04/07/2020 RSPB Bempton Cliffs, Flamborough

Weasel: A superstar and grippingly good black-browed albatross turned up on the East Yorkshire coast. on Thursday at RSPB Bempton Cliffs, near Flamborough.
Well to say I was excited would have been an understatement to have the chance to see one of the best birds I just had to give it a go. So thanks for my boss Howard Fern who gave me to green light to go (I owe you one mate) I headed up Friday morning.
The bird had been seen fisrt thing before flying off, and appeared again around 11:30 am, but the lucks was conspiring against me as by the time the bird came back I was still 20 minutes away.

By the time I arrived the bird had gone, I waited all day but it never made an appearance and I even went back the following morning and again bird decided not to show up, it had gone, this was a mega dip!
I'm pretty wounded by this in all honesty, a txt off the right people or if I was more prepared in the morning I might have made it in time.
Still, and it was hard to get my head out of the depressive fog there was a nice supporting cast to keep me occupied between long bouts of waiting around for the albatross to turn up.
This family of weasels were the highlight, watching them chasing each other and avoiding the corvids as they weaseled in and out of their burrows on the cliff edge was joy to witness. 
Puffin: Bempton is always a good play to see puffins,  these charismatic little birds were nesting right beside the main watchpoint that the albatross was last seen and were many folk congregated in anticipation but ultimately despondency. 
Gannet: The one thing these large twitchers enable me to do is to catch up with some cracking birders and local folk, at one point it felt more like a social then a twitch. Although the social distancing left a lot to be desired, I guess it would be hard at such a place anyway.
Long-eared Owl: The birding highlight was this LEO,  that has been frequenting the ares for a few weeks now it wasnt here on the Friday but was kind enough to come out on the Saturday.
Great Skua: Another highlight was this great skua that spent much of its time on the hunt and we even witness it catch a kittiwake, kill it and eat it on the sea.
It's going to take some time to get over this one, sure you have to be in it to win it, you have to make the effort when you can.
Gannet: I think there are a lot of lessons to be learnt, in time for the next mega bird!

27/06/2020 Belfairs Wood, Southend-on-Sea, Essex

Heath Fritillary: With the lockdown restrictions being eased i took the opportunity to take Dawn and the baby down to see my mum in Essex, and while down there decided to take a family walk out on the hunt for something rare.
This was my second visit to Belfairs Wood, I remember dragging my mum down here a couple of years ago hoping to see these butterflies, but didn't, despite an exhaustive search.

This stunning little orange gem is one of Britain’s rarest butterflies.  They are well known at Blean Woods in Kent which is their stronghold,  there is a couple of sites on Exmoor and luckily closer my mums home at Belfairs Wood in Southend-on-Sea, Essex.
It was a miserable overcast morning and well sheltered from the fresh westerly breeze, that turned pretty windy in the afternoon, so far from perfect conditions for spotting butterflies.  Although there was a good number of Holly Blue on the wing, also the first chocolate brown Ringlets of the year.  Very nice indeed.
After walking around the woods for a few hours I stated to think we may have been a bit ambitious in this weather but out of the blue and Dawn shouted '"is this one?"

Bingo! it was one.
Resting on a bramble patch close to a large patch of cow-wheat (it's caterpillar food plant) was this rather bedraggled looking butterfly. With its wings outstretched it clearly shown some damage to its wing, but with them folded up it was subpurd in the dappled light of the woods.

Top work Dawn, a good way to gain some girlfreind points.

29/06/2020 Belvide Reservoir, Staffordshire

Laughing Gull: Another nice bird this time in Staffordshire, a place I've only been once before when twitching the spotted sandpiper back on my birthday in May 2017.
Belvide Reservoir really is a cracking place with well maintained pathways and hides, if I was a local I would most certainly acquire a permit. On both occasions the kind folk who run the reserve have opened it up to non-members for a very reasonable £3.

A bargain!
When I arrived the bird was feeding in the middle of the lake, hawking for insects along with hundreds of aptly named swifts, I was hoping it would have come a little closer and by the time the rain came I had my fill and left.
These medium sized gulls are one of the largest hooded gull species and really stood out against the much smaller local black-headed gulls. Summer plumage laughing gull adults have a black head, broken white eye ring, red bill and legs.






Winter adults have a white head with pale gray streaking on the back, black bill and legs. Immature birds are browner overall and more subtly patterned than adults; they take three years to gain adult plumage.
Seeing this hadsome gull reminded me of my encounter with the New Brighton bird way back in 2015, take a look here:

https://austinmorley.blogspot.com/search/label/Laughing%20Gull

16/06/2020 Holy Island, Northumberland

Asian Desert Warbler: This delicate and dusky little bird was found on the stunning isle just off the northumberland coast, Holy Island, a interdideal island the night before. I had work the next morning but due to the favorable tide times which allowed me the chance to go much, much later then one would hope.
I arrived pretty late in the evening and just as I arrived the bird went missing for about an hour!

Forget the fact it was a tense drive waiting on new of the bird, but it was infuriating standing in a crowd of birders all saying how well the bird was showing moments before I arrived.


The Asian desert warbler is a long overdue bird and a difficult species to tick in Britain these days with the most recent record in 2012 at Samphire Hoe Country Park, Kent, before that there was one in 2000 at Spurn, Yorkshire. And there have been eight records dating back between 1992 and 1975.


It would come as no surprise that most of these records have come from the east and south coasts although there was one record much closer to home. Between October and November way back in 1979 (before i was born) there was one found at Meols, Wirral.
Eventually the bird was relocated a couple of hundred yards in some pine trees. The bird was a typical Sylvia warbler, constantly moving and foraging in dense undergrowth. Actually all British records of desert warbler species in are assumed to refer to Asian desert warbler Sylvia nana, and are currently under review by the British Birds Rarities Committee (BBRC).
In the end the bird put on a good show favouring one small area of trees some of which were less dense than the fisrt pine it was found in.

