Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Flying back with the Swallows

Sunday 29th March, I saw my first 2 Swallows of the year at Sand Bay. I was down there having the last of my holiday sunshine following my mini break in Jersey.

Thank you to all those of you who commented on my first flight and sent best wishes. I made it up, down and back, and after all these years being worried about flying, I loved it. Even if we were in a Prop-job in a force 6 gale going out, more like being on a roller coaster than a plane coming into land at Jersey Airport, but I have to say even that hasn't put me off...... watch out World, the boy is on the move.

So a quick photo-blog before work

My first ever plane, we made it down in Jersey so a memorial photo from Arrivals Hall

Himself at 17,000 feet, looking as cool as a cucumber !!

If you look closely there's a Turnstone on that rock.... just above the water.

There were Brent Geese everywhere on the southern coast.

The following photos are from Durrell Zoo, which Celebrated it's 50th Anniversary the day AFTER we were there!!

Very Endangered Blue Poison Dart Frogs

A smart fellah-me-lad, an Asian Fairy Bluebird

Alexandra posing for his next Compare the Meerkats.com advert

A couple of ladies we met for lunch..... leeks for starter

And lets not forget my favourite group of animals, the otters, this was a very obliging Asian Short-Clawed Otter, who came up and posed for the camera - showoff

And then the female came along and started juggling pebbles. I love otters, great fun.

And for those of you who know about Baxter, the well travelled bear, here he is being comforted by the Great Gerrald Durrell.

Back to the scenic stuff

Gorey Castle - this was my favourite part of the island

The boy doing a bit of Dolphin watching, sadly none were seen but a school of 100 Bottle Nosed are resident in these waters.

Rozel Bay - I fell in love with this tiny village, and could have moved there on the spot, it was beautiful, peaceful and the sea was an indescribable turquoise green.

An arty shot from Bonne Nuit bay...... more pink gravel that one can shake a stick at.

Bye bye Jersey, Corbiere Lighthouse off the headland..... I only need to do Alderney now and have all the Channel Islands on my tick list. We'd just taken off and I know I'll be back very soon........... watch out you dolphins, I'm coming to find you.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Jersey beckons and Easter bird race!!

Just a brief posting to say I'll be back. Bit of a mini break to Jersey this coming week, if any of you are near Exeter Airport give me a wave....it's my first ever plane flight at 44 years and 356 days. I know, I know everyone flys these days but I haven't as it's always worried me. But why worry I say these days, so needing to overcome this fear I'm off, pity my friend who has taken up the challenge and will have to hold my hand. Does she know what she's taking on ha ha. But a trip to Durrell Zoo is on the plan so we're both looking forward to it. I'm sure there'll be a blog posting from the Zoo.

In fact this blogging malarkey is a funny old business. A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by Dorling Kingsley the publishers who asked if I'd review a soon to be published book and post a review on the Blog. I said yes, so when I'm back, I'll post the review. I've just received the book, and so far it looks great, but more about that soon.

And before I go and pop the Valium and creme d menthe to get me on the plane, a bit of forward notice. Over Christmas I ran a bit of a bird challenge, which seemed to go down well. Many of you mentioned could this be done again in warmer weather and Easter was mentioned. I'll mention this again, but a date for your Diaries - the QUICKSILVERBIRDS EASTER BIRD CHALLENGE is on.

Rules are simple. Log all the birds you've seen (other wildlife records welcome too but won't count for your score) between 00.01 hrs on Good Friday (April 10) and 23.59 hrs Easter Monday (April 13). Send me your score and I'll publish on the blog for all to see.

Thought I'd have three categories this time;

Overall Supreme Champion x 2

Overall most bird species seen in the UK over the 4 days, with a sub category for species seen in the Rest of the World, as I know many of you read this from abroad.

Non Birding Award

Most birds seen while travelling about, out for walks, cycling, out with families and so on, basically how much can be logged while not actually birding. After all it's Easter and we'll be eating eggs.

