Saturday, 31 May 2008

The Bicycling Naturalist

After last night's posting about the antics of the garden birds in my parents North East garden, the next posting was meant to be about seabirds. That's not a seabird I can hear you say. It's a bicycle. Correct it's my 20 year old Dawes Fox, and a trusty steed it's been these many a year. Designed like me for comfort, not speed.

After mist the morning was glorious and so a bike ride around the lanes of Wick St Lawrence. Which became 10 miles in 2 hours, I'm not exactly pushing myself!! I don't do enough exercise anyway, so bicycling around lanes is an excellent way of seeing wildlife while covering a bit of ground and getting fitter. It always fascinates me that while cycling wildlife by and large will ignore the traveler, but stop and they're off. Thomas Hardy had a great poem about this, Wagtail and Baby. Reading the old Edwardian naturalists they travelled miles and miles on bicycles, and I have to say it does give one a different view of the countryside, and of course if something interesting is seen, one can stop immediately and have a proper look.

Such as these emergent Small Eggar Eriogaster lanestris caterpillars I spied on some Blackthorn. The day produced other interest, Buzzard mobbed by Rooks, Swallows and House Martins collecting mud from fields, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Reed Warbler all in song and a bank vole across the road were amongst the highlights. Sadly no Spotted Flycatchers at a known spot.

But the day really is about the atmosphere of cycling around lanes, peaceful, non-polluting, and a great way to see countryside in all it's glory. If you can, I'd recommend getting out of the car and giving it a go. It's amazing what you'll see. I therefore leave you with a "point of view" memento of the morning as I cycled back to the village of Wick St Lawrence with the birds singing and the shadows over the lane.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Elvis is in the building......

.... or maybe he's down the chip shop. Wherever he is, Border Reiver however is back on line, actually he's not as this is the first blog posting on a new wireless connection. Seems odd sitting on a sofa writing this, but we must continue to struggle for our craft .... the cider seems to be helping anyway.

So since my last posting I've had a spell in Dorset, a few days in the North East and now I'm back in Somerset. All of which has meant I pretty much missed the awful rain in the South West, and of course the damp weather in Norfolk which was well documented in Springwatch. I hope you're all watching it. Anyway on with the wildlife with this posting covering a bit of garden wildlife and over the weekend I'll post my brief trip to a seabird colony on Tyneside yesterday.

Lets begin with what is vital for wildlife. In my view it's about the future, and who are the future? Children. Get children interested in wildlife at an early age and the rest is easy. I was lucky in that my parents allowed me free rein and I grew up in a time not that long ago when I could leave the house at dawn wander the fields and lanes and return at dusk without my parents worrying where I was. Sadly these days, this is pretty much impossible for young people. So we need to find other ways and a garden is perfect.

Take these two Dorsetshire monsters, Lea 4 and Liam 3, grandchildren of Thelma. Having Border Reiver as their mentor is a cross they must bare. They will be marked for life sadly. This photograph was taken last Sunday when after lunch, we got my camera out and we watched the wildlife in the garden. They were especially keen on the Song Thrush as it ate things.... nice.

But they were not that keen on the spiders.... but I'm bigger than them so this huge Pisaura mirabilis gets into the blog. Remiss of me I forgot to add a size reference like a coin, so you'll need to believe me it was about 2 inches tip to toe. A common hunting spider of gardens and if you notice it's lost part of it's leg, I think it's a male as they have bolder markings than the female.

These are very interesting as the female carries it's egg cocoon with her and when the cocoon is about to hatch, pops it onto vegetation, builds a silk tent around it and then stands guard until the spiderlings emerge. Keep a look out.

That was Sunday, by lunchtime on Monday I was in Tyneside for a brief visit to the ancestral pile. Being built in 1837 the garden is somewhat well established and a haven to birdife even though nowadays the Tyneside Conurbation is becoming its backdrop. I was amazed however to be sitting with a post drive cup of tea in the garden to see a Mistle Thrush land on the lawn. I've never seen one here but following a bit of detective work Sherlock Holmes would be proud of, located the nest in another garden.

