18 Jun 2018

Common Spotted Orchids.

A small over grown footpath alongside a railway embankment near where we live is a good local spot for Common Spotted orchids.  I took a mosquito filled walk along it one night last week. Its very overgrown in parts but on the more open areas its filled with these beautiful flowers.

We seem to have lost our local colony of Bee Orchids though as this is the 2nd consecutive year I haven't found any. It may have something to do with the farmer continuing to spray herbicide on the field margin where they're usually found.............

11 Jun 2018


I love Brown Hares. One of my favourite UK mammals and sadly declining in many areas. Before we moved int our current house a couple of years ago I rarely saw them in our part of Cheshire but we are now lucky enough to have them  nearby. Last year we only saw two in the field opposite the house but recently we've seen three. From the interaction I assume there are a male and female and a spare male - he keeps getting chased off by the other one.

A couple of weekends ago  I saw them all together in a field about  3-400 m away but the other day they turned up in 'our' field but were distant. One of the first things I do each morning is check the field and pond for any new arrivals during the night. The other morning I was awake at 05.30 and sure enough the Hares were much closer.  Unfortunately I had to up the ISO on the camera because of the poor light so the pictures are grainy.

 The pair - traditionally a male Hare is a Jack and the female a Jill.
 The paired male keeping a close eye on the presumed 2nd male interloper.

Unfortunately Brown Hares can still be shot and unbelievably there is no close season for them in England so they're not even safe during the breeding season.

4 Jun 2018

Garden wildlife

The warm weather has meant I've spent lots of time in the garden trying to maintain some semblance of control over the areas that aren't left to go wild! The wildflower patch in the back garden is attracting a few butterflies in and we've had Orange Tip, Small Tortosieshell, Peackock, Large White, Speckled Wood & Holly Blue regularly but no Red Admirals yet. A new butterfly for the garden was Common Blue that I spotted whilst leaving for work Friday morning and stopped to get photos. Well worth being 15 minutes late for work!

Common Blue above and Speckled Wood below.

The ponds in the fields around us are full of Great-crested Newts but although we've regularly found Smooth Newts in the garden in the garden we'd never had Great -crested - until now! I found these two whilst cutting the grass and moved them to our rockery where they'd be safer. I also found a very skinny looking Smooth Newt in the wood pile as I was moving some logs.

As well as the butterflies theres bee na few other insects around. A Grey Dagger roosting on the garage wall and a Red - headed Cardinal Beetle soaking up the warmth.

Mammals have also been well represented with Short-tailed Field Vole & Wood Mouse being seen in the garden whilst in the field opposite we've seen Brown Hare (3) and Fox.

It appears that the nesting Blue Tits and Great Tits are finally catching up with their breeding season after a poor start to the year. Four broods were ringed last week totalling 28 chicks with the Blue Tits having broods of 10 & 8 whilst the Great Tits only had broods of 4 & 6. I've seen the Hobby again so I'm assuming they've gone quiet as the females on eggs somewhere nearby. We can't see the Little Owls at the moment as their nest hole is obscured by leaves but I heard the male calling during the day yesterday. Our local Ravens have fledged 2 young and all 4 birds are happily feeding o na dead sheep in the field opposite the house.

29 May 2018

Puffin Island 2018.Part 1.

I recently went across to Puffin Island, Anglesey with seabird researchers from Bangor & Liverpool University and the SCAN ringing team. Meeting at Penmon point we were ferried across on a beautiful warm may morning. My job on this first visit was to photograph as manny Razorbill rings as possible for the re-trapping adults for survival project (RAS). Often the ring numbers are difficult to read and we've found its best to photograph them and read them on the screen rather than relying on checking with binoculars and writing down.

With a bit of patience, by sitting quietly on the cliffs, the Razorbills get used to your presence and you can get good close up photos with a telephoto lens. We generally try to get around 50 re-sightings this way.

Its not all about the Razorbills though and I usually sneak a few other photos in - especially of  the Puffins.

The breeding season is a couple of weeks behind previous years and most of the species were on eggs. Unfortunately it looks as if Kittiwakes are really declining here and we didn't find any that had started nest building yet. Fulmars appear to be doing well though with several pairs seen.

Shags are way behind with their breeding season and most nests had eggs or very small young.

The gull colonies seem to be doing well with a few small Herring Gull chicks around and lots of nests with 'chipping' eggs. Many other birds were still incubating.

Razorbills and Guillemots were all incubating and it was fascinating to see the variety in colour between the predominantly blue Guillemot eggs and the white Razorbill eggs.

Historically it was thought the eggs of these species were pear shaped so that they would spin on their axis rather than rolling off the ledges. New research suggests that this isn't the case and that the real reason maybe to keep as little of the egg in contact with the substrate to stop the developing embryo being starved of air. The nesting ledges can get horribly messy with guano and the shape of the eggs ensures there is minimal contact.

A great day and a tiring one  - my Fitbit told me I'd climbed the equivalent of a 147 flights of stairs!

16 May 2018

Hobbies from the garden!

Last year we were lucky enough to have a pair of Hobbies spend some time in trees behind the house.  Initially there was only one and I picked it up firstly on call. Closer scrutiny showed there were two birds and for a week or so they showed almost daily then went quiet............

This year I hoped they'd return and sure enough I picked up a familiar call on Bank Holiday Monday. A bird was calling from the top of a large oak tree but couldn't be seen. As  I watched a second bird flew in carrying prey but I couldn't see what it was.After watching for awhile the 2nd bird flew in again and both birds displayed before drifting off high together.

With sunny weather Saturday I spent most of the time in the garden with one ear and an eye listening and watching for the Hobbies. Sure enough that keening call started but I still couldn't see the bird. I assumed it was the male calling proclaiming his territory and trying to attract his mate. When a 2nd bird did arrive they both put on a bit of an aerial display before disappearing.

An hour or so later and the keening started again. This time the bird was sat in a dead oak in full view albeit about 300 m away and I managed to get some distant shots and video.

Assuming this was the male bird imagine my surprise when a 2nd bird appeared and mated with the 1st bird!

The first bird was obviously a female and she'd been calling to her mate. I stayed watching for over an hour as both birds then rested on the dead tree before flying off together.

Both birds below - the female is top right and the male bottom left of tree.

A fantastic experience and a privilege to see these birds from our garden.

13 May 2018

Wildflower gardening

Once of the aims in our new garden was to keep some areas wild for pollinating insects. We've duly bought wildflower plug plants in a couple of areas and even transplanted yellow flag irises that were dug up and left on the verge when the ditch opposite the house was cleared. They're now establishing themselves in our ditch!

Leaving areas un-mown where we've planted wildflowers has had an added benefit - we've found a small patch of Wood Sorrel growing in a shady area and even a Common Spotted Orchid rosette - hopefully it will flower. Other plants we've encouraged rather than treating as weeds are lesser celandine, dandelion & ladies smock - great for Orange Tip butterflies.
 Wood Sorrel
Spotted Orchid

Plants we've deliberately planted have been native bluebells, red campion,  ox-eye daisy,  betony, cowslip, greater knapweed & harebells. Hopefully when they all flower they'll attrtact more butterflies and bees.


 Blue Bells
 Ladies Smock
 Lesser Celandine
 Primrose - past their best now! 
Red Campion beginning to flower.

Hopefully all these will set seed and we'll have the start of a small wildlfower garden for years to come.