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: Hawfinches and hybrid ducks

Mid-February 2019

Adam & I try to get in a day birding most holidays, and decided to head down to the Brecks for this one. We opted to give Santon Downham a miss, so our first stop was by a roadside overlooking a block of forest. The weather was still overcast so we weren't confident of our chances of seeing Goshawk, but it didn't take too long before one was up. It didn't display, but instead flew back and forth a few times over the trees giving excellent views. As I stood there listening to a Skylark I realised that it was my first of the year, as was a Mistle Thrush that called and then flew off in front of us.

Next up we tried another block of forest where a feeding station has been set up in an area where Willow Tits are still present. The table was attracting a steady stream of the Blue, Great, Coal and Marsh Tits (and Dunnocks), but unfortunately we didn't see or hear any Willow Tits. A Hairy Shieldbug landed on Adam's leg whilst we waited. Eventually we decided to just walk a bit further along the ride, seeing a Muntjac and a Great Spotted Woodpecker, but not a lot else.

Our main target was a Kumlein's Gull that had been appearing sporadically in the gull roost at Lackford Lakes, but with a few hours before the gulls were due to start arriving we decided to go to Lynford first. We checked out Lynford Water in case there were any Goosander, but only saw common species (although the sound of a huge flock of Siskin was impressive). In the arboretum we quickly found some Hawfinch and got great views as they fed under the trees in the paddock. We were rather bemused that some nearby photographers seemed more interested in photographing Great Tits on some rather oddly positioned feeders on the bridge (oddly placed because people had to keep walking past them), but on our way back we found that most of them had just been taking time out from photographing Crossbills drinking from the flooded meadow.

After missing a turning we eventually found Lackford Lakes, a reserve that neither of us had visited before. We had a cup of tea in the visitors centre before heading out for a look around the reserve. The first hide we called into was packed, so we moved round to the next one, which overlooked an area called the Slough. Around 400 Lapwings were roosting, along with some common waterbirds. Whilst looking through the ducks I noticed two of the 'Mallard' accompanying the Pochard had pinkish bills. A closer look revealed that they were hybrids. Recalling my Peter Scott Wildfowl book I suspected these were Rosybill x Mallard, an ID that hybrid bird guru Dave Appleton agreed with.

With our visit already a success thanks to the hybrid ducks, we walked back to the sailing lake to watch the gulls come in. The roost was large, but lots of the birds were Black-headed Gulls rather than their larger relatives. After an hour or so we decided to call it quits - one 1st-winter Caspian Gull had flown in but there was no sign of the Kumlein's Gull. It was a light evening and we knew it might arrive later on, but both of us needed to be back home in reasonable time. Whilst watching the gulls we were also entertained by several Goldeneye, whilst a Kingfisher, Red Kite and Sparrowhawk all flew past during our vigil.

All in all we had a very pleasant day out with some unseasonably warm weather in the afternoon - thanks to Adam for doing the driving.

MINSMERE: A bit of bird and bug watching

17th February 2019

For Cathy's birthday we went on a family trip to Minsmere, chosen because we don't visit very often and it has a good cafe and reasonably surfaced paths. The car park was almost completely full (a rare bird turning up would have been complete carnage), but we managed to find somewhere to park and had lunch before setting off. Despite not going in any of the hides there were quite a few new species for the year seen from the path, including Barnacle Geese, Ringed Plover, Curlew and Dunlin. The highlight was when a flock of 10 Goosander flew low overhead, followed shortly after by another 5. I've never seen that many together before, and not at that angle either!

I checked for any moths resting around the visitors centre, and instead found a Western Conifer Seed Bug. I did then find a moth that would have probably been a new one for me as I've hardly seen any early spring species, however it had met its end in a spiders web. We stopped for a final look at the common birds showing well on the feeders before heading home.

WHITLINGHAM: February WeBS count and bonus finds

16th February 2019

As I was busy on Sunday the monthly WeBS count had to be done on Saturday morning. I tend to get an impression about what the visit will be like in the first five minutes or so. January had been a lovely crisp, frosty morning with few people about. Today was a murky overcast day with a dog called D'Arcy being shouted at repeatedly for several minutes. The park ride people were setting up, as were the model yachters, and a Sergeant Major-type was yelling at some runners presumably on a boot camp experience session along the lane. I ruefully thought back to a recent blog from Joe Harkness, another local birder and WeBS counter, who is considering leaving his patch now that a second birder has access - I suppose the difference is I knew what I was letting myself in for by patching a busy public site.

I had rather optimistically hoped that I might finally see my 150th patch bird - either some flyover wild swans or a Long-tailed Duck (one had been seen briefly at Thorpe the previous weekend) but bird numbers were lower than usual for the time of year and I didn't see any flyovers of note. A drake Wigeon was the best of the birds on the broad, whilst several Song Thrushes were in good voice, as were Cetti's Warblers (4 heard and a further one seen briefly).

The weather wasn't particularly conducive to insects, but I did find a new patch moth by checking a Typha seedhead with a puffy-looking seedmass - this is caused by the larvae of the Bulrush Cosmet (Limnaecia phragmitella), and I found several larvae living inside. A less spectacular but equally welcome find was a pupating agromyzid, Melanagromyza eupatorii, in an old Hemp Agrimony stem. Some Alder Goblet fungi (Ciboria caucus) was also nice to see, found on some old Alder catkins.

NORWICH: A recent miscellany of local sightings

Early February 2019

As the daylight hours increase I've seen a few more bits and bobs, mostly before or after work. A female Blackcap in my inlaws garden in south Norwich was my first of the year and has apparently been seen for around a week or so. A Sparrowhawk flew through the garden one morning, whilst other species seen on my walk into work include Grey Wagtail near New Mills, a Buzzard over Barn Road and a Greylag Goose over Penn Grove.

