Thursday 27 June 2013

More on the needletail

Yours truly with the needletail, videograb with thanks to Dan Pointon

"There we were on the hard shoulder of the M6, a couple of hundred yards short of Gretna services. The blue lights were still flashing through the back window as Dan continued his futile attempts to start the car. We were due to fly out from Inverness in about 6 hours time. In our minds, though no-one dared speak it, were thoughts of the air fare going down the drain and the chance of a Needletail going with it."

The above is the opening paragraph from John Pegden's fantastic write-up of our day out yesterday. You can read the whole thing here - it's well worth it:

I've also co-written an illustrated piece for the BirdGuides webzine that details much of the day from both mine and Alan Tilmouth's experiences of the day. You can read (if a subscriber) by clicking here. Meanwhile, I'll leave you with a couple more photographs showing the upperside:

...and the underside:

The trip was rounded off with these dudes - there were loads of them flowering at Stornoway airport, though I can't really decide what they are - Northern Marsh or Early Marsh?

Wednesday 26 June 2013

White-throated Needletail

Very brief post from Stornoway airport. What an incredible bird. More pics and context coming soon.

Monday 24 June 2013

Man Orchids

I decided to pop in to Barnack again on Saturday evening. In a relatively brief visit, around 20 or so Man Orchids were easily located - very cool looking plants. Hundreds of Fragrant Orchids beginning to flower, guess it will look great in a week's time.

Friday 21 June 2013

Homefield Wood

Orchid-filled meadows at Homefield Wood

On Wednesday, I visited Homefield Wood, near Marlow, for the first time. I'm a self-confessed amateur with all things orchids (and other plants), but keen nevertheless. My aim was to have a look at the Military Orchids that occur here with anything else a bonus, so I was pleasantly surprised (thrilled) to find the area teeming with Common Spotted Orchids of all shapes and sizes:

Quite a lot of Military Orchids in flower including some impressively-sized specimens. The vast majority were past their best (many well past), but some still in good condition:

Fly Orchid had always been a species I was keen to see and I'd read on Matt Eade's blog that he'd seen them at Homefield in late May. The vegetation had grown up considerably since then and no doubt most had already gone over; nevertheless found a few of these tiny but beautiful flowers. Again though, they were ever so slightly past their best.

 Somewhat embarassingly, Common Twayblade was a new one for me too: was Greater Butterfly Orchid. There were three of these at the far end of the enclosure, one past its best but two still looking nice:

Finally, a few Chalk Fragrant Orchids were just starting to come in to flower:

Add to this a few Pyramidal spikes and it was a particularly productive couple of hours in which I had five orchid ticks! To top it all off, several Red Kites were lazily floating around in the (very) warm sunshine and a couple of Buzzards also showed well.

Sunday 16 June 2013

Pacific Swift

Pacific Swift over the Suffolk countryside - a long way from home

Given the run of sightings, I guess I wasn't alone in thinking that 2013 might finally be the year in which Pacific Swift was 'unblocked'. But such belief still required the bird to do its bit and actually linger somewhere long enough for a large-scale vigil to take place. But, at last, [one of] the Pacific Swift[s] gave itself up in Suffolk yesterday (and still today as it happens).

I mentioned on Thursday that an animated call from Rich Bonser last weekend had me going for a bit, but alas it was regarding the Long-tailed Duck that he'd just found. That said, there was no mistaking the panicked tones in Rich's voice as he rang at 10:45 yesterday to tell me that "the Pacific Swift is at Trimley". As it happened, I was heading westwards on the M4 with my mate Chris - we'd planned to visit a couple of orchid sites in the Home Counties to get some fresh air and enjoy a stroll outside the capital. I'd just passed the M25 junction as it broke, but was able to pull a quick U-turn at junction 5. The M25 looked pretty clogged up so we tediously battled back in to London and around the North Circular before eventually getting a fairly clear run up the A12 towards Colchester.

