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

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

NORWICH: More from Catton Park

29th July 2017

On Saturday afternoon I paid another brief visit to Catton Park to look for insects. No jazz gig this time, but there was a theatre production of Alice in Wonderland going on in the picnic meadow, so that part was off limits. I noticed some Large White butterfly caterpillars near the picket fence, before moving around to the areas of knapweed.

The knapweed was attracting lots of bumblebees, but not too much else, so I switched attention to the Wild Carrot. Here I noticed quite a few individuals of a solitary wasp that I didn't recognise - fortunately Stephen Boulton on the BWARS facebook page was able to identify them as Tiphia femorata. There was also a Pompilid (Spider-hutning wasp), but most of them need a specimen to identify them to species level.

Other species of interest in the meadow included the distinctive Tachinid fly Nowickia ferox, a lateish-instar Long-winged Conehead (the nymphs of Short winged and Long-winged Coneheads look the same, but if its a female you can separate them once the ovipositors have grown) and some Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars.

Rather than carry on around the meadow I looped back round into the woods. An agromyzid leaf mine in Hedge Woundwort was a new one for me (Amauromyza morionella) and I was also pleased to find a mine in Rowan caused by Stigmella nylandriella, which up to that point had not been recorded in TG21 (or the other main Norwich square TG20, so I'll have to look for it at Whitlingham too). My final species of interest was also on the same Rowan tree, a well camouflaged Brimstone Moth caterpillar.

TAS VALLEY: Caistor St Edmund, High Ash Farm & Trowse

25th July 2017

After dropping Cathy off in the city I had a few hours to spare before picking her up again. I decided to head to Venta Icenorum, the old Roman Town at Caistor St Edmunds just south of the city. The main attraction here from a wildlife point of view is a large area of dry grassland with the river Tas wending its way through. Plant highlights here included White Mullein, Dark Mullein, Common Calamint and Restharrow.

Much of the grassland around the base of the monument had been recently cut, so I walked around the base of the mound to check out the flowers growing on the banks. The overcast weather meant lower returns than normal, but when I stopped to check out a Hawthorn I found a Hawthorn Beetle, an overdue first for me.

Other highlights on my walk round included my first Clover Melitta bee, several Common Blue butterflies, a Dusky Sallow moth and some unsually obliging Meadow Grasshoppers.

I crossed the road and had a quick look around one of the permissive paths at High Ash Farm, where I found some leaf mines in Himalayan Balsam. There are caused by a fly Phytoliriomyza melampyga. There were no East Anglian records on NBN, so I thought I could have a county first. However when checked with the Agromyzidae recording scheme there are actually several Norfolk records from datasets that aren't on the NBN Atlas. There are a range of reasons why this is the case, but it's not the first time that the NBN maps haven't born any relation to a species range that I have checked, which is a shame.

On my way back to the city I called in at Trowse Meadow and managed one patch addition, a twisted stem gall on Black Poplar caused by aphids.

NORTH NORFOLK: Holkham bioblitz

23rd July 2017

This weekend there was a bioblitz all along the north Norfolk coast, from Holme to Salthouse. In terms of species recorded it was a success (Holme managed to rack up over 1000 species alone!), but I couldn't help think that the idea of a bioblitz was to concentrate the recording effort on a particular site rather than spread it over 30 miles. Another slight bugbear was that although there were a number of  activities arranged, despite looking regularly I only saw the definitive list when it was tweeted on Saturday morning.

Anyway, Saturday was allocated to rest and then WeBS, so I turned up at Holkham on Sunday morning, hoping for a good catch in the moth traps. It was rather windy, so having seen what the conditions were like I wasn't that hopeful, and this was vindicated when less than 40 species were recorded across three traps. A couple of micro moths were new, along with Pine Carpet apparently.

