Early Spider Orchid

News in Brief: Day Trip Highlights


Sussex – Early Spider Orchids with Bob Eade

Our five Day Trips to the Sussex Downs were not only successful for the sheer abundance of Early Spider Orchids present, but also for the sharp eyes of our tour leader, who picked out several immature Wort-biters, a couple of Emperor Moths and many Small Coppers and Dingy Skippers. Also, during the height of the bird migration, a male Pied Flycatcher was found on one occasion. Other notable species included a Red Kite, many Buzzards and Ravens, and from the botany side of things, Chalk Milkwort and several rosettes of Chalk Fragrant and Common Spotted Orchids.

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Emperor Moth (Bob Eade)


Leighton Moss, Lancashire with Barrie Cooper

A couple of sites that were less than two miles from Leighton Moss were visited, and guests were treated to decent views of Red-breasted Mergansers and various waders out in the bay, plus a pair of Peregrines sitting on the edge of the saltmarsh. The sight and sound of approximately 400 Pink-footed Geese was a bonus as most have now migrated to their breeding grounds. The day finished at a viewpoint where we could overlook other wetland areas that were out of bounds, with one highlight being Great White and Little Egrets standing next to each other, allowing a comparison of size and appearance. Our morning walks on the trails at Leighton Moss were enlivened by several Cetti’s Warblers blasting their songs at us from close quarters and a couple obligingly revealed themselves, providing decent views. Marsh Harriers were nestbuilding and one male gave good views. Two Bitterns were also booming to end a fantastic day.

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Red-breasted Merganser


Pitsford Reservoir SSSI with Neil McMahon

The contents of the overnight moth-trap were enjoyed by all and enabled close views of Early Grey, Hebrew Character, Common Quaker, Small Quaker and Powdered Quaker. Plenty of sunshine during the first part of the day provided views of early Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Comma butterflies. Singing birds included Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and a solitary Willow Warbler. Remaining quiet next to one of the feeding stations permitted close views of a pair of Muntjac Deer and common birds including a Marsh Tit. We glimpsed a Great White Egret, heard many Kingfishers (two seen in flight) and waders included Oystercatcher, Common Snipe and a Little Ringed Plover. We concluded with views of Yellowhammers on a track, some furtive Tree Sparrows and a small flock of Yellow Wagtails stalking around in one of the meadows.

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Yellow Wagtail


Upper Teesdale with Keith Buchanan

Our day started at the Langdon Beck Hotel, nestled into the corner of a field in wild and remote Upper Teesdale. As we walked down towards Widdybank Farm, the air filled with the squeaks of displaying Lapwing and the mournful bubbling call of Curlew. Both male and female Black Grouse were spotted up on the hill, and beautiful male Northern Wheatears commanded attention from the drystone walls. Scrutinising a boulder scree revealed the wonderful male Ring Ouzel, who was soon joined by the more muted female. Further on we halted, transfixed, as the desolate notes of another male Ring Ouzel rang out across the river. Later, along by Cow Green Reservoir, male and female Golden Plovers played peek-a-boo amongst the tufts of heather, and a lone Osprey hunted over the water as we made our way to the dramatic waterfall of Cauldron Snout.

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Black Grouse


The Cambridgeshire Fens with Duncan McNiven

We have been lucky with the weather on our April tours with mostly dry, sunny days but with unseasonably cold temperatures. Consequently, the expected emergence of dragonflies and damselflies hasn’t yet taken place, but the birds have more than made up for it. It has been especially interesting to see the change in composition of the species as the spring progresses at Fen Drayton Lakes, with winter visitors from the north, like Goldeneye and Wigeon, disappearing to be replaced by summer visitors from the south. On each visit we heard progressively more species singing until by the end of April the scrub around the lakes was positively bursting with the song of 10 species of warbler, of which Lesser Whitethroat and Grasshopper Warbler were the last to arrive. At nearby Ouse Fen most of the tours have had sensational, point-blank views of parties of Bearded Tits including many stunning males, whilst Marsh Harriers quartered the reedbeds, Hobbies hawked for insects and Cuckoos announced their presence.

