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NORWICH: Miscellaneous recent sightings

Late March 2018

An hour at Earlham Marsh and a few slight detours on my way home from work comprised my wildlife experiences for the past ten days, but there are still a few things worth noting.

20th: A nice summer plumage Little Grebe was on the River Wensum just upstream of New Mills. This was my first within the inner ring road (I maintain, although not particularly avidly, within the inner ring road and within the outer ring road Norwich lists alongside a general 'Norwich area' one). It wasn't a great surprise given that they often winter just the other side of the ring road near Wensum Park, but nice to see nonetheless.

21st: Taking a slightly meandering route home I recorded several sites for Phytomyza ilicis, a fly that produces leaf mines in Holly. It is the only species to mine Holly, and the mines are very distinctive, being a yellowy colour that sticks out from a distance. If you check any large Holly you are likely to find it, but obviously being a bit niche not many people record it (in east Norfolk the majority of recent records are from two people, myself and Graham Moates). To illustrate this, firstly see a map of my Norwich area Phytomyza ilicis records, followed by the overall records. Of course it could be that lots of people have recorded it in the same place, but it seems more likely nobody else is doing it! If you would like to contribute to the dataset, the best way is to submit the record, with a photo, via

My Phytomyza ilicis records in the past two years
All Phytomyza ilicis records from iRecord (the preferred method of the Agromyzidae recording scheme for submitting records) in the past five years
What to look out for

Another thing of interest on my walk home was a hedge made up of Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas). I will be monitoring this hedge over the summer for the leaf mines of a moth recently given species status. Basically, Antispila treitschkiella was thought to mine the leaves of both Dogwood and Cornelian Cherry, however genetic research has found that there are actually two species, eahc specific to one foodplant. All of the Norfolk records of Antispila treitschkiella have been transferred to the newly named species Antispila petryi (i.e. the Dogwood eating one). This means that we should now be on the lookout for A. treitschkiella s.s. on Cornelian Cherry. The plant flowers now, making it best to find out where it is in the spring, but the leaves then grow and any mines will be early summer.

Cornelian Cherry flowers. It is a non-native species and most likely to be found in parks, gardens and arboretums.

24th: The sporadically appearing Norwich Glaucous Gull was seen again, this time on a roof near Earlham Marsh by Drew. Most of its previous appearances had been mid-week, so being a Saturday I headed down to Earlham Marsh, by which time of course it had gone. The flooded section of the marshes was looking excellent for birds though, and a drake Pintail (plus a minimum of 15 Shoveler) was good to see as I never saw one in the area when I lived at UEA or Three Score.

NBIS/NNNS Recorders meeting

19th March 2018

On Monday night it was off to Whitlingham ski slope after work for the annual NBIS/NNNS recorders meeting. I arrived a bit before the start time, so went for a walk around Trowse Meadow and Church Common. It was too cold for any insects, but I did notice some tiny shiny black ovals in cracks in a tree bark. Suggestions from Twitter are that these are likely to be Aphids, although a type of mite has also been suggested so I'll need to go back and have a closer look at some point. I also found Phytomyza ranunculi mines in Lesser Celandine.

Despite it nominally being part of my patch, I'd not actually been to the ski slope before. The bar looks quite nice, so perhaps I should have a better look round at some point. This year there were some particularly interesting talks, listed below in case you want to research any of them:

In particular I would recommend checking out the garden wildlife health website, which sounds like an excellent resource.

WHITLINGHAM: March wildfowl count

18th March 2018

I had initially thought it likely that I would miss the March WeBS count, but as Rose was born early I was able to keep up my run of counts for a while longer. Stepping out into the cold gusty wind I wasn't completely sure that was a good thing. I reassured myself that the combination of cold conditions, strongly easterly wind and time of year meant there was a good chance of something unusual (Goosander, Kittiwake, Black Redstart for example), and with this temporary positive attitude and some thermal clothing I was ready to go.

Heading out of the car park I saw a Green Woodpecker fly up off the meadows and along the lane. Redwings called from the nearby scrub, and further round I got good views of one perched up. The Little Broad held low numbers but higher than normal variety, a drake Teal called from the other side of the dyke, and four drake Pochards swam about further out. Whilst counting the Black-headed Gulls I received a text to say that a Caspian Gull had just flown over the visitors centre, continuing a rather unwanted trend began by the Great White Egret that also flew over the visitors centre while I was elsewhere on site during the January count.

