The Whitlingham Bird Report for 2016 is now available to download here.

The previous reports are also availble: 2015 here,
2014 report here and the 2013 report here. Thanks to everyone who has contributed sightings, information and photos to these reports.

You may also be interested in Chris Durdin's Thorpe Marsh Wildlife Report for 2016, which is available here.

TARGET SPECIES: Northamptonshire Black Hairstreak

25th June 2017

Last year Cathy & I spent an enjoyable July day in Northamptonshire watching Purple Emperors with Carl Chapman. As I have seen few species of butterfly outside of East Anglia, this year we again joined Carl for a trip to Northamptonshire, this time hoping to see two new species, Black Hairstreak and Wood White.

The first of our targets was the Black Hairstreak. This species can be quite tricky to see, due to a combination of scarcity, a short flight period, an arboreal nature and a habit of only flying in bright sunshine. We arrived at Glapthorn Cow Pastures, which despite the name is now an area of woodland with lots of Blackthorn scrub. The sign on the corner made it clear that no horses were allowed on the reserve, so reluctantly we all dismounted and stabled them before carrying on*.

A bit further along we reached the gate onto the reserve. A neat sign gave an update on the Black Hairstreaks, and it wasn't promising. Apparently they had emerged two weeks early this year (the flight period is often only around three weeks in total) and at the time the sign was written only two tatty butterflies were being seen. It concluded by stating that ny the open day, which was today, it was expected that none would be present. All that remained was to work out whether the author of the sign was a realist or a pessimist.

The other thing we had against us was the weather, which was meant to be largely overcast with some showers. Fortunately for the time being the sun was shining, and a Silver-washed Fritillary flew past us. As we checked out a sunny area of Blackthorn we also saw Brown Hawker and Emperor dragonflies. A few more common butterflies were seen, but then we noticed a small group intently watching something up ahead. Catching up with them we found that it was indeed a Black Hairstreak, which quickly flew round in an arc. Would this be our sole sighting? Well no, because instead of flying off it landed close by on a patch of brambles. It remained here for over 20 minutes, providing my closest views of any hairstreak.

Eventually we decided to investigate further along the path, stopping briefly to photograph a horsefly. We hadn't gone far when we were called back by a shout of Purple Emperor. It turned out that one of the group, who were presumably mostly from the local Butterfly Conservation branch, had spotted a Purple Emperor feeding from a sap run, apparently a first for the site!

The Purple Emperor flew off shortly afterwards, so again set off down the path, and again were called back. This time it was to say that there was a glade close by with multiple Silver-washed Fritillaries present. Following the directions we found the area, which looked very similar to a number of other sunny areas, so why the fritillaries found it so attractive was a bit of a mystery.

After a while we retraced our steps, seeing a White Admiral fly briefly into the treetops. We had been told that a second hairstreak had been seen near the entrance gate, but there was no sign of it. There was a male Gatekeeper, upholding its duties by sticking to the hedge around the entrance. With part one of our trip successful we returned to the car for a cup of tea.

* I might have made that bit up.

TROWSE: Some mimicking hoverflies & other patch ticks

24th June 2017

After my successful Currant Clearwing visit, I headed around Norwich to Trowse for a bit of time on patch. Trowse Meadow was pleasant, but in overcast conditions there weren't as many insects about as I'd hoped, with the exception of numerous Banded Demoiselles near the river. A clump of Pencilled Cranesbill growing near the bridge are new to my Whitlingham list as far as I remember, and the click beetle Adrastus pallens was also new.

I then crossed the road and went up into Trowse Woods. I walked fairly quickly through the shady areas because my destination was the clearing at the top of the woods, where two islands of Buddleia attract lots of insects. I was in luck, and after a few minutes there was some bright sunshine. A Common Darter was resting and I got good views of Eristalis intricarius, a bee mimic, and a pair of mating Meadow Browns. The undoubted highlight was a new hoverfly for me, Chrysotoxum festivum, a wasp mimic.

Leaving the woods I looked round past Whitlingham Hall down to the country park, adding another two patch ticks, Oak Bush-cricket (a species that sometimes comes to moth traps but is otherwise quite hard to record, despite being common) and a ground bug, Petritrechus lundii.

TARGET SPECIES: Currant Clearwing

24th June 2017

In recent weeks I had been seeing lots of pictures of Clearwings online, so was aware that if I were to see Currant Clearwing, one of my 2017 targets, I needed to go and look for them soon. I hadn't had time to go to North Norfolk, where a particular fruit farm is known for having many of them, but fortunately a friend with an allotment gave me permission to visit and have a look there.

Given the recent warm weather I was hopeful that it would be sunny and I would stand a good chance of seeing a Currant Clearwing either on some Currants or on nearby flowers. Saturday turned out to be overcast, and having failed to find any clearwings on a search of the vegetation, I resorted to my back-up plan, a pheromone lure. This worked within a few minutes, and I soon saw my first Currant Clearwing, swiftly followed by a second one. I retrieved the lure so as to cause minimal disturbance to any others nearby, and had a good look at the one male that remained nearby.

