Monday, 30 April 2018

Malaysia 2018 with Nigel Marven...From £3,199.00 per person.

Follow in Nigel’s footsteps this Autumn on a trip to Peninsula Malaysia from 23 October - 5 November 2018.

A unique opportunity to join the British TV presenter and zoologist on the trip of a lifetime. We will visit Taman Negara, one of the oldest rainforests in the world for colourful birds, amazing mammals and fabulous butterflies including huge birdwings! Fraser's Hill - a cooler colonial hill station with 300 species of birds recorded, rare kraits and captivating Siamese Peninsula Pitvipers. Then on to the tropical island of Langkawi in the north of the country where we will search for Mangrove Pitvipers, Brahminy Kites,White-bellied Sea Eagles and Brown-winged Kingfishers, among others.

Bookings and further information can be made direct through Prestige Holidays.

More info here...

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Early, Early Spider Orchids...

A quick trip to the Dorset coast with my brother paid off at the weekend with what appears to be the first orchids seen in flower in the UK so far this year.  The furry brown and slightly weird looking Early Spider Orchids Ophrys spegodes are a scarce species that thrives along the Purbeck cliffs.

Inquisitive Roe Deer checking us out on the long path down to the cliffs

As their name suggests, they are one of the first species to flower each year, however the cold weather we've experienced in 2018 so far has knocked the flowering times of most species back by a couple of weeks - last year we saw hundreds of these orchids in flower over the Easter weekend.  Despite an extensive search, we didn't find any sign of the controversial Sawfly Orchid this year.

Early Spider Orchid - one of the first this year

And another...we just about reached double figures!
The weather was cold and damp and apart from a few Blackcaps there were no birds of note whatsoever. However we did happen across a couple of Egyptian Geese on floodwater by the minor road connecting Dorchester to Pallington Heath.

Egyptian Goose looking alert, Pallington Heath

And the second bird looking more chilled
Sadly it was too cold for reptiles as well and despite an optimistic stop-off to look for Sand Lizards, none were found.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Sparrowhawk...a different bird

Just before heading off to Cornwall for a week, I had yet another 'tame' Sparrowhawk in the garden, this time a young male. I initially walked out the back door of the house expecting it to fly off (before it could nab a Brambling, or worse the Hawfinch!).  But as with the bird a few weeks ago (see post below) this one had no intention of going anywhere. Fixated on getting into the wire cage protecting the bird feeding area, it refused to leave even when I walked up to it.

Unfortunately my Nikon P900 had already been packed and loaded into the car so I turned around, went back into the house and pulled out the only other camera I could get my hands on - my Nikon D5300 complete with 105 mm macro lens.  I returned to the garden, walked up to within a few feet of it and started snapping away. It's a shame it was raining but you can't have everything...

Sparrowhawk, male

Not at all phased by my presence

You can clearly see blood from its last meal
on its beak.

Staring me down - quite an intimidating gaze!

Sparrowhawk, male. Whitestaunton

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Red-legged Partridge...

Two pairs of Red-legged Partridges have recently taken turns to visit the garden in search of food, adding a splash of colour in the process. Though not native (they were introduced from France in the 1770’s) they have become a very common sight and fill the niche left by the sad demise of our native Grey Partridge, who’s population plummeted dramatically after the large scale introduction of pesticides and loss of field borders after the Second World War. Still, I don't mind seeing them, especially as they only first appeared on the garden list last year.

Red-legged Partridge...minus the legs

Looking a bit out-of-place on the patio

Hiding in the border.
Red-legged Partridge 

Red-legged Partridge, pair, Whitestaunton
In addition to these the Hawfinch still remains and has now been in residence for 5 months also 7-8 Brambling.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

The Rainforest Foundation...

The Rainforest Foundation do a fantastic job in helping to prevent the spread of Palm oil plantations around the world by raising awareness, purchasing land and giving advice on Palm oil free products and foods that we can all buy. If you’ve ever visited a rainforest to go birding or wildlife viewing, you’ll know what incredibly biodiverse habitats they are and what a tragedy it is to be loosing them forever. Please consider making a donation to help them meet their objectives and save the countless species that need the forests to survive.

Check out their work at and follow them on Twitter @RFUK.

Pristine rain forests are the most biodiverse habitats on earth. Help protect them
and the thousands of species that depend on them.

Monday, 12 March 2018


Had a surprise today when this young Sparrowhawk rocked up in the garden. I saw it land on top of the bird feeding station, scattering all of the occupants. I grabbed my camera and took a few snaps through the dining room window before venturing into the back garden, expecting it to fly off as they normally do. But it didn’t. It saw me and changed position on the cage but didn’t fly off, so I walked closer. I got to within 15 ft and began snapping away again, surely it would fly any second now?

However it still didn't leave, occasionally glancing at me but otherwise trying to work out how it could get inside the cage. I walked towards it in full view and raised my camera again, still it wasn't bothered so after a couple more pictures I walked right up to it. It was just 5 ft away - it had no fear of me whatsoever, indeed it looked right at me and then down into the cage, flew closer still and I had to back off slightly so that the camera could focus!

