Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Now is the winter of our discontent . . .

or so Bill wrote all those years ago, and this winter "we" seemed to have proved him to be correct.

As someone who is interested in nature, winter is a great time, cold clear days make sure we keep a reasonable pace to our walking despite the best efforts of the wind to push us backwards at times!  A lack of foliage make birds and other tree dwelling wildlife (can only think of squirrels!) a bit easier to see, though just as difficult to photograph in many cases.  Hands hold on tightly to cameras and binoculars despite the complete lack of blood (and therefore warmth or feeling) in our fingers - or at least in mine, and feet either freeze through standing around churchyards or woods waiting for the Greater or Lesser or Spotted (or this year Parrot) Bird to appear, or they become caked in mud and other "stuff" as we walk around, covering the same ground several times in search of our quarry.

What is he going on about I can hear you asking yourself, and to be honest, I've forgotten why I started this!

As a "Twitter-er" I am privy to the thoughts of many people, some I know quite well, some I've never heard of, and most I am unlikely to recognise when (or if) I do meet them.  But this winter there seems to me to be a noticeable "down-turn" in optimism and tolerance, from the person you know quite well to Donald J Trump (for example), the Twittersphere has become the mouthpiece for all views, especially the negative ones.

No end of "Tweeters" bemoaning the lack of Waxwings this year, or having a go at organisations whose sites haven't produced the expected bird on the day visited.  I've sat in several hides for several hours this winter playing "host" to streams of visitors "popping in" and expecting - no demanding! - to see a Kingfisher because there's a perch there for it, or a Bittern because we're in the Bittern Hide.  Some don't even sit down, just a cursory glance and they're gone back to their "generic fruit based device" (copyright TBT)  to share their disgust with all and sundry, and seek support to shout at local organisations who maintain the useless place they've just visited! Well here's some news for those people - nature don't work like that, you go to a site, any site, with hope of seeing something of note, not with the expectation of seeing it, or at least you should approach it that way. Hope for the best, but expect the worst, and if you get the best then share it, if you get the worst then maybe that's your fault and NOT the RSPB or local wildlife trust for not ordering in what you want to see. If you fancy a beef burger, don't go to Nando's! (Yes, I did!)

Even when these nature based organisations work hard to provide the raw materials - habitat, hides, paths, cheese & ham toasties etc. they do so in hope of attracting a rare visitor more than in expectation, so cut them a bit of slack.  I've always found that if you talk to those involved you are far more likely to succeed than if you shout at them and demand of them (cheese & ham toasties excepted!).

Because of my personal situation I think my outlook and attitude has changed, maybe mellowed, maybe, over the past year or two.  I am more understanding of people and organisations, and the efforts they make to give us a decent facility, much of it done by volunteers in their free time - you want to moan, then sign up for a work party or two and help.  Don't get me wrong, someone says "I'll do that", then I expect them to do it -and I expect them to demand the same of me, but shout at me and, well, I've got a whole cupboard-full of "shrift" and I'm happy to give anyone a short piece!

The only other thing I would say is to be respectful of each other, there are some very, very knowledgeable people out there who are more than happy to share their knowledge and their experience, if you ask in a reasonable manner, but there are also some who, to me, seem to be so far up their own backsides they that wouldn't give me (and people like me) the "drippings of their nose", as the saying goes! When you think about where some of those noses have been I'm quite pleased about that!

'Nuff said

Some "Brucie" bonuses this winter,

Looking for Bittern but found Marsh Tit

Looking for Hawfinch but found Robin

Looking for Short Eared Owls but found Goldfinches

and Roe Deer

 Looking for Bittern but found Ring Necked Parakeets

Just looking and found Great Crested Grebe

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Summer 2017 - highlights

Well this won't take long!

Summer, it seems, came and went without telling me, I really didn't expect it to be just that one afternoon in August when the bleats off "Oh it's too hot for me" could be heard ringing around the town.

Dragonflies especially seemed to suffer the lack of heat and sun more than most, if I had a "Dragonfly Tick List" it wouldn't need to be any bigger than A5 and could be in BIG WRITING! Whereas the bird tick list (if I had one) could fit easily on the back of a stamp!  Good job I don't do lists then!

Some pics from June 2017 - Amwell (Bee Orchid, Broad-bodied & Scarce Chasers), Hertford Heath (Emerald Damselfly), Back Garden (Toadflax Brocade moth), River Lee Nav (4 Spot), Balls Wood

June highlight - my first ever White Admiral, at Balls Wood

In July, nothing much improved weather-wise, highlights were pretty low, as you can see!  A case of quality rather than quantity.

Panshanger Park (Common Darter), Back Garden (Crab Spider), Danemead (Large Yellow Underwing), RSPB Rye Meads (Sedge Warbler), Sandon

July highlight - Spotted Flycatcher at Sandon (not the Essex one!)

