Sunday 30 June 2024

Frog Orchids in Oxfordshire 29th June 2024


Enthused by my recent trips to view some of the fifty or so different species of orchids growing wild in Britain I am naturally keen to continue the experience but although immensely grateful for information being passed to me by Duncan and Peter about where to go to look for wild orchids I  now felt the urge to attempt to find my own.

I decided on the Frog Orchid. 

Quite some time ago I saw a small colony of them at Aston Rowant NNR, that lies just within the southern boundary of Oxfordshire but never went back to check on them, spending all of the subsequent years looking at the many species of butterflies found on the reserve.

With the  weather set fair for sunshine and a pleasant warm breeze I decided to take a chance and go back to Aston Rowant and see if I could locate the Frog Orchids, assuming they were still there. I could remember approximately where they had been on what is a very large reserve but not the precise location and the subsequent passage of time would certainly have dulled my memory.

I left it until early afternoon to visit but my journey was disrupted by a serious accident on the M40 motorway  which brought traffic to a standstill just before the junction where I needed to turn off. Frustratingly, three lanes of traffic edged at a snail's pace  towards the turnoff but eventually I made it and was soon parking in an unexpectedly deserted car park at the top of the reserve.

I took the track that runs along the top of the slope looking down to the motorway and saw the lanes of static traffic on the southbound carriageway had now cleared.

I rejoiced that I had escaped the motorway and was now high on the hill enjoying the surrounds of nature.Between me and the distant motorway lay a steep and sloping escarpment, a sea of summer grasses swaying in the wind with the bright magenta heads of  Pyramid Orchids, hundreds of them, glowing like precious gems within the grass.


I walked onwards, uncertain of how far to follow the track but pursued it to the end where it wound off to the right and over a rise, shutting out the sound of the motorway. I passed through a gate at the very top opening onto an area that looked familiar but was daunting in its extent. A carpet of colourful downland flora and native herbs greeted me and frankly, even if I failed in my mission, I felt the effort would still be worth it just to experience this sensory overload of colour and floral profusion. I encountered no one in this lonely spot and commenced wandering across the expanse of sward thay lay around me. Still unsure if this was the right place.




To walk on this ground was refreshing after the hard chalk of the track as the density and springiness of the short vegetation underfoot cushioned my feet, almost as if I was walking on a deep pile carpet with all the while the faint scent of wild thyme lingering on the air. Another half an hour passed, still with no result and I found myself back at a spot I was sure I had covered before.My eyes strained from constantly and closely scrutinising the ground below me.

Various uncertain tracks left by the sheep which graze here in winter meandered through the flora.I followed one as orchids often havea preference for such tracks but met with no success. I began to doubt myself but persisted in my search.Maybe that patch over there? Maybe this one? I was floundering I had to admit. 

Much of the habitat was so alike but also looked a little too lush for orchids so I looked for areas with shorter grass, that were more open and sparsely vegetated. Areas where herbs such as wild thyme and other low growing plants I could not name grew.

Frog Orchids are short and unspectacular, just like the Musk Orchids I saw on Wednesday, marginally duller and blend perfectly with their surroundings which makes them hard to locate.The flowers vary from yellowish green to reddish brown and with a generous use of imagination can look vaguely like a frog.You really have to concentrate to pick them out from all the weird and wonderful downland flowers, leaves and stalks at your feet.

Frog Orchids are described as local and are in long term decline. The Plant Atlas 2020 describes them as potentially Britain's fastest declining orchid which does not bode well.  Although widely distributed in northern and western Britain they are only to be found at a relatively small number of sites and have also declined in central England and East Anglia but are said to be still present in reasonable numbers on the chalk hills that run from Sussex to Wiltshire.The reasons for its decline are linked to improvements in agriculture, undergrazing and more recently droughts.

Over an hour of fruitless searching had passed and I had all but given up and was returning to the main track and as I did, there right at my feet was a Frog Orchid. A eureka moment instantly followed by relief that I had managed not to tread on it..

