Whitlingham Country Park, 14 January 2022

Mandarin drake.
A perfect winter’s day: a crisp frost, to harden muddy paths, with sun coming through to warm Honeyguiders. From the car park at Whitlingham Country Park we could see that the lone shag, here in this unusual inland setting since 3 January, was in its usual resting place on the pontoon floating in Whitlingham Great Broad.

Whitlingham Woods.

Winter sunshine (Ann Greenizan).
However, we set off in a slightly different direction, through the picnic meadow and into Whitlingham Woods. On a January day, enjoying a walk in the sunshine was rewarding enough, though there was wildlife to steady and identify. A pile of very big logs was a good place to see fungi. Turkeytail was abundant; the biggest fungi were chunky southern brackets; also here were hairy curtain crust and the emerging yellow tips of some yellow stagshorn.

Southern bracket.

Turkeytail.

A little further along, Ann was alert to some yellow brain fungi; this parasitic and distinctive species is always nice to see. By it were pale globules of crystal brain fungi, too.

Yellow brain fungus.

Crystal brain fungus.

In the sunshine, we noted the hint of purple on alder catkins. In Whitlingham Lane car park, the big rosettes of hoary mullein were paler than ever covered by frost. Then a bank we scanned had hundreds of emerging snowdrops in bud.

A frosty hoary mullein rosette: it's a flower that is special to East Anglia so features in Norfolk's Wonderful 150.

Up the slope in the woods we paused to look at a large clump of spurge laurel, a daphne, with flower buds. Then we found some flowering red campion, in that case hanging on from the mild autumn rather than early-season blooms, and many male and hart’s-tongue ferns. Birds were what you might expect: mostly tits and robins, the trill of a wren.

Spurge laurel.
Back at the car park we picked up the telescope, though that was far from needed for the ducks and geese that had gathered where they are fed. Along with the semi-domestic mallards, mute swans, greylag and Egyptian geese were three Whitlingham regulars: barnacle goose, hybrid greylag x Chinese goose (aka domestic swan goose) and a male mandarin duck. The mandarin is, in my experience, more often absent than present, so to see it well today was quite a bonus.

In the repair shop today ... a millennium sculpture.

A short way along our clockwise circuit of the broad, two men had just started work to renovate a sculpture installed to mark the millennium, in connection with the cycle network.

We shared the path with walkers, joggers, families and all sorts, but that doesn’t seem to trouble the birds here. A Cetti’s warbler sang. Tufted ducks were the commonest ducks on the broad, gadwall the second commonest. Farther round we also saw teals and drake pochards, though failed to find the goldeneyes that another birdwatcher mentioned.

Siskins, if you look carefully.

Siskins were calling and were still enough in a tall alder to see splashes of yellow on them through the telescope. Then we overlooked Thorpe Marshes and headed back towards the car park. There were many cormorants and a heron though the best bird was the shag again, back on the pontoon. At first it was perching on one leg, before confirming it had two legs as it dashed to see off a cormorant that swam close to the pontoon.

Shag - same bird, different views.

The sun was still shining as we finished our visit to Whitlingham with coffee and scones at the barn café.

Chris Durdin

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