Thursday, 15 August 2019

Squacco Take 2





It was great to see the Squacco early last week but with a minor twitch going on whilst we were there, I wasn't really happy with the pictures that I ended up with. Role on ten days and with the Squacco still present I thought there might be an opportunity for some improved shots. It was better than I expected, only one person watching when I arrived and then I had the bird to myself for nearly an hour. Better still it was fishing in the rife rather than hunting grasshoppers out in the field.






They look such a soft and gentle bird when resting but when in hunting mode the steely eye and deadly finishing remind you that it is from a family of ruthless predators.









Four or five fish caught whilst I watched and a couple of insects, probably dragonflies, plucked out of the air.












It even had to dive in after one fish. Amazing how it comes up so clean after diving through all that weed and slime.






Lots of Little Egrets feeding in the field but no sign today of the Cattle Egrets. The bonus was the local Kestrel, down in the field picking off the grasshoppers and seemingly unfazed by my presence.









I am happy now, it would have been disappointing to see the bird move on without getting a decent record of its presence.




Monday, 5 August 2019

Squacco Heron





Last Friday a Squacco Heron was reported at Pagham North Wall. Having previously dipped two opportunities to see one along the south coast I was keen to have a look but with no further sightings on the Friday it looked as though it had moved on. In some ways I hoped it had. I had commitments over the weekend and would not be able to get out to see it.

Sure enough, Saturday morning it was refound and reports of sightings appeared for the rest of the day. Would it stay? The 2015 Cuckmere bird had gone within 24 hours of being reported leaving me on a fruitless search at dawn the next morning.

Six o'clock on Sunday evening and I finally made it to the viewing area just by Halsey's Farm. No sign there but I did at least manage to get a few seconds glimpse of it through reeds on the other side of the farm Not a very satisfactory view but it still counted as my first UK Squacco.

Monday morning and we were back at the farm and after a couple of hours wait it flew in and started to feed.



Squacco Heron


It's not an easy bird to photograph in flight. Collins refers to an explosion of white on take off. The eye compensates but the camera has difficulty coping with the contrast.



Squacco Heron


Once on the ground you have the opposite problem. It blends into the background and the camera has difficulty in pulling focus. Solution, take lots of frames and just hope you get a few good ones.



Squacco Heron



Squacco Heron



Squacco Heron


It was only a small twitch but you have to respect other people's right to see the bird. That inevitably means that you are too far away to get the picture that you really want. I was happy though, I had my record shots and the perfect picture could wait until the next time I was in Spain.


I have had something of a quiet summer birding wise. A focus on Orchids and a seeming lack of migrating birds late spring and early summer has left me some thirty to forty birds behind my usual totals for this time of year. Sussex can be really dead through the summer but today you just got the feeling that things were starting to liven up again.



Wood Sandpiper with Common Sandpiper in foreground


Wood Sandpiper


Wood Sandpiper on the Ferry Pool at Pagham and Common Sandpiper, below, in the Ferry Channel.



Common Sandpiper


It will be interesting to see if I can make up the numbers during the autumn migration but I fear that a few will have already gone.



Monday, 29 July 2019

Green-flowered Helleborines





Getting bored with reading about Orchids? So am I. It's been an interesting diversion during a very quiet summer but I am getting to a tipping point. Any further and I am into the realms of hybrids and variants and I will need to seek support from experts. They often seem to have their own conflicting views. Given the confusion I am experiencing from variation within species, purely based on location and growing conditions, I don't think I want to get in any deeper.

I still have Orchids on my to see list but they all require significant travelling:- 

Coral Root
Lesser Twayblade
Lesser Butterfly
Lady's Slipper
Lindisfarne Helleborine
Creeping Lady's Tresses
Small White Orchid

and I suppose if I ever come across a Ghost Orchid or a Summer Lady's Tresses, I will be happy to add it to the list. But, its like any addiction, get out before you get in too deep and it takes over your life!

Today was a trip out to look for Green-flowered and Broad-leaved Helleborines closer to home. Research on the web had given us a couple of locations although the information was mostly eight to ten years old. The Green-flowered site looked particularly suspect when viewed on Google Earth whilst the Broad-leaved site had produced one specimen in bud when I had visited it a few weeks ago. Still we had nothing better so it was worth giving it a go.


Green-flowered Helleborine


The location for the Green-flowered Helleborine was a lay-by on the busy A225 just south of Eynsford. As we pulled into the lay-by it looked less than encouraging. The grass verge had been strimmed, there was litter and deposits of various liquids including engine oil on the verge. Yet as Dave stepped out of the car the first thing he saw was the Helleborines. Small and weedy looking examples perhaps, but great to see them surviving in such a harsh environment.



Green-flowered Helleborines


Green-flowered Helleborine


Next stop was Target Hill Nature Reserve just south of Crawley. The reference I found on the web was for the north facing slope of Target Hill and three weeks ago I spent a couple of hours searching that area on the south side of the A264. I found nothing but before leaving I had a quick walk along the footpath on the north side of the road. Just one specimen found in bud but it was reason enough to go back.

I had my doubts, the one I found would have gone over, would there be any more? In fact there were hundreds, or at least well over a hundred along the path and in the adjacent woods.



