Back to butterflies

Today, Tom decided he wanted to go somewhere he’d not been before.  We agreed we’d go after butterflies rather than birds, so I suggested we walk the public footpath between Ramsay and Hintlesham woods – a path I’d never taken further than the entrance to Hintlesham Wood which was where I did some bird surveys this year (and discovered my first Golden Oriole – not sure if I’ve mentioned that before on this blog, but don’t worry as I’ll be reminding you all about it on a regular basis).

We spent two hours on this path, and amazingly got SIXTEEN different species!  When we got home, there was a seventeenth waiting for us in the garden.  All the photographs on this blog were taken today, and for a change I’m actually pretty pleased with a couple of them, including this Essex Skipper which we found on the approach to the woods.


The commonest butterfly by far was the Ringlet.  The male is almost completely black on the top of the wings, but the female has dark spots with a paler ring around them.  They both have spots on the underneath of their wing though.  At this time of year, if you see a dark butterfly flitting along below waist-height and near farmland/woodland, it’ll probably be a Ringlet.


I think the white butterfly family is greatly under-rated – when you see them up close they can be just as stunning as many of the more brightly coloured species.   The Large White in particular is very impressive when seen up close – they really do live up to the first part of their name!


The other two common white species are the Small White (we have plenty of these in the garden) and the slightly harder to find Green-veined White:


But there were two butterflies we were really hoping to see – the first of these was the Silver-washed Fritillary which is an absolute stunner.  We’ve seen a few before, but there must have been at least fifteen of these along a fairly short section of path, and we also caught them mating (often with a third trying to get in on the action).


The second target species was one we actually saw at Minsmere last weekend, and was also around at Stour Wood when I joined the Wednesday work-party last week to help tidy up some paths.  There were only a couple in Ramsey Wood, and both were quite tatty unfortunately – the White Admiral:


And in case you were wondering – yes, we did see the Red Admiral too!


Back to the browns and oranges now – Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper and Comma were all present, although there were very few of the latter two species.

We had to wait until almost the point at which we turned to retrace our steps before we got any blues or purples, but then we had a real surprise.  A large butterfly floated over my head and landed around 3 metres off the ground at the end of a twig so that I could see up and through its wings.  Initially I thought it was a large White Admiral, but when I got my binoculars onto it, I could see the outlines of two eyes on each wing.  It was in silhouette, so everything was just shades of black and white.  It then flew and I lost it, but Tom got on to it shortly afterwards and immediately started jumping up and down yelling “Purple Emperor! Purple Emperor!”  It then disappeared and although we waited for over half an hour for it to return, that was the last we saw of it.  I am still only about 90% convinced, but I think we may well have added to our life list of butterflies today!  We shall have to return with something smelly next weekend, and see if we can tempt it down to the ground.

At the same spot, we also managed to find what we are pretty sure were Purple Hairstreaks high in an Oak, and a Holly Blue which did come down low enough for a quick record shot.


For those who have been totting up the totals as you go along – the remaining two butterflies were a Peacock and a Speckled Wood.

Tom’s pond

Although we already have a large pond, Tom recently saw an RSPB suggestion about making your own tiny pond in the garden by simply digging a hole and putting an old washing-up bowl in it.  So that is what he did!  Jess and Tom filled it with water from the main pond and put a few pond plants in, and within a couple of weeks we already had wildlife using it.  We now have a new list to keep – animals seen drinking from Tom’s pond.  The list is currently:

  • Woodpigeon
  • Blackbird
  • Painted Lady

Below is a picture of the latter – clearly with an injured wing, which might explain why she was sitting on the weed in the pond right next to us for several minutes.  I’m using “she” as the pronoun (I know its a pronoun because I occasionally help Tom with his English homework (which is also how I know how to spell “occasionally” now)) because it seems wrong to call a Painted Lady a “he”.  Or maybe not, now I think about what century we are living in …



Half term – RSPB reserves

This half term Tom and I spent four days visiting some of the RSPB reserves a little further north of Suffolk than normal.  I slightly misjudged how much driving was involved (600 miles in the end), but we still enjoyed it all.  Here is a brief summary.

