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

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

BRECKLAND: Earthstars and other fungi

27th January 2018

It was my birthday in the week, so on Saturday Cathy & I decided to visit the Brecks for a walk and lunch. It was a lovely sunny day - haha, of course it wasn't, it was gloomy and cloudy like all of the other times I've been out so far this year. As we left Norwich it began to drizzle, and it then rained constantly for the rest of the time we were out.

Our main destination was an area of woodland where I hoped to see a new species of earthstar. Earlier in the year I had been discussing earthstars with Mark Joy, who has spent the last couple of years visiting a large variety of sites to find and photograph these interesting fungi. During this conversation it emerged that he had seen one of the species I'd not come across whilst in Norfolk last autumn. With most fungi they would have decomposed long before now, but earthstars often just dry up, which means that the fruiting bodies can be found almost all year round in some places.

Having parked up we entered the woods, and following Mark's directions I soon found the right area. To my delight the earthstars were still present, some completely dried up but others at least holding their form. These were Crowned Earthstars (Geastrum coronatum), growing beneath a cypress tree. They were all concentrated around the base of one tree, but as Cathy checked other trees nearby she found five fresher looking earthstars. These turned out to be Striate Earthstars (Geastrum striatum), a commoner species but nice to see. It is something of a feature that many earthstars have similar habitat requirements, so if you find one species then it is quite likely you'll find another there too. Cathy also found some Pearly Powdercaps (Cystoderma carcharias), which I'd not seen before.

 Crowned Earthstar
 Crowned Earthstar
Striate Earthstar - note the clear stalk and collar to the spore sac, and the clearly grooved peristome (opening at the top)
 Pearly Powdercaps

Next we moved on to Lynford Arboretum. In a short loop we admired the drifts of Snowdrops flowering below the trees, before moving to the gate to watch the feeders. Coal Tits and Marsh Tits joined the commoner species, whilst the sight of a Treecreeper on the ground was unusual. I noticed a hellebore growing beside the path so went over to check for leaf mines (now a well engrained habit!) and instead noticed some concentric circles, indicating a fungal leaf spot. At home I was able to identify this as Hellebore Black-spot (Microsphaeropsis hellebori). This might be well known to gardeners, but Tony Leech confirmed that there is only one previous Norfolk record, from Ted Ellis in 1956!

From Lynford we headed to Brandon Country Park. We both like the cafe here, however on this occasion we arrived just too late for hot food, so we contented ourselves with a toasted tea cake and an apple crumble tart. From the cafe window we could see lots of birds on the feeders, including more Coal Tits. Whilst in the cafe 'Weather with you' by Crowded House came on whilst the rain continued outside. Sometimes its hard not to think that there is a cosmic joker out there...

WHITLINGHAM: January wildfowl count & a showy Bittern

21st January 2018

An early start meant that I was up to see a beautiful orangey-pink sunrise. Five minutes later and the sky had turned a pale grey for the rest of the day - those shepherds know what they're talking about.

The little broad held ten species, a reasonable total that included a female Shoveler. A Green Woodpecker swooped across and almost over my head, whilst a flock of Siskins swirled around. Moving onto the Great Broad I was pleased to see seven Egyptian Geese. In recent years only one pair has bred (sometimes having a second brood), so it would be nice to think that more pairs are around, and the odd bird might mean one is already on a nest.

I spent some time at the slipway scanning the reeds opposite for the overwintering Bittern, with no luck. Next up were the Black-headed Gulls, with only one being ringed, and that a metal ring that I couldn't read. Birds were scattered over the broad but the Pochard (13), Shoveler (2) and Teal (6) were all around the main island. Interestingly no Great-crested Grebes were seen. Numbers of common migratory species considerably down on this time last year:
  • Mallard 76 (2017: 56)
  • Tufted Duck 278 (2017: 381)
  • Gadwall 128 (2017: 238)
  • Coot 155 (2017: 337)
Whilst near the bird screen I got a phonecall from Rich Moores, who was near the visitors centre with members of the Norwich Bat Group. He had just had a Great White Egret fly over heading west, and also told me that the Bittern was now out and had been showing well for the past 30 minutes. As I was finishing off the count I then headed back round to the slipway, where the Bittern was still showing really well, perched partway up some reeds. After watching it for a while I headed to Trowse Meadows hoping to track down the Great White Egret, but there was no sign of it there. 