Clavigesti purdeyi

My plan for the afternoon had been to do some general recording and look for one of my target species, Yellow Bird's-nest. I asked Andy Bloomfield if any of the latter plant was still around, but was told it had all either died off or been eaten, so that was that out. Stewart Wright was also going for a walk and hadn't seen Creeping Lady's Tresses before, so we had a look at leaf-mines before heading into the pines. Stewart also found the 'sputnik' egg sac of the spider Paidiscura pallens.

 Stigmella anomolella in Dog Rose leaf
 Leucoptera malifoliella in a Hawthorn leaf
Spider egg-sac

On the way along we stopped to look at some Ant-lion pits, my first Norfolk ones having seen them previously at Minsmere, but couldn't find any Yellow Figwort. The first spot where I saw Creeping Lady's Tresses last year seemed devoid of plants, but nearby I managed to find about ten flowering spikes of this unobtrusive orchid.

It was now starting to drizzle, but Stewart was keen to look for the rare micro moth Norfolk Owlet, so we headed into the dunes to look for it. The rain got heavier, and although my umbrella kept my head and front dry, my back, bag and legs got soaked. We didn't find any Owlets, not surprising given the weather, but I did find several interesting new invertebrates, notably Dusky Longhorn Beetle, Field Cuckoo Bee and Large Sharp-tailed Bee.

Some of the fungus study group were heading into the reedbed at Cley in the afternoon to look for reedbed fungi, but given that it was still raining I decided to give it a miss. After eating my lunch in the car I headed back towards Norwich, passing the first parts of the traffic chaos that was to delveop as a result of the Holkham Country Fair and Tom Jones concert. As I got closer to Norwich it wasn't raining so I diverted to Buxton Heath to look for Marsh Gentians. I didn't see any in the first 20 minutes before once again it began to rain. I finally took the hint and went home.

WHITLINGHAM: July wildfowl count

22nd July 2017

This weekend was WeBS weekend, and as there was a range of events at Whitlingham on Sunday I thought it prudent to get the wildfowl count done on Saturday. The Little Broad count was trickier than normal thanks to the grown up vegetation around 95% of the edge, but there were hardly any birds on it anyway. As is typical of mid-summer counts there was a lot of the common species and little else. Main species counts were:

Mute Swan 84 (2016: 74)
Greylag Goose 26 (2016: 20)
Canada Goose 32 (2016: 40)
Egyptian Goose 33 (2016: 37)
Mallard 144 (2016: 81)
Coot 21 (2016: 28)

The summary of which is that numbers of most species were similar to last year, with the exception of Mallards, which were much more numerous this year. In fact Justin had over 200 in mid week. In contast last year numbers only peaked at 120. There was no sign of the neck-collared Greylag. Two Linnet were the only passerines of note.

Of the invertebrates there were three Volucella inanis hoverflies and two new patch beetles. The first one was Potato Flea Beetle (Psylliodes affinis), feeding on Woody Nightshade (this isn't as odd as it first sounds, as potatoes and nightshades are part of the same family). The second one was Loosestrife Weevil (Nanophyes marmoratus), something that Tim Hodge had told me about at Alderfen and I found by shaking some Purple Loosestrife flowerheads. 

As I completed my circuit I noticed an uprooted mushroom by the pathside. I showed it to Tony Leech on Sunday and he identified it as Pavement Mushroom, Agaricus bitorquis. Interestingly the species epithet translates as "two torques", and refers to the fact that the stipe has two rings -  a large floppy one and a smaller one underneath. I've seen it before in Norwich, but it was another patch first.

NORWICH: Ruby-tailed Wasp (Hedychrum sp.)

21st July 2017

On Friday evening I had just arrived at Pat & Margaret's house and as has become a habit I dawdled down the path through the front garden, looking for insects on the flowers. This time I was barely in the gate when I noticed a very attractive Ruby-tailed Wasp on the Canadian Goldenrod. You may remember that I saw one at the start of the month (see the blog entry here), but this one was even nicer. Most of these species, of which there are about 30, have a bluey-green thorax and red abdomen. Today's one however was alternating in colour. It was rather windy so I had to hold the plant still to photograph it, but instead of flying off it crawled onto my hand! It is one of a species pair, so I can't say what species it is (Hedychrum niemelai or H. nobile) but that doesn't really matter, they are amazing insects, and it was great to get such good views.

