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29th June 2022 – The Owl Garden, Picton Castle

I missed the beginning of both sessions at The Owl Garden at Picton Castle and was too busy photographing the birds to catch what was what. I do know the African Fish Eagle because we had booked a trip to see these magnificent birds in the wild as we were travelling along the Garden Route in South Africa just before the COVID pandemic. Unfortunately the trip along the River Kromme at St Francis Bay was cancelled due to bad weather. How ironic that we should manage to see one in Wales in a week where we have had plenty of bad weather.

There were two sessions to see these rescue birds: the first was exclusively owls in the Owl Garden; the second was raptors flying in front of the castle.

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29th June 2022 – Pembrokeshire, Wales

The Pembrokeshire countryside with the Preseli mountains in the background

I like to think of myself as a “glass half full” rather than a “glass half empty” man, but this week the weather in Pembrokeshire has tested my resolve. So, no trips out to the islands off the coast to see the wonderful sea birds that breed here. However, so far we have had two sunny (if not particularly warm) days and we have been able to make the most of it.

On the first of them we visited Dyffyn Fernant, a gem of a garden, between Newport and Fishguard. I don’t have a lot of bird photos to show from here as I missed a grey heron in flight and the red kite which I saw was too distant to photograph. However, there were a pair of barn swallows flitting around the garden and there were lots of ringlet butterflies. Nonetheless, a very inspiring garden created in difficult terrain.

Dyffryn Fernant

An interesting way to display different grasses

The Rickyard

I accidentally flushed a grey heron from around this pond and failed to photograph it

Two barn swallows having a chat above the garden

Barn swallow

Ringlet

Our second “nature” trip was to Picton Castle near Haverfordwest. Here the gardens were much more formal, but we especially loved the walled garden with many plants which benefit from the temperate climate here (it has not seemed particularly temperate this week though).

The walled garden at Picton Castle

Common bird-of-paradise flower

Ajacent to the walled garden was a vegetable garden which, along with some feeders, attracted lots of garden birds.

Great spotted woodpecker

Nuthatch

Siskin

Chaffinch

Blue tit

Goldfinch

Juvenile robin

The castle buildings attracted huge numbers of house martins.

The castle provided wonderful sites for house Martin nests

House martin

House martin

Picton Castle is also home to The Welsh Owl Garden and, as much as I don’t like seeing birds in cages, there were two sessions with a great opportunity to see, first of all, rescue owls up close and in flight and, later in the day, some of the larger rescue raptors in flight.

African fish eagle

Barn owl

I will publish a separate blog with photos from these two sessions.

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21st June 2022 – Frampton-on-Severn, Gloucestershire

We made the most of another lovely day and had a walk around the village of Frampton-on-Severn and, in particular, to the lake behind Frampton Court.

The main attraction was the big flocks of Barnacle, Greylag and Canada geese. There were lots of meadow brown butterflies as well as damselflies and dragonflies; but it was too hot to stand around trying to photograph them.

Barnacle geese in front of Frampton Court

Barnacle goose

Greylag geese

Barnacle geese

Canada geese

Pied wagtail

Meadow brown butterfly

Common blue damselfly

This is why blackbirds go quiet about now as they begin to moult (and hide whilst they are unable to fly)

Our walk ended at the Bell Inn on the village green, which is reputed to be the longest in England, and a fine lunch.

The village green at Frampton

SLIDESHOW OF TODAY’S PHOTOS

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20th June 2022 – Stoke Park Estate, Bristol

A pleasant hour or two around Duchess Pond in Stoke Park Estate in Bristol. There aren’t many birds to see at present but the dragonflies and damselflies certainly entertain.

There’s a grey heron underneath here somewhere

Emperor dragonfly

Emperor dragonfly laying eggs

Common blue damselflies

Four spotted chaser

Canada geese and goslings

Common blue damselfly

Scarce chaser

Black-tailed skimmer

Water smartweed

Water lily

The grey heron reveals itself

Slideshow of today’s photos

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15th June 2022 – Stoke Park Estate, Bristol

It’s been 5 months, 3 weeks and 3 days since I have been able to visit my local patch and so today was a red letter day for me. I didn’t go very far (only to Duchess Pond) and it was more of a struggle than I thought it would be (probably hot weather and heavy camera) but, even though the photographic results weren’t spectacular, it marked a special moment for me.

Lots of ducklings and goslings but the main ornithological interest was four swifts and 2 swallows which came down to the lake for a drink on a couple of occasions.

Swift

Swift

Swallow emerging from the water

There were lots of dragonflies and damselflies but, probably for lack of practice, I had limited success in photographing them and even more difficulty in identifying them (I must find that dragonfly and damselfly guide). I am sure some Odonata enthusiast might help me out. (In fact Larry has already come up trumps.)

Emperor dragonfly

Black tailed skimmer

Common blue damselfly

Scarce chaser dragonfly

Emperor dragonfly

Four spotted chaser dragonfly

Common blue damselfly

Large skipper butterfly

Despite the noise of the motorway this is still a great place to see nature. I hope to be able to explore a little more over the next few weeks.

Even the grey heron found it hot.

Slideshow of today’s photos

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10th June 2022 – Coquet Island, Northumberland

The RSPB says that “Coquet Island, situated off the Northumberland coast, is a vibrant seabird sanctuary, which is home to the UK’s only roseate tern breeding colony. It is also an important site for nesting puffins and common, Sandwich and Arctic terns.”

