Wednesday, 25 February 2009

A slice of Country Life

I can't believe it's 4 days since I took these photographs and I have to ask myself, what has happened to those 4 days? It always seems to get like this as spring sprungs its springing. All of a sudden life becomes hectic again.

So, before it's too long after this set of photos were taken, a quick photo blog to outline a grand old day out in the glorious Dorset countryside. I'll start with this photo below. Fellow Dorset Blogger Snowgoosey, highlighted this house in May 2008. So this weekend while recovering from my £44k Indian meal, my current weekend companion and self discussed what to do on Saturday. The result was my first ever trip to Swanage, principally to find this house by the Station.

What a fabulous idea. Apparently the owners were denied putting a window into the gable end, so had one painted instead. Genius. It's the quirks of British life like this which I love, so the rest of this blog is just that, a celebration of what makes Britain Great. We're all too eager to knock this country, but I love it. Don't get me wrong, there are other countries which have bigger scenery, different culture, warmer weather, less traffic and so on, but pound for pound (not Kilo for Kilo) lets not forget this great old country punches well above it's weight and is still absolutely fabulous. Rant over. I hope you enjoy the photo's; my celebration of a wonderful day.

I'll start with a bit of wildlife, a Black Headed Gull in fine spring plumage enjoying the warmth of a sunny day in Swanage.

Mind you with a view like this, would I wish to be anywhere else ?

So after a sit in the sun, which was glorious to feel the warmth after this long winter, an ice cream and watching the world go by, I coerced my companion into a steam train ride to Corfe Castle. A bit of a festival was going on for Half Term. What is it about steam trains? They're just alive.

And of course these trains bring out the hibernating train spotters. They look like they're having a grand old time too waiting for the 3.30 from Corfe. The person on the right especially looks like they're about to break into an energetic song and dance routine at any minute!! Sadly we were heading the other way so I never got to see what happened next.

Towards Corfe Castle, which should really be Corfe Castle ruin, having been knocked about a bit by Cromwell and his advancing Roundheads. Images like this always remind me of my grandfather, he used to say to me as a child on his knee.... "mice" meaning mice had destroyed the building. A wonderfully eccentric man.

At Norton Halt a photo opportunity as the train "Marston" was uncoupled and moved to the back of the train to take us back to Swanage.

Norton had a few other delights, such as this modern take on the garden gnome theme in the station garden. Does any other country have this much eccentricity in it's blood? Click on the image to see who's there.

And at the opposite end of the station garden a very impressive array of bird feeders. Excellent, or would have been if there'd been any birds there.

So back to Swanage and a thought on such a glorious evening, head home via Kimmeridge Bay. Oh boy was I glad we did, the weather was perfik, and the advancing sunset over Portland was stunning. I could post the 86 sunset photos I took, but I'll spare you so much beauty, and just post a selectionette.

This is Clavell's Tower, which has just moved 100 feet to the left. It was in danger of falling into the sea, so the Landmark Trust who own and rent out this tower, moved it brick by brick inland. A fabulous job. I was chatting to a rather splendid gentleman in flowing dark coat, wild grey hair, deep Donald Sindoneske voice and vivid tartan trousers who happened to be staying in the tower. Living room is at the top, bedrooms at the bottom and a wet room in the basement. Methinks a stay here is on the cards, because from the tower is this view.......

How's that for an evening view while warming the slippers and Badger ale against the woodburning stove. Mind you, one can't park the car near this, so a 80 step sheer cliff walk is needed to get there. As the vivid tartan clad chap said, been he'd been here for a week and still needs to stop 3 times en route from the car to the front door, "I just pretend I'm watching the view if anyone asks" he said. Good man.

And so as the sun finally set behind Portland. And with the sound of Oystercatchers whistling across the shore providing an atmospheric backdrop to the scene, I'll leave you with an arty bird photo of one of the Oysties as it avoided the tide.

Well anyone can take a good photo..... it takes skill to be this bad !!

Saturday, 21 February 2009

The Morning after a £44,565 Indian meal

I had the day off yesterday. And although the sun didn't break through until mid afternoon it was pleasant enough in the countryside. With this warmer weather spring is definitely knocking on the door. Great Tits are in full song now, catkins bursting through, even early daffodils. In a garden centre my first Honey Bee (Spp not id'd) on a Hellebore, oh and I forgot to say with last weeks posting, Buff-Tailed Bumblebee at Topsham

Driving about doing a few chores, I noticed a fair few Buzzard circling on the warm up-thermals, 3 together in one instance. Another Buzzard was being mobbed by no less than 11 Magpie as it perched in a tree. Eventually they drove it off and it was quite comical to see the slow laborious flap flap of the Buzzard as the chattering Magpies, flapped about trying to get it to fly further away.

And by now you're probably wondering why this posting has that title. Well last night I took a lady friend to the India Cottage in Henstridge (for those of you with an interest in literature, this was the inspiration for the "Restaurant at the end of the Universe" in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy). Anyway At the end of the meal, paying by card, that astonishing total came up! A few light headed swirling moments later, sanity was returned and I paid the £44.56.

