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

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

The Bird Race Challenge

Regular readers will know that often I join North Walsham alumni Gary White and Adam Pointer in May for a bird race, attempting to see or hear as many birds as possible within 24 hours. Rather than any competition this has been done purely for our own enjoyment, and we have tended to go on one of the bank holiday weekends (initially the late May one, but in recent years the first May one). Whilst the time for seeing the optimum number of birds is mid-May, by going in the middle of a three-day weekend we allow ourselves a day's rest either side!

In the past couple of years a Norfolk Bird Race has also been organised, raising money for a wildlife charity and with a trophy awarded at the Norfolk bird & wildlife fair. The first year was a two-team affair (a Norfolk team vs a visiting team), but last year it was opened up and five teams competed. After our 'race' last year (where we were joined by Alysia Schuetzle) we decided that in 2017 we would enter the Norfolk Bird Race and compete for Norfolk birding glory.

Early in 2017 we found out that the Norfolk Bird Race was undergoing some changes. The Bird & Wildlife fair wasn't going ahead this year, and the Norfolk Bird Race was being renamed the Bird Race Challenge. The main race would return to two teams (in homage to the original Country Life vs ffPS races of the 1980s), but other teams around the country could enter and challenge the score of the main two teams by entering the Virtual Bird Race. I was initially a bit apprehensive when I saw the name 'virtual bird race', envisaging the reuirements being staying at home playing the SIMS birding expansion pack, or perhaps travelling the county looking for birds on Google Streetview, but once convinced that it did actually involve going out birding, we agreed to take part.

So the upshot is that in a few weeks time we will be taking part in the Virtual Bird Race, hoping to record more birds than everyone else and raising a bit of money for the World Land Trust, specifically for their project to save the critically-endangered Blue-throated Macaw in Bolivia.

If you want to get involved there is still time to register a team for the bird race, you can find the details here:, or if you would like to donate then there is a just giving page here:

NORTH NORFOLK: Weybourne Camp & Kelling

23rd April 2017

On Sunday the North East Norfolk Bird Club had organised a walk taking in Weybourne Camp, an area not usually accessible to the public, before heading past Kelling Water Meadows and across Muckleburgh Hill. I decided to attend to get a good look at the camp, and a lot of other people had the same idea. The meeting point at the Muckleburgh collection car park was already busy when I arrived, and by the start time around 50 birders were present!

We were led round by Moss Taylor, who has been visiting the area for over 40 years. We scanned some fields for migrants, seeing Stock Dove and a couple of Brown Hares, before heading over to the eastern edge of the camp. My first Wheatear of the year was seen, followed by another new year bird as two Whimbrel flew in off the sea. Sedge Warblers and a Cetti's Warbler called from the reedbed before we had a quick look out to sea.

There are some excellent looking bits of scrub on the camp, and a couple of Stonechats and a Lesser Whitethroat were present. A Whinchat was also found on a row of posts nearby. I hadn't seen many insects at this point, but we began to see large numbers of Brown-tail moth caterpillars in their communal tents.

We left the camp onto the coast footpath, stopping to to watch a colony of Sand Martins at the western end of the sandy cliffs. A couple of Grey Partridges flew up just before Kelling Quags, and a Yellow Wagtail was present at the edge of the water. At the end of the track a Hobby flew over, and as we walked along the edge of Muckleburgh Hill a Red Kite glided high above us. The last couple of birds of the walk were Willow Warbler and Bullfinch, before we returned to the cars.

Many thanks to Moss Taylor and the NENBC for organising access and for leading the walk.

SOUTH NORFOLK: Ashwellthorpe orchids & insects

22nd April 2017

In most years Cathy & I will make time for a trip to an old woodland site to see the Bluebells. Our favoured site is Ashwellthorpe Lower Wood, so after our Eagle dipping we headed there, even managing to find the hidden car park entrance first time. As well as the Bluebells there were a number of other things to look for - I kept an eye out for Herb Paris and Anemone Cup fungus (which must surely be present here amongst the masses of Wood Anemones), whilst I set Cathy the task of finding a white Early Purple Orchid. This species was present in the largest numbers I remember here, and Cathy found me a very pale one, albeit faintly pink rather than completely white.

