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

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

YARE VALLEY: Freshwater study group

28th April 2016

Having mentioned finding a Saucer Bug at Whitlingham a few weeks back, Dan Hoare (Norfolk's aquatic invertebrate recorder) had asked if I'd like to come to a meeting of the Freshwater Study Group. I thought it sounded interesting, so on Thursday evening I headed to Wheatfen. There were several other first-time attendees, and two samples to look through, one from a pond at Brundall and one from a dyke near Acle.

First impressions were that it was a bit overwhelming. When I was younger I did quite a bit of pond-dipping, so I was familiar with the basic IDs, e.g. 'caddisfly larva', but had never really tried keying out anything. I had brought my Aidgap key to cased Caddisfly larvae, but it soon became apparent that it was going to be harder than I'd thought. Geoff, who had brought the samples along, suggested that the caddis that I was looking at could only be identified by removing the larva from its case, so I left it to him!

Having developed an interest in woodlice I decided to switch my attention to some water slaters. I knew there were more than one species (three freshwater ones as it happens), so I picked up an old Freshwater Biological Association key and looked up the differences. It turns out they can be identified by head pattern, and I quickly identified all of ours as the common Asellus aquaticus.

Turning next to snails, Dan helped us identify a Planorbis sp, Lymnaea palustris and Radix balthica. There was a bit of excitement as a Water Measurer was found and identified as Hydrometra stagnorum, whilst a Hydra (Hydra vulgaris) was very interesting to see. Many thanks to Dan and the group for allowing me to attend and for the help identifying the invertebrates.

 Damselfly larvae
 Aquatic snails
Water Measurer

WHITLINGHAM: Pair of Mandarin

27th April 2016

On Monday night I headed down to Whitlingham in the evening, and was hailed on and thoroughly soaked. I did see and hear a Reed Warbler before the rain started.

On Tuesday I was at home when I got a phone call from Justin to tell me that his friend Chris had found a pair of Mandarin on the Little Broad at Whitlingham (it transpires that a different Chris had seen the male bird fly over just before). It was getting dark, but they were close to the car park and a nice bird to see, so Cathy & I headed down and managed to get good views of the Mandarin before more rain came. Mandarin haven't been very regular here in recent times, these were my 3rd and 4th patch birds, and only my 2nd drake.

THORPE MARSH: Grasshopper Warblers and common things

22nd April 2016

With bad weather forecast for the forseeable future, I headed to Thorpe Marsh after tea on Friday evening. It was a crisp, cold evening, which ensured that the marsh was quieter than usual, and I was able to scan the broad in peace. I saw a flurry of 'common' things - a Common Sandpiper flew low across the broad, and later I picked up a second bird working its way along the western edge. Turning round I saw two Common Buzzards soaring up over Whitlingham Woods, and from scrub near the river I heard my first Common Whitethroat of the year.

Common Sandpiper, about two thirds across, along the waterline

Despite the low temperatures I kept an eye out for insects as I walked along to the bird screen. Little was flying, but I stopped to look at a Spear Thistle covered in Copse Snails and noticed some small bugs. A closer look told me that they were Spear Thistle Lacebugs, a new species for me and another one for the patch list. I also saw a reddish coloured ant, but didn't identify it to species.

I had almost completed a circuit of the marsh and had yet to hear any Grasshopper Warblers. They don't always 'reel' if the weather is cool, so I checked with Ricky where he had last heard some. With his directions I located two. They hadn't been reeling earlier, so it was just a case of waiting a bit longer. One in particular was very vocal, although as is often the case they remained hidden in the vegetation. As I listened to the louder individual I was treated to a lovely orangey-pink sunset, a fitting close to another excellent local patch evening.

NORTH NORFOLK: Swanton Novers NENBC trip

17th April 2016

On Sunday I attended a North-east Norfolk Bird Club event at Swanton Novers Great Wood. This event had stood out from their programme, as Swanton Novers is a national nature reserve with no public access. There are a number of largely inaccessible wildlife areas in Norfolk for varying reasons. Some, such as Swanton Novers and Sutton Fen are sensitive to disturbance and not suitable for large numbers of people. Different examples would be places like Scolt Head, which are tricky to get to because of the tide cutting you off, or STANTA, where you have the risk of getting shot or blown up. Numbers for the walk were limited to 20, and fortunately I was one of them.