Whilst at Trowse Meadows I noted several species of fungi, as well as leaf mines of Copotriche marginea and Stigmella aurella in Bramble.

EAST NORFOLK: Return to Shangri-La

13th January 2017

Having failed to see the Hume's Warbler at Waxham on the previous weekend, I was keen to revisit and give it another look. Adam had also been unsuccessful, so I agreed to head back to North Walsham on Saturday morning to pick him up then head to Waxham. I had a quick poke about in his garden before we set off, noting Stigmella anomalella mines in a Rose sp and more interestingly feeding signs of a Psychoides moth sp on Polypody ferns.

At Waxham we noticed a small group of birders looking into the Shangri-La garden. The Hume's Warbler had been seen there earlier in the morning, but there was no sign of it now. Deja vu began to creep in. Some people on Twitter had given me up-to-date information, which suggested that it was mostly favouring the area south of the garden, was calling very infrequently and was feeding low down, so we decided to search the areas of Alexanders along the coast footpath just south of Shangi-La.

After about 45 minutes with no sight or sound of the Hume's Warbler we retraced our steps and decided to try a bit to the north. A small group were looking intently into the ivy covered trees in a way that suggested they might have seen it, but they hadn't. After searching theare just north of the chalet we turned round and returned to head back to the area we started at. This time we got lucky, as a tour group had located the Hume's Warbler. It called and flew past us, and after a quick move along the path we got nice close views of it in some Alexanders before it flew up into the trees. Another call and some more good but brief views and it then vanished again.

Leaving Waxham we decided to call in at Happisburgh where a flock of Shorelarks have been frequenting the area around the lighthouse. The large field seemed to hold hardly any birds, although a Meadow Pipit was new for the year for me. Whilst Adam scanned the field I looked out to see, seeing two Red-throated Divers flying south. Further along we met Gary & Alysia, who also hadn't seen the Shorelark. After a catch up we continued on, seeing some Skylarks and a Stonechat. On the way back I noticed four Snow Buntings on the beach, suggesting that the Shorelark might have also been somewhere out of sight along the shore.

On the way home we saw drive-by Turnstones at Walcott and a Sparrowhawk over the road between Edingthorpe and North Walsham.

NORWICH: Miscellaneous January sightings

w/c 8th January 2018

Whilst the days are short I have to make due with looking for wildlife on my way to work or if it passes my window. Despite these limitations there are usually a few things of interest, even in December and January. This week I heard my first Pink-footed Geese fly over the house, presumably disorientated in the fog. Some Redwings in Chapelfield Park and a Sparrowhawk over Lakenham Way were my other avian highlights from the week.

Grey Squirrels are common in Norwich, but watching one at close quarters is always entertatining. One at Chapelfield Park was so intent on eating that as people walked past it would adjust its position, but still keep eating.

The most interesting sighting of the week came on Friday. I noticed a leafhopper had landed on my office window. It looked reddish underneath, so I potted it for a closer look, and found that it was a nicely patterned one that I didn't recognise. Further research revealed that it was an Acericerus sp. Two similar species, A. ribauti and A. vittifrons, can be separated by face pattern if they are male, but as luck would have it mine was a female. Both are associated with Field Maple, which I haven't seen particularly close to the city centre, but I'll be keeping an eye out for more to work out which species is present.


7th January 2018

Having a free morning I decided to head over to East Norfolk where a Hume's Warbler had been found recently.
Cathy: "Where is it then?"
Me: Shangri-La
Cathy: "Does it have a fountain of eternal youth, and is it guarded by Yeti?"*
Me: "No, this is the Norfolk Shangri-La. It has some stunted trees and is guarded on one side by Seals".
Cathy: "It sounds miss-named"
Me: "You might have a point".