We worked our way round to the corner with the highest concentration of Bluebells and took in the sight and smell before working our way back round. A number of other woodland plants were seen, including Yellow Archangel, Bugle and Sanicle, but the highlight for me was Goldilocks Buttercup, a plant I'd not seen before. I initially thought it was an old plant as the flowers looked quite tatty, but Harrap's Wildflowers says that the messy flowers are a feature of this species!

Walking along a more open ride we began to see a wide range of insects, including some tiny Dark Bush Cricket nymphs and some Sloe Shieldbugs. The Wild Garlic was almost in full flower, but it was too early for the associated Ramsons Hoverfly. Nonetheless it was proving popular with a range of solitary bees and other insects. As we were about to leave the car park I noticed some Solomon's Seal growing near the fence. Presumably it has escaped from a nearby garden, but interesting nonetheless.

 Sloe (aka Hairy) Shieldbug
 Gooden's Nomad Bee
Solomon's Seal

EAST NORFOLK: Duck hybrid, unsuccessful Eagle watch

22nd April 2017

On Friday night a White-tailed Eagle was found in the broads. They are fairly frequent visitors to the county, but can be rather difficult to see as they roam widely. As it was still present on Saturday morning Cathy kindly agreed to temporarily postpone our planned Bluebell walk to look for the eagle. It had last been reported in the Martham area, so I decided to head for Rollesby in the hope that it would show over the broad. Whilst at Rollesby we had a quick look at the widely lauded/derided (delete as applicable) Cinnamon x Blue-winged Teal hybrid that has been present of late, paired up with a female Mandarin. I also realised that the Common Terns flying about were my first of the year.

(there are many better photos of this bird online - see those taken by Dave Appleton, Chris Lansdell, David Norgate etc.)
With no sign of the White-tailed Eagle, and no further news from anywhere, we drove through Marsham and then along the Horsey straight, before parking up for a cup of tea. I heard a Cuckoo calling in the distance (another year first), and saw Marsh Harriers and Buzzards up, but no luck with the eagle. After a few hours we gave up and went to lunch at Waxham Barn. The Eagle was later seen around Fritton, although on Sunday it was seen over Sculthorpe. My only chance now is if it flies over the city centre whilst I'm on a lunch break!

WHITLINGHAM: A few more migrants & insects

21st April 2017

Having been busy in the week, a bit of free time on Friday evening allowed me to get down to Whitlingham to have a look at what had arrived since my last visit. The weather was breezy and overcast, but that did mean that a flock of hirundines were swooping low over the Great Broad. Most were Swallows, but after a bit of scanning I was able to make out some Sand Martins and a couple of House Martins. Birdsong was muted, but I heard my first Sedge Warbler and saw my first Whitethroats of the year, and also was treated to a few bursts of Nightingale song.

At the east end of the broad I was looking across to Thorpe when I noticed Ricky and Mary Walker on the far bank. Ricky called across, confusing a man in a boat that had just gone past, before reverting to mobile phone. They had seen two Common Sandpipers, which weren't visible from Whitlingham, but just after I had continued on my way they had a Marsh Harrier, and thanks to another phonecall I headed back to the bank and saw it soaring over the marsh.

I stopped and had a look at a small weevil on a Garlic Mustard plant, that Tim Hodge kindly identified as probably Cabbage-stem Weevil. Around the corner was a real highlight, a Water Shrew scurried brazenly across the path and down to the waters edge. I've only ever seen one before, so to get such good, close views was a real treat. There wasn't much more about birdwise, but the Bibio flies were worth a mention - as well as the large St Mark's flies there were lots of orange-thoraxed Bibio anglicus amongst the nettles, and I saw another interesting sawfly, possibly Pachyprotasis rapae, but it is hard to be sure when there is no available field guide to them.

