15 Aug 2016

Butterflies & Frogs.

Not amphibians but orchids. Mark met me at my office and we drove the short journey up to a site in N Wales where Frog Orchids had been flowering. I said had been as by the time we made the effort all the flowers had passed over and we didn't find a single one! We did find a few faded Chalk Fragrant Orchids though and a nice Autumn Gentian.

The nice surprise though was the number of butterflies with 10 species being recorded - Red Admiral, Greyling, Large White, Small White, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Common Blue, Small Heath, Peacock and Dark Green Fritillary.
 Common Blue
 Very worn Dark Green Fritillary
Small Heath.

We didn't find our target orchid species but it was a very enjoyable few hours messing about in the sunshine on a nice limestone escarpment.

9 Aug 2016

Blustery day on Hilbre.

Sunday was dry but pretty blowy with a force 5-6 whipping up the sand and stinging the legs on Hilbre. Perhaps shorts weren't such a good idea! The idea was to go over and do some essential maintenance work on the heligoland traps before the autumn migration period begins in earnest. Once that had been completed attention turned to the sea and the windy conditions meant there were good numbers of Gannets, Manx Shearwaters moving through. There were plenty of terns as well with the Sandwich Tern roost holding at least 400 birds. Little Terns were also present in good numbers - especially feeding in the gutter as the tide fell. Common Terns were also plentiful and a Pale-phase Arctic Skua appeared causing consternation amongst all the assembled sternidae.

Wader numbers are building up with several summer plumaged Turnstones back feeding at the north end. The high tide roost on Middle Eye held 7 Whimbrel and 8 Sanderling among the hundreds of Oystercatchers, Dunlin & Ringed Plover.

Juvenile Meadow Pipits and Linnets are flying round the island and one Meadow Pipit posed for photos before being photo-bombed by a bee!

With the planned work being finished and the tide ebbing there was just time for a traditional Hilbre brunch before departing for the mainland.

3 Aug 2016

Purple reign. The prince of rails.

News broke over the weekend of a potential 1st for Britain being found at one of my old Suffolk stomping grounds - Minsmere! A Western Swamphen or Purple Swamphen aka Purple Galinue! The Western form is considered more likely to be a genuine vagrant than the Easter nform that is commonly kept in captivity. An Eastern bird turned up in Saltney, near Chester, a few years ago but was subsequently claimed to have escaped fro ma local collection although there was a lot of dubiousness about the manner of its recapture and the claims made by the 'owner' with the bird reported to have been re-relased soon after at a private fishing pond near Buckley. See here for my report and photo's. Note the Eastern form has a greyish head whilst the Western one has a blue head.

Anyway, enough digression,  I decided to drive down with Mark Payne for a look! Meeting up with Chris Griffin on site was a pleasant surprise as I hadn't seen Chris since our Fair Isle trip in 2015. The bird showed almost continuously whilst we were there feeding and occasionally preening whilst strutting around its chosen pool completely dwarfing the local Moorhens. With the weather being slightly damp I didn't bother with the camera but managed a few phone-scoped shots and video  through the telescope.

A great trip and a long, long time since I've been to Minsmere.

31 Jul 2016

Broad-leaved Helliborine

Jan & I have just had a relaxing week in Majorca celebrating her mum's 80th with the rest of the family. Although I didn't do much birding, as usual, I took my binoculars with me and managed a few good birds in the pine covered slopes adjacent to our hotel. Sardinian Warbler, Crossbill & Audouins Gull were all relatively common & I also managed a Hoopoe flying over the sea from one side of the bay to another. Spotted Flycatchers were perhaps the commonest species in the resort with lots of juveniles around. It was good to see House Martins doing well nesting on the side of the hotel as well.

Arriving back Friday we both woke early Saturday morning as our body clocks were still on 'Majorca time' - we'd got into the habit of waking early and spending an hour lazing around on the beach before breakfast and before it got to hot. Consequently we woke up at 06.30 Saturday morning and decided to walk off some of the over indulgence. Following one of our usual routes from home to the nearby village of Mollington things were depressingly quiet on the bird front. Its that time of year when all the adults are moulting and the juveniles have dispersed.