What a beauty the male was. I photographed him from the bathroom window, and hope you like the views of what is a declining species across the UK, so it is good to see it nesting in the Tyneside Conurbation, which now it's being cleaned up is becoming a great wildlife area.

I thought it may also be useful to show the female in the photograph (above right) with a Starling and youngster, to illustrate the much bigger size of a Mistle than with its cousin the Song Thrush which is about the same size as a starling.

If one has a Mistle Thrush in the garden don't expect peace and quiet. Both birds were very aggressive at defending their territory, as this photo above shows, even a bird the size of a Jackdaw will be mobbed. In the wild I've seen Mistle Thrushes chasing Rooks, something I would not have believed if I'd not see it myself. But this pair did a sterling job with their fast and furious flight around the garden, accompanied with that distinctive metallic chattering call.

But it's not all mayhem in my parents garden. Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Jackdaw, Robins, Wren, Starling, Great and Blue Tit all live more or less harmoniously. Strangely enough very few Sparrows. I'd spotted 2 House Sparrows which my parents said were the first they'd seen for months. Another sadly declining species in Britain.

And of course Blackbirds. This fella-me-lad rules the roost in this garden. There are two males holding territories, this one near the house is very tame and easy to recognise with the white patch on the head. He is so tame that my mother is chastised severely if she delays the morning porridge left overs she puts out for him. What a racket.

His wife though prefers normal food but sourced in a way I've not seen before. How many of you have seen a blackbird taking sunflower seeds from a feeder? I'd be interested to know. She has developed a technique of perching on a chair, flying to and then frantically clinging onto the feeder, before dropping to the ground with her winnings. This is repeated over and over again, and on one morning saw her do this 11 times. Surely the amount of energy used outweighs the benefits. But maybe not.

Just before I left yesterday the male was doing this right next to where I sat. Now usually this "anting" behaviour is done to rid the feathers of parasites, something which is particularly common when feeding at the nest, a hot bed of parasites. But I just wonder if it was actually sunbathing. Like the rest of us, we need warm sun now and again.

Finally, a very short video of a Coal Tit, because I like these birds, and this years star attractions on Springwatch, but also because it is the first video taken on my new stills camera and I'm quite impressed, though the background noise is a bit annoying. Seabirds next posting.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Dorset Arts Week - messing about

Well after saying I'd be off line for 10 days, a slight change in plans means I will be able to offer the odd update to the trio-blogs as an when, but only intermittently.

This week is Dorset Arts week http://www.dorsetartsweek.co.uk/ so after thinking I'd not make it, I now should have a bit of time to see what else is happening in the area. I'll pop on some thoughts later in the month after our visits.

In the meantime I've been having another bash at fast, brash watercolours. There's something about watercolours I both loathe and love. I love the traditional forms of painting in watercolour, such as this boat I produced in 1996. But although others like them, I loathed the lack of vibrancy in my work, and for nearly 10 years gave up on watercolour altogether. I've never understood why a child's first foray into art is often with watercolours. They are a very hard medium to master, not least as often wet on wet produces a mess and the finished colour is lighter when dry.

Anyway last year I "almost" hit on the finished product I was looking for, examples of which are on previous postings. Though it was a hard and sometimes bad tempered slog at times. The technique is relatively simple enough, high pigment washes, blend washes and then undiluted tube watercolour for the detail, or lift off pigment with clean water. Golden rule = One brush, one colour. The tough part is not to make the paper so sodden it puckers and forms rivers of pigment, while not allowing it to dry to much before blending is compete.

Having not picked up a watercolour brush for a year, this week I had another go, with this "Betula Calm". I've now framed this and the finished painting has slightly less purple in the bottom section and lifts the reflection into the mid ground. Like all my paintings I'm never 100% happy as there's always something else I see I could improve, but I'm pleased with this and it got my eye in nicely. If you're in Frome in July, it'll be on the stall.

