Monday, 14 June 2010

Busy but enjoyable....

Where on earth does the time go. This time last week I was impersonating a crane and here I am 7 days later and full of busy.

Last weekend was extremely good fun. On Friday night we were recording an "in front of a live audience" down at the Bristol Festival of Nature, the premise being "Biodiversity, the trouble with the word". It was an excellent evening had by all and you can hear the results for the evening tomorrow morning at 11am on Radio 4 or play it again on the BBC i-player here.

That's the commercial break over. Back to the personal stuff. After the event Julie, (who'd come to see this recording), and I pootled back home and sat outside with a bag of chips, some fizzy wine and relaxed the garden on a warm night, while watching bats dive bombing moths over our heads. At one point a fox began to cry too in the fields behind, such an eery sound, but all of this made the perfect end to a busy evening.

Saturday morning though we were both up at the crack of dawn as I'd volunteered to help at the BBC stand at the Festival of Nature, above, in the morning. This photo was taken just before the doors opened and it was the last time the floor was seen for 2 days such was the popularity of the event. People love coming to the BBC tent as we try and allow them access to cameras and so on. I didn't play much part in this event this year other than standing about like a lemon in an official tee shirt and pretending I knew what I was talking about. No that's not me.

Lunchtime came, that was enough for me and so we headed back home and my house martins. When I bought this house in December there was an old martin nest on the apex of the roof. Last week was the first time I'd noticed the nest was occupied, and by Saturday morning, plaintiff cheeping could be heard continuously. I love the fact that my house, just 16 years old, is home to sparrows, starlings and now house martins. I think bats too, as they swoop from the direction of the roof when they first fly in the evening. At the back of the house is a field frequented by foxes and between the field and the house a selection of shrubs which are awash with smaller birds. Yesterday afternoon a female sparrowhawk tried to pick a few of these off, but failed.

But back to Saturday. After a rest, at 5pm we drove to Lyme Regis. I never tire of this place and a stroll along the beach and the Cobb was wonderful. The light was staggering and made the artistic side of me want to stop and stare for a long time.

However we had another aim. Eggardon Hill. Maybe I shouldn't advertise this place, as it is very special to me, as somewhere I've come to for nearly 30 years, and I want to keep it that way. My place and quiet. It has a spiritual quality to it I can't explain. But up there anything seems possible and I'm on top of the world. I was last here for Julie's birthday in March (she was with me) and then we had a sense of something around us as we sat on the hill in the moonlight. I sensed years ago someone standing behind me, but of course there wasn't anyone there when I turned around. But who knows what is going on. Ley lines also cross the fort, which being a fort must have seen many human activities good or bad.

There were however a lot of things around us on Saturday. More tangible things. A herd of frisky bullocks. A conundrum then, we had a picnic. If we sat on the hill fort with the picnic would the bullocks pinch our sarnies? Or worse still, wine. It was too much so we sat just on the other side of the fence and watched the sun set while the night enveloped us both eventually. it's quite something to just sit in the countryside while the sun sets and the moon rises. A lot of noises change from day to night sounds. It's fascinating. But even at 10pm, the skylarks were still singing, 15 minutes after this photo below was taken. Nature doesn't stop for light.

I like this place very much. And on a June evening with not a soul about and then walking back to the car in almost total darkness, with just enough light to pick out pale moths rising from the cow parsley, it was a truly magical experience.

And that finally brings me to a few lines which have inspired me for as long as I can remember, because it is experiencing nature, the countryside and the soul of the environment which has driven me for years. And places like Lyme Regis, Eggardon Hill, Lindisfarne, the Coquet Valley and a whole host of British landscapes are places I'm drawn to time and time again.

The author BB used these few lines taken from a gravestone in the Lake District in the front of all his books. Nothing I've ever read before or since, captures what nature, the profound sense of well being I get while experiencing nature, truly experiencing it, quietly, on my own, or with someone who also understands. So I recommend we all read these words and remember them next time we are in the countryside as we pass by, but once....