However such things fail to keep the boy from his sleep, but the now rapidly developing Dawn Chorus did wake me from my slumbers. So here is a short clip from 5.45 this morning from the front door of my weekend digs. Glorious. Took me back to my childhood, anyone remember those 1970's Sanyo tape recorders? I used to spend hours in the fields trying to record sound with the little external microphone and a foil flan dish for a parabolic reflector. Great days, I wonder where those are tapes now?? Not to mention that slim boyish figure!!

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside!!

Even though I have an impressive head cold which should have seen me stay in bed, this morning as planned, dosed up with Lemsip, I hoofed it down to Bowling Green Marsh for a spot of birding. And I'm so glad I did, even if as I write this at 6pm, I'm feeling a bit groggy.

On my walk down to the Marsh I noticed a drive up to a house was carpeted with snowdrops, which boded well for the day.

This was the distant view of the Marsh as I came around the corner. In the far distance was a white line at the far waters edge. Thinking these would be some form of gulls, up with the binoculars which gave me a bit of a start....

........ Hundreds of Avocet. When I got to the hide, Ed one of the party for the day said there were about 500 here today. It's not that many years ago that people ventured for days just to glimpse an Avocet in the UK, yet in 2009, they are common wintering waders down here almost becoming commonplace. But not quite. A great start even if they were a bit too far away for a decent picture. The Avocet weren't the main species there, over 1000 Black Tailed Godwit took top billing, along with 200+ Bar Tailed Godwit, (some showing Cinnamon colouration) about the same number of Wigeon, and good numbers of Curlew, Teal, Pintail, Shovler, Redshank, Lapwing, Snipe plus low numbers of the usual passerines down there, including Grey Heron, Redwing, Green and Great Spotted Woodpecker.

This male Pintail was about the only bird which came close enough for shot, even when we walked up to the viewing platform. The tide was well in by now, and the Exe Estuary was like a millpond, not a ripple to be had, and sadly no birds either !! But it did allow for a couple of arty shots.

Lunch was rapidly approaching and Mr Mike also of the party had his heart set on fish and chips in Starcross over the other side of the estuary. At the well named Battered by Barry or something like that. When we got there Barry seemed to be getting a good battering and was on the floor, half in half out the door. Until we realised they were closed and this was some form of refurbishment. Disaster.

Onwards to Dawlish Warren then, bound to be F&C there. But there wasn't, so in desperation after paying 90p to park when we need not have done, we all partaked in a culinary feast of Burger and Chips, fizzy pop and all for a masterly £4.95. Birding doesn't get much tougher than this.

Well it did say, no glasses beyond here so I left my bins at the gate.

I was quite satisfied with my Chicken burger and chips, however Jenny (L) and Mike (the thinking woman's Bill Oddie, middle) needed a pudding, so an incriminating photo with Ed had to be taken. Kids!!

Entertainment over, back to the birding.........................

Retracing our steps, on a golf course near Starcross, a couple of hundred Dark Bellied Brent Geese were grazing the 18th fairway next to the golf balls, along with Oystercatcher, Curlew and Lapwing.

Ed said it was unfair that the blogging community never get to see a star in the making, and maintaining this blog's inability to create a star, this odd looking bloke seems to have got on here. Apparently it was taken because the Geese were in the background, but I think it was taken for a Police photo-fit. I had a cold, that's my excuse for the three chins, which seem to have appeared under the recently removed beard.

Back at Starcross, we hopped over the railway bridge and scanned the estuary. 3 Little Grebe, a Shag, a good number of Red Breast Mergansers, a Little Egret, some Redshank, 3 Greenshank all made up a canny additional score and ticked off the must see list.

But I'll leave the last bit of birding to the Turnstones. At first we saw a few, then some more and more and more and in the end we estimated about 100, all bathing in the shallows or feeding along the strand line. I've never ever seen this many in one place, a very special end to a grand old day out.

What a day. Time to go home guys.... sorry Jenny, Ed's off to New Zealand for a month on Saturday, the wildlife won't be anything like as good there as in Devon - I bet !!

Saturday, 14 February 2009

The day before

Today has been the first day for ages where the weather has made me think, oh not too cold. I quite like the colder weather but I have to admit I'm getting a bit fed up with this and looking forward to some warmer weather.

The above photo was taken at Cheddar a week or so back, after we'd had snow. In the afternoon I went for a walk around there and although nothing too startling, seeing over a 1000 Coot, a few hundred Pochard and a smattering of Gt Crested Grebe, made for a very enjoyable walk.

