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: A shieldbug with knobs on

19th August 2018

You may or may not have heard of the phrase "with knobs on", which is sometimes used to indicate something deluxe or with extra features. It is perhaps doubtful if the shieldbug Podops inuncta would pass muster for the first definition, but it's OK because it really does have knobs on, either side of the head, earning it two competing vernacular names - Turtle Shieldbug or Knobbed Shieldbug. 

Having seen most of the common Norfolk shieldbug species I am now trying to see the smaller, drabber, skulkier ones, of which Knobbed Shieldbug certainly counts. Fortunately Vanna and Jeremy Bartlett spend more time outside than me and are happy to let me know if they come across something unusual. Vanna found this ground-dwelling shieldbug whilst checking for Ant Woodlice in Earlham Cemetery, and after having a good look down the microscope it was released back there.

Whilst at the Bartlett's house I did a quick lap of the garden and identified a few leaf mines, including Phytomyza crassiseta on Germander Speedwell, a new one for me. 

NORWICH: Earlham Cemetery insects

13th August 2018

After work I went for a short walk in Earlham Cemetery as part of a rather long walk home. I found an interesting looking little chalcid wasp, certainly a Brachymeria, I'm fairly confident it's Brachymeria tibialis although I've left it to the county recorder to decide if he is happy to accept that. A couple of Rhopalids were also good to find - I've seen Stictopleuron punctatonerosus before, but Stictopleuron abutilon was new for me. I'll be leading a leaf mine and plant gall walk here in September, so I had a quite recce, finding the mine of Stigmella ulmivora on Elm (the exit slit was on the leaf underside separating from another similar species).

 Stictopleuron abutilon
 Stictopleuron punctatonerosus

WHITLINGHAM: August WeBS, pesky gulls and patch additions

12th August 2018

With the summer continuing apace, I headed to Whitlingham for the August WeBS count. The Little Broad is becoming increasingly tricky to count as the vegetation grows up, but in summer there isn't usually much to worry about. A lone adult Egyptian Goose had three young goslings, which will hopefully fare better than the first brood. This species did used to cycle through nicely when I first started coming, but of late not many young seem to be reaching adulthood here.

On the Great Broad there wasn't much of note, a single Tufted Duck asleep on the island the most noteworthy. There was a lot of large gulls dropping in though, mostly Lesser Black-backed, and given that I reckon I miss some Yellow-legged Gulls in the younger plumages I photographed a few of the ones in slightly different plumages just in case.

Of the common stuff (combined with Justin's Thorpe Broad count):
Mute Swan:52 (2017: 43)
Egyptian Goose: 29  (2017: 16)
Mallard: 136 (2017: 137)
Coot: 12 (2017: 17)

So numbers similar to the previous year. The Egyptian Goose count is almost double the 2017 figure, but in July this year was only 8. In July last year it was 33, so basically there has been a yearly peak of around 30, but this year it's just a month later.

I added a few bits to my all-species patch list. An odd addition was Ploughman's Spikenard beside one of the main paths. I must have been walking past this for years without noticing it - I can only assume it's because the flowers look a bit like dying Ragwort. A couple of species were completely new to me, a nice red beetle called Platycis minutus and the hoverfly Dasysyrphus albiostratus. I also added a couple of leaf mines, which on this occasion I won't bore you with.

BROADLAND: Burgh Common fungi & leaf mines

11th August 2018

The August after one of the hottest and driest summers in recent memory didn't seem like a promising time for a fungus foray, but having missed the last couple and this being a site I'd not visited before, I was hopeful that there would be a bit about. As Burgh Common has no formal parking, we met nearby before cramming into two cars (and Neil on his motorbike) and heading down a windy track to the start of the reserve.

Some areas usually covered by water had dried up, enabling some searching of reedy areas, but much of the stuff we did find was in the patches of woodland. Some of these did turn out to be new to me, including Nitrous Pinkgill (Entoloma politum), Goblet Parachute (Marasmiellus vaillantii) and Orbilia luteorubella. Unfortunately the most showy species, some nice reddish Boletes couldn't be identified to species. Out in the meadows some cow dung finally provided some moisture, with Coprinopsis stercorea taking advantage.

 Coprinopsis stercorea
 Bolete sp.