The wonder of the world
The beauty and the power,
The shapes of things,
Their colours, lights and shades,
These I saw.
Look ye also while life lasts.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Of Cranes, Dames and .... hanging baskets

Somewhere in the recesses of my mind was a saying. Never work with animals of children. The latter I happily avoid, but the former is pretty much a constant in my life.

Take yesterday. I was up with the larks and heading to WWT's Slimbridge for work to record a piece for Saving Species, on the Great Crane Project, a partnership reintroduction project to bring Cranes back to the Somerset Levels, later this year.

And yes that is me holding that fluffy thing. So I know what is going through your heads. Why are those 4 people dressed like nuclear power station workers. Well it's obvious isn't it? It was Paris Fashion Week!!

Actually we were dressed like this as we were in the Crane School enclosure where the hatched chicks are being carefully raised without any human imprinting prior to being released in August. and below is one of the inmates. Another ahhh cute photo on the blog. And after recording at Slimbridge, we headed down to the Somerset Levels to record their ultimate destination at their release area.

It is such a pleasure to be given access to such projects which aim to bring much needed biodiversity into the British countryside. It's 400 years since Cranes last bred in Britain, but with luck down on the Somerset Levels from this autumn, the plaintiff cry of cranes coming in to roost of an evening will be hard. It's hoped 23 birds will be released this year, with similar numbers in the following 4 years. We'll be back then to record what happens when the birds arrive here....... and no sorry, I can't be more specific as to the location for obvious reasons, sadly, but here's a photo from my Blackberry of a mute swan and cygnets taken yesterday near to the location.

So that was the day job. The weekend job is man of action and intrigue. Or at least that's what I try and think of myself as. Actually what it often is, and I love it, is man of gardening. Saturday was again grass cutting and hedge tidying at a client's of Julie's; but on Sunday after a leisurely morning (we went to the Polly Tea rooms in Marlborough for a scrambled egg breakfast - I love doing that) Julie began on some more hanging baskets for clients.

Now this is where it gets scary...... for you the dear reader. I'd recommend those of you with a nervous disposition, look away now and do not read on further.

Julie is a consummate packer of plants into baskets. All spring she nurtures her plug plants and then in May and June populates wire baskets, such as the half finished one below.

Being a man I thought to myself while watching her from the comfort of a lounger and drinking beer shandy, "that looks simple, I could do this, it can't be that difficult". So I offered to make her a hanging basket for herself, after all after all this hard work nurturing and bringing on her babies (as she calls them), it would be a shame if she didn't have her own basket to admire in the summer sun.

I set to with an unwanted tray of lobelia. Visions throbbed through my mind, a veritable riot of colour, a basket packed with so many plants a cigarette paper wouldn't be able to pass between the foliage. Designers of Chelsea gardens would come knocking at my door for my services. Julie would be mightly impressed and we'd be delighted for months by my creation.

It isn't as easy as it looks.

Many a lobelia clump became detached from it's roots. Not ideal for further growth. The compost kept falling out of the basket when I made the holes for the plants. After half an hour I had more compost and foliage on the lawn than in the basket. I was exhausted. I was frazzled. And very quiet. Julie said she's not seen me this quiet for so long, ever. And in the time it took me to half fill a basket, she had made up 2 baskets. This is too much. I persevered, and as ever when I concentrate hard, my tongue stuck out from my mouth (why do we do this?). Eventually, I'd used up all the lobelia and stood back to marvel at the foliage rich vision I'd produced.

Go on, admit you are absolutely astounded ?!?!?!?!??!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

I'll stick to making radio programmes and cutting grass I think.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

1690 miles in 7 days......... and then the weekend came

This is hopeless...... I've been back in the land of living for a week now and only now have had time to write up a photo blog of the trip I made for work, 2 weeks ago.

