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

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


2019 wildlife highlights

As its nearly the end of the year, I have allowed myself a nostalgic stroll back through 2019, and compiled ten highlights. As usual in no particular order and a mixture of species, places, surveys and searches, which avid readers will have already read about.

1. Bradfield Woods
Cathy & I have a sort of tradition where we make sure that we visit a wood with lots of Bluebells every spring, and this year we decided to make a first visit to Bradfield Woods in Suffolk. One of the reasons for choosing this site was that it also contains Oxlips, a scarce species that I'd never seen and where the native populations are probably extinct in Norfolk. It was a chilly day as we sat at a picnic bench for our lunch, before setting off on a walk around the wood. We saw lots of woodland flowers including the hoped for Oxlips, and as a bonus I recorded the several tachinids including my favourite, Phasia hemiptera, and one possib ly new to Suffolk, Tachina lurida.

 Phasia hemiptera
Tachina lurida

2. Duke of Burgundy
A few years ago I'd looked for Duke of Burgundy in the Chilterns without success, so this years trip outside East Anglia was a return visit with Carl Chapman. We visited the same area although at the other end of the ridge, and this time I got to see them! Our first sighting was of one flying past at speed, and I was worried that would be it, but fortunately I then found one on some Hawthorn blossom and we went on to see quite a few more of these lovely orange butterflies.

3. Small Fungus Weevil (Platystomos albinus)
Who lives in a fungus and looks like bird poo? No it's not Spongebob Squarepants, it's a small fungus weevil called Platystomos albinus. It's listed as Nationally Scarce B, but it might well be overlooked. After many years of looking I had finally seen it's larger relative the Scarce Fungus Weevil in 2018, so I was very pleased to find this out of the blue whilst in the Chilterns. I found it near a small gate so everyone had to wait for me to photograph it before they could come past!

4. Wheatfen Cowbane rust hunt
A brief description of the day could have been "a small group searched for a small rust fungus on umbellifer leaves and didn't find it", which doesn't really sound like a highlight. However brief descriptions often omit some key detail (remember the viral Wizard of Oz summary "Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again"). In fact I had a thoroughly enjoyable time boating around channels and broads, checking out each clump of Cowbane we saw, and although we didn't find the fungus we were looking for being out on the water was a perfect break, particularly for someone who grew up reading Arthur Ransome books. Afterwards we had tea with the warden and then the group gamely set off into some boggy tidal carr woodland, all to look for a rare moss that most of them hadn't heard of (and we did find that!).

5. Rhombic Leatherbug
Shieldbugs and leatherbugs are two of my favourite groups, and Rhombic Leatherbug was probably the commonest species that I hadn't seen before. As described at the time I did my best to still not see it, accidentally dismissing it as a juvenile Dock Bug before being put right. As is so often the case, having seen it for the first time I saw three more later in the year, firstly at Earlham Cemetery and then finding a couple more in the Brecks.

6. Wildlife gardening
Each year the garden has developed a bit more, and this year we did some pond dipping with Rose, grew some Raspberries (in turn attracting some sawfly larvae), watched a spider shed its exoskeleton, had regular visits from two Coal Tits and various other species. I didn't do much moth trapping in 2019, but coming home over summer and being able to spend a bit of time out in the garden was definitely a highlight.

 Cladus brullei

7. The garden of the bees
One of the best wildlife sites for insects in Norwich must surely be the Bartlett's garden, and I was fortunate to visit on several occasions to see interesting things. Some seem to be attracted by the flowers and habitat generally, whilst for others a particular plant has been grown to attract them, as was the case with the Mignonette Yellow-face Bee. Of course attracting them is only half the job, and Vanna still has to identify them! Nomada zonata and Coelioxys inermis were two of the other new species that I saw there this year.

 Mignonette Yellow-face Bee
 Nomada zonata
 Coelioxys inermis

8. Minsmere
Despite being in Suffolk Minsmere actually has a lot going for it for the naturalist who wants to go out with the family, including some decent surfaced paths (albeit not all of the way round, hence on one visit Cathy gamely pushed the pushchair through some very loose sand along the eastern edge!), a cafe, baby changing facilities and of course lots of wildlife. We ended up visiting four times, with interesting stuff seen on each one. Our amazing encounter with an Adder swallowing its prey has to be the most notable, but I also enjoyed seeing (and hearing) Green-eyed Flower Bees, plus my best ever views of Dartford Warbler and lots of interesting fungi as well.

