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

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

WHITLINGHAM: Early hirundines

28th March 2016

The forecast gale-force winds and rain showers arrived on Sunday night and continued into Monday morning. By the afternoon they began to slacken off, so I headed down to Whitlingham for an hour. In recent years the period after a storm has typically been good for seeing hirundines, and so it proved here. I noticed a Swallow swooping and stalling above the waves whipped up on the Great Broad. Scanning further round I saw more birds, at least seven Swallows and five Sand Martins in total. This was my earliest patch Swallow (previous record 31st March 2010) and join earliest Sand Martin (with 28th March 2015). I briskly walked to the east end of the broad to scan Thorpe Broad for the Common Scoter, which wasn't visible, before heading home.

THORPE MARSH: Common Scoter

27th March 2016

I hadn't planned to go out on Easter Sunday, not least because Eastergeddon had been forecast, with more rain and high winds than you could shake a stick at. I was slightly surprised therefore to see that it was a bright if slightly windy day. I had a call from Justin, who had just found a drake Common Scoter on Thorpe Broad, so I made up a flask of tea and set off for Thorpe. Common Scoters turn up fairly regularly inland, especially in late March/early April, but there haven't been too many at Whitlingham in recent years - the most recent one as far as I know was the one I found on the Great Broad in December 2012.

After arriving at Thorpe I walked briskly along the riverbank to the bird screen, where Justin was still watching the scoter. It was favouring the far edge of the eastern 'arm' of the broad, from the central spit eastwards. There was still some patchy sunshine, and the beak shape and yellow triangle showed nicely. After watching the Common Scoter for a while I completed a lap of the site, seeing an Oystercatcher, 2 Kingfishers and getting uncharacteristically good views of a Cetti's Warbler. It was then time to head home and eat some chocolate.

BRECKLAND: Early spring plant hunt

26th March 2016

Having always lived in the eastern half of Norfolk there are many Breckland species that I've never seen. A couple of years ago Cathy & I had visited a site on the edge of Thetford to look for a couple of Breckland-specialist speedwells, without success, and at some point I intended to return and look for them. The early Easter weekend presented a good opportunity, so having seen the bad weather forecast for Sunday and Monday, I decided to go on a Brecks plant hunt on Saturday. Cathy wasn't particularly interested in another speedwell hunt, but my friend Ian, a more experienced botanist than me, did want to go, so I picked him up and headed off down the A11.

Upon our arrival at Thetford we started inspecting the relatively short section of verge where Fingered Speedwell and Breckland Speedwell can be found. Both of these are very small, and finding them is complicated by the other more numerous small blue flowers like Early Forget-me-not and Common Field Speedwell. We saw several plants of Fingered Speedwell, but didn't find anything that we were happy with for Breckland Speedwell. I did photograph some leaves that may be Breckland Speedwell, but I'm not sure unfortunately.

 Fingered Speedwell

Many of the Breckland plants flower in late spring, but there are a few others that can be found in late March. Next on my target list was the native Grape Hyacinth, the wild relative of the commonly planted Garden Grape Hyacinth. It is largely restricted to road verges in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, so we headed to one such roadside nature reserve over the border into Suffolk. Initial signs didn't look promising, but eventually we found about ten flowering spikes. The wild Grape Hyacinth is smaller and darker, but otherwise quite similar to the more familiar version.

We headed to Icklingham, calling in briefly at Rampart's Field. There wasn't much in flower here, but we did see Rue-leaved Saxifrage. Icklingham Triangle was also rather lacking in flowers, although covered in Cladonia lichens. Ian did manage to find some of the small white flowers of Shepherd's Cress amongst the moss and lichen.

We then checked a few more roadside nature reserves, finding Grape Hyacinths at one more site. One of the verges was another site for Breckland Speedwell, but we struggled to pick any out amongst all of the Ivy-leaved Speedwell and Field Speedwell spp. The drizzle was starting to become more persistent, so we decided to call it a day and head for home.

WHITLINGHAM: A sunny spring day

25th March 2016

A bright and sunny Good Friday held lots of possibilities, with several inland Common Scoters about, a pair of my patch-nemesis duck (Garganey) arriving at Strumpshaw, Sand Martins beginning to appear and lots of insects emerging. I briefly went shopping to stock up on hot cross buns (meeting hoverfly recorder Stuart Paston in the process) before heading down to Whitlingham for a stroll.