My sense of achievement was almost overwhelming. An absolute joy of discovery and a feeling of self satisfaction enveloped me. I even let out a  cry of triumph, there was no one around after all.

For a minute I stood looking down on my unassuming  prize - no more than two and a half inches high with mostly tightly furled buds giving it a distinctive knobbly appearance.It will soon open its buds in the coming days but this did not concern me, all that mattered was it was a Frog Orchid, I had found it myself and best of all, despite declining nationally there were still Frog Orchids growing here after all the years that had passed.


I took some images, careful not to flatten the vegetation in case it would betray its presence but need not have worried as the vegetation underfoot was so thick, short and tightly bound together it just sprang back and you  would never know anyone had been here.

Fired with renewed enthusiasm I endeavoured to look for more.All those years ago I had found quite a number.Surely there should be more or was this the only one left? Careful not to tread on any undiscovered orchids I wandered around looking but for some while met with no success but then with 'my eye in' I found another two and then another three in discrete pockets nearby and so it went on until I had found exactly thirty spread over two relatively close areas.

Most were nowhere as tall as the first one I had found and were very hard to discern unless you knew that they were likely to be there.So unassuming in both colour and form they almost melted into their surroundings. As with the Musk Orchid this works to their benefit as no one will notice them even though they are relatively near to a track used by dog walkers and hikers.


I found another small colony nearer to the gate, right by the track and one of these was of the reddish brown form as opposed to the original one that was yellowish green. Even better as I took its image I noticed it was more advanced with its frog shaped flowers more fully open.



I had spent two very pleasant and rewarding hours up here, in my own world and encountering absolutely no one.I returned the way I had come and there was time to admire a Clustered Bellflower and an aberrant pale pink Pyramid Orchid as I made my way back to the car, feeling a palpable sense of triumph at having found the Frog Orchids.


Clustered Bellflower


Aberrant Pyramid Orchid

There is no better feeling. Little inconsequential things such as this are the stuff and variety of life that make it all worthwhile.

Postscript

I went back on Sunday the 7th of July and conducted a more thorough search and found no leas than fifty two orchids including two that were at least fifteen centimetres high


Friday 28 June 2024

Musk Orchids in Gloucestershire 26th June 2024


Another summer's day and one predicted to be the hottest so far this year, not that there have been many to compete with. I took a notion to take full advantage and go to Cleeve Common which lies some 330m above sea level and is part of the  limestone escarpment that forms the northern edge of The Cotswolds. From here you can look west, down and over to Cheltenham in the distance  with its famous racecourse and then beyond to the River Severn and even into Wales.


The
 reason for my visit was to see some Musk Orchids that grow beside a narrow track that runs aslant the western face of the hill, an area of limestone grassland designated as an SSSI. Musk Orchids are designated as Nationally Scarce, mainly due to loss of suitable habitat such as the ploughing up of old grassland, and scrub encroachment due to the reduction of sheep grazing. Their habitat preference is very precise in that they will only grow in short turf on chalk or limestone, favouring the contour hugging terraces formed by sheep trails on steep and sunny slopes.They are restricted to southern and south eastern England and The Cotswolds mark the northernmost extent of their range

The last time I saw Musk Orchids was a very long time ago when I lived in Sussex and on behalf of Sussex Wildlife Trust acted as Honorary Warden  of Ditchling Beacon Nature Reserve near Brighton. That was some thirty plus years ago. I found many growing in the old chalk pits, their other favoured habitat, that lay beside the infamous road that rises steeply to the top of the Beacon. Few ever came to see them as they were well removed from the main part of the reserve and could only be accessed by a very hazardous descent from the top. For the ten years I lived in Ditchling they were a treasured secret known just to myself and the Trust.

I expected such a well known beauty spot as Cleeve Hill to be popular on a day such as this but was surprised to find only one other car parked at the top. I was entirely alone as I took the track out onto the steep grassland slope. The joy and benefit of being outdoors on a day such as this, surrounded by a wealth of grassland flowers and particularly orchids in some abundance was not to be underestimated.