 Green-eyed Flower Bee
 Fluted Birds-nest
Fly Agaric

9. Sawfly leaf mines
In recent years I've recorded quite a few fly and moth leaf mines, so this year I tried to pay a bit more attention to the mines caused by sawflies. Handily Andy Musgrove has put together a website for Norfolk sawflies, so I was able to see how many species there were to look out for in the main tribe of leaf miners, the Fenusini. There were 21 species down for Norfolk, and I managed to find 14 of them, plus one not recorded in Norfolk before, Heterarthrus cuneifrons.

 Fenusella glaucopis in Aspen
Heterarthrus cuneifrons in Sycamore

10. A Breckland jaunt
In late summer I headed down to the Brecks with Jeremy and Vanna for a multi-site visit looking for a mixture or scarce plants and invertebrates. At Santon we saw large numbers of a type of Treehopper found with Broom, whilst I don't think we actually reached Cranwich Heath proper due to the time spent looking along the plants growing at the edges of the main ride. We saw Smooth Rupturewort, possibly the least impressive flowering plant I've seen, but also things like Small Scabious Mining Bee and a new conopid, all in glorious sunshine surrounded by Breckland plants.

 Gargara genistae
 Small Scabious Mining Bee
 Hedychrum sp
Smooth Rupturewort

WEST NORFOLK: A nice dung heap

27th December 2019

It was the day after Boxing Day, and I had spent the morning watching Paddington 2 on repeat with my daughter. I temporarily distracted myself by having a look through some of the books I'd got for Christmas, and picked up Dung Heaps of Eastern England volume 2. I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to pick up the story having never read volume 1, but it was quite straightforward. 

Apparently one of the most impressive dung heaps in Norfolk was at Sedgeford, a village near Docking in West Norfolk, so I decided to set out after lunch to have a look. The sky was a uniform grey - in fact it seemed like the sun had risen a few degrees above the horizon and then given up, like some post Christmas apocalypse was imminent. At least it wasn't raining, and I arrived at Sedgeford in exactly the same overcast conditions. Finding the dung heap was simple as a small gathering of fellow manure enthusiasts had already got it under observation.

Whilst there I thought it would be a good idea to make note of any wildlife around, and by happy coincidence what should be accepted as Norfolk's first Eastern Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla tschutschensis) was feeding on the heap. This species has probably occurred in Norfolk previously, but the relatively recent promotion to full species and recent work on ID mean that this is likely to be the first record to go past the records committee, even if others are accepted retrospectively.

You could be forgiven for not having heard of Eastern Yellow Wagtail, indeed it won't be in many field guides. There are currently four subspecies - as a male this one has been identified as the nominate race, Motacilla tschutschensis ssp tschutschensis, which is pronounced in a similar way to having a series of sneezes. Naturally rather than leave it at this people are eager to give it an English name. Blue-headed Eastern Yellow Wagtail has been suggested, but this seems overly long and invites confusion with Blue-headed (Western Yellow) Wagtail. Now it appears most people are going with Alaskan Wagtail, but Alaska is a relatively small part of its range, and on a standard map it would actually be classed as west of the UK not east. In case you were wondering who decided on the name Alaskan Wagtail, it would appear some Dutch birders popularised it, although it isn't clear from the paper if they just made it up or got it from somewhere else. Anyway, nice bird, nice dung heap.

NORWICH: A few pre-Christmas observations

Mid December 2019

As Christmas approached I tried to make sure that I got out for a little bit of a walk when possible. One one day I took a circuitous route into the city to follow the river. A few days previously a seal had been seen from one of the bridges at Riverside, presumably the same seal that had reached the city centre in November. I walked as far as the path allowed just past Carrow Bridge, but there was no sign of the seal. A couple of Grey Wagtails and an Egyptian Goose were the only birds of note.

On another day I dropped Cathy & Rose off and stopped at a nearby cut stump. This stump has an amazing display of fungi on - mostly the fairly scarce Hairy Bracket (Trametes hirsuta), but also Splitgill (Schizophyllum commune), Giant Polypore (Meripilus giganteus) and Turkeytail (Trametes versicolor).