Whereas, August . . . well what can I say!  Not much better that's what I can say! and Insects!

Back Garden (Dock Bug), Front Garden H'bird H'moth), Kings Mead (Migrant Hawker, Orb Spider), Amwell (Red Underwing, Robberfly, KF & Bittern)

But a Bittern at Amwell, in August? I hear you say, "OK I'll give you that one - that's a bonus!", and a Kingfisher too ("Hey Katy, did you get that one? You didn't? Oh well!"), and how about the Hummingbird Hawkmoth? "Ok, ok, August was better, but let's face it, the competition was poor from June & July!"

Here's hoping Autumn will be better (even with the closure of Amwell for much of it!)

Oh and while we're talking about the weather . . .  how wet was it Carol?

This wet, that's how wet! - the floods continued into September! (British Canoeing Open)

"Tight lines!" (for any anglers out there!)

Friday, 2 June 2017

Swallowtails at last! (31/05/2017)

Well one anyway, though I did see two others around the reserve.

This time last year I went to RSPB Strumpshaw Fen in search of the Swallowtail butterflies for what it is renowned.  2016 Spring was crap, cold & wet, even though the day I chose was sunny & warm.  I remember asking at the "visitor centre" only to be told "You're about 2 weeks early mate 'cos the weathers' been crap", at least I think that's what the lady said!

So this year I tried again, bit of a last minute decision to put it mildly.  I knew it's about a 2 hour drive so I left home at 8.00am, drove like a loony for almost 2 hours and arrived at 9.55am - 102 miles from home, not bad at all.

Change of footwear, check camera gear, drink half a bottle of water, and I'm off in search of the Swallowtail.

Info from a friend on Twitter had suggested that the Lackford Walk area would be best, so I went to reception instead! Thought I'd get an update before setting off into the wilds of Norfolk.  From the overflow car park, across the road, over the level crossing I arrived at the "Nectar Garden" just outside reception.  A small crowd had gathered around the "garden", cameras clicking like there would be no tomorrow.  I investigated - WHOA!!! SWALLOWTAIL !!!  Pictures!!! 

10.05am I'd got about 60 Swallowtail shots, well worth the drive!

Then it dawned on me, been here 5 minutes, got what I came for, what to do now?!

Obvious, tea! + Eccles cake.

£2 lighter I sat looking out over the reedbed, checking the images - which looked OK - and enjoying the tea + Eccles cake.

Others were arriving, members & non members.  One couple came in search of Kingfishers, and asked about them, and received good info.  Then the RSPB volunteer volunteered some additional info,
Q: "Have you seen the Swallowtail outside?",
A: "No, we've got loads of them at home", What? Where?
RSPB Vol: "Really, loads of Swallowtails, where do you live?",
Visitor: "North Yorkshire",
RSPB: "and you've loads of Swallowtails?",
Visitor: "Yeah, loads of Swallows"
RSPB: "No you bleedin' idiot not Swallows, 'kin Swallowtail butterflies, Britain's largest butterfly, not the chuffin' birds!" 
Nearly fell off my bench! (NB the final response above may not be word for word exactly!)

10.30 - decided to have a walk around the reserve, via Lackford Walk (past the "Doctors Cottage where the Swallowtails are often seen but today were conspicuous by their absence).  Only saw a couple more "Swallows" both flying and not looking to settle.  Reed Warbler, Drinker Moth caterpillar, Cetti's heard, Norfolk Hawker disturbed and buggered off!

11.45 - arrived at the Tower Hide, overlooking a largish mere, but only "standard" waterfowl, BH Gulls & Greylags, then "Cuckoo", "Cuckoo" nearby, then it landed in a small "tree" directly opposite the hide - could see it through bins but too far away for a photo. Half a sandwich later I'm off again towards the Fen Hide, having learned of 3 Watervoles in the pond on the access to the Meadow (beyond the hide).  Scarce Chaser, Small China-mark moth, no sun, another Drinker Moth caterpillar

Fen hide delivered nothing apart from another distant view of the Cuckoo, and a couple of distant Marsh Harriers. Other half of the sandwich.

Another Drinker Moth caterpillar, Jay

1.15 - arrived at the watervole pond. Half a dozen people watching, "Plop", watervole! Swimming round the edge, not well lit but a couple of OK shots. "Plop" another one but stayed in the vegetation. 

Gave it 10 minutes and headed for the Meadow in search of Dragonflies, the sign at the entrance said "Part of the meadow is closed" - didn't say which part or why? Soon found out why - water logged, it's weird walking on bouncy meadows!  Spotted a few Dragons - Scarce Chaser, Hairy, 4-Spot & Norfolk Hawker, only the Hairy stopped to lay eggs and even then it was pretty well hidden. 

