Friday, 29 June 2012

A few moths from my backyard

The spectacular Elephant Hawk-moth is a relatively common moth in St Helens, and appears in my yard in most years. The Cinnabar is superficially very similar to the Burnet moth I photographed at the Orchid site a couple of days ago. The caterpillar of this species is the yellow and black one which decimates Ragwort.

Buff Ermine and Beautiful Golden Y.

Eccleston Mere

Common Tern 1

Also a Canada Goose with a metal BTO ring. I managed to get the number and have informed the BTO. As soon as I get a reply as to where it was ringed, I'll post it here.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Martin Mere

Marsh Cinquefoil, a close relative of Water Aven.

Orchids in St Helens

Bee Orchid and Marsh Helleborine, both very scarce plants in St Helens.

Common Spotted Orchid and Southern Marsh Orchid.

The day flying Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet Moth.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Wensleydale and Swaledale

I've had my eyes opened to the wonders of the Yorkshire Dales over the past few weeks. I've always loved the place, but mainly from a botanical point of view, and I always thought the Dales to be rather tame when compared to other upland areas.

However, the Upland Breeding Bird Survey has shown me new places that I never knew existed above the limestone outcrops. There are grouse moors here which are as remote as anywhere in England, and the birds are every bit as impressive as the plants.

Today I walked over moorland around Wensleydale, and the air was constantly full of the plaintive calls of Golden Plover, the bubbling of Curlews, the drumming of Snipe and the calls of Lapwing. I bet that I saw at least 50 Golden Plover on territory today, it was barely possible to escape their calls. Other highlights included Short-eared Owl, Merlin and two Ring Ouzels.

In the evening I took a stroll to the limestone cliffs at Woodhall Greets, above Askrigg. It was the best part of the day, sunny, warm and calm, and the views were glorious, and still the Golden Plover called!

The grouse moors are very difficult terrain to cross, with large peat hags and deep, wide, sphagnum pools.

Up here it's all about quality rather than quantity, and it's one of the best areas in the UK for breeding Golden Plover.

Two views of Wensleydale.

And two views of Swaledale.

Spotted Flycatcher having a bath and a juvenile Wheatear. See you on Billinge Hill in the autumn?

Water Aven, a common roadside plant, and one of my favourites.

Sunday, 24 June 2012


Today we had a walk to Creigiau Eglwyseg, the limestone outcrop above Llangollen. There were a few singing Garden Warblers, a family party of Redstarts, a Stonechat and a couple of Ravens.

There are hundreds of different species of hawkweed in the UK, and their identification is something which I have not studied. However, I do know that Welsh Hawkweed Hieracium cambricum is present on Creigiau Eglwyseg, one of it's very few localities in the UK, and that purple blotches on the leaves are a good feature of the species. Much easier to identify, Honeysuckle is now in full flower.

Creigiau Eglwyseg and the swollen River Dee at Llangollen.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Little Swift, New Brighton

It's very rare that I twitch these days, but news of a Little Swift for its second day at New Brighton persuaded me to jump in the car and head for the Wirral. There have only been about 23 previous records of Little Swift in Britain, and most are not normally "twitchable" being seen by just a few observers for perhaps just a few minutes at extreme ends of the country.

This bird arrived yesterday during the torrential rain, and is presumably feeding up today before heading off, perhaps tomorrow. It has been quite far ranging during the day, and has been seen as far away as Bootle on the other side of the river, but it seems to spend most of its time in New Brighton.

It was a cracking bird, obviously smaller than Common Swift, it also has a square white rump, a square (not forked) tail, a pale throat and quite a fluttery, almost bat like flight. My little camera is nowhere near up to getting a decent flight photo of a Little Swift, especially on a dull day like today, but below are four photos which I think by and large capture all of the identification features noted above (if you squint!).

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Loch Ken

It's a long time since I last visited Loch Ken in Dumfries and Galloway, 25 years to be precise, and all of my previous visits have been in winter. Since I was in the area, I decided to have a late afternoon / evening visit, and found it completely different to my memories. The most obvious change is the Red Kite, which is now present in good numbers due a re-inroduction scheme in the area, and Loch Ken even has a "Red Kite Trail". I saw at least five of these magnificent birds, including two in the village of Crossmichael. 