Sparrowhawk just 5ft away


What a magnificent bird...hope it doesn’t get the
Hawfinch though!

Stare of death, just look at those eyes!

How do I get in here?

Never had one act like this before myself, they are usually very skittish and will fly at the slightest movement. Incredible to see one this close.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Getting up-close and personal with some of our Winter visitors...

This winter has provided unprecedented opportunities for me to film and photograph some of our more scarce winter finches right here in my own garden. Regulars like the Siskin have built in numbers since the 'Beast from the East' snowstorm last week and are now hovering around 30 birds whilst the long-staying Hawfinch continues to visit the bird table along with Brambling, which now vary from 8-14 birds daily. Filming them over the last few days have allowed magnificent views - this morning the Hawfinch was feeding just 3 ft from me (although I was well hidden). The results are below. It's not often I can see, let alone film, these beautiful birds as close as this.

The real 'Beast from the East'
Side-by-side, a Siskin stands right next to the Hawfinch
and the size difference is incredible. R. Harris
Female Brambling enjoying the seeds

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Brambling and Hawfinch...

8 March

Lovely views of the Hawfinch, Brambling and Siskin at the bird table today. They'll probably disappear in the next few weeks so great to make the most of them. Not everyday you get to see our largest finch next to one of our smallest, incredible!

3 March

Some stunning birds still hitting the bird table today and no doubt will continue to do so during this spell of cold weather. Today at least 14 Brambling, the regular Hawfinch, 12 Siskin and 6 Greenfinch coming to the feeders. Watch the videos in HD on YouTube.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Venom evolution...

An interesting research paper, if you're into snakes, by Dr Bryan G Fry and his colleagues on proteomic and functional variation within black snake venoms (Elapidae: Pseudechis) can be read here. Fascinating how venom has evolved in different species for different prey types.

Friday, 23 February 2018

Ross's Gull...

I don't really twitch many birds these days but on Wednesday morning this week an adult Ross's Gull was found at Ferrybridge, Dorset. It promptly disappeared not to be seen again until late that day at Lodmoor on the other side of Weymouth.

I kept a close eye on news of it's movements after it was seen again on Thursday (yesterday) morning and again it was appearing in short bursts around the Weymouth area often vanishing for large chunks of time. After seeing some amazing photos of it on Twitter I wish I'd stopped working and gone to see it. Its not a new bird, I've seen a few in the UK and more in Canada but they are truly beautiful, elegant birds and being only 40 miles away I decided to take today off and try for it.

Good news broke early - it had been seen again at Ferrybridge. After dropping Jake at school in Axminster I set off along the coast road, which takes about 50 minutes to Weymouth. It was a beautiful morning and I was in no rush, half expecting it to have moved to Lodmoor as it had the day before. I got to Ferrybridge around 09:20 but it was eerily quiet, checked had flown off at 08:45 while I was en route!! That would explain the obvious lack of birders. I decided to stay put and have a coffee when I noticed a couple with scopes checking the few gulls that were out on the mud. I went over to be sociable and see if they'd seen it earlier this morning and as I approached one of them turned and said 'it's here!' Sure enough, it had just returned and was lingering with a handful of Black-headed Gulls on the edge of the rising tide.

It was bitterly cold and it must have felt right at home, a real Arctic beauty...

Ross's Gull, adult winter, Ferrybridge: R.Harris

Ross's Gull, adult winter, Ferrybridge: R.Harris
After watching it for about 15 minutes, it took to the air and headed out across the Fleet on its own. I grabbed some video too while it was on the deck but it was incredibly windy and despite being on a heavy video tripod, the camera was still moving around. I had to lower the soundtrack volume as the wind was deafening.

Sadly it failed to return in the following hour before I left and it was only relocated around 15:40 this afternoon in Bowleaze Cove west Weymouth before departing east half-an-hour later. Hopefully it will stick around and be picked up again over the weekend.

Monday, 12 February 2018


Brambling are just one of those birds that you long to see each winter, special birds because they are usually fairly scarce, they always look great with their contrasting black, white and orange plumage and they are a sure sign that it's cold!

I've had Brambling at Whitestaunton before, but only the odd one or two and certainly not every year. This year there have been good numbers locally including about a dozen regular birds with the local Chaffinch flock about 500 meters south of the house. Every morning on the school run to Axminster I keep a keen eye out for the white rumps as they disappear up into the beech trees along the roadside. So perhaps it's no surprise that they would eventually put in an appearance here, after all there's no shortage of seed for them in the garden.

I've been lucky to have four over the last few days, two male and two female. They are much shyer than the Chaffinches they associate with, never coming to the main bird table but preferring the seed table I set up for the Hawfinch at the end of last year, which is situated further from the house by the garden shed. Dave Helliar came to enjoy them at the weekend and was treated to close views of the residing Hawfinch too. In fact there are seven species of finch present at the moment with Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Bullfinch, Chaffinch, Brambling, Siskin and Hawfinch being seen on a daily basis. After much waiting, hidden from view, I managed a bit of long distance (hence the quality) video.

