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: Hoverflies and other insects

28th May 2017

Whitlingham is always busy on hot summer days, so I avoided the majority of the crowds by going down to the woods instead. Having a quick look around the car park I found some Potato Leafhoppers and Wall Speedwell, before heading over to the river.

With birdlife rather quiet, my main target for the day was to look for day flying moths and hoverflies, and I started by catching a Platycheirus sp. These can be tricky to ID, but fortunately this was one of only three that have a pointy face, and I was able to confirm later that it was Platycheirus manicatus, a patch tick. Next I scrutinised a sunny patch of Germander Speedwell to look for Little Longhorn moths, but all I could find were some tiny black flies with red eyes (I'm not sure what they are - please leave a comment if you do). I checked quite a lot of Germander Speedwell, all with negative results for the moth.

Just before Whitlingham Marsh I diverted down a path with luscious vegetation because I remembered a sandy bank at one end that might hold some solitary bees. It was very light on bees, but very good for Volucella bombylans hoverflies, with both the red-tailed and white-tailed forms. I found a mating pair of the latter, looking odd as the upper hoverfly was flying around dragging the lower one upside down!

I was keeping an eye out for the hoverfly Dasyrphus venustus that has been seen here by Anne Crotty, but didn't have any luck. I did find some Anasimyia lineata, a new species for me (my sixth new hoverfly of 2017, breaking my target of five new ones). I also put out a pheromone lure to attempt to find White-barred Clearwing. This was purely speculative as it hasn't been recorded here previously, but perhaps no-one has tried before? Either way I didn't see any (I have previously tried to attract Red-tipped Clearwing here too without success), so I'll hopefully get time to try again somewhere else with more success.

NORWICH: Train Wood Bioblitz

27th May 2017

On Saturday Train Wood on the edge of Norwich held a bioblitz recording day. The wood marks the start of the Marriott's Way footpath, and the Friends of Train Wood have been doing stirling work in looking after and promoting the area. The Norfolk Wildlife Trust have also helped, and representatives of NBIS, Norfolk Bat Group and NNNS were also present. After a quick look in the brambles, finding Large Red & Azure Damselflies and a Dock Bug, I tagged on to a guided walk led by Nick Acheson, who quickly racked up over 100 species, mostly plants.

Part way along I left the walk to chat to Lindsey and Graham on the Norwich Bat Group stand (and Tony nearby). It was here that they showed me an insect they had found behind the stand, which turned out to be a Snakefly. There are four near-identical members of this family, but none of them are seen very often as they tend to stick to the canopy. One from Suffolk had been identified the previous week  from the pattern of veins, so I took some photographs and asked Norfolk invertebrate expert Tony Irwin for help. Unfortunately it turns out that the hindwings, hidden under the forewings, contain the key ID feature, so it could only be whittled down to one of two species. Still, regardless which one it was, still a very interesting thing to see.

After sheltering from a few thundery showers passing overhead, I set out to record some more invertebrates. Banded Demoiselles were common, and a Brown Argus was my first of the year. Mayflies, Birch Catkin Bugs and Woundwort Shieldbugs went down on the list, and at the river a couple of Hairy Dragonflies flew past me. Well done to everyone involved, who managed to record 300+ species and hopefully raise the profile of this county wildlife site.

On my way home I noticed some Common Ramping Fumitory growing on waste ground, a new plant for me, which was an excellent end to the day.

THORPE MARSH: Sunset moths, beetles and birds

22nd May 2017

Recently Ricky had been getting some great views of a Grasshopper Warbler at Thorpe Marsh, so I agreed to meet him there on Monday evening. He was running a bit late, which worked well for me as I was able to have a look for moths and beetles in the vegetation along the edge of the dykes. One species of moth was particularly common, although I haven't identified it. Presumably it is something I've seen before - I'll keep working on it.

A longhorn moth was easier to identify, it was the Meadow Longhorn, whilst I also saw my first Drinker Moth caterpillar of the year. Of the beetles there were quite a few Donacia simplex reed beetles, but also two new ones, Hydrothassa marginella (seen here photobombing a Donacia) and an odd-looking carabid Demetrias imperialis.

Once Ricky had arrived, along with Matt, Steve and Phil we took a stroll along the path in the direction of a distant reeling Grasshopper Warbler. We then heard a closer one behind us, and returning back a bit we got good views as it reeled from amongst the sedges. As the sun set I was preparing to go when a Hobby flew over us, an excellent end to the evening.

SOUTH NORFOLK: Tas valley plant walk

21st May 2017

My busy period of wildlife events continued on Sunday with a NNNS Wildflowers Revealed walk in the Tas Valley. Part of the idea was to look at some of the boulder clay specialities of this part of the county, although we were warned in the introduction that not many of these had been found during the recce the week before.

