, seeing a pair of Bullfinches in the hedge. A quick walk around in the old wood showed that the Bluebell leaves are beginning to emerge, but the woods were rather quiet. Walking back to the car park I noticed some interesting spots on Privet leaves, and a new lichen for me, Ramalina fastigiata growing on one of the 'new' trees. I look forward to returning in the spring, when there should be some invertebrates around to add to the interest.