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: Crostwight Heath fungi

16th November 2019

On Saturday I attended the last full-length study group fungus foray of the year at Crostwight Heath in north-east Norfolk. My dad grew up in the area so I used to visit as a child, but a look through my records showed I'd not visited the heath since 2011, when I got nice views of some basking Grass Snakes.

With little adjacent parking it had been arranged for us to park in a nearby farmyard. Whilst we were getting ready to walk down to the heath two skeins of Pink-footed Geese flew past, a reminder that we were quite close to the coast. Walking along the lane we arrived at the edge of some woodland, and immediately began to find quite a lot of fungi on a steep bank, including lots of Hare's Ear and some Tricholoma spp. One of these turned out to be Chemical Knight, but the other one which was identified in the field was Yellowing Knight, a new species for me.

Heading up onto the heath we walked past a large area of Slender Clubs and a couple of Powdery Brittlegills. Amongst the range of species seen Yellow Brain stood out, because although it is a common species there were large patches of it along the mature Gorse stems. A mystery Stropharia was identified later as Stropharia inuncta, my second new species of the day. Out on the open heath there was an old bonfire site on which was growing Bonfire Scalycap and a cup fungus, Peziza granulosa. The latter actually isn't one of the specific bonfire-site fungi, but was still another new species for me. We stopped for lunch and a Lesser Redpoll flew over calling.

Rather than push on across some quite similar heathland we decided to go back along the edge of the site and spend a bit of time in the woodland opposite. Species seen along the edge included Scurfy Deceiver, Blushers, Bleeding Oak Crust and a nice display of Clustered Bonnets on an old log.

Across the road a Dog Stinkhorn was of interest, and Stewart managed to find the leaf mine of Virgin Pigmy (Ectoedemia argyropeza) in an Aspen leaf, the first record for this block of 10km squares. Another excellent find by Stewart was a small black weevil covered in a fungus. Even better he managed to identify the fungus, Beauveria bassiana. The final find of the day was spectacular, probably double the size of the last one I saw - it was Leafy Brain fungus.

We walked back to the cars (seeing a Muntjac browsing in a meadow on the way), but before going had a look at a heap of decomposing straw. There wasn't a lot of fungi on it, but someone did point out some old Grass Snake eggs - good to see that years after my last visit they are still going strong.

NORWICH: Saffron Milkcap

5th November 2019

Readers with some knowledge of fungi will probably be familiar with the genus Lactarius, the Milkcaps, which exude a milk-like latex when the cap or gills are damaged. There are however a handful of Lactarius species that give out a bright orange latex instead of white. On my way to work I spotted one of these species, looking rather plain and unobtrusive below a Pine tree. This was a good clue that it might be Saffron Milkcap, Lactarius deliciosus, (the slightly commoner False Saffron Milkcap is usually under Spruce), but I took one to go through the series of checks needed to confirm it. Below are some photos outlining the things seen:

The left hand fungus is in situ, showing how unspectacular it looks (they can look brighter than this). The right hand one shows the gills being broken and giving off orange 'milk'
 This sections shows that the fungus bruises slowly green when broken
 Here you can see some small 'pits' on the stem near the base - these are called scrobiculations and are a good feature for this species
Size and shape of spores is often important, but with things like Russulas and Lactarius you often need to look even closer (this is at 1000x using an oil immersion lens). Using some close focusing you can see a network of ridges on the spore on the right. They were also present on the one on the left, but because of the depth of field you could only focus on one at a time.
Two final points, firstly here you can see the gill attachment to the stem is slightly decurrent (the gills do go onto the stem but not in a flowing arc like they would in a funnel for example. Secondly, the edge that is broken up and had given off orange latex earlier has now turned a wine red over time.

These things, combined with spore size, it being under pine and a drop of the latex tasting mild but turning slightly bitter, confirmed the ID.

YARE VALLEY: More Strumpshaw fungi

3rd November 2019

On Sunday I helped lead the second of the two fungi walks at Strumpshaw Fen. There had been some strong winds recently that meant a blanket of leaves covered much of the ground in places, but we still managed to find a good range of species, including a handful not seen on the earlier walk. The first of these 'new' species was Death Cap (Amanita phalloides), one of the most poisonous species in Britain, with a large group found under some Beech trees.

We then moved on to the log circle, which had fewer species than in October, and next into the clearing where we saw a very nice 'swarm' of small white discomycetes.

Having spent quite a bit of time relatively close to reception we set off for the woods and I noticed an interesting looking clump of Mycena by the path. Suspecting that they might be one of the ones that produce latex when broken, I snapped a stem. It gave off a dark red, blood-like latex, which combined with the deciduous wood made it Burgundrydrop Bonnet (Mycena haematopus). Further along we saw Crimped Gill (Plicatura crispa), a species with fake 'gills' made out of folds in the underside of the cap, and finally a couple of Blushers (Amanita rubescens) amongst a group of Spotted Toughshank (Rhodocollybia maculata).

