25 Jun 2019

S Wales & Gloucestershire trip for orchids

I admit that I've not very good on my UK wildflower identification but have an ongoing intertest in orchids so when Sean Cole suggested a trip south to see some species that were new to me I jumped at the chance. First stop was Seans place for a welcome cuppa  before the trip down the M5 and along the M4 to Kenfig NNR. What a place! Stacked with wild orchids and other rarities. Targets here were Fen Orchid, Marsh Helleborine & Narrow-lipped &Green Helleborine.

Even as we pulled up into the car park it became obvious this was a very special place. Bee orchids and Pyramidal Orchids could be seen even before we'd stopped moving!

Sean knows his stuff and as we made our way down towards the dune slacks he pointed out numerous hybrids, which I struggled to get my head round, as gems such as the salmon pink Early Marsh Orchid and its stunningly beautiful sub-species coccinea, presumably named after the coccineal red food dye.

Whilst inspecting these specimens I noticed a bee on on  Southern Marsh Orchid with an old orchid pollinia stuck ti it. Proof, if it was needed that, successful sexual reproduction of this species takes place on this site.

Both Southern & Northern Marsh Orchids can be found on this site and Sean was using a colour chart to try and determine if the colour can be used to separate these and some of the hybrids.

By now the sun was breaking through and the drizzle that greeted our arrival had abated. Butterflies distracted us from the orchids with Common Blue and Dark Green Fritillary both on the wing. The fritillary settling on brilliant blue Vipers Bugloss made for a fantastic photo oppurtunity whilst the Common Blue on its Birdsfoot Trefoil food plant gave an opportunity to try the macro lens out.

Distractions over we concentrated on the task in hand and started searching the dune slacks for the diminutive and rare Fen Orchid. Once we got our eye in and were in the right area they were everywhere and what a delight they were.

As well as the Fens the dune slacks held good numbers of Dune Helleborine and Common Twayblade. The Dune Helleborines were just about coming into flower and in another week they'll be out in all their glory.

Marsh Helleborines above and Common Twayblade below:

Common Spotted orchids weren't the commonest species of Orchid here but were present and showed a variety of colours ranging from the normal pink to almost pure white.

Working our way to the coast we looked out for the nationally rare Sea Astor and discovered a group of the parasitic Broomrape - what species we didn't determine.

On the way back to the car we stopped to look for Green-flowered & Narrow -lipped Helleborine. We found both but unfortunately they weren't yet in flower.

Narrow-lipped Helleborine above and Green-flowered Helleborine below, yeah I know.....

After a very late lunch we headed back up to Gloucestershire and a real treat. The parasitic Birdsnest Orchid in its classic heavily shaded Beech woodland habitat at Birdlip. Completely lacking chlorophyll they rely on digesting living fungi for nutrition which grow within the plant! the fungi in turn gets its nutrition from a symbiotic ectomycorrhizal relationship with its Beech  host. The tree photosynthesises and produces carbohydrates that the fungi rely on - the orchid taps into this relationship and obtains its nutrition from the fungi! Not only is it a beautiful plant but its lifestyle is fascinating.

For me this was the orchid of the trip but we still had time for one more stop - Barrow Wake watchpoint for the tiny Musk Orchid. I'd been to this site once before as a biology undergraduate at Manchester University on a field trip to nearby Woodchester valley. Unfortunately we only found one tiny Musk Orchid that wasn't yet in flower.
Arriving at Sean's place I picked up my cart and headed home after a superb day orchid hunting. In total we saw 15 different species. A great trip and many thanks to Sean for arranging it.

20 Jun 2019

Little Owls.

The Little owls behind the house have gone quiet and I don't know if they're breeding or not. There's been a lot of farm disturbance recently but they can be quite tolerant so hopefully they'll do okay. One pair, that are using a box I put up in 2014, have used it again this year and we recently ringed three healthy young.

Again, the birds hadn't been seen for awhile but Barry saw one bird near the box in early may so went to check it before I went to Australia. I was surprised to find the female sitting on four eggs!

Checking them again on the 28th may after we returned there were three young but they were to small to ring.

The signs were hopeful they'd all survive as there were plenty of festering rodent prey items littering the box. What was really interesting though was that the adult female was ringed.  We ringed an adult female here three years ago but on checking the ring number I found it was actually one of a brood of five I'd ringed in the same box in 2015! What happened to the original female? The box wasn't used last year and we assumed that the 'beast from the east' meant the birds weren't able to attain breeding condition and just didn't bother. A grey squirrel also took over the box last winter until it was evicted and that may have deterred them but it seems that the more likely answer is that the older female died - either predated or of starvation during last years cold weather. The adult female of our garden pair was predated by a Sparrowhawk last year.

Going back a few weeks later we ringed the youngsters who sat among a heap of prey remains including a Blackbird - identifiable by a leg and some feathers.

 Above: note the Blackbirds leg in left foreground and feather by chicks leg
Below: Adult female looking worse for wear after brooding her young surrounded by rotting corpses!
Whilst on the farm we took the opportunity to ring a brood of 5 Jackdaw chicks using a Barn Owl box installed in a large open fronted barn. I love the eye colour of these chicks! Interestingly Barry reported one of the adult birds had a metal ring on the left leg so is probably one of the birds I ringed in the same box last year.

11 Jun 2019

Garden update

Planting an area of the garden with wildflowers and leaving it uncut has paid dividend not only with the general attractiveness of the plants and the number of insects that visit but also because we've now got two species of orchid growing!

We had a Common Spotted Orchid appear last year and it looks as if its going to flower again this year but now we've also got three Bee Orchids! These can be found locally but are very ephemeral and don't always appear in the same place each year.

There's only one flower at the moment but plenty of flower buds yet to open.

The garden is full of young birds at the moment with Blackbirds, Greenfinches and Goldfinches all successfully fledging young. Theres plenty of Blue & Great Tits but curiously I've yet to see a juvenile Robin or Dunnock. Great Spotted Woodpeckers are visiting daily and the adults have been seen feeding the young on sunflower hearts they're hoovering up beneath the feeders.

With recent heavy rain the male Blackbird has been taking the opportunity to have a bit of a wash and spruce up and we seen from the window sitting on the lawn with his wings outspread enjoying a good soaking.

6 Jun 2019


I've seen Spoonbills in Cheshire several times before but they've always been very sleepy and spend most of their time with that magnificent bill tucked under their wings!

Recent news that birds had turned up just down the road at  Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB and were nest building resulted in a flurry of photos of some very active birds collecting twigs and displaying.

With a couple of hours spare this morning I drove the short distance to the reserve and was lucky enough to have good views of one Spoonbill preening and showing pretty well compared to the average views!

During my visit I was also treated to superb views of a Great White Egret, flight views of a Cattle Egret and the ubiquitous Little Egrets.

With the RSPB announcing that Bearded Tits have fledged young on the reserve recently this place is rapidly becoming one of the premier reserves on the UK.