Thursday, 30 July 2015

In The Night Garden...

No, not the annoying kids programme...rather a trip around the garden at night with the video camera and a good torch. Most of the newts have left the pond now for their terrestrial phase of life but there is still plenty of wildlife to be seen, including one of the last escaping Palmate newts!

As always, videos were recorded in 1080p, but YouTube typically defaults to 360p. Once the video is running, you can click on the configuration settings icon and select the higher 720p to 1080p options for better quality viewing.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Perez's Frog...

Introduced marsh frogs have long been established in the UK and Somerset is home to very healthy breeding populations. Last summer the county branch of the Amphibian & Reptile Group began testing the population at Ham Wall RSPB reserve on the Somerset Levels with surprising results. Their genetics in fact showed that they were Pelophylax perezi also know as Perez's Frog, Iberian Water Frog, Iberian Green Frog or Coruna Frog (if you've ever wondered why Latin names are preferred by many, this is why - there's only one Latin name!). Whatever you decide to call them, they are usually found in Spain, Portugal and France.

Like most marsh or water frogs (and unlike our own native Rana temporaria), perezi is more vocal with a longer breeding season than our native species and is inclined to sit in the open on banks and pond edges. To some extent it is therefore much easier to locate and see them well. They are certainly a very attractive (if genetically complex) species group.

Perez's Frog, Pelophylax perezi Ham Wall: R. Harris
Perez's Frog, Pelophylax perezi Ham Wall: R. Harris
Perez's Frog, Pelophylax perezi Ham Wall: R. Harris
Perez's Frog, Pelophylax perezi: R. Harris
Showing pale dorsal stripe and dorso-lateral folds.

They also have longer legs than temporaria and are usually quick to disappear into the safety of the water when approached.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

A Dorset Podarcis...

In total contrast to yesterday, today was warm and sunny so I decided to go and search part of the southwest coast path for adders this morning. The initial stretch from Lyme Regis towards Seaton is ideal habitat and I'm sure they must be there somewhere. Indeed I met a very helpful local couple who confirmed they had seen them, but not recently. A thorough search of the area produced no adders whatsoever. What has happened to them all? Despite the disappointment there were a few plants and insects worthy of some photos and I have never seen so much tufted vetch in my life, what a great year for this plant:

Bombus lapidarius, warming up in the morning sun: R. Harris
Common Blue, male: R. Harris
Common Blue, male: R. Harris
Common Blue, male: R. Harris
Small Copper: R. Harris
Tufted Vetch: R Harris
Fly sp.: R Harris
Harvestman sp.: R. Harris
Bombus hypnorum: R. Harris
It was still quite early so my next target was to try and catch up with another Wall Lizard colony, this time at Abbotsbury Tropical Gardens, one of the oldest in the country. The Tropical Gardens are a pretty spectacular place and being right on the Dorset coast I'm sure they must pick up the occasional
rare bird too, however my target species Podarcis muralis, is no fly-by-night. It was first recorded here as an introduced species way back in 1890 and it continues to thrive today. It may only be second to the Ventnor colony on the Isle-of-Wight in terms of age established. I only managed to see a single male today but in fairness the sun hadn't quite hit their favourite wall, no doubt an afternoon visit would have been more productive. Nevertheless, this individual was very obliging and was the highlight of the day...

Male Common Wall Lizard, Podarcis muralis: R. Harris
Male Common Wall Lizard, Podarcis muralis: R. Harris
Male Common Wall Lizard, Podarcis muralis: R. Harris
 Couldn't resist a little bit of video too...

The Gardens are also a great place for butterflies and it was a pleasure to bump into @wawlee who was photographing silver washed frits just inside the garden entrance. There were also stacks of commas, red admirals and a hummingbird hawkmoth:

Silver-washed Fritillary: R. Harris
One of over a dozen Red Admirals: R. Harris

Blue-tailed Damselfly on the Lily Ponds: R. Harris

Friday, 24 July 2015

Birds and Butterflies...

It's been a good year so far for most wildlife, some species have had an exceptionally good year whilst others continue to struggle. At the time of writing I have yet to find an adder locally this year, surely a sign that they have declined beyond all expectations. Places I use to find them annually now seem to be completely devoid of them, despite prey animals being present. Worrying stuff. On the other hand many insects are thriving and my thanks to Dave Helliar for supplying the following photos taken locally in the south Somerset area during the past few weeks.