We met in the car park at Forncett St Stephen's church, and after a quick talk and one of Jo's cakes we moved off to have a look in the churchyard. As it happened the first plant we stopped to look at was one I haven't recorded before, Cornsalad. It is relatively common, but also has a number of very similar relatives that differ in the shape of the seeds, which might explain why I'd not felt safe recording it previously. Meadow Saxifrage and Hybrid Bluebell were seen, and some ID tips regarding Hairy Tare ID were given.

Along the edge of the churchyard we saw Bur Chervil, Rough Chervil, Barren Brome and Great Brome, and I stopped to photograph a micro moth on the hedge. The only comment I've had on it so far is that it looks like Rhyacionia pinivorana, new to me and the 10km square, but if you disagree then let me know!

We took a footpath down past a field of buttercups and stopped on a bridge over the river, where Mike waded in to get a sample of a Water Crowfoot sp. These are very similar, and require detailed examination to determine which species is involved. Some dried seedheads of Small Teasel were also of note here. I missed a Small Yellow Underwing moth found by Nick, but did see several species of ladybird and an interesting thin-leaved form of Hogweed.

We were now on the Tas Valley Way, which wound its way through a couple of farmyards. As we walked past the first one a few people stopped to look at the horses, an action that made at least one of the inhabitants of the farm surprisingly irate. It was explained to us that they had had lots of rural crime issues here of late, but parties of botanists keeping to the footpath would appear to be rather low on the list of miscreants. After a while we stopped and had lunch, enjoying a nice view across to Forncett St Mary. At this point I decided to leave the rest of the group to it, so after having a chat with Ian and having a look at a 16-spot Ladybird that landed on my leg, I took a different footpath and headed back to the car.

SOUTH NORFOLK: Swangey fungi

20th May 2017

On Saturday I took the opportunity to visit Swangey Fen with the Norfolk Fungus Study Group. This reserve is owned by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust but is normally closed to the public, so we met nearby and transferred into fewer cars before heading down a bumpy track to the small parking area.

Heading into a wooded area we soon arrived at a sunny glade, where I noticed one of the reddish Nomada bees. I managed to get a few photos of it, but it turned out to be one of a group of similar species that require a good look at the tips of the mandibles to identify - needless to say I didn't get that close! Anne spotted some hoverflies feeding on a sap run on a nearby tree that turned out to be Ferdinandea cuprea, a species that I thought I had seen in the past but can't find any trace of in my records, so presumably new.

I hadn't missed much fungi whilst looking at the invertebrates, and indeed found a Scutellinia sp whilst wading across some mud. We were a bit surprised to find several toadstool types a bit further up, as they tend to be rather scarce in late spring and summer. Mycena acicula, Rickenella schwartzii, a Lactarius sp and a Naucoria sp were all seen along the path. Yvonne called me over to show me a moth she had found, which turned out to be a Grey Birch, another new species. Neil found a crust on Alder, Vuilleminia alni, which looks like it is new to Norfolk, if rather underwhelming to look at. The path at this point was getting very boggy, so we turned round and took a different path.

We stopped for lunch in a sunny spot, seeing lots of Azure and Large Red Damselflies. Close by some Ink Caps were growing on a pile of cut reed, and when I checked the next one along I saw a Glow-worm larva, which was a nice find. A Cuckoo called in the distance, and a dragonfly exuvia was on some emergent vegetation. Most of our finds in this section were rusts or resupinates, but the rust on Great Fen Sedge was of note because it is one of Kew's 'Lost and Found' fungi to look out for.

The last interesting species before we headed back was the Reed Mat Disco, Trichobelonium kneifii, a small yellow cup fungus that grows on damp reed. Four Red-breasted Carrion Beetles were seen, and whilst watching them we also saw a brood of young Pheasants.

Swangey Fen was a very intersesting place to visit, so thanks to the NWT for allowing us in to do our recording, and to Steve for sorting out the arrangements.


19th May 2017

With a busy weekend ahead, I had arranged to go to the north Norfolk coast after work on Friday to see May Lily, another one of my target species for the year. I had previously searched for them without success, but this year John Furse had very kindly found their location and checked on them earlier in the month to ensure that some had begun to flower before I looked. We met nearby and convoyed to the edge of the heath, before taking a track to a small area of woods. Here May Lilies were growing on both sides of the path, and looking good despite the drizzly conditions.

After looking at the May Lilies we walked back, looking for moths as we went. The few that we did see well enough to ID were all Grey Gorse Piercers. I also found Coleophora cases on birch and rowan.