We met at the Swanton Novers raptor watchpoint at nine. The weather was bright but breezy, and rain the previous day meant that conditions were wet under foot. At least three Buzzards soared over the woods, and the sound of Skylarks was constant around us. We also saw Yellowhammers and Chiffchaffs around the watchpoint, and a Willow Warbler called in the distance. The warden arrived and we condensed into fewer cars before heading off in convoy into the wood.

Swanton Novers has a very large species list, partly due to the mixture of habitats present, but also because it has been extensively studied. The most interesting aspect of the day was seeing and being told about the different habitats present. Deep down the wood is on chalk, but covered by acidic soils, which means that there are both acidic and basic habitats present. Some areas are relict heathland, whilst others are ancient coppiced woodland. Along one boundary is a conifer plantation to add to the mixture. Of the pools, at least one is thought to be a natural pingo, whilst others were cut for cattle drinking or for removal of raw materials.

Being fairly early into spring, and with a large group moving about, the birds we saw were largely the expected woodland species. We got good views of Nuthatch, Great-spotted Woodpecker, Marsh Tit, Coal Tit, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Siskin. Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and Buzzard were seen flying over, and we heard Treecreeper and Blackcaps. Bluebells, Early Dog Violet, Wood Sorrel and Wood Anemone were all flowering, whilst Wild Garlic was in bud and it was too early for Lily-of-the-valley. I was told that that May Lily, formerly a specialty here, had died out. I had hoped to see Lemon-scented Fern, but it was too early for it.

 Wood Sorrel
 Bluebells and Wood Anemone

We spent around three and a half hours exploring the wood, and still only covered less than half of it. On our way back we walked down a wide ride that plays host to numerous insects in the summer, before looking at an area of newly recreated wet heathland, where we saw lots of Green Tiger Beetles. Many thanks to both NENBC and Robert, the Natural England warden, for facillitating our visit.

Green Tiger Beetle (honest!)

WHITLINGHAM: April count & Arctic Terns

16th April 2016

There is a strong argument for April being the best month for birds at Whitlingham, so a walk around the CP to carry out April's wildfowl counts seemed to be the best way to dispel the frustration of Norwich City's latest defeat. I hadn't been at Whitlingham long when I bumped into Mark Eldridge, so asked me if I had heard the Lesser Whitethroat singing from some scrub nearby. I hadn't, so after a quick catch up I headed off to have a look. Lesser Whitethroats are scarce at Whitlingham - typically there might only be one or two reports a year, so I was grateful to Mark for giving me directions, and in the end I got good views as it sung away from a small tree.

I went back to the Little Broad and carried on, only to see Mark again. He was listening to a 'mixed singer' Phylloscopus warbler. It appeared to be a Willow Warbler, however in addition to Willow Warbler song it was also giving Chiffchaff song, and occasionally a combined "chiff-chiff-do-do-do-do-do" half-and-half song. Incidentally Drew had mentioned this bird to me last week, but at the time I hadn't heard it do the Chiffchaff bits. It was a very interesting bird to listen to, but after a while with no song I had to carry on with the WeBS count.

At the west end of the Great Broad there was a pair of Egyptian Geese with five goslings, which are always nice to see. I haven't seen the two goslings that the first pair had for a while now, so I fear the worst for them. The broad was fairly empty, with 68 Tufted Ducks mostly condensed into the east half (perhaps the west part had been disturbed earlier in the day?) As I approached the island I scanned further down and noticed eight terns hawking insects over the water. The first couple were definitely Arctic, but as we sometimes get mixed flocks of Common and Arctic Terns I waited until I was a bit closer before putting the news out that all were Arctic Terns. They were mesmerising to watch as they swooped back and forth, replete with their long tail streamers.

I waited for Justin to arrive and see the terns before I continued the count. There wasn't much visible at Thorpe, although pairs of Gadwall and Teal were still present on the broad, along with another 11 Tufted Ducks. Further round I scanned the opposite shore of the river for a Muscovy Duck that has been around Thorpe Green for a while. There was no sign of that, but I did find an orange-ringed Mute Swan. Many of the Whitlingham swans are ringed, but all previously had just been metal ringed local birds, so I was pleased to find one that has travelled a bit further. I have reported it to the East Anglian Swan Study Group and await details.

It was beginning to cloud over, but there was still time to see two more nice birds before the rain arrived. The first was a Green Woodpecker that showed well in the young trees in the conservation area, allowing me to digiscope a few photos. The second was a male Linnet that was singing from a tree along the riverbank, rounding off another excellent patch visit.

