Monday 25 June 2018

Pugsley Brothers

Today was a special day. Back in February, we Zeiss Yorkshire Terriers ran our Flyway Sale, to raise money for the Champions of the Flyway. Well, one of the items auctioned was a Yorkshire Coast Nature Wildlife Discovery Day, and today we took out the four souls who had donated generously and secured the day. Rich had asked me to co-lead and I was delighted to accept.

Linden (local botanist who tagged along), Alastair, Rich, Mark, Steve and Esther - real Champions of the Flyway!

We started the day in poignant fashion, with Turtle Doves. One of the iconic species which the Champions of the Flyway is trying to protect, we got great views of one searching for seeds in a bare arable field. Really delightful little birds. On we went to Wykeham where we arrived at a busy raptor viewpoint. Great views of a singing Tree Pipit were had plus lots of Red-necked Footmen moths.

Shortly, Rich called Goshawk, and a big adult female came cruising up the valley, panicking countless Woodpigeons out of the forest. She gained height and then suddenly, and spectacularly, rolled over, folder her wings and dropped like a stone after a Woodpigeon. The pigeon dived down and pelted straight into thick Spruce cover. The big hawk pulled up and glided off empty taloned. Another time! We were left breathless.

Shortly, Rich picked up another Goshawk, this time distantly and as I watched the Gos, a nearer shape crossed my view - surely a Honey Buzzard! Switching to my scope confirmed the distinctive shape and as it turned it revealed its white underparts - the pale male. Smart. The bird gradually circled nearer and eventually gave great views to the gang, allowing everybody to get scope views. I then tried a bit of sketchy phonescoped video.

As if this wasn't enough, another bird appeared, in heavy moult, and the male headed over for a bit of high altitude flirting, complete with high speed diving.

Honeys in love.

We took a much needed break at the superb cafe in Lockton, watching Swifts and House Martins chasing around the rooftops. Meanwhile, England kicked off against Panama in their second match of the 2018 World Cup. More of that later...

On to Dalby Forest for a long walk in the woods. The shade was very welcome, it was starting to heat up! I had been keen to see Pugsley's Marsh Orchid, a really rare species that is only known from a small area of Wales, and, yes, North Yorkshire. Also known as Narrow-leaved Marsh Orchid, this distinctive plant was recently booted off the Norfolk list following DNA testing which showed specimens to be a subspecies of Southern Marsh Orchid. This meant the North Yorkshire orchids went up a rarity notch overnight! We soon came across a small piece of fen amidst the forest. What a corking spot. I scanned through my bins, and amid the Cotton Grass, there was a purpley orchid, surely a Pugsley's?

We approached carefully, and sure enough, these were Pugsley's. We checked through the features in the book, just to be sure but they were really quite distinctive, with the loose flower spikes, purple stems and lanceolate, upright leaves giving a really different impression to other marsh orchids. They were clearly doing well here; we counted over 70 spikes.

This individual had dark-flecked leaves.

The subtle, yet distinctive and exquisitely rare Pugsley's Marsh Orchid.

We had a good rummage around this spot. It was simply stunning, with Branched Bur-reed, Marsh Lousewort, Chalk Fragrant Orchid, Fen Bedstraw and lots more. Nearby, swarms of Azure Damselflies were emerging from the pond and a mighty Emperor Dragonfly cruised around battering 4-Spotted Chasers out of the way. Classic scenes!

We retired for tea and medals, or in actual fact, ice-cream and medals. A great day and a great way to celebrate the generosity of these four guys who were true Guardians of the Flyway.

I managed to get home and watch the match - England stuffed Panama 6-1. Unbelievable scenes!

 The Brothers Pugsley
Chalk Fragrant Orchid. An elegant flower.

Magnificent Ingleborough

I have tried to find Small White Orchid at Ashes Pasture YWT for the last couple of years without success. Firstly, they are small, second, they are rare and there are not many at Ashes Pasture, third, it is a big site and fourth, their flowering period varies year to year and doesn't last long. So, with the odds against me, I wasn't surprised not to track one down in previous summers.

