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.


20/05/2018 South Cumbria

The Lady's-slipper Orchid: (Cypripedium calceolus) This is a very striking and special plant,  it is the flower's characteristic yellow slipper-shaped pouch that gives this species its name.
These pouches attract bees which, once inside, can only get out through the narrow opening where they either collect or deposit pollen.
Not only is is special due to its beauty, but it is known to be Britain's rarest flowering plant.
Due to over collection with sellers and enthusiasts the Lady's-slipper orchid population decline resulting it being declared extinct by 1917.
This little gem can be found at Gait Barrows, a National Nature Reserve (NNR) in Lancashire near the South Cumbria boarder. Where there has been huge efforts to reintroduce this rare orchid.

Gait Barrows is a fantastic reserve that also has Duke of Burgundy butterflies, Angular Solomon's-seal (Polygonatum odoratum) and herb Paris (Paris quadrifolia) which was in full leaf near about 10 yards from the information sign and gate.

The only negative is the number of ticks!!! they are everywhere.

Fly Orchid: (Ophrys insectifera) About 5 miles north you reach the South Cumbria border and cross over in to a lovely small called Milnthorpe  (this is where Dawn went to school).

Here there is a site whcih is perfect for another one of my most anticipated orchids, the fly orchid.

These are typically found on alkaline, limestone soils and cleverly mimics a fly. It does this so that male flies are attracted to it, and are duped into trying to mate with it!

During this attempted mating, the orchid can deposit some pollen onto the fly, and when it flies off, probably with a feeling of disappointment. And will eventually transfer the pollen onto the next orchid so fertilizing the flower.

Clever stuff eh?

This small area besides a busy road was a treasure trove with several fly orchid spikes, cowslips and bunches of common twayblades.

Huge thanks again to my orchid guru Dr Richard bate.

Common Twayblades: (Neottia ovata) I recently read in a Plantlife article that Britain’s roadside verges are home to more than 700 species of wild plants, one in eight of which (12%) are threatened with extinction or heading in that direction.
I guess that some of these grass verges are effectively fragments of wildflower-rich ancient hay meadows and grasslands, most of which have been lost through the countryside since the 1930s, while coastal plants have exploited motorways and A-roads which are salted in winter.
Councils and local government need educating on this as I see the mowing of road verges earlier each year and watch in amazement as species rich habitat (in-comparison to the land around it) is mowed down. Which only gives early flowers a chance to set seed before they are chopped down, and later plants struggle to survive under the cuttings left behind.
Still, this place looked safe as the manicured grass verges remained away from this special site.
Tick: Although I didn't get bittern,  I still found two of these horrid creatures on me and my camera equipment.


17/05/2018 The Farne Islands, Northumberland

Razorbill: I've only ever been to Farne and landed on Inner Farne once before, back in June 2013 when I successfully twitched the Bridled tern so decided this is where i would like to spend my birthday mini-break.
We stayed at the very lovely Northumberland Arms in Morpeth, about 30 minute drive from Seahouses. And made it for the afternoon landing on Inner Farne with Billy Shiel's Boat Trips.
Guillemot: Billy Shiel's Boat Trips take you on a tour of the islands before landing whcih gave us some amble views of the sea birds laofing in large rafts on the water and nesting on massive colonies on the short cliffs. This lasts approximately 2½ hours including one hour spent on Inner Farne.
The tour includes a cruise around all the Farne Islands, viewing the sea birds on the cliff faces, visiting the Grey Seal colonies and also follows the route Grace Darling and her father took during their heroic rescue in 1838. A full commentary is given en route and the boat stops at Inner Farne for one hour.
Arctic Tern: I was initially disappointed as I would have like at least an extra hour on Inner Farne, and in all honesty I remained disappointed when I can off as one hour is not long enough. I felt like I was a cash cow as hoards of people are ferried two and from with minimal amount of time. I hear they reduce the time spent on the island to reduce disturbance.
Still this place was fabulous, Farne Islands are simply the treasure of the North East's, this protected wildlife haven off the Northumberland coast is one of the best places in the UK to see some of the best sea birds we have on offer.
Inner Farne and Staple Island are major sanctuaries in the UK for about 22 species of breeding seabirds, including Guillemots, Razorbills, Eider Ducks, 4 species of Terns and a staggering 70,000 Puffins.
Shag Eggs: The boat moored at Farne Island and as soon as we left the boat, hundreds of terns flew above us. Straight away I spotted nesting birds on the ground, eggs and chicks of all ages. I couldn’t believe the number of birds and the close proximity we were to them.

Shag: I was blown away by the number of birds and their reaction to our presence on the island.

Even after seeing footage of visitors to the island getting so close to these majestic birds, I didn’t quite expect how close we would be able to get to them and their nests.

The island is famous for getting divebombed by Arctic terns, but Dawn and I arrived on the day the first tern egg was laid so the whole colony were not in aggressive mode and were not divebombed any of the visitors.
Razorbill: It was incredible just how close you can get,  as the birds roosted between the roped off areas naer the footpath.
Guillemot: The footpath leads to the cliff edge where only a fence separates the people for more nesting birds and the edge itself.
Puffin: Not as many puffins as I was hoping for, perhaps I will go go Skomer to togg them.
Eider Duck: Besides the walkways and paths tucked away were dozens of female eiders incubating their eggs.
Puffin: There were two main areas were you can get close-ish to puffin, and If I had more time I would have sat here for longer.
Still it was great to see these charismatic little birds hopping around the island.
Kittiwake: I can’t recommend visiting the Farne Islands enough. It was an amazing experience and I would encourage anyone who loves nature or wants to get closer to nature to visit the Farne Islands during the breeding season.
Arctic Tern: If you hate flappy birds and feathers, I would give it a miss, around the end of May through to the end of the breeding season at least.
Special thanks to the one and only Dawn who helped organise and came along with me, even though shes one of those people who  hates flappy birds.
Guillemot: We had a wonderful time.