WHITLINGHAM: Common Scoter flock

11th & 12th April 2016

Having not been to Whitlingham over the weekend I was keen to go at some point in the hope of seeing a (still relatively early) House Martin. As two Little Gulls had been reported on Monday afternoon I headed down after work. There was no sign of any Little Gulls, but I did see an adult Yellow-legged Gull with some Herring Gulls. I scanned across to Thorpe, seeing a flock of Swallows and some frustratingly distant Martin sp.

On Tuesday afternoon Drew Lyness found a flock of eight Common Scoter at Whitlingham. Having never seen more than one at Whitlingham I was keen to see them, and again called in after work. Seven of the Scoter were still present (one female had flown off east). Drew was still onsite and we watched them swim about and diving regularly. Having gone through the records it appears that this is the record flock size here (previously four) and the first April record, despite there being several in late March.

As the weather became more overcast a flock of Swallows became visible, and this time with the aid of my telescope I finally picked out my first House Martin of the year over towards Thorpe Marsh. There was another bonus bird whilst I was talking to Drew, a Little Egret flying eastwards. There were lots of Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers and Blackcaps singing, a Coal Tit called nearby and two Mistle Thrushes flew over. So a very productive couple of evenings birding, and we still have the Terns to come hopefully.

YARE VALLEY: Wheatfen fungi workshop

10th April 2016

For the past few years the Norfolk & Norwich Naturalists Society have put on a programme of wildlife workshops throughout the year. These workshops are run by local experts, often the county recorder for a particular group, and cover things like where to look for species, how to identify them and what literature/equipment you need to further your interest.

The first workshop of 2016 was held today at Wheatfen, looking at microfungi. Given the rather niche subject I was one of six participants. For the morning session we went through a presentation looking at the various different groups of microfungi, a name that like micro moths is used for convenience but doesn't have any particular taxonomic implications. Again like the moths there are a few large microfungi (such as King Alfred's Cakes), but they also include some particularly small groups like smuts, rusts and powdery mildews.

Having discussed the various groups, we headed out for a brief trip around Wheatfen to look for some microfungi to bring back. We found two rusts almost straightaway, one on Nipplewort and another on Lesser Celandine. Many of these are host-specific, which helps identification! We also found a range of small black growths on the stems of various plants, as well as some larger Woodwarts on Hazel branches.

 Nipplewort Rust (Puccinia lapsanae)

Whilst walking around the reserve in the sunshine Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps sung along the edge of the woodland. Three Brimstones and at least one Peacock butterfly flew along the rides. Whilst searching through a moss covered log I noticed a red velvet mite, but it disappeared deeper into the moss before I could get a good photo. Whilst looking at some leaf litter I noticed two large Craneflies mating. These can be tricky to ID, but the distinctive wing-pattern allowed me to identify these as Tipula vitatta.

As it was a sunny day we moved some chairs outside for lunch. We then headed back inside and had another short presentation before getting the microscopes out and having a look at some of the specimens that we had collected. The session also gave us a chance to have a look at a selection of reference books to see what we found most useful. We finished around four, having had a very informative day.

There are a number of other workshops planned, so if you fancy learning about a new group of species you may be interested in attending a workshop on solitary bees, flowering plants, lichens, seaweeds, grasshoppers or shieldbugs & ground beetles. For more details see here:

THORPE MARSH: Sedge Warbler & Smooth Newt

5th April 2016

Whilst at Whitlingham on Monday, I had a phone call from Ricky who had been to Thorpe Marsh and seen Sedge Warbler and House Martin amongst other species. I therefore made time to pop in during a sunny spell and have a look. There were no hirundines at all whilst I was there, but I did hear two Sedge Warblers, beating me earliest date by two days (although as 2016 is a leap year, technically only by one day). My earliest House Martin is actually 14th April, so I've still got another week to beat that. A Kingfisher flew across the broad, looking even more spectacular than normal with the sun glinting off the blue feathers.

I kept an eye out for insects as I walked round, seeing Garden Bumblebee, Common Carder Bumblebee and a female Hairy-footed Flower Bee. Two Small Tortoiseshells were also flying about the site. I stopped to chat to another birder, who mentioned that he had seen some newts in one of the dykes. Mark had also seen them and gave me directions, and after staring amongst the Water Soldier I managed to see a couple of them. They were Smooth Newts, a new patch species for me, taking me up to 995 in total. A sunny April day with a good migrant bird (Garganey, Wheatear, Ring Ouzel, Yellow Wagtail) and some insects flying around could well be enough to get me to the 1000 mark I reckon.