In terms of smaller species I noted a leaf mine on a Polypody Fern. Finding a large clump of sporangia underneath I knew it would be one of the Psychoides moths, and after examining the larva I was able to identify it as Fern Smut, Psychoides filicivora. I also saw a Pyrocantha bush covered in the mines of Firethorn Leaf Miner, Phyllonorycter leucographella.

Finally on my way home on 15th Feb I once again saw the Otter, this time further west level with Wensum Park. I was able to watch it for a while as it swam and dived along the middle of the channel.

NORWICH: Splitgill fungus

8th February 2019

In December I had inspected a large stump near home that had a cascade of obvious bracket fungi on (I had first seen them whilst driving past). They appear to be a Trametes or something similar, but I wasn't sure exactly what. Recently Neil Mahler also went and had a look, and despite some microscopic checking we still aren't really sure what they are, but Neil had also seen some Splitgill (Schizophyllum commune), a type of gilled bracket fungus on the same stump, so I went and had a quick look after work.

NORWICH: City centre Otter

31st January 2019

A misty morning on my walk into work, livened up by an Otter in the river near New Mills. Having initially seen some ripples I went to the edge of the path, only to see the Otter looking up at me a few feet away! A Little Grebe was also present a bit further along.

NORWICH: Waterloo Park Big Garden Birdwatch

26th January 2019

This Saturday was the first day of the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch weekend, a very worthy survey that gets young people and families in particular interested in their local birds. This was the 40th year of the survey and we were fortunate in that the RSPB and Friends of Waterloo Park had arranged an event five minutes walk away, so we could take Rose along. Lindsey Chapman off of Springwatch was guest of honour and was doing some of this new-fangled instagram live v-logging type things.

We had a browse of the stalls, picking up both a coveted golden Robin and a 40th anniversary House Sparrow pin badge for Rose. Some feeders had been hung up and we saw Greenfinches on these, which was good to see as I've still not had one from the garden a few hundred yards away. Coal Tits has been seen earlier, although as it was quite busy I wasn't surprised not to see them. We went on a slow stroll around the park and clocked up 15 species, not too bad at all really. I inspected some of the old birch tree trunks hoping to find resting moths. This was unsuccesful, but I did find the distinctive springtail Entomobrya albocincta, which became my first new species of 2019.

On the following day we carried out the garden birdwatch from our living room window, and in the hour we counted we saw eight individuals of six species, 2 Blue Tits, 2 Blackbirds, 1 Robin, 1 Collared Dove, 1 Woodpigeon and 1 Dunnock.

WHITLINGHAM: Cycling event every Saturday

One of the obvious downsides to having a local patch that is a country park located on the edge of a city is how busy it can get and the number of activities that take place in the water and around the area. This is something that in general can't be influenced so you just have to accept the situation. It is however useful to know when to avoid visiting - I have occasionally turned up to find that the whole park has been taken over for a triathlon or race, or even more annoying an event on the broad that has disturbed all of the birds. To be fair, at least these events are usually included on the events programme on the Whitlingham Charitable Trust website. The trust holds an annual form meeting each November when presumably this sort of thing might get discussed, but my experience is that the date is either put up very close to, or sometimes after the meeting, so I'm not sure who actually attends them. I suspect it is mainly the watersports centre and organisations rather than individual park users.

Nonetheless I was surprised to find out that there is a new initiative this year where cyclists have an event around the Great Broad every Saturday. This is in the style of the popular Park Run format that happens across the country, and has been called the Park Pedal or Park Ride (the various promoters don't seem to have settled on one name). This will happen each Saturday from 10-11 from now onwards. Whilst accepting that cycling is a healthy and popular activity so can see the attraction, several things did strike me about it:
  • There appeared to be no consultation with other park goers prior to the decision. There is currently a survey of Whitlingham users (to take part click here) - wouldn't it have made sense to ask about it there?
  • The event is scheduled in every Saturday all year - that is quite a commitment. I can't help thinking once or twice a month would be more appropraite, and perhaps some sort of trial for a few months to see how it goes?
  • The paths in some places get muddy and churned up after wet weather, will there be any additional funding for repairs caused by the increase in cyclists? A concentrated group will cause more damage than single file or casual use. Photos from one of the first events also shows some cars on the meadow near the barn, which seems like a bad idea.
  • This really needs to be flagged up better to C.P. users. Clearly if you are just going for a walk around the broad you will want to avoid 10-11 on a Saturday. I only found out about it via a tweet from Radio Norfolk, and unless you follow cycle-retated Twitter feeds you are unlikely to have known about it (there is no mention on the Whitlingham Charitable Trust website that I could find).
Pedal Revolution, one of the organisers, have put up details on their website. The statement "There will be a lot of cyclists between 10 and 11 each Saturday and we are reassuring dog walkers and pedestrians that for 6 days and 23 hours every week they will have priority access!" is presumably meant to be reassuring, but could be construed as rather sardonic given that a lot of visitors work during the week and knowing you have 'priority' for nocturnal visits isn't of great use to most of us. In fact Active Norfolk already have the event down as running 10-12 on the booking site, and there appear to be other sessions (cafe ride and cycle coaching) running from Whitlingham until 1. Given that in winter there is about 8 hours of daylight, if the events creep to 3 hours that is actually a big chunk of the day.

Time will tell how much of an impact this event will have on casual visitors, but my main gripe is simply the lack of information that shows that some of these things have been considered. From my regular visits I think that the most common reason for going to Whitlingham is some variant of "having a nice walk round the broad" and that needs to be very high on the considerations board.