Big Forest Find @WestonbirtArb (1)

We spent yesterday at Westonbirt Arboretum.  Not unusual for me – I’m there every week but less usual for Rock and a special visit for us to take part in the Big Forest Find.  The Big Forest find is an event where the public are invited to join wildlife experts to identify as many species of birds, bees, insects, mammals, trees, flowers etc. as possible.

It is an arboretum so we started with trees in the company of Westonbirt’s excellent dendrologist Michal Dvorak.  He showed us some extraordinary things: fabulous magnolias; the Red Lantern Tree; the Handkerchief Tree; new Abies cones; the beautiful Paper Mulberry; and lots more.


Crinodendron hookerianum
Davidia involucrata
Abies Fraseri



Broussonettia papyrifera

It was a privilege to spend some time with Michal – who had clearly put some thought into which trees he had selected to show us. We had a fantastic time!


Super Rare Moth at Westonbirt

Volunteering at Westonbirt Arboretum is something that I love to do… but some days are extra special!  Yesterday, a very rare Clifden Nonpareil (also known commonly as a Blue Underwing) moth was discovered in one of the polytunnels at Westonbirt.  Only a handful of these migrant moths are spotted in the UK each year and I was one of only a handful of people lucky enough to see and photograph this beauty.


The first thing you notice about the Blue Underwing is its size.  With a wingspan approaching 100mm, it is one of the largest moths to be found in the UK. At first, with its hindwings tucked in, it looked large but not particularly colourful.  Its forewings have intricate patterns, that appear mainly brown when in shade and mainly grey when in light – camouflaging it perfectly to blend in against stone walls or tree bark.

Catocala fraxini – Westonbirt Arboretum

However, once its hindwings are visible, you see the charismatic violet-blue bands that give it its name.  Wow!


It may be unusual to see spectacular colour in a moth at Westonbirt – but spectacular colour from trees is a very common sight here every Autumn.

Farne Islands (4) – other species

So far my Farne Island blogs have covered grey seals, puffins and razorbills but there are also shags, kittiwakes, guillemots, arctic and sandwich terns there.  Below you can see examples of these other species plus the view from the boat as we leave Inner Farne.

Shag (Phahacrocorax aristotelis) and Guillemot (Uria aalge)
Colony of Sandwich Terns (Sterna sandvicensis)
Colony of Guillemots
Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla), Razorbill ( Alca torda) and Puffin (Fratercula arctica)
Arctic Tern(Sterna paradisaea)
Inner Farne

Farne Islands (3) – Razorbills

We love razorbills.  They are the closest living relative of the now extinct Great Auk and the only surviving member of the alca genus which had a much greater diversity three million years ago.  They also choose one mate for life (see featured image).  On Inner Farne we were able to get closer to razorbills than I think we have ever been before.

Alca torda – Farne Islands


Farne Islands (2) – A Puffin Tale

We went to the Farne Islands to see a variety of birds but, the main reason most people go there… is for the puffins. Clownish little auks that waddle around and work incredibly hard to fish and then fight off the gulls to deliver food to their young.

The captioned pictures will hopefully give you a flavour of one puffin’s fishing trip…

Taking a relaxing stroll through the fields before a challenging flight
Final check of tail flight feathers
Shall I fly north, or south, or east, or west?
Final check on the sea conditions
Back on dry land after a successful mission.  Showing off the catch to my mates before heading to my chicks in the burrow.

Farne Islands (1) – Grey Seals

This is going to be the first of several blogs following a fabulous boat trip to Inner Farne and round some of the other Farne Islands.  We saw a fantastic variety of birds but let’s start with a mammal….the grey seal.


Love the mottled colour of the seals set against the patchwork colours of rocks, lichen and seaweed.

Halichoerus grypus – Farne Islands