I've not just been painting this week. With my new camera I've been messing about with images from nature, again in a vibrant way. Below are three images of a Red Clover (Trifoluim pratense) I picked on a walk yesterday. Photographed against black gives the flower head a vibrancy I was looking for. The top photo was printed off as a 10 x 8 inch image then mounted into a 16 x 12 frame with a double mount, leaf green on black. And very nice it looks too on the lounge wall. Who'd have thought a common plant could look so exotic.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Until flaming June....

I'll be off line for the next 10 days, but back in June with hopefully some new photos and information. In the meantime, enjoy the rest of May, and if the mood takes ewe and you haven't had a peek, clock my art or gardening blog.

In the meantime enjoy the sun........ oh and by the way it seems the damselfly in the last posting could be a female Southern Damselfly Coenagrion mercuriale. We're not 100% certain as the diagnostic feature is hidden by the wings, and I've not seen it again, but if it is then a bit of a rare beast indeed

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Dorset Sunday Stroll

Dawning fair of face, this morning we took an ambling stroll through the fields around Stalbridge (above). There was a reason actually. A chance phone call to a photographer friend in the northeast last week discovered he'd been on the quest for buttercup stock-shots for a client, and having no luck. This made me think, as there are field after field of buttercups down here, I'll photograph some and e-mail him. He liked what I sent him, although today he'd finally managed some himself at Cleadon Hills, a place I'd recommended he have a look at up there.

Anyway moving onto the walk, or a slow stroll with many photographs, saw Border messing about with botany (and sneezing) in meadows; such as this Ribwort Plantain, Plantago lanceolata and arty shot of Hogweed, Heracleum sphondylium. But the main quarry, was Meadow Buttercup Ranunculus acris. I'll let the following 4 photographs do the talking... you're probably tired of me blathering on anyway (click to enlarge if the mood takes you).

And I have to say it was an absolutely glorious walk. Hopefully the images show how the Blackmore Vale is in full spring colour mode in the strong sunshine. I became totally obsessed and took over 70 images of buttercups and other flowers.

Later in the day just a few miles away near King's Stag (aptly enough) I spied this lovely Roe Deer in buttercups, which was just perfect for today's theme really. He stood here for a good 2-3 minutes before the nerves got the better of him and he was away into the woods.

Never let it be said though I neglect the Corvids. Isn't this a beauty? We'd put some stale bread out, and within seconds had 2 Jackdaws were on the lawn. Bread isn't ideal at this time of the year because of chicks, but a small amount won't pose too many problems. And I always think every little helps the birds at this time of year when it's the annual mayhem of making nests, producing eggs and feeding young. I always keep a feeder topped up at this time of the year for that reason.

I forgot to say in yesterdays posting a Stoat ran in front of me a couple of times, just outside Sherborne. That's the first one I've seen for about 6 months. Again like the Jackdaw above it was in wonderful pelage (coat).

Finally does anyone know what this is? Please don't say Damselfly. But what species? I can't find it anywhere in the reference books. If you click to enlarge a better photo. I've e-mailed this to a friend who knows everything about wildlife, actually what he knows staggers me. But if any of you of the blogging community have an idea, I'd appreciate it. Oh and yes it's in Dorset.

The camera never lies...

I'm more of a painter than an artist but art covers a multitude of sins. Those who read my Gardening Blog last week will know I went to Malvern RHS Show last Saturday. While there I photographed Iris "Secret Service" as seen below in all it's splendid glory.

Much as I love the colours and the form of this photograph, painting it would be dull, unless as some Hockney-eske, montage poster... which gave me a thought. What would happen with a little bit of messing about in photo edit software.

Wow now this is the business, I like this "water" effect. I can now see this becoming a painting for me. Breaking up the image like this for me brings to it a whole new dimension and vibrancy. I love it.

And then we can go really mad. This Kaleidoscope effect is very appealing as it brings in to the image, movement. By increasing the effect as much as possible I got a similar effect to one of my roller paintings, Crop Circle which I created in 2007. And when I then used the "water" effect image above in the Kaleidoscope mode, and maximised the manipulation - it became striking!!