On Christmas Eve I called in at Whitlingham for a brief look around in the rain. The broad hadn't been disturbed by boating so there was a nice spread of the same species seen on the recent WeBS count, but nothing new and no sign of that dimension hopping Mandarin again. I had a quick poke around in the nearby scrub and noted Stigmella aurella mines on Wood Avens, plus a nice pattern of lichens on some tree bark, made up of Lecidella eleachroma, Lecanora chlarotera and another one that might be Arthonia radiata (or something similar).

NORWICH: An unusual lumpy fungus in Earlham Cemetery

Mid December 2019

The story of an unusual fungus found at Earlham Cemetery by Ian Senior is both complicated and incomplete, so I will only present a summary here. In November Ian found a Lepista-type fungus (the family that Wood Blewit is currently in) with a very odd bubbly surface. I hadn't seen anything that resembled the pictures so was of no help, but other people did suggest that it might be caused by a parasitic fungus. A small piece was taken by Tony Leech, who was able to identify the host fungus as Lepista ovispora, a scarce species in itself. It appeared that there was indeed a second fungus present, but an attempt to extract DNA was unsuccessful. Meanwhile, a similar 'bubbly' fungus was found at Ashwellthorpe Lower Wood. This did yield DNA, and there was a match with a parasitic fungus barcoded in the USA. It seems very likely that this is the same fungus Ian found.

Anyway, a normal fungus would have probably rotted away by now, but the infection had turned this one to a solid jelly-like consistency and it was still present. I decided to have a look, but didn't find it at first look. I therefore met up with Ian on his lunch break so that he could show me the fungus, definitely passed its best but still very interesting.

Afterwards Ian also pointed out a handful of other interesting things that he had seen recently, including a couple of small orange cup fungi and Greening Coral (Ramaria abietina). I also recorded a new Agromyzid, Phytomyza autumnalis, in Common Knapweed.

WHITLINGHAM: December WeBS count

Mid-December 2019

The final WeBS count of the year, and perhaps a last chance to find something unusual locally this year. The first bird of note was a Grey Heron that appeared to have been roosting in a large tree at the edge of the car park, which was a bit odd. I scanned through the scattering of Jackdaws on the meadows in the hope that one of the Nordic birds seen earlier in the year was present, but no luck. Over 1000 Jackdaws have been roosting at Whitlingham, so the odds were never that good.

Three Shovelers were present on the Little Broad, along with 16 Gadwall and three Little Egrets. I accidentally flushed two more Little Egrets from trees along the Great Broad, making five in total, a new high count for me but short of the overall record of seven, noted by three different people this year. Tufted Duck and Pochard numbers had increased on the previous count, the Barnacle Goose was present and now sporting a shiny UEA-ringing club ring, and the drake Mandarin that appears and disappears at will was of course absent. Selected species counts vs last year are listed below. Interestingly both Gadwall and Coot numbers are notcieably down, whilst Tufted Duck numbers are up.

Gadwall 84 (2018: 219)
Mallard 59 (2108: 72)
Shoveler 3 (2018: 5)
Pochard 6 (2018: 6)
Tufted Duck 238 (2018: 173)
Coot 141 (2018: 238)
Little Grebe 9 (2018: 6)
Little Egret 5 (2018: 2)

Of the other random bits and bobs noted, Eyelash Fungus (Scutellinia sp) is always nice to see, Velvet Shank is a typical winter-fruiting species and Ploughman's Spikenard was found in a new location and rather surprisingly was in flower.

CENTRAL NORFOLK: Whitwell fungi

14th December 2019

The last Norfolk Fungus Study Group meeting of the year is made up of a morning foray, buffet lunch and then AGM/planning meeting in the afternoon. The location of the foray part was at Whitwell Common, which has a nice range of habitats and probably could have occupied us for the whole day had we not been 'on the clock'. I had also forgotten my camera, so the pictures here are just the few taken on my phone. The final list isn't in yet, but we probably racked up over 50 species of fungi, with Amber Jelly (Exidia recisa) probably the pick of the bunch. A couple of interesting slime moulds were also seen. I noticed some long leaf mines in Pendulous Sedge, but unfortunately the occupants had been parasitised so there is no way of properly identifying them beyond Cerodontha sp.