Kept promising myself another tea but the Norfolks kept coming tantalisingly close and threatening to settle but after the best part of an hour I gave up and headed back to the reception.

2.50 - arrived at reception, that crowd were back at the nectar garden, so was the Swallowtail, more pics then ENOUGH!

3.05 - decided to head home, after tea, ice-cream and flapjack - don't talk to me about healthy eating!

Left the carpark at 3.25, arrived home at 5.30.

Long drive, long walk, but worth the effort.  I realise I was pretty fortunate to see the butterflies as soon and as close as I did but it makes up for 2016!

2018? who knows? only if I can find a travelling companion to tell ne jokes and keep me amused on the drive! (Applications should be made directly to me on a £20 note explaining why you should be considered.  I regret that unsuccessful applications cannot be returned - good luck everyone!)

"Venerable Bede? Full of shit" - Lance (Toby Jones), Detectorists

Monday, 8 May 2017

Sore bum, no brakes and warblers . . .

 . . . Saturday 6th May at the HMWT Otter Hide

I signed up to a 4 hour Bittern watch session on Saturday, sounded like a good idea at the time!

Pre-planning meant binoculars were cleaned, camera lens cleaned, batteries charged, scope checked and cleaned, tripod checked.  Bike tyres pumped up from flat to 40psi, bike loaded into car. Sarnies made, coffee made, cakes identified and choc bar sorted.  (The final two items never made the trip and were eliminated by my lousy memory despite pre-pre-pre-planning checks!)

I parked in Rye Road, unloaded the bike, strapped my camera bag to my back and headed off to the Otter Hide.  Not too quick as I realised my front brake was kaput, this will be fun!

Stopped for a quick chat with Allan Meadows - who I was relieving - before arriving at the hide. I haven't been here for probably 15 years or more.  I have a distant memory of coming here once before and seeing a Heron at the far end of the pond / lake / mere.

Allan hadn't had any luck with the Bittern but did say there were plenty of warblers in the reeds and reasonably close, which proved to be the case.

I arrived at 12.20 set-up camera & scope, food & drink (this is when I realised the cakes & choc bar hadn't made the cut!) bins at the ready, note book handy, and we're off!

Previously (from RSPB Rye Meads} I'd noticed a good crop of Pochard on the water, today there was one, a nice male but too far away at the moment.  I could hear the warblers in the reeds opposite but couldn't see any to start with. Fifteen minutes later I'd taken about 10 shots of the male Pochard as he swam by the hide, once with the missus,

and god knows how many Warblers in the reeds.  They just seemed to suddenly appear and then disappear again a few minutes later.

Some shots weren't too bad others were deleted on the spot!  The light wasn't helping, cloud and poor light with no breaks in the cloud visible. Usual shooting conditions then!

I thought at the time that most of the warblers were "Reedies" but discovered bck home that most were "Sedgies"

I kept checking for the Bittern, no joy, there goes that Pochard again, going back the other way.  More warblers, more images, more deleted, a few kept more in hope that expectation.

At 13.00 a Hobby flew over headed for RSPB RM (I know this 'cos I noted it in my note book!).

First sarnie disappears, ham & coleslaw in a Ciabatta roll - nice (a la Jazz Club!), a cup of coffee, nice and strong - shit that's bloody hot! A visitor - and a question I was going to be asked more than once this afternoon "Is this the best place to see the Otters?" Er . . . maybe the Otter Hide name should be changed to "Hide"? (One for you Jenny!).

Pochard going by again and at quite a rate of knots, more pictures which look OK - very similar but OK.  Warblers quiet, Bittern even quieter! (Is there one here?)

Couple of Buzzards overhead, Cetti's singing away to the left but I can't see him, that Pochard again - if he looks at me like that next time  . . .  

A couple of ladies enter the hide, "Good afternoon" I say - No answer, just "a look".  Please yourselves.  They sit and whisper for a few minutes, then move to the right of the hide and open a window which looks out on to very little (which was why I didn't open it). More whispering, two minutes later they've gone.  Did I imagine it?

Jay Ward popped in, took a few pictures, saw a Hobby, had a chat and popped out again on his way round the Stansted Abbott hides then on the Amwell to see the Black Tern.  He had been as successful as me regarding Otter sightings at the Otter Hide.

More warblers and a Grasshopper Warbler reeling but I couldn't see him anywhere despite searching with bins & scope.  More sarnies & coffee at regular intervals, along with that Pochard which is starting to give me a complex.  I'm wondering if it's a "drone" Pochard which Jenny S has launched to make sure the volunteers had turned up as promised. Paranoid? Moi?

