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: No new migrants, more insects

25th March 2017

There had been no sign of any early hirundines at Thorpe, so I decided to go round and try Whitlingham. I had a scan over the broad for Garganey, which were also notable by their absence, before heading up onto the picnic meadow. It is too early for the grassland plants to be out, so I made my way to a large area of Cherry Plum on the edge of the woodland. I got excellent views of two Commas, one of my favourite butterflies, as well as several species of bumblebee. There was also a Bee-fly, my third of the day, and two more solitary bees. The young Holm Oaks nearby were covered in mines of the micro-moth Ectoedemia heringella, a 'Notable B' species, although now common across Norfolk according to local leaf-mine guru Stewart Wright. The highlight of my visit was views of a Chiffchaff only a few feet away, feeding amongst the blossom.

 Dark-edged Bee-fly
 Andrena sp.

Andrena sp?

Ectoedemia heringella leaf mines
 Despite seeing me, the Chiffchaff wasn't concerned enough to turn round...
Eventually I moved on and watched it from a different vantage point

THORPE MARSH: Bees, butterflies, bugs and a hoverfly

25th March 2017

I headed to Thorpe Marsh with high hopes for either an early spring migrant, passage wader or an interesting flyover species. As I approached the flood a Little Egret flew up and slowly off over the marsh. There was no sign of the Stonechats in their favoured bramble, although a male Reed Bunting had taken up residence. It was a warm day so I decided to scan the skies to the east to look for raptors, and this paid off with a pair of Sparrowhawks and a Common Buzzard.

Across the marsh there had been few plants in flower, with the exception of one clump of marsh marigolds. Reaching the drier areas there were lots of Lesser Celandines along the path side, with Peacock and Small Tortoiseshells my first patch butterflies of the year. I stopped at a patch of Ivy and saw two solitary bees, probably both Andrena but neither would settle for more than a few seconds so I only managed a less than sharp photo of each.

Two Snipe had flushed up from the broad edge, whilst three Lapwings and two Oystercatchers completed the wader tally. There was a large number of loafing gulls, a mixture of the four usual species, and these included an orange-ringed Herring Gull. This was presumably a bird ringed by the Thames ringing group, but I was unable to even partially read the code.

On my way back along the riverbank I stopped to check some more celandines, and was rewarded with my first new hoverfly species of the year. I recognised the smallish black shape as one of the Cheilosia, but as there are many of them I knew it needed to be looked at more closely. Fortunately I was able to catch the hoverfly without any problems and get a good look at its face. The combination of flattened orange antennae with black tips and hairless eyes identified it as Cheilosia pagana. Other insects nearby included a Pied Shieldbug and another Andrena sp.

TARGET SPECIES: Yellow Star-of-Bethlehem

19th March 2017

On Sunday afternoon Cathy & I visited Wayland Wood for the first time, hoping to see the first of this year's target species, Yellow Star-of-Bethlehem. I had heard that it could be tricky to find and the flowers only open on sunny days, but fortunately for me several people had seen them flowering earlier in the week and Dave Holman had kindly given me directions to them.

After arriving at the woods we set off, stopping to admire the violets by the edge of the path. I stopped again a bit further on to search for the Anemone cup fungus  had heard about yesterday amongst the Wood Anemone (no luck), whilst Cathy carried on ahead to locate the flowers we had come to see. A call from further along the path told me that she had found them, and fortunately the day had been sunny enough that the flowers were open. There were quite a few Yellow Star-of-Bethlehem plants on both sides of the path, so we got a good look at this rare plant. We did search the leaves for some even rarer fungi that grow on it, but they were disappointingly healthy!

As we hadn't gone too far into the woods to see the Yellow Star-of-Bethlehem, we carried on a did a circuit of the woods. We were a bit early for many of the woodland flowers that will emerge shortly, but we did find a few invertebrates. Whilst I looked for Cramp Ball Weevils, Cathy found two White-legged Snake Millipedes, one stretched out and one curled up. Close by I found an empty moth cocoon and a Kidney-spot Ladybird. 

NORTH NORFOLK: Barney wood fungi & beetles

18th March 2017

Saturday saw my first Norfolk Fungus Study Group foray of the year, at Barney Wood in North Norfolk. Barney Wood is a privately owned wood that makes up part of the Swanton Novers NNR, and was previously visited by the group in last autumn. We don't tend to visit the same sites in consecutive years, but only four members made last October's visit and they still managed to record over 100 species, so it was deemed worth a re-visit. This time we numbered 14, with two of these visitors from Lincolnshire, including Mark Joy who I had previously corresponded with via email.