After spending some time with the clearwings I had a quick look around the rest of the allotment. I saw two plants of interest, Weasel's Snout and Henbane, growing amongst the beds.

In terms of other insects the highlight was one of the ruby-tailed wasps, Hedychridium roseum, whilst there was also a Cerceris wasp sp. As I was leaving I noticed a black Crossocerus sp, an all black wasp with huge eyes - very alien looking! I had planned to head over to Earlham Park to look for hoverflies, but fortunately had looked on the EDP website earlier and realised that there was an 80s Pop concert going on there, so instead I headed to Trowse, which I will post about separately.

NORWICH: Return to Catton Park

21st June 2017

At the start of the year I had decided that I would take advantage of being quite close to Catton Park by visiting at least once a month to track the changes through the year. This lasted until March, then basically the amount of wildlife increased and I split my time between Whitlingham, target species and various other ventures. On Wednesday the weather had reached a warm but not stifling balance, so I decided to pop down after work for an hours walk around.

As it was the start of rush hour I decided that instead of crossing the ring road and heading to the Oak Lane entrance (a walk that would have resembled the start of Horace Goes Skiing), I would cross at the traffic lights and go in through the woods. This immediately paid off as I was only a few paces in when I saw a Vole pearing out of its burrow. It watched me, I watched it. After a minute I reached for my camera, and it vanished into the hole.

With the visit already worthwhile, I had a wander out of the woods and into the meadow, where there was a (probably seeded) area of wildflowers, mostly Ox-eye daisies. A number of moths were flying, but on closer inspection most of them were Garden grass-veneers, which look surprisingly big in flight. I did find a more interesting moth though, the Triple-stripe Piercer (Grapholita compositella). After checking at home I found that this was a new TG21 record, which was satisfying.

A detour to check out an area of bare sandy soil was interesting, because there was a large area of Corn Spurrey, which I'd only seen as an arable weed once before. There was also a fumitory growing nearby.

Back to the meadow, and several Merodon equestris hoverflies were picked out, as well as a Slender-striped Robberfly. This species, which like the piercer was a new one for me, holds its body in a distinct pose, looking a bit like a stubby damselfly.

A quick walk across part of the parkland turned up a few common beetles and bugs, and some dried specimens of Common Broomrape. I should probably make sure I return in July!

YARE VALLEY: Strumpshaw dragonflies & beetles

18th June 2017

Sunday was Father's Day, and as dad hadn't been to Strumpshaw for over a year we decided to go there. We arrived at about 10:30, by which time it was scorching hot and packed with people, including a coach party. We had a quick look at some moths left near the reception hide, crowd-pleasingly big ones rather than rare reedbed types unfortunately. A Swallowtail flew past near the cottage as if at the head of a conga line. We decided to head for the Lackford Run end of the reserve until the crowd dispersed a little.

As we approached the railway line I heard a Grasshopper Warbler reeling close by. It didn't take us long before we found a male Scarce Chaser perched up, but the bright sunshine and my lack of photographic skills meant that the body was completely washed out in my pictures. Eventually I did manage to get one where you could see the abdomen colour, but only because it landed at an angle. The blue damselflies were very skittish - the few I did see close enough were Azure Damsels.

I kept an eye out near the Alders for White-barred Clearwings, without success. A couple of small Swallowtail caterpillars were nice to see, and a Common Lizard was found resting on the boardwalk with its legs raised in the air, presumably to avoid the hot wood! Marsh Pea was also seen from the boardwalk. Another three Swallowtails were seen flying over the reeds, but never close enough to photograph.

We retraced our steps, looking for insects as we went. I saw a yellowy soldier beetle, one of a species pair, and having failed on several previous occasions managed to get a photo of the palps. They had a dark tip, identifying it was Cantharis pallida. There were lots of reed beetles, which I have got down to Plateumaris, but am still deciding which of two similar species they are. 

Back on the reserve proper we headed for the meadow. There didn't seem to be too much about, a slight concern as I'm helping lead a walk here in a few weeks time. The dykes were quite promising however, with lots of Norfolk Hawkers and Four-spotted Chasers, plus Hairy Dragonfly and Common Emerald. We bumped into Carol, Steve and Eddie and had a chat before continuing across the meadow. The final sighting of interest was a soldierfly, Banded General, which I've wanted to see for a while.

NORWICH: A few new moths & a caddisfly

17th June 2017

After our Weeting trip we called in to see Gary and Alysia's moth haul. A Festoon would have been the highlight had I not seen two earlier in the day, so the Spinach took the honours as a new macro. Triangle-marked Roller (Ancylis achatana) was a new micro, as was Four-spotted Obscure (Oegoconia quadripuncta) (albeit the latter requires gen det to be sure, so it won't make my list proper). The large orange caddisfly Limnephilus rhombicus was also new. We had a quick look at the unpotted moths still in the trap and released the Lime Hawk Moth before heading home.

