Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Bats Before Bedtime

Last night saw me down on the Somerset Levels. I had been watching Springwatch, and at about 8.30 I looked out the window and thought, hang on, it's such a beautiful evening what on earth am I doing inside watching television. Sorry chaps, the call of the wild I'm afraid.

We'd had a few heavy showers over the day, but by the evening strong clear sunlight dazzled the countryside, with that intensity one gets after rain as the air is purged of all impurities and heightens the light.

My intention was to drive down to Catcott and hunt a barn owl or two. So half an hour later I found myself standing in a field, surrounded by buttercups and flag iris. Around me flew swallows, from every shrub and tree garden, willow and cetti's warblers made merry with the still air, now the wind had dropped, filling the dusk with an evening chorus. Young cattle bounded and skittered across the field and stood looking at me, not quite knowing what to do until a Buzzard flew across the field, something to chase and they were off. Leaving me to my reverie. On the river, a dozen or more mute swans, a shovler and a selection of mallard, completed a pastoral scene of England, accentuated by Glastonbury Tor in the distance. I was at peace with the world. Sadly though not a single barn owl came into view.

All was not quite peaceful actually. One of the dangers, if that is the right word word, of being on the Somerset Levels at dusk, are mosquitoes, midge and a whole host of bitey annoying little fellahs. I was scanning along the hedgeline hoping to spy a barn owl, but above me there was a constant high pitched humming and buzzing as a cloud of flying insects gathered above me poised to feed. I took a photo (above). If you look closely, there are a few spots on there but that could have been dust on the lens. So a brainwave, put the flash on....................

What a difference and I just think this is beautiful in it's own right. doesn't matter what these are. Like stars in the sky. Those insects are now caught for all time, when we all know in a day or so they will be no more. I had to try another.

It was about 9.30pm now and the light was fading fast. First then a daylight shot taken without the flash (above). Nice in a way but not much to see. But switch the flash on and WOW!!! an absolutely breathtaking photo which really made me think, wildlife is art, art is wildlife. Unplanned but beautiful. Before then I'd not thought of taking photos of insects with the flash, but the effect for me at least was a revelation. The Sky at Night!

That was a good enough end to my visit to the Levels. So at 9.45pm as it was getting seriously dark, I walked back to the car. Something told me to take a detour on the way home. Unsure why, I drove down a very narrow track and in doing so careered headlong into a bat bonanza. In the car headlights, bats wheeled and whirred in all directions, picking off unsuspecting moths trapped by an automotive moonbeam.

Spurred on by my gnat flash photos, could I bag a bat the same way. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, so now, even though after 10pm and nearly dark I began.

First of all this was the scene using the camera and the flash off. It was dark, but all around me bats flashed just feet away. Flash on, and after a couple of failed attempts, the third photo, bingo, what a stunner!

Then the bats came thick and fast, it was almost like the flash was attracting them, or maybe it attracted insects as all of a sudden there were bats everywhere. Sadly after the success of the above photo I never got the bat velocity to Andrew's trigger finger ratio in total harmony. I got the bats but they were a bit distant, those blobs in the middle of the photo (but click to enlarge for a better view).

But hey it was now 10.30 and I thought well, you've had a darn good evening Andrew, time to head home, cocoa, slippers and look at the photos in the warm on the laptop. Just one last photo though. Honestly this was the very last photo I took and what a banker of a shot. Top stuff for me. Just a hand held camera and the speed of my eye and finger co-ordination, no fancy electronics and trigger switches, just being there the right place at the right time. I'm pleased as a punch.

And what are they? Well I believe Noctule bats because of the rich creamy red underside, but more than happy for anyone with more knowledge than me to put me right on that one. I just enjoyed being out on the Somerset Levels in the dark, seeing wildlife in a totally different way.

Sorry Springwatch, I'm sure it was a great programme, but this was better.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Viewing life the Sand Bay Way

This morning I headed down to Sand Bay in time to be there at 6.40am. I'd hoped to do a spot of bird watching, but these last few weeks down there have been pretty much a bird free zone. Take today, a few Shelduck, Carrion Crow, Starling and a single Curlew were about all of note. So while doing my 3 mile round trip walk, I thought hey why not do an overview of Sand Bay, a few images of the lesser known parts of the Bay.

So put on your slippers, make a cup of hot chocolate and peruse the following 10 photos; an idiosyncratic view of a muddy bay just north of Weston Super Mare. Somewhere I spend an awful lot of time at. I'll let the captions tell the story.

The walk began with the first footstep. After 171 footsteps I stopped to take a photograph of Birnbeck pier and Steep Holm island. Realising my shadow was in the way, why not make this a feature of the image.

Moving back onto the sand dunes, this is a much more photogenic look at the same view. Looks exotic, who needs the Caribbean when one has views like this in deepest Somerset.

