An hour of birdwatching in Didsbury, Manchester

Winter tends to be the time with no updates to this blog. But I’ll make an exception for this post about a quick hour of birdwatching in Didsbury, Manchester. This blogpost is primarily for Paul – mostly with record shots of birds in and around his garden.

There are the usual suspects – magpies, blackbirds, different types of gulls, wood pigeons and the like. In the short time I was looking, I saw three different birds of the tits family: Greater, blue and coal.

Blue tit:

a_blue tit_3Coal tit:

a_coal tit_2Great tit:

a_great tits_1The biggest surprise were a flock of about 12 ring-necked parakeet, zooming through the garden and surrounding trees. Here are two of them (in a tree quite far away):

a_rainy tree and parakeetThe following is a record-shot of a nuthatch in the tall tree at the end (to the left) of the garden:

a_nuthatch_1A little robin next door:

a_robin_3There was a group of 5 Great Spotted Woodpeckers. Here’s one of them:

a_great spotted woodpecker_4Here is a record shot of a pair of chaffinches:

a_chaffinches_1And a goldfinch (also a record-shot):

a_goldfinch in the rain_1There was also this Carrion Crow in flight:

a_carrion crowBeautiful winter colour in the garden:

a_golden winter1a_sunseta_the jungle_1And finally: this mysterious – very confiding – blue bird:

a_mysterious blue bird

Swift’s Hill in August: Spiranthes and more

Swift’s Hill is the place to go to see orchids, and it doesn’t disappoint now that we’re approaching autumn, with autumn lady’s tresses starting to show. Here is a selection of photos – all taken in the early evening in less than ideal light conditions. If I get a chance I’ll add more photos in better conditions, soon:

ALT6 alt3 ALT5

There is also autumn gentian (we’re having an autumnal theme, here!):

Autumn gentian

Carline thistle:

Carline thistle

Dwarf thistle:

dwarf thistle

The yellowwort is now in seed – still very ‘yellow’, in a different way, though:

yellowwort in seed

And the views from the hill are spectacular, as always:

sh views1 sh views2

Black Forest animals

While looking for ghost orchids in the Black Forest recently (early August 2014), we came across a number of interesting animals as well. The most impressive (for me) were these map butterflies, which I first thought were smallish-looking white admirals (but then I checked!):

map butterfly2 Map butterfly 1

There were also many Silver-washed fritillaries, just like in the Lower Woods:

silver washed fritillary1silver washed fritillary3

Near the ghost orchids, we came across this lovely hare!

rabbit inhabitant

There were many different types of crickets and grasshoppers – to be ID’d (here are two):

cricket grasshopper

In a nearby town, I found these firebugs and common blue butterfly:

firebugs common blue

Ghost orchids in the Black Forest

Having learnt about an area in the Black Forest where ghost orchids are flowering pretty regularly every year, I decided to go and have a look. I was taking my daughter to visit Germany anyway, the timing seemed perfect for the flowering season, I managed to get a reasonably priced flight to Munich and a good train connection to the Black Forest (and on from there). Why on earth not?

I was in touch with a local gentleman who knew something about the topic, and he was kind enough to let me know where exactly to go to see those few flowers that had appeared this year (2014). I was excited… No, that doesn’t really capture it – I was full of anticipation and absolutely ecstatic!

This photos is taken on our approach to the woods – showing the combination of coniferous and (mixed) deciduous woodland, surrounded by arable fields:

into the woods2  

(the sign reads something along the lines of ‘do not enter by motorised or other vehicle’)

The orchids grew just a short walk from where this image was taken. Three lumps of plants were accessible from the paths. There were possibly many more further in the woods, but because this plant is very fragile – it grows just below the surface for most of the time and only resurfaces every few years (or, perhaps decades) – visitors are urged to stay on the paths.