We arrived on site about 12:40 and soon met up with Rich and various others tackling the three-mile walk to the reserve in brisk fashion. And, forty-five minutes later (after a nerve-wracking message about the bird flying off over the river!), there it was, hawking around low over the lagoon - a bloody Pacific Swift! Significantly different in structure to the Swifts by which it was surrounded, it was more elongated with an obviously forked tail, and had longer, slimmer and more scythe-shaped wings - not to mention to obvious pale scaling on the underparts and white rump and throat. Just look at that profile!

 The Pacific Swift displaying just about everything you'd need to identify it - note the deeply-forked tail, long, scythe-shaped wings and of course white rump

In the strong winds, the bird spent much of its time feeding low over the lagoon. We felt that the bird's flight pattern was different to Common Swift, being a little more Alpine Swift-like in many respects. It was also a paler shade of brown to Common Swift.

 Comparison between Pacific (right) and Common Swifts

Though more often than not on the distant side for photography, it would occasionally battle the wind towards the seaward side of the lagoon. This meant it did just about get within range for some half-decent record shots, several of which can be seen below. What. A. Bird.

It proved a fantastic few hours in Suffolk. The crowds were surprisingly small and there was a lack offensive behaviour or conflict, just huge swathes of relief and elation as those arriving connected. Great to see so many friends there too. All in all, a brilliant day, despite the almost biblical storm along the A12 on the way home - cars were pretty much at a standstill due to quantity of rain; aquaplaning was proving a real problem. We saw at least seven seperate car crashes (of varying severity) on the way back to W London, four of which were on the North Circular alone!

Thursday 13 June 2013

London's early summer celebrity

Rich went to check out a female Long-tailed Duck a couple of Sundays ago when it first turned up on a small park lake, festering with McDonald's wrappers and various other bits of everyday urban detritus, in the middle of Peckham. By the time I got round to twitching it on the Tuesday it had disappeared, only to turn up again on James L's patch in Greenwich Park on the Friday. Rich had been livid that the duck had overflown his patch in Rotherhithe but, while slightly intoxicated in Manchester on Saturday afternoon, I received a call from him and instantly recognised the urgency in his tone. My heart sank. "Bollocks", I cursed, "this is going to be mega".

But no, thankfully not. It transpired that the duck had relocated to Canada Water, an empty Coke can's throw from Rich's flat. Here it has since remained to the time of writing [13th], showing extremely well at times but often diving around in the middle of the lake. I managed to fit in half an hour or so with the bird on Tuesday evening prior to my football game, though it primarily remained distant aside for a brief period when it unwittingly floated in to the margins as it preened. Sadly it didn't seem fond of the cheap white baps I'd brought along and, with light pretty poor, my shots aren't great. Needless to say, Jono Lethbridge has some considerably more appealing images.

Hopefully London's latest summer hit will hang around a few weeks longer. If it does, I'll be sure to head back down in proper light, armed with some hearty seed-filled goodness.

Wednesday 5 June 2013

Italy trip report, May 2013

Much the same drill as with my past publications for both Israel and Morocco, you can view and download a report for my recent trip to Northern and Central Italy below. It contains details and directions on how to find bird species such as Rock Partridge, Northern Bobwhite, Red-billed Leiothrix, Vinous-throated Parrotbill and Sacred Ibis as well as Marsican Brown Bear.


Tuesday 4 June 2013

Barnack Hills & Holes

This is such a cool place for plants and insects and is just a few miles from where I grew up in south Lincolnshire. I remember being taken here as a little kid by my parents and seeing Marbled Whites, burnet moths etc - though it's only in recent years that I've realised what a great site it is for plants too.

I visited on Sunday - it was breezy but bright and warm. Plenty of Green Hairstreaks and one or two Dingy Skippers were the best of the butterflies. The Pasqueflowers were mainly over but some were still looking decent, with much the same applying for the Early Purple Orchids - photos of both (with my wide angle) below.

Early Purple Orchid

Pasqueflowers - a little over but some still looking nice

Sadly I couldn't find Man Orchid in the hour or so that I had spare. Having said that, I really need to buy a macro lens before I start seeing all these things!