Musk Orchids are I suppose an enthusiasts orchid and lack the spectacular form and colourful presence of many of our other wild orchid species. They are yellowish green, very small, tiny even and rarely grow much above six inches, often a lot shorter, dwarfed by the limestone grasses and flowers. They are a hidden, honey scented gem, difficult to spot that brings a delight way out of proportion to their size when they are discovered.

My task at finding them was made far easier with directions courtesy of the estimable Duncan D so I knew where to look for them but it still took a while to get my eye in. One great anxiety was would I remember what they looked like after a gap of over thirty years!

In my search I inevitably found other orchids.The always fascinating Bee Orchid was present in good numbers, its flowers a marvel of mimickry on their strange convoluted stem and surprisingly hard to see amongst the escarpment's grasses.



More obvious were the many Common Spotted Orchids, well you could hardly miss them they were so prolific, raising their towers of pink or white flowers well above the grass on sturdy stalks.

Most spectacular of all were the Pyramid Orchids.Unmissably colourful, the pyramid of rich, bright pink flowers almost glows with the depth of colour, as it is held aloft amongst the waving grasses on a long, firm stalk of green. Unlike the spotted orchids each plant is spaced well apart from others of its kind, the plant appearing to prefer to grow in isolation and maintain its own space which only serves to enhance their individual beauty. However in other locations I know they can grow closer.


I walked the particular part of track I had been directed to and found the bench that was also mentioned in the directions and there were two Musk Orchids right by the track. I realised later that I must have walked past several others that were not so obvious but hey ho the main thing was I had found two at least. One was a good height for a Musk Orchid, being almost almost five inches high. The other next to it somewhat shorter.

Once the honours had been done and the unremarkable duo photographed I could relax and enter the spirit of the  place. I had achieved all that I wanted  but was loathe  to leave such a pleasant spot. Having planned this trip and made the journey I felt I should give it more of my time as I would undoubtedly feel unfulfilled if I left now.Thirty years is a long time and the Musk Orchids deserved better of me!

I slowly walked the track again, back and fore, even descending down the steep slope a little way and as usually happens I began to find many more Musk Orchids hiding discretely in the grass. A minority were so tiny they hardly made it above ground but most were around a couple of inches high and usually in twos or threes although occasionally I found a larger grouping and in one case up to eleven were together. At times I had to lay on the warm ground to photo them from ground level they were so small.

I counted over a hundred but there were many more, of that I am sure, hidden in the grass. their pale greenish yellow flowers hardly making them conspicuous. I reflected that their inconsequential presence and unremarkable colour was probably their salvation in that they are so easily overlooked unless specifically searched for and as a consequence are left undisturbed.

I wearied of walking and taking photos in  a sun that was now very hot so sat on the bench and regarded Cheltenham far below me in the distance.

I had no desire to be in a town and it was as if I was in an alternative world up here on Cleeve Hill

But the time came when it was right to leave and I made my way back to where I had left the car beside the lane. A Tree Pipit sang from the top of a hawthorn as I made my way back up the track to the lane. Taking one last glance at a mass of spotted orchids I thought one looked  different.

My interest in British orchids is still in its infancy and I am the first to admit I have much to learn. Not quite sure what it was I took some images and back at home after checking some reference books found it was, I think, a Chalk Fragrant Orchid, possibly of the alba form. It looked very white in real life but my images show a hint of pink. Help!


At least I think it is a Chalk Fragrant but if anyone feels I may be mistaken and wishes to enlighten me please feel free to let me know.


Wednesday 26 June 2024

Bernwood Butterflies 24th June 2024


On a day of summer heat I turned off a country road that runs from Stanton St John to Oakley and into a tiny car park, no more than a square really with room for three cars at the most, its entrance an unheralded gap in the high hedges that border the road.This is one of the many magnificent small reserves managed by BBOWT.(Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust) This particular one being Bernwood Meadows that abuts Bernwood Forest, beloved of dog walkers, half a mile further up the road and where most people gravitate to leave their car in the main car park and follow the tracks through the trees.

