Monday, 15 September 2014

Pre-autumn catch up

Nothing much 'birdy' going in my world right now; Bird Fair was great yet frustrating at the same time - working on the stand, I rarely got time to venture off and have a look around myself (lunch breaks aside). Still, lots of fun catching up with a plethora of familiar faces and great to see so many young'uns on the NGB stand.

I've not exactly done much in the way of birding recently with butterflies, flowers, dragonflies - really anything other than birds - taking precedent. It's actually been a pretty decent start to the autumn on the east coast (albeit really lacking that big bird - so far) but, for various reasons, I've missed out on the action entirely.

It was nice to see absolutely loads of Autumn Lady's-tresses over the weekend 30-31 August, both at Greenham Common in Berkshire and at a New Forest site. A fitting way to round off what has been a great year for orchids for me, and I look forward to seeing the rest of the British species in 2015.

August also brought a couple of butterfly ticks - Adonis Blue and Brown Hairstreak. I hope to spend quite a bit more time and effort catching up with and photographing British butterflies next year.

Rather continuing the recent lack of British birding, my plan appears to be to spend much of the coming month out of the country. I'm in Peru from Thursday for nine days until 26 September, back in the country for just under a week and then off to the Azores for the 'usual' fortnight. Just looking at the charts for the coming week and I can't help thinking I'm going to miss something big from the east, but such is life!

I realise that my blogging efforts have been nigh on woeful for the past year or so but life, work etc have just gotten in the way. I'll do my very best to rectify this in the near future and I hope to post daily from the Azores at least. Here's hoping for more of this ... though the Atlantic has been spectacularly quiet so far this autumn!

Friday, 29 August 2014

Russia trip report, June 2014

It's taken a while, but this leviathan of a document can now be read below. If you would like a copy, please email me. Here's hoping it comes in useful for anyone thinking of making the trip out to Russia - we had a brilliant two weeks out there, and the birding is absolutely superb.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Russia preview

A dearth of coverage about the above trip on here admittedly, but the past month or so has seen me slowly processing photographs and writing the trip report in my limited free time. The trip report is gradually nearing completion and I should have it online for reading by mid-August, available on the blog as normal.

A few tasters in the meantime; a full album of images does currently reside on Flickr which is available for viewing - here's the link.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

More orchids

Since returning from Russia, my birding has been limited to the Great Knot twitch and the odd bits and bobs seen while on forays for non-avian targets - results have not really advanced much beyond the odd Yellow-legged Gull and Spoonbill.

Flowers, on the other hand, continue to be a source of inspiration for excursions in what has been a very pleasantly warm and settled July so far. That said, the morning I traipsed round Holkham looking for Creeping Lady's-tresses was frankly miserable - damp, dreary and definitely depressing, at least until I stumbled upon my quarry. Which were fantastic!

Creeping Lady's-tresses: most just opening up, but this one already looking great

This week on what was a very warm Monday, I popped down to a Surrey reserve not too far from me for Narrow-lipped Helleborine, another news species for my burgeoning 'orchid list' (if I kept such a thing). Given it's a small site and many of the orchids are caged, it didn't take long to locate them. This species is about the only thing going in the darkness of the beechwood understory, and photographing them in low light is actually quite difficult with such slow shutter speeds on the macro lens - especially if there's a light breeze blowing the plants about, as there was that morning. As such I improvised by using the torch on my iPhone to illuminate the plants, naturally giving better lighting and improved shutter speed.

Narrow-lipped Helleborine in all its glory

In an open area nearby, Broad-leaved Helleborines were looking spectacular - not quite at their best (which will come in the next week or so), but impressive nonetheless. Many were approaching peak condition and a number of the plants were impressively altitudinous; one particularly regal and imposing specimen must have been at least a metre tall.

Broad-leaved Helleborine in fine fettle

It's getting towards the end of the orchid season now but I've had some most enjoyable mornings out this spring and summer, visiting many sites I'd not been previously (and would probably never visit anyway). With plenty more targets for next year (plus some species revisited, no doubt), there's still no shortage of stuff to go at.

