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

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

YARE VALLEY: Strumpshaw October fungi

13th October 2019

On Saturday I helped lead the first of two fungus forays for the RSPB at Strumpshaw Fen, buoyed by the recent wet weather that has caused a lot of fungi to emerge of late. I had a few minutes spare before the start so went for a brief wander, finding an old Alder Tongue gall in the car park, some Pavement Mushrooms beside the path and an occupied Stigmella catharticella mine in a Buckthorn leaf. I had hoped to find leaf mines of the sawfly Heterarthrus ochropoda in some of the Aspen, but had to settle for mines of a different sawfly, Fenusella glaucopis instead. Although an Osprey and Great White Egret were still present in the area somewhere, neither were on view which was a shame.

Numbers for these walks are capped at 20, and we had around 15 for this one. After a short introduction I showed participants the species I had found already, along with the large numbers of Slender Club fungus that grow in the leaf litter beside reception hide. We then made our way slowly towards the base camp, stopping to look at some now rather old Golden Scalycaps, some Blue Roundheads and quite a few Agaricus, which puzzled me at the time but I now think were Inky Mushroom (Agaricus moelleri).

The base camp area is always good for fungi, some of which come up every year, but there were a couple of new ones on this foray. Firstly Fluted Birds-nest, a lovely species although most of the 'eggs; had already been destroyed by the rain, and secondly Freckled Dapperling, which was growing under one of the logs and looked like a large inkcap until removed and examined. Further along we also saw a Skullcap Dapperling, having also seen Stinking Dapperling so a good day for the Lepiota spp.

Progress was slow due to the shear number of fungi being found, but we did progress into the woods, seeing the Upright Coral fungus that was found last year and smelling a Stinkhorn somewhere out of site. Heading further towards the edge of the reserve we saw lots of Amethyst Deceivers, and then as the path turned a corner some Fly Agarics. We'd not recorded this crowd-pleasing fungus on the forays before, so it was great for everyone to see them.

There wasn't time to go quite as far as normal because of the amount we had already seen, but we did visit an old Hazel tree where once again Spring Hazelcups were fruiting very early! On the way back we saw some Shaggy Ink Caps just starting to open up beside the path. In total we recorded about 50 species, with quite a few more of the trickier species not identified beyond family or genus, so quite good going. If any readers were present and want a list of species seen then get in touch and I will send you a copy.

NORWICH: Lakenham way Large Willow Aphids

1st October 2019

There is a recently arrived micro moth that causes leaf mines on long-leaved willows (Royal Midget), so accordingly I have been paying extra attention to any willows that I see as I move around the city. No luck so far, but I did find a colony of Large Willow Aphids (Tuberolachnus salignus), which are rather impressive as far as aphids go.

WHITLINGHAM: Changes afoot...

In the words of Bob Dylan, "Better stay away from those / that carry around a fire hose." Sorry I meant "The times they are a changin'"

This week it was announced that Whitlingham Charitable Trust, the people responsible for Whitlingham Country Park, are ending their contract with the Broads Authority to run the C.P. as of 31st March 2020. This was unexpected, firstly because the Broads Authority staff have been present since the park opened so I assumed that this was a successful and long-term arrangement, and secondly because BA and the Whitlingham Charitable Trust have very close ties - the registered address of the Trust is the Broads Authority offices, and the Broads Authority also has the right to appoint trustees to the Whitlingham Charitable Trust.

You can read the initial article and statements on the EDP website here (if you can get passed the caption of the photo, in which someone demonstrates an issue with their Flag Iris identification). Article 1 (of 3) focussed on the reaction of the Broads Authority and thanking them for their work to date. The only bit relating to the future is:
"The trustees have however decided that the next phase in the Country Park's development is to be led by the charity independently from the Broads Authority. A plan to transition to the new arrangements is under development with a start date of 1 April 2020."
This adds very little information as to how the C.P. will be managed (up until recently Whitlingham Charitable Trust had no employees, so it would presumably involve recruiting a whole team) and just a note that a plan is under development.

A day later and those "daffodils" returned with a further statement about the future of Whitlingham, with the headline announcement 
"Whitlingham Country Park will become larger, easier to access and with a broader range of activities, its trustees said after severing ties with the Broads Authority"
The full article (2) is here. It goes on to say
"Following the decision to manage the site ourselves, we have developed new plans for enhancing the visitor offer and building on the work that has been done to date"
"The plans, which are currently being finalised, will include enlarging the site to offer more access to the surrounding land and improvements to the current barn and café area"

These stories were circulated on social media and commented on under the articles, but didn't seem to attract that much attention as far as I could see. Whitlingham tends to attract two types of comment, one saying how nice it is and one moaning about the parking (a rather tedious pursuit - most of the revenue to maintain the C.P. comes from paying to use the car park, so the cost is a necessary one).

