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 -


Thursday, 24 November 2016

All the H's! Hen Harrier, Hay HStreet!

Quote from RSPB website "Of the UK's birds of prey, this is the most intensively persecuted. Once predating free-range fowl, earning its present name, its effect on the number of grouse available to shoot is the cause of modern conflict and threatens its survival in some parts of the UK, particularly on the driven grouse moors of England and Scotland.

While males are a pale grey colour, females and immatures are brown with a white rump and a long, barred tail which give them the name 'ringtail'. They fly with wings held in a shallow 'V', gliding low in search of food, which mainly consists of meadow pipits and voles."  This is a RED list bird.

So when a "ringtail" was reported at Hay Street I couldn't just sit at home (15 minutes drive away) and forego the chance to see what is unfortunately becoming a "rare bird", I'd not seen one before except on TV and besides I'd bought the T-shirt previously!

I've made three successful visits - success being defined as "a sighting" - to me a decent view and if possible a picture or two.

Visit 1. 10th November 2016, 13.00 - 15.30.

The morning had been rubbish weather-wise, steady rain and windy but that began to change around midday.  I checked the local forecast - improving through the afternoon, wind dying down, rain becoming showers at worst, and some sunny spells, not too bad at all it seems.

I arrived just after 13.00, parked up and walked to the end of the hedgerow along the public footpath which had been cited as a "good viewing point".  The weather had cleared although there were plenty of dark clouds scudding around but they seemed to be going round me (am I so big as to create my own weather systems? - No!).  Looking out across the fields I could see a couple of Common Buzzards along the treeline and a Kestrel hovering close to where I'd parked the car.  No sign of the Harrier. 

The TV sightings I'd seen made me think that the Hen Harrier was a reasonably small bird, I don't know why, I can only think that the TV showings tend to show a lone bird flying over a large moorland area with little to gauge size - no perspective - so that's what I was looking for.  Imagine my surprise when it did appear, closer to the size of a Marsh Harrier than a Kestrel, and doing very agile "quartering" manoeuvres across the lower part of the field in the distance.  "Get up here you bugger" I was thinking to myself.  It was edging very slowly towards me but then changed direction to the tree line at the edge of the next field.  I decided to move in the same direction - slowly, two can play at that game!  I lost sight of the Harrier as it dropped into the grass, I kept moving and when I reached the tree line I picked up the bird again, even further away, and closer to the place I'd just left!.  I stayed put for 15-20 minutes, watching, through bins, as it worked up & down the original hedgerow.  When it disappeared I started to retrace my steps and stopped behind a large-ish clump of brambles in the hope that it would hide me a bit and break-up my (considerable) outline.

The Harrier was down the bottom of the field again, in the open but distant. I took a couple of photos just in case I didn't see it a again.  Hang on is that rain? Too right it's rain! and windy too.  Bloody weather forecast! Camera & bins away, coat done up, hood up, shelter (it's all relative!") behind the brambles and wait it out.

Half an hour later I'm still waiting! The rain eased a little, I headed for the hedgerow in search of more (relative) shelter and thankfully found a spot which did at least provide a bit of respite.  I stood for about 20 minutes, in the rain until it turned to steady drizzle at which point I turned to look to my left only to spook a rather wet Sparrowhawk which had been sitting nearby.  Another 15 minutes and the rain stopped, thankfully the camera bag was OK, I was dry - in the main, but the trouble with "waterproof" coats is that the water runs off on to "non-waterproof" jeans which had taken on a significantly darker hue!

Still plenty of dark clouds around (and a rainbow!), I decided to call it a day. 

From here to the car is a 5 minute walk at a decent clip, about 15 minutes if you keep stopping to check out birds in the area, which I did - Red Kites, Buzzards, Kestrels, and LBJ's - and the Hen Harrier working the area just in front of the parking area!

Note to self for next time!

Visit 2. 17th November 2016 - morning to lunchtime

I'd already decided that today I would try to utilise my VW Golf Mobile Hide, providing I can park OK - which I could as it turns out.  I'm the only one here which is a bit of a surprise to me, I thought that this Hen Harrier would be attracting much more attention.

Anyway, I had the place to myself.  Parked, engine off, heater still on - cracking!  After 10 minutes or so I spotted the Harrier working that same area along the hedgerow in the distance but I remained resolutely in the car - just as well as 5 minutes later the heavens opened, ha! not today matey!  The problem is that given cold & rain outside and heat inside the only result is steamy windows - there's an idea for a song! What? someone's already done it? Ho-hum!

The rain came and went, as did the Harrier - when the rain came, it went! Can't blame it really.  During the dry periods the Harrier was showing well, albeit distant, so were the Red Kites which, along with a few Crows, were harassing the Harrier to the point that it disappeared over the hills and far away (song idea 2! - What? that one too?).  Once the baddies left the scene the Harrier returned, and starting working the field again this time disappearing into the fields the other side of the public footpath and out of sight, even with bins.

I saw a few Crows flying up at intervals, and eventually saw something flying low down the other side of the hedgerow although I couldn't make it out clearly.  It was easy to recognise it as it perched briefly in a small "tree"

and then dropped over the fence and flew - in hunting mode - along this "road-side" edge of the field.  Photos taken! smile broadened! Decision justified.  Half an hour later, a repeat performance - magic!

Great couple of hours!

Visit 3. 22nd November 2016 - morning to lunchtime

Briefly, this visit was the same as the previous one except there was once other person there who I encouraged to sit tight rather than go walkabout, which he did, and we were rewarded with some great views again.

One-and-a-half hours - you can't complain at that!

Hope you enjoyed this ramble as much as I did.

Last word to the RSPB - There is enough habitat for 300 breeding pairs of hen harriers in England, but in 2014, only four pairs bred. And in 2015, three nesting males have disappeared, and only a handful of pairs remain.