If they keep coming in, I'll definitely be trying to get some better clips of them.

Three of the Brambling with a pair of Bullfinch
Brambling, male: R. Harris

Monday, 5 February 2018

The Bird That Keeps on Giving...

After seemingly disappearing for long intervals, the Hawfinch has reappeared in the garden yet again, it obviously likes it here. Now that the last of the field maple seeds have fallen (or rotted on the tree), he's now coming regularly to the whole sunflower seeds. At the weekend a second bird joined it for 10 minutes but hasn't been seen since.

Regular bird with pale flecking on some of the scaps.

Second bird, looking for a way into the cage
Sadly it was raining and the light was rubbish but it was wonderful to watch these two as I munched on my cornflakes.  Wish I'd taken a shot of the House Sparrows all sitting on top of the cage waiting for the visitors to leave so that they could get a look-in.

This morning it was back on its favourite tray and showed incredibly well.

Hawfinch, Whitestaunton: R. Harris
See how the colours change when not in direct sunlight
Taken through glass while in shadow

Hawfinch: R. Harris

Another bird of interest was this male Brambling which came in to feed alongside the Hawfinch on 6 Feb.

Brambling, Whitestaunton: R. Harris

Every day the Hawfinch is  here is a bonus, may never see one like this again. Pleased it's managed to see out the worst of the winter months in my garden.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Italian Sparrow...

It has to be said, I was in no great hurry to see this bird. It's been hanging around the same gardens in East Budleigh since mid November and when you know it's being described as a 'possible Italian Sparrow or hybrid' it's hard to find the incentive to go and have a look. Even though it's only 28 miles away I put off trying to see it, until today. Fellow birder Dave Helliar felt likewise but today we thought we'd make the effort to catch up with it and take a look for ourselves.

I have to say, this is not the 'easy' bird that we thought it would be. It's been visiting garden feeders in Cadbury Gardens (which the friendly lady owner has kept topped up for the bird) for the last couple of months. Almost exactly two hours after we arrived, it appeared. It looked at the feeders...and then left!  Everyone present had great views for about 15 seconds and I managed 6 seconds of video footage. Video grab below.

Possible Italian Sparrow, male: East Budleigh, Devon: R.Harris

It looks good to me, like any other Italian Sparrow I've ever seen, but whether it actually is or will ever be accepted as such is another matter. It could easily be a hybrid. It may have been easier to see early on in its stay but it seems to show every 2-3 hours now and certainly not for long. But then, it is heading into Spring and it probably has other things on its mind...

I would also like to thank to people who live in Cadbury Gardens - they are a very tolerant lot. Having an almost constant trickle of birders and photographers pointing optics in the general direction of your living room window, can't be easy and yet they have obliged our interest and allowed us to spend time watching and waiting for the bird to appear. What a great bunch of people!

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Local Birds December 17-January 18

Thanks to Dave Helliar for providing a round up of local birds from over the last 5-6 weeks. A heavy bout of (Aussie?) flu has seen Dave out of action for some time so good to see him back on his feet and out birding again.

Firecrest in Dave's back garden just before Christmas.
What and early Christmas present!

Fieldfare at Forde Abbey. You'd travel a long way
to twitch one if they were rare.
Kingfisher on Dave's local patch

Black Redstart, male - Seaton Hole, Devon

Black Redstart, male - Seaton Hole, Devon
Such smart birds.
Hawfinches continue to delight the masses. This one
was 1 of 12 at Cattistock Church in Dorset.

Corn Bunting, Maiden Castle, Dorset
Probably the most reliable site to see these once common birds.
Ruff at Lodmoor, Dorset on 18 January

Marsh Harrier, Greylake RSPB reserve, Somerset

Green-winged Teal,drake - Greylake, RSPB, Somerset
Cheers to Dave for his photos. You can also follow him on Twitter @DHelliar.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

A Slow Start...but getting there

2018 has certainly gotten off to a slow start for me. A combination of work load, flu within the family and poor weather have all conspired to stop me getting out much.

The Hawfinch that graced the garden for just over three months, finally seems to have moved off, being last seen six days ago and other than a visiting Brambling or two, it's been very quiet in the garden.

Today I managed to get in a round walk between Seaton and Seaton Hole in the drizzle with Jake. A couple of Black Redstart were seen along the beach between Seaton Hole and Seaton, including a smart male - presumably the same bird I found back on 4th November last year, though only the female posed for photos today.

A damp and drizzling Seaton this afternoon
Black Redstart, Seaton Hole

Black Redstart, Seaton Hole
Brightening things up a little was a Grey Wagtail picking insects off the pebbles at Seaton Hole end of the beach.

Grey Wagtail, Seaton Hole

Grey Wagtail, Seaton Hole
On the way back I did a quick check of the gulls building up in numbers just north of Coronation Corner but there was nothing of note, not even a med. Fingers crossed the recent Caspian and/or Glaucous Gulls will make a return visit soon.