I saw a total of 9 orchids. This collection of 5 right next to the path:


(on the next picture with flash to show other details not visible above):

ghosts1 with flash

There were these three (one of them is hiding behind the other) near where the other 5 were growing. One – possibly two of the plants – have 5 flowers per spike, which is quite impressive:


(and with flash):

ghosts2 with flash

And finally there was this solitary plant, which had already gone over and was about to set seed:

ghost orchid gone over

The woodland was truly stunning, and there were signs of earlier orchid growth wherever we looked. Here is a picture of the woodland floor with remnants (leave-stalks) of the lady’s slipper orchids that flowered here earlier in the year (the broad leaves at the bottom centre of the picture):

forest floor with remnants of ladys slippers

There were remnants of different types of helleborines (epipactis) of seed heads of bird’s nest orchids (the latter below):

birds nest orchid in seed2

There were many other plants, such as Martagon lilies in seed, as well as May lilies (as in the following picture), also in seed:

may lily in seed

As expected, there were lots of different fungi (common in areas where ghost orchids grow/have grown in the past). Most impressive, I thought, were these “rings” of fungi on the ground:


I was impressed to see these earth stars (geastrum triplex):

geastrum triplex

Outside the woods, there were a few beautiful wildflower meadows – full of scabious, knapweed, yellow rattle and more – attracting a number of interesting butterflies (see my separate post).

wildflower meadow with swf

There were also a few bushes of atropa belladonna – we stayed well away from those:

atropa belladonna

“Bugs” and orchids in the Wye Valley

I went on a serious orchid hunt in the Wye Valley today (with two other orchid enthusiasts) – and despite not really finding the most elusive orchid in Britain, I still saw many other interesting creepy crawlies, butterflies, birds and fungi. It was a real treat!

I even saw some more Marsh Helleborines – clinging on for dear life (most had gone well and truly over – some were still in seed). There were the occasional Marsh Fragrant Orchids – again well and truly over. But three of the Marsh Helleborines were still in flower, and we were even treated to a common blue posing for us on one of them:

Common blue on Marsh Helleborine

March helleborines Wye Valley


This one is in seed (almost impossible to spot in the long grass):

marsh helleborine in seed

We saw many migrant hawkers – mostly in flight and almost impossible to catch (though one rested for a short while – behind a leaf, cf. the second picture – can you spot the tip of the tail and part of a wing?)

migrant hawker

chaser hiding behind this leaf

Butterflies included wood whites, which I hadn’t (consciously) seen before – the long body is really conspicuous:

wood white Wye Valley

There was also this lovely red admiral:

red admiral wye valley

Violet helleborines in the Lower Woods

A little over a week ago, the violet helleborines (Epipactis purpurata) in the Lower Woods finally came into flower. This is the very first one to flower (I had just walked past it in bud, and on my way back it had opened the lowest bud – what a treat!):

first VH LW1

Soon the others followed – and now there’s an array of different shapes, sizes and colours around the woods. Here is a small selection:

VH10very white VH2VH LW 020814_2VH8VH9

I like it how some of the plants are serving as hotel rooms for little bugs:

VH in flower4

I also saw wasps pollinating the plants – like on this pic:

Wasp pollinating VH2

While the violet helleborines are in their prime, the broad-leaved helleborines are almost over now (having said that, I found a plant with 4 stalks, two of which were over/almost over, one was in full flower and one was in bud!). Here’s picture of a broad-leaved helleborine (Epipactis helleborine) in its full glory:

blh along river path 2 beautiful

The following picture is of a broad-leaved helleborine of the ‘albiflora’ variety – i.e. an albino without chlorophyll:

Albino blh 280714


There is, of course, a lot else going on. Crickets in the long grass, Silver-washed fritillaries fighting peacocks and the last of the herb Paris clinging on – and so much else!

Cricket in the grassButterfly fight2014-08-01 15.32.35




The time of the helleborines

Most types of helleborine are now starting to flower. Three I was lucky to see include this broad-leaved helleborine without chlorophyl (epipactis helleborine var. albiflora), which has just started to open the first few buds:

1Albiflora plant 1albiflora zoom

Right behind this plant grows a ‘regular’ broad-leaved helleborine, which has also just started to flower:


Finally, some of the narrow-lipped helleborines are now in full flower around the Cotswold Commons & Beechwoods – stunning!