Driving out a flock of Pink-footed Geese flew over just after Salhouse and a big flock of Rooks were in the fields near Ingham. Knowing that there wasn't much parking available at Waxham I headed for Sea Palling. I intended to park in the small charity car park but it was shut - that made me remember I hadn't been here for years. I ended up parking in the pay and display car park, although judging from the multiple cars parked on double yellow lines on the road into the village perhaps normal parking procedures don't apply here.

As I started off on the coast path to Waxham a birder asked if I'd seen the Hume's Warbler yet, telling me that it had showed early morning but was still mobile. I hurried along to the Shangri-La garden, where I had missed the bird by about ten minutes. There were quite a few birders on site, but they kept coming and going. I was never sure if they were just checking the trees nearby or were watching it somewhere else. Eventually I gave up and headed back to the car. I knew I would probably see it if I put in enough time, but I'd said I'd be back at lunchtime and as gambling adverts tell you, if the fun stops, stop.

* people who have read the James Hilton novel might not recognise this description, but Shangri-La is guarded by Yetis in the critically slated film The Mummy 3: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.

NORWICH: Earlham Cemetery new year plant hunt

2nd January 2018

For the past few years the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland (BSBI) have been running the new year plant hunt, in which people go out between 30th Dec and 2nd Jan and record which plants are in flower. This provides a wealth of data about which species are in flower and where, and over time will also contribute to phenology (i.e. are some plants changing their flowering periods). I have sometimes contributed data, but this year decided to join the walk organised by the Friends of Earlham Cemetery.

The walk started off with eight people, although it was cold and by the end some participants had departed, leaving Ian, Jeremy, Vanna and I. Altogether we recorded 29 species, although one was an unidentified grass and several might have been planted rather than naturalised. Upon transferring the list onto BirdJournal when I got home I found that Thale Cress was apparently a new species for me. This was surprising on one hand as its a common species, but not that odd really as it is small and part of a sometimes confusing mass of Brassicas.

Whilst walking round we accumulated records of several leaf mines, some probably new to the cemetery, and also some fungi. Of the latter Bleeding Broadleaf Crust and Fenugreek Stalkball were of note. We also saw two Muntjac Deer. Thanks to Ian for leading the walk and for submitting our list - you can see the results here:


1st January 2018

I have now completed the report of birds reported from Whitlingham and Thorpe Marshes in 2017. To read it or download a copy, click here.

WHITLINGHAM: First visit of the year

1st January 2018

After a relaxing morning Cathy & I took a slow stroll along the south shore of the Great Broad. It was very busy, perhaps with people who have made a new years resolution to walk more, so should be OK next week. The meadows around Trowse were completely flooded, but fortunately the broad had only overtopped onto the path in one place.

We started accumulating the common species from the car park, with a flyover Fieldfare a bonus as with the exception of a light autumn passage they have been hard to find here this winter. Reaching the broad we saw Mallard, Coot, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Egyptian Goose on the broad, followed by Mute Swan, Canada Goose and Greylag Goose, plus the Chinese Goose x Greylag Goose hybrid. Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull were all added, along with Cormorant and Great-crested Grebe.

Moving along until we were level with the island we could see some Teal and seven Little Grebes. Not much more was added until we reached the end of the broad, when looking across to St Andrews Broad we could see Shoveler, Pochard and one of the Ferruginous x Pochard hybrids (Justin had found a second similar looking bird this morning, so I'm not sure which I saw). Cathy picked out a Kingfisher flying across the river, and a flock of Long-tailed Tits flew through.

On our way back we picked up a few passerines, and heard Bullfinch and Goldfinches. Walking back along the road to avoid the worst of the mud Cathy found another Kingfisher, which based on the location was probably the same one I saw on the 29th Dec. In total I saw 33 species with two more heard only to start my patch year.