Walking back along a shaded part of the cycle path that I hadn't walked very much recently as I tend to take the alternative route around the field margin looking for butterflies my brain registered an orchid species.....................Having a hunch of what it was, although  I hadn't seen one for years, I took a quick photo and sent it to Sean Cole who confirmed my suspicions - it was my first local Broad-leaved Helliborine!

I went back this morning with the macro lens and found a bonus two more flower stalks. Photography  was hard as I didn't take a tripod and I was shooting at F3.5 and a shutter speed of 1/30th of a second due to the shaded nature of the site.

Walking home in the sunshine I had the added bonus of seeing my 2nd local Painted Lady of the year and a late Speckled Wood.

21 Jul 2016


The beautiful sunny weather we've had recently has meant that, although theres very few birds knocking around or active, theres been a plethora of butterflies and other insects on the wild flowers locally to our house. After spending a relatively quiet morning on Hilbre where there were lots of butterflies on the wing I planned a trip out from home once I'd had some lunch and sorted out a few chores.

Deciding to take the macro lens out with me I intended looking for a few more butterfly species. A successful trip with the first Gatekeepers flitting along the field margins and a few Meadow Browns knocking around.

Star butterfly though was a Comma that spent a good hour coming back to the same aspen to sun itself and then landed on my hand presumably to get salt from the sweat that was leaking out of every pore.

A fabulous experience.
Other insects were also very active including a number of Marmalade Fly's ( a species of hover fly) and large numbers of Soldier Beetles.

Some nice flowers seen as well with Greater Willow herb, Ragwort, Field Pansy and Hedgerow Cranesbill all offering a different perspective through the macro lens.

Some bird relief was provided by the large number (c200) Swifts passing high and flying south in silence. I only noticed them as  I was watching a couple of Lesser Black-backed gulls circling and picked up the Swifts way above them.

All in all a nice relaxing way to spend a hot summers afternoon.

18 Jul 2016


I recently took a walk along a very overgrown footpath close to me. I don't usually walk this route as it can be very overgrown in summer  and extremely wet in winter! I knew there were a few Early Spotted Orchid plants there from my last visit but what I found stunned me! The first few plants were found in shady areas beneath trees and brambles but when the scrub opened out to areas of rough grassland the orchids were everywhere with a conservative estimate of over 500 plants in one small area.

 An amazing sight. As well as the orchids it was nice to find some Foxgloves in full flower.

Bee Orchids have faired badly locally this year. From the eighteen rosettes I found earlier in the spring only one flowered with the rest being eaten by rabbits.

11 Jul 2016

Terns & Gulls

I had a busy day recently! I got invited to go and help ring Common Terns and Black-headed Gulls at a colony in N Wales but also got a message from Steve saying the planned trip to the Skerries to ring Arctic Tern chicks was going to be the same day albeit later!

Common Terns were a new species for me and I met up with the team including Hilbre regulars Alan H & Kenny Mac around 09.00. It was nice to catch up with Nicola again who I'd last met ringing Jackdaws at her site in N Wales a few weeks previously.

The colonies were located on specially made tern rafts and the first one meant a short wade in wellies whilst the second one required a bit of rowing.

A great trip and it was nice to meet up with a few names I'd heard of but not actually met. Both species seemed to be doing well although there had been quite a bit of chick mortality reported earlier in the season. As is usual in any colony there were nests at different stages of development. The older Black-headed Gull chicks were almost fledged and the ages ranged from small youngsters, eggs just hatching and eggs still in the nest.

The noise from the colony was deafening but at least the Common Terns don't attack with the ferocity Arctic Terns do.

After a quick lunch it was time to head over to Bangor and meet up with Rachel & Steve for the drive to Holyhead harbour where we picked our boat out to the Skerries.

The Common Tern and Black-headed Gull colony was noisy enough but Arctic Terns are deafening!

As quickly as possible we worked through the colony eventually ringing 399 chicks before we ran out of time. We only had a couple of hours on the island before the boat had to leave again.

A great days ringing and a privilege to be able to spend time with the terns. The boat trip back to Holyhead was made even more enjoyable by the evening passage of Manx Shearwaters that accompanied us