Follow in Nigel's Footsteps

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Iceland Gull...

A couple of days ago a local birder at Seaton found a smart Iceland Gull loafing around on the river at Axmouth in Devon. It was seen a couple of times in the subsequent 48 hours which prompted Dave Helliar and myself to race down and try to catch it when it was reported again yesterday afternoon.

Gulls can often disappear quite quickly once they've bathed and rested and getting from Chard to Axmouth (although not far on the map) can take a long time if the traffic is slow. This time we were lucky though. We parked up near Coronation Corner by the river and quickly located it on the opposite side with a handful of Herring Gulls. It gave great views allowing photographs and a little video too.

Iceland Gull: R Harris
Iceland Gull: R Harris
Iceland Gull: R Harris
Iceland Gull: R Harris

True to form after about 10 minutes of good viewing time the bird left on its own, flew high and headed west towards Beer further along the coast, not to be seen again. We were pleased we'd timed it right on this occasion.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Golden Oriole...

I haven't seen a Golden Oriole in the UK for a very long time, nearly twenty years!  They tend not to hang around for long or turn up inconveniently during the week when I can't usually get out to see them. But a young singing male arrived on Portland Bill in Dorset a few days ago and when news broke that a second bird had also been seen, I just had to zip over there and try my luck. I picked up Dave Helliar and we made it to the Bird Observatory by mid-morning where one of the birds was singing in the Obs garden from dense cover. Just listening to it sing was a treat, an exotic sound normally reserved for trips into Europe.

A patient wait ensued and then a shout went up "Red-rumped Swallow"! What a bonus! We found the bird in amongst a small flock of hirundines and tracked it for a minute or two as a silhouette but then it turned, dropped lower and flew towards the top fields allowing good views until it vanished behind the Observatory building and out of sight.  We rushed to the front of the Obs and again picked the bird up as it fed back and forth across the field about 150 meters away. Then Dave picked up another one - there were two together!  We had great binocular views but they were too distant for my bridge camera and only record shots were obtained.

Red-rumped Swallow, Portland: R. Harris

Red-rumped Swallow, Portland: R. Harris

Red-rumped Swallow, Portland: R. Harris
Pleased with our luck we moved back to view the Obs garden once again in the hope the Oriole would give itself up as well. It wasn't long before it flew and, as with the swallows, we followed it as it lapped the garden and disappeared around the front of the building. This time the bird had continued flying towards the cover at Culverwell several hundred meters away. We didn't fancy our chances of seeing it there, the ground cover is dense and birds can vanish into it never to be seen again but we went to try anyway. To our joy it hadn't yet gone-to-ground and was still perched where it had landed. Again distant but beautiful scope views were had.

Golden Oriole, Portland, Dorset: R. Harris
Before it disappeared into a leafy tree and out of sight.

Golden Oriole, Portland, Dorset: R. Harris
Mission accomplished.

Much better photos of both the Swallows and the Oriole (in the hand) can be found on the Portland Bird Observatory blog:

Monday, 15 May 2017

Botany on the Lizard...

I’ve had this holiday to the Lizard in Cornwall booked since last August and was really looking forward to spending a week in this beautiful county. We came here a lot as teenagers and had been lucky enough to see a lot of the rare plants years ago. Now I thought I could return and get some new photographs while relaxing in the far away feel of the Lizard.

Kennack sands to Cadgwith

Kennack sands is a quiet holiday spot with a couple of caravan parks locally. The beach is divided into two by a small headland/dune system. This area provides a small number of Common Broomrape as well as large numbers of the invasive Three cornered Leek and Thrift. The leek, although becoming a problem, is a very attractive plant.

Common Broomrape, Kennack Sands: Duncan Harris
Three Cornered Leek: Duncan Harris

Thrift: Duncan Harris

 Walking the coast path towards Cadgwith provides Early Purple Orchid and the occasional Green-winged Orchid. About half way I was pleased to find Yellow Vetch, the most rare plants are often easier to find than these localized ones and it was a new one for me. Nearby the introduced Rosy Garlic was just starting to bloom.

Rosy Garlic nr Cadgwith: Duncan Harris
Yellow Vetch: Duncan Harris
 St Michael's Mount and Kynance Cove

A day trip to St. Michael’s Mount was a must. Not for any particular plants but the place itself is magical if a little crowded. Low tide when we arrived meant we could walk across on the exposed causeway. A real touristy thing to do it still supplied Rock Sea Spurred on the harbour walls . Back on the Lizard proper a visit to Kynance Cove gave up some more flowers. A popular destination since Victorian times the walk down gives stunning views of the cove as well as the rare Western Clover by the steep path. After the obligatory cream tea we walked back by the supply road to the cafĂ© and found loads of the lovely Bloody Crane’s-bill as well as a small patch of Hairy Greenweed.

St Michael's Mount nr Marazion: Duncan Harris
Rock Sea Spurry: Duncan Harris
Kynance Cove, Lizard: Duncan Harris
Western Clover, a Lizard speciality: Duncan Harris
Bloody Cranesbill: Duncan Harris
Hairy Greenweed, Kynance Cove: Duncan Harris

Lizard Point

 Lizard point itself is only a couple of miles from Kynance and possibly the best spot of all. The walk down from the village soon supplies Tree Mallow and as you reach the point itself the cliffs are covered by more invasive species. The large creamy coloured Hottentot Fig smothers nearly everything as does a close relative the Dew Plant. Along the cliffs westwards Subterranean Clover was seen along with more Western Clover but unfortunately too early for the three mega rare ‘Lizard Clovers’. A nice surprise though was Spring Sandwort right beside the path.