However tomorrow I'm off to the RSPB's Bowling Green Marsh, at Topsham just south of Exeter. This photo was taken in May last year when there wasn't that much about, but lovely and warm. But recent reports of 600 Avocet and hundreds of Black Tailed Godwits is encouraging 3 men and a lady to venture there for a 9.45am start..... report tomorrow.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

A couple of mugs

What with one thing and another I've not had much time this last few days to do anything wildlife wise. Plus down here it's still throwing wintry weather our way. Heavy frost this morning and yesterday everything from rain, to sleet to snow. I was up in Marylebone High Street in the fair Capital City of ours, for an HR for non HR Managers course yesterday. Very good it was too, though a 6am train and a 8pm return to the house was a long day.

But I did spot some wildlife in the High Street... a Jay and a Kingfisher (one of 13 designs). Opposite the BBC's training centre is the wonderful Emma Bridgewater shop, so at lunchtime after a purchase of a tasty morsel or two in Waitrose, a perusal around her shop meant I HAD to bring these two birds back to the West Country.

The assistant (spotting the slightly musty aroma of my shooting jacket, looking out of place in fashionable West London) asked was I up for the day. There followed a long conversation over wildlife related subjects and she informed me with a look in her eye she'd never seen a kingfisher in the wild. I'm losing my touch, I was tempted to offer her my BBC business card (a sure winner with the ladies) an invite her to pop west one weekend for a day on the river. The fool that I am, I resisted, turned and left the shop.

She was about half my age, and I remembered I'm not a young'un anymore. Worra mug men are with the fairer sex as we get older!!

Friday, 6 February 2009

The warm South West

The weather forecast said last night we'd not have any fresh snow here; the band of snow, sleet and rain would be well east of Somerset. Well the little fibbers!

I awoke this morning to more snow. And news that the M5 was closed between Junction 15 and 30. At 7.30 a blizzard kicked off, absolute whiteout out here at 8am, and so old Quicksilver has another enforced day at home. Logged onto work, and most of my colleagues aren't in work either, Whiteladies Road outside the BBC has been closed by the police because cars are sliding backwards down a hill, and well it seems like complete madness. So I'm staying put.

Sitting in this chair...... can you believe how chaotic this office has become. Paintings, bits of paper, books piled everywhere. So today I may don my pinny and marigolds and sort out the mess in here. And yes the eagle eyed ones of you will notice that's a stuffed Sparrowhawk on the book case. Flew into a glass porch in 1990 in Seaham, County Durham. It was then brought to me wrapped in newspaper to see if there was anything I could do with it. I pointed out it was dead, I feel a rendition of the dead parrot sketch coming on.... she'd ceased to be, fallen off this mortal coil, she's flipping snuffed it.........so had it stuffed.

And I will leave you with a video of the snow falling in the back garden at 8.30am, complete with House Sparrow calls. Must put some food out. Keep safe, keep warm and go and play in the snow.

Postscript - Just taken this photo at 4pm outside. The rejuvenation and optimism of nature. May be snowy, it may be cold, but the crocus's are still coming through.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Neige.... the day after the night before

Well it is the morning after the night before, and boy it didn't half throw it down last night. In the back garden it was 3.5 inches, which isn't a lot really, but for someone living near the sea, and only 10 feet above sea level, that's a lot. Usually we only get a few whiffs and waffles, then it melts. So up with the lark, I headed out before dawn to capture the beauty of it all before it all melted. And sadly, although the roads were okayish, I couldn't get out onto the M5 this morning for the grid locked traffic, so after 2 failed attempts to get into work, booked an enforced annual leave day. So that's why you get the following photo blog in the morning. I should be at work.

I'll let the photos do the talking !!

The opening photo is of the estate I live in and taken coming back after my walk, just liked it that's all. This is one of the farms near where I live.

Road down to Ebdon Bow farm and the River Banwell

The River Banwell... get Little Grebe, Kingfishers and Grey Heron here.

Ebdon Bow farm

Wick st Lawrence's very own post box

Arty shot of old apple trees and Ebdon Bow farm

Just because I like trees......

I was even up before farmer Meade

Snowy landscape towards the old village of Wick st Lawrence

.... and of course when trees die, they still have uses. Especially in this weather.

Far too arty a shot to be in a wildlife blog !

Sun was coming up now on the way home.

More pretentious arty stuff... above and below, I nearly used the bottom one as the opening photo on "my post".... get it, post, blog post, no, oh well never mind !

And yes this is a wildlife blog, so back in the garden an very active Blackcap was feeding on the Witch Hazel, and as I walked into the house, these Canada Geese shot over the roof. Just managed to get a shot before they were off.

A perfect end to an absolutely fabulous morning in the snow... me, a big kid, yep you got it !!

Monday, 2 February 2009


Well the snow has finally hit the South West.

Not much during the day (the photo above was sent to me from Dorset this afternoon) but after I got home it began.

At 6.30, it was beginning to come down properly in the back garden

And just 10 minutes ago at 8.30, it was coming down "Proper Job" as we say here in Somerset. This is the heaviest snowfall here for years. The above photo is up the Cul de Sac, using the flash, the following 2 are the same view but faffing about with the manual shutter speeds, and the flash switched off.

I love snow and so will set the alarm tonight to get out early into the village and see what's snowy landscapes are there for me to photograph.