SUFFOLK: Minsmere fungi and fairy doors

Late October 2019

At the end of the month we went to Minsmere, where there was a 'wild things' trail around the woods, featuring fairy doors, wooden carved mushrooms and some sort of root creatures with eyes. This is the sort of thing that on smaller reserves might annoy local birders, but Minsmere is big enough that the trail was away from the main birding bits of the reserve. Incidentally now having a young daughter makes me appreciate things like this to attract families and children who otherwise might not visit nature reserves much more than I used to, although events do need to be compatible with the area they are being held in - for example fun runs around areas with lots of birds are probably a step too far I think.

The trail was in the woodland back along the track from the main car park, and we got off to an inauspicious start, with the way apparently blocked by a couple of logs. Usually this would be a sign that a path is closed, but there were several as we went round and I assume that they were placed deliberately to encourage children to clamber over. We then went off trail, as the path actually went along the east side of the woodland tower hide, but the map we'd been given had the path roughly marked on but going quite a bit to the west of the tower. All that said, the trail was nice when we actually stayed on it.

This autumn has been excellent for fungi, and the woods at Minsmere were packed with it. I recorded 39 species, which was good considering it was a family trip so I was trying not to linger too long and I didn't take anything home to check. Some of the more photogenic species are shown below.

 Hare's Ear
 Very young False Death Cap
 Common Puffballs
 Yellow Stagshorn
 Fluted Birds-nests
 Beefsteak Fungus
 Fly Agaric
 Parasol (a young specimen)
Winter Stalkball

As we got ready to leave we all stopped to admire the low autumn sun shining through the trees. Photos taken, we headed home.

NORWICH: Beer & Science Festivals

Late October 2019

Autumn is always a busy time - not only is it great for fungi and (sometimes!) bird migration, but it is also time for the annual Norwich Beer Festival and Norwich Science Festivals.

Karl, Adam & I visited the Norwich Beer Festival in midweek, with a researched list of beers to try. Because of the popularity of the festival not all of the beers are on at the same time, which usually means missing out on a few - unfortunately this year well over half of the beers we wanted to try had either already been drunk or had yet to be put on! This meant that I missed out on a new bird-beer, Gannet Mild by Earl Soham, plus the a couple of other more tenuous bird related beers. I did have Red Kite by Black Isle (I'd previously had this from a bottle) and could have tried Oystercatcher Ale by Brancaster Brewery (which I'd also had previously). Deciding to take in some ciders as well, Adam had Yellowhammer, and I branched out into dragonflies to have a Norfolk Hawker cider from East Norfolk Trading. Afterwards we called in at Brewdog, where I had a very nice fruit cider called Dead & Berried.

Cathy, Rose & I also attended various bits of the Norwich Science Festival. NNNS had a stall for the zoology and nature days, and there were some very good stalls for children - we came away with a pine cone bird feeder, plant pot bee hotel and various badges and stickers. Rose particular enjoyed watching a Large Silver Water Beetle in the Broads Authority pond-dipping table, especially when she was able to see it from underneath with the trapped air giving it the silvery look. I had to introduce Dave Goulson for his talk on gardening for wildlife, and we managed to secure tickets to see Jane Goodall in conversation with Ben Garrod at Norwich Cathedral.

Two very different events, but both very enjoyable and firm fixtures in my calendar!

WHITLINGHAM: An overdue boat trip and lots of fungi

Late October 2019

Back in 2012 the Broads Authority transferred the specially-commissioned solar boat Ra from Barton Broad to Whitlingham Great Broad, and since then it has been offering passenger trips around the broad every summer. I had always intended to go on one of these trips "at some point", but the circumstances outlined in my recent blog post (Changes afoot) meant that haste was needed. It was confirmed on one of the broads forums that as the Broads Authority would no longer be managing Whitlingham C.P., they would be re-homing Ra elsewhere on the Broads. Given that boat trips don't run over the winter I had a few weeks to go on one. Fortunately I made the time, and as the only one for that time slot had a very pleasant chauffered tour around the broad.

The birds seen from the boat were the expected species, a few Gadwall and Tufted Duck, Kingfisher and a Great-spotted Woodpecker on the main island. On returning I was looking at the Barnacle Goose when I noticed something resembling a Ruddy Shelduck. It didn't look quite right, and on close inspection I decided it was an Egyptian Goose x Ruddy Shelduck hybrid, which was agreed with by hybrid guru Dave Appleton. I also think this was probably the bird seen at Strumpshaw in September by David Bryant.

I spent a highly productive few hours looking for fungi in the wooded areas. Whilst I didn't see anything new, quite a few of the species were ones I'd not noted at Whitlingham before. These included Birch Knight, Earpick Fungus (a particular favourite of mine - it has a felty cap, spines instead of gills or tubes and grows on pine cones), Crimped Gill and Redlead Roundhead. There were also nice specimens of Freckled Dapperling and the various stages of Haresfoot Inkcap.

A couple of insects were of note, my first patch record of Aulagromyza heringii in Ash leaves (this leaf mining species seems to have had a very good autumn) and a bug I'd not previously recorded, Drymus brunneus, found on a bracket fungus amongst the leaf litter.