Common Blue: D. Helliar
Holly Blue: D. Helliar
An exquisite Silver-washed Fritillary: D. Helliar
Silver-washed Fritillary: D. Helliar
Comma: D. Helliar
Rutpela maculata: D. Helliar
Goat Moth: D. Helliar
Goat Moth: D. Helliar
Dave also saw this Emperor Dragonfly catch a Marbled White butterfly - large prey even for an Emperor!

Emperor Dragonfly with Marbled White: D. Helliar
Emperor Dragonfly with Marbled White: D. Helliar
Hoverfly Sp: D. Helliar
A few birds too:
Kingfisher: D. Helliar
Tufted Duck with brood: D. Helliar
Little-ringed Plover, Chard Res: D. Helliar
Greenshank: D. Helliar
I've not been too far this week but whilst searching for reps locally I had the following:

Common Centuary: R. Harris
Roe Deer: R. Harris
Loads of these - very good year for them, another SW Frit: R. Harris
Common Lizard Zootoca vivipara, male: R. Harris
Such stunning little lizards - you don't need to go far to find beautiful wildlife, it's right on your doorstep.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Brief Interview with a Wildlife Legend...

Nigel Marven is simply one of the greatest TV presenters and wildlife documentary producers of our time. A long time herping hero of mine he has done more to promote wildlife, particularly the less popular families of reptiles and spiders, than just about anyone else I know of. His 'Ten Deadliest Snakes' series is still aired regularly on EDEN and I have to confess I've watched them all, more than a few times.

I was deeply honoured today when Nigel took the time to Follow me on Twitter and allow me to ask him a few questions about his career with snakes. My thanks go out to him, I know he's an incredibly busy guy...

Q.1 At what age did you become interested in snakes and wildlife?

Nigel Marven: I've been interested in wildlife since I was knee high to a grasshopper. Never had a train set, but had my first reptile pet, a green lizard, age 9!

Q.2 What are your top ten snakes from anywhere in the world?

Nigel Marven: Top 10 snakes. Taipan/ Red-sided Garter/ Adder/ Nose horned, Orsini's and Eyelash vipers/ Water python/Aesculapian/ Bull snake/Mandarin rat

Q.3 What is your favourite country for herping in and why?

Nigel Marven: I can't choose because wherever I go on any Continent, local herpers make any trip fun and memorable!

Q.4 What has been your most terrifying moment when handling a snake?

Nigel Marven: Always treat snakes with admiration and respect, handle with care. In Kenya I was blinded by a spitting cobra, scarey!

Q.5 Are their any species of snakes that are still on your 'wish list' that you haven't seen yet?

Nigel Marven: The bush viper (Atheris) and Iran's Spider-tailed Viper, both are surreal serpents!

What a top bloke! Nigel's new series of 'Ten Deadly Snakes' is being finished at the moment so do keep an eye out for them on SKY before too long. Don't forget to check Nigel out on  and Twiiter: @NigelMarven

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Back in the saddle again...

No doubt about it, 2015 has been a really bad year for the family so far. There seems to have been so many people passing away and we're only in July. I've never know a year like it! The most recent was my father who passed away on 30 June having endured 12 weeks in Musgrove Park Hospital. The funeral was last Friday, it was time to get going again and today presented an ideal opportunity to get 'back in the saddle' in the form of a Gull-billed Tern that's been hanging out on the River Teign in Devon for the past couple of days.

Dave Helliar and I set off just after 9am having heard that it had been seen earlier this morning. It's been frequenting a small stretch of river close to the Passage House Hotel on the outskirts of Kingsteignton near Newton Abbot. We arrived to hear the dreaded news from a fellow birder that 'it was here until a short while ago until it flew off down the river'. The spectre of a dip loomed over us...not a great start. I set up my scope and started scanning as far down the river as I could see when it suddenly flew into view heading straight back towards us.

Sure enough it started performing on a circuit between the hotel and the motorway bridge and boy, did it perform! At times it came too close to focus on and was quite happily feeding, totally un-phased by the gathering crowd of birders, a little beauty and just the tonic I needed. It would occasionally settle on the mud for brief periods but was quite active for most of the time.

Gull-billed Tern: R. Harris
Gull-billed Tern: D. Helliar
Gull-billed Tern: D. Helliar
Gull-billed Tern: D. Helliar
Gull-billed Tern: R. Harris
Gull-billed Tern: R. Harris
Gull-billed Tern, Devon

As always, videos were recorded in 1080p, but YouTube typically defaults to 360p. Once the video is running, you can click on the configuration settings icon and select the higher 720p to 1080p options. You can also run full-screen, although I wouldn't recommend that for this particular video!

Saturday, 11 July 2015


Due to a family bereavement I've not blogged for the last week or two. The blog will be back up and running again very soon.