16/09/2018 Skippool Creek, Thornton Cleveleys, Lancashire

Semipalmated Sandpiper:  Despite the really poor images I was thrilled to tick off the semi-p down at Skippool Creek, a weird place where small fishing boats are moored on the muddy tributaries which lead into the nearby River Wyre like a boat graveyard.

This is a bird that is notoriously difficult to see its famous wedded feet and is often confused with Least and Western Sandpipers

But upon closer inspection the birds non-breeding plumage with its light grey and very pale lighter belly and black distinguishing this bird from the yellow-legged Least Sandpiper.

Tricky little bird overall, but a very smart one.

(Bottom image courtesy of Damian Young)

Spurn Migration Festival

Common Rosefinch: Spurn MigFest is a real highlight of the my year, top birds, top company at a top place.

And this year was no exception....well the birds may have been lacking a little, with the odd spot redshank, pied fly and redstart scraping the bottom of a poor bird list barrel.
But the star of the weekend and a brand new bird for me was this common rosefinch. Not the  distinctive male with their brilliant, rosy-carmine heads but an otherwise dull, brown, little bird.

Yet still very much the star bird.
For me Spurn MigFest is always remembered by laughs and drinks we have on the Saturday night in the Crown & Anchor with some good friends. However this year I will remember sleeping in my cramped car as my tend got severally flooded out, oh and the rose finch, of course.

29/08/2018 Dungeness RSPB, Romney Marsh, Kent

American Black Tern: This was my second visit to Dunge, after the infamous Arcadian flycatcher and once again it was a brief visit as I needed to head home after working in the area.

This time I was hoping to see the American black tern, a bird I missed only up the road from where I lived back in August 2012 on Eccleston Mere.

My first thoughts were that this was a particularly tricky little bird to pin down across the vast expansive lagoon and the dozen or so European black terns in the area.
But once you see it next to its much more common European cousins you can see that it is distinctive.

It's hoped that the American/European birds will be split which would then give up another life tick, so for now this little guy will sit in the bank.

12/08/2018 Hoylake, Wirral

Bonaparte's Gull: What a brilliant "Brucie Bonus" as while en-oute to Parkgates hen harrier 2018 rally the small scares gull turned up off Hoylake. 
This is a good comparison image showing the Bonaparte's as the slightly smaller of the two and the black-headed still with its fading summer plumage blackened head, the Bonaparte's also has a slim black bill and grey nape. 
The English name of the Bonaparte's Gull honors Charles Lucien Bonaparte, who made important contributions to American ornithology while an active member of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia during the 1820s.

The last Wirral record was in 2004 & 1st ever Wirral record was in 1979 which also turned up in August.

15/07/2018 Spurn, East Yorkshire

Greater Sand Plover: On Saturday late afternoon my phone pings and a message pops up 'greater sand plover, Spurn' unfortunately I was working hard laying my new garden patio and was knacked and couldn't face the journey up.
I was even tired come Sunday morning and didn't set off until gone 9am, and typically when you leave late for a rare bird it tends to disappear. which this did, by around 8.30am the bird had been relocated and flew off with the message saying up high around 20miles north.

Needless to say I was gutted.
Dawn and I decided to chance it and continue our journey with a stop off in Hull town centre for some shopping and food. And just as we got back in to the car to head off home I saw another message pop up saying that the bird was back!

Needless to say I was thrilled, and we shot off down the Spurn.
The bird gave us an excellent show as it fed along the beach with a pair of ringed plover, too distanct for my lens but great in the scope were I manged some scope-shots.

I think we got lucky overall, as not only did the bird come back, but it seemed o be allot closer, in better light and less heat haze.
According to the excellent Andy Roadhouse  'The Birds of Spurn' book  this is the 3rd GSP for Spurn.

01/07/2018 Denbighshire, North Wales

Frog Orchid (Coeloglossum viride): Today I took up the invitation from Mark Payne to explore  the old lead spoil heaps of Eryrys Quarry, a site he is familiar with and last week photographed a frog orchid, an orchid I had yet to see.

The Eryrys and Loggerheads areas within the Clwydian range AONB have a shallow base-rich soils derived from the underlying limestone rocks that form a lowland calcareous grassland and upland calcareous grassland. Perfect for these orchid species and other rare plants.
Unfortunately, and what I suspected, the frogs had goen over and were far from at thie best. Still its one I can se again next yaer in full flower.
Common Fragrant Orchid (Gymnadenia conopsea): Another orchid we found, that was much more abundant were fragrant orchids, coloured in many different shades of pink and white.

Lovely to see.
Spring Sandwort (Minuartia verna): Eryrys Quarry used to mine lead and most of the site is built on the old spoil heaps that are frosted in small white flowers clustered together.

Spring Sandwort typically grows in unlikely places and can be found on heavily contaminated ground such as slag heaps and in the crevices of rocks. Although nationally scarce, it is quite common in Denbighshire.

Greater Butterfly Orchid (Platanthera chlorantha): From the disused mine at Eryrys Mark and I haeded over to the nearby Panymwyn pastures a criss-cross of headrows, small woodland rides and open meadows.

We went on the information that there are lesser butterfly orchids which have been mapped in the area, I was keen as once again i needed lesser.
Mark and I searched the whole area, twice, we covered a large amount of ground and looked for a good couple of hours.

At first we could only find hand fulls of common spotted and the odd common twayblade, most of which were looking very ropey as the season is progressing and its been particularly hot.
I was about to give up as the heat of the day sapped all my energy and keeping up with Marks quick pace was getting harder, until we decided to give the big main meadow another once over.

And this time we struck lucky.

However the butterfly orchids we found were not lesser, but greater, nevertheless we were happy and I had a very enjoyable day hunting for orchids.

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.