More images at my Flickr page:

Monday, 14 July 2014

Great Knot!

A brief post to break the duck, here are a few photos of the Great Knot at Breydon Water today. Initially not on show at all, Kit Day and I grabbed an hour-long nap in the sun before the bird happily reappeared on the ebbing tide. It was, as birds so often are at Breydon, bloody distant initially but you could nevertheless make out just about everything you'd want to see - the largely black underparts spangled with pale gold, the black-spotted upper flanks, dark grey head, black chest and white underparts. It was also a hefty bird - as Kit said, a bird that looked familiar but different at the same time. After a while, it flew west and was relocated showing well on the Suffolk side of the channel some 1.5 miles west of the rugby club. Here, views were much better - down to 100m or so - and I managed a few handheld shots below.

If I had a better camera (my old one has been dropped countless times and it should be clear from the below that it has evidently suffered as a result) and a more steady hand, I suspect some half-decent records might have been possible.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Spring 2014 summary

An utter lack of posts on this blog is largely down to a total lack of time; it seems having an SLR means that you spend most of your free time processing photos and writing a blog post too has been beyond me in such a hectic spring. I've actually been working on my Flickr portfolio, which you can visit at

April and May weren't exactly busy for me on the bird front; I visited Southern France at the end of March for a weekend with Dan Pointon and collected Citril Finch, a distant Wallcreeper and, erm, Fischer's Lovebird for WP tally. Easter weekend was again spent with Dan (and his dad), this time in Corsica where we had a truly wonderful four days. Great views of both the nuthatch and finch were afforded and there were some great orchids too, not to mention the scenery and food. What a beautiful place!

  Corsican Nuthatch

Tongue Orchid

I was fortunate enough to get a new car in early May and that's naturally helped to mobilise me considerably. As such, lots more trips during the month - mainly for orchids and butterflies:

Grizzled Skipper

Fly Orchid

 Pearl-bordered Fritillary
 Burnt-tip Orchid

But also a few birds too, like the Dotterels on Pendle Hill in Lancashire. Having these things running around you feeding and interacting, utterly unconcerned, was a genuinely astounding experience and I'll be sure to go back next year.

About as good as it gets ...

So, that is a whistlestop summary of my spring. Not really done it justice, but check out my Flickr page for plenty more images. I've yet to get round to uploading all the Corsica images, but that'll be my first task on return from Russia - another reason I've not had time to do anything to this blog, organising the trip there has been a bit hectic..! We're off to the Ural Mountains for a couple of weeks, primarily bird-related but with the outside chance of some interesting mammals too (Brown Bear, Siberian Weasel etc). We may also have the chance to do some pioneering stuff down towards Kazakhstan. Watch this space, I hope!

Tuesday, 25 March 2014


After a fantastic weekend, I'm not entirely sure why I had never previously been keen to see Adders. For years, I've bumbled around various heath and downlands and never seen them, but never been particularly bothered. I was generally too busy seeking out avian year ticks - be it Tree Pipits, Woodlarks, Nightjars, erm... Golden Pheasant...

I guess age (maturity!) plays its part. Becoming a more open-minded naturalist (person) as opposed to mere numbers-driven birder. That and a bag full of nice new camera gear (macro lens, extension tubes etc)..!

 Male Adder, Holt, Norfolk, March 2014

I glimpsed my first Adder near my father's house last July - at Holt Country Park, in North Norfolk. It was really quite exciting, but frustratingly brief - a matter of seconds as it slithered off in to a dense patch of gorse and heather. Since then, I've wanted to see them well and, knowing that this time of year is best to connect as the snakes make the most of the first warming rays of spring sunshine, I've spent a bit of time looking over the past couple of weekends.

First up was Sunday 16th. Sunny and strangely warm for mid-March, I was rather too hungover to search properly - much to the amusement of Marc Read and Kit Day - and a day around Dunwich and Minsmere produced no more than a single Grass Snake. Dartford Warblers, a pair of Garganey and singing Firecrest were pleasant distractions, though.