WHITLINGHAM: Bat workshop & woundwort shieldbugs

17th May 2017

On Wednesday evening I attended a 'using your ears' bat workshop at Whitlingham. This session, organised by Norwich Bat Group and delivered by Lisa Worledge of the Bat Conservation Trust was aimed at helping people using heterodyne bat detectors to identify bat calls, not just based on the call frequency, but also on things like rhythm and repetition. This proved to be a very useful session, using a mixture of bat calls recorded from magenta detectors, along with simulated calls made up of clicks and artificial notes. Afterwards we did go for a quick walk, but it was raining steadily so we gave up after a short while. I have been on quite a few bat walks before, but I found the session very useful, particularly as one of the species we looked at was Serotine, which I am yet to see.

Before the session started I had a quick look over the broad and in the vegetation nearby, seeing a Common Blue Damselfly and several mating pairs of Woundwort Shieldbugs.

WHITLINGHAM: May WeBS count and flies

14th May 2017

After Saturday's bird race a lay in was in order, but I knew that at some point I had to go to Whitlingham to get the May WeBS count done. In the end I headed down in the evening, which was well timed as despite the warm weather it was relatively quiet as I made my way around.

The Little Broad was quiet, but the Mute Swan pair had four young cygnets, my first of the year here. There were only three broods of Greylags visible on the Great Broad, including one fairly recently hatched one, but perhaps the others were out of sight on the island. I got my first view of the new Swift tower in the barn car park. It's unlikely that it will attract any Swifts in its first year, but please let me know if you see any using it.

Further along the broad I saw a large duck flying over, and a quick check revealed it was a Shelduck, my second record of this species here this year. There was little else of note as I made my way to look across to Thorpe with the exception of some Swifts flying high over the broad. Duck numbers had decreased sharply from my last count, a single Gadwall and two Tufted Duck were the only additions to the resident Mallard. Finishing my count from the conservation area I spotted a Green Sandpiper, which flew onto the edge of the main island.

As I was leaving I had a quick look at some sunny Horse Chestnut leaves. I have been keeping an eye out for Brachyopa hoverflies, which are unusual in that they look more like other fly families than typical hoverflies and are associated with sap runs in trees. I saw a fly that superficially had the right features, an orange abdomen and a grey thorax, but a closer look showed that it wasn't a Brachyopa. A second fly nearby looked distinctive, but I've not identified it yet either.

EAST ANGLIA: Virtual Bird Race

13th May 2017

As mentioned in a previous post, this year there was a twist to our annual May bird race, namely that we would be competing against other teams, so it was actually a race. As the teams were not limited to staying in Norfolk (indeed there was a finishline at Halesworth in Suffolk), we decided to shed our self-imposed staying in Norfolk rule. Some other teams had spent the past week carrying out recces to possible locations and organising 'spotters', but our work commitments restricted us to a couple of messages about the route we would take on Facebook. What follows is a description of the highs and lows of our day - it's going to be a long post so perhaps make yourself a drink.

We started off at 1am, much earlier than normal. The reason for this was that we had decided to head to the Nene Washes in Cambridgeshire, aiming to hear Corncrake. This is a species that I'd not seen or heard in the wild before, and as the birds here are descendents from a relatively recent reintroduction scheme, there is a reasonable arguement for saying I still haven't. As it is I like to see a bird before adding it to my life list, so these hae gone onto an appendix, rendering the arguement null and void, however importantly Ian Dearing (one of the organisers of Bird Race Challenge) had confirmed prior to the event that for bird race purposes they were countable.

There was little to see on the journey across Norfolk, a Fox near King's Lynn being the only sighting of note. That all changed as we approached the Nene Washes, when we spotted a Badger at the side of a minor road. Further along we saw two more, including one that trotted sheep-like along the road in front of the car before darting off into the hedge. This was only my third sighting of live Badgers, so was particularly pleasing. Another Fox was also seen nearby. Gary and Alysia in the front of the car saw a Tawny Owl fly up into a tree, but Adam and I in the back missed it. Bird race rules state that all members of a team must see a species for it to count, so it stayed off for now.

Our Tawny Owl stop did result in the first two birds of the day being added to our list. Some Woodpigeons noisily left a tree, and a Little Grebe called from nearby. Carrying on down the road we parked up and set off along a footpath that runs along a large expanse of washland. A Bittern boomed loudly, which is always a pleasing sound - we heard or saw at least four birds during the day. The wetland warblers were in good song, Cetti's and Reed were numerous, whilst Sedge and Grasshopper were also heard. Various other common species called, but finally we heard the 'crex crex' call of Crex crex - the Corncrake. Our main target heard, and a new experience for Alysia and I.