This year, however, I would be spending a whole morning looking as part of a survey of the site. The Natural England Field Unit - a bunch of top botanists from across the UK were surveying the wider nature reserve and I decided it would be good to search for this diminutive orchid and GPS it, so that we could monitor the health of the population. SMO is a northern species and so the plants here, int he uplands of the Yorkshire Dales, are at the southeast edge of their range.

Our search began! We discovered lots of Heath Spotted Orchids, Common Spotted Orchids, Northern Marsh Orchids and c30 Greater Butterfly Orchids. Looking more closely, we found several Common Twayblades too, and three Chalk Fragrant Orchids, two of which were pure white and had me confused!

Delightful Heath Spotted and Greater Butterfly Orchids, Ashes Pasture YWT, June 2018.

After four hours, our time was up. Still no Small White Orchid. Were we overlooking them? Had they stopped flowering already? Had they vanished from the site? We had checked the key parts of the site where they had been recorded in previous years time and time again. But no sign. It had been a wonderful four hours, but no cigar.

We headed up to Natural England's office for a brew and a debrief. The team had found some superb stuff on the new land at Ashes Pasture and were effervescing with enthusiasm. This lifted our spirits. As we were about to leave, Colin, the Ingleborough NNR site manager suddenly asked if we would like to have a look for Small White Orchid, as there was a colony on the slope of Ingleborough, just above the office. No way! We all filed out on an orchid twitch. Shortly, having walked through some beautiful flower-filled upland meadows, in the shadow of the mighty Ingleborough, we came to a grassy knoll. To my utter delight, Colin said - "there" and pointed to a little orchid poking up through the grass. My first Small White Orchid! Fantastic. Looking around, we spotted another, and another. There were at least a dozen here. They had started to 'go over' with some of the little flowers on the spike already shrivelled and dead, but plenty were still vibrant and white.


Gorgeous and well worth the wait! Nearby, we found some Fragrant Orchids growing in some acid grassland among a colony of Heath Spotted Orchids. Surely Heath Fragrant?! And as a finale, Colin showed us the magnificent Mountain Eyebright, an absolute giant!

The magnificent Mountain Eyebright on the slopes of the mighty Ingleborough.

10 Years of Birdingdad Blog, and how times have changed!

I started this blog ten years ago following the birth of our daughter, Adelaide. Ten years have flown by and I am pleased that I have kept this going, an online diary of my nature exploits.

Thank you for reading this, I hope it has been as much fun for you to read, as it is for me to write! If you don't, then I don't mind, I enjoy looking back over my highs and lows of wildlife-watching and family life over the last decade.


Our two kids. Addie was only a few months old when I started Birdingdad and Sol came along two years later. They have caused me no end of trouble, but no end of joy!


With the arrival of the kids, my life changed immeasurably- and mostly for the better! I am not quite sure what I did with all that time before they appeared. But along with my fantastic and incredibly patient and supportive wife, Vicky, the inspiration I get from wildlife has been a firm constant. I have continued to stumble forwards trying to learn about everything and anything, still making heaps of mistakes, but still loving every minute of it. A love of wildlife is a gift and a privilege and I feel sad for those who do not share this love.

Blue Tit. One of the magical little birds that gave me the spark nearly forty years ago. I still enjoy seeing them.

Wildlife has also changed, as it does constantly. Species that were still pretty rare ten years ago, are now relatively common place, like Great Egret, Red Kite, Peregrines and Mediterranean Gull. Who would have thought that Spoonbills would be breeding side by side with Black-necked Grebes and Avocets in West Yorkshire? Amazing.

Great and Little Egret, side by side at Wheldrake Ings in May.

But there have been the declines too. Our Hen Harriers have been pretty much wiped out by the grouse-shooting fraternity. And one bird that is close to my heart, the Turtle Dove, is perilously close to being lost from our lands. A small population seems to be doing well in North Yorkshire, and is being studied and helped by Richard Baines, a friend of mine. Whether this will reverse the decline is unknown - let's sincerely hope so- but everywhere else, they have literally fallen off a cliff. So what better bird to illustrate ten years of my blog than some pics of a Turtle Dove?

Saturday just gone, I had an afternoon off from Dad activities, so headed back to the forest to have another look at the Honey Buzzards. In three hours of not-so-quiet solitude (some very noisy birders present for a good part of the afternoon), I managed one male Goshawk cruising past and a good view of the pale male Honey, as he headed north towards Langdale End. He even gave a few wingclaps, as if waving goodbye.

