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: Invertebrates and plants part 2

Mid-August 2019

Moving on to the next site and some lovely forest rides with lots of Ragwort, Wild Parsnip and Scabious. A couple of new bees for me were Heriades truncorum and Andrena marginata, although sadly we seemed a bit early for the Nomad bee associated with the latter. Conops ceriaeformis was also a new species for me as was the sawfly Arge ustulata and the underwhelming but rare plant Smooth Rupturewort. A leatherbug raised my hopes that it might be Dalman's Leatherbug, one of my targets for the day, but it was actually Fallen's Leatherbug, a commoner (although still nice species).

Our final site of the day was meant to be very good for Leatherbugs, but in a quick visit we only saw more Fallen's. There were a handful of other species of note though, including Breckland Speedwell, Maiden Pink and the Yarrow-associated tortoise beetle Cassida prasina.

BRECKLAND: Invertebrate and plant day - part 1

Mid-August 2019

A multi-site trip to the Brecks with Jeremy & Vanna Bartlett began with a search for Perennial Knawel. This involved quite a lot of searching through the much more abundant Annual Knawel, but I think I managed to find at least one plant. Some Green-eyed Flower Bees were my first Norfolk sighting having seem them at Minsmere, and we also saw a handful of heather-related bees. Vanna noticed some treehoppers on Broom, which turned out to be Gargara genistae. This completes my set of Treehoppers (albeit there are only two UK species!)

The rest of the invertebrate highlights before we moved on included Breckland Plume Moth, Heather Neb, Tortoise Shieldbug, Heath Assasin Bug, Rhombic Leatherbug and a Weevil sp.

Stop two was a brief visit to see Wall Bedstraw - which was even stragglier that I'd imagined it would be!

WHITLINGHAM: August insects and new sightings

4th August 2019

Another early date for the monthly WeBS survey, and with Justin counting Thorpe I only popped in for a quick look before heading to Whitlingham. This was long enough to add a new species of damselfly to my patch list in the form of Small Red-eyed Damselfly. This species has been seen on a few dates in August over the past few years, but numbers have still to take off. This one was in the mooring basin alongside quite a few 'large' Red-eyed Damselflies. A young Tortoise Shieldbug was a surprise find, having previously only seen them in the Brecks or at Foxley Wood, but I found two at Thorpe and a further example at Whitlingham. A male Megachile (leafcutter) bee was also new to the patch list, although frustratingly I couldn't see it well enough to confirm an ID - M. centuncularis is the commonest local species whilst M. ligniseca is known to visit Burdock, so those are the main two candidates.

Round to Whitlingham and the number and species of wildfowl were all rather standard for the time of year. Mallard numbers just pushed three figures (101), no Gadwall or Tufted Ducks were seen and a gathering of large gulls on the Great Broad was mostly Lesser Black-backed Gulls (204) with a few Herring Gulls (10). Non-avian sightings included Four-banded Longhorn Beetle (an occasional find here) the distinctive ichneumon Gasteruption jaculator (new for me) and an all-black Arge sawfly (either A. berberidis or nigripes - a specimen needed for ID).

WEST NORFOLK: An unexpected weevil

Early August 2019

During a visit to a friend who lives on the edge of the Sandringham estate I found myself inspecting a Great Mullein plant that was growing in an area of wildflowers. I noticed some Cionus weevils, and initially expected them to be one of the species that I see at Whitlingham (Mullein and Figwort share a suite of related species feeding on them). Closer inspection showed that it wasn't, and in fact it turned out to be a fairly scarce species, Cionus longicollis, that I'd never seen before.

SUFFOLK: Minsmere bees

Late July 2019

In the last of my July entries I document an afternoon spent at Minsmere with Cathy & Rose. After having lunch in the cafe we walked along the north wall, where we spoke to a very knowledgeable volunteer manning the area of path that hosts a large population of solitary bees. I had seen the Bee-wolves and Pantaloon Bees here before but was keen to see Green-eyed Flower Bees (Anthophora bimaculata), the only one of the four East Anglian Anthophoras that I'd not seen. We soon saw one, but not before we heard it - a good ID feature to separate this from Anthophora quadrimaculata which also has green eyes is that A. bimaculata makes a shrill hum as it flies in!

We then walked towards the beach, where I hoped to find some Six-belted Clearwings on the Birdsfoot Trefoil. Unfortunately a storm was brewing and the wind was getting up, so there was no luck with finding any clearwings in a hurried search. I did find a new leafmine, Liriomyza centaurii, on the Common Centaury. We reached the sea before turning round as the rain began to fall, stopping briefly to see three Stone Curlews that a volunteer had in his scope.

NORWICH: Garden caterpillars and a Saltmarsh Plume

Late July 2019

To prove that sometimes we get interesting things in our own garden, checking some self-sown mustard near the shed I noticed caterpillars of both Small White and Large White on the seedpods, along with the weevil Ceutorhynchos assimilis.

I haven't had any particularly large catches of moths this year, but there was one interesting species in a recent effort, the Saltmarsh Plume Moth (Agdistis bennetii). As the name suggests this species is associated with Sea Aster so mainly found around the coast, but it does seem to wander inland at times. This was a new TG21 record, but other moth-trappers also recorded it around the same time in other inland squares.

