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

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

EAST NORFOLK: Last trip out of the year

30th December 2018

I had planned on one final wildlife trip of the year, but was planning on it being a low key affair, walking around some of the green spaces of east Norwich (Mousehold, Kett's Hill, Rosary Cemetery & Lion Wood), However, news of a Black-bellied Dipper at Ebridge Mill proved too much of a lure. It wasn't just the species, although Dippers are great, but growing up in North Walsham we used to pass the mill every weekend to visit my grandparents. It was never my local patch, but along with Bacton Woods it is an area I have a great deal of fondness for, and having not known about the 1999 bird at the time, I was keen to go and have a look.

This degree of sentimentality could have been scuppered had the Dipper been further along the canal at Briggate, but fortunately for me it was showing well at Ebridge when I arrived. It wasn't particularly close so my photos were very much record shots (in the actual meaning of the phrase, not the "I used my £5000 worth of equipment but there was a small twig sticking into frame near the side" meaning). Popping across the road I recorded Phytomyza ilicis on the nearby Holly, and noticed some Tawny Funnels too.

Having been successful much quicker than I had allowed for, I decided to call in at Barton Broad on my way back to Norwich. After parking up at the car park about a mile away I decided to pass the time on the journey by recording the plants in flower for the BSBI's New Year Plant Hunt (I know it isn't the new year yet - it runs a few days either side of Jan 1st). I managed 12, not great but then it wasn't my main objective. A couple of slime moulds were also seen along the road.

 Wood Avens
 Trichia cf decipiens
 Dog's Sick Slime Mould (Mustacea crucilago)

At Heron's Carr, the boardwalk at the bottom of Barton Broad I recorded Phytomyza ilicis again on the Holly, then carried on to the watchpoint. A small flock of Wigeon flew over, and Marsh Tit and Siskins called unseen. The birds were mostly distant, but I picked out the two female Scaup at the back with a flock of Goldeneye (36 counted in total). There was no sign of the long-staying Long-tailed Duck, which seems to be a bit elusive. Another birder told me that he had seen it when it first arrived but not again on several visits since. I had a bit of lunch, by which time three Goldeneye had come much closer and a Kingfisher flew across the corner of the broad.

Back in Norwich I called into Whitlingham for a quick look around. Despite lots of Black-headed Gulls around the slipway there were no ringed ones, and I could only find one Goldeneye (Gary had a flock of seven earlier in the day). A walk back along the picnic meadow saw two Green Woodpeckers fly up into the tree belt, and I recorded the distinctive springtail Orchesella cincta.

Here's to a wildlife filled 2019 everyone.

My 2018 wildlife highlights

This year saw the birth of my daughter, with the attendant change in priorities and outlook that comes with having a small child. Thanks to the support of my lovely wife I was still able to indulge my hobby, but there was a change in emphasis with fewer early mornings and all day trips, no travelling outside East Anglia and more time spent around Norwich. I have come up with ten of my highlights from the year, taking in particular species, trips and groups. Because of the varying nature of these experiences I have not attempted to rank them.

1) The Hornet Moth Experience

My only previous Hornet Moth sighting had been one attracted to a lure in James Lowen's garden. Whilst impressive, I wanted to find one on a poplar, and over the past few years have checked the base of various poplars, often finding emergence holes but no moths. Having found a few local trees with these holes I visited regularly for a period, narrowly missing out as I found freshly evacuated chrysalises but no moths. That was until one day, when I noticed a chrysalis sticking out of a hole with the moth still inside. I was just in time, it emerged several minutes later. I was able to watch it pump up its wings before returning it to the tree trunk. An amazing creature to see and well worth the effort.

2) Whitlingham Wheatear

In spring at the coast when amost every bird you see moving is a Wheatear, they can get a bit frustrating, but inland they are usually a good find. This one had been found at Thorpe Marshes by Gary White one evening in April, and having not seen a patch one in 11 years of trying I was keen to see it. For those who keep lists, or even a mental note of what has been seen, any new bird is exciting, but this was just a really enjoyable evening. Upon arrival the Wheatear was soon on view on a gatepost. It flew down onto the marsh for a bit when some people walked past, but then returned to its post, showing beautifully in the evening sunshine.