I headed to a nearby site to look for Turtle Doves. Thinking back, I wouldn't have believed ten years ago that I would literally have to 'twitch' Turtle Doves. But this is what I was doing. On arrival, my heart leapt for joy as I could immediately hear the beautiful, calming purr of a Turtle Dove from a nearby copse. Unseen, I immersed myself in this almost forgotten sound. As a young birder, even in my 20s, this was a sound of summer, always enjoyable, but standard, nothing to get excited about. But now, I was mesmerised, though with an overwhelming feeling of melancholy.

Shortly, the bird flew out and landed distantly on a telegraph pole. I enjoyed scope views, only for it to be flushed by a fast-flying scimitar-shaped Hobby, that belted in after the Swallows in the farmyard. The dove beat a retreat, but thanks to the Hobby, soon appeared close-by, on an Elder bush, where I managed a couple of pics and a video. Enjoy!

A glorious male Turtle Dove.

So Happy 10th Birthday to my BirdingDad Blog. Best wishes for the next 10 years - I hope I will still be writing it in 2028!!

Sunday 17 June 2018

Kentish Blues and Bedfordshire Beauties

Bumped into both Adonis and Small Blues whilst poking about in Kent. Lovely butterflies.

 Adonis Blue, Yockletts Bank
Small Blue, Samphire Hoe. Nectaring on Kidney Vetch, the caterpillar's foodplant.
At Pegsdon Hills, Bedfordshire, found Common Blue, Brown Argus and Dingy Skipper.

 Dodgy phone pic of Brown Argus

Dingy Skipper.

Burnt at Knocking Hoe

My first ever Burnt Orchids were shown to me by Bedfordshire Orchid Legend and all-round awesome bloke Graham Bellamy, back in 2003, at a lovely little National Nature Reserve nestled on the edge of the Chilterns. Knocking Hoe is a super spot and hosts a decent colony of Burnt Orchids among other cool plants. It was 15 years since I last visited, so having had a walk round Pegsdon Hills and Hoo Bit across the way (top BCN Wildlife Trust nature reserves), I crossed the road and walked north to see if I could find the site.

Looking northwest across Knocking Hoe.

I headed round to the chalky knoll and soon found a lovely Burnt Orchid among a diverse range of wildflowers and grasses. The feathery seed heads of Pasque Flower nearby were nice to see.

Round the other side of the hoe, an exclosure to keep out the grazers held the majority of the orchid colony, with probably 100 spikes present. A few escapees poked up here and there. The range of colours was impressive, some very dark and others with virtually unmarked, white petals. Really gorgeous little flowers and my favourite orchid species. Massive thanks to Graham and his gang for looking after this special place and its special orchids.


 Three Burnt Orchids showing the variation in colour.

Burnt Orchids in the sward.

Knocking Hoe. A superb spot.

Father's Day Forest Family Fun

Dragged the family kicking and screaming to Wykeham Forest for a Father's Day walk. Lots of Crossbills chipping about in small flocks, but not settling. Plenty of Red-necked Footman moths were dancing in the sunshine, which had burst through right on cue.

The half-way point of our walk was (conveniently!) at the Raptor Viewpoint, overlooking Troutsdale. We settled down for a picnic. After a bit, the shout went up for Honey Buzzard and we looked up from our sandwiches to see the white male cruising overhead. He circled around for a bit, drifting across the valley. This fine, distinctive male appeared last year and has survived a treacherous migration both south and then back north, home to Yorkshire.

Having gained height, he then turned south and performed an undulating series of switchbacks, clapping his wings high above his back three or four times at the apex of each ascent, showing off his persil-white underparts. Who's the Daddy?!

Yorkshire Honey Buzzard. Spectacular scenes!

On the way back, a Turtle Dove flew across our path and into the forest. A brief glimpse of a really rare bird and one that infuses me with melancholy as I lament their disappearance.