Beginners Award

Open to anyone who doesn't normally go bird watching but wants to - go on give it a go, even if you just see 1 species, it's a start so don't be shy.

I'll post more when I'm back but hope you are all up for a bit of fun and an excuse to get out there. There are no prizes (yet) it's the taking part that's the challenge..... now where's my bucket and spade !!

Monday, 16 March 2009

Birds, Bees, Butterflies and every Corvid

Many bloggers have posted great stuff about the arrival of spring this weekend. At last it felt like we were getting rid of this long winter. Which explains of course why my head this morning looks like a ripe tomato..... I'll never learn, wear a hat in the spring sunshine.

What this glorious weather did do of course is bring out the wildlife en masse. I think it is the arrival of insects in the countryside which really starts to move the year on. Certainly there were a lot of Queen bumblers droning about yesterday. I also spied 3 different species of butterfly, 3 Brimstones, half a dozen Small Tortoiseshell and at one point one of these was next to a newly emerged from hibernation Peacock. Would have made a fabulous photograph if they hadn't flown off just as I got the camera ready.

There was also a lovely bit of behaviour with one of the Brimstones as a House Sparrow tried to catch it on the wing, watched this for a while until the Brimstone left uneaten to live another day.

Yesterday was glorious so a friend and I went on a nature ramble in Dorset. I'll not say exactly where as this involves a Badger site not far from houses. Save to say it was a "reet canny walk".......... off we go then!!

The walk began in a wide footpath with overgrown hedges. These were alive with birds doing what birds do in the spring, the lads showing off to the girls. Greenfinch, Blue Tit, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Great Tit and Robin were everywhere. As were one of my favourite birds the classic Little Brown Job, the Dunnock. Normally fairly secretive, they do sing from perches as this one was. In the same bush were 2 others having a bit of a flirtatious time with their constant wing flicking, which is why some older people call this a Shufflewing.

Walking through the village to the woods, many chimney pots had Jackdaws nest building. I watched this pair for ages, as they were collecting nesting materiel from the roof. Lovely bit of pair bonding going on while the male passed items to the female. In the distance is a Rookery and this is where I was heading

But en route spotted this very common moss, Bryum capillare on a wall

Into the Rookery by the church the noise was deafening. Also the Rooks were not that good at nest building; or as my companion said, they're dropping more than they're using. We watched these for about 10 minutes and isn't it just amazing how entertaining the Crow family are. I love crows and just feel uplifted watching their squabbling and messing about, especially this time of the year. I wonder if they minded me photographing their bottoms?

This part of the walk took us past an ancient stone wall, absolutely covered in plants. I think I'll do another posting one day about the value of stone walls for wildlife, but for the moment a photo of Navelwort, named after the dimple in the centre of each leaf. This one was producing it's strange flower spike. Like all members of the sedum family these fleshy leaves store water and help it survive periods of drought, which is why it's often found on old stone walls growing in very little soil.

Speaking of water, this area has a spring fed water trough, so an arty shot of cold, spring derived water on a warm spring day.

Just around the corner from this we were greeted with a carpet of yellow Lesser Celendines in flower. It just lifts the spirits seeing this blast of colour.

But eventually we got into an ancient woodland. Quite an interesting place really, as although classic mixed deciduous Ash and Hazel woodland, at some point it must have been enclosed as there are old stone walls running through it, quite a bit of Laurel at one end and now seems to be used by mountain bikers. Which was interesting, the path snaking through the wood was wide and full of jumps, but off the path the woodland was pretty much as it should be.

Quite a bit of it seems to be coppiced and this gave a wonderful mix of lower and upper story habitats, but open for ground loving plants, such as these Violets, which were present in both blue and white form, or the Dogs-Mercury below.

Bluebells were starting to come through, Aliums, and a whole host of other plants, emerging into the spring sunshine, such as these Wood Anemonies, not quite in flower, but just as beautiful in the green.