The Peak District

Our first stop was a woodland reserve just south of the Peak District – RSPB Coombes Valley.  Unlike the woods in Suffolk, this wood covered the steep sides of a ravine and contained Pied Flycatcher, Spotted Flycatcher, Redstart, Wood Warbler and Willow Tit – we managed to add the first three to our year list but missed the last two.  It was particularly annoying to miss Wood Warbler as for the first time for several years there is actually one singing in Thetford Forest in Suffolk at the moment.  The male Pied Flycatchers were very pleasing though – if you’ve been reading my blog for a while you’ll know they were high up my list of wanted birds!   Although we got good views, they didn’t sit long enough or come close enough for a photo – but I took the shot below as a reminder of where we saw them.


We also visited Padley Gorge on our first day – this is similar habitat except with far fewer birds (presumably because it isn’t managed by the RSPB and seems to attract a lot more people).  The stream running through the gorge is much more accessible (and faster flowing) though, so we did manage to get our first Dipper of the year.

Day 2 was reserved for moorland walks – these were disappointing in terms of birds (Ring Ouzel was the only bird of note), but were nice in terms of scenery (although as Tom pointed out, once you’ve done one walk on a moor, you’ve basically done them all).


Bempton Cliffs

Day 3 saw us drive to Bempton – surely the best place in England to experience the noise, smell and majesty of a large sea-bird colony.   You could get close enough to the birds to get some reasonable photos, although Tom had to be very patient to get this Gannet in the right pose.


There were thousands of Gannets, Kittiwakes, Guillemots and Razorbills plus a handful of Fulmars and Puffins.  The reserve did get pretty crowded with nearly everyone seemingly desperate for a view of a Puffin.  To be honest, I was much more excited to be close to Gannets and Kittiwakes in such huge numbers!  If you were patient and watched birds through binoculars for long enough, you could see them re-position their eggs – the Guillemot eggs were the best, being a beautiful bright blue.  They do all seem rather precariously perched on the cliffs though, as this Kittiwake demonstrates.


After Bempton, we drove south to Chambers Farm Wood in Lincolnshire, with the single aim of finding our first Marsh Fritillaries.  In my opinion, this is the most beautiful butterfly we have in the UK.  There were plenty in the meadows that form part of this wood, and Tom also found a Broad-bordered Bee Hawk Moth.  As far as I know, this is the only part of the eastern half of the country in which you can find these butterflies.


RSPB Frampton Marsh

Our final day was nearly entirely spent at Frampton Marsh.  This reserve was voted Reserve of the Year by Birdwatch magazine last year and I can see why.  It consists of a huge area of fields flooded with varying amounts of water, all surrounded by a sea wall that gives great views over the reserve and over the marshes to the Wash beyond.


Frampton has had a constant stream of rare birds in the last few weeks, although most of them had left by the time we arrived (we missed Red-necked Phalarope and Temminck’s Stint by one day).  That didn’t really matter though as we had a fantastic walk around the reserve – I’ve never seen so many Avocet, Ringed Plover and Little Ringed Plover in one place before (and that includes Minsmere).  We also found a couple of Little Stint, a Whooper Swan and Cattle Egret and had our best ever views of Sedge Warblers which would have been eating out of our hands if they’d come much closer.

One of the nicest things about visiting all these RSPB reserves is being greeted by the staff or volunteers upon arrival.  They are all so helpful and friendly – the guys at Coombes Valley even offered to find a Pied Flycatcher for us if we couldn’t find one ourselves!

So – having seen the towering cliffs at Bempton, the rugged moorland scenery of the Peak District and the wet, flat farmland/fenland of the Lincolnshire Wolds – what was our favourite?   Suffolk of course!


It was lovely to be back on my own patch (above).  Earlier today I spent a little over an hour watching this single field and saw or heard 45 different species including Avocet, Hobby, Buzzard and Green Sandpiper.  Scarce Chasers and several different butterfly species kept me company and there wasn’t a soul to be seen for the entire time.

