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Monday, 17 February 2014

Defeated!! - early February, 2014

On 31st January I set off for an eight-day visit to Charmouth, in Dorset. The objective was a mix of birdwatching and fossil hunting. There was some trepidation when I departed as the weather forecast was not good, with a lot of rain and high winds expected. Because of the preceding weather and high tides, the prospects for fossil hunting, however, were above average, due to the scouring action of the sea.

I'd booked myself into self-catering accommodation in Charmouth (Mrs P wasn't with me as she stayed at home to care for our ageing cat), but with no intention of doing any cooking as the George was only a few metres up the street from where I was staying. It rained virtually solidly all the way to Dorset.

On arrival, I went to explore my surroundings. My first discovery was a sign outside the George to say that their kitchens were closed for two weeks for refurbishment. At least there was a recommended fish and chip cafe a couple of hundred metres further up the road - only open Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays for the winter season (even for takeaway!)!

As it was a Friday, I at least had the opportunity to try the fish and chips, although the place seemed quite expensive. This decision turned out to be a mistake. The first five attempts to order something from the menu resulted in the response "sorry, we haven't got any". I ended up with calamari, which was overcooked and served luke-warm, and a bill for just under £10 - and all I had to drink was a can of pop!

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I ended up cooking each evening, and taking a picnic lunch each day.

Because of the way the tides fell, I'd planned to mainly fossil hunt in the first half of my stay, and go bird-watching in the second half. I hadn't counted on the combined effect of the winds and high tides reducing access to the beach quite as much as it did do. The odd freak wave meant that I got the lower half of me soaked on many an occasion. I'm very much a novice fossil hunter, but Charmouth attracts the hardened and professional collectors and as well as getting extremely wet by wanting to access the beach before anyone else could, these were also taking risks to life and limb on cliffs that must have been rendered unstable by the recent weather. They were also getting plastered in mud, I kept at a safe distance! This meant that they got the good stuff, and I picked up the dross.

Come the Tuesday, it was time to switch to birdwatching, but it was a windy day with rain forecast, so I didn't bother. Wednesday 5th February was the day that the South-West took a really bad battering from the wind and sea, and I witnessed things that I wasn't expecting in that neck of the woods. The realities of the force of nature and the stupidity of man were brought home to me big-time!

The weather forecast on Thursday morning was for high winds and torrential rain all day, so I decided that enough was enough, and set off home at around 11:00, a day early.

So that is why I went quiet at the beginning of the month, and since then I've been spending quite a lot of time, between catching up with the chores, preparing fossils. A lot of the Charmouth fossils are pyritised and, unless they are specially treated, liable to decay to nothing over time.

pyritised ammonite - Promicroceras planicosta?
My apologies if I have neglected your blog over the past couple of weeks or so, but the above is the reason why. I'm now hoping to catch up!

I can't do a post without some reference to owls/birds/nature, so here are some 'Owling Incidentals'

Owling Incidentals

Whilst out owling after gale conditions, I went to check that a particular barn was still standing. It was, and a Kestrel was perched on a beam, as shown in the next image. The image, itself, is not remarkable, but I also have photos of Barn Owl and Tawny Owl perched within six inches (15cm) of the Kestrel's position which, to me, is remarkable!

Common Kestrel (male)
Another unremarkable image for its quality, but one that had me worried for a while. Earlier this year, whilst owling on my 'local patch', I found this Peregrine with its prey in the middle of a field. The worry was that one of my Little Owl sites was in the field immediately to the north of this field, and another in the field immediately to the south-east. I'm pleased to say that both sites are still intact, and the Peregrine has not been seen since.

Peregrine Falcon - my 'local patch'
The following day, whilst returning back to base with my pal Titus after an afternoon's owling, there was a superb rainbow as the sun was setting. I believe that the low height of the sun is the reason for the rainbow meeting the ground nearly perpendicularly. It certainly gave a golden glow to the surrounding scene.

Rainbow - near Hungarton
In mid-January, as I started a morning's owling, I found this. Answer as to what it is at the end of this post!

mystery photo
In late January, whilst out with Titus again, we came across this Kestrel. It stayed for a while but, unfortunately, kept its head towards us for the whole time.

Common Kestrel (male)
Lately, the weather has been evil over much of UK, and whilst we have escaped most of the flooding (plenty of water on the roads, but nothing impassable with a bit of care), it has affected the owling opportunities. However, it seems that the owls are getting used to it and the past couple of times I've been out when it's been rather windy I've had a nine-owl day and a seven-owl day. I've also managed one or two images, so these will probably feature in my next post.

The mystery image - the ice on the outside of my car windscreen taken from inside the car before I de-iced it and set off owling on an eight-owl day.


