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: Bank holiday part 1 - North Walsham

28th August 2017

On bank holiday Monday I had arranged to go out with Adam, so I headed back to North Walsham. before we went out we went through some moths that Adam had caught the night before. Most of them were typical for the time of year, but there was a new one amongst them for me, Scarce Bordered Straw. This species is a fairly regular migrant at this time of year, but numbers vary and catching one seems to be pot luck really.

When we went out into the garden to release the moths Adam pointed out a parasitised Large White caterpillar and pupae of the parasitic wasps that had emerged. These small yellow cocoons are made by Cotesia glomerata, and should be looked for wherever you know that Large White caterpillars have eaten your veg!

We then a brief look around the garden so that I could add a few species to Adam's fledgeling garden list. These mostly took the form of leaf-miners, including Amauromyza flavifrons in Red Campion and Stigmella plagicolella in Sloe leaves.

Later in the day I was about to leave when Adam found one of the impressive Sycamore Moth caterpillars in his hedge, as well as an Angle Shades moth.

YARE VALLEY: Strumpshaw moths

26th August 2017

Each year Strumpshaw Fen hold three public moth morning events. I had been busy on the days of the first two, but would have probably chosen to go to this one out of the three anyway as it was slightly later in the year than normal to attract a different range of species. Cathy, Margaret and I arrived a bit early so went and had a look from the vieweing screen, seeing Kingfisher, Bearded Tit, Marsh Harrier and Black Swan. Whilst the group assembled we then stopped as a Shrew sp ran under a nearby table.

As usual Ben had put out two traps, one in the woodland and one in the wetter habitat in front of reception hide. Between the two traps around 60 species were caught, but for the first time at one of these events I didn't see any new species. There were two that I hadn't seen in Norfolk before, Lesser Swallow Prominent (Suffolk) and Six-striped Rustic (Kent), plus several species that I had only seen once before like Chevron and a Clay Triple-lines that Ben brought from his garden trap in Brundall. Other things like Burnished Brass are always nice to see.

 Lesser Swallow Prominent
 Clay Triple-lines
Burnished Brass

I had hoped to have a quick look for other insects after we had gone through the traps, but a steady rain had begun to fall so there wasn't much point. I did find some 'sputnik' galls on Dog Rose near the reserve entrance, caused by the cynipid wasp Diplolepis nervosa, along with another Hawthorn Shieldbug. Thanks as always to Ben for running the event.

NORWICH: Cow tower Willow Emeralds

25th August 2017

Another brief Norwich excursion, when after work on Friday I detoured through the cathedral grounds and round the river. The main purpose of the walk was to check for Willow Emerald damselflies at the pond near Cow Tower, and I was pleased to find four, including a mating pair. There were also several male darters, although I didn't see them well enough to determine if they were Common or Ruddy. A red shieldbug was also seen near the pond, which as suspected was a mid-instar Hawthorn Shieldbug.

NORWICH: Train Wood highlights

22nd August 2017

After work on Tuesday I decided to take a rather circuitous route home, taking in a bit of Train Wood. There wasn't much in the way of flowering plants in the wooded area, so I cut through and emerged onto the main tarmac path running behind the industrial estate. Here there was more to draw my attention, and amongst the numerous Canadian Goldenrod I found some stands of Tansy. As I don't see it too much I decided to focus on it, and this paid of with three new species for me - Tansy Aphid (if you look closely you can see the demonic red eyes), a Tansy leaf miner (Phytomyza tanaceti) and a plant bug, Megacoleus molliculus.

A bit further along I searched another clearing and came up with two more new species, another leaf miner (Agromyza frontella), this time in Hop Trefoil, and a rhopalid bug, Liorhyssus hyalinus.

To show that I was using some of my other senses I located a calling Great-spotted Woodpecker, then used my sense of smell to track down a group of Stinkhorns in the pathside vegetation. A very productive diversion home all in all.

NORWICH: Castle Gardens Bee-wolves

22nd August 2017

A couple of years ago I went to the Castle Gardens in the centre of Norwich to see my first Bee-wolf, a type of wasp that attacks Honey Bees. Last year I called in once to have a look, but the area seemed to be a bit overgrown so I thought the colony may have been lost. I was recently asked if they were still present, so on Tuesday I decided to go for lunch in the gardens and check. Pleasingly they were still there. The conditions were overcast so there wasn't much activity, but I saw three individuals and there were many more holes. A reminder that I should make more of my time at lunch or after work as there is a lot of wildlife to see around the city.