SUFFOLK: Churchyard earthstars

17th April 2017

On Saturday I heard that Mark Joy had been checking churchyards in Norfolk and Suffolk for fungi, and had already found several earthstars. Earthstars occur fairly regularly in churchyards because quite a few species are associated with mature Yew trees, a regular feature of burial grounds. One of the species that Mark had found in Suffolk was the Arched Earthstar (Geastrum fornicatum), a species I'd not seen before. He kindly gave me directions, so on Monday Cathy & I went for a drive into Suffolk to track them down. We were fortunate that there were still some fruiting bodies in reasonable condition, although most were going over (and some had been decapitated!)

When the rays extend fully the earthstar is no longer supported very well and prone to toppling over. It reminds me of something, possibly the robot jellyfish from The Matrix.

Hopefully this post gives readers encouragement to check out their local churchyard, particularly near old Yew or conifer trees, to see what you can find!

NORTH NORFOLK: Templewood fungi

15th April 2016

On Saturday the Norfolk Fungus Study Group assembled at the hamlet of Frogshall in north Norfolk, to survey the estate at Templewood. The owner, Eddie Anderson, manages his estate with wildlife in mind, and was keen to find out about some of the fungi occurring there. We had been unable to fit in an autumn foray onto the schedule, but were confident of putting together a reasonable list because of the areas of wet woodland, which are fairly productive, even into late spring.

After meeting Eddie and hearing a bit about the area, including the River Mun (apparently Norfolk's second shortest river) that runs through the estate, we set off towards a small ornamental pond. The first fungus of the day was a rust of Dog's Mercury, but we also had a quick look at the Gunnera. On our way out of the wood a second look produced a fungus growing on decaying leaves - potentially interesting given that this species is only grown ornamentally in the UK, but also potentailly frustrating as it is not included in the go-to plant fungi book (Microfungi on land plants by Ellis & Ellis).

As we walked through the wet woods we began to record small species growing on wood, before Anne found a Vinegar Cup (Helvella acetabulum), a member of the 'saddles' that looks like a cup fungus on a twisted stalk. This was a new species for me, so I was pleased to find several more whilst looking nearby. I also found a Yellow Shield (Pluteus chrysophaeus), to renew faith that we would find some gilled fungi!.

We found a few more bits and bobs, including Pine Cone Cap and Dewdrop Bonnet, before deciding to turn round and try another block of woodland. I crossed the Mun to check out an open area of fallen trees on the far bank, but only added Silverleaf Fungus to the tally. The sun shone as we entered an area of wet grassland, pausing to watch several Orange-tips fly by. Several hoverflies and Andrena bees were also seen, and Tim caught an interesting Weevil. We carried on into some hazel woodland, where we saw some Twayblades just emerging and an Early Purple Orchid amongst the Wood Sorrel and Moschatel. Ear Pick fungus and Primrose rust were the best finds here.

Stephen & Yvonne had to leave, but the remaining members headed up to a dry area for lunch. On the way Anne found a pored crust fungus that she causally identified as Dichomitus campestris, which having looked up when I got back could well be the first Norfolk record. As expected we found fungi harder to come by in the drier areas, with not much to repay our effort, but there was a late flurry of species on our way back, with Amethyst Deceiver, Beechmast Candlesnuff and Dead Man's Fingers found. I also found a couple of small brown toadstool types that may be Cortinarius, so hopefully an ID to come for that one [Edit: they were Naucoria bohemica, which I've not recorded before].

Dichomitus campestris

We enjoyed our visit and recorded over 40 species, certainly enough to justify a return visit in season, so were grateful to Eddie for inviting us to record on his land.

THORPE MARSH: Common Scoter

11th April 2017

Early April has seen a range of migrants pass through at Whitlingham and Thorpe Marsh, most of them not staying for long. On Tuesday I received a message from Justin to say that he had found a drake Common Scoter on St Andrews Broad at Thorpe, so I headed down at lunch for a quick look. Fortunately it was still there (and remained until Wednesday), and I was able to watch it swimming around in the sunshine. Afterwards I completed a quick lap of the marsh, but didn't see any other migrants. On my way back along the path from the cattle pound I disturbed a Chinese Water Deer that had presumably been along the edge of the dyke, and as it ran off it spooked up a Snipe from the cut area nearby.