Having met nearby, we combined into a smaller number of cars before continuing down to the site. Keith Fox gave us a brief introduction to the area before we set about looking for fungi. The first woodland clearing held some flowering Wood Anemone, and we checked for a scarce cup fungus that is associated with it, but without success. Anne spotted some Spring Hazelcup growing high in a tree - best seen with binoculars! I noticed some small orange fungi growing on Red Deer droppings - these have now been examined by Tony Leech and found to be Lasiobolus macrotrichus, a new species for Norfolk which is pleasing.

The first gilled species was found close by in an area of conifers, and aptly was Pine Cone Cap. The first of several specimens of the scarcer Trametes spp was also seen nearby - this one appeared to be Trametes hirsuta but was retained for checking. Tim was checking the dead wood for invertebrates, and we found a very long centipede and some non-native weevils, Euophryum confine. An area of clearfell held both Slender and Common Groundhoppers, Orange Ladybird and several species of ground beetle.

At the edge of the cleared area a stream ran through, and the boggy sides were covered with Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage. Scarlet Elf Cup grew nearby, as did Glistening Ink Cap. There were also several small cup fungi here, including some white Lachnum-types and some stalked ones that were probably Cudoniella. We stopped here for lunch before continuing into the woods.

The afternoon stretch of woodland had less clearly marked paths, and was punctuated by rain showers. Large areas of the woodland were covered in Wild Garlic leaves, complete with pungent aroma. Most of the fungi seen in here were growing on wood, the highlight being Peniophora limitata growing on Ash. As we made our way back to the entrance we saw old fruiting bodies of Shaggy Bracket and some fresher ones of Ganoderma applanatum and Trametes ochracea. Under a log we found a Buzzing Snail-hunter beetle, a frog and about 10 young Smooth Newts. Driving back to the main road a Hare ran across the track to complete the days wildlife.

NORWICH: Distracted by a moth

15th March 2017

I went to a couple of talks this week, firstly one by Carl Sayer, who discussed the conservation of the River Glaven for NNNS, and secondly Phil Parker talked about the Norfolk bats in churches project for the Norwich Bat Group. Whilst at the latter I noticed a moth on the wall behind the projector. It wasn't very long into the talk and I kept glancing at it, hoping it would stay until the end so that I could have a closer look. Having not seen many early spring species I suspected that whatever it was it would be a new species for me, and once the talk had ended I had a closer look. it turned out that the moth was a Shoulder Stripe, which was indeed a new one for me. An unexpected bonus!

NORWICH: Catton Park March visit

12th March 2017

The forecast rain hadn't arrived by midday, so I decided to go for a brief walk in Catton Park. During a brief spell of sunshine I noticed several bees around the flowering shrubs - the only one I got close enough to ID was a queen Tree Bumblebee. A patch of Sweet Violets were mostly white-flowered, and whilst looking for Cedar Cup fungi I noticed a large brownish puffball. It looked like a Bovista, but much larger than the Bovista plumbea that I'm used to. I saw Tony Leech in mid-week and he identified it as Bovista nigrescens, which I hadn't realised can grow to double the size of the smaller members of this genus.

WHITLINGHAM: March wildfowl count

11th March 2017

With rain forecast for Sunday, I went to Whitlingham on Saturday morning to get the March WeBS count done. Whilst scanning the Little Broad I noticed some movement in the reeds nearby and waited to see what would emerge. It transpired that the movement was caused by a rabbit, looking a bit bemused as it pushed its way through. Redwings called overhead, and Siskins were present in the trees between the path and the road.

Walking along the south shore of the broad the most interesting thing was the head and part of a spine of a Pike. There were some scales nearby, and I assume that the culprit was an Otter (this was close to the place where I watched an Otter earlier in the winter), but I was a bit surprised that the head had been left.

Further around the broad I heard my first Chiffchaff of the year singing, and later another two were heard. This date is only one off my earliest ever record, and on Monday I heard one at Lakenham Way (having been absent the previous week), so presumably there was an arrival over the weekend. Tufted Duck numbers were still in three figures, but other than that numbers had declined. 

Selected combined Whitlingham & Thorpe counts were:
  • Gadwall: 33 (2016: 23, 2015: 11)
  • Tufted Duck: 147 (2016: 121, 2015: 77)
  • Pochard: 2 (2016: 6, 2015: 0)
  • Shoveler: 6 (2016: 0, 2015: 0)
  • Coot: 39 (2016: 29, 2015: 45)
Of the rest of the sightings, Coltsfoot, Lesser Celandine, Dog Violet and Dog's Mercury were all in flower, and a Brambling called from the large trees near the second car park. A Reed Bunting also showed well between the two broads. 