Incidentally the Sedge Warbler was my 80th patch species of the year, so I had a look at my records to see where that ranked against previous years. It turns out that this year has been the 3rd fastest to 80. The best year was understandably 2010, probably the best ever year at Whitlingham, when we had all 5 grebes, GN Diver, Smew, Goosander, Ring-necked Duck, Ruddy Duck etc. The second best year was 2012, when I saw Smew, Goosander, Ferruginous Duck over the winter, and early Little Ringed Plover and Green Sandpiper. My week-by-week graph is below:

NORWICH: Ringed Herring Gull

5th April 2016

Like many birders I keep a list of birds seen in or from my house/garden. Living close to the centre of Norwich and with a small paved yard, it's not a particularly big list, but nonetheless every morning whilst waiting for the kettle to boil I stare out of the window in the hope that something a bit unusual will fly past. Usually I have to settle for whatever has been attracted by the bread thrown onto next door's shed roof - a mixture of Feral Pigeons, Magpies and occasionally gulls. 

Today I saw a couple of Herring Gulls in the mix, and noticed that one of them had a reddish ring on. I grabbed my camera and got a couple of photos before it flew off, but sadly not quite sharp enough (or at the right angle) to read the code. The ring is actually dark orange, with a black code, which previous experience suggests means that it was ringed by the North Thames Ringing Group at Pitsea Landfill site in Essex. Another example (if one were needed) that interesting birds can turn up anywhere, and I now have something in particular to look out for!


4th April 2016

During the late afternoon Joe and Jim had seen an unringed White Stork flying west over Surlingham, so I headed down to Whitlingham on the off chance that it would fly over. It didn't quite, but was sighted over the A47 just within the Whitlingham recording area before the bird turned and flew south. Whilst Norfolk White Stork records are frequently tarred by the free-flying birds from Thrigby Hall (and to a lesser extent the ringed birds being rehabilitated at Shorelands near Diss), Peter Allard reported presumably the same bird roosting at Halvergate and suggested it wasn't from Thrigby.

Anyway, with no sign of the stork I carried on along the south shore of the broad, hearing and then seeing my first Blackcap of the year. Scanning across to Thorpe Broad there were eight Stock Doves on the spit but not much else. I decided to head back along the south shore rather than do a complete lap, and stopped to look at a Saucer Bug in a large puddle.

I was getting close to the island when I noticed some gulls catching midges close to the water surface. They seemed a bit too nimble to be Black-headed Gulls, but I was still surprised to see they were in fact Little Gulls. There was a nice summer adult and a bird in 1st-winter plumage, and after following them about I saw a third bird, in summer adult plumage (white upperwings, dark underneath) but with a slightly patchy hood. All three were very active, constantly zooming back and forth.

Justin joined me, and whilst watching the Little Gulls a Common Buzzard flew low over, and a Kestrel also flew past. After about six o'clock the gulls were no longer flying about near us. I left to go home, but Justin carried on to the east end of the broad to search for the gulls, which had vanished. On the way back I met Drew, who had heard a couple of Willow Warblers near the west end of the broad, so I diverted there and heard one singing before I got back to the car.

BROADS: Red-necked Grebe at Ormesby

3rd April 2016

Late afternoon on Sunday Cathy & I decided to go out for a bit, and with nowhere in mind I suggested Ormesby Little Broad. The pathway between the car park at Filby and the lookout point over the broad is particularly scenic, but the main reason for visiting was to see a long-staying Red-necked Grebe. I had a quick look through my records and realised that I hadn't actually seen one since 2011, and had never seen a summer-plumaged one.

We arrived at the car park at around 17:30, and I was a bit concerned to see rather vague signs saying that the car park "may be closed between 5pm and 8am". I decided that as it had gone 5 and the car park wasn't shut, it was probably OK until dusk, when it stated more definitely that you shouldn't park. After a quick scan from near the road we headed along the path towards the lookout point. Last summer we came here for Lesser Emperor dragonfly and the flowers were alive with insects. Today there were no flowers out, and the main distraction were the many fish that jumped out of the dyke trying to catch midges.

We met a man heading back to the car park, who said that when he had seen the Red-necked Grebe it was near the reeds in the corner near the road. Nevertheless we carried on to the end of the path to view out over the broad. The broad was lit up with hazy sunshine, and four Swallows chased and chittered overhead. Most of the birds on the water were Coot, Great-crested Grebes or Tufted Ducks, although there was a female Goldeneye off towards what used to be the Eel's Foot Inn (now the Boathouse). Cathy called me over to look at the huge number of fish (Common Roach I think, though I stand to be corrected) beneath the platform.