BRECKLAND: Weeting Moths

17th June 2017

Saturday was initially the date for a fungus study group foray at Sculthorpe Moor, but this had been rescheduled. There were a range of places I could have gone, but I had settled on a moth and butterfly event at Weeting in the hope of seeing some Breckland specialist moths. Cathy had agreed to come with me, although she perhaps regeretted it when it became evident how hot it was going to be. Two of the main species I hoped to see were Lunar Yellow Underwing and Cream-spot Tiger moth, rare and spectacular respectively.

The event was advertised as 10-12, so I assumed that this would be about an hour going through a moth trap, followed by a short walk to look for butterflies and day-flying moths. This turned out to be a mistake on my part, as when we arrived the moth trap had been checked and the species were neatly laid out on a table, complete with labels. We had a look at them, then were taken out for a two-and-a-half hour walk!

Sadly there was no Cream-spot Tiger, but Lunar Yellow Underwing had been caught. There were several other new species for me as well, including Brown Scallop, Satin Wave, Four-dotted Footman and Plain Wave. Festoon was also new, and slightly ironic as Gary had caught one in Norwich the previous evening and invited me round to see it that afternoon.

The walk started well, I found a new plant bug, Capsus ater, and Cathy found a Dune Chafer, a nice metallic species which depsite the name does occur in some sandy inland areas like the Brecks. A bit further on a couple of birders got a Stone-curlew in their 'scope for us. After that most of the walk could be summarised by the phrases 'very hot' and 'another Meadow Brown'. It was interesting to see an area of the reserve that I'd not walked along before, including a recently reverted field. There were quite a few Small Heath butterflies, Cathy spotted two Grey Partridges and a Brown Plume was a new moth to add to the earlier ones. Once we got to Hockwold Heath we turned round, and despite the heat made it back to the car in good time.

By now rather hungry, we called in at the Brandon Country Park cafe for lunch before heading back to Norwich.

NORTH NORFOLK: Wildlife Road Trip and Polecat sighting

16th June 2017

On Friday night Cathy, Margaret & I went to Gresham's school in Holt for the opening night of the Norfolk Festival of Nature. The opening event was a talk called the Wildlife Road Trip by Martin Hughes-Games and Iolo Williams, who many readers will know through Springwatch. Martin had shown particular dedication to get there, having been broadcasting from the Isles of Scilly on Thursday, and after flying back into Exeter on Friday morning had driven across the country to get to Holt.

Both Martin and Iolo were engaging speakers and were able to describe their different wildlife experiences and career paths. We also had a chat with Iolo at the interval and we came across as a thoroughly nice guy. A bit late now, but I would recommend going to see them if they do visit your town.

The wildlife highlight of the day however occurred on the way home, when somewhere on the Holt Road between the Saxthorpe roundabout and the bridge a Polecat (or a convincing hybrid!) bounded across the road. It had the distinct Polecat face mask and dark nose, no pale bib and dark flanks. We may be at the stage where DNA evidence is required to validate records and eliminate the chance of ferret hybrids, but pragmatically I think this was a good shout for a 'proper' one.

WHITLINGHAM: June bird count & extras

11th June 2017

On Sunday I was back at Whitlingham for the June wildfowl count. There was nothing unexpected on the broad, with the local Muscovy and two Tufted Ducks and a nesting Great-crested Grebe the nominal pick of the bunch. There are now two broods of cygnets, the older family on the Little Broad (now down to three cygnets) and a younger family on the Great Broad who still have four. Of the geese numbers:

Greylag Goose 89 (2016: 133, 2015: 181)
Canada Goose 64 (2016: 36, 2015: 44)
Egyptian Goose 10 (2016: 8, 2015: 17)

So fewer Greylags than previous years (although there are always some roosting on the main island that can't be counted, this has been the same for the whole time I've counted here) and higher numbers of Canada Geese.

Apart from the birds I once again had a look at the Hogweed flowers and recorded a new beetle, Anaspis maculata. I suspect I've seen it before and not identified it (or maybe even identified it and not recorded it), but it's not on my master site list at any rate. Danish Scurvy-grass was also a site tick. Other highlights included the tortoise beetle Cassida vibex and two of the attractive hoverfly Xanthogramma pedissequum, which has day-glo yellow markings on a black background.

WHITLINGHAM: Norfolk Hawkers and fish fry

10th June 2017

With a couple of spare hours and bright sunshine, I went to Whitlingham in the hope of photographing the Lesser Emperor. Conditions were promising, Norfolk Hawkers were everywhere, with 25+ seen along the south shore of the Great Broad, sections of which aren't visible from the path. Four Emperors, two Four-spotted Chasers and at least eight Black-tailed Skimmers were also seen, and four damselfly species. Despite searching and waiting in various viewing points I only got one view of the Lesser Emperor, again a fast flypast with no hope of photographing it. The downside to the large number of dragonflies present seems to be that they are all territorial and seeing off each other!

The other sight of note was the huge number of fish dry in several of the sheltered bays. I'm not sure of the species (or if it can be determined easily at this age).