NORWICH: Starling murmuration in south Norwich

8th March 2017

Over the past few months I had been keeping an eye out for the Starling murmuration that has been present in Norwich city centre over the past couple of winters, without success. Whilst sitting at my in-laws on Wednesday evening, Cathy pointed out of the window at a flock of 2000+ Starling swirling past! I went outside and watched the murmuration for a bit, before it headed off southwards towards the outer ring road. A chat with another local birder suggested that this year they seem to be roosting near the new ASDA store on Hall Road.


5th March 2017

Eight people ignored the weather forecast and met at the Sparham Pools car park for the first NNNS field meeting of the year. Our focus was on lichens, and led by county recorder Peter Lambley we set off on a circuit of the reserve. Our first stop was an open area, where we looked for lichens growing on the ground. Mosses dominated, but two species of lichen were still hanging on, Cladonia rangiformis and a Peltgera sp. Some Fragrant Funnels were also growing in the area, although it wasn't until one dried off that the characteristic aniseed smell could be made out.

 Retracing our steps we then walked around the perimeter of the lakes, paying particular attention to the communities of lichens that could be found on the mature Oaks. Peter showed us how testing the lichen surface with drops of potassium hydroxide (the K test) or bleach (the C test) can be used to separate otherwise similar species by looking for colour changes. The rain had set in, wetting notebook pages and steaming up hand lenses, but we carried on regardless and detoured to have a look at a row of mature poplars that held five new species for the day. 

The red is a positive chemical test

Having finished our circuit of Sparham several participants decided to call it a day, but the remaining five of us went back to Peter’s house to eat our lunch in the dry, accompanied by a welcome cup of tea and scone. Before setting off for our afternoon destination we had a walk round the garden, the highlight of which was Usnea subfloridana growing on a bird table roof. 

Whilst the morning session had been focused on lichens on trees, in the afternoon we moved on to Lyng church and graveyard. After examining several yellow lichens on the gravestones we moved on to the church itself, where the most interesting lichen was Bilimbia sabulatorum, a small brown lichen that grows on moss rather than directly on the stonework. 

Typically as we finished up and prepared to leave the church, the sun came out after five hours of near constant rain. Despite this we saw between 45-50 species of lichens, about a third of which I'd not seen previously, so it was a productive day. Thanks to Peter for leading the walk and for his hospitality in allowing us back for lunch.

WHITLINGHAM: Woodland plants and fungi

4th March 2017

After dropping Cathy off in the city I headed off to Whitlingham for a few hours. One of the first things I noticed upon arrival was a Reed Bunting singing from the far shore of the Great Broad, the first time I've heard them this year. There were plenty of Black-headed Gulls on the pontoon still, but no ringed birds. Duck numbers have decreased again (although some were probably across the river at Thorpe) - there were probably still over a hundred Tufted Ducks, but only a handful of Gadwall and I didn't see a single Pochard. Next weekend is WeBS weekend, so I didn't do a proper count this week, and instead headed off to the woods.

It was good to hear a bit more birdsong than on my previous visits this year, Nuthatch, Goldcrest and Coal Tit were of note. I went and had a look at the Hard Shield Fern to compare it against the Soft Shield Fern that I had found here recently. Up until a few years ago I'd never seen either, and here they are growing in the same wood! A search of some nearby Box bushes turned up the second gall that I had seen at Catton Park. A walker kindly recommended that I took the low path through the woods where there was a large drift of Snowdrops around the cottage.

Coming out of the woods I walked along the riverbank, noticing a straggly moss growing on tree roots along the riverline. I had a note that a species had been found in this habitat during a Bryological Group meeting in 2000, and a check at home confirmed that it was the same species, Cinclidotus fontinaloides, which was a new one for me. On my way back I noticed Lemon Disco fungus growing on a fallen branch, and some naturalised Crocuses in a small area of woodland.

THORPE MARSH: Stonechats and Alder Goblet

25th February 2017

A trip out to Thorpe Marsh, and I saw the pair of Stonechats that have been wintering here but have been rather elusive since January (apparently they are easier to see in the morning, which makes sense). It was good to hear both Green and Great-spotted Woodpeckers, the rainy weather on many of my local visits has meant a dearth of birdsong.

The highlight of my walk was a small fungus called Alder Goblet, a stalked cup fungus that grows on decaying Alder catkins. Whilst walking along the edge of the riverside wood I saw an Alder and thought it looked like a good site for this species, so I had a quick look and found it within minutes. It is under-recorded in Norfolk, and subject to confirmation this might be a new record for TG20.

Whilst looking for fungi I also noticed a liverwort growing on many of the willow trunks. Realising that I hadn't recorded any liverworts here or at Whitlingham I took a closer look, and thanks to attending a few 'Mossing for Beginners' events I was able to identify it as Metzgeria furcata. There weren't many plants in flower, but I did see my first Lesser Celandines of the year out, another sign that spring is on the way.