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Hobby


Wildflowers of the South Downs with Paul Harmes

Three group members joined Paul for an enjoyable walk across the Southerham Farm Nature Reserve, part of the South Downs National Park to the east of Lewes. It was a bright sunny morning, but there was a chilly breeze. We began by looking at three species of Forget-me-not, Field, Dwarf and Wood, and three species of Cherry and Plum – Blackthorn, Wild Cherry and Bullace or Damson. As we progressed, we found Field Mouse-ear, along with Hairy Rock-cress, both uncommon in Sussex. A few butterflies made an appearance, together with a good collection of birds, including Wheatear (3), Stonechat (2), Common Buzzard, Raven, Robin, Blackcap and Skylark. As the day advanced, we made our way to an area where Burnt or Burnt-tip Orchids are known to grow and after a thorough search, we managed to find one little group of three. It has been quite dry recently, so maybe the season is slightly late. From here, we made the return walk to where the cars were parked.

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Burnt-tip Orchid


Forest of Dean with Oliver Smart

Meeting each morning at 9am we wandered through the ancient broadleaved forest at Nagshead, stopping at Lower Hide to see Pied Flycatcher and Redstart which were singing. Garden Warblers and Blackcaps competed for our attention, and close views were had of both. Many resident birds were feeding young or building nests and a perfect view of a Wren nest being created in a split branch was a nice find. The targets of all groups were pretty similar, mainly focussing on the forest specialities. The late spring has still yet to yield some of the common migrant birds and several residents proved very elusive. Residents including Dipper, Grey Wagtail, Linnet, Siskin and Stonechat were fairly well distributed, with both Dipper and Stonechat feeding fledged young. Our afternoons were spent exploring the heathland of Crabtree Hill, either partly or completely circumnavigating Woorgreens. Hirundines were starting to move through in very small numbers and Firecrest showed very well on two days.

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Siskin (Oliver Smart)


The Somerset Levels with Oliver Smart

Each morning was spent exploring Meare Heath and Shapwick Heath. The pace was gentle allowing for the wildlife to take centre stage, singing and showing themselves in their various guises. Marsh Harriers and Great White Egrets were seen from the car park, along with the first sounds of warblers. Swifts soon joined the feeding frenzy of many hirundines and a few were even screaming. Hobbies were numerous with 14 being the largest count on the 30th. The emergence of dragonflies had begun with Large Red and Variable Damselflies on the wing, along with Hairy Dragonfly located on the RSPB reserve. Each day a mammal gave a performance with Otter briefly sighted on the 28th and a Water Vole on the 30th. After a picnic at Ham Wall, we continued around the reserve, enjoying many nesting birds including Great Spotted Woodpecker. Cetti’s, Sedge and Reed Warblers all made appearances, as did Black-tailed Godwits, and many Marsh Harriers foraged or danced. Bitterns made several short flights over the reedbeds too, certainly the highlight for some.

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Bittern


Berry Head with Mike Langman

A dull, sometimes wet, day didn’t dampen the spirits of the group as we strolled out to the headland. There had been a small fall of migrants that included Willow and Sedge Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Whitethroats, Blackcaps but also Whinchats and Wheatears. Overhead a few Swallows and House Martins passed by. The Guillemot colony was quieter than normal but still busy with 700+ birds plus seven Razorbills, Shags and Fulmars. A bit of botanising around the limestone grasslands produced White Rockrose, early Forget-me-knots, Sea Campion, Cowslips and early Purple Orchids. Dropping into the quarry we found more tired migrant birds but also watched five Common Eels in some pools and a much-camouflaged Kestrel.

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Razorbill


The Lune Estuary with Barrie Cooper

The cool conditions suppressed some of the birdsong and activity in the morning, but we managed good views of species such as Whitethroat, Black-tailed Godwit and Little Ringed Plover. The coastal walk enabled us to see plenty of Dunlin in breeding plumage, Ringed Plover and a few Whimbrel and Eider. A Wheatear at Cockersands Abbey provided very good views as did numerous Linnets, including some splendid males in breeding plumage. The day ended at Conder Green with excellent views of a Spotted Redshank going into breeding plumage and flanked by Greenshanks also primed for the summer. Avocets were very obliging, including an incubating bird just 25 metres away from the viewing screen. Despite the cool weather, a great day was had by all.

