Sunday 29 March 2015

Yellow Star of Bethlehem - Third Time Lucky

Today was my third attempt in five years at locating the very elusive Yellow Star of Bethlehem - Gagea lutea at a site in North Somerset (the closest site to Devon for it, as far as I am aware). I know it occurs there but on two previous years I just couldn't find any, well any flowering that is. The plant is notorious for being a very shy flowerer in the UK, sometimes not flowering for years at a time. I decided to go a week or so earlier this year so as there wouldn't be so much ground cover for them to hide in. When I arrived it was pretty easy to spot hundreds if not thousands of small non-flowering plants and eventually I spotted my prize amongst them, a tiny glint of yellow giving away the location of a small group of flowering stems. I counted seven flowering plants in total but they were only just starting to open, with a couple of the plants still in bud. It was hugely satisfying to see them at last and they were every bit as subtly beautiful as I'd hoped they'd be. My photos aren't as good as they could have been due to the very high winds we had today. The delicate little flower stems were waving about all over the place!

The plants grow on steep moss covered rocky ledges overlooking a long disused quarry.
The leaves of the young plants are very grass like. You may just be able to make out a bit of yellow in the centre.

There are five flowering stems in the photo which shows how difficult they can be to spot.
The broader leaves are Ramsons. A lot of the vegetation had been nibbled by deer.

A single flowering plant with one large basal leaf and two leaf-like bracts below the flowers.

The two leaf-like bracts have really hairy margins as can easily be seen here.

The basal leaves are distinctive in having three prominent veins on the back
 unlike Bluebells which have just the one.

Until the petals fold right back the flowers can be difficult to spot because the back of them has a broad green stripe. I think because of this, they look quite beautiful when not fully open.

Friday 20 March 2015

Green Hellebore and Solar Eclipse

Well, today was the day that I decided to go back to the wood near Abbotsbury to see if the Green Hellebores I saw there almost three weeks ago were in flower yet. Not only were the ones I saw before now flowering but there were many more plants than I had spotted last time. I think some were hidden away underneath some ferns when I was last there. I clambered down into the stream which runs in a very deep gully and some of the flowers were at a perfect height for photos.

 The plants are clinging to this vertical face..

Here I am in action.
 Obviously the cammo gear isn't really necessary, nice to see how well it works though.

Green Hellebore - Helleborus viridis 

There were some lovely patches of this too..

Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage - Chrysosplenium oppositifolium

On leaving the woods it was good to see that the sun was visible through a thin veil of cloud, so once back at the car we waited for the eclipse to begin. The clouds became intermittent and the conditions were perfect to be able to take photographs of the phenomenon. Whilst behind layers of cloud the eclipse could be easily viewed with the naked eye. The light became very watery and atmospheric but where we were we didn't notice any difference in the behaviour of birds, as has been reported elsewhere. It had been rather foggy when we arrived so I suppose they were just attuned to it being rather gloomy already. Photos weren't too difficult with the super-zoom camera. Here's a selection of my better efforts.

The watery light seemed to pick out all the small hillocks within the field, it was very atmospheric.

 It looked like the grin on the Cheshire Cat

This is my favourite shot as the clouds over the sun meant I got it in focus rather than just a burnt out area. If you look closely there is a small sunspot just visible. 

Same shot cropped to show sunspot better.
View it in full size and it really shows up well.

Thursday 19 March 2015

Purple Sandpiper

I'm still waiting to see a Wheatear in Sidmouth. Nothing so far up on Salcombe Hill, well a single Chiffchaff this morning and that's it. I can't imagine why there hasn't been a Wheatear. Clive saw three on the rock armour off the beach, and then on the beach on Tuesday but by the time I got down there all that was on the beach were about a million dogs! It was lovely and warm and dog-walkers were out in droves. I tried the beach again this morning and it was a lot colder and therefore much quieter. Still no Wheatears though. The Turnstones and a single Purple Sandpiper were showing really well feeding on Chit Rocks at low tide and I was able to walk out and sit among the rocks and wait for them to approach for a photo or two.

Purple Sandpiper 
One of my favourite waders

 This Turnstone kept coming too close to fit in the frame.
 So obliging it would be rude not to take its photo too.

Monday 16 March 2015

Yellow-browed Warbler and Firecrest at Branscombe Sewage Works

This morning was the first chance that I have had to go and look for the Yellow-browed Warbler that Phil found at Branscombe sewage works on Saturday morning. Unfortunately the weather wasn't ideal being overcast and drizzly at times but I had some superb views and even managed some photos and despite the poor conditions for photography they are definitely the best ones I've ever taken of Yellow-browed Warbler and Firecrest too. When I arrived I looked from the footpath along the side of the sewage works and could see the YBW feeding on the filter beds along with at least a dozen Chiffchaffs. All the birds seemed to be on the far side from where I was so I made my way around to the wooded area on the other side. The National Trust have been thinning out the pine trees in this area and I was able to get right down to the perimeter fence from where I had some great views of the YBW. The Firecrest was showing very well on some branches of felled pine trees and really showing off its crest too. Sue and a friend arrived to see the YBW and while I was trying to get them onto it a male Sparrowhawk flew in and landed on the perimeter fence. Fortunately the birds soon reappeared once he'd left and although he had to leave 'empty taloned' he did gave us a nice photo opportunity.

I like the way the colours really stand out against the dark background of the filter bed in this one.
It was certainly easy to spot amongst the Chiffchaffs.

Yellow-browed Warbler



Friday 6 March 2015

Salcombe Hill

I've decided that Salcombe Hill is where I'm going to go birding in the coming months and hopefully I'll be able to see a few migrants if not something rare. It certainly isn't a well known birding spot but I don't see any particular reason why it shouldn't get it's fair share of spring and autumn migrants. When I looked it up it has only had one notable rare bird and that was a Black-headed Bunting (adult male) in 1951! I'm hoping the reason there are no reports of anything more recently is that nobody does any birding there. I went up there a couple of weeks back to take some photos of the habitat and I think it looks quite promising, only time will tell though.

When I first arrived I could see a snow shower approaching and took a few shots before taking cover in some holly trees.

It was pretty heavy too!

The snow shower moving off...

...towards Beer Head. The Cliffs in the foreground are at Weston.

 There's plenty of gorse and bracken.

Some pasture..

Some nice grassy slopes similar to the ones at Branscombe Mouth.

And for the days when I'm feeling energetic. I nice walk down to Salcombe Mouth.

This prominent rock is known as the 'frog stone' for obvious reasons.

There are also some nice wooded areas.

View over Sidmouth

Nice view of my house too.

There were lots of these in the gorse bushes.

All in all what's not to like, there's some great habbo, let's just hope I see some good birds. Fingers crossed!

We've been at our new home four just over four months now and although we haven't got our own garden my 'garden bird list' isn't too shabby at 35 species. Considering I can't put any feeders out I've been amazed at the amount of birds just feeding on naturally occurring seeds in the shrubs outside the flat.

The gardens out front. The buddleias are especially popular with Goldfinches in particular but just last week I was thrilled to see this feeding on them....

A gorgeous male Siskin.