NORWICH: Insect assortment from last week

July 2017

In the past week I've seen a good range of species on my walks around Norwich city centre before and after work. Here are some photographic highlights.

 Lagria hirta, a hairy beetle from Lakenham Way

 Volucella zonaria
 Lasioglossum sp (one of four metallic green species)
 Leaf mine of the Little Cosmet Moth (Mompha rashkiella) in Rosebay Willowherb. The first TG20 record since 2004 (it's almost like not many people look at leaf-mines!)
 Hawthorn Shieldbug
Scaeva pyrastri (a hoverfly)

Identifying leaf-cutter bees

Many readers will be aware of leaf-cutter ants from wildlife documentaries, but I would guess that fewer are aware that in the UK we have leaf-cutter bees. These bees cut out small sections of leaf then fly back to their nests with them, including 'bee hotels' that can be bought or made for use in gardens.

Since the release of Steven Falks field guide to bees (and more recently Nick Owen's Bees of Norfolk) I have been trying to identify more species of bee. My bee list is currently 39, which might not seem too bad if it wasn't for the fact that in west Norwich friends Vanna and Jeremy Bartlett have recorded 49 in their garden alone! I have also had lots of help with identification and verification of my records. Many species of bee can look very similar to each other, so it is always nice to find a genus or species that is quite distinctive. Identifying leaf-cutter bees to species can be tricky, but identifying them as a group isn't too bad. They are found in a range of habitats, including gardens, so you may well have come across them without realising. Below are some photos and points to help you identify them.

Typically leaf-cutter bees have a chocolate brown thorax (the round body segment between the head and abdomen), a dark brown, flattened-looking abdominal segments and pale furry edges (photo 1). They often strike a distinctive posture with the abdomen pointing upwards (photo 2), and the females have a 'pollen brush' underneath. This is quite distinctive as a mass of orangey hairs, and this replaces the pollen brushes that most species have on their legs to carry pollen. Some species have all orange hairs, whilst others are orange but then darker towards the end (photo 3)

If you're interested, the first two photos show Megachile centuncularis at the edge of a path near my house in Norwich, whilst the last photo is Megachile ligniesca from Alderfen Broad. Note the dark hairs under the end of the bottom bee, and the lack of hairiness on most of the last tergite (abdomen segment). So there we go, a few ID tips there. As for Andrenas? Lump 'em all as "Mining Bee" I say.

RSPB FUNDING APPEAL: Snettisham hide

Early in July some tweets started appearing with the hashtag #Snettshide, a short video of some Knot and the tagline "Keep following #SnettsHide for all the latest information on what's happening on the 10 July. Stay tuned if you #LoveSnetts"

This was of course designed to build up interest in whatever was being unveiled, something to do with a hide at Snettisham. But what could it be? Was the hide going to feature as the TARDIS in the new series of Doctor Who? Had Ed Sheerhan's Game of Thrones cameo been filmed there? Perhaps it had been built underground as was going to rise up out of the earth whilst Wagner's Ring Cycle was played by a live orchestra?

Well no, the big reveal was that the RSPB want to build a hide to replace the two lost in the 2013 storm surge, and have launched a crowdfunder appeal for funds. The design is pictured below, but you can see it in situ and donate to the fund here:

Birders are a cynical bunch, and whilst many were immediately supportive, there were also quite a few questions about the hide. The RSPB have provided the answers to many of these common questions here: A blog entry that just directs you to another website isn't very fun though, so here are some of the points I've seen mentioned, along with either the RSPB comments or my opinion.