Upon arrival a Peacock butterfly flew across the car park, however it was to be my only butterfly sighting of the day. Whilst Whitlingham can be a blaze of colour in late spring, in March and April there are large expanses without many flowers, so it is not one of the better places locally for early spring butterflies. I studiously checked each patch of Lesser Celandine and Coltsfoot for hoverflies, but the first interesting insects I noticed were a patch of metallic blue beetles. I had seen a photo of a similar group of beetles taken by Perry Hampson along the North Walsham-Dilham canal, and I suspected that they were a type of Flea Beetle (Altica sp). I tried to move a stick near one and the closest beetles jumped up in the air, firming up my suspicions. County beetle recorder Martin Collier has confirmed that they are indeed one of the Altica species. Unfortunately there are several, and they can only be identified to species level by dissection, so I'm just recording them to genus.

Further along the Little Broad I heard my first singing Chiffchaff of the year, and a Kingfisher called as it whizzed past. Some more flower checking led me to find two small ladybirds, a red 24-spot Ladybird and a yellow 22-spot Ladybird. I also noticed some white spots on White Dead Nettle leaves, caused by a fungus. There are a couple of possibilities, so hopefully I can identify it. The standard reference work for microfungi on plants is very good, but relies completely on descriptions. Ideally I would like to see a picture first, to make sure I was in the right area, before then moving on to the detailed description. There doesn't seem to be much demand - maybe I'll have to write it myself! I hope to learn a bit more about microfungi on the NNNS Microfungi workshop, to be held at Wheatfen on 10th April.

 24-spot Ladybird - a small species that is easy to overlook
Fungal spots on White Dead Nettle - two possible contenders for the species though

I scanned both broads in the hope that an early Sand Martin would be flying about, but with no success. Carrying on along the south shore of the Great Broad I heard a rapid-fire clicking noise. Recognising it as a camera on burst mode I looked around and found a photographer lying on the ground, taking photographs of a pair of Egyptian Geese with two goslings. With no such photographical standards I let him finish and then took a record shot as they disappeared off across the broad.

Egyptian Geese with first goslings of the year. Take a good look now in case it doesn't make the Bird photograph of the year awards shortlist.

Because of the sunshine the CP was very busy, especially with dog walkers and families. On the water it was fairly quiet, so I decided to count the migratory species. I counted 82 Tufted Ducks, 1 Teal, no Gadwall or Pochard, but interestingly seven Wigeon. This was my first ever March record here, surprisingly. Several people had heard them flying over Norwich during the night, so presumably these ones just stopped in on their way out of the county. 

Over the river at Thorpe some children were out on the spit in the middle of the broad, so no birds on there. The recent management work has opened up the area nearby, but there are fences and signs clearly telling people that the area is off limits, so it is frustrating that people choose to ignore the signs and trespass on part of the nature reserve. Benches are provided on the shingle area to the west of the broad for people wanting to sit and observe the broad. There were a few birds left in the near corner of the broad, including four Gadwall and around 35 Tufted Ducks.

Having completed my circuit I had heard five singing Chiffchaffs, four at intervals around the Great Broad and another just across the river near Thorpe Green. A silent sixth bird gave great views as it caught flies a few feet from my head. I also got close views of a Goldcrest as it flicked through the undergrowth. As it turned out I only saw one new patch species, Hairy-footed Flower Bee, but I still had an enjoyable walk in the sunshine.

WHITLINGHAM: Coot, revisited.

23rd March 2016

Some readers may remember that back of 1st January I called in at Whitlingham and saw a colour-ringed Coot. I'd not ever seen a ringed Coot before, so I was interested to find out where this one had come from. I reported it, and found that it had been ringed in Norway. This seemed reasonable, hundreds of Coot winter at Whitlingham and I presumed that these came from northern Europe. I had also recorded several Norwegian-ringed Black-headed Gulls in almost the exact same place. I noted the details and didn't think any more of it.

On Wednesday, nearly three months on, I received a message from Kane Brides. Kane works for the WWT, and amongst various projects he co-ordinates the colour ringing of Coot in Europe. He said that the Whitlingham sighting was a great record, could he have permission to use the photo I had submitted to the Norwegian scheme, and mention it to other ringers? I had no problem with this, so said fine. It was only later in the evening when I saw his message on Twitter that I discovered that this Coot was actually the first Norwegian-ringed Coot to be sighted anywhere in the UK! I think it's worth mentioning here, partly to show that there is still much to find out about the movements of even common bird species, and also to highlight the sort of thing that anyone could find on their inland patch.