Even better, as I approached one of the hides, I heard a familiar call overhead, and looking up saw two Ospreys. I carried on to the hide and watched them for several minutes as they circled over the loch. Like the Kites, Ospreys have really spread in recent years, but unlike the kites, it's all down to the Ospreys themeselves, with no helping hand from Man (apart from the completely unessessary re-introduction at Rutland Water).

Osprey. There were a couple of birders in the hide who were trying to work out why the "Red Kites" that were circling over the Loch didn't have forked tails. I was pleased to be able to inform them that actually they were Ospreys, which was great news for them because neither of them had seen Osprey before! The weather has not beeen a complete washout this week, as you can see from this photo!

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Cross Fell, North Pennines

I'm currently involved in research into morphological variation in the sedge Carex nigra, and since Cross fell in Cumbria is the highest place at which it grows in England, I decided to have a walk up there this evening. Although it was quite sunny at lower levels, the summit of Cross Fell was often shrouded in low cloud and it was quite an intimidating and eerie experience. At 893m (2930ft), Cross Fell is the 11th highest mountain in England, and the highest point in the Pennines. It's nearly as high as Great Gable, and higher than both High Street and Coniston Old Man. In ancient times it was known as Fiends Fell and believed to be the haunt of evil spirits. It's also the source of the Helm wind, which apparently is the only named wind in Britain and which I have first hand experience of from an earlier visit in May. Just to make the whole experience a little more surreal, while I was sitting next to the trig point eating a sandwich, I was joined by this little Dunlin, which stood quite happily close by and called every now and again! I could also hear the calls of Golden Plover and Curlew through the mist.

Pretty soon the cloud drifted away, revealing spectacular views across the Lake District and the Solway Firth. The Dunlin seemed a bit happier too.

Finally I was able to look for the Sedge, and eventually found it growing at 825m. It's said to grow at 870m on Cross Fell, but anything above 800m was a bonus as far as I was concerned. Superficially very similar to Stiff Sedge Carex bigelowii which is very abundant above 550m, Carex nigra seemed to prefer a much wetter habitat. I can promise that there is a lot of wet habitat on Cross Fell...... The flower is the beautiful Starry Saxifrage Saxifraga stellaris, found growing in amongst the sedge.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Spanish Pyrenees - botanising in Ordesa

I've just had a couple of weeks in Spain, the first of which was spent in the Pyrenees, walking and botanising in the Ordesa National Park. Of course I was also on the look out for other wildlife as well, especially birds, but before I get into all of that, I thought it would be good to put it all into context by showing a few photos of the truely jaw dropping scenery. The mountains here rise to 3348m or in old money nearly 11,000 feet, and there are cliffs with vertical drops of well over 1000 feet. The scale is vast.

We stayed in the village of Torla, just 4 miles or so from the entrance to the Ordesa Valley. The photos below are all of the Ordesa Valley apart from the last which is Torla. We also visited the adjacent Valle de Otal and Valle de Bujaruelo, which are both part of the Ordesa National Park, as well as a day trip to Sierra de la Pena near Jaca, which had a quite different flora and was probably the best birding site we visited. During the week, I estimate that we walked about 70 miles and climbed a total of around 11,000 feet, which is not bad considering the amount of time we spent looking at flora. A typical day lasted about 10 hours, from about 8am to 6pm.

Gentians of Ordesa

The Pyrenees is a gentian lovers paradise, with several species of these alpine gems growing in profusion at high altitude.

Trumpet Gentian Gentiana prostrata near Refuge de Goriz in Ordesa and Pyrenean Trumpet Gentian Gentiana occidentalis just below the summit of Punta Acuta. The latter is identified by its sepal teeth which narrow at the base and its pointed petal lobes.

Southern Gentian Gentiana alpina.

Spring Gentians Gentiana verna.

I couldn't resist these two photos, the first is a Spring Gentian with a Ladybird in the centre, and the second is a white gentian, which I think is Spring Gentian, but it was a lot smaller than the others.

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