The weather seemed more suitable for insects, and the presence of Stewart ensured that we saw lots of leaf mines. There was an almost full set of Alder species, and quite a few from Birch and Hawthorn. The scarcest species were Enchanters Cosmet (Mompha terminella) in Enchanter's Nightshade, Bittersweet Smudge (Acrolepia autumnitella) in Woody Nightshade, and Little Bent-wing (Leucoptera lotella) in Bird's-foot Trefoil.

 Mompha terminella
 Acrolepia autumnitella
 Leucoptera lotella

Other highlights of the visit included a Skullcap Sawfly larva, two Water Scorpions and some Bladderwort, whilst a Marsh Harrier did a close flypast.

BROADLAND: A rare fungus on Monkey Puzzle trees

11th August 2018

I am aware that some of my interests are somewhat niche, even within wildlife circles, but it isn't just me. I was reminded of this before a fungus study group meeting in mid-August. We were going to Burgh Common, an out of the way site managed by the NWT, so had met in a car park nearby. Stewart Wright had arrived early to check out a local churchyard, where he had looked for fallen Monkey Puzzle scales (I don't think they are classed as leaves on this species) and had found some with a micro fungus growing on. The species, Phomopsis araucariae, was new for Norfolk and one of only a handful of UK records. I presume that like the species I found on Ginkgo last year this will turn out to be present on most Monkey Puzzle Trees.

NORTH NORFOLK: Natural Surroundings new hoverfly & moth

10th August 2018

We went on a family visit to Natural Surroundings for lunch and a walk around the grounds. The cafe allowed us to show Rose some birds (and a squirrel) up close, as a large family of Blue Tits, some Great Tits and a Coal Tit took turns on the nearest feeders.

Walking down to the river we stopped beside a large Alder and identified about 10-15 different species just by checking the leaves that were around head height. Walking back I noticed an interesting-looking hoverfly on Common Fleabane. Roger Morris identified it for me as Xanthandrus comtus (there is only one photo of that species in the WildGuide and it was marked differently to my specimen). There was another new species for me back in the herb garden where I found a Pied Smudge moth (Ypsolopha sequella) sheltering from the rain. We went into the cabin to watch the Harvest Mice whilst the rain got heavier, before deciding that it had set in and heading for home.


YARE VALLEY: Wheatfen visit

Early August 2018

I called in at Wheatfen one afternoon, hoping the weather would be better than the equivalent visit last year when I got drenched by a sudden storm what blew in whilst I was out on the furthest part of the marsh. Some Small Balsam was growing along the hedgerow, and near the staithe I noticed several Small Teasels in flower - I've no idea how I managed to miss these in the past. 

I kept an eye out for leaf mines on my way round, seeing the moth mines of Buckthorn Bent-wing (Bucculatrix frangutella) and Buckthorn Pigmy (Stigmella catharticella) early on. There was a good range of other moth and fly species, but I hoped there might be something on the scarcer broadland plants. I did manage one new species, Calybites phasianipennella on Yellow Loosestrife, but two mines on Marsh Sow-thistle turned out to be the common Chromatomyia atricornis agg and Liriomyza sonchi.

There was a nice range of butterflies, including a couple of second-brood Brimstones and a Painted Lady. I also found good numbers of the very rare beetle Galeruca laticollis, currently only found at Wheatfen. After noticing my first one, I soon saw quite a few gravid females (the abdomens swell so much that they don't fit under the wing cases) and also some mating pairs. I managed to get back to the car without getting wet, so success all round.

SUFFOLK: Lepidoptera in the King's Forest

1st August 2018

This spring Sharon Hearle of Butterfly Conservation has been running a series of moth trap openings in the King's Forest in north Suffolk as part of the Shifting Sands Project (itself part of Back from the brink, a heritage lottery backed scheme to help rare species and habitats). These have been held in mid-week so I was only able to attend one. Five traps were put out, but they were small Heath traps, so there was only a modest number of moths to go through. There were four new macros for me - Birch Mocha, Peacock Moth, True Lovers Knot and Bird's Wing. Clouded Buff was a Breckland speciality, albeit one that I had seen before. In addition one attendee had brought another Breckland speciality, Marbled Clover, caught nearby at Lackford.

 Birch Mocha
 Clouded Buff
 Peacock Moth
 Marbled Clover
 Bird's Wing

Afterwards we went for a walk along one of the nearby rides. A Grayling sat obligingly on the path, and we were treated to a sight I've not seen for many years as around 30 Red Admirals flew all around us, attracted by the squashed wild cherries on the path. A Silver-washed Fritillary was also present in the same area, and the leaf mine of Stigmella aceris in Field Maple, a very scarce but spreading species over the border in Norfolk was new for me.

