Follow in Nigel's Footsteps

Monday, 16 October 2017

Flying visit...

I spent the week before last working in Canada, four days in Newfoundland and a couple in Toronto.
Newfoundland is a very colourful place filled with equally colourful characters and the Irish and West Country ancestry shines through in their warmth and friendliness. Even the houses are colourful just about everywhere you go.

St John's, the Provincial capital
Nearby Quidi Vidi is a wonderful sheltered little harbour with fishing boats and an amazing brewery!

Quidi Vidi harbour 10 minutes from St John's city centre
Quidi Vidi Brewery, a great place to watch gulls from...

American Herring Gull, Adult

American Herring Gull, 1st winter

Black Duck are very common. Plenty in Quidi Vidi harbour, NF

The Skerwink Trail near Port Rexton offered some lovely coastal vistas. I'm sure earlier in the year it would have been teaming with birds but in October it's just a bit too late to see very much.
The Skerwink Trail at Port Rexton offers scenic vistas.
Coastline along the Skerwink Trail

Jon Joy of Tuckamore Adventures is a superb
local Wildlife guide.
The only seasbirds obviously present were the hundreds of Gannets fishing just offshore.

Gannet, Port Rexton


Toronto was warm - 25-30 deg over the two days I was there. Loads of Monarch butterflies were still heading south but never stopped for photos, unlike the ever present ring-billed Gulls.


Ring-billed Gull, adult

Ring-billed Gull, 1st winter

Double-crested Cormorant, Toronto Harbour
Double-crested Cormorant, Toronto Harbour


Double-crested Cormorant, Toronto Harbour

Double-crested Cormorant, 1st winter
A boat trip out to the Toronto Islands was a great way to see the city skyline properly. You can't get a view like this anywhere else.

Toronto skyline



Great Blue Heron

Would definitely like to head back to Newfoundland before too long. It's amazingly close to the UK - the flight time is just 5 hours and if you hit the Jetstream coming home, less than 4 hours!


Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Greenish Warbler...

I'm starting to think Dave Helliar should take up residence in the Weymouth area. The run of good birds continues in Dorset and he was back there again yesterday to try and get to grips with a Greenish Warbler that had been caught, rung and was still hanging out in the Portland Bird Observatory garden.

After a hour-and-a-half wait it finally showed and Dave even managed to grab some photos on the P900 - no mean feat!

Greenish Warbler (right of centre), PBO: Dave Helliar

Greenish Warbler, PBO: Dave Helliar
In fact Portland Bill was the place to be yesterday as a good suite of migrants were also to be seen.

A bird in the hand. Visitors admiring one of the the day's
captures being held by PBO warden Martin Cade: D. Helliar
Among those captures were a Yellow-browed Warbler:

One of at least two Yellow-browed Warblers: Dave Helliar

Yellow-browed Warbler: Dave Helliar
And a first winter male Pied Flycatcher.

Pied Flycatcher: Dave Helliar

Pied Flycatcher: Dave Helliar
Lots of more common migrants too including good numbers of Chiffchaff, Blackcap and a Yellow Wagtail.

It's been a good autumn for birds so far and we're not finished yet..could this be the year we get another Parula, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak...or something even better?

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Grey Phalarope...

At last - a Seaton Grey Phalarope! So many have been turning up around the country, it was surely only a matter of time before one came close enough to go and see. I was tempted by the Budleigh Salterton bird (see Dave's photos in the last post) but it was a little distant to view and I've seen so many at close range that I didn't bother in the end.

Then along came this little fellow - a confiding beauty and just a short hop from my son's school. I decided to nip down and see it before picking him up on the way back home. True to form this one was showing very well, even if it was back-lit most of the time.

Grey Phalarope, Black Hole Marsh, Seaton: R. Harris

Grey Phalarope, Black Hole Marsh, Seaton: R. Harris

Grey Phalarope, Black Hole Marsh, Seaton: R. Harris

Grey Phalarope, Black Hole Marsh, Seaton: R. Harris
Grey Phalarope: Video

Great to see the locals birders there too, it's been a while since I bumped into them. Don't forget to check out Steve Waite's and Tim White's blogs too!

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Baird's Sandpiper...

Dave Helliar's run of good birds continues!  No sooner had I posted the last blog than a Baird's Sandpiper turns up in Dorset and only a short distance from Weymouth where the other American waders had been seen (see previous posts)! Thanks to Dave for the photos...his fourth American wader in a week. What will be found next?