I rarely encounter anyone at the small car park, doubtless dissuaded by its concealment and its lack of vehicular capacity. A small metal gate leads immediately onto nineteen acres of traditional hay meadow carefully managed by BBOWT with June being the optimum month to visit here as you are greeted by a wealth of  flora and insects. The meadow is, as if an artist has taken his paint box and randomly dabbed a brush with bright colours, infinite times across the entire expanse. There are the bright yellows of hawkbit and kidney vetch, swathes of white in the form of oxe eye daisies, pale blue of scabious and purple pink of knapweed and clover, spread like a tapestry for as far as one can see. A haze of colour amongst the summer grasses, the abundance is breathtaking as occasional paler pink or even white spikes of common spotted orchids grow in the shadier, damper areas. Allow your gaze to slip into neutral and you are looking at a living impressionistic painting that never fails. like all masterpieces, to be both inspirational and life affirming.

I come here most years at this time, my mission two fold, to participate in the joyful ambience of nature's colour and bounty and to seek out two butterflies, the ethereal and beautiful White Admiral  and the Black Hairstreak, rare and highly localised, a speciality of this county and just two of its neighbouring counties. 

The White Admiral to my mind, is one of the most attractive and charming of our native butterflies.Nowhere here are they common, nor anywhere else for that matter as most of our butterfly species are in severe decline and it is only by being protected on reserves such as this that they are able to make a stand for survival.

Today I found an unruly bramble in flower, at the far end of the reserve which accesses Bernwood Forest through another discrete metal gate.It is early in the season and the admirals are in perfect condition, their emergence precipitated by the welcome onset of this warm dry spell.The priority for the emerging buttterflies is to fuel up on nectar which I found one in the act of doing this morning by the sun baked track that runs betwixt meadow and forest, probing into the delicate pink flowers of the bramble, fluttering from flower to flower, gorging on the life sustaining nectar.


White Admirals are striking in appearance, superficially a shock of black and white but in fact dark chocolate brown on their upperwings, both of which are crossed by a broad white band. Flexing its wings it held them open to allow the sun to warm its body and that, combined with the nectar, will power its flight over the remaining few days of its life.The beauty of this butterfly is however not in the bold appearance of its upperwings but the combination of colour and pattern of its underwings, a complex combination of chestnut brown, white and black to outdo even the celebrated Purple Emperor, which also inhabits Bernwood Forest.


It is however the unrivalled gracefulness of their flight that transcends and puts it in such a special place.It flies as if there is no effort required, propelled with the quickest flick of wings into long glides through the twigs and branches of the forest edge, changing direction with bewildering ease, it floats in the dappled shade as if disembodied. 

I watched this particular admiral for some time as it examined each flower with great diligence  until  eventually it was replete.It fluttered  to a horizontal spray of bramble, perching there with splayed wings absorbing the sunshine, 'pancaking' as it is called. A rather crude description for such a graceful insect.

For minutes it never moved but then took to the air and with a casual flick of its wings crossed the track  before me and glided into the green, sun dappled reaches of the forest and was gone.

With the departure of the White Admiral my attention turned to the Black Hairstreak, an altogether different proposition. Tiny, no more than the size of a thumbnail they inhabit the high hedges of blackthorn that circumvent the meadow.

To see one requires supreme patience for they show a predilection for the topmost and thickest parts of the blackthorn where the small, glossed and hard leaves are at their most prolific.The secret is to wait until one flies, often only a very brief flutter and hope that it flies downwards  to settle on a lower leaf rather, than seems to  be more often the case, flutter up to the top of the hedge or even over it into invisibility.