The area is a real mix of native and escapee garden plants. These gloriously vibrant Iris's come under the latter category. I do like Iris's. But do Iris's like me?

At the opposite end of the Bay by the Nature Reserve the more usual Flag Iris's were not quite as advanced and remained in sword like form.

Mind you there were some birds around after all, such as these 2 Greenfinches on the sea wall path. I never thought seeing Greenfinches on a concrete path would would bring me such joy. At last a photo of wildlife!

This Bay is home to huge numbers of overwintering Shelduck, where they come here to moult. Though by the time spring has arrived, there are just a handful left. Most are non breeding individuals, but occasionally they will breed here. Anyway these footprints in the mud are proof they are still about. Or Herring Gulls are wearing duck shaped wellies.

Embryonic delta forming in the sand, or is it a symbolic representation of the Crucifixion.

A lug worms view of a lug worms house. Or is it the Bay of Islands in Lilliput.

Come to Sand Bay, driftwood and dangerous mud, everyone's idea of heaven. Bring the children.

When I come here for a walk with my neighbour, we usually end up here to sit and catch our breath while watching the view before going home. The chips shop is close by too, an added bonus.

And we're back to where I started, the view from the shelter and the newly erected sign which in my view ruined the view. But then I like it wild and woolly..... speaking of which Wales is just 10 miles away as the sardine swims. Max Boyce anyone?

Monday, 18 May 2009

Gravelling for fun

In a moment of madness a few weeks ago, I thought about having a gravel patio at the bottom of the garden. Andrew and DIY don't really mix. I can do most things, but don't enjoy the struggle and realise there's always a tool I need I haven't got. Those around me don't enjoy the fragrant language and resulting chaos. But feint hear never won a coconut at the fair, so during the last Bank Holiday I set to.

Where this feat of civil engineering was planned had been a patio of sorts. About 3 years ago I was trying to be environmentally friendly, so built a seating area using wood chips and while for 2 days after putting this down it looked fine, for the next 3 years it became a breeding ground for slugs, snails and anything wet and slimy. And sitting there for any length of time became an acrobatic performance as the chairs sank into the developing compost. Hopeless.

So the whole area was dug out to 4 inches, compost put on the flowerbeds and a treated wood box with membrane was created to befriend some gravel. Slight problem there as I hadn't bought the gravel yet. I wanted red chippings to remind me of Biddlestone in Northumberland, but everyone down here just sold cream or grey stuff.

So once the membrane was down I couldn't go any further, thoughts did pass my mind just to leave it like this, but maybe not.

This was Bank Holiday Sunday.

Bank Holiday Monday saw me at the North Somerset Agricultural Show, far too many llamas there this year for my liking, they kept pinching the best views with their long necks. However almost the first stand I saw was Nailsea Patio Supplies, lo and behold they did tonne bags of red quartz, not quite Biddlestone red but close enough. And a 10% discount if bought at the Show. Go on admit it, you've all been to a show and bought a tonne of gravel in a dumpy bag. Getting it home on the back of my bike was entertaining....

...... no I'm joshing, I had it delivered. And duly it arrived on Monday last week plonked on the drive. For various reasons I couldn't move this until Thursday but on that morning at 7am, you would have found Andrew on his drive, shovel moving like a flashing blade, wheeling gravel round the back at a speed Jenson Button would be surprised at, and so by 8am, that tonne of gravel had been moved, and not even a bacon sarnie had been consumed. But disaster. I was about 6 small bags of gravel short. I thought a tonne would be plenty, it was only 4 inches deep after all, so a career in quantity surveying is maybe not for me.

Saturday morning therefore took me back to Nailsea Patio supplies, 6 bags of Red Quarts and the job was done by lunchtime. I can't believe there is a tonne and a 6th of gravel there, where does it all go? But it allowed for this arty shot of the finished product in the evening as I supped a flagon of tea.

I like it but blimey...... £83 for the tonne of gravel plus £17.94 for 6 additional bags, £5 for a lump hammer, £18.00 for treated timber, £4.20 for membrane and £29,00 for a wheelbarrow. Everything else was priceless... there must be more to life than DIY!!

And if I see a slug, there'll be trouble, trouble I tell you

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Herefordshire...... is a sound place

Every time I head off to Malvern for the Spring Gardening Show, I always say to myself, I must come back here and visit this area properly. Hereford, Worcester and Shropshire are a bit of a closed book to me, yet easily reachable for a day out.

Anyway yesterday, I had a chance to do just that, as I was out on my first location recording of Radio 4's Living World at a location in Hereford. And what a beautiful spot. The National Trust property we went to, Brockhampton, has ancient orchards, amongst many other charms. This is an area of Hereford I do not know. So the drive up was great, sun shining and the countryside just looked absolutely stunning. You know those few days which occur each season when everything is "just right"

Anyway we duly decamped, met up with the National Trust team, said our hello's and then I was sent off to a far and distant corner of an ancient orchard (containing relic agricultural machinery) to record some atmospheres. Which is obviously a euphemism, for "get the idiot out of the way, we have proper work to do" So off I went to frighten some wildlife with my Rycote microphone and Nagra recording kit.

