19/06/2018 Undisclosed Site, Leicestershire

Lizard Orchid: (Himantoglossum hircinum)  Like a plant from another planet this magnificent rare orchid stood tall along an unassuming roadside verge.
The plant get its name from the sepals that form the head, legs and long tail of a lizard. They are greenish, with light pink spots and stripes and the long lizard tailed labellum tips are even forked.

The lizard orchid is, in fact, rare not only in the UK but across Europe, with most populations being found in France and Spain.

 According to the Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI), the lizard orchid is restricted to the south and east of England. Populations occur in Kent and Sussex (at about sea-level, often on golf courses), Somerset, Devon, Gloucestershire and the North and South Downs. .
In fact, one of the most impressive populations of this rare and beautiful plant is on the Open course, Royal St George's Golf Club at Sandwich in Kent.

So to have one growing on a roadside verge in Leicestershire is something really special indeed.

The plant stands tall at around 25-70cm tall and is particularly noticeable and the flowers tail shapped labellum itself are up to 2 inches long, and usually twisted. Seriously its like an alien from another world.

The other notable part of the orchid is the insane flower head, with its greyish green hood that consists of three cowled sepals. The long tail has white marks and deeper purple markings just where it emerges from the cowl, and also with narrower and much shorter side spurs.

Just take a look at its superb long labellum protruding out from the flower head which is coiled and forked.

Initially the long tails are coiled up like a spring and as they gradually un-furl and extend they retain some of the twist of the original spring coil.

This is by far the highlight of my 'orchid summer' and is possibly one of the best UK orchids that I have, and maybe going to see on the journey.

15/06/2018 Llanymynech Rocks Nature Reserve, Shropshire

Greater-butterfly Orchid: (Platanthera chlorantha) I've been working in this area on and off for a few months on which back in May I visited the nearby nature reserve of Llanymynech Rocks in Pant, Oswestry.

On my mandarin visit I stumbled across my first ever greater-butterfly orchids, there were five spikes, two in full flower and three still in bud.

However I was working, and as I often am, I was rushing about before I left the house and didn't pack my camera bag and gear, so was unable to get anything more then a quick selfie.
I returned last night and as I walked over the short, springy turf of of this chalky limestone grassland I noticed a sprinkling of colour, purples, pink and whites of the different varieties of common spotted orchids and splashes of more intense electric pink of the less common pyramidal orchids.

The whole area looks stunning, set against the dramatic grey limestone cliff face.

Bee Orchid: (Ophrys apifera) I was thrilled that the butterfly orchids were still in good condition, not at their peak, but good.
After taking my fill of photos I noticed bedside me a spike from the very sexy bee orchid, these little orhrys orchids with their sex fulled show of colour and shapes are just great.
The cliff face at Llanymynech marks the beginning of a limestone outcrop that lies at the southern end of the carboniferous limestone which stretches from Anglesey and the Great Orme at Llandudno all the way in to Shropshire.

This special area had been mined for almost 2,000 years up until until the First World War which since its has been designated a nature reserve. you can still see the old stone tramways from the mining heyday dotted around the place.
The appearance of the flower lives up to its name as the lip closely resembles a bumblebee. It has three bright pink sepals and usually produces three to five flowers but exceptionally ten or more - the plant at the top of this page had eleven flowers.

Each fresh bee shaped flower had two dangling bright yellow pollinia, which are falling forward and down to rest on the stigma to facilitate self-pollination.

Common Spotted Orchid:  (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) This orchid may be widespread and particularly common through the UK and around Llanymynech Rocks Nature Reserve, but it is no less beautiful.

The variations in colour and lip-markings between specimens bear testimony to the visual diversity that can be seen in a single orchid species.

There were a wide variety of shades of pink and even white specimens dotted throughout the area.

Absolutely stunning shapes and patterns, i could have spent hours photographing these.

On this lighter pink specimen the  pattering on the latteral sepal were much more broken and spotted lines, the white specimen (above) appeared to have more of a pink solid line with spots in the middle.
Its no surprise to know that their name Dactylorhiza fuchsii, and the "fuchsia" part of the name should give you a largish clue as to what they look like, and what colour they are.

Pyramidal orchid: (Anacamptis pyramidalis) The purple-pink flowers are small and clustered in a dense flower at the end of a long spike, somewhat like a strawberry pink flavoured lollipop.
Again these orchids have a wide variety of specimens, some have flower heads that appear more spherical or globular. While others appear to have to have the typical pyramidal shape of the as yet mostly un-opened flower-head with a spike.

Really enjoyed this little gem of a nature reserve hidden away in Shropshire.

06/06/2018 Barnack Hills & Holes National Nature Reserve, Peterborough

Chalk Fragrant Orchid: (Gymnadenia conopsea) From the busy road side verge of the B6403 I headed down to a little gem of a nature reserve in Barnack situated about 11 km north west of Peterborough.

I was tipped off by @ukorchids via twitter, who said this was top place to see man orchids. I highly recommend people to follow, great information and lots of sharing of orchid images
Arising from the rubble of a medieval quarry, the Hills and Holes is one of Britain's most important wildlife sites with grassy slopes are home to a profusion of wildflowers.
Barnack's rich flora supports a wide variety of wildlife, especially insects, and a number of nationally scarce species are found. But the star of the show are its rich diversity of flowers, with over 300 species recorded on site.

While here I spotted dozens of fragrant orchid all well sign posted and many behind several non-go areas.
Formerly the common fragrant orchid, marsh fragrant orchid and heath fragrant orchid were classified together. They were then separated into three sub-species before their current recognition as three distinctly different species.
The species do align with the habitats indicated by their name grassland, Barnack Hills & Holes is a chalk grassland so we have chalk fragrant orchids.