Corncrake was our 17th bird of the day, the 18th was a Barn Owl, and we were endebted to Gary for noticing our 19th bird, the 'whip whip' song of a Spotted Crake! We had two excellent birds on the list, plus things like Bittern and Grasshopper Warbler that can be tricky, but the time it would tkae to get to our first Breckland stop was a slight concern, and as a result we decided against a planned search for calling Long-eared Owls and headed straight for Santon Downham. As we passed Crimplesham I remarked it would be nice to have a bird on the list from here, perhaps a Robin or Blackbird would be singing? We slowed down, a Blackbird was singing from a telegraph pole. Predictive birding wins again. A Rook at Wereham took us to 21.

It was already light when we arrived at Santon, but then we were a fortnight later than our usual visits. Common woodland birds were added at a constant rate, Treecreeper and Cuckoo the best of the birds heard from the roadside. At the bridge Adam pointed out a Kingfisher, another decent bird to see early on. This is now a reliable sight for Mandarin, but there was a bonus in the form of a female with three ducklings. Garden Warbler and Lesser Redpoll were added to the list, but only Gary saw a Water Rail skulking in a dyke, so it joined Tawny Owl on the nearly list.

To dark and fast to get them in focus!

Last year we got great views of Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, but this year we were out of luck, despite spreading out along the path to focus on a section of woodland each. By this point we had seen most of the other likely woodland species (Nuthatch, Great-spotted Woodpecker, Marsh Tit), so eventually we gave up and headed back along the path, seeing Grey Wagtail on the way. Back at the bridge we met Chris, who pointed out two Otters in the river and told us about his sightings nearby. At this point we also bumped into the main Bird Race Challenge team, who seemed very cheery for that early in the morning! After brief introductions we each headed in opposite directions.

Next up we checked a couple of nearby clearings, seeing Woodlark and Tree Pipit, the latter saving us a trip to our usual site for them. It was then on to Lynford, where we first checked out Lynford Water, before heading into the arboretum. One of the first birds we saw was a Spotted Flycatcher, which then perched up with a second bird. We were pleased to see these declining birds, although as it turned out there were several around the county during the day. Some Crossbills and a singing Firecrest meant we reached 71 species by 08:00.

We added a few more birds on some nearby farmland, and also watched four Brown Hares chasing each other around, before heading for a quick look for Golden Pheasants. It was always going to be a long shot and so it proved, although I did get a chance for a quick look for insects, finding a Hornet.

After a short debate, we decided to go to Great Livermere to look for a Black-necked Grebe seen there recently. Unfortunately none of us had been before so we weren't quite sure where to view from. We did pick up Tree Sparrow and Grey Partridge nearby, and a white Peahen that we hoped would be added in the event of a tiebreak. We stopped at Great Livermere church, where thanks mainly down to luck we found a path down to the lake.  We added some gulls amongst other things, but no sign of the grebe. On the way back I remarked that the scrub looked good for Lesser Whitethroat, and before we exited the field Gary found one.

From here we headed to a bridge over the A11 where a White Stork was present in a nearby field. At least that was what we had been told, but we couldn't see it, and took to staring at a white and black thing (probably some rubbish), until another birder showed us a photo he had just taken of the Stork. It turns out it was visible, but only from a short stretch of path just at the edge of the bridge. We noticed a road close behind the Stork, but upon investigation it appeared to be a private Elvedon Estate track so we didn't get any closer views.

Next stop was Lakenheath Fen, where after availing ourselves of the facilities we went up to the washland viewpoint. A Glossy Ibis stood in the middle of the pool, Common Terns flew past and two Black-winged Stilts wandered about to our right. A Barn Owl flew past (we had heard one previously but nice to see nonetheless) and two Hobbies were visible in the distance.

By now we were a bit behind time, so headed off to Welney. Yellow Wagtail and Kestrel were seen on route (near Shippea Hill), the latter bringing up our 100 species at 11:35. In past years we have racked up a good number of additions at Welney, but this year we didn't. There was no sign of any Little Ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper or Garganey from the main hide, and we didn't have time to check out the others. Summering Whooper and Bewick's Swans were seen, along with Avocet and a surprise Red-crested Pochard, but moral had dropped a bit as we left.