For the most part they imbibe honeydew (the secretions of aphids) from the blackthorn leaves but occasionally are tempted to nectar on the bramble flowers that grow sparsely within the fastness of the blackthorn.This provides an opportunity that can often take hours to realise.

But the trial of will is worth it for the satisfaction of discovering for oneself one of the rarest and most elusive butterflies in Britain, its mouse brown wings decorated with an orange band and row of black spots on the hindwing.Look very carefully and you will see the thin white line that gives the insect its name ( hairstreak) and that runs as a haphazard scribble down the wings.

I stood alone by the blackthorn for almost an hour before one showed itself briefly but frustratingly flew high up into one of the  surrounding oaks. I saw three more but just for moments and only one granted an unrestricted view and that for less than a minute before disappearing. They have a very short flying season  and soon it will be all over for another year. So I considered myself fortunate to see this one

For the most part I was on my own. Departing my world and entering an altogether different one of nature. It's no hardship to be on one's own communing with the natural world. I have, often unwittingly, been doing it all my life and now great store is set on getting out into the natural world for one's mental well being.

Sometimes there come others with the same motive, to stand and stare at the blackthorn and wait to see a Black Hairstreak. Fellow enthusiasts they may be but it is never quite the same idyll, the spell is broken and I feel something has been lost. It is not that I am hostile and will happily chat wth another if they wish to speak but for me the desire is to be without distraction or diversion. 

It is difficult to find anywhere in this crowded country to be entirely alone so when the opportunity presents itself it is to be treasured.






















Sunday 16 June 2024

The Yellow crowned Night Heron in Ireland 14th June 2024


It was while holidaying on The Isle of Arran a few weeks ago that news broke  on the 26th of May of the rather sensational discovery of a Yellow crowned Night Heron, normally to be found on the other side of the Atlantic, frequenting a river running through the small village of Belcarra that is situated in County Mayo in the west of Ireland.

This would be the first time this species of heron had been found in Britain and Ireland so obviously there would be a huge amount of interest from birders in both countries. Indeed no less than twenty British birders went to see it the very next day after its discovery and the bird has since become a minor celebrity in Ireland, not just amongst the local birding fraternity but featuring in both the Irish Times and Irish Sun.  The village of Belcarra, consisting of just two hundred souls has, in a very Irish way taken the heron to its heart and notices with its picture are attached to fences by the river exhorting visitors to not disturb it too much or approach it too closely and maybe make a donation to the Belcarra Riverside Walk


Until this discovery there had only been thirteen records of a Yellow crowned Night Heron in the Western Palearctic

9 on the Azores 
1 at Terceira July 2010 was the first record for Europe and the Western Palearctic. 
Another 8 have occurred on the Azores in subsequent years.

1 at Funchal, Madeira February/March 2011.

1 at Faro, Portugal June 2020.

1 at Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt January 2021.

1 found dead at Ouddorp,The Netherlands May 2021. 
This record was not accepted due to the circumstances in which it was found.

This latest individual in Ireland was frequenting a short wooded stretch  of the River Manulla that flows through the pleasant rural surrounds of Belcarra and had been first photographed from a narrow metal bridge that crossed the river there.

I was on Arran until the 9th of June so there was little I could do even if I wanted to go and see it.I do not really twitch birds in Ireland but various images subsequently appearing showed what an attractive and confiding bird it was. The only one I had seen before was on the Caribbean coast of Ecuador in October 2014 and that was only a brief view. My mind was made up to go to Ireland.

I spoke to Mark my twitching pal and we discussed various plans to go and see the heron when I returned from Arran. Our main concern was cost and the time it would take to get to Ireland and back. The choice was between an overnight ferry from Holyhead and then drive for 3.5 hours from Dublin to Belcarra  or fly from Leeds/Bradford airport, near Mark's home, to Dublin and then rent a car to get us to the bird.

After a bit of indecision we opted to take a late night Ryanair flight and hire a car from Hertz at Dublin airport as this was both quicker and to our surprise cheaper than going by the ferry.