Baird's Sandpiper, Wyke Regis: Dave Helliar

Baird's Sandpiper, Wyke Regis: Dave Helliar

Baird's Sandpiper, Wyke Regis: Dave Helliar
Dave also caught up with a Grey Phalarope, which appeared on floodwater at Budleigh Salterton in Devon last week. Although generally very confiding birds, this one stayed out on the flood as wasn't particularly close.

Grey Phalarope, Budleigh Salterton: Dave Helliar

Grey Phalarope, Budleigh Salterton: Dave Helliar

Grey Phalarope, Budleigh Salterton: Dave Helliar

I haven't been able to get out much recently - work is just too busy leading up to a Canada trip in a couple of weeks. I did get to Seaton for a brief walk with my son at the weekend though - I'll have to make do with some commoner species.

Black-tailed Godwit, Seaton: R. Harris

Eurasian Curlew, Seaton: R. Harris
With a bit of luck I'll pick up one or two of the American waders I missed here when I get to Newfoundland at the end of the month.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Buff-breasted Sandpiper...

No sooner had Dave Helliar seen the Stilt and Least Sandpipers at Lodmoor, than he was back down to Portland the very next day for yet another American wader!  This time a very handsome Buff-breasted Sandpiper that pitched up in a horse paddock just outside Southwell.

A few have been seen around the UK already this autumn - more reminiscent of the 1980's when they seemed much more frequent visitors than today.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Portland, Dorset: D. Helliar

Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Portland, Dorset: D. Helliar

Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Portland, Dorset: D. Helliar

Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Portland, Dorset: D. Helliar
If the current fall of American waders is anything to go by, we could potentially see some exciting passerines too. It would be good to see another Parula...

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

American Duo...

Looks like the recent hurricanes off the south eastern seaboard of the USA have started producing some excellent birds here in the UK. Many places seem to be having a 'purple patch' at the moment and none less than Lodmoor at Weymouth in Dorset. A few days ago a Stilt Sandpiper was found there closely followed by a Least Sandpiper (Dorset's first). Dave Helliar saw them both yesterday and kindly supplied the photos below:

Stilt Sandpiper (right-hand bird), Lodmoor, Dorset: D. Helliar

Least Sandpiper: D. Helliar

Least Sandpiper: D. Helliar

Least Sandpiper: D. Helliar
 And finished it off with a visit to Portland where he saw this Wryneck...that's not a bad day!

Wryneck: D. Helliar

I'm sure with the current weather patterns on the other side of the Atlantic at the moment that we are certain to see more American birds on our shores very soon, hopefully in the southwest!

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Generating Interest...

It's easy to question (and despair) where the next generation of naturalists will come from. There are exceptions out there but as a parent I can vouch for the fact that very few children (none in my sons primary school!) seem to have an interest in the natural world around them; they get their nose in an iPad and it can be a challenge to get them outside. So when my thirteen year old Goddaughter phoned me last night and asked if I could take her to see a snake, I jumped at the opportunity.

Luckily there's a reliable site close by for Grass Snakes Natrix helvetica, so we went there this morning to try our luck. She was not disappointed. Upon flipping the refuge we found a female Slow Worm Anguis fragilis and a good size male Grass Snake who was close to sloughing. Not wanting the  inevitable 'musking' to put her off, she donned a pair of disposable gloves and didn't hesitate to hold both the Slow Worm and the Grass Snake - perhaps there's some hope yet...

Handle with care. The first time my
Goddaughter held a Snake...and it
was her idea! 
Rightly pleased with herself - she was worried
She might have hurt the snake but it was
feigning death in the hope she'd leave it alone.
You see this behaviour often but certainly more frequently when
sloughing and they feel at their most vulnerable.
I look forward to showing her more next spring and hopefully kindling an interest that will last her a lifetime.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

A Look Back at Botany...

As the prime botany season starts to draw to a close, Duncan Harris takes a look back at some of his excursions around Somerset and the local counties earlier in the year.

May is the time a lot of plants really kick off and it can be difficult keeping up with them all. After the trip to the Lizard early in the month the local area seemed less promising but a visit to the Blackdown Hills produced some more orchids.

Common Spotted Orchid

White Helleborine - difficult to photograph in
shaded conditions
Greater Butterfly Orchid
A week later at Batcombe Down in Dorset - my favourite wild flower, the exquisite Bee Orchid. Their eye-catching pink sepals and velvety brown lip make them one of the most attractive UK orchids and are always great to find.


Bee Orchid

Fairy Flax
Very small but a delightful little plant.
Just starting to flower were the Pyramidal Orchids. What they lack in markings they make up for in the vibrancy of their colour.
Pyramidal Orchid