Iris above at maximum manipulation, took 10 seconds, Crop Circle below, created with a 6 inch roller on paper, which took blood sweat and tears and a lot longer than 10 seconds!!

And finally in a moment of madness, or should I say, Thelma was watching me messing about and said, why not turn it around and make it into a tree. So here you see it, the World's first Inverted Iris Tree..... Inverted colours, slightly water effected and turned 180 degrees. I think this is just wonderful, so as we say in the North East, "thanks pet for suggesting this"

What a dull World it would be if we all viewed it the same way!!

Saturday, 17 May 2008

There's nothing quite like......

........ messing about with a camera.

Weird light today down here in the South West, not quite dull, not quite sunny. Perfect for photography really as it produces flat tones rather than harsh light of full sun. So half an hour in the garden practicing with the macro facility of the new camera. I'm impressed, and haven't even begun to work out what all the functions can do yet. Thought I'd share my first attempts.

Water droplet on Alchemilla mollis (has anyone not tried this type of shot with A mollis?)

Betty next door, keen gardener at 87, but with limited sight saw me messing about and asked if I'd photograph her Iris's. Printed off some A4 versions of the shots for her, but as this one also as it has an ant in it, is "wildlife".

Couple of shots of Buff Tail Bumbler attacking the Aquilegia for pollen. Quite impressed with these as never taken good insect pictures before, as just set up the camera on a tripod and waited, and waited..

...and waited. Which is why these two amorous ladybugs were spotted.

Friday, 16 May 2008

New Camera.... old views

Not many wildlife postings recently I'm afraid, as I've dipped out on the Great Reed Warbler and Red Footed Falcon down here this week. Bit too much time spent on the garden blog

But I have just bought a Canon G9 camera and it's blown me away, possibly the 12.1 mg pixels and the 3.5 inch LCD screen makes everything seem sharper than sharp over the 4mg pixel I had. So this weekend plan to play about with the new beast, watch this space.

But in the meantime in homage to the old Canon A520 Powershot. 2 photographs taken back in March, the first one was published this month in the Mendip Times. The second one didn't make it but I like it anyway.

It's been a faithful friend indeed over the last 4 years and all is not lost, as it will still reside in the glove-box of my car for emergencies.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Couple of nest cams

It's Friday, so I thought I'd pop a couple of links onto the blog for weekend viewing.

Shirl's Garden is a blog I regularly dip into and a microcosm of wildlife gardening ephemera. Not least the antics of her blue tits as caught on Nest-Cam. First egg now laid, so if you are interested have a look at;


Also, moving up the food chain slightly, the RSPB have a Goshawk Cam installed in the New Forest, 4 eggs are in the nest;


Have a good weekend

Thursday, 8 May 2008

I knew I'd do this one day

Having 3 Blogs has it's disadvantages. Namely my wildlife posting for today has been put in my gardening blog. So as the thought of deleting this and then re-writing it doesn't appeal to me, please have a look at


Normal service will resume, unless I'm getting senile of course when postings may be anywhere and everywhere from now on!!!!

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Hobbies, every man needs one....


With reports of Hobby’s now hoovering up the local insect populous on the Somerset Levels, I headed off there on Saturday for what became a whole day birding, rather then the brief visit planned. Good job I’d had a Full English in Sainsbury’s at 7.30 on the way down (saves washing up, and cooking), as didn’t get home until 5.30.

Via a brief stop at Catcott Bridge, which lifted up 29 Whimbrel from the banks, plus a Little Egret. I was at Catcott Heath by 8.30am. Walking the track to the hide, 3 Little Egret, 33 Mute Swan, and a Lapwing hassling a Buzzard were a highlight. From the hide, notable birds were small numbers of calling Reed (133), Sedge and Willow Warblers, plus all too briefly a Grasshopper Warbler (134) providing it’s weird metallic call. A Common Sandpiper by the main drain was a good find. Walking back down the track and into the Heath, first Cuckoo (135) of the year, 4-5 Cetti’s warblers singing close by including one in full view which was nice, plus female Sparrowhawk overhead, single Goldfinch, 20+ Swift (136), numerous Swallow, 3 Whitethroat, 3-4 Skylark singing their hearts out, a single Jay and a Roe Deer. A good number of Orange-Tip butterflies as well.