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Eider


Richmond Park with Ben Chapple

Weekend Day Trips in London’s Richmond Park included many excellent wildlife sightings, all in near-perfect sunny spring weather. Both Fallow and Red Deer were plentiful, with many of the latter moulting into their summer coats. Migrant birds were abundant, and included Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Swallow and Sand Martin, whilst we also enjoyed resident species such as Stonechat, Great Spotted and Green Woodpecker, Nuthatch, Treecreeper and Grey Wagtail, as well as a pair of Mistle Thrush feeding a recent fledgling! Singing Skylarks were also a welcome sight – increased disturbance during lockdown has threatened this ground-nesting bird’s survival in the park. The sunshine brought birds of prey out in force, with Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Red Kite, Kestrel and Peregrine all seen over the two days, while butterfly sightings included Comma, Brimstone and Peacock. At dusk we enjoyed superb sightings of Little Owl – always the perfect end to a day in the park.

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Little Owl


South Devon — Slapton Ley with Andy Smith

The group were blessed with warm sunshine throughout, though there was a bit of a nip in the easterly breeze that picked up mid-morning. Highlights at Slapton included displaying Great Crested Grebes, a Red-necked Grebe, several Sandwich Terns and some excellent views of Cetti’s Warblers. There were plenty of Reed Warblers singing in the reedbeds too and other migrants included a Whitethroat and a few Swallows and Sand Martins. A Raven and a Buzzard in a tumbling dogfight was an impressive sight, as was a huge shoal of Roach in the shallows under Slapton bridge. These attracted the attentions of a couple of Pike, one of which was fully three feet long – an awesome beast! Some of the group also saw an Adder, whilst insects in the sunshine included Orange-tip, Holly Blue and Broad-bordered Bee-fly. Over at Beesands in the afternoon we enjoyed close views of the long-staying drake Ring-necked Duck, a singing male Cirl Bunting and a flock of 13 migrant Whimbrel.

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Ring-necked Duck


Spring in Devon's Dart Valley with Andy Smith

Out and about in the lovely Dart Valley. Hembury in the morning produced nesting Dippers and Grey Wagtails, a drake Goosander, a couple of very smart Pied Flycatchers and a colourful Mandarin Duck that surfed a patch of rapids with consummate ease. The Wood Ants were active but insect activity generally (and birdsong too) was subdued due to the cool overcast conditions. The sun came out as we reached Venford at lunchtime though and we had a lovely walk admiring the spectacular views and the beautiful woodlands. A Raven and a Buzzard in a tumbling dogfight over the craggy ridge of Bench Tor was an impressive sight and we enjoyed good views of Siskins, Willow Warblers, Treecreepers and a couple more Pied Flycatchers. The overall highlight for most of the group, however, was a series of excellent views of Crossbills. We were able to really appreciate the character of these wonderful birds, to see the detail of their extraordinary bills and the gorgeous colour of the males glowing in the sun.

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Crossbill


Spring Migration at Prawle Point, Devon with Andy Smith

A great day out around Prawle Point in fine sunshine with a brisk easterly wind. Migrants included a few Northern Wheatears, a Yellow Wagtail, a nice flock of Whimbrel and a steady trickle of Swallows and House Martins coming in off the sea. Additionally, we saw a Peregrine shooting across the sky with the wind behind it, a number of Gannets passing close offshore, some great action from the local Ravens and Buzzards, lots of Stonechats and Linnets and several singing Whitethroats. Overall bird highlights for most though were the Cirl Buntings that we saw fantastically well on a number of occasions during the day and a wonderful little flock of Purple Sandpipers out on the surf-lashed rocks, which took some getting to but typically allowed a very close approach. Great swathes of flowering gorse added colour along the scenic coastal path and in the sheltered sunny spots we found Oil Beetles, newly emerged St Mark’s Flies and a satisfying range of butterflies including Green Hairstreak, Small Copper and Wall Brown.