The woods were absolutely alive with birds, usual Great and Blue Tits everywhere, but a Great Spotted Woodpecker was calling, as were a pair of Jay's with their harsh call, though I never managed to get a good look at them. Which made me realise we'd now seen nearly every member of the Crow family on this walk, except Raven, Hooded Crow and Chough, and the latter two I'd not see in Dorset anyway...... more about this at the bottom of this posting.

I tried to get a decent photo of this Nuthatch, one of 2 on this tree, but it was a bit far away really. Oh well a record shot I suppose. They were calling continuously. One bird I didn't see was a Treecreeper which was slightly surprising, but we can't win them all.

I did however find a huge Badger Sett, with this entrance being very freshly dug out, or at least having a spring clean, so I know it's active and why I'm not saying where this walk was given the woods are also used by mountain bikers. Can't really see this in the photo but a lot of green vegetation was mixed into the spoil. It was while looking around the Badger domicile I spotted what I'm pretty certain is a common Carder-Bee, Bombus pascuorum. I should know this but there was something about it which made me think it wasn't.

We'd been out 2 hours now, so time to walk back home, which brought us back into the glorious sunshine, and past a lot of Mistletoe on fruit trees in a farm.

Finally back home we were relaxing with a cuppa in the garden, more Small Tortoiseshells there, when Baxter (who acts as tour guide on all our walks) heard a commotion overhead. Before even looking up, I knew what was going on as that deep Cronk Cronk was heard. 3 or 4 Carrion crow were hassling a Raven as it flew over the house. Quite a few Raven up on the ridges only a few miles as the crow flies from where I was. Brilliant, I couldn't recall seeing a Magpie today, but they're everywhere and often don't register, but that Raven meant that every Corvid possible in Dorset was seen in 3 hours, and a confirmed Magpie in the garden not long afterwards. Fantastic.

Certainly Baxter was very happy with his walk and spent the rest of the day relaxing in the garden. Well he only has little legs. There will be more from him later in the year, as he has his own blog now.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Into the Lions Den

Today I accepted an invitation to attend an Avon Wildlife Trust Staff Forum. These happen every 2 months and as a recently elected Trustee of the Avon Wildlife Trust I was asked to attend, meet the staff and have a spot of lunch. More of this in a moment, but to begin this posting, a quick look back at Sunday.

On Sunday afternoon after a day doing household things, the weather being fine, I decided to go for a walk to the Village and back. Not far, just 2 miles. Leaving the house in glorious sunshine I was about half way when a hailstorm blew in, literally with no shelter near by. There was nothing else for it but to do the old farming manoeuvre; stand back to the wind, collar up and just let it pass over. This was a humdinger of a squall, horizontal hail is quite formidable. At one point I watched a Herring Gull flapping madly but still being pushed backwards. Above was the view as I rode out the storm, quite exhilarating, absolutely freezing, but a good buffeting by weather clarifies one's thoughts. 5 minutes later, sun was out and the birds could all fly in a forward direction again as I walked along the aptly named lane.

Back to the AWT Forum meeting. I have to admit I went to this meeting slightly in the dark. The brief seemed to be, come and meet the staff, and then if you could let us quickly know who you are, what you've done and what you wish to achieve as a Trustee. "Simples", as Alexandre of Compare the Meerkat.com would say.

I arrived to find out I was agenda item 3, Trustee Slot. In front of me were about 35 member of the Trust staff and volunteers. Items 1 and 2 of the agenda seemed to pass by at the speed of a nano-crotchet, my mouth took on the aspect of dry sand paper, and I'm sure I turned a fetching red. All too soon, Item 3 arrived. Foolishly I offered to stand up, so everyone could see me. So with my back to the wall and a semi circle of eyes on me, I began, "thank you for inviting me to the Forum, like in Roman times I feel I am now in the Lion's Den, ha ha ".... phew, a potential tumbleweed moment was replaced with polite laughter.