I arrived at Mark's house on Tuesday evening which left us with most of Wednesday for some local birding which included a singing Marsh Warbler at nearby RSPB Saltholme. On Wednesday night we were due to fly out at an hour before midnight, taking one small bag containing both our cameras and with binoculars strung around our necks thus avoiding Ryanair's attempts to extract more money for all those annoying extras that lurk for the unwary on their website.

We would drive overnight to the bird, spend some of the day at Belcarra and then possibly look for the Least Tern at Portrane Point near Dublin before returning to the airport on Thursday evening to catch another late flight back to Britain. 

Already tired and feeling the effects of taking antibiotics for an infected toe I was not at my best as I sat in a gloomy departure lounge awaiting our flight which inevitably was delayed. This posed further anxiety as Hertz in Dublin, where we were due to collect our car, closed at 1am. Our flight was due in at fifteen minutes after midnight. Any further delay would mean we would have to wait for Hertz to re-open at 5am.

I survived the Ryanair cattle herding departure experience and slumped back in my seat for the forty five minute flight.With no baggage to collect we made it to the Hertz desk with fifteen minutes to spare and were given a Volkswagen Golf.

Mark set about the three and a half hour drive to Belcarra. It was only as we cleared the city limits of Dublin and familiarised ourselves with the car's instrument panel that we realised we had been given a car whose entire instrument display was in German.There was little we could do but guess at the various displays and fortunately no major misinterpretation caused us a problem.

The main roads in Ireland compared to our night and day congested motorways are a pleasure to drive on, even in Dublin a busy capital city, and a reminder of how our motorways used to be in former times.

Both of us were dog tired as Mark drove us through the night encountering hardly any other vehicle  apart from the occasional lorry heading north. Mark did the driving while I handled the Satnav, gave driving updates and kept Mark awake.

It was a long, rather boring and somewhat surreal drive across Ireland's heartland and seemed to go on forever along deserted, dead straight roads. It is ever thus with middle of the night twitching in strange surroundings.

As we approached our destination the sky began to lighten and eventually signs for Belcarra appeared and we turned off the main road onto much smaller roads, more typical of rural Ireland,that twisted their way through various small settlements and then there was a sign announcing we were in Belcarra.

It was 4am.

We had made it after what seemed an age since we left Britain but was only hours

Belcarra village was fast asleep.Well it would be at such an early hour. Nothing moved, nothing stirred, no welcoming light shone. Following the directions on Birdguides we found ourselves in a cul de sac with a pleasant little picnic spot by the river but most definitely not the right location.

Not what we needed after all that had gone before.

From previous research we knew the heron was often seen from the small metal bridge that crossed the river but there was no sign of any bridge.

The bridge must be somewhere nearby Mark.

I will have a look at some previous posts from Birdguides about the heron and check what they say 

Finding an earlier post it mentioned a Community Centre and a footpath that led to a Riverside Walk behind it.

There was no obvious sign of a Community Centre. It was still half light and we had no sleep for almost twenty four hours.You can imagine our feelings.

We drove out of the cul de sac and back along the road we had just driven down.Another road led off in the direction of the river.

Let's park here Mark and walk down to the river and see what that brings.

We duly walked to the river and there, across an open piece of grass to our left was the metal bridge we sought.

Once on the bridge we scanned the small river in both directions, its banks lined with trees and bushes thick with leaves.It looked ideal for a night heron which likes nothing better than to roost deep within the cover of a leafy tree.




Sadly there was no sign of the heron along the river or in the trees in either direction.Still comparatively dark, the overgrown banks could be hiding anything. 
I confess to feeling distinctly downbeat at this particular moment but with the knowledge the heron had been seen every day apart from yesterday felt it must be around somewhere near. But where? 

It was not yet time to concede defeat.

It's obviously not here Mark. Where's the Community Centre?
 
No idea.

I scanned across a play area and an ornamental garden, more in hope than expectation.On the far side and facing us was an obvious building with the words Community Centre across its face.