Saving Species is a flagship Radio 4 wildlife programme, and I am a minor cog in a wheel which makes the series turn around with remarkable speed. For the transmission on the 25th of May I was sent up to Scotland to record and live broadcast pieces from seabird colonies. The Isle of May and near Tain. The episode is available as a listen again, plus a blog - click here.

And this is my personal blog of the trip..... little ole me, a car, and a pile of radio equipment. I've decided the best way is to do it as a photo story, so I'll plonk captions underneath each photo. hope you enjoy the trip.

So let me begin. Leaving Bristol at 5pm on Wednesday I drove to Newcastle to stay with my parents overnight. En route in North Yorkshire a fabulous sunset developed and this resulted in this tree. Absolutely nothing to do with my work, I just liked it.

After breakfasting, on Thursday I headed up to Anstruther. Making a fatal error of using the A1 through Northumberland this took an age, so a quick stop, and another photo opportunity from Fenham le Moor and across to Lindisfarne, while I pushed down a sandwich for lunch in a lane.

Eventually I made it to Anstruther by about 4pm on Thursday. As I drove into the town, the Isle of May, my destination for the trip was clearly visible 6 miles out to sea. Tomorrow at 6am, we'd set off there in a hired RIB, the "Osprey". I hope the weather stays calm....

....... actually this part of the Neuk of Fife is very much like Northumberland!

After meeting the scientists the evening before and a fish and chip supper, at 5am on Friday we rendezvous in the B&B, for a 6am set off from Anstruther harbour. What an absolutely fantastic day. Sea like a millpond and as we set off the mist began to lift ever so slowly.... nature in sheer beauty.

I have just put this one is because I like the colours, orange, blue and white.......!!

Eventually the Isle of May came close enough to see (and smell) the seabirds on the cliffs. Rafts of puffin, razorbill, guillemot passed by, shag, kittiwake and fulmar on the cliffs, and out to sea gannets dive bombing the water from nearby Bass Rock. Truly fantastic. And it was only 6.25am.....

Can there be a better sight on a spring morning than calm seas and thousands of wheeling seabirds?

Anyway we arrived and headed off to the Lighthouse which now houses the Scottish Natural Heritage offices and research areas. With me were scientists from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and as such the first thing we had to do was..... no not check the leg rings, but have a cup of tea and some ginger cake.

Mind you this puffin looks like it won't be breeding this year......

Ahhahh, they're all dolled up for a night out in their best dinner jackets. Everywhere though puffins and guillemots were wheeling about, and down by where the boat berthed, terns screeched their welcome.

One of the things I'd come to record were shags having geolocators attached to their leg rings. So I'd better show a shag pair on the nest...... minus geolocators.
How did that get in here......???? You see some strange wildlife these days on rocky islands.

Oh god there he is again eyeing up this eider duck for a new duvet........ only kidding before you leave a comment about duck cruelty. I was actually setting up an atmospheric microphone here to record seabirds, and she just sat watching me, not a care in the world.

And this is what I was recording.............................

..................................... and this is what I was recording with. so simple, even I can do it, just!! look at that sea though....fantastic, and only 7.30am.
Well all good things have to come to an end and eventually at 12.30 we had to leave as low tide would prevent the RIB leaving the island and we'd be stuck here for another 8 hours. But what a fantastic 6 hours on an island with top seabird ecologists.... a real privilege. the weather was holding too, so we slowly chugged our way back past many grey seals, just lovely.

But then out in the open water, the "Osprey's" twin engines roared into life and we shot back to the mainland, scattering gannets as we went. Such graceful birds, and our biggest seabird.

So that was Friday. Saturday involved another 5 hour drive further north to almost the top of Scotland, Tain. Crossing the mountains on the A9 that part of Sutherland comes as a shock, rich fertile farmland and wide sandy beaches. And, more hooded crows than I could shake a stick at.... it's just a shame I can't photograph them any closer... the clue is in the arrow.