10th April 2017

A week ago Cathy & I had visited Holt country park to see my first False Morels. Today we returned along with Margaret, to see some 'true' morels, Morchella esculenta*, again found by Will. The False Morels have a folded texture, whilst these morels were larger and have a honeycomb look about them. We saw 11 along a path close to the car park.

After our brief stop at Holt we carried on to Cley NWT visitors centre, where we had lunch and had a look at the art exhibitions. We then spent some time in Dauke's Hide, where the highlights were a male Bearded Tit, constantly squabbling Shelduck and a showy Lapwing. When the sun came out I checked the Alexanders for insects, picking out the hoverfly Helophilus pendulus, 2-spot Ladybird, 7-spot Ladybird and Harlequin Ladybird amongst the small unidentified flies.

After our Cley trip we called in again at Cley Spy, where I saw my first House Martin of the year flying over nearby buildings. A couple of Buzzards soared up close by too. On the outward journey we had been diverted as the Holt Road was shut for NDR work, so on the way home I decided to divert via Roughton. This proved to be a mistake, as there were delays to put in a roundabout just outside Holt, followed by longer delays for another (seemingly pointless) roundabout near Felbrigg, with the roadworks at Burgh Road in Aylsham thrown in for good measure. What with the radio adverts about work being done on the railway, woe betide anyone who wants to actually travel in the holidays.

* The morels we saw look like Morchella esculenta, however morels are one of the groups were taxonomy isn't necessarily settled - it might be that in the future DNA testing shows there are more or fewer species than we currently think.

WHITLINGHAM: April counts and a new bee

9th April 2017

The hottest day of the year so far was a boon to ice cream sellers and people who wanted a tan, but for birders generally just meant more people out and about. At Whitlingham this translates to more people allowing their dogs to chase the wildfowl, in one case seemingly co-ordinating with a family who drove a model speedboat through the swans that had only just been sent into the water by a bounding dog. Still, on the plus side, there were quite a lot of butterflies about, including my first Orange-tips of the year.

Once again Garganey-watch came up empty handed. Tufted Duck numbers still pushed towards 100, but other than that a lone Gadwall at Whitlingham and five at Thorpe were the last of the wintering wildfowl. A pair of Egyptian Geese were on the slipway - usually they would have young by now, which suggests they have been unsuccessful this year. Mute Swan, Moorhen and Great-crested Grebe nests were all seen.

I heard my first Willow Warbler of the year (although it has been present here for a week), but I didn't hear any Sedge Warblers or Whitethroats, and no hirundines flew over either. The highlight of the remainder of the walk was a nomad bee, I think Gooden's Nomad.

As Cathy was in the city I decided to head round to Thorpe Marsh, and having parked up in a very busy Thorpe St Andrew I saw my favourite species of the day, the distinctive bee Melecta albifrons, a brood parasite of Hairy-footed Flower Bees. I'd never seen one before, so finding one on Green Alkanet at the pavement edge was a pleasant surprise.

At Thorpe Marsh I noticed a couple of people photographing something on the marsh, so went over to see what they'd found. It turned out to be Chris Durdin and Derek Longe, who were checking the Cuckoo Flower for Orange-tip eggs. Despite quite a few adult butterflies being seen no eggs were found - it's probably a few days too early. After a chat I carried on around the marsh, watching several singing Linnets but carrying on the theme of not seeing any more spring migrants. Perhaps my next visit will be the one that is full of hirundines.

NORWICH: Golden garden invertebrates

April 2017

We've yet to start planting up our garden, but there are a few things left over, mostly Dandelions. It was on one of these that I noticed an interesting looking insect earlier this week. It had a wide abdomen made up of golden bands, and I recognised it as a species of Sawfly. It seemed a bit dopy, so I was able to guide it onto my hand for a closer look. I identified it as Honeysuckle Sawfly, but as this species wasn't on the last Norfolk Sawfly list (compiled in 2000) I asked county recorded Tony Irwin to confirm my ID, which he did. So far I have only heard of one earlier Norfolk record, seen in Beeston Common in 2015, so this was an excellent garden sighting.