Other than the butterflies and moths, Sharon showed us a colony of Pantaloon Bees, which were being rather skittish. Nearby I found the bug Alydus calcaratus, and a couple of Tortoise Shieldbugs were nice to see.

NORWICH: Spitting spider and pick of the moths from July

Late July 2018

A brief catchup of some interesting wildlife seen at home or in Norwich city centre.

I'm not a spider fan, but having noticed a distinctive looking small spider at work, I caught and photographed it in case it was one of the relatively few species that can be identified without examination. As luck had it this one was identifiable and also rather interesting. It is Scytodes thoracica is a 'spitting spider', which can catch prey by shooting out silk at them. Pip Collyer, the Norfolk spider recorder, says that it is seldom seen so a good find. A second new species found at work was a Cream-streaked Ladybird, which was found on the outside of my office window.

I've been running my actinic moth trap fairly regularly at home, and by the end of July had reached about 130 species for the year - relatively modest compared to those with larger gardens or close to green spaces, but pleasing for me given the light pollution and housing estate setting. The highlight in terms of rarity was the Goosefoot Owlet (Scythris limbella), only the second Norfolk record! In terms of looks Small Ranunculus was the pick of the bunch, a Red Data Book species and my first new macro trapped at this house. Wax Moth and Ribwort Slender were also new ones for me.

 Goosefoot Owlet
 Small Ranunculus
 Wax Moth
Ribwort Slender

BRECKLAND: Weeting bioblitz

22nd July 2018

A while back Chris Packham announced that he would be doing a series of bioblitzes around the UK. Looking at the detail I was a little bit sceptical - Chris is a very knowledgeable and passionate naturalist, but it seemed to be trying to cram in too much. The marketing information suggested creating a benchmark for each reserve, but with five reserves a day that's not a great amount of data. The tagline 'reserves are not enough', whilst in itself very true, also seemed rather odd considering most of the sites being visited were nature reserves. Scanning down the list the only Norfolk venue was Weeting Heath and was listed as invite-only, so I didn't give it any more thought.

A few weeks later I was invited to help out. It turned out that although Chris and his team would only be present at each site for a few hours, the idea was that local naturalists did the actual recording and then there would be interviews and footage of some of the more interesting finds. I was asked to help record fungi, although as it happened the weather was so dry there wasn't any, so I just recorded as many miscellaneous species as possible.

The warden at Weeting, James, was an excellent host, and briefed the assembled group about the plan for the day, and also left cake and tea making facilities in his dormitory. I opted to stay near the visitors centre whilst the moth trap was emptied in the hope of seeing some Breckland specialties. As it was I didn't see any new macro moths (I was hoping for Tawny Wave or a late Cream-spot Tiger, but Oblique-striped and Mere Wainscot were the main Breckland species). I did however see quite a few new micros as several were retained for checking, and Oak Eggar is always nice to see.

Heading across the road it didn't take long for me to realise that I hadn't brought enough drink, as the heat was scorching. I began by checking the flowerheads, mostly Ragwort and Yarrow, and soon saw a Brassy Longhorn moth (Nemophora metallica) and several Forester moths.

I was also able to take advantage of the numerous experts present to identify some of the things I didn't recognise. Pip Collyer and Helen Smith were looking at an attractive spider, Neoscona adianta, whilst Nick Owens identified a solitary wasp I'd caught as Oxybelus uniglumis. Steve Lane helped with the beetles, with Gastrophysa polygoni, Galeruca tanaceti and Silpha laevigata all seen.

Returning to the visitors centre I caught up with Joe Harkness and Andy Musgrove & family. After re-hydrating I had a quick look around, seeing the Broad-leaved Helleborines and noting the leaf mines of Bucculatrix frangutella on Buckthorn. Chris Packham arrived at around 17:45, and after introducing himself and getting distracted by a dog, he gave a passionate address about the need to act now to protect and enhance our wildlife, which will culminate in a walk for wildlife in London (click here for more details). He also said that some of the sites visited had never had a bioblitz or wide-scale recording before, so for some sites at least they do indeed now have a benchmark for the future. All in all despite the heat it was an enjoyable day, and many thanks go to James and the NWT staff for their organisation.