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

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

NORTH NORFOLK: Pony poo and geese

21st December 2016 

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

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

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

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

WHITLINGHAM: December wildfowl count & Scaup

18th December 2016 

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

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

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

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

WEST NORFOLK: Last fungus foray of the year

17th December 2016 

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

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

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

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