You can see the ringing summary for Coot on the BTO website here: Note the origin of foreign ringed birds are shown in yellowy orange, whilst the purple dots are British-ringed birds that have been found abroad.

A Coot, excited to be in Norfolk

MID-NORFOLK: Lenwade fungus foray

19th March 2016

The second Norfolk Fungus Study Group foray of the year was held at the slightly unusual venue of Lenwade Dinosaur Adventure Park. One of the group members works at the park, and in the past there have been several wildlife-related events held there, including an autumn fungus foray, so we had been invited to survey the woodland areas for spring fungi.

Having been signed in we headed back down the entrance track to have a look at some of the woodland edge. Dog's Mercury was flowering and looked healthy. With a mycologists hat on it would have been better with Dog's Mercury Rust on! The first few fungi were common ones that you would expect to find in any woodland, such as Turkeytail, Hazel Woodwart, Bracken Map, Cramp Balls and Jelly Ear. The most interesting species found was a large mass of jelly that was identified as Leafy Brain fungus (Tremella foliacea).

Having exhausted this area we headed into the park proper, adding the beginnings of a fungal plant disease called Rhododendron Bud Blast, that turns the buds blackish. Heading along the dinosaur trail we saw our first gilled fungus of the day, a tiny white Mycena sp. growing from a dead Oak leaf. Some Glistening Ink Caps were also of note. Whilst walking around this area I heard a Nuthatch calling, and there were some patches of Wild Garlic, although much too early for flowers yet.

After stopping for a drink at the picnic area we briefly checked around the animal enclosures, where a Winter Polypore was growing on one of the logs on a wood pile. We then headed up into a private bit of woodland, which proved particularly fruitful. An interesting looking plant with Comfrey-like flowers turned out to be Creeping Comfrey, a garden plant that seems to have naturalised in part of the wood. 

A pile of cut logs turned up several interesting species. Several Artist's Brackets had been galled by the Yellow Flat-footed Fly - I had never seen this before 2016, but have now seen it on both NFSG forays so far. A tiny white cup fungus and an Eyelash fungus were both unidentifiable in the field, whilst an interesting crust fungus appears to be Serpula himantioides. In total we saw over 30 species, possibly as many as 40 if some of the smaller ones can be determined, so a worthwhile exercise and a few new records for the park. As we returned to the main square I heard some croaking noises. Walking over to a nearby pond I saw my first spawning frogs of the year, complete with noisy males! As the drizzle returned I left the frogs to it and headed home.

 Serpula sp.
Galls on the underside of Artist's Bracket

WHITLINGHAM: March wildfowl counts

13th March 2016

A particularly busy weekend meant that it was around three o'clock before I got down to Whitlingham to carry out the March wildfowl counts. It was still bright, but with a chilly breeze. Starting as always with the Little Broad I heard a few Siskins flying about nearby, and located a singing Treecreeper. It showed well, although as usual the branches and catkins meant I struggled to get an unobscurred photo before it spiralled out of sight.

Reaching the slipway I happened to look up and saw a bird of prey overhead. Earlier in the day a Marsh Harrier had been photographed heading along Prince of Wales road, so I thought it could be that, but a better look showed that it was a Buzzard. It was circling above the visitors' barn, and in fact was still circling a couple of hours later as I finished the count. A quick scan revealed no colour-ringed gulls, but I did spend a bit of time looking at the plumage of the Common Gulls.

Only one Egyptian Goose was present (and that on the meadow opposite the CP rather than on the Great Broad), suggesting that the females are incubating. A selection of species and the equivalent count last year [in brackets] are listed below:
  • Mallard 47 [48]
  • Gadwall 23 [11]
  • Tufted Duck 121 [77]
  • Pochard 6 [0]
  • Coot 29 [45]
  • Cormorant 12 [17]
  • Black-headed Gull 365 [159] 
As you can see from the figures, whilst duck numbers seemed low at the time, the wintering species are actually more numerous than this time last year. Mallard numbers are level, whilst for some reason Black-headed Gull numbers have held from February (c390) whilst last year there was a strong drop-off from 410 in February to 159 in March.

If I had heard a singing Chiffchaff today it would have equalled my earliest patch record, but I didn't. There was no sign of other early arrivers such as Sand Martin or Little Ringed Plover either, but it shouldn't be too long now...

MID-NORFOLK: Skylarks at Yaxham

13th March 2016

On Saturday Cathy & I attended a wedding in Swanton Morley. It was the last wedding of my high school friendship group, so rather than drive back to Norwich afterwards we stayed over nearby at Yaxham Mill. It would have been closer to stay in Dereham, but Yaxham offered more rural and interesting accomodation.