Then headed to Shapwick, via a quick stop at Birtle Long Pools. Buzzard being hassled by Carrion Crow, 2 Kestrel, more Cetti’s and 2 more Cuckoos. Strangely though no Hirundines, which was the reason I stopped there.

Prize winning photo of a Hobby !!

At Shapwick, I spied 2 Buzzards being set upon by about 50 Corvids in the field. A cracking bit of behaviour which left the Buzzard looking a little rattled and fleeing the mob. At the car park though a sign proclaimed “Hobby Watch”, run by Natural England, place was packed, so headed off in the opposite direction to Ham Wall, the RSPB part of the reserve. And glad I did, a Lesser Whitethroat (137) was a very welcome addition to the year list, and more Whitethroat and Cetti’s.

Another prize winning photo...Whitethroat!!

Sensing the crowds were beginning to lessen by early afternoon, ventured into the Heath itself. At Meare scrape, a very colourful Black Tailed Godwit (138) in its summer finery shone out like a beacon. Also in the scrape, 3 Greenshank (139), summer plumage Dunlin, 2 Redshank, about 50+ Swift overhead, a Pair of Shovler and Teal and then a threesome of Gargany (140).

No Hobby’s though, until I looked the other way where 6 were in view. In total I guess I saw a dozen Hobby’s (141), which later I read were mainly second year birds. Tried to take a photograph, which was pointless. As a guy said I met, if you get a photo of a Hobby, it’s probably a Kestrel…. Good advice that.

Other highlights were a Treecreeper, male Bullfinch. On the insect front hundreds of damselflies, a Green Veined White butterfly, Brimstone and Peacock.


Not planning any more birding this weekend, saw me at 6am down at Sand Bay. The weather was overcast but not a breath of wind, lovely. Walking along the beach just the usual suspects were seen, before I noticed 12 Dunlin in summer plumage (below). While watching these, a Ring Plover caught my eye in the stones. Scanning back and forward revealed another 8 and in the middle what I initially thought was a 1st year Dunlin in non breeding plumage, but wasn’t. But I wasn’t sure exactly what it was, but though I had inkling. Anyway took some notes and rang top birder mate who confirmed (without seeing it obviously) as an almost probable Curlew Sandpiper (142), which is a first for me.

Went back in the evening to see if it was still there but as Sand Bay was host to “bikers” or more correctly The Bridgwater Chapter, Cider Rally, it was a bit busy down there. So as no sign of it went back on Monday morning briefly, still no sign, but a White Wagtail (143) was almost overlooked. Plus, good numbers of Swallows migrating in off the sea and 9 Whimbrel and a single Curlew.

Also clocked 5 Wheatears, one of which may have been a Greenland version but not entirely convinced. Plenty of Skylark singing, plus a very showy Reed Bunting and a couple of Whitethroats were the highlights, oh and a pair of Canada Geese flew over.

Away from birds, the hedgehog is now a regular visitor to his feed, no new photo’s as I’m trying not to disturb it too much and get the dish nearer the house. Management took this photo of a slow worm as it worked its way up the garden path after a rain storm. Where it was heading is anyone’s guess. And finally a single Holly Blue butterfly flitting around the garden was a pleasant splash of colour.

All in all a very relaxing weekend which had the added advantage of increasing my year count to 143. This is the first year I’ve ever kept decent records, mainly as this Blog forces me to be organised, so not bad seeing as I haven’t got any seabirds yet. Methinks a trip to Skomer soon is needed for a Gannet, Puffin Razorbill or two, but before that down in Devon tomorrow.