Pond Life again

I know that summer is almost here when Tom spends most of an afternoon sitting on the wooden platform over the pond watching out for signs of life.  If I’m not out there with him (I normally am), every so often he’ll run to the back door and shout “Dad!  Come and see what I’ve found!”.  He can’t wait for the dragonflies to return, but this weekend we had to make do with their smaller and daintier cousins – the damselflies.  Our first three Large Red Damselflies and a solitary Azure all arrived on Sunday and allowed me to take a few arty shots (all photos below are unedited).


Sunday was a fantastic day – in the morning we saw a bird that we’d both wanted to see for ages, taking Tom’s UK life list to 253 species.  But in the afternoon, the pond suddenly came to life and I think the couple of hours by the pond actually trumped the morning.  And we got a “pond lifer” too – a Great Diving Beetle.  I have to be honest – when Tom said he’d seen a “giant” beetle in the pond I didn’t believe him.  But this thing really is huge for a beetle!


Before we saw it we actually found a couple of their larva – they hang in the water like miniature sea horses, although in fact they are sticking their bums out of the water in order to breathe.  There were plenty of dragonfly larva too – some we were pretty sure were Southern Hawkers, but we weren’t too sure about the one below as it was very well camouflaged – one of the Chasers maybe?  How Tom picked this out I don’t know!


There was plenty of other stuff going on too – our Common Newts seem to have survived the winter, there were the usual Backswimmers, another water beetle that was a lot smaller and which we couldn’t identify, and a dead bee was providing a feast for a whole host of Pond Skaters and Water Measurers.

But you don’t want to see a picture of insects eating insects – you’d much rather see another arty shot, right?

Awesome Large Red Damselfly - Garden Pond

It is amazing what will come to the pond to drink if you sit still enough.  Tom had a lot of birds passing through (including a pair of Common Cranes flying over the garden which I missed!), and this Greenfinch arrived whilst I was there with my camera, which was very decent of it.

Greenfinch drinking - GP

We have been blessed with lots of baby birds in the garden this year already.  A Collared Dove nest at head height in a sparse bush has provided great views of the two chicks as they grew up (both fledged today), at least one baby Blackbird has been regularly begging for food on our lawn.  We’ve also had young Robins, Greenfinch and Dunnock.  The Blue Tits are back in their usual box – hopefully we’ll have young Blue Tits in the next few weeks.  Of the other nine nest boxes, none are occupied – admittedly five of those are for swifts and it is probably a week or two too early for them to be getting ready to nest (although they did arrive here a couple of weeks ago).

I nearly forgot the lifer from the morning.   Dotterel is another of those birds from the Reader’s Digest Book of British Birds from my childhood that I’ve wanted to see for years.  So when two were reported just 40 minutes away on the Essex coast (near the mouth of the Colne Estuary), we had to give them a shot.  Even though we parked a lot further away than we needed to, it was still worth it – fantastic views from just 40 yards or so.  And the long walk yielded Hobby, Red Kite, Yellow Wagtail and Corn Bunting which are all birds worth walking for!

Dotterel - St Osyth

I’ve just had a quick flick through the above book – there are 217 birds with full illustrations, and there are just nine that I’ve never seen anywhere in the world (with a further five I’ve not seen in the UK).  I’m pleased that I’m not quite there yet – it means the excitement of seeing Dotterel for the first time can be replicated at least another nine times.  The ones I’ve not seen are listed below in rough order of desirability – we are hoping to get the second and third birds during a half term visit to the Peak District.

  1. Red-backed Shrike
  2. Pied Flycatcher (yes – really!)
  3. Wood Warbler
  4. Roseate Tern
  5. Corncrake
  6. Capercaillie
  7. Ptarmigan
  8. Black Grouse
  9. Quail

It is interesting to see some of the birds given just a twelfth of a page in the guide to visitors and rarer birds at the back of the book – including birds such as Little Egret, Spotted Redshank and Common Crane all of which we’d see fairly regularly now.  However the bird Tom wants to see more than any other at the moment is now even rarer than it was in 1969 – the Golden Oriole.   I think another trip to the continent is going to be required!

