Lesser Florican - August 2023

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Wednesday 30 June 2021

June (Part 3) - Loch Maree

After Shetland, I had planned to meet Dad at Inverness Airport and to spend the next four or five days together scouring some northern sites. My main quest was to find the Azure Hawker, which would be my 45th species of Odonata in the UK. 

Azure Hawker at Loch Maree

So, on Tuesday 22nd, I arrived into Aberdeen having only seen a few Manx Shearwaters and Puffins early on, but a cracking view of Fair Isle the previous evening on relatively bumpy seas was worthy. I went straight to the Ythan Estuary but somehow dipped on the drake King Eider which had been present for a few weeks... typically it had moved off further down the coast. 

I then drove to Inverness to pick up Dad and we headed straight for Loch Maree to give ourselves maximum opportunity of finding an Azure Hawker. Annoyingly, the weather had turned for the worse and we could only find a dozy Golden-ringed Dragonfly

Golden-ringed Dragonfly

Lesser Butterfly Orchid

So, the next day, with brighter skies and lighter winds, we went straight back to Loch Maree and started our searches at Bridge of Grudie. It felt promising from the off and over the next couple of hours we had some excellent wildlife sightings, including a White-faced Darter, Spotted Flycatchers, two Large Heaths, and amazingly, a Lesser Twayblade which I found tucked up amongst the heather. The roadsides were also littered with Lesser Butterfly Orchids, all being in superb condition. Despite checking every tree base I still couldn't find an Azure Hawker, therefore, we moved slightly further west to Slattadale and to search an area of cleared woodland. 

Lesser Twayblade

Large Heath

Almost straight away, upon entering the area, two hawkers flew up, and once settled, it soon dawned upon us that these were indeed Azure Hawkers. Over the next few hours, we may have seen around a dozen individuals making this, for me at least, an unprecedented total! They showed superbly but were buggers to photograph. What was interesting was observing the males which changed the colour of their abdomen when the temperatures became cooler. A summer-plumaged Great Northern Diver was also out on the loch.

Azure Hawkers at Slattadale

That very afternoon, Dad and I then went to Beinn Eighe NNR where we struck pure gold when after a few brief sightings of a Northern Emerald in the treetops, Dad then spotted one low down and found it perched on heather. Absolutely insane views were had of this stunning dragonfly, and despite the midge attacks, we obtained some decent images. To end this crazy day, we found a stunning pair of Black-throated Divers on a loch on our return journey to our digs. 

Northern Emerald

Sunday 27 June 2021

June (Part 2) - Shetland

I arrived on Shetland as co-leader on Tuesday 15th with my Naturetrek group and the tour leader. It was to be an action-packed week with myriad highlights, with the top highlights in no particular order below:

  • A visit to Noss for the seabird colony
  • A nocturnal visit to Mousa Broch for the Storm Petrels
  • An evening twitch for the stunning Long-tailed Skua and calling Corncrake
  • Watching two Otters fishing 
  • Seeing Dave & Brenda which included a guided tour of their place
  • Watching the Snowy Owl and albino Great Northern Diver on Unst with Dave
  • Visiting Fetlar and watching the Red-necked Phalaropes
  • A brief Minke Whale and a pod of Risso's Dolphins on Fetlar
  • Going to Hermaness for the seabird colony
  • The daily balmy weather conditions
Two of the above, Mousa Broch and Hermaness, have been places I've been wanting to visit since I was a youngster, so all very poignant and even better to be there as a leader! 

I did also manage to escape from the group of an evening; as it stays very light well into the evening, I was able to take advantage of some excellent birds relatively local to both accommodations, in Lerwick and on Unst. The first excursion was to twitch the long-staying adult Long-tailed Skua, which I only saw in flight at 10.30pm, but it was still exceptional. Nearby, a Corncrake was going for it at the same location where I found a Great Reed Warbler back in 2012. 

The abundance of breeding waders and divers was another major attraction as was the continued feeling that just around the corner a rarity may be waiting to be found. Fingers crossed I can make it up to the islands in October, and having visited Fetlar, this island is now on my hitlist.

Puffin at Hermaness

Puffins on Noss

Common Seal at Sandwick

Arctic Tern at Sandwick

Arctic Skua at Sumburgh Head

Otters at Toft

Red-necked Phalaropes at Fetlar

Edmondston's Chickweed on Unst

Puffin at Hermaness

Muckle Flugga - the most northerly point in the UK

Puffins at Hermaness

Lesser Twayblade near Hermaness

Noss seabird colony

Mousa Broch

West Sandwick beach, Yell

Dave & I casually watching the Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl on Unst

Friday 25 June 2021

June (Part 1) - Heading north to Shetland

June has been a manic month; after leading two back-to-back tours in Somerset, I was back to work for a day before heading north, this time to co-lead a week tour on Shetland. I decided to drive up, which allowed me to visit a couple of sites during the long journey to Aberdeen.