The following weekend - i.e. the one just gone - I was due to be up in Norfolk, looking after my Dad's dogs. The weather forecast hadn't been good all week and I didn't hold much hope for a successful reptile hunt. As the weekend drew nearer, the forecast slowly improved and, as it turned out, it was actually a decent enough couple of days - while not as warm as the weekend previous, there were enough bright spells to coax out snakes. I must have seen a dozen Adders, perhaps more, during the course of the weekend. I quite enjoyed how predictable they were and, by Sunday lunchtime, I was beginning to know each individual by its physical features and, more importantly when considering photography, their behaviour too! Some were no-go's, clearly already too awake (and wary) to allow a close approach. Others would just sit there lazily, no more than a metre or two away, soaking up the sun. Occasionally they'd shuffle round to assume a more effective position, but most of the time they just lay there, motionless.

The most frustrating thing was that none were ever truly out in the open (or in ideal setting for really killer shots). Nevertheless, I'm happy enough with some of the pics obtained over the weekend. Most were taken handheld with my 400mm stacked with extension tubes (hence sharpness isn't quite there), but some of the 'snake in setting' shots were taken with the macro. I can't imagine going a spring without seeing them again, so plenty of time to improve...

Holt Country Park is as great site. As well as the snakes, Crossbills were ever present (no Parrots from what I could tell), Siskins and redpolls were consistently flying over, Woodlarks were singing and there were also a handful of Common Lizards zipping around.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Highlights from France

I'd anticipated coming back from Southern France with a card full of Alpine Accentor shots among other things, but it didn't quite pan out that way. Instead, all I have to share can be seen below. Say no more.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

A bunch of Ringers

Saw a dozen Ring-billed Gulls - of all ages - in Ireland last week, a few of which were probably good enough as finds but most no doubt familiar long-staying/returning faces.

Second-winter, Bantry (Co Cork), 16th February

Second-winter, Tralee Bay Wetlands (Co Kerry), 18th February

Apparent third-winter, Tralee Bay Wetlands (Co Kerry), 18th February

First-winter, Achill Island (Co Mayo), 19th February

Adult, Belumllet (Co Mayo), 20th February

Adult (top) and second-winter, Atlantic Pond, Cork City, 22nd February

First-winter, O'Callaghan Strand, Limerick City, 22nd February

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Pale American Herring Gull

This beast was first found by Conor Foley et al. in a muddy field at the northwest end of Carrowmore Lake on Monday 17th Feb; Rich Bonser and I attempted to relocate it late afternoon on the Wednesday but failed, only to return mid-afternoon on Thursday to find it back in the same field. It's not with many gulls (up to 20 Herrings, and a couple of Icelands) and is extremely mobile - we saw it for a few minutes on Thursday before it flew off; extensive searching of the area then drew a blank for the next couple of hours until it magically reappeared in the same spot. Again it proved mobile, and we last saw it in another manure-covered field in the next valley to the north at Fallagh, where it stayed until clearing off just ahead of an heavy rain shower. The gulls it is with feed west to Barnatra village, where there are a couple of sheep fields. Guess it must get in those too.

Evidently a very pale bird, but these photos should show enough for the bird to be diagnosed as an American Herring (rather than Thayer's or a hybrid) - something reflected in field observations after quite a bit of head scratching and deliberation. It's a really big bird, quite thick-set with a strong, extensively pale-based bill - the latter is generally not evident in my photos due to being covered in cow excrement (though can be made out reasonably well in the penultimate pic)! Though it has a pretty well-defined greater covert bar, the rest of the upperparts are quite pale and concolorous, which was one of the primary reasons for our initial concern about it being smithsonianus. Just look at those scaps! The underparts are quite pale, but solidly marked nevertheless. In contrast, rump and tail pattern (and upperwing pattern in flight) look typical for smithsonianus. Eye-opening bird!