We headed up to the North Norfolk coast, calling in at Flitcham hoping for Little Owl and Yellow-legged Gull. Both had been seen earlier in the day, and both were missing. Med Gull and Red Kite were some consolation, as we headed to Hunstanton to look for Fulmars. The tide was out, enabling us to add five wader species as well as Fulmar, before carrying on to Holme to look for a Pied Flycatcher reported from the car park. The gate attendant didn't know anything about it, and as we arrived Bob Cobbold told us the only bird currently in the car park trees was a Spotted Flycatcher. He actually used slightly fruitier language than that, but the meaning was the same.

As in the past few years there were Dotterel at Choseley, so we called in, saw them and left, to the slight bemusement of the other birders present. We arrived at Titchwell about 16:00, and knew we needed to add a lot of birds here to post a competitive total. It started well with a singing Wood Warbler in the car park, only my second Norfolk record of this species. We couldn't see or hear the reported Yellow-browed Warbler on the meadow trail, and nobody we spoke to had seen it, so we carried on down to the freshmarsh where Brent Goose became our 120th bird at 16:20. We couldn't find the reported Ruff or Little Stint, so headed down to the beach, where Little Tern, Sandwich Tern and Velvet Scoter were all decent additions.

After leaving Titchwell we headed further along the coast to Holkham, hoping for lingering Pink-footed Geese. We didn't see any, although a flypast Bittern was well worth seeing. Great White Egret was the only addition here, taking us to 129. We were in danger of not reaching last year's total of 140 despite the extra effort, so we had an important decision to make - did we stay in North Norfolk, go to Potter Heigham or keep to our original plan to head to Minsmere. In the end we opted for the latter, which did mean that no new birds were added until we reached Dunwich at 19:20.

From Dunwich Cliffs we saw our 130th bird, long overdue Sand Martins. Dartford Warbler and Stonechat were added on the heath nearby, and Kittiwakes flew offshore towards their nests on a platform near Sizewell. We 'scoped Barnacle Goose over at Minsmere, and a Water Rail called, taking us to 135 and renewing hope of a competitive total.

Back in the car we headed round to Minsmere and scanned for Stone Curlew from the watchpoint. We couldn't find any, but a Short-eared Owl was a bonus. Bearded Tits pinged nearby, and Whimbrel, Common Gull and Caspian Gull from East Hide ensured at least a personal best-equalling tally of 140 at 20:35. Back at the watchpoint and my 'scope was out of action as the quick release plate screw had broken off. Adam was scanning and called a Stone Curlew. We asked if it was one with long ears that hopped about, but a quick look down the 'scope showed he had indeed found one, so we apologised and headed off.

It had just gone dusk, so before leaving Minsmere we went down to Island Mere hide, hoping to hear the Savi's Warbler that had been present for a while there. We didn't, frustratingly, but calling Little Owl and Tawny Owl (it could have been bird #1, it ended up being #143) meant it wasn't a wasted spell. It was now dark, but we still had a few targets, including Nightingale, heard at Westleton Heath. Moving on to Dunwich we heard a distant Nightjar, but concerned that we might be deluding ourselves with the background noise we went back to Westleton where an unequivicol one was churring. A Nightingale sung loudly from beside the car.

It had just gone 22:00 and we had reached a new personal record of 145 species. We had one last bird to try for, Quail, in the fields around Westleton. We stopped and listened to no avail, so headed off to the finish line at the World Land Trust headquarters in Halesworth. When we arrived there was nobody there, so we didn't really know what to do. Just as we were pulling out the World Land Trust team arrived, so we followed them into the car park and asked if we could park there. "We're the Norfolk Loons" I announced, aware that Suffolk birders probably hear this whenever interloping Norfolk birders talk to them. Fortunately Dan was aware of our team name, and invited us in for a welcome hot drink.

The Bird Race Challenge team arrived as we were going in, and we all had a debrief chat with the other team members. John Burton then turned up, ostensibly to present the Bird Race trophy (the Nene egg signed by Peter Scott used as trophy in the original Country Life vs ffPS bird races), but also to give out champagne and tut at the birds we'd missed out on! We were all rather tired by this point, so I suggested we make a move and head back to Norwich. The results of the Virtual Bird Race were announced on Monday evening, and we had been soundly beaten by Jake and Drew, who managed an astonishing 158 species, so well done to them.

Thanks of course to my fellow team members, particularly Gary who did all of the driving, and to the World Land Trust for their hospitality.

Norfolk Loons 2017 - left to right: James Emerson, Gary White, Alysia Schuetzle and Adam Pointer. Photo taken by Andrew Whitelee.

The Virtual Bird Race and Bird Race Challenge aimed to raise money and awareness for a World Land Trust project to save the endangered Blue-throated Macaw, and the fundraising page is still open should anyone who hasn't donated wish to do so:

More sedate, non-sponsored activity will resume shortly.