Cormorants v Buzzards

There was an outcry on social media last year after Natural England issued a licence to shoot up to ten Buzzards in order to protect Pheasant chicks (which are apparently classified as “livestock” which makes it possible to apply for a licence to kill wildlife to protect them).  As we all know, we have to shoot Pheasants in this country in order to feed our growing population, so the job the gamekeepers are doing is vital or British people will go hungry.  I may have got that wrong, but if we don’t protect Pheasant chicks, then at the very least, people (not) like you and I will be denied their day out in the country, blasting birds out of the sky (presumably they are no longer classified as “livestock” by this point in their lives).

But this blog isn’t about the needless destruction of birds of prey.  Nor is it an attack on Natural England.  This blog is about Cormorants.  They aren’t quite so exciting or good-looking as Buzzards.  You don’t see birders excitedly pointing at the sky when one flies over.  And unlike Buzzards, Natural England didn’t issue licences to kill ten of them in 2016.  They issued licences to kill up to two thousand.

I had no idea that Cormorants were being killed in Suffolk until the matter was raised at a recent Suffolk Ornithologists’ Group meeting.   It stuck a bit of a chord with me, because earlier this year we’d seen the largest flock of Cormorants we’ve ever come across.  They were at Shingle Street on the Suffolk coast, and this picture probably covers about a third of them – my notes say that we estimated there to be about 600.

Shingle Street - Cormorants

When I started investigating, I was amazed to learn that Natural England can also issue licences to kill Grey Heron, Red-breasted Merganser and Goosander.  These licences can all only be issued to protect fish stocks at fishing lakes and fish farms.  Whether fish farms are a good or bad thing is beyond the scope of this blog, but they do at least exist to provide food for people.  Fishing lakes however are there to provide somewhere for people to catch fish for pleasure – not dissimilar to Pheasant farming in my opinion, although fishing does seem to appeal to more normal people.

So why is there an outcry about Buzzard licences and not Cormorant licences?  Are there far fewer Buzzards than Cormorants?  Are Buzzards declining in numbers, but Cormorants increasing?  The BTO provides the following information:

Buzzard:  Green listed;  67,000 breeding pairs in the UK in 2009; over 500,000 pairs in Europe.  Species of “Least Concern”

Cormorant:  Green listed; 8,400 breeding pairs in the UK in 2004, over 275,000 pairs in Europe.  Species of “Least Concern”.  Population swells to 35,000 in winter – which makes the UK internationally important for this species.

To complete the picture for the other birds:  Goosander (Green:  3,500 breeding, 12,000 wintering), Red-breasted Merganser (Green: 2,200 / 8,400) and Grey Heron (Green:  12,000 / 61,000).  Statistics are a bit boring though – let’s forget them for a moment and ask why anyone would want to shoot this:

Red-breasted Merganser


But back to Cormorants.  There are in fact two subspecies of Cormorant in the UK.  The “native” species Phalacrocorax carbo carbo which is typically found around the coasts and nests on cliffs, and Phalacrocorax carbo sinensis which has arrived from Europe and which nests inland in trees.   In fact, the first tree-nesting colony of P. c. sinensis was at Abberton Reservoir – a place that I visit regularly.  Again according to the BTO, the population trend of each subspecies varies – the native population is actually decreasing (11% decline since 1986), but the population of the usurpers from the continent increased rapidly from the 1980s onwards until recently stabilising.  I’ve studied the pictures of the two sub-species, and I’m not convinced I’d be able to easily tell the difference in the field.  So presumably anyone shooting them probably can’t either.  If you are interested, the most reliable way of telling them apart is from the angle of the gular pouch – see here.  Once you’ve worked out what the gular pouch is, next time you see a cormorant just determine whether the pouch is angled at more than 76 degrees (sinensis) or at less than 65 degrees (carbo).  Here is a picture to practice on.