1) Does a hide really cost £120,000? 
This is a genuine question, because most of us have never built a hide before, and the old ones do resemble large sheds. It does seem expensive, but the link above explains the reasons for this - it has to be reinforced because it is being built on shingle, has the capacity of two previous hides and will require specialist equipment to build it because of the location. It also has a pit to put photographers in for photographers to go in.

2) Is it being designed by the same people as the Parrinder Hide?
The Parrinder Hide at Titchwell is an award winning hide, but it is perhaps arguable that hides do not need to win awards. The Parrinder design was not universally popular - "Ikea meets a World War 2 bunker" being one of the more family friendly descriptions. The main concerns are two-fold, that the hide would stick out in the landscape and cost more than necesary because of funky architecture. Again the RSPB link reassures us, this hide has a different designer, will fit in with the landscape and is designed purely for functionality.

3) Why use a month-long crowdfunder appeal?
I must admit I wondered this. A month is not a long time to raise that much money. The link provides an answer, but to my mind it doesn't really say why crowdfunder was thought to work better than a 'normal' campaign. It does mean that there are a number of 'rewards' for donating certain amounts. Donate over £30,000 and you might be able to name the hide! If you do, remember that rare birds might be seen from it and be reported on RBA, BirdGuides etc, so definitely don't call it the stringy sightings hide, that would be confusing.

4) Is a hide the best use of money when other organisations are trying to buy reserves?
 Now lets face it, the RSPB have to carry on and raise as much money as they can for their own projects, regardless of the activities of other organisations. That said, many of the potential donators will have donated to appeals for  Cley/Salthouse Marshes and Hickling Broad, and might be wondering whether to donate to this too. When faced with appeals I tend to apply a sort of multi-factor analysis to make up my mind. 
Factors I consider include:
  • What is the wildlife benefit to the proposition?
  • What are the consequences if the scheme doesn't go ahead? 
  • Do I have a personal link/memories of the location?
  • Am I likely to visit/use the facilities in the near future?
Given my first two considerations, it would be hard (in my opinion) to argue that someone with enough benevolence for one more project should donate to the Snettisham hide rather than helping Suffolk Wildlife Trust buy the adjoining land at their Carlton Marshes reserve (see details here: )

That said, it does look like a nice hide, so if you can stretch to donating to two projects, or have a connection to Snettisham then they will be grateful for your donation.

Details of the Snettisham crowdfunder appeal are here:

NORTH NORFOLK: Cley Dowitcher and Soldierflies

16th July 2017

On Sunday I knew I would have a few hours free after dropping Cathy off in the city, and I thought I would head out to east Norfolk to look for another one of my target species, Fen Mason Wasp. Those plans changed in the morning, when news came through that Jake had found a Long-billed Dowitcher at Cley. Whilst reasonably regular in the UK, there hadn't been a Norfolk record since 2007, so I decided that I would go and have a look.

Heading north out of the city the roads were wet, and as I carried on towards Holt it began to rain. Not ideal, but at least the weather wasn't likely to do my chances of seeing the Dowitcher any harm. I parked up at the visitors centre in the assumption that the east bank car park would be full, althoug as it turned out I could have parked there and saved myself a bit of time.

A small group of birders including Paul Woolnough were stood level with the serpentine, watching the Long-billed Dowitcher alongside a few Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank. It showed reasonably well, although the overcast conditions made photographs poorer than normal.

After a while I carried on past Arnold's Marsh and had a quick look amongst the Birdsfoot Trefoil. Six-belted Clearwing moths seem to show well on the equivalent plants at Minsmere, but here there was no sign of any. At that point I got a phonecall from John Furse who was on East Bank and asked how I was getting on, adding that I was about a month late if I wanted to see the clearwings.

On my way down the path I had deliberately avoided looking too closely at the plants as I knew I'd be distracted by the insects. On the way back I made up for this by checking as much Hogweed and Ragwort as possible, finding three species of soldierfly and a new hoverfly to complete a wildlife-filled weekend.

 Barred Snout female
 Barred Snout male
 Flecked Snout male
 Green Colonel
Anasimyia contorta