NORWICH: Some more interesting bees

Late July 2019

Another evening visit to the Bartlett's Bee Paradise garden, where Vanna had found Nomada flavopicta. Whilst we were there we saw plenty of other things, including a Clover Melitta bee feeding on White Clover and a male Pantaloon Bee that roosts in the garden. Cheilosia caerulescens, a hoverfly associated with House Leeks was a new species for me, as was the tiny Bellflower Scissor Bee (Chelostoma capanularum).

MID NORFOLK: Foxley Wood - return of the Purple Emperor

Late July 2019

In recent years the Purple Emperor butterfly has been spreading away from core populations in the East Midlands, with new records (or new modern records) at sites in Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire, Suffolk, and more recently Norfolk. Whilst there had been occasional sightings in the past, records of both male and female Purple Emperors at Sheringham Park, combined with sightings nearby at Beeston Common in the past three years had suggested that they were present in low numbers and probably breeding nearby.

With this background, I was rather surprised when Butterfly Conservation released a press release to announce the official return of the Purple Emperor. Partly it seemed odd wording (either its back or it isn't, the official part seems redundant, rather like most uses of the word literally), but also this was before any sightings had been reported from Norfolk in 2019, so why now? All became clearer about a week later. Photos of Purple Emperors started to be shown on social media - clearly they were now present somewhere else, but there was a seemingly unecessary secrecy about it. This didn't last long - the location was Foxley Wood, the location of the last Norfolk population that died out in the early 1970s. The reason for initially keeping it quiet wasn't revealed. Foxley is a great place and thanks to sympathetic woodland management seems in a good place for the population to rebuild. The NWT wrote about the return here:

Patrick Barkham also wrote about the Foxley Purple Emperors for the Guardian. One of the interesting bits here is the local who remembers last seeing them in 1971 - pertinent only because one prominent Purple Emperor finder was keen on the theory that they had been present but unreported in woods across East Anglia for the past 50 years, a theory rejected by almost all local naturalists (partly because there was no real evidence for it and partly because it was a bit insulting to suggest that nobody else was seeing them despite these woods being well watched and visited sites)

Anyway, with a few hours free one morning we went on a family visit to Foxley, hoping to see a Purple Emperor. It was during a hot period so not ideal whether for either us or the butterflies, but not long after arriving we did see a Purple Emperor as it flew majestically out of a large Oak, across the ride we were on and off towards an area of sallows. We also saw several Purple Hairstreaks and at least five Silver-washed Fritillaries.

The Hogweed was covered in insects - sadly I can't identifiy many of the flies, but there was also some common hoverfly species too plus Chrysotoxum bisinctum. Elsewhere in the wood I found a leafmine of the sawfly Heterarthrus wuestneii on Field Maple, which might be a new record for the site, and got excited by a large greyish Longhorn Beetle. I assumed it was something I'd never seen before, so was surprised when my database showed a previous record. That was from Tasburgh the previous month and the explanation was simple, this was a Variable Longhorn beetle, and the one I'd found looked nothing like the yellowy-brown seen the previous month. 

WHITLINGHAM: Late July visit

Late July 2019

A brief call in to Thorpe Marshes followed by Whitlingham C.P. A handful of new patch species were seen at Thorpe, including the mine of Agromyza albitarsis in hybrid Black Poplar, Striped Slender Robberfly and a Coelioxys sp, probably C. inermis.

At Whitlingham I heard a Nuthatch and saw feeding signs of Elm ZigZag sawfly. I had a look at the new bee hotel area above the cycle racks and was pleased to see a few small (and unidentified) bees inspecting the holes. Rather unusually the commonest insect on the blocks was Nettle Ground Bug, which were all over the wood blocks.

MID NORFOLK: Buxton Heath orchids

Late July 2019

On my way back to Norwich from Sustead Common I worked out I had a bit over an hour spare. Considering where I could go for a productive walk in that time I chose Buxton Heath. I have visited last year in early August, so I hoped that I might see a few different things this time and was pleasantly surprised. Walking to the edge of the mire there was much less knapweed in flower than last year, but some Heath-spotted Orchids were still in flower (not a species I see very often) and some Marsh Helleborines and Marsh Fragrant Orchids were also in flower. I saw some tiny white flowers further round and it turned out they were Round-leaved Sundew, and a big Marsh Gentian was also a delight.

After a brief chat with local birder Mike, I headed onto the drier bit of the heath where I located a few rather skittish Silver-studded Blues. Whilst here I noticed a relatively small and bristly Robberfly, which I photographed. A few weeks later I attempted to key it out using the excellent Dutch Robberflies book. I tentatively reached Breckland Robberfly, which unlike some species is actually geographically limited in line with its name, so I assumed I'd made a mistake and posted it on the Soldierflies & allies Facebook page. To my surprise I heard back that it was Breckland Robberfly, and if the scheme accepts the record then it will be a new VC27 (East Norfolk) record, which is excellent.