So what do these licences allow you to do, and when are they granted?  Natural England can only grant licences to cull 10% of the UK’s cormorants each year – they currently therefore grant licences to cull 2,000 birds, but have the right to increase this to 3,000 birds.   At a local level, licences are normally granted to cull 20% of the local population – this seems to keep the total for the UK below 2,000.

The Suffolk Cormorant licence that was raised at the SOG meeting is for Loompit Lakes.  This is part of the Orwell Estuary, which is protected as follows:

  • it was designated as an SSSI in 2003
  • it is a Ramsar site (internationally important wetland) according to this list
  • it is a Specially Protected Area (SPA) under the EU Birds Directive with cormorant even listed on the form that registered it as an SPA

You can see it on the map below.  Amazing that you can shoot a wetland bird on a Ramsar site.

South Suffolk - SSI MapCulling can only take place from September to April, and a licence will only be granted if “serious damage” is occurring and if other measures have been tried and proved not to work.   I don’t want to get all political at this point, but I’ve noticed over the last few years that Scotland seems to be making sensible decisions (e.g. plastic bag charges, vicarious liability for owners of shooting estates, etc) way ahead of England.   Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) are the equivalent of Natural England, and they have actually listed out the evidence required before a licence will be granted.  The details can be found here (see the first page) – they even require the fishery to perform daily bird counts!  Why isn’t a similar evidence list required in England?

In the EU, Cormorants are protected under the Birds Directive – however derogations from this Directive are permitted in certain circumstances, including where birds are causing damage to fisheries, and the UK government has taken advantage of this.  The EU have also published a guidance note which can be found here.  It tries to define “serious damage” and specifically states that the damage must have a serious economic impact – it isn’t good enough to simply see cormorants taking some fish.

Natural England does require all licence holders to complete an annual return that lists the numbers of the birds shot, and this return also acts as a licence renewal application.  I wonder if the same rigour is applied to licence renewals as it is to the original licence?  I also wonder how many resources Natural England have to monitor whether the correct number of birds are actually killed and whether they are killed humanely.  Perhaps this could form the basis of the next Mark Avery/Chris Packham petition?  Or maybe I’ll stop leaving it to other people and try to make a difference myself this time.


Weekend Wonders

This weekend everything went right with one exception – my photos …

On Saturday, Tom was very insistent that he wanted to go to the RSPB reserve at Wallasea Island.  I have often suggested we go to Wallasea, but when the time comes I have changed my mind, as I can’t face the one hour drive which is mostly down the A12 (but not in the direction along which it gets quieter).  Wallasea is a relatively new reserve and has been enhanced over the last few years by the addition of earth dug out from underneath London during the Crossrail project – this has raised the land levels and allowed better mudflats to develop.


We chose to walk along the sea wall which gave us good views of the muddy River Crouch estuary on one side, with the whole of Wallasea Island laid out on the other.  We stopped and started so often, that we ended up walking probably less than a quarter of the paths, so we’ll definitely have to come back again.

Although we’ve seen Corn Buntings in the UK since we came back from Extramadura (where they seem to be on nearly every fence post), this was the first place I’ve been to where I could listen to one singing every few hundred yards of the walk.  They were accompanied by Yellow Wagtails – we even had one of these singing to us as we ate our lunch.  Unlike Pied or Grey Wagtails which I nearly always see on the ground or on a building, Yellow Wagtails seem quite happy clinging to a reed or grass stem.  Tom then found us a Little Ringed Plover – our first this year – and there were also one or two Wheatear around.

Wallasea - Wheatear

As we left the reserve, I was forced to slam on the brakes as a raptor that didn’t look like a Buzzard or a Marsh Harrier flew overhead.  We jumped out of the car and sure enough – we’d found our first Hen Harrier of the year.  A very nice end to our first trip to this reserve.