It was then a further surprise to see yet another Whitlingham based story in the EDP today (article 3), assuring visitors that there were no plans to limit access, charge for access or change the parking arrangements.
"We are currently finalising the plans for Whitlingham Country Park and hope to be able to unveil them in the coming months. We would, however, like to reassure all the users that there are no significant plans to rethink any parking arrangements and opening times, or for our visitors to be charged to enter the site. We want any changes we undertake to make the site more accessible and enhance the current offering."

So, lots to take in there - what does it actually mean for visitors? Well firstly I'll be sorry to see some of the long-standing members of BA staff leave, although hopefully they will all go to jobs elsewhere in the Broads. The tourist information desk will close, and I assume that the solar boat will also go. The cafe will presumably continue on. Beyond that it is hard to say. I have two initial concerns:
1) The maintenance of Whitlingham C.P. for wildlife (it is designated as a local nature reserve, although I don't think there is anything on site that says that). There is currently a management plan in place put together by Broads Authority ecologists - professionals who know the local area, so it is imperative that the next management plan for 2020 onwards builds on this knowledge and is both compiled by an experienced ecologist and acted upon by those managing the park.
2) The idea of opening up more of the site, which would presumably mean some of the land behind the picnic meadow sounds quite interesting, but the articles make reference to additional activities. Whilst it is understandable that additional things should be considered, the last time major changes were suggested (2012) some of the ideas were not in keeping with the idea of quiet recreation for example building a spa and a hotel. I am also aware of places like High Lodge in Thetford, where there are lots of activities but the area is a sterile piece of woodland avoided by those who just want a peaceful walk. I hope that any plans this time will be more sensitive to why people actually visit.

Of course at the moment we can only speculate as to what will happen next year, and what effect these decisions will have. The Whitlingham Charitable Trust hold an "open forum" each November so more information may emerge there, although the date doesn't always seem to be published online in time for people to attend - the page to check is here:

EAST NORFOLK: Bacton Woods insects & fungi

28th September 2019

Fancying a walk in the woods, Cathy & I took Rose and our mothers to Bacton Woods for a stroll and a picnic. This was during a spell of wet weather, but we managed to get round in the dry and avoid getting too muddy either. The wildlife highlight of the walk was yet another leaf-mining sawfly (which have been something of a feature of 2019). This one was Metallus albipes, a miner of Raspberry, and constituted the first record for VC27 (East Norfolk) and only the second county record.

Birdwise Coal Tit, Goldcrest and Long-tailed Tit were seen in a flock in the pines, and we saw a few beetles, Woodland Dor Beetle, Notiophilus bigutattus and Gorse Weevil. I noted a few leaf mines as well, including an occupied mine of Stigmella samiatella in Sweet Chestnut.

Of the fungi, False Chanterelle, Bovine Bolete, False Death Cap and Rooting Shank were some of the highlights.

NORWICH: Another encounter with an Otter

18th September 2019

Early in the year I was fortunate to see an Otter on my way to work a couple of times. As a result if I see ripples in the river I always wait a minute to see what will emerge. The previous week I had done this and up popped a Cormorant, but today I once again waited, and up popped an Otter! It quickly dived again and moved further away from the edge before I had to move on to go to work.

WHITLINGHAM: September WeBS and some sawflies

15th September 2019

I seldom end up walking along the Trowse end of Whitlingham Lane at the moment, but having seen on Twitter that some Ivy Bees were present on a patch of ivy there I stopped on my way to Whitlingham to have a look. There was a nice sunny area, and with more time I would have stayed to see what else turned up, but a handful of Ivy Bees and two Myathropa florea hoverflies suffised for now.

The continuing presence of the Barnacle Goose livened up the WeBS count, although I once again missed the regular Mandarin, which appears to come in and roost at Whitlingham but departs early morning. The best bird was a female-type Goldeneye (first noted by Justin on the 7th), which is our first ever September Goldeneye here. There were signs that species were beginning to return for the winter, including 3 Gadwall, 1 Tufted Duck and 25 Cormorants.

I nipped into the woodland edge, where a scarce bracket fungus found by Anne Crotty was still present on a Beech log. The fungus in question was Clustered Bracket, Inonotus cuticularis, which was new to me and the site.

As I walked round I paid particular attention to the Alders, and was rewarded with several interesting sawfly larvae. I had suspected that Heterarthrus vagans was present base don some vacated leaf mines seen previously, but this time I confirmed it by finding an occupied mine. The powder white larvae of Eriocampa ovata is something I've seen here before, but the larva of Nematinus fuscipennis was a new one for me. An occupied leaf mine in Bramble proved to be Metallus pumilis, another species new to the site. Incidentally I have updated the Whitlingham Sawfly guide with these new species - you can view or download it from the species guides tab at the top of the blog.