This photo pretty much say it all really................ except I arrived, it was foggy. The fog lifted for 2 minutes. I took this photograph. the fog descended and stayed there. the completely nutty thing about this is that 7 days before I was in Boscastle, Cornwall (see blog entry 17 May). Yes, work out the driving needed to get from one end to the other. Mad, but would not have missed this opportunity for anything.

Trying to be clever and arty here as the fog rolled in...... so never saw the Orkney's just 18 miles away!

But everywhere in this part of Scotland was gorse in full bloom. The heady scent was everywhere and it was apparently a good season after the severe winter up here. There was still snow on the Cairngorms as I drove through.

Monday I met up with another ecologist and we did a recce and trial broadcast from a cliff near Tain. Just 140 meters of near vertical grass and gorse to negotiate with my equipment. Did I falter? Did I fall? Yep! But we did find a pine marten scat, sadly no animal, but that's another animal I've always wanted to see. During the pre-broadcast as we sat on the cliff talking to Bristol, dolphins broke the surface of the sea and from out grandstand view we were both just enthralled at their grace and agility. It was sad to pack up for the day, the weather remained kind, so after slogging down, and gasping my last back up, in the evening after a tip off from Bob (the ecologist) I popped out to see a local Osprey nest. It's in these trees.

And here is an award winning photo of the male coming in, minus any fish.......

And then back to the hotel to spend an evening ringing Julie back in Wiltshire and watching two satellite transmitters recharging themselves near the trouser press in my room. It doesn't get much better than this for entertainment in the Highlands.

Tuesday dawned fair of face and so Bob and I headed back down the hill, sorry near vertical cliff. sun was shining off the sea and again dolphin broke the surface for us to watch.

And there's that strange bit of wildlife again with that satellite thingy talking to Bristol. And he's doing something to that fluffy thing too. Shouldn't be allowed. The slope here doesn't look very steep, but believe me every time we had to move one of us went bustle over apex down the slope. Cracking views though, absolutely cracking.

The broadcast over, Bob asked me to help him do something I've always wanted to do. No not morris dancing, but to see barn owl chicks. So as he had to do this on a farm we passed anyway, in we popped to a dilapidated barn and well....... 4 little bundles of fluff in Quickslivers arms... go on, you'll say ahh ahh now... I know you will. And before any comments flood in, Bob is a bird ringer for the BTO, so that's why they were removed from the nest. I was just there to provide the eye candy for the ladies.


And that was that. Lunch in the Co-Op cafe in Tain, then into the car and Tuesday afternoon I drove back to Newcastle, just 8 hours this time. Wednesday back to Bristol. A mere 6 hours. And then Thursday and Friday were rest days for me......... okay, let me rephrase this......

On Friday I had a large garden to grass cut for Julie. No that's not true, I offered because the lady who's garden it is is wonderful and well over 90. Tea and cakes made the job easire, but it was a hurculean task. It's the third time I've cut the grass here, it never gets any easier, but I love it as the views from this garden are spectacular. And my fee paid for a wonderful meal at the Cross Keys in Gt Bedwyn, a regular haunt of the two of us.

And this being a Bank Holiday and a time for rest, I offered to look after a friend dog for 2 days. Meet Fredi, 1 year old and impossible to exhaust, no matter how many walkies were undertaken. On Saturday evening Julie and I were recumbent on the sofa watching a video, and Fredi hurled toys backwards and forwards in front of us, until we relented and he lay ontop of us for the rest of the evening.

And finally....... we'd had 2 weeks apart, and although I had seen some absolutely spectacular sights, barn owl chicks, dolphins, ospreys and the like. Seen magnificent scenery. Been priveledge enough to visit places normally not accessible to the public. One thing crept in my mind.......... I was missing someone. And the phonecalls each night made it worse. Home is definitely where the heart is and glad to be home and say hello to a Wiltshire steeplechaser (it's a long story - one day I may explain).
But for now, that's all folks !!!!!!!