Saturday, 28 April 2018

Iceland Gull...

Having missed all of the ‘white-wingers’ on the River Axe this year, it was especially sweet to hear that Dave Helliar had found this immature Iceland Gull on his local patch close to Chard this morning. A new bird for his patch too! I was actually in Axminster at the time waiting to pick my son up from his drama club but the bird waited and I managed to catch it on the way home.

Iceland Gull: Dave Helliar

Iceland Gull: Dave Helliar

Iceland Gull: Dave Helliar

Iceland Gull: Dave Helliar

Thanks to Dave for the great photos and for finding the bird in the first place.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Reptile weather...

In the space of a week our weather has changed dramatically. Seven days ago the temperature was hovering around 8 deg. Then, two days ago a sudden burst of warmth from the south saw those temperatures rise by 18 deg! Hoping for some migrant birds (and confident of seeing some reptiles), Dave Helliar joined me for an early morning visit to Dorset.

Dorset's sandy heaths rarely disappoint and it didn't take long for us to hear our first singing Dartford Warbler, closely followed by a singing Woodlark, a sound I never tire of hearing. As the temperature started to climb it was time to start keeping our eyes open for lizards. Common Lizard Zootoca vivipara was the first to be spotted then a handsome Sand Lizard Lacerta agilis basking on the edge of the heath.

Masters of camouflage, a male Sand Lizard Lacerta agilis blending almost
perfectly with the moss and dead bracken around it.
A slightly brighter individual later that morning but the
overcast conditions didn't show it at its best.
What took us both by surprise was a young male Smooth Snake Coronella austriaca in an area we hadn't observed them before. Smooth Snakes generally stay still when discovered, hoping their camouflage will help them blend into the heath around them.

Smooth Snake Coronella austriaca, male

Smooth Snake Coronella austriaca, male

Smooth Snake Coronella austriaca, male
Our attention was then drawn to our first singing Tree Pipits of the year and a Cuckoo close by but frustratingly just out of sight. Flipping a tin we found 8 or 9 Slow Worms Anguis fragilis and suddenly the challenge of being able to see all the native British reptiles in a day was becoming a real possibility.

Slow Worm Anguis fragilis

Sadly it wasn't to be and despite extensive searching in suitable habitat we couldn't locate either Grass Snake Natrix helvetica or more worryingly, Adder Vipera berus - they are very difficult to see now. We did see a stonking male Yellowhammer feeding (and singing) on the ground as we returned to the car but as the clouds rolled in around midday the best of the viewing drew to a close.

Yellowhammer, male

Yellowhammer, male

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.