So, on Saturday 12th June, I left Alton relatively early and was aiming to head straight for County Durham to stay at Sara's parents. However, along the way a thought crossed my mind that the 12th might just about be on time to find a Black Hairstreak. To give myself the best chance possible, I stopped off at Glapthorne Cow Pastures in Northamptonshire. Despite the favourable conditions, it took a while for me to find one, which just so happened to be the first individual in the county of 2021. It was very fresh, but sadly remained distant, though it was great to see one after a few years without. 

Afterwards, I drove straight up to County Durham where I stayed the night. We walked a nice circuit at Bishop Middleham where a 'reeling' Grasshopper Warbler proved to be the highlight. 

The next day, on the 13th, I left early and drove due west towards the Lake District. I stopped off at two sites near Kirkby Stephen to find a few orchids, including the Lesser Twayblade, but I also saw a few Fly Orchids. My main quarry for this day were the Mountain Ringlets at Irton Fell, a site on the western side of the Lakes. Despite the cloud, I met a few photographers on their way down the steep hill who had seen some, so I briskly made my way to the main area and found a fresh individual. Despite much searching, this was the only ringlet I found, so it was a good job it showed well for so long. A daytime 'churring' Nightjar was also heard and a Lesser Redpoll showed very well. After such a successful morning, I then started the long drive to Perth where I stayed the night, listening to the football as I went. 

On the morning of the 14th, I chilled out and spent some time in Perth, grabbing myself a decent breakfast and a much-needed haircut, before coasting north to Aberdeen. I didn't see much during the day and the evening was spent meeting my Shetland group and enjoying the initial couple of hours sailing north. Many Manx Shearwaters were seen and the Bottlenose Dolphins performed admirably, kicking off the Shetland trip to a fine start.

Black Hairstreak at Glapthorne Cow Pastures

Fly Orchid

Lesser Twayblade

Mountain Ringlet at Irton Fell

The view from Irton Fell

Sailing north to Shetland

Sunday 6 June 2021

Ham Wall RSPB 06/06/2021

With my first of two Somerset tours kicking off tomorrow, the discovery of the River Warbler at Ham Wall RSPB couldn't have been better timed. I arrived at probably the worst time to see a Locustella, however, the warbler still showed on two occasions and signing continuously during these two sessions. Slight nostalgia listening to this bird and thinking back to the 30th May 2008 when Steve Dawson and myself first heard one singing above Whitbread Hollow, Beachy Head!

I also had three flight views of a Bittern, several Great White Egrets, Hobbies and Bearded Tits whilst waiting. Nine species of Odonata were also great to see, and included a couple of Variable Damselflies. 

Fingers crossed the warbler remains for my two groups, although they would probably appreciate the Bittern more so. 

River Warbler

Four Spotted Chaser

Great White Egret

Saturday 5 June 2021

Recent Stuff

Last weekend, Sara & I had four days in Snowdonia National Park. It was superb, mainly for hiking and the incredible weather we experienced, but there were some good birds along the way. Males of Pied Flycatcher, Wood Warbler and Ring Ouzel were all seen well.

Thursday, Friday and today I've been down in Sussex (now back in Hants), but from a birding perspective it's been poor and demoralising for a few reasons, however, the orchids and butterflies today certainly made-up for this. 

Over the three days, I encountered 16 species of orchid and a number of good butterflies, namely Adonis Blue, Small Blue and Green Hairstreak. Of the 16 species of orchid, three of my favourites in the county were seen: Man, Fly and Frog. A number of the 16 species were either crispy, or not yet emerged, but it was still great to see a number of class species in full fettle on my way back to Hampshire. 

From tomorrow, I'll be off leading down back-to-back tours in Somerset, and then, driving north to Scotland to lead a tour on Shetland, with additional days afterwards searching for my last UK Odonata - Azure Hawker!

A wonderful Fox family

Green Hairstreak

Bee Orchid

Small Blue

female Adonis Blue

Man Orchid

Fly Orchid

Frog Orchid

Sword-leaved Helleborine

White Helleborine

Birds-nest Orchid

Eyed Hawk Moth