The Ophrys Four

Finally saw a Bee Orchid the other day, in the usual spot by the car park at Askham Bog YWT. Also, a few lovely magenta Pyramidal Orchids nearby, my 20th orchid species of the year. This Bee Orchid completes the British set of Ophrys orchids, those that have flowers resembling an insect. Bee is by far the commonest and is an absolute stunning little flower. The dangly yellow pollinia can be seen in this photo and they usually fall on to stigma of the same flower, resulting in self-pollination. This is fortunate as the bee thought to pollinate this species is absent from the British Isles and the species relies solely on self-pollination, a strategy that seems to work just fine!

Last month, we were lucky enough to track down both Early Spider and Late Spider Orchids in Kent, too much rarer Ophrys species. Early Spiders were going over, but some of the spikes at Samphire Hoe were still reasonable and to be honest, they don't seem to get much better than this. A much bigger species than bee, with some spikes being at least 30cm high! Samphire Hoe, after being created from the spoil of the Channel Tunnel, once supported a colony of 10,000 Early Spider Orchids, but they have since dwindled as the site has matured to a still impressive 1,000.

Early Spider Orchids, Samphire Hoe.

Nearby, the rarest species, Late Spider Orchid, looking similar to Bee Orchid, was flowering on a grassy bank. The small colony was protected from grazing cattle and visiting botanists by an electric fence. It was relatively easy to take a few pics of them anyway, and the warden had kindly left one plant outside of the exclosure so photographers could get a close-up if they wished. This species is by far the rarest of The Ophrys Four and they were a true privelege to see.

Late Spider Orchids, Kent

We had seen the fourth Ophrys at Park Gate Down KWT a few days earlier, but we were fortunate to find another small colony at Yockletts Bank KWT on the last day of our Kentish trip. Here is a pic of one, to complete the set:

The tiny, yet beautiful flower of the Fly Orchid. Yockletts Bank KWT nature reserve.

Rose-coloured Invasion

Whilst in Kent, visited the iconic Dungeness NNR hoping for a few late migrants on 29th May. It was a dry, yet dreary morning, quite unlike the glorious weather we'd had over the weekend. I wondered north from the lighthouse, overwhelmed by the lack of migrants.

The lighthouse and nuclear power station at Dungeness, in the gloom.

Always nice to see, a fine Yellow Shell (moth) brightened up my stroll.

Things livened up on the way back when I bumped into a guy who said he'd seen yesterday's Rosy Starling (I still call them Rose-coloured Starlings!) briefly in the tops of the trees. I wandered round for a bit and for once got lucky, as the dapper pink and black chap appeared in front of me. After a couple of record shots, it dropped back into the scrub and vanished. I called over some other birders who seemed to be looking for it, and after a tense wait, it popped up again and we all got nice views. This bird is part of an influx into Britain, with over a hundred birds having turned up at the time of writing (mid-June). This is a regular, irruptive occurrence, linked to lack of food in the southeast of Europe, causing birds to move northwest.

Gorgeous bird, poor phonescoped pics.

Later on, we bobbed into Kent Wildlife Trust's Romney Marsh visitor centre. Found ourselves a Marsh Frog, having heard lots chuckling away each night in the ditch near the campsite. A few odonates present including this fine male Broad-bodied Chaser.

Marsh Frog and male Broad-bodied Chaser.

Sunday 10 June 2018

Jarring and Owling

Out locally looking for Nightjars revealed one briefly heard, with a Corncrake a short drive away for good measure. A couple of nights later, tried another local site, where Long-eared Owls showed well (hunting adults and at least two fledged young), with Cuckoo, followed by three churring 'Jars as dusk fell.

The owlets were incredibly cute but incessantly noisy. Talk about pester-power, they must drive the parents crazy!

Long-eared Owls phonescoped in the dusk gloom.

Moth Season: Bond and the Elephant

With the arrival of June, mothing is through the roof, with much larger numbers in the trap. Every morning is like Christmas morning, not knowing what is going to be waiting to be discovered. A perennial favourite, Elephant Hawkmoth, is regularly caught in our little suburban garden, though rarely seen during the day. It is an amazing creature, combining jet fighter aerodynamics, with stunningly audacious colours. Always a joy!

But my favourite group of moths are the prominents. I don't catch many, but each one is a real treat. So far this year, I have trapped one Lesser Swallow Prominent and two Iron Prominents. Iron Prominent is class, sophisticated and handsome, like James Bond perhaps.