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Tuesday 27 September 2016

Dragon Hunting Again - on 22nd September, 2016

I'd had a call from pal John to say that he was having to take his wife to the dentist for emergency treatment, and wouldn't be able to make our usual Thursday afternoon out together. I was unable to offer a switch to the following day due to a prior commitment, so went out solo for the afternoon.

It was a fine sunny day with no wind, so my intention was to seek out dragonflies at Rutland Water. I'd seen plenty of Migrant Hawkers there this season, but had not succeeded in photographing any females of the species - or even seeing many for that matter. The same could be said for Southern Hawkers, but they seemed to have become a bit thin on the ground lately so I was not over-hopeful on that score.

I took the usual 'owling route' to Rutland Water, seeing single owls at two different sites (probably to feature in a future post). After checking in at the Egleton Birdwatching Centre, I set off northwards. The path, initially, takes a bit of a zig-zag route, and there are two places where there is a sharp turn left, with views over the meadows on the outside of the corner. There were several distant Migrant Hawkers seen in flight at both these locations, and also one male at the second corner which briefly settled on the hedge the other side of the gate, but flew and vanished before I could get a photo. There were, however, several Common Darters present which had a tendency to sun themselves on the top of the gate, as can be seen in the header to this post whilst the post is current, and in the following images.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (female) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
I paid a brief visit to Redshank Hide and then took the 'summer path' which runs to Grebe Hide and Osprey Hide. In the past, this path has been good for dragonflies and damselflies, but the sun was only on it in a few places and no dragons were seen. I did call in briefly at Grebe hide, and Osprey hide was closed whilst a new 'all access' ramp was being put in. 

At this point the main 'all seasons' path is rejoined, and one passes through a gate near the south-east corner of Lagoon 4. To the right of the gate is a small '3-4-5' (think back to maths in your school days!) triangular meadow with hedges against the two shorter sides. The longer of the two short sides ('4'!) was in full sun, and there were columns of midges over the meadow with a few Migrant Hawkers dodging in and out of the midge swarms picking them off.  I was unable, however, to get into a position to take a photo. Fortunately, one did briefly land on the hedge, but my camera settings were not appropriate, as I'd been trying for the flight shot, and the images are less than crisp. 

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) (male) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
There were three or four Common Blue Damselflies around. I didn't take much notice of them, but did take some shots of the female of the species.

Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) (female) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
I gave up on the dragons at this spot after about an hour, and dipped into Shoveler Hide, where there was a Great White Egret in the water on the far side of the bar, and a Green Sandpiper at the end of the bar (future post!). The egret departing to the right caused me to check out Buzzard Hide in the hope of re-locating it, but it had, apparently, turned back. 

On my way back to Shoveler Hide, a sighting of another Migrant Hawker came to nothing, but this female Common Darter was, unusually, hanging vertically on the fence. The second image is there because it shows how the head is roughly 'mushroom' shaped and concave at the back, with the neck being quite long.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (female) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
Back in Shoveler hide, I watched the GWE for a while and then set back to the hedge at the edge of the triangular meadow. The situation had changed somewhat, and the Hawkers were landing. At first I was just seeing males, including a pair together. Unfortunately, every landing point had a very fussy background immediately behind it, so I'm less than happy with the images. The left hand one, in this shot of the pair, had the tail-end of its abdomen curled downwards

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) (male) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
I then noted a female Migrant Hawker flying near the hedge at the far end and managed to keep it in sight until it landed - my first female mixta images of the year! You can see from the first image, below, that the females are not quite as easy to spot as the males are when landed.

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) (female) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
I then spotted a second female.

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) (female) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
I'd spent around another hour here again, and it was time to go as there was a place that I wanted to stake out for owls at dusk. On my way back to the car, I stopped for some more obliging Common Darters. I reckon I probably saw two or three times as many Common Darters during the afternoon than I've ever seen in a similar period before and, for some reason, they wanted to land on my head!

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (female) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
I had a pleasant run back home, seeing two Little Owls, but not the Barn Owl I was hoping to see during my hour and a half stake-out, during which I had my picnic evening meal.

It had been a most enjoyable afternoon and evening, and I'll probably cover the non-dragon aspects in my next post!

Thank you for dropping by.

Saturday 24 September 2016

"Route 66" - 12th to 15th September, 2016

It would be totally ungentlemanly of me to tell you my wife's age, but this year her sister suggested that she should celebrate her birthday by taking a trip on Route 66. She, of course, meant the legendary Route 66 in the USA, but my wife was not thrilled by the experience of visiting that country in 2008, nor did the timing fit in for a trip round her birthday. Instead, we decided an end-to-end trip on the A66 in the north of England in September was more appropriate!

Monday 12th September

A gentle start at just after 10 a.m. had us in Boston Spa in time for lunch at the Deli Caffé. Lindsay had the Lemon Sole with salad, whilst I had the Sea Bass with salad. Both were absolutely delicious. We then had a quick visit round the charity shops (several purchases made) before setting off again.

In the east, the A66 starts between Middlesborough and Redcar, near an area named Grangetown. From Boston Spa, we took the A1, then the A168 and A19, before joining the A172, which took us round to the A174 and then on to the start of the A66. 

The first part of the A66 is totally uninspiring, passing industrial estates, business parks, and lacklustre cityscapes. It took a while before we were in countryside and starting to relax.

I suspect that the A66 used to pass through Darlington (birthplace of railway travel) and then continue through Barnard Castle. Nowadays the road by-passes Darlington to the south . At one point there is a junction with the A67, which I suspect is the old A66. The A66 then shortly becomes motorway - A66(M) - before meeting up with the southbound A1(M). It is then necessary to take the A1(M) south to Scotch Corner, where the A66 starts again.

Having left Scotch Corner, the scenery is, once again, rural. We'd booked a