  1. Come wind, rain or high tides, no wonder you went fossil hunting if your first treated specimens is the result. Love the other photos and tales, particularly the kestrel in flight in that perfect light and, chuckle, chuckle, I instantly recognised your mystery photo.
    I do hope your rotten weather dissipates., too many people are flooded and winter does not make that pleasant at all.

    1. Thank you for your kind comments, Arija. Some poor souls have been flooded out of their homes since before Christmas. It must be devastating for them!

  2. WOW! What a pain to find something decent to eat in Charmouth! LOL!
    Next time take some nice biscuits with you!!
    I'd love to fossil hunting, never got this possibility yet!
    That rainbow pic is stunning!
    I haven't seen anything that spectacular in years... maybe in South Africa, long ago!! :)
    Your mystery picture is pure nature's art....
    Wouldn't it have anything to do with you windscreen, by any chance???? ;-)
    A perfect demo of fractals!
    The kestrel in fight was so absorbed with its prey that you got this great opportunity of still flight!
    Well done Richard, very nice post!
    And don't worry about commenting on my blog, we don't always have the time!!

    1. Thank you Noushka. I did take plenty of biscuits, but I think that I'd have started to crumble myself after a week of biscuits alone! And I hate to think how I would then have reacted to all the dunkings I had in the sea!

    2. Haha!!
      8 days on biscuists alone of course, that wouldn't do! LOL!
      Am I right about the mystery photo?????

    3. Yes, you were right Noushka - the answer was at the foot of this post!

  3. You took some great pictures in February of 2014. Many many thanks for sharing.
    Trees Planet

    1. Thank you. I don't usually publish comments with links to other locations (unless by invitation), but I'll let it go on this occasion!

  4. Great story Richard, albeit not one with an entirely happy outcome. I can't believe how much you had to pay for a crummy "dinner." Great fossils though; my grandson would be thrilled to have them!

    1. Thanks, David. I'm not sure that your grandson would be too excited. The one I illustrated was the largest of that type I picked up, and only about 3 cm across!

  5. Richard your photography is out of this World,brilliant Kestrel captures and I just love your Rainbow Image.

    1. Thank you, John. Usually, when I take a rainbow photo, the colours just get 'flattened'. This time I was lucky!

  6. I personally don't feel you have to explain why you haven't commented on blog posts Richard though I have found myself doing it I know that feeling, I'm gutted you didn't have a better time down on the sout coast sadly whilst watching the news I was gobsmacked at the number of people just standing watching big waves coming at them, I don't think people realise the true force of nature at times. The peregrine is interesting it looks like it was sitting on a kill. I like the rainbow image mine always go wrong, but my favourites have to be the two Kestrel flight shots, gorgeous light and lovely detail, I wonder if the barn is a bird of prey "nightclub" youu just need a sparrowhawk and short eared owl on there for a complete set now :o)

    1. Thank you, Doug.

      I was truly surprised by what some people were doing to get their photos or to try and find the fossils. Not only were they taking risks with their personal wellbeing, but the sea spray (even a few hundred metres inland!) was soaking everything and wouldn't have done their cameras any favours!

      I did have an encounter with a Sprawk by the 'nightclub' too. My usual parking place is about 80-90 metres from the barn (keeping a respectable distance from the possible Barnie, although the Barnie hasn't kept a respectable distance from me on a couple of occasions!). Once, whilst sitting there, a Sprawk landed beside my car, too close for me to focus on!!!!

  7. I agree with Doug, there is no need to explain why you do not comment on anyone's blog, sometimes we are far too busy or in my case sometimes I just can't be bothered! I feel that just dropping the occasional comment is fine, if we all commented on every blog/post we read we'd be here all day! Anyway, after reading your latest post mate I felt compelled to leave a comment this time! I think you are either very brave, or flipping mad as there is no way I would have confronted those elements on the coast!! Your selection of images in this post are of exceptional quality, especially the Kestrel, a real shame it didn't turn sideways on. I had no clue as to what the mystery photo was of until you revealed the identity, the detail is incredible wow wow wow!

    1. Thank you, Paul.

      That frosted window image was taken with my phone. I just couldn't believe the wonderful pattern the ice made!

  8. An adventure outdoors in the cold:) Looks like you had a lot of interesting finds.....fascinating bit about the Kestrel and Falcon. I wonder what's up with them??? If I were an owl, I'd be suspicious:) Beautiful shots of your Kestrel!!!! And the window is art:)

    1. Thank you, Chris. It's amazing what wonderful patterns nature can make!

  9. Beautifully captured, the Kestrel in flight, love them. Fantastic one of the rainbow :-)

  10. Wowee, the Kestrel is smashing, excellent photos.


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