NORWICH AREA: Daisy Earthstars

The recent alternating spells of warm and wet have resulted in some typically autumn fungi fruiting early. However the fungus that I was interested in seeing was actually quite old, but fortunately well preserved. A mycologist friend of mine, Mark Joy, had recently found a small group of Daisy Earthstars (Geastrum floriforme) and been good enough to give me directions to them. Daisy Earthstars are one of a small group that are hygroscopic, that is they curl up when dry, but expand when wet. The expansion was rather slow (due in part to the age probably), but one of them did uncurl fully.

Of the other fungi seen a Shaggy Parasol-type was of interest. This species, a smaller version of the Parasol that stains a yellowey-orange colour has been split into three species recently. This means that I don't know which of the 'new' species any of my older records refer to - hopefully this one can be identified and it can go back on my list!

YARE VALLEY: Wheatfen insects on thistles

Keen to exploit the fickle periods of sunshine I nipped to Wheatfen one afternoon to look for beetles. I'd barely left the car park when I saw a Grass Snake moving through the vegetation, which was a nice start. I then met Will the warden, and accompanied him back to the warden's hut to buy a copy of the Mammals of Wheatfen, the first in a series of wildlife guides that are being produced. You can pick up a copy from Will for £3 if you see him there.

Whilst speaking to Will I had asked him where the best place to look for two species of beetle was. One of them is the very rare Galeruca laticollis, currently Wheatfen is the only UK site for this species. I have seen the larvae before, but not the adult beetle. The second species was the Musk Beetle, an impressively large metallic green longhorn beetle that I hadn't seen for years. Predictably both were at the far end of the reserve, so I set off in that direction.

Galeruca laticollis has a two foodplant life cycle. The larvae eat Meadow-rue but the adults eat Creeping Thistle, so it was the latter I had to look out for. As Creeping thistle is a common plant this meant a lot of plants to look through! On my way through a wooded patch I spotted two obliging Willow Emerald damselflies.

Emerging out into the open I started checking thistles, and found that the commonest creatures on them were planthoppers. I also found some Tortoise Beetles (Cassida vibex), both adults and the larvae, which create a faecal shield from their droppings in order to camouflage themselves. A Creeping Thistle Lacebug was a new species for me, having previously seen the similar Spear Thistle Lacebug. By now it had clouded over and I could hear thunder in the distance. I had checked a lot of thistles, but eventually found my target, with at least six Galeruca laticollis beetles present.

It began to rain almost as I found the beetles, and there was very little shelter about. Fortunately the storm fizzled out, allowing me to seek a bit of shelter from the lashing rain near an old willow. It carried on raining, so in the end I waited until it was less heavy and sloshed my way back.

YARE VALLEY: Cantley marsh plants

The grazing marshes at Cantley are usually off-limits to the public, but last week I took advantage of a Freshwater Habitats Trust training course to have a short walk along some of the dykes. The main purpose of the course was to show interested individuals how to identify Greater Water Parsnip and Tubular Water Dropwort, both rare plants but realtively common in certain parts of the broads. We found both without any problem here.

 Greater Water Parsnip
 Tubuler Water Dropwort

In addition to the target species we saw a range of other wetland plants, several of which were new for me. I thought I had seen Flowering Rush before, but apparently not, whilst I have probably been overlooking Sweet Flag, and wouldn't have been able to identify Shining Pondweed or Rigid Hornwort.

 Flowering Rush
 Sweet Flag
 Shining Pondweed
 Rigid Hornwort

In addition to the plants I managed to catch a Notch-horned Cleg before it bit me, and found a mating pair of Donacia marginata reed beetles. The latter was doubly pleasing in that I managed to key it out correctly and Martin Collier has told me that although it is quite widespread in the county, he doesn't have any previous records from Cantley. Thanks to Jeremy Halls and Pete Case for allowing me to attend the session.