We got up on Sunday morning and could immediately hear Skylarks singing close by. We went for breakfast in a room at the base of the old mill, and as the day was bright they left the outside door open. Whilst eating we could hear the chirrupping of House Sparrows opposite the room, whilst the Skylarks were still singing all around the mill. The half-hour we spent having breakfast, being serenaded by Skylarks and House Sparrows, was a really relaxing experience. I head out of the city quite regularly, but usually do do something specific or to do some species recording, so sometimes it takes something like an event like this to allow you to just stop and enjoy the sights and sounds of the countryside.

WHITLINGHAM: Woodland plants and fungi

5th March 2016

The weather was overcast and rainy, but I went out anyway, hoping to hear an early Chiffchaff as a harbinger of spring. There was no-one else parked in the largest car park, and I didn't meet another person until I was nearly level with the island, which is almost unheard of here regardless of time of day or weather. There were no ringed Black-headed Gulls on the slipway, and Tufted Duck numbers had declined to around 60. A pair of Great-crested Grebes were in full summer plumage but showing no inclination to display to each other. 

At times like this it is a bonus to have a wider interest than just birds, so rather than complete a lap of the broad I detoured off onto the picnic meadow. Whilst a rain shower passed over I spent the time looking at dead birch leaves, hoping to see some microfungi on them. I found something slightly larger, Common Grey Disco, a small grey cup fungus with white rims, growing on a fallen branch. I also found some Jelly Ear growing on the birch, which is an unusual host for this species. Throughout the visit I saw more Jelly Ear than I've ever seen in a single day, including some very large specimens.

I decided to continue round to some of the parts of my patch that I visit the least, heading south along the lime tree avenue and past Whitlingham Hall. Here there are some fields that probably represent my best chance of seeing a Yellowhammer on patch, but today, as usual, there was nothing new for me. A Stock Dove flew rapidly past. Continuing along the road I turned off along the path towards Trowse, stopping to look at some Peltigera lichen.

Entering Trowse Woods I stopped to admire the Snowdrops. The few in the country park are a double-flowered variety, but these ones along with the ones in Whitlingham Woods are single-flowered. A large plant with pale green flowers stood out, and once closer I recognised it as a type of Hellebore. The leaves looked similar to Green Hellebore, but Brian Evesham kindly identified it as Lenten Rose (Helleborus orientalis), a garden throwout. Further along a larger and yellowy-green plant stood out from the Snowdrops. The flowers were at the end of a long stem, reminding me of Few-flowered Garlic, but not quite right. Again my more learned botanist friends came to the rescue. It looked like Spring Snowflake, but Ian Senior noticed that actually there were two flowers (and the bud of another to come), making it Summer Snowflake.

Lifting my eyes up from the woodland floor I noticed a Great-spotted Woodpecker fly into a nearby tree. The 'whip-whip, whip-whip' call of a Nuthatch sounded loudly nearby, and I managed to set eyes on my first Nuthatch of the year. In the distance a Great-spotted Woodpecker (a different bird to the one I had just been watching) was drumming. Trowse Woods holds the first (and perhaps still the only?) tree with an interesting fungus called Beeswax Bracket on. I tried to refind the tree, having been shown it in 2012, and to my satisfaction I did find it. The fruiting bodies are now old and rather dry (when fresh they oozed a yellow substance that gives the fungus its name). 

A final fungal find was some tiny orange discs on a dried umbellifer stem. These are probably beyond me, so I shall look to pass them on to a more experienced mycologist. I stood for a while near the edge of the wood, and was rewarded with a flock of Redwings, moving silently along the edge of the wood, latterly accompanied by some rather noisier Long-tailed Tits. Exiting the wood onto Whitlingham Lane I walked back to the car park. My final action was to watch a flock of Black-headed Gulls that had moved in. A heavy hailstorm swept through, so I had to dash to the car to finish my vigil, which ended early as half of the flock were spooked off by a passing car.

WHITLINGHAM: February sunset

28th February 2016

On Sunday evening I took a late afternoon stroll around Whitlingham, hoping to see a Barn Owl or a Little Egret heading to roost. I didn't see either (a flyover Grey Wagtail was the most interesting bird of the visit), but it was still worth the trip out for the sense of calm and the nice sunset. The first Egyptian Goose goslings should appear soon (there are broods at Taverham and Holkham already), so worth keeping an eye out.