Golden rule in speaking to an unknown audience, get them to laugh before you say anything stupid. Then everything else which follows can be just laughed at as well. Apparently I waffled on for 20 minutes, which seemed like 30 seconds. This included a Q&A session with some pretty searching questions I can tell you. I think I managed to get away with it without too many gaffs, and managed to enjoy the rest of the meeting. Lunch was most welcome.

As I'd taken a day off from work, in the afternoon to relax after the meeting, I popped down to my local patch Sand Bay. The afternoon sunshine was brilliant, so a nice 3 mile walk would restore my nerves.

As ever when I go to sand Bay at the spur of the moment the tide is out, somewhere near Cardiff, and so any birdlife is limited. Usual suspects here, Shelduck, Curlew, Black Headed Gull and Oystercatcher. Plus the ever present Carrion Crow, rummaging through the debris along the strand line.

And so I'll leave you with a couple of scenic views across the Bristol Channel towards Steep Holme island. Time for a G&T I think, hiccup!

Saturday, 7 March 2009


  • Is it the arrival of spring, sap rising and that malarkey?
  • Is it because many friends are having career breaks and travelling?
  • Is it because I'm 45 in 3 weeks?
  • or is it because I'm sorting out some photographs?

Apologies up front, this posting isn't about wildlife, Wessex or anything other than me rambling on...... today's theme is why do we want to travel?

Take the picture of this eejit in an overly bright shirt, sun glinting off his head. Why is he standing on a cliff and spoiling the view. I love the UK and all it has to offer, but now and again my mind becomes focused on getting away from it all. By the way, this was taken in 2000 en route to the Dolomites, in the good old days before digital cameras. What did we all do before digital cameras?.... I know, because I have about 3000 photos in drawers, unlabeled and some I don't even known where they were taken.

Back to the eejit. I'd met an Italian lady (married before you begin throwing nasturtiums) through work on the Internet. We conversed via e-mail and she asked me to come and see her and her husband; so following a crash 1-2-1 course in Italiano ( ahhahh Claudia, where are you now??) in June 2000 off I went to Lake Garda, met with and got on splendidly with said friend and her family, and have visited them again. I also met another woman on the trip who hailed from Dorset, and the rest is history. People often said, how did you and Thelma meet, and I say by a Lake in Italy while visiting another woman, which often throws them.

As it turned out like many journeys, it was fabulous, I absolutely fell in love with Italy, especially the Dolomites. I remember standing somewhere by a cable car station and all I could see were snow covered mountains all the way to Austria. It was like being on top of the World, literally.

So what makes us travel. Is it an adventure? Is it for rest and relaxation? Is it to visit new places? Meet new people? Well actually probably it's all of these things, but I wonder what it is that actually says in our brain. Today I'm going to leave the comfort, warmth and security of the family home and visit that place I've never been to before, arrive hot and flustered, not be able to speak the language, and have a wonderful time.

For me it's the actual travelling I love, which is one of the reasons I've never flown (until later this month, off to Jersey). Finally getting there is good, but actually the process of getting there is better. I'm a huge fan of long distance driving, despite this being seen as environmentally unsound, the open road and no deadlines is a real boon to me.

In 1999 I was asked by friends who were holidaying in Gairloch, in November, if I'd like to visit. I live 20 miles south of Bristol and only had a long weekend available. I drove there and back in 3 days, just shy of 1400 miles and it was the best one night in a cottage stay I've ever had. Great journey the length of the UK, great and sociable friends and just stunning scenery along the way. Totally mad, but absolutely fulfilling. I have a quote on my mobile phone, "what is a destination without a journey" I can't remember where I found this now, but for me it makes sense.

These feelings of wanting to travel must be strong in all of us. Maybe it's basic instinct of the Hunter Gatherer in all of us which lies dormant for a while, then when the sun is high, the wind from the sea, we don our backpack and can not resist an adventure out into the unknown. I also know for me, although I'm very sociable, I'm basically a private person who loves to be alone. Travelling to a crowded beach won't appeal to me, but standing on a mountain, the only person for 1000 miles does.