LINCOLNSHIRE: Brown Hairstreak

Earlier in the summer I had been discussing butterflies with Jim Bradley, and we agreed to head out for a day later in the summer. A late-summer species that neither of us had seen before was Brown Hairstreak, so we decided to head to Chambers Farm Wood in Lincolnshire to seek out this species. Inicdentally several small populations have been seen in recent years a bit closer to Norfolk in the Ipswich area, but the Suffolk butterfly recorder believes these to be unauthorised introductions.

Upon heading into the woods we hadn't gone very far before we noticed hiarstreaks flying high up around pathside trees. Several were definitely Purple Hairstreak, and we were to see 10+ of this species, including two on the ground. Typically the more interesting hairstreaks were more mobile and we couldn't conclusively ID them.

This finally changed when we arrived at an area known locally as the Minton triangle, which sounds a bit like it should be a Quality Street chocolate. We had an orangey-brown butterfly flying high along the trees in an area where a couple of friendly butterfliers from Newark had just been watching a Brown Hairstreak. It took a while, but eventually it reappeared, and we managed to get bins views of the Brown Hairstreak flying over some Blackthorn.

The next part of the day involved a lot of standing around looking at vegetation in areas where other people had seen one a few minutes ago. We went back to the car for lunch, during which time one had apparently been perched up for nearly an hour. Despite our flight views we both had really hoped for at least one stationary view. We had gleaned a few useful nuggets of information from our fellow lepidopterists, notably that 11:30-2:30 was the best time for non-flight sightings, Angelica was the best plant to watch, and the area with the most sightings recently wasn't where several butterfliers saw them in previous years.

We began a slow walk back, and having gone past the triangle I suddenly spotted a female Brown Hairstreak nectaring on some Angelica. It stayed put for a few photos, before flying up onto a tree overhanging the path. Here it opened its wings, albeit we could hardly see it from the angle we were at. Jim then found a male a bit further down the path, which stayed put for even less time. Brief encounters, but great to get good views of my final one of the five British Hairstreaks. 

Thanks to Jim for doing the driving, and to the many friendly people we met on site who gave advice and tried to help us see the butterfly.

THORPE MARSH: Phasia hemiptera

In the past week a couple of species had been reported that I'd not seen on my patch before, Common Lizard and Small Red-eyed Damselfly, so when the sun came out I went for a quick circuit. I didn't see either of these targets, but the pathside flowers were full of insects. The highlight of these was the odd-shaped tachinid Phasia hempitera, which I have seen a couple of times previously at Whitlingham, but not at Thorpe before. Another tachinid present in good numbers was Tachina fera.

I will leave you with my last photo of the walk, two hoverflies on an Angelica flowerhead, that for some reason I rather like. The one on the left is Eristalis pertinax, and the other is Eristalis intricaria.

WHITLINGHAM: August count, snakes and insects

12th August 2017

In terms of birds this months WeBS count was the quietest I can remember, but there were several other species about to spice up the visit. The Little Broad is now barely visible through the rampant vegetation, so I headed round to a gate near the watersports centre to get an alternative view. When I  headed back up towards the path I spooked a Grass Snake, which slithered quickly down into the reeds. In the past ten years I had only seen one live one and one dead one here, although perhaps not surprising given the level of disturbance the site gets.

Grass Snake (you might need to click on the photo to enlarge it to see the snake)

A paltry 11 species (plus Swan Goose x Greylag hybird) were present on the Great Broad, but numbers overall similar to last year.

Main counts:
  • Mute Swan 59 (2016: 60)
  • Greylag Goose 4 (2016: 0)
  • Egyptian Goose 16 (2016: 21)
  • Mallard 99 (2016: 98)
By the time I reached the south-east corner of the broad the bulk of the bird count had been done and I could spend a bit more time looking for insects. Three species were of particular interest, the hoverfly Ferdinandea cuprea was a patch tick for me, whilst the tachinid Graphomya maculata and the conopid Conops flavipes were both new for me.

Looking at leaf mines as I went round I saw two of the four Norfolk 'snail trail' moth mines, Phyllocnistis xenia in poplar and Phyllocnistis saligna in willow. Having not found any mines in Himalayan Balsam at Trowse Meadow a few weeks ago, mines of the fly Phytoliromyza melampyga were new for the site I think.

There was a final sighting of interest on the path back to the car park - another Grass Snake! Again it saw me before I saw it and soon vanished into the leaf litter, but great to see them here.