We walked over to it.

I recalled the instructions from the post on Birdguides to walk behind it and down to the Riverside Walk by the river. 

Apparently this was another favourite hangout of the heron.

We walked down a sloping path to the Riverside.Walk


I can recall Mark saying.almost casually There it is

And me saying Where?

He pointed and there was the heron, stood close in to the near bank about twenty metres from us. At first all I could see was the top of its head - revealing a broad cream band along its crown but as it moved away from the bank the rest of its head came into view showing a striking facial pattern of black with a large white cheek patch and several long white plumes growing from the rear of its crown. Eyes the colour of vintage port regarded the water in which it stood. The rest of its body was bluish grey, the wings overlaid with long, pointed, dark centred grey feathers creating an attractive stripey appearance. Its bill was long and black and its legs corn yellow. The whole bird was pleasingly compact at rest, stocky even with a heron's typical hunchbacked look when its large head was retracted but when its neck was extended the heron appeared much slimmer.

It was searching the side of the shallow river for prey. At first we were circumspect and conversed in whispers hardly daring to move for fear of flushing the bird. The heron had noticed us and craned  its neck out to look at us obviously alert to potential danger.

My heart sank.Please do not fly away. For a minute or more it was a standoff but finally the heron went back to searching the river and even began to walk towards us. It became all too obvious the heron was totally unworried about us however close we stood to it.We in turn relaxed. 

It caught a crayfish, crustaceans being a principal part of a Yellow crowned Night Heron's diet and with some difficulty it swallowed the hard shelled beast.

Once the crayfish was consumed it flew to the opposite bank of the river and after a spell standing doing nothing resumed its hunt for crayfish. 

We were joined by another couple of birders who unbelievably I knew from my time in Sussex over twenty five years ago when I used to go seawatching at Seaford. They were touring Ireland for a month and told me they had searched the river here for all of yesterday in constant rain but failed to find the heron. Naturally they were as delighted as us to see it.




It caught another crayfish and then to our delight strode onto a large rock midstream and posed beautifully. It was as if it was saying, Will this pose do? Shall I show you my other side? It caught yet another crayfish and then settled on one leg on its rock for a period of digestion and contemplation, seemingly without a care in the world. I too felt pretty much the same watching it
.My tiredness, although approaching exhaustion, was all but forgotten as adrenalin and a feeling of fulfilment enveloped me. I should be used to it by now but every time it is slightly different, this sense of well being at seeing a rare bird against all the odds.









Time had been forgotten but now checking my phone  I saw it was only six am and we had already got all the images we wanted of this very rare bird. It could not have performed any better. For a while it continued to stand on its rock and then flew down the river only to appear beyond the now infamous metal bridge, where it resumed stalking the riverside on the hunt for more crayfish.











Yellow crowned Night Herons are normally found exclusively in The Americas, inhabiting tropical and sub tropical regions ranging from southern Florida, the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Alabama and the coast of eastern Texas. They are also found in Mexico, Central America, the Galapagos Islands, the Caribbean and northern South America.

They are happy to live near humans and in their normal range can be found in wooded neighbourhoods and even nesting on rooftops.From what I saw of Belcarra, the village seemed an ideal substitute home for the heron with its quiet river full of crayfish and surrounded by trees to roost in.

Inevitably questions have been raised about how it got to County Mayo, especially as it was so confiding. Could it be an escape and not a true vagrant? It is a matter of personal judgement and from my point of view it had been found on the west coast of Ireland which would surely be a natural landfall for a storm blown bird from America.This also seems to be the general concensus amongst my fellow birders.

We stood on the metal bridge and chatted to a friendly Irish birder,who told us he was the top lister in Kerry, sharing this triumphant moment and pleasurable experience in a small remote village in the west of Ireland. The sun shone through the clouds and it was still shy of 7am when we bade farewell to the heron  and its new home on the gently running River Manulla.