I was thrilled to have made the effort for this bird, its likely to stick around for a few days but with these small east coast islands you would assume not for too long!

14/06/2020 Far Ings Nature Reserve, Lincolnshire

Blyth's Reed Warbler: Today Dawn had a date with the girlies, a date that included taking the baby with her so I had a free pass out and decided to go and see something rare.






These unispring looking birds are migratory birds normally found in eastern Europe and Asia and rarely visiting western Europe so if one gets found its worth a trip to see them.
Typically skulky birds I got unlucky arriving later than I would have liked the bird had stopped singing in which it was showing remarkably well. By the time I arrived it had changed its behaviour from singing to feeding, and feeding in a dense bramble and dog rose patch.
Eventually, with a some patience the bird did make several appearances and came right out into the open before jumping back into the undergrowth. 

The biggest issue was the variable light, backlight when it was in the best position, in near darkness when it came out of the shrubbery and forever changing positions. 
Nice to catch up some some familiar faces, i'm glad to see folk have been doing ok during this Covid-19 crisis and lackdown.


09/06/2020 Compton Lane, Collingham, West Yorkshire

Rose-coloured Starling: After Sunday's disappointing dip and in the rain no less I thought I would chance my luck and try to the Collington bird.
This morning I was tasked with a breeding bird survey in the Midlands and once i was done I decided to take the M1 home which meant sa short diversion to see the bird.








Upon arriving and after finding somewhere sensible to park I got chatting to a passing birder who uttered the eternal words 'you've just missed it, its gone to ground'

Typical.....!
There was about a dozen birders there already, neatley linned up along the lane, buisly chatting amogst themselves. The group draw quite a bit attention from the locals as they passed by walking their dogs and on their pushbikes.




I only waited a short while before the straling reappeared in its favoured cherry tree, the only cherry tree along the lane that had ripe berries.
After landing it seemed to wait a while before tucking in to the cherries.

 
The rose-coloured Starlings or Rosy starling (Pastor roseus) originates from eastern Europe, breeding in places like Albania, Croatia, Romania, Slovakia, Turkey and Ukraine, so it was quite an event to see one in West Yorkshire.

These are gorgeous little birds, with their pink waistcoats and long hair, over here in the UK as a vagrant bird they tend to lead a nomadic solitary life, this bird wasn't hanging around with any other starlings and was furiously chasing any other berry eating bird out of its tree.


A note on social distancing, at a twitch its no longer enforced, sure there were blokes asking other birders to keep their distance and some in an aggressive manner and then completely contradicting themselves once the bird had made an appearance as they stood tightly together to get a picture.




I guess in these situations all you can only do is what is practical, keep safe and keep your distance.




Dominic cummings has a lot to answer for......

29/05/2020 Homefield Wood, Buckinghamshire

Military Orchid (Orchis militaris): Today I found myself back in Buckinghamshire, this time on the hunt for another new orchid to the UK list, the military orchid.





Homefield Wood reserve is nestled in a beautiful part of the world, just north of the Chilterns. The reserve is a short stroll along a Forestry Commission track that intersects a woodland plantation. The military orchids can be found in a couple of meadows and are well sign posted.











The soldiers stood out like sore thumb as instead of the typical military camouflage outfit these military orchids wore a raspberry-ripple pink outfit.

This year I always seem to be a week behind, earlier in the afternoon I went to Hartslock Nature Reserve in Oxfordshire, to find a crispy looking monkey orchid, too dry and too hot to last.
And it was the same for these orchids, some were still looking fine with individual flowers in great condition but on the whole the colony was on its way out fro another year. 








Military orchids are pterry similar to both the lady orchid and to monkey orchid, they are all robust gregarious orchids. These orchids sepals and petals form an extended hood and in the case of military orchids they form a pointed hood likened to that of a soldiers helmet, but one which is pale on the outside and marked with darker purple or sometimes green parallel lines inside.
This was a really nice place and is know for fly, bee, spotted, common twayblade and white helleborine of only the later two I was able to find, although the helleborine was still in bud.


27/05/2020 Knocking Hoe NNR, Bedfordshire

Burnt-tip Orchid (Neotinea ustulata): After spending the morning surveying close to Milton Keynes I decided to make the most of my time down in this part of the world and hunt down dome special orchids.
Just north of the Chilterns is a small area of flowery chalk grassland known for supporting the only population of burnt-tip orchids to be found in Bedfordshire.

Knocking Hoe is also famous for more rare stuff including  moon carrot, spotted catsear, field fleawort, burnt tip orchid and pasque flower


As soon as I reached reserve, parking in the nearby Hexton Car Park and walking back along the public footpath towards the reserve entrance I soon found myself climbing a chalk hill. 

The specials of the site are the Burnt tip Orchids, found in small mesh protected enclosures, but a few rouges can be found outside this enclosure, all were marked with a red flag.




These were my first ever burnt-tips and was particularly surprised by their diminutive size.

It is so-called because the unopened flowers at the top of the flowering spike are dark purple appearing burnt while the opened flowers at the base of the spike are white or pale pink with raised purple spots.
These beautiful little orchids have seen one of the severest declines of all wild orchids during the last 50 years and is now very rare. A special flower that likes tightly grazed chalk grassland but has seen farming practices change with more areas being ploughed and the cusession of grazing livestock.
Looks like I got lucky too, the weather has been particularly dry and hot, there was even talk of a hosepipe ban on the radio during my journey down. The dry weather has sped up their flowering stage and many were on the way to going over and looking brown aroudn the edges.

I managed to find the last few in looking splendid.