I began counting the Great Broad, hindered by the choppy water and gusty winds that would have blown the tripod over on more than one occasion if I hadn't grabbed it. Reaching the island I scanned the posts just in case the Caspian Gull had landed here (it hadn't). I then received a phonecall from Gary who was on the north side of the broad - two drake Pintail had just flown out eading eastwards along the broad. This could have been yet another saga, but fortunately I did see them later on, albeit only twice in flight, as they seem to like hiding in the reedy edges here. These were my first drakes following three females in previous years.

There were two avian highlights of the rest of my visit, firstly a male Sparrowhawk that flew into a nearby tree, apparently completely oblivious of my presence, and secondly a raft of 17 Shovelers feeding in the conservation area bay. For interest some selected counts (Little Broad, Great Broad and St Andrews Broad) were:

Gadwall 18 (2017: 33, Feb 2018: 54)
Shoveler 22 (2017: 6, Feb 2018: 14)
Pintail 2
Tufted Duck 159 (2017: 147, Feb 2018: 221)
Pochard 6 (2017: 2, Feb 217: 39)
Coot 37 (2017: 39, Feb 2017: 68)
Great Black-backed Gull 1

I completed my lap with no singing Chiffchaffs or anything like that, and the only excitement was provided by the finding of an orangey-pink crust fungus growing on a fallen branch. It turned out to be Rosy Crust (Peniophora incarnata), a common species but one I've not recorded here before. 

WHITLINGHAM: Watching the gulls go by

11th March 2018

After a busy couple of weeks I headed down to Whitlingham on Sunday evening to watch the gulls flying off to roost. This is quite a relaxing thing to do, although it had a bit more purpose about it on this occasion as I was checking them out in the hope that the erratically appearing Norwich Glaucous Gull would be amongst them. Having had a look at the new pond dipping pagoda, I walked as far as the island I turned back to watch them coming from the city, all the while serenaded by a Blackbird singing from trees along the lane. A Green Woodpecker yaffled sardonically from the picnic meadow, seemingly not fancying my chances of seeing my target.

After a while the traffic noise from the A47 became just a loud hum in the background, a reminder that unlike a big grazing marsh the site sits properly on the border between urban and rural landscape. For some reason the period around dusk seems to fit well with this liminal atmosphere. A flock of a couple of hundred Starlings flew west with barely a murmur - presumably going to join up with a bigger flock for aerial manoeuvres. Most of the wildfowl was silent, save for the occasional frenzied honking of the geese. Jackdaws began to congregate on the far side of the broad - in the past few years a roost of hundreds has established itself on the main island. As the evening wore on they rose and chacked loudly, spiralling over their favoured tree like a Hitchcockian Buckenham-lite.

Despite these sensory diversions (and some interesting bands of cloud) I was mainly concentrating on the gulls, which tended to be passing over in bursts. I let the ones that were slighlty behind me or too high to see well go, but tried to check out the rest, particularly the ones that looked larger than their flying companions. These were typically Herring amongst the Black-headed Gulls, and after a while I headed back to the car. The light looked good for a Barn Owl to be out, but it was not to be.

NORTH NORFOLK: Snowy owl and strandline creatures

10th March 2018

Those readers with Twitter accounts will have probably been unable to escape the knowledge that a Snowy Owl arrived in Norfolk last week on the coat-tails of the beast from the east. The initial sighting near King's Lynn was greeted with scepticism as it was reported in the evening rather than at the time, but confirmation arrived on Thursday when birders showed a photo of the owl taken at Heacham beach to staff at Titchwell.

On to Friday afternoon and the Snowy Owl was found on Scolt Head Island, thankfully visible from Burnham Deepdale so most birders weren't tempted to attempt to wade or swim across to the island. I was busy on Friday, but knowing how much I'd like to see it, Cathy agreed that I could go and have a look on Saturday afternoon.

By Saturday the Snowy Owl had relocated to Thornham Point, giving a choice of viewing between Thornham Harbour and walking along the beach from Titchwell. I chose the latter, but only after finding that several of the minor roads north from Docking were still blocked by snow (this being several days after the EDP had carried a story saying that the last snow-blocked road in Norfolk had been cleared). Fortunately I managed to find a space in the very full Titchwell car park, and set off along the west bank path.

On my way down towards the beach I met Dave White, who provided mixed news. The Snowy Owl was still present but distant, and he estimated it was a 20 minute walk along the beach. It was quite close to the shoreline, so if the tide got any higher it might fly off. With this in mind I power-walked down to the beach and westwards for what seemed like an age, before finding the crowd of birders watching the owl. It was absolutely worth it, the Snowy Owl sat looking around and engaged in a couple of short flights up onto a post and back down again. Even at range it was a characterful and enchanting beastie.