The rest of the pm followed the same pattern, sarnies (until they ran out at 13.55), coffee (which lasted longer), warblers, Pochard, warblers, Pochard but no Bittern unfortunately.

So, no Bittern on the Bittern watch and  no Otters at the Otter Hide so next time maybe I'll just watch from the hide!

Oh yes, the sore bum & no brakes bit - relate to the bike which I haven't ridden for some time, that padded saddle needs looking at and I now know how the front brake works and why it "fails" if I take the wheel out!  At least I didn't fall off!

Saturday, 31 December 2016

2016 - Review and awards

My take on my "year just ending".

So (aagghh!) 2016 came and has now gone (more or less)*, that's the first non-surprise then.

I've got my rose (or red or white if you prefer, or even "beer" coloured) tinted glasses on to have a quick review of the year, make my awards (some serious, some in fun).

*correct at the time of typing!

Review of 2016

As expected 2016 turned out be sandwiched, exactly in the middle, of last year and next year, as suggested by most bookies.

  • weather forecasters across the board hedged their bets extensively and got most of it wrong!
  • weather was wrong i.e. Winter was warmer than Spring, Spring was just plain miserable, Summer was wetter than Spring, and Autumn didn't start until Winter;
  • long periods of "not much about" due to aforementioned wrong weather;
  • Tw'early for the Swallowtails at Strumpshaw;
SPotY (Spoiling Prat of the Year) Award goes to the weather, and here to collect the award on behalf of the BBC & Met Office are  . . . .

Caroline Ahern (RIP)

& Tomaz Sniffercracker

Lows (cont'd)
  • Underwater photography at Panshanger failed to produce any meaningful results other than a close view of a large bill - could've been a big duck I suppose (had to be careful there!);
  • BiF photography still a challenge, (if they WERE still would be less of a challenge!);
  • Dogs
  • Dog shit
  • Dog owners
  • Dog shit bags
  • Dog walkers (professionals?)!
  • More dog shit /owners /bags
Under control?
 Award (2) - SPotY (2) -  Anything / anyone oblivious to other people using the park/reserve/wood/ field/path/etc. for a purpose different to them.

  • Away days (Dorset/Arne, Bridlington/Bempton Cliffs, Southwold/Adnams,/Minsmere)
  • Hen Harrier (Hay Street);
  • Waxwings (Stortford & Hertford);
  • Owls (Burwell/Heartwood);
  • Danemead (Silver-washed Frits);
  • Mistley & Mersea (Waders, and esp. Sanderlings)
I've spent time at several new locations for me this year, Dorset (Arne), HMWT Danemead,  RSPB Strumpshaw Fen, to name a few but my favourite, and winner of

Best Newcomer (for me) Award goes to RSPB Bempton Cliffs - Gannets, Puffins, Guillemots & Razorbills at arms length, the stench of fish too close for comfort!

Being out & about gives the chance to eat at places not normally visited and I've turned up a few gems - Tearooms at Mistley Place Park, Seaview Holiday Park CafĂ©, W.Mersea but the best I've found and winner of 

My Restaurant of Year Award  - Sutherland House, Southwold,

Food Surprise of the Year - El Coronel, dessert at Sutherland House
Two scoops of refreshing lemon sorbet with a shot of Russian vodka

On a personal note I'd like to wish the following people "All the best" for the New Year - together with the reasons why! I hope they accept their "awards" in the spirit they are given!

  • Company of the Year Award goes to The Bearded Tit (aka @GrahamC57) - for his company, his knowledge, his beers and for not realising that while I'm driving I can't hear a bloody word he says 'cos I'm almost deef in my left ear!

  • TaB (Take a Breath) Award goes to Mrs.Watervole & Katy Kingfisher - no explanation necessary!
  • Sod the weather Award - also goes to Mrs.Watervole & Katy Kingfisher - they're out there at every opportunity regardless of the weather. Great determination!
  • Best Oldcomer Award goes to Seymour Birdies - for sharing his skills, knowledge and ID skills - "It's all coming together"!
  • Best Tweet (in which I'm mentioned) Award goes to Jackie's Jaunts (@JackieBrunt) whose Kestrel pics from October are still getting more Likes & Retweets!
  • Logical Award goes to Adrian Hall @HallAdrian66 - for the ongoing "It's a Gull, it's got yellow legs  . . . " approach.
and finally a few of my personal favourite images from 2016 - not necessarily my images!

from Hugh Harrop Wildlife (@HughHarrop)

and my own efforts

- Gannets at RSPB Bempton Cliffs

Hen Harrier at Hay Street

Essex birds - Mistley

and Mersea

That'll do -


Now is the winter of our discontent . . .

or so Bill wrote all those years ago, and this winter "we" seemed to have proved him to be correct. As someone who is interested...