Broad-leaved Helleborine





There was quite a variation in size and colour even between plants growing side by side. Some of the plants with very pale flowers and seeming to lack the purple colours start to make you think about var. vidiflora which lacks the anthocyanins that produce the purple but I think I will just settle for the standard Broad-leaved.



Broad-leaved Helleborine - very pale flowers


Broad-leaved Helleborine

Broad-leaved Helleborine


Broad-leaved Helleborine


Broad-leaved Helleborine


Broad-leaved Helleborine



Broad-leaved Helleborine


A tip for photographers. Both sites were in heavy shade. I prefer to use natural light so again I was struggling with slow shutter speeds and narrow depth of field. The Green-flowered site would have been better visited in the afternoon when the sun would have been on the helleborines. For the Target Hill site there is no escaping the shadows. I suggest you take along some form of lighting as a back up.


Other than the Autumn Lady's Tresses this is probably my last orchid trip this year. I will be making the effort to pick up the missing ones, as per my list above, but this will be on an "as and when in the right area" basis, rather than setting out to finish the list in the shortest possible time. However, I will also be revisiting some of the sites we have seen this year. There is no doubt that finding a field covered in orchids or just a single plant in an otherwise barren area can really raise the spirits.






Monday, 22 July 2019

Narrow-lipped, Broad-leaved and Violet Helleborine







I picked Dave up at 07.30 and we headed north into Surrey. We were on a mission to mop up a few of our outstanding Helleborines. Narrow-lipped Epipactis leptochila, Broad-leaved Epipactis helleborine, and Violet Epipactis purpurata.

Research on the web had indicated Sheepleas near East Horsley as being one of the most reliable sites  for the Narrow-lipped so that was our starting point. On the map Sheepleas looks like any other small Surrey Woodland but it is one of the original 285 Rothschild Reserves and is a awash with an abundance summer flowers and insects.

Knowing that your target can be found at Sheepleas makes it sound easy but with 240 acres to search it could be a daunting task. However find them we did.



Narrow-lipped Helleborines



Narrow-lipped Helleborine


Narrow-lipped Helleborine


Narrow-lipped Helleborine


Walking further into the woods we also came across a few Broad-leaved Helleborines



Broad-leaved Helleborine


Broad-leaved Helleborine - on the left above


Only one was starting to open and it carried very dark coloured flowers. I had spotted one near Buchan Park Crawley a few days earlier that was a much paler colour.



Broad-leaved Helleborine - Buchan Park


Broad-leaved Helleborine - Buchan Park


Broad-leaved Helleborine - Buchan Park


No sign of Violet Helleborines at Sheepleas so it was on over the border into Hampshire where they can be seen on roadside verges around a housing estate in Four Marks. Credit to the Wildlife Support and Conservation team for pursuing protected verges signs and full marks to a lot of the residents for looking after the verges but it is clear that not everyone is cooperating.

An interesting article about these Violet Helleborines can be found here. The most surprising comment was that in July 2014 "residents in Fairfield Green cut down orchids on a Highway verge and the reason they gave was that they did not like people walking by and looking at them"?



Violet Helleborine - most are not yet in flower



Violet Helleborine



Violet Helleborine



Violet Helleborine



Not many left to see now. Improved pictures needed for a couple and the Autumn Lady's Tresses and it will all be over for another year.













Friday, 19 July 2019

Dune Helleborine





On Wednesday I found myself up in Liverpool with Sue, sightseeing and watching the Netball World Championships! I had no choice - you make these rash promises when the consequences of the decision are off the radar. All you want is a quiet life and it's easier to go along with the idea. The consequences, four hours sat amongst a bunch of screaming school girls watching a game you don't really understand, is not the quiet life I was looking for.

The architecture and engineering of the Anglican Cathedral was some consolation but my real reward was squeezing in a day at Southport giving me access to Ainsdale NNR and its Dune Helleborines Epipactis dunensis. It all looked good until I saw the weather forecast showing heavy rain all day.

Only one chance though, so we had to give it a go and 7am Friday morning found us searching the reserve and dodging the frequent heavy showers. The edges of the Pine plantations proved to be the most productive areas and we soon had a good number of sightings.



Dune Helleborine



Dune Helleborine - some flowers not opening much



Dune Helleborine


We eventually found a few in a more sheltered spot including a couple of much larger specimens.



Dune Helleborine



Dune Helleborine



Dune Helleborine


It was nice to get my first sighting of Dune Helleborines but getting the pictures was a lot harder. The lighting was poor, the camera was wet, I couldn't see through my glasses, my shoes and trousers were soaked and I knew that heavier rain was on its way. Can't complain though, the pictures aren't perfect but I got my record shots and a bonus in what I think are Green-flowered Helleborines - Epipactis phyllanthes var pendula.



Green-flowered Helleborine



Green-flowered Helleborine



Green-flowered Helleborine



Not a particularly good picture but hopefully proof of the Green-flowered Helleborines above.


There were also Pyramidal Orchids growing close by but we had seen enough and headed back to the hotel. A quick dry and change of clothes and we were just in time for breakfast, which was all the better for the early morning exercise.

I did try to get into Martin Mere in the afternoon but we didn't get past the Visitors Centre. The rain came on heavy and Sue didn't want to get wet again. Bit of a mistake going there really as she then got loose in the gift shop and it turned out to be an expensive afternoon.