On the way home we had to stop at Abberton Reservoir as there had been a Black Tern and a Bonaparte’s Gull reported from there – the latter would be a UK lifer for both us.  As in previous years, the Black Terns liked to congregate on the grassy edge to the water reasonably close to Gwen’s hide, which allowed me to get a digiscoped image.

Abberton - Black Terns - flight

They are noticeably smaller than Common Tern – you can see one Common Tern just taking off below the central Black Tern.  Apparently there were Arctic Tern present as well, but I’m not good enough to pick these out in flight from amongst hundreds of Common.

I am sure you are all waiting with bated breath to find out whether we added Bonaparte’s Gull to Tom’s UK list.  Well – you’ll have to work that out for yourselves from the photo below.  Funnily enough, this gull didn’t turn out to be in the top 10 wildlife moments of the weekend!

Abberton - Bonaparte's Gull

Saturday had been pretty good, but Sunday was going to be even better.  We were joining a SOG walk at Eastbridge which basically skirted around the whole of Minsmere.   The walk was led by David Walsh who is a professional guide for Ornitholidays and is an incredibly good Suffolk birder to boot.  We saw over 85 species before lunch (admittedly we did start at 7am, which meant a 5:30am wake-up for Tom) – but the bird highlight turned out to be a bird we didn’t actually see.   Grasshopper Warblers are quite hard to find in the UK, but they have a very distinctive reeling song (a bit like the Savi’s Warbler we’d heard at Minsmere the previous weekend).  This was also a UK lifer for Tom – our second of the weekend!

You may have noticed the quality of the photographs is getting progressively worse as you read this blog.   My photograph of the trip highlight maintains this trend.  Tom saw his first Adder last weekend, and this weekend he saw his first black Adder.  This is the melanistic form of the Adder and there is some speculation that it does better than the usual colour form (it will warm up more quickly as black absorbs heat comparatively quickly).

Minsmere - Black Adder - rear end

We added quite a few birds to our 2017 list including Garden Warbler, Swift, Little Tern and Dartford Warbler, but probably the most spectacular birds we saw at Minsmere were a Knot and a Bar-tailed Godwit in full summer plumage.   Not that you can tell from the photograph below.

Minsmere - Barwit and Knot

After lunch we headed to Hollesley Marsh (Tom took a bit of persuading given he’d already walked 6 miles and had been up for 8 hours, although the fact that he wanted to be sure of getting back in time for the Spurs v Arsenal game may have also influenced him a little!).   There were a couple of birds reported at Hollesley that we wanted to see – Little Stint and the ridiculous Black-winged Stilt.  You really have to see these yourself to appreciate the crazy legs on these things!  Just look at the angle they have to bend over at, just to get their beaks to touch the mud!

Hollesley - Black-winged Stilt bows

And to complete a miserable photographic weekend, I had my phone attached to my telescope pointing at the above birds just as they decided to mate.  Did I press the button?  Or did I panic?  I’ll let you guess.

Minsmere does it again

We often go to Minsmere at this time of year to look for adders, but this time it was a specific bird that tempted us out – a Savi’s Warbler had been heard “reeling” for the last few days (there was also one there last year for several weeks).  Somehow I managed to persuade Tom to get out of bed at 6:30am, and a little after 8am we were in Island Mere hide listening out for the Savi’s.  Two very noisy Greylags right outside the hide didn’t help.

It took about an hour of waiting for us to hear it, and then it was quite distant, although we hear it a bit closer as we left.  I did comment to Tom at the time that we must be quite strange people to get up early, drive for an hour and then wait around for an hour, all to hear a few seconds of bird song that we’d never heard in the UK before!  The waiting wasn’t too bad though – a Cuckoo flew over calling loudly, Bearded Tits kept popping up and flying low over the reeds before dropping down to a new location, and Bitterns boomed in the background.  Add to that the constant chatter of Sedge Warblers and the pairs of Marsh Harriers floating around, and it was actually a rather enjoyable hour.