3) Postwick wildlife survey

In spring I was asked to help carry out an informal wildlife survey of some private woodland near Postwick along with Jeremy & Vanna Bartlett, Ian Senior and Nick. I made two visits, seeing a range of species and enjoyed spending some time in a new and relatively unexplored location. On the second visit we found a long-term target species of mine, the Cramp Ball Weevil Platyrhinus resinosus, and other new species included Alder Signal Moth.

4) Nomada bees

Bees in the genus Nomada are attractive yellow, black and sometimes red banded solitary bees that could easily be mistaken for wasps. Up until this year I had only recorded two species - I knew I had seen more but couldn't identify them (many species are very similar). Thanks to Steve Falk's book, the tutelage of Vanna Bartlett and feedback from people like Nick Owens, Tim Strudwick and the BWARS verifiers, I recorded eight species in 2018, six of them new. This included the three very similar species in the flava group, which I caught, photographed the key bits and released. This is a very good example of how recording can progress when a detailed, accessible and affordable guide is released for a species group (I underwent a similar upskilling with the release of the Morris & Ball Hoverflies WildGuides book).

Early Nomad - Nomada leucophthalma
 Marsham's Nomad - Nomada marshamella
Flavous Nomad - Nomada flava

5) Garden mothing

Most of the rented houses I stayed in following university were terraces with bisected or small highly overlooked gardens. Light pollution and neighbours meant that moth-trapping was unsuccessful or impractical, and my trap had mainly been used at my in-laws in south Norwich. It has therefore been a joy to be able to run a trap in my own garden and actually catch some moths! Trapping most weekends from spring through to late summer I caught a modest 160 species (light pollution is still quite an issue). This total has undoubtedly been helped by some sympathetic planting by my wife - the Nicotiana didn't attract a Convulvulous Hawk Moth this year, but patience is a virtue. Highlights included a vice county first, Scythris limbella, and red data book species Small Ranunculus, whilst Pine Hawk Moth and Elephant Hawk Moth were welcome additions to the garden list. I'm already looking forward to adding to our fledgeling garden list next year.

 Scythris limbella
 Small Ranunculus
 Pine Hawk Moth
Elephant Hawk Moth

6) Leaf mine recording 

The great thing about recording leaf mines is that you can do it whilst out and about. I recorded at least two species of fly new to Norfolk this year, one on the way to work and the other at Whitlingham doing some general wildlife recording. I also recorded a new species of moth to Norfolk, Paracrania chrysolepidella, from leaf mines at Wayland Wood whilst nominally looking for fungi. It's not all about new species either - I am now well in the habit of checking every Holly for the distinctive mine of Phytomyza ilicis. It is probably the commonest (definitely the most visible) mine to record, but each record contributes to the overall distribution information for this species.

 Paracrania chrysolepidella mine in Hazel (with beetle interloper)
My Phytomyza ilicis sightings (map from iRecord)
Nemorimyza posticata mine in Canadian Goldenrod

7) Snowy Owl at Thornham Point

Doesn't really need a reason - it was a Snowy Owl! A bird I'd wanted to see since getting my first bird book but had never really expected to see in Norfolk.

8) Buxton Heath

This excellent site is only a few miles north of Norwich, but I don't visit very often. A brief visit this year was very productive - I finally saw my first Marsh Gentians, saw some (reintroduced) Marsh Clubmoss, added a couple of new bees and generating most excitement was a Lesser Thorn-tipped Longhorn Beetle.

9) Crowned Earthstar

Earthstars are one of the most popular fungi groups (along with things like Waxcaps), but I seldom come across new species. Norfolk has records of almost all of the species found in the UK, but some have only been recorded once, or not for many years. Whilst discussing this with Mark Joy, who has travelled around the country seeing and finding earthstars, he mentioned that he had seen Crowned Earthstars in the Brecks and kindly gave me directions. This was Cathy & I's last wildlife trip out before Rose was born, and we had a nice walk in the woods, seeing the Crowned Earthstars and some Striated Earthstars nearby as a bonus.

