Thursday, 31 May 2018

Red-footed Falcon...

Found by an amateur photographer at the weekend and initially thought to be a hobby, this 1st summer female Red-footed Falcon has been gracing a field just outside the small Somerset village of Isle Brewers near Ilminster this week. Today, I finally got the chance to go and take a look at it along with my good friend Nigel Marven and what an obliging bird it turned out to be. It gave good, prolonged, perched views and exceptionally close fly-by views as it hunted Mayflies above the River Isle.

Red-footed Falcon, 1st summer female

After hunting it favoured a row of poplar trees for resting up.
What a fantastic bird. Hope it stays for a few more days,  I'm sure it'll get an appreciative audience over the weekend.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Dorset Heaths and Somerset Woods...

A meeting in Dorset earlier this week provided Nigel Marven and myself with the ideal opportunity to visit one of my favourite habitats, lowland sandy heath.

In perfect, warm, cloudless skies we soon found a singing Woodlark, Dartford Warbler and watched a hobby hawking for insects.  Green Hairstreaks and Green Tiger Beetles hopped ahead of us along the path but the desired (and expected) Sand Lizards Lacerta agilis  failed to appear. Not perturbed, we started flipping tins and found several Common Lizards Zootoca vivipara, Slow Worms Anguis fragilis and eventually, a Smooth Snake Coronella austriaca.

Me snapping the Smooth Snake on my phone.

Smooth Snake Coronella austriaca , young male: R Harris

Dragonflies were also on the wing, including this fine Libellula quadrimaculata.

Libellula quadrimaculata 

Common or Round-leaved Sundew
Arguably our most attractive insectivorous plant.
A change of location to try and secure a Sand Lizard finally paid off with a single spectacular male being found.

Sand Lizard Lacerta agilis,  male

The orchid season also continues to flourish. This weekend I went to see a group of Birdsnest Orchids at Thurlbear Wood near Taunton with my brother, Duncan Harris. We found about 19 spikes and went on to find our first Greater Butterfly Orchids of the year too.

Birdsnest Orchid

Close-up of flower 

Greater Butterfly Orchid, flower

Greater Butterfly Orchid,  Thurlbear Wood
These were just coming out and should be at their best in the next week.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Green-winged Orchids...

The adverse weather in the first quarter of this year certainly hasn’t harmed plants with many early species thriving. The local Green-winged Orchids are bigger than ever, many over 30 cm tall and clearly more robust than in ‘normal’ years. After a brief 10 minute visit at the weekend I went back for a better look yesterday and took two fellow orchid enthusiasts, Zoologist Nigel Marven (@Nigelmarven) and Borneo-based artist Ting (@BorneoArtBase) with me to see the extravaganza for themselves.

Green-winged Orchids, the two extremes of colour together.

Beautiful variety found in these orchids

A delicate pink variant showing the green-veined sepals

Close-up of a single flower

Nigel enjoying a close look at the orchids

Artist, Ting getting inspiration from nature.

Green-winged Orchids in abundance

Looking forward to seeing more great orchids in the coming weeks.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Orchid Season is upon us...

At last! A spell of warm weather and everything bursts into life. A walk around Whitestaunton yesterday produced a few nice Early Purple Orchids.

Early Purple Orchid
Today an early trip into Dorset with my brother, Duncan, yielded another early and controversial hybrid - the Fly x Woodcock orchid. Discovered a few years ago, the Fly x Woodcock orchid was discovered by accident on the side of the A35 between Yeovil and Dorchester. At first sight this unusual orchid could well be a Fly x Bee cross and it’s true parentage only became apparent after the plants were DNA tested. Whilst Fly Orchid is found locally across the region, Woodcock Orchid doesn’t knowingly occur in the UK.

Fly x Woodcock Orchid, Dorset

Fly x Woodcock Orchid, Dorset

The subtle beauty of the Fly X Woodcock Orchid

One thing’s for sure, it’s a subtlety beautiful little plant and worth the somewhat hazardous walk along the busy A35 to see it.

Also decided it was time to pay the local Green-winged Orchids a visit as they're now in their prime.

Green-winged Orchids

Green-winged Orchids

Common Twayblade

Wood Spurge

Friday, 4 May 2018


It was an unusual day yesterday. I was drinking a cup of coffee and watching the bird table when this little fella pops-up in the tree next to the feeding station. I had to do a double-take, I couldn't believe my eyes! A month since one was last seen in the garden a single, male Brambling was back.

Brambling, male, Whitestaunton: R. Harris

Brambling, male, Whitestaunton: R. Harris

Brambling, male, Whitestaunton: R. Harris

A late individual - I'm not sure I've ever had one in May in this part of the world before. Great to see in full summer plumage. It hung around for an hour picking at food on the bird table before vanishing as quickly as it had arrived.

Fast forward six hours and I'm sat in the car park of my son's school waiting to pick him up when I see a tweet from Seaton birder Phil Abbott to say he had found an Osprey, his fourth this year no less! Luckily for me my son loves to go for a walk along the front at Seaton so we were off as soon as he got in the car. A quick glance around from Coronation Corner revealed very little but then suddenly the Shelduck took to the air and then there it was. It just glided quietly (and surprisingly not harassed by gulls) down the length of the river towards the harbour before being lost to view.  I managed to fire off a quick burst of photos as it headed away.

Osprey, River Axe, Seaton: R. Harris

After waiting for 10 minutes to see if it would return, Jake and I continued to the seafront and started our usual walk. Walking back to the car 45 minutes later my attention was drawn to a commotion of gulls and corvids just off the beach by the town centre - there it was again, this time heading west towards Beer with an entourage of followers all trying to see it off.

ahead of its chasers as it flew towards Beer.
Great to see, I don't always catch up with them on the Axe but today it was a case of right time, right place.