On the way back to the Visitor’s Centre for our second breakfast of the day, we wandered along the Adder Trial, scouring the ground for adders – but with no luck.  Adder would have to remain on Tom’s “must see” list for a bit longer.

The UK’s other venomous animal – the Water Shrew – is also found at Minsmere, and we were lucky enough to find this in what we call the Water Vole pond.  Although we love seeing Water Voles, seeing the tiny shrew was in fact even more thrilling – partly because we’d never seen one before, and partly because you could watch it swimming under the water.  It was also the first time we’d seen one – our second “lifer” of the day.

Minsmere’s bird life didn’t disappoint either – a Stone Curlew was on the field where it was supposed to be (for a change); Common and Sandwich Terns were back on the scrape amongst hundreds of gulls; Avocets swept the water for food, and we even got a few waders though most have now migrated.  We finished the day on 72 species which we were pretty pleased with – and 8 of these were new to our 2017 year list.

We were on the last stretch of path surrounding the scrapes, when Tom suddenly said “Adder”.  Amazingly, an Adder was sunning itself on the path just 2 yards in front of us.  We realised afterwards that if he hadn’t been paying attention, one of us may well have trodden on it, but at the time we were far too excited to worry about things like that!


It didn’t seem too bothered by us – although it did slowly slither off into the nearby hedge, where it lay long enough for me to get a photograph.   We had to tell everyone who came past that there was an Adder to look at, and eventually it had had enough of all the attention and disappeared.  As we continued on, Tom twice asked me whether it had really been there.  He had wanted to see an Adder for so long, he couldn’t believe he finally had!

But that wasn’t the only snake we saw at Minsmere – as we approached the Water Vole pond (for the third time that day), a chap turned to me and said “How are your snake identification skills?”.  I immediately knew that there must be a Grass Snake in the pond, and sure enough we could just make out its head (with a bright yellow neck collar) peeping out of the water.  We were then treated to the sight of it swimming across the pond and into the reeds, where I managed to get this very poor shot – although if you look carefully you can see its tail under the water and its yellow collar in the dead grasses.


Today pushed our 2017 year list through the 150 mark, although we are still a few behind where we were at this time in 2016.  Hopefully a half-term trip to the Peak District (and possibly Bempton Cliffs) will help to catch us up.

Wild Poland – Part 3

With so many mammals and birds already seen and blogged about, what could possibly be left?  Below is a brief selection of the best of the rest.


We were a bit early in the year for butterflies, but nevertheless did see a few species that are common in the UK – Brimstone, Peacock, Comma and this lovely Small Tortoiseshell


The best butterfly however was the Camberwell Beauty – still found in the UK but not easy to see.  It is one of my favourite butterflies and we saw it several times.


Reptiles and Amphibians

There were plenty of lazy toads hitching lifts on slightly larger (female!) toads, such as this pair that we almost ran over.


In the restricted area of the forest, there was a large pool which was full of frogs – both Common and Moor, the latter being quite blue whilst in the water.  This was the most frogs I’ve ever seen in one place – and lots of frog spawn too.


Whilst peering over a bridge looking at Lynx tracks below, we heard a rustle behind us, and found this chap hiding in the grass.  Quite hard to spot at first glance.



This isn’t my area of expertise, but the forests had a huge number of different fungi.  One of my favourites was Dead Man’s Fingers (below).


I think the one below is a Red Banded Polyphore – it was easily found on many trees in the forest.


How to change your wife

For those of you who know Jessica, she isn’t generally that keen on:

  • getting up early
  • doing anything before a coffee
  • birdwatching (unless a walk is involved)

So imagine my surprise when I returned from a walk before breakfast and spotted this on the way back to the room:


And that wasn’t all.  Jessica is really rather safety conscious, especially where Tom is concerned.  So what on earth is she doing taking this photo of us birdwatching just inside the Belarus border?  To be fair, standing on the railway line was the only place from which you could see the reservoir properly, and the driver was watching out for trains – and only slow-moving goods trains used the line.


So – if you are thinking of visiting Poland, then beware – it might change you in ways you weren’t expecting!