 Crowned Earthstar
Striated Earthstar

10) Essex orchids
My one wildlife related trip that wasn't in Norfolk or north Suffolk was to Essex, where a small population of Tongue Orchids had been discovered the previous year. Local botanists and Essex Wildlife Trust had put a lot of work into organising limited access, and I managed to book a place on a walk to see them. We met nearby, and after a short walk to the site were taken to see them a few at a time. This was my first new orchid in a few years (admittedly mostly due to my inactivity in travelling outside Norfolk than because I've seen loads), and the intrigue around it all added to the experience. Unfortunately the landowner later had second thoughts and revoked access permission, so I didn't blog about it at the time and I'm not in a position to reveal the site, sorry.

WHITLINGHAM: December fungi & moths

19th December 2018

A rainy visit to Whitlingham, and I attempted to cover the south shore of the Great Broad, the woods and the marsh. This didn't quite work out as some bits were closed for tree felling, but I still got a good walk in. 

On the decaying log near the visitors centre there was a good display of Oyster Fungus and several other species, including Big Smoky Bracket. Checking through the Black-headed Gulls I thought I had spotted an old returning bird, white J5JE, but then I realised this was a 1st-winter bird. After getting a bit closer I read the ring, 5NE, a bird ringed in Denmark. I have emailed the ringer requesting information about the gull, but not heard back yet.

Walking along the riverbank I recorded two microfungi on Ash keys that Stewart had shown me at Guybons Wood. Along the edge of the A47 at Whitlingham Marsh there were some Dog Stinkhorns and various other fungi, inlcuding some nice Crepidotus sp.

Walking back along Whitlingham Lane I stopped to check the large amounts of Hartstongue Ferns for fly mines. There is a species of Agromyzid common in western Britain that has yet to be recorded in East Anglia that I'd like to find. No luck with those, but I did find a micromoth larva feeding on the underside of one of the ferns. It had a black head, meaning it was Psychoides verhuella, the rarer of the two similar fern-feeding species. A Winter Moth was also a new patch moth for me.

This might end up being my last patch visit of the year - there will be a brief year highlights post after Christmas and then the Whitlingham Bird Report for 2018 to come in the New Year.

Merry Christmas to everyone who reads the blog.

NORWICH: Catton Park fungi

17th December 2018

I got out for a brief walk around Catton Park, and was pleased to see quite a bit of fungi still around. I went to look for some coral fungi that had been seen earlier in the autumn but couldn't find any, but did see a Pipe Club on the path nearby. Yellow Brain and Wrinkled Crust were also noted.

MID-NORFOLK: Bawdeswell fungus foray

15th December 2018

My last planned event of the year was a fungus study group meeting at Bawdeswell Heath. The last meeting of the year is always shorter than normal to accomodate a proper lunch and then a planning and discussion meeting in the afternoon. The car park for Bawdeswell Heath is quite small so we met in advance at Bawdeswell Village Hall, which seemed to be the coldest place in Britain but that might be a slight exaggeration (it might have only been the second or third coldest).

Despite the time of year and cold weather (we were slightly more sheltered in the woods) there was actually quite a lot of fungi about - we easily hit around 50 species. Most of it was quite common stuff - hoof fungus and Oliver Oysterling were too of the ones I see less frequently. I also found a nicely marked Mottled Umber moth resting on some leaves and recorded a couple of leaf mines. Thanks go to Vicky for lending me a pair of gloves, ensuring I finished the foray with digits still intact.

NORWICH: Churchyard wildlife

10th December 2018

Once we get into December my commute-to-work wildlife recording takes a hit, with about 15 minutes of light on the way in the only real chance of seeing anything. A few days previously the National Agromyzid Recording Scheme newsletter had been released, summarising the years records, and I had gone through the list of species recorded to see what I should be looking for. One of the commonest species I had yet to record was Cerodontha iridis, a leaf mine found in Stinking Iris leaves. Knowing that the iris grew in a churchyard off St Benedict's Street, I timed my walk in to reach the church after dawn, and low and hehold, I found the mine. I also saw two other new species, a rust on the iris caused by Puccinia iridis, and a small fungus growing on the mossy wall, Arrhenia rickenii.