In this image I'm recording the sound of a fence post. It didn't make much sound, but after 20 minutes I had enough material to return to the fold and say I'd finished. By the way one shouldn't hold the microphone, as they're very sensitive. This was pointed out to me yesterday!!

But what a cracking place this estate is. You'll have to listen to the programme to find out what was going on, so book mark the Living World Radio 4 site here. I think this programme is going out in June, but will let you know. But if any of you out there are into insects, I think you will like this one, Mistletoe Weevil and Noble Chafer to name but two stars of the show.

And finally I'm going to enter this in a wildlife photography competition. I think you will agree this is just a stunning photo of a Cardinal Beetle. The clarity and composition are second to none!!!!!!!!! (oh if you can't see it, it's behind that nettle leaf).

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Malvern Spring Garden Show 2009

Last year I began then abandoned a gardening blog. I abandoned it purely due to lack of time as after wildlife, gardening is my next passion. Therefore just to redress the balance, a gardening posting today.

A purchase of mine - Allium "purple sensation"

I've been coming to Malvern on and off for 20 years, and it's always a good show. This year however things were a little subdued, with fewer show gardens and those there smaller. And actually I preferred it that way, as the gardens made more sense to the average gardener.

What I have also realised is that I forgot to make notes which garden was which garden, so the following half a dozen photos are just "gardens", the images taken because I liked the subject, and usually as there was an emphasis on movement, which is what I always like in a show garden.

This garden was just a riot of colour. Didn't seem to have any theme to the planting, but it worked for me.

I loved this garden for it's simplicity. Built for a Hospice, the steel pole in this image was actually a tree, the leaves of which contained the names of the people in the Hospice.

Your man Joe Swift with a chicken.... the one on the right had literally just laid an egg on stage.

This was a great simple garden, but the sculpture made it for me. I hunted out the metalworker on his stand, he had some fab pieces, at fab prices too. Good for inspiration though.

Just loved this edging, an end to the photos.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Does anyone have a photo of....

This is a strange posting, because I'm on the scrounge. Basically and I'll not say too much on the blog, but I'm looking on behalf of a colleague photographs of 3 birds, Cetti's Warbler, Spotted Crake and Common Sandpiper.

What my colleague is looking for are free to use photos (ie no fee is available for use), which will be used as thumbnails on a website; click on the thumbnail and listen to some audio clips. We've been down the RSPB route etc, but these three are elusive little fellas. Any images used can be credited on the website.

If you have an image, know of someone who has and willing to help etc, please drop me an e-mail, and I can explain more.

Friday, 1 May 2009

A Beltane May-Day

This year is colder than last year. And how do I know this? Well because a year ago today, the hawthorn blossom was starting to flower quite nicely. And today on Beltane Day, I only found a single solitary Hawthorn flower out on the same tree I photographed last year.

See last year's posting here.

So there you go, must be a whole 2 days behind last years emergence. Proof if proof were needed it's getting colder!

It's been a good day today. Another trip to Sand Bay before work to photograph the driftwood shelters. Sadly as can be seen below, two have collapsed, but the other one stands for all to see. I wonder if anyone will rebuild them over the Bank Holiday weekend?

Bird wise Sand Bay lived up to it's reputation. I could have swung a pair of Swarovski binoculars about my person for half an hour without hitting a single bird. The skylarks though were singing well, and back at the car a single long tailed tit bobbled about which was a good end to the walk.

However walking into work later, my first screaming swift over Clifton (Bristol). We have a bit of an informal competition who can hear a swift first at work. And I was beaten by Sarah, a radio producer by 45 minutes...... can you believe it!!

But from that a mad poetry session followed, which began with this missive from myself I composed between the BBC Club and the office while fetching a cup of tea.

Mayday turns into summer
Clifton swifts scream overhead
So glad it wasn't a herring gull
Dropping fish onto my head

and from there I received 3 back from various people, but I'll leave the last piece of poetry to Edward Thomas, one of England's greatest poets (in my view at least)


How at once should I know,
When stretched in the harvest blue
I saw the swift's black bow,
That I would not have that view
Another day
Until next May
Again it is due?

The same year after year --
But with the swift alone.
With other things I but fear
That they will be over and done
And I only see
Them to know them gone.

And finally, it that wasn't all enough excitement on a Friday before a Bank Holiday, this week there was a fabulous Radio 4 Programme on the history of Wildlife TV. If you missed it, here's the link to the listen again site. The Balancing Bluebottle.