1nlh6 1nlh8

2014-07-17 16.14.30


Cotswold Commons

After two weeks of few orchid discoveries (the early summer species have mostly gone to seed, while the later species seemed to have been in bud forever, without getting anywhere), it’s now finally time for the helleborines to appear. Sure, I had a look at those marsh helleborines in Berrow a few weeks ago. Yet, the “real deal” of epipactis puprurata (purple), epipactis helleborine (broad-leaved) and epipactis phyllanthes (green-flowered), etc. are only just emerging now. One place where – at least two of these – have started to flower is the Cotswold Commons and Beechwoods near Stroud. Again: collaboration with other orchid hunters is really useful: Thanks to John, I was able to find an area where green-flowered helleborines grow quite abundantly (and certainly easy enough to find). Simon and Ben have, independently, kept me up to date with the plants’ progress – and when I found out that the first ones had come into flower, I couldn’t wait any longer. Braving the drizzle, and later rain early this morning, I found a few green-flowered helleborines that had started flowering:
GFH side
This is a type of green-flowered helleborine for which the lip looks very similar to the petals and sepals of the rest of the flower, as can be seen on this close-up through my hand-lens:
glh through lens
A few of the broad-leaved helleborines were in flower already, too. There is such a wide variability (even on a rather small site). This one has a very dense inflorescence in a beautiful dark purple:
blh full of flowers
This one has a beautiful red shade (now, do I really need to go up north to look at e. atrorubens, now that I’ve seen this one?):
dark pink blh

blh very close up
There are also lighter shades:
blh closer zoom
blh closeup1

The violet helleborines at another site are still a week – or so – away from flowering; and the narrow-lipped helleborines are yet to be found! More excitement for the coming weeks.
Apart from orchids, I saw some other pretty flowers and butterflies out and about today.

A sea of betony – one of my favourite wildflowers:
betony field
Rosebay willowherb is in flower now – it reminds me so much of the North (Finland, in particular). Here with hemp agrimony:
rosebay willowherb and hemp agrimony
The wildflower meadows (on lime) are still stunning:
agrimony close up
A few marbled-white butterflies were clinging too, despite the drizzle:
marbled white side1

Marsh helleborines at Berrow golf course

A few days ago I went on a trip to Berrow to look for marsh helleborines. It was supposed to be a very quick dip in and out, but I simply could not find the plants! I knew from one of my fellow orchid hunters that they were down by one of the lakes on the golf course. Feeling like an intruder, I gingerly traipsed around, avoiding flying golf balls. Thankfully, I had some last-minute help from Ben Ofield via Twitter, went back to the same lake I had walked past twice already and finally found the plants! They were not quite as easy to spot as I had anticipated!





This is the location of the plants; to make it easier for others looking for them:


There were a lot of other interesting plants and animals, and the whole area is worth an explore. The whole golf course is rich in orchids, in particular common spotted, Southern marsh and pyramidal orchids. These are pyramidal orchids:


A few Southern marsh orchids (photo) are still out – while most others, as well as the common spotted orchids, have gone over already:


There was a lot of restharrow, in full flower:


Ribbed melilot:


A saw a lot of different dragonflies and interesting birds – but most too fast to capture on camera. I’m pleased I managed to take a photo of this little damselfly in flight, though:



There were many small skippers (possibly Essex skippers, following a discussion on Twitter):


And this scarlet tiger moth:



Avon Gorge, end of June

I had a work meeting in Clifton again today – and, as I hope to do on such an occasion, I had a quick look around the Avon Gorge to make the most of being ‘in town’ and to see which other exciting plants have started flowering. Today it was special, though, as mentioning that I had an interest in botany, my collaborator and fellow linguist immediately revealed her own interest in the field – and we ended up walking around the Avon Gorge together. Here are a few of the plants we saw.

The Bristol onion has started to come up – and there is a lot of spiked speedwell, too:



The small scabious are in flower, too – and a lot of wood sage:


There is still a lot of Ivy broomrape – though most of it is drying out (as are the navelwort, the red valerian and ox-eye daisies):