We headed back towards the car park, scanning the broad through the trees were possible. A Song Thrush, Goldcrest and a couple of Chiffchaffs were all singing, although I didn't hear any Blackcaps or Willow Warblers, both of which have returned to some sites by now. Initially there was no joy scanning from the road, but just before I called it a day I spotted the Red-necked Grebe whilst scanning through the trees. It spent most of its time preening, but showed relatively well in the end. Satisfied with out bit of nature for the day, we headed home.

YARE VALLEY: Strumpshaw Penduline Tit

31st March 2016

A glance at social media late Thursday morning revealed some photos of the male Penduline Tit at Strumpshaw. This bird had first been heard two months ago, but since then there had been weeks without a sighting, and even then it was more often heard than seen. I had previous with Penduline Tits at Strumpshaw, having twice missed seeing them there in 2009. At the time I had no car, so both of those misses involved walking to the station, getting the train to Brundall and then walking to Strumpshaw. All of this meant that I was keen to try and see this bird, so after dropping Cathy off to get her hair cut I headed off to Strumpshaw.

Arriving at Strumpshaw the car park was full so I parked in the overflow car park opposite. The sun had emerged and as I crossed the railway line my first Brimstone butterfly of the year flew along the edge of the tracks. I nipped into the visitors centre to show my membership card before heading for the river. There was a great display of Coltsfoot growing along the edge of the path, but remembering from 2009 that Penduline Tits seem to show mainly in the morning, and aware that it was gone 1 o'clock, I tried my best to ignore the plants and insects to get to the sluice area.

When I arrived at the sluice I was a bit surprised to just see two photographers, both looking into a mass of branches sticking out over the river. I expected them to be looking at a Cetti's Warbler or something similar, until I heard a Penduline Tit call! Taking up a vantage point a little way back I stared through the branches and reed stems, and found myself looking at the Penduline Tit. I was a bit taken aback, having spent much of the walk wondering how long I would be prepared to wait before giving up and going home! Eventually the bird worked its way up into a willow, no more than 10 feet away from me and showed well before flying across to a sallow in the reedbed. It was mostly amongst the branches, but I did manage to get one photo with its head visible.

The Penduline Tit disappeared from sight, and wasn't seen again for the rest of the day, so my timing was impeccable. With a bit of a spring in my step I carried on to the tower hide, where I watched some Marsh Harrier displaying, and scanned the ducks. Rather than carry on to the Lackford run I retraced my steps, this time admiring the insects. There were lots of Eristalis hoverflies, along with a Peacock butterfly and a few queen bumblebees. Back towards the woods I watched several Clarke's Mining Bees (Andrena clarkella) bringing in sallow pollen to their holes in the sandy soil. Before leaving I spotted Ben in the car park with a working party and stopped to have a chat, seeing another Brimstone and a Comma flying about nearby.

WHITLINGHAM: Treecreeper and spring additions

29th March 2016

Monday's visit to Whitlingham had been successful in finding hirundines, but later on in the evening a singing Firecrest had been reported. Firecrests are exquisite birds, and a species I've still not seen at Whitlingham (or in the Norwich area at all), so I headed back to Whitlingham early on Tuesday morning. It was a relatively warm day and there was a lot of bird song, so I was fairly optimistic. Just past the slipway I noticed a Treecreeper speedily working its way up an Alder. Seeing a gap in the branches above it, I focused my camera there and managed to get one photo where it wasn't obscurred!

On the Great Broad itself there seemed to be even less Tufted Ducks than before, but six Sand Martins were flying low over the water (presumably last nights birds, but possibly new arrivals passing through). I heard some 'chakking' and looked up to see two small flocks of Fieldfares flying north-eastwards. The winter has been a rather mild one, so these were my first patch Fieldfares of the year.

I loitered around the east end of the broad for a bit, hoping to see or hear the Firecrest, but to no avail. Whilst picking through the rest of the birds I got good views of Chiffchaff, Long-tailed Tits and a further three Treecreepers. Continuing my walk round I stepped off the path to allow some walkers past, and in doing so flushed a Red-legged Partridge! An unusual bird here, but one that does turn up at random intervals, being present nearby on farmland to the south of the sewage works. A final overdue new patch bird of the year was a Reed Bunting, calling from the north shore of the Great Broad.