The following day I noticed a moth had landed on the outside of the living room window. I went outside and caught it, and after a closer look I was able to identify it as a Sulphur Tubic (Esperia sulphurella), a reasonably common but attractive moth.

BRECKLAND: Breckland Speedwell & Brandon invertebrates

April 2017

The second of my target species for 2017 was Breckland Speedwell, a species that I had looked for in 2016 but not seen. Once of the remaining Norfolk sites for this species is a roadside nature reserve at Thetford, where it grows alongside the very similar Fingered Speedwell. The verge is quite a small one, so Cathy & I set about searching for small blue flowers. Most of these turned out to be Early Forget-me-not, but I did locate a single flowering spike of Breckland Speedwell. This year was a complete reversal of last year, when Ian & I only found the Fingered Speedwell.

 Early Forget-me-not
 Breckland Speedwell

Having successfully located our target species, we headed off to Brandon Country Park for lunch and a walk in the woods. Outside the cafe I had a look at a hoverfly and found that it was one I'd not recorded before, Meliscaeva cinctella. A Rosemary Beetle was present on the lavendar nearby, a regular find here.

After lunch we went down to the lawn near the lake. I had been told that one of the Cedars that grows nearby had Cedar Cup fungus growing around it earlier in the season, but we couldn't find any. Some tiny Spring Vetch was found, and we watched a column of ants moving from one tree to another. Avian highlights of our walk included a flyover Crossbill and a Brambling, whilst we stopped to watch a hole in the path that Cathy had noticed and were rewarded with views of two female Tawny Mining Bees.


2nd April 2017

On Sunday Cathy & I headed to Holt country park to see an unusual fungus that had been found growing near the sensory garden. The fungus in question is the False Morel (Gyromitra esculenta), which had only been recorded on three previous occasions in the county. I had been given directions by Will, the ranger here, however fortunately there was a very obvious feature to mark the location - the sculpture of a bear! Cathy had soon located a number of fruiting bodies, most of them starting to go over, but one was nice and fresh. After admiring the false morels, we walked a short circuit that took us past the lake, before heading off for lunch.

We had some food at the cafe at Natural Surroundings, before popping in to see the ever helpful people at Cley Spy to get a new binoculars case. The weather was still good, so on the way home we stopped off at Horsford Woods for another walk. The path was lined by flowering gorse and broom, and Linnets called from the trees nearby. A look at a clear-felled area produced a Common Lizard, whilst we heard more running off into the undergrowth. Next to the path were some deep but presumably only semi-permanent narrow ponds. Looking into them we saw several water beetles, and noticed that they were particularly well-marked. I think they are Acilius sulcatus, a species that I've not seen before and has presumably colonised by flying in, something that won't surprise anyone who has caught water boatmen in their moth traps!

WHITLINGHAM: Early Blackcap

28th March 2017

Tuesday saw a passage of Little Gulls across the country, including 31 at Barton Broad, 6 at Colney GPs and 1 at Whitlingham. I had left my phone at home and didn't have any optics on me either, so after work I called in at Margaret's and she kindly let me borrow her binoculars. I then headed down to Whitlingham, hoping that the Little Gull was still around, or ideally there were more about. 

I walked along the south shore but didn't see any Little Gulls (later I found out that it was still present until at least 5, so I could have just missed it, or overlooked it). A singing Blackcap near the pumphouse was my earliest spring record here, although not unexpected as one had returned to Lakenham Way the previous day, and the arrival of Chiffchaffs at both sites was similar. Looking over to Thorpe Broad I saw a Shelduck fly in, a good sighting here nowadays.

Walking back I kept an eye out for any birds flying over, a couple of Mistle Thrushes being the highlight. There was one further bird of interest, a Grey Wagtail that flew from the direction of the barn and landed a few feet away from me on the slipway. Grey Wagtails used to be quite a common sight at Whitlingham, but after the Little Broad beach was covered over they seemed to be less frequent. In recent years they have become more obvious again, and are being reported quite frequently in the area.