On our last full day in Northumberland we had a walk along the beach in the morning at Warkworth from where we could see Coquet Island in one direction and Alnmouth, where we have been staying this week, in the other direction. In the afternoon we took the hour long boat trip from Amble harbour around Coquet Island and enjoyed seeing puffins, guillemots, razorbills and various terns, including the rare roseate tern.

Alnmouth from Warkworth beach

The view from Amble harbour with Warkworth Castle in the background

You are not allowed to land on the island but we enjoyed this short trip which gave me my last photographic opportunity of the holiday.

Puffin

Sandwich tern

You can just make out a roseate tern on the box in the centre of the image and one flying to its left.

Razorbill

Guillemot

Eider duck

Female eider duck

Puffin in the water

Coquet Island

Slideshow of today’s photos:

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9th June 2022 – Long Nanny tern colony, Northumberland

The tern colony of little terns and Arctic terns at Long Nanny on the Northumberland coast are guarded 24/7 by rangers of the National Trust each summer.

24 hour protection for the terns

“They have had mixed results in recent years and fared particularly badly during COVID lockdown when the rangers were unable to be there to protect them. The Arctic tern, which has the longest migration of any bird in the world, started breeding at Long Nanny in 1980 and has returned every year from Antarctica to nest. The little tern is one of the UK’s smallest seabirds, weighing roughly the same as a tennis ball. They feed mostly on sand eels and young herring and tend to lay between one and three camouflaged eggs on the beach. The little tern has been in serious decline since the 1980s, with fewer than 2,000 breeding pairs now left in the UK.” (National Trust website)

Arctic tern

Arctic tern

Arctic tern

Terns disturbed by a kestrel

Rangers counting little terns on the beach

In the last couple of years they have been joined by a summering American Black Tern – Britain’s first record of an adult in summer plumage.

American black tern

American black tern

We reached Long Nanny by walking behind the dunes at Newton Links. The display of spring flowers was beautiful and we enjoyed good views of sky larks, linnets, stonechats, reed buntings and even avocets and oystercatchers on the river.

Spring flowers on Newton Links

Spring flowers

Sky lark

Linnets

Reed bunting

Avocets and oystercatchers on the river

We returned along the beach enjoying the best of the Northumberland coast.

The deserted beach

Access to the beach

Low Newton by the sea where we had lunch at the Ship Inn

Dunstanburgh Castle

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7th June 2022 – Farne Islands

Our trip to the Farne Islands started from Seahouses harbour on the Northumberland coast. We were a little apprehensive as it was a gloomy morning and the sea swell was quite significant. However, the trip was quite amazing. We had fabulous views of seabirds and seals around the islands and, despite the boat’s skipper warning us that a landing might not be possible, we did manage to land on Staple Island for an hour long stay. The experience of seeing the birds, who did not seem at all perturbed by our presence, so close up was stunning.

A gloomy start to our day

Gannets on our trip out to the islands

Grey seals basking (unfortunately not in the sun)

Razorbill

Huge colony of guillemots on Staple Island

The main attraction – puffins

Puffin up close

Puffins on their burrows

Puffin posing

Puffin in flight

Shag

Puffin with sand eels

Fulmars

Kittiwakes

Guillemots with chick

Guillemot with sand eel

Guillemot on egg

Shag with chicks

The lighthouse on Inner Farne

Sandwich tern on the journey back to Seahouses

The experience, as fabulous as it was, was very different from our previous views of puffins which were on Skomer Island off the Pembrokeshire Coast of Wales. Here on the Farne Islands we were closer up to many more seabirds, but on Skomer we were able to explore the island more and enjoy the spectacular views. (See – A taste of Skomer)

In the afternoon the sun came out and we had a very pleasant early evening stroll along the coast at Boulmer where we saw stonechats, meadow pipits, oystercatchers and sanderling.

Stonechat

Stonechat

Oystercatchers

The coast at Boulmer

Meadow pipit

Sanderling

Sanderling in flight

Pied wagtail

Spring flowers along the coastal path


Farne Islands breeding bird report for 2021

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5th June 2022 – Northumberland

Heading north for a holiday in Northumberland we made a brief stop (for nostalgic reasons) at Attenborough Nature Reserve in Long Eaton to break the journey and to grab a cup of tea. This was my first attempt at photos for quite some time and, for lack of practice (and probably senility), I really did mess things up. However, I managed to rescue a few shots to give a flavour of this lovely reserve in the centre of England. A pair of common terns were the main feature but close to the centre we also saw Egyptian geese, a great crested grebe and a reed bunting.

Further north (by now into Northumberland) we stopped at Hauxley Wildlife Discovery Centre and Reserve where we saw more terns (common and sandwich) and many other birds that I do not see locally in Bristol such as tree sparrows and bullfinches. We also saw a beautiful red squirrel on a feeder.


The BBC were filming “Spring Watch'” at Hauxley for the following week and it was lovely to meet the charming Megan McCubbin in the first hide we visited.

Our first sortie from Alnmouth (where we are staying for the week) was to Cresswell Pond, to the south, where we had heard reports of spoonbills.

On arrival we could see two spoonbills in the distance. The light was poor and I thought my chances of photographing them would be very limited but just when I was about to give up they flew across the water and landed nearby. Quite a treat. On the way back we stopped at Amble Harbour and saw mergansers, eider ducks and an indeterminate diver.

Quite a promising start to the week.