February has been a strange month as I'm getting itchy feet, which is unlike me, either that or the old medical condition has returned. I could have been in Tenerife this last fortnight, for reasons best left unanswered I wasn't. A lot of friends are taking time off from work now and travelling the World (mind you most seem to be in New Zealand - must be the most crowded Island in the World).

I've also been chatting to my second cousin, half removed, twice round the block in Canada (Hi Judy, I know you read this) about visiting my errant family there, and hopefully in August her daughter and a friend will be visiting the old country (Andrew has been told to be a Father figure to them....!) and this week I've been researching Norway.

In particular as my ancestors are Norwegian I'd like to visit Skein near Oslo but while I've been doing some research, the Atlantic Road north of Bergen intrigued me. (image above from visit-norway website) I can feel a road trip coming on.... apparently if one travels it in an Atlantic storm in the Autumn, it is quite exhilarating as the car is swept off the road. Where do I sign?....... and of course north of there lies the Arctic Circle. Watching Joanna Lumley visit the Northern Lights on TV last year was just glorious.

2010 is going to be, 3 months off work and answer the call of the Vikings, well one of my ancestors was called Thor.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Nature's Alarm Clock

I can't sleep. It's nothing to do with work, broken friendships, the news or what shall I have for breakfast. None of these keep me awake at the moment. I'm out like a light these days and sleep like a baby. Until about 5.30am that is.

At around 5.30, this chap is up and at it on my neighbours roof, the apex of which is directly opposite my landing window, and only about 15 feet from the bedroom.. Off he goes and continues for about 2 to 3 hours without let up, unless another male Blackbird hovers into view. At that point the singing stops, a bit of chase this blighter off takes place, then back to his perch to resume his happy song.

I love blackbird song, and even if every day he wakes me up earlier than I need to get up, it's a glorious start to the day. The 30 second video below was made on Sunday. Video quality is awful as it was still dark, but it's the song I wanted to record.

Time for breakfast now and a read of some papers in preparation for a Trustee meeting on Thursday.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Digiscoping at Slimbridge (on a dull day)

Yesterday saw your anti-hero and blogmeister heading off to Slimbridge. During the week while chatting to a mate we thought it was well overdue to have a digi-photo day. And so this weekend was chosen for an outing. I'm still not sure about digi-scoping, mainly as I'm absolutely hopeless at it; but as Rob had been on a digi-scoping course a while back, a joint venture of incompetence could keep us, and everyone else at Slimbridge, entertained for a day. I can hear it now, Mummy, what are those strange men up to? Daddy, I've never heard that word before, what does it mean?

Ideally for digi-scoping one would have blue skies, wall to wall sunshine and subjects which don't move about much. February 28th dawned dull and cold. I also felt rougher than rough after being out the evening before for a fish and chips birthday party, meaning bed was only reached at 1am. Up again at 6am, a pressing need for a "Big Breakfast" at Sainsburys on the way there seemed to help with the hangover and general feeling of sluggishness, but I wasn't sure!!

Finally we made it to Slimbridge, with still no prospect of any sunshine. First stop the heated hide next to the Centre. Simple we thought, quickly unpack the kit, check it's working and hey presto, award winning photos will follow. I'm not sure whether it was the breakfast, the hangover, the warm heat in this centrally heated hide, or my innate incompetence with anything technical but it seemed to take about an hour to get the scopes set up. Blood was spilt, words were said, tempers frayed to the point of snapping, so I gave up using the scope for a while and just photographed these Bewicks just using the camera.

Back to the digi-scoping, and eventually a half decent image of a Bewick head and water. But I still can't get the focusing spot on. I think it's the problem of not having a remote camera release, that movement of the shutter button is enough at 20, 30 40 times magnification to blurr the image just enough to make me think, why am I doing this!!