The site is especially famous for the Pasque flower, a purple anemone that blooms in large numbers in spring, unfortunately I was too late to see them in all their glory as they had gone to seed when I arrived.

Although I missed the Pasques I did spot horseshoe vetch, common rockrose, hairy rockcress, dropwort and the very strange looking knapweed broomrape. 
Man Orchid: There were plenty of man orchid about too, many of which were looking past their best.

Loved this place, I spoke to several locals who were lovely.

06/06/2018 Duke's Covert & Copper Hill, Lincolnshire

Man Orchid: (Aceras anthropophorum) These exquisite flowers are quite anthropomorphic as beneath the hood of the flower the lip hangs down split into a pair of arms and legs. The hood is yellow-green and the lip or the stick mans body is yellow and sometimes edged in red.
Defiantly one of my favourite British orchid species, I have a soft spot for the more orchids but maybe more so for the less flashy, bright orchids and maybe there is something more to be said for the understated orchids that tend to blend in a bit more.

Either that or the fact that being a huge sci-fi geek all I see is tiny green men in space helmets.

It's particularly difficult to see man orchids up north as they have a very southerly distribution with Lincolnshire being at the very edge of their northerly rage.
This is an orchid that enjoys short alkaline grasslands and is most often found growing full sun or mid-shade, but the man orchid is also known to be found occasionally along the edges of open woodland and in scrubby areas.

Lincolnshire has two main sites where you can see man orchids and one site is a small grass verge near Ancaster, this small area falls under the Duke's Covert & Copper Hill nature reserve’s boundary and is a protected area.

This area is protected under Lincolnshire’s Protected Roadside Verge Scheme, so is safe from the councils mowers.

19/05/2018 Bridlington Birds of Prey & Animal Park, East Yorkshire

Little Owl: Dawn (my wonderful partner) got me an experience day for my birthday, where I could spend the mooring photographing some birds of prey, something I was really looking forward to.
It’s pretty amazing to get so close to birds of prey, which is what you can do at Bridlington Bird of Prey and Animal Park.  This family attraction is set in the wonderful woodland near Bridlington, East Yorkshire.
The wide-open space makes it the ideal place to see and learn about a fantastic range of birds of prey. There’s a daily flying display where you can watch these winged wonders soar above your head.
Bridlington Bird of Prey and Animal Park also offer the chance to get even closer to their birds of prey on their bespoke photography sessions, giving you the chance to photography the birds in natural woodland settings with various props.

Their centre is quite unique as most of their birds free fly without tethers or jesses, the owner Paul is very enthusiastic and passionate about his birds and the unique way he trains his birds, often without the use of traditional jessies and ropes.

One of the first birds out was this tiny treasure, this male little owl was very relaxed, despite its shocked expression on its face, little owls are always so photogenic with their large diurnal eyes and expressive faces.

There were many props including an old wheelbarrow, a hagged old wooden stump and a hey bail to name a few. All of which worked well, although the light was very tricky as it was blazing sunshine or the shade of a small woodland, one extreme to another.

European Eagle Owl: Next came this beast, such a smart looking bird. Lee flew it, but with the light being so challenging I couldn't really get any decent pic of it in flight.
Still the bird made an exceptional stationary subject as the birds eyes are just that, exceptional.

European Eagle Owl Chick: Like some small fluffy alien out of Star Wars, maybe a Prog (the penguin like creature from The Last Jedi) this ball of downy-fluffy came bounding out towards us.

I guess being one of the largest living species of owl you are going to get extra large chicks too.

This was Dawns new friend as she fell in love with the little chap, I was almost surprised that she didn't turn around in the car on the way home and say 'look what i have' and pulled it out of her handbag.
Super cute and strange looking.

Peregrine Falcon: They also brought out this brilliantly marked peregrine, however the bird had to remain tethered as with it being breeding season there is a risk the bird might fly off in search of love.....and not come back.
The bird gave me an opportunity to get up close and personal with one of the best birds there is, and to see myself in its eyes while i took its picture was superb.
Despite the tethering I thought some classic images of the bird on this old, used, warn out falconry glove worked real well.

The bird wasn't flown and remained stationary on the glove for only a short time. We also had the opportunity to spend some time with the largest kingfisher species in the world, the kookaburra which was very entertaining as Lee could make it 'laugh' and fed it crickets on the ground.

Great Grey Owl: The classic post card pose of this huge owl and its wide disc like face, Lee even put the bird on my head and Dawn took a few pics for my social media pages, which was fun.

Tawny Owl Chick: A recent arrival to the park was this rescued tawny chick, the park takes in rescues as well as maintaining a captive population of birds.
Perhaps this is one of the good this about using Bridlington Bird of Prey and Animal Park as they constantly change and get new subjecst to photograph, everyone gets a different experience.
Bizzar looking, this young chick was only out from under its warm lamp for a few moments which gave us time to snap away.

A barn owl was also brought out and a very striking Australian Southern boobook owl brought out, but again I wasnt terribly happy with the hsost I took, it seemd weird looking at an Australian bird in a sycamore tree. And I struggled again with the light on the barn owl.

Lanner Falcon: The last part of the day was a flying display and opportunity to shoot a lanner in flight.

This was sensational, the bird would whizz over our heads, zip past our feet and between us, a great experience.
Here is the link for Bridlington Birds of Prey & Animal Park, I would highly recommend it.