There had been quite a bit reported offshore, but wanting to get back to wife and daughter I contented myself by walking back along the strandline and photographing the various shells to identify later. There were quite a lot of Common Sunstars amongst a few Starfish, several Green Sea Urchins and large numbers of crab remains. There were clearly several species, but most of the soft tissue had been eaten, presumably by gulls. I did notice several orange ones that looked the wrong shape for Edible crabs - spider crabs maybe? If you recognise it then please leave a comment or send me an email. Shells included whelks, oysters, razors, tellins, periwinkles Painted Top Shells and some sort of slipper limpet.

 Crab sp.

 Slipper Limpet
 Common Sunstar
 Painted Top Shell
 Green Sea Urchin
 Sea Potato

On the way back I noticed a Smooth Newt walking across the path. It was in danger of getting squashed, so I scooped it up and moved it to the edge of the path. A group were watching the regular Woodcock near the car park, and somebody kindly showed me it in their telescope as picking it up from scratch usually takes a while ("you see that twig, well another twig comes off at an angle..."). Thanks to the RSPB, whose infrastructure seemed to be holding firm despite the huge visitor numbers, and to the majority of birders that didn't try to get too close and flush the bird. Today (11th March) it is currently at Snettisham RSPB reserve if you want to see it.

THORPE MARSHES: Smew and Mandarin

6th March 2018

I had to go shopping in the morning, so decided to make the most of my time and pop into Thorpe on the way home. I had hoped to see the drake Pintail that Ricky saw yesterday, but didn't. It has been spending a lot of time in the reedy edges, and typically was seen again later in the day. There was more than ample recompense however with the redhead Smew that has been in the area for the past few days. Three Wigeon and a scattering of Teal, Shoveler and Little Grebes also joined the common wildfowl. I checked out the flood for waders, but instead found a Chinese Water Deer.

Before heading home I had a look at Thorpe St Andrews river green. The only colour-ringed Black-headed Gull around was regular Norwegian bird J0AJ, but the drake Mandarin found by Gary last week was still around and showing very well.

WHITLINGHAM: Arctic Redpoll and a new arrival

A bit of a compendium post, this one.

On Saturday 24th Feb I headed down to Norwich waterworks where on two of the past three days the Glaucous Gull that has been seen periodically around Norwich had called in mid afternoon. Beforehand I had a look along the river and cut up through Sycamore Crescent Wood. At the waterworks reservoir, which is only partly visible through the gate, there were the common four gull species but no sign of the Glauc. Craig Robson joined me and said that there were less large gulls there than the past few days so it was probably somewhere else. I did check Wensum Park where there was a good gathering of gulls (220+ Black-headed, and a handful of others) but no luck there either. Thetford gets lots of gulls on the roofs of a business park - does anyone know of any equivalent areas around north Norwich where large gulls go to loaf?

On Sunday morning I got a text from Gary to say he had found a drake Mandarin on the river near Whitlingham. This would normally be the sort of thing I'd go and have a look at, but I didn't, because Cathy had just gone into labour! I drove her to the hospital in the sunshine and we had a baby daughter the following day. Whilst in hospital the 'beast of the east' struck, but the midwives were a hardy bunch with many battling the conditions to get into work or staying to do extra shifts - a big thank you to them all. I don't intend to remodel the website as a parenting blog, but I mention it here as undoubtedly having a young child will affect the amount of time I spend in the field, the places I visit and who knows, perhaps even my outlook on some things.

Whilst in hospital I rationed my phone battery (it already doesn't connect to the internet) and on one of the occasions I turned it on I had a text from Justin - he had found a Coues's Arctic Redpoll at Whitlingham! Whilst I was delighted for him and pleased that a new species had been added to the site list, I did feel a pang of longing to go and see it. Still, I had more important things to worry about.

Come Saturday 3rd March and with the redpoll still present Cathy encouraged me to pop out in the afternoon to have a look. When I arrived a small group was watching the redpoll flock, but the poor light was silhouetting the birds and it was a struggle to be nail down all the relevant features. Part of the flock flew off, so I went to look for them before returning to the favoured area of Alders. By now everyone else had left and the birds came down lower. I got good views of the Coues's Arctic Redpoll, at least two Mealy Redpoll (I think three, but I never saw two similar looking birds together) and at least 10 Lesser Redpoll. My attempts at photos were even worse than normal - there will be some good ones about though, for example keep an eye on James Lowen's blog). This was my 148th patch species, so my medium-term target of 150 is within striking distance. Two from Garganey, Wheatear, Yellow Wagtail, Osprey or Firecrest would do it - let me know if you find any of those please! Whilst scanning the Alders I saw several Treecreepers, including one singing loudly. A Smew was present but I didn't see it on a quick scan and was eager to head back home. This was an excellent end to an exciting but exhausting week.