But feint heart never won a goldfish at the fair, so we pushed on and outside into the cold.

Flamingoes are weird. If I was the creator of wildlife, I'd have obviously thought these birds need to feed at ground level, so I'll create a gangly bird with very long legs, an even longer long neck, thus it needs to spend all day bent double to feed, possibly with a spot of sciatica for good measure. Oh and for a final twist of insanity, I'm going to colour them pink. WHY!!!!

But then again...... they are photogenic and gloriously colourful. Hey I'm beginning to get the hang of this digi-scoping malarkey, this one is almost in focus. Thank you photo-shop.

I was getting carried away now. Success with one photograph had gone to my head. At the next hide I spotted a Buzzard at 3 miles away and wanted to take it's photo. Rob said try max optical zoom on your camera and full zoom on the scope (I'm sure he had a wry smile on his face). So work out the maths, 7x optical on camera and 48x on scope... Magnification therefore something like x336. The resulting strobing effect was stunning with even the slightest movement by a passing gnat, producing so much camera shake I was getting a migraine. I'm sure at one point I saw Rob bent double facing towards a corner of the hide with his shoulders moving rapidly, probably has a cough or something.

But hey!! Look at this. By wedging the scope between myself and a window, and taking 40 photos, I managed to get 1 photo which wasn't blurred. Nice vignetting too, and that black spot is a bit of dust which has got into the lens and bugging me, but I got there. I don't think any top wildlife photographers have anything to worry about though.

I was on a roll, nothing was safe from the prying lens of the Boy. A sleeping Pochard, no problem madam, bung it through Photo Shop and hey presto.....

A Herring Gull, idly resting on a fence post half a mile away didn't escape the shutter

And this Jackdaw on a bird feeder, suffered from my voyeurism. Hang on I thought bird feeders were for smaller birds, what's this Jackdaw doing on this? Well basically it's because corvids are wonderfully intelligent birds able to adapt to anything; and that's what makes them fabulous.

And male Pintails are just wonderful. Those tails could be used as kebab skewers.

Which reminded both of us we needed some food. A bowl of carrot and ginger soup in the Centre and we were back out. At lunch we both said, oh lets just go birding bit fed up with this digi-scoping now. En-route to the Zeiss hide, Rob met a birder he knows. "Are you off to see the American Wigeon" he said. Both having fingers very much on the pulse, we had no idea an transatlantic Wigeon was in the area. Apparently it was with a flock of Wigeon outside the Zeiss hide

We hot footed it there (after looking at an American Wigeon in the collection... coz neither of us knew what one looked like - basically a normal Wigeon with alopecia) and arrived to be told by a guy leaving the hide, it's over there amongst those Wigeon. Oh great, don't need to look for it. I looked through the bins, and there it was. Well I think it was as just as I found it, the whole flock took off like the clappers (it's somewhere in this flock flying about in the sky above), flew about for a couple of minutes and then disappeared. Rob never saw it.

But we had better luck with the White Fronted-Geese.

By now I was beginning to flag. But we had one last push to the new Kingfisher Hide. We both said it looked like a "Shire House" and suggestion was made if I stood in the doorway I could play the hobbit role for a photo. I'm glad they have a plaster kingfisher on the wall, it's the only one we saw.

So time to pack up and head home with a final photo of this Jackdaw, taken in very poor light. At the end of the day I'm still perched on the fence of digi-scoping carry on. It does bring in a different dimension to birdwatching, but it's a right faff, for results which are okay but will never be as good as an SLR attached to a whacking great telephoto lens....... mmmm, now where's the Jessops website?

The day ended with a splendidly convivial evening spent at the home of Mate and Mrs Mate, where I suppered on an astonishing combination of foods Heston Blumenthal would have been proud of. I think this is probably because they've just come back from India and picked up some foreign cooking tips. It's the only conclusion I can come to. Mango sorbet with Medlar and Apple spiced chutney anyone? But we did have a laugh. A great end to the day.