Tree Mallow, Lizard Point: Duncan Harris
Hottentot Fig, smothers the cliffs: Duncan Harris
Subterranean Clover: Duncan Harris
Spring Sandwort: Duncan Harris

Just to show there’s more than just the plants some Atlantic Grey Seals were visible on rocks offshore and although we didn’t see them that day Choughs had been flying around before we arrived.

Grey Seals, Lizard Point: Duncan Harris

A great place for a holiday no matter how much or how little time you want to put into looking at the wildlife, and there’s always something else to go back for another day.

Note: Thanks to Duncan for his excellent report and botanical photos!

Monday, 8 May 2017

Black-winged Stilt...

This gorgeous male Black-winged Stilt is currently gracing West Moor near Hambridge on the Somerset Levels and I managed to get out to see it today with Dave Helliar. They don't turn up this close to home too often and I always try to see them if I can, such graceful, beautiful birds - one of my favourites for sure! It certainly performed well and for most of the time it was just four of us there watching it, a private show! Exceptionally tame bird too, it didn't seemed to be bothered by people close by.

Black-winged Stilt, male, West Moor: R. Harris
Black-winged Stilt, male, West Moor: R. Harris
Black-winged Stilt, male, West Moor: R. Harris
Black-winged Stilt, male, West Moor: R. Harris
Black-winged Stilt, male, West Moor: R. Harris
Black-winged Stilt, male, West Moor: R. Harris
Black-winged Stilt: Dave Helliar
Black-winged Stilt, wing-stretching: Dave Helliar

Despite the heat haze I managed a little bit of video too for good measure - just look at those legs!

Black-winged Stilt: R. Harris

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Sand Lizards...

Where do you take a visiting Canadian colleague (and their partner), who's into herpetology? Luckily for me the decision turned out to be fairly easy as Sand Lizard Lacerta agilis was high on their hit list and I knew just where to look for them.

Saturday looked promising from a weather perspective, so we headed off towards Dorset to start our search. It wasn't long before we found our first lizard, a large, if slightly faded male.

Sand Lizard Lacerta fragilis, male: R. Harris
This was closely followed by more males thermoregulating in the April sunshine. Those we found got progressively greener as the morning went on.

Sand Lizard Lacerta fragilis, male: R. Harris
Sand Lizard Lacerta fragilis, male: R. Harris
Sand Lizard Lacerta fragilis, male: R. Harris

We also found a Slow Worm Anguis fragilis and our last find of the day, a lovely young male Grass Snake Natrix n. helvetica, who was just starting to slough. That's all six native reptiles plus Wall Lizard seen so far this year.

Grass Snake Natrix natrix helvetica, male.
Just about to slough its skin: R.Harris
Grass Snake Natrix natrix helvetica, male: R.Harris
Grass Snake Natrix natrix helvetica, male: R.Harris
Always fun to see a person's reaction to Grass Snake musk the first time they smell it. I wasn't laughing though when I realised the hand wipes I carry for just such an occasion, were in the other car! Oh well, we'd just have to stop at a pub to wash our hands and quench our thirst.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Early Spider Orchids...

Although Roger and I have seen Early Spider Orchids many times over the years it’s been a long time since we saw them in good numbers. As its name suggests they’re one of the first orchids flowering in the year, so with the promise of good weather we decided to head to the Isle of Purbeck. This area along the south Dorset coast is one of the main strongholds of the orchid in the UK and also the place where we first saw them over 30 years ago. The Early Spider was one of the first rare plants we ever went in search of and certainly the first rare orchid that we ticked off.

Leaving early it was a little over an hour until we were driving through the lovely Dorset countryside. Purbeck is rolling hills running down to some of the most stunning coastline in England. Parking at Worth Matravers we headed off down one of the many footpaths that join up with the South West Coast Path. After about 45 minutes we were on the coast proper and walking along the beautiful chalky cliffs.

Purbeck Coast, home to Early Spider Orchids
Me (Duncan) adding to my botanical photo collection 

The grassland here is botanically rich and later in the year is a riot of colour, in April it’s a bit more subdued but that makes it easier to spot the orchids. Most are only a few inches high, once you have your eye-in they become easier to see, little green stems with dark brown blobs on them. Closer the similarity to a spider becomes evident, beautifully marked flowers with quite a diverse range of markings.

Early Spider Orchid, Purbeck: D. Harris
Early Spider Orchid, Purbeck: D. Harris
Early Spider Orchid, Purbeck: D. Harris
Early Spider Orchids, 3-4 inches of
velvety-brown rareness: R.Harris
Early Spider Orchid, Purbeck: R. Harris
Early Spider Orchid, var. flavescens
Purbeck: R. Harris
We were fortunate enough to see hundreds if not thousands in the two fields we walked and you have to remember that only a short walk inland and you lose them altogether. After a couple of hours we headed back to the car, the walk uphill a lot harder in the by then brilliant sunshine.

In addition to the orchids we had exceptionally close views of a Skylark, a couple of kestrels including this smart male, a single Wheatear, and singing Blackcaps. Noticeable by their absence were the expected Willow Warblers, Whitethroats and hirundines!  A short drive back to Wareham Forest provided good views of Sand Lizard Lacerta agillis as a nice way of finishing the trip.

Kestrel, male: R. Harris

Skylark, Worth Matravers: R. Harris

Skylark, Worth Matravers: R. Harris

Skylark, Worth Matravers: R. Harris

Sand Lizard, Lacerta agillis: R. Harris