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Wall Brown


Suffolk - Walberswick Old Town Marshes & Common with Brian Small

Setting out from the car park, first up was the harbour and denes: close Skylarks and a couple of fine male Wheatears; Whimbrels, many Turnstones and a pair of Ringed Plovers, plus Linnets and Meadow Pipits all studied at close range. Setting off south we had a pair of cracking Stonechats, then on the shore pools we found excellent numbers of Bar-tailed Godwits – the tally for the day reaching 68; a lone charcoal-black Spotted Redshank was also present. The award for brightest bird of the day went to the brilliant male Yellow Wagtail that fed about the saltings. Cutting back inland, we heard Sedge, Reed and Cetti’s Warblers and having heard them, finally saw a couple of Bearded Tits. A small number of Marsh Harriers displayed and Lapwings chased off all comers over an area of cut reeds. Out of the wind in Hoist Covert it was warm (ish) and we saw and heard a number of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs, before finally hearing and getting views of a Nightingale. Back on Walberswick Common, we found a pair of Woodlarks busy collecting food, then a single Dartford Warbler.

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Spotted Redshank


Introduction to Macro Photography at Pitsford SSSI with Dave Jackson

A chilly start to the days meant fewer insects on the wing, whilst Willow catkins and Blackthorn blossom proved easy subjects for macro photography. A gentle walk to the meadow with the songs of newly arrived Willow Warblers enhanced the spring feel. A Dock Shield Bug gave all five photographers plenty of opportunity to try out different camera settings as it casually explored a dock leaf. Mischa, the Wildlife Trust warden, had promised us a nice surprise for our afternoon session with a good selection of moths trapped overnight and the star of the show – an Ant Beetle – was the first documented record for the reserve. The beetle scurried into cover on release but stayed long enough for all participants to obtain shots of this colourful species. More obliging were Herald, Brindled Beauty, Hebrew Character and Early Thorn moths, with photos taken in a range of natural and creative settings.

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Ant Beetle


Birds of the Lower Derwent Valley with Adam Dudley

A cold, overcast morning greeted us in the Lower Derwent Valley. But that didn’t seem to bother the two singing Whitethroats that welcomed us in the car park hedgerows! At North Duffield Carrs a rare inland Kittiwake joined a lingering Whooper Swan, and a pair of Little Ringed Plovers were a delight to see. After a picnic lunch, the sun came out and an obliging Tree Sparrow gave scope-filling views and a Yellow Wagtail flew over us, calling as we headed into Wheldrake Ings. Almost immediately we saw a pair of Willow Tits, industriously foraging in their namesake tree and giving everyone excellent views of this declining species. A pair of Great White Egrets foraged in the marsh while two territorial Sedge Warblers eventually gave good views. A wonderful mix of spring migrants and lingering winter visitors gave us 75 bird species in the Lower Derwent Valley!

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Kittiwakes


Forests of the North York Moors with Adam Dudley

Brown Hare and multiple Red-legged Partridge greeted us as we approached Wykeham Woods. Once settled in at the viewpoint, we watched the far-reaching vista for anything that flew! Over a couple of hours, we had views of Goshawk chasing Woodpigeons, but at quite a distance. Finally, two males and a female came together, tumbling and chasing each other high in the sky! Butterflies including Orange-tip, Green-veined White, and Brimstone added extra colour to the carpets of Wood Anemone and Marsh Marigold in Valley Forge Wood. While Grey Wagtails displayed along the river, Marsh Tits foraged in the trees, and Buff-tailed and Red-tailed Bumblebees bumbled in the undergrowth. Finally, a Kingfisher buzzed our heads and Jill called “Sedge Warbler” at Wykeham Lakes; the last of 57 bird species seen during the fantastic, blue, sky-filled day!

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Green-veined White


Frampton Marsh RSPB with Toby Collett

A chilly start to the day quickly warmed up when we found two Chinese Water Deer on the saltmarsh, possibly only the 3rd or 4th for the county. A Short-eared Owl flew into cover onto a branch in the sun, with a Little Owl pair at the barn. The grassland below us held Grey, Golden, Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers while a Wheatear was picked out among some dazzling Yellow Wagtails. Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Sedge and Willow Warblers were all heard along the hedgerow. On the scrapes we sifted through a thousand Brent Geese and several hundred Black-tailed Godwits to find Ruff, Spotted Redshank, Pintail, Pochard and Goldeneye. Mediterranean Gulls called from the reedbed as we watched Lapwings and Marsh Harriers displaying overhead during lunch. Some lingering Whooper Swans out on the grassland would be the last of the winter. A performing male Goldeneye was a delight on the reservoir but attentions were taken by over 40 Yellow Wagtails dropping from the sky onto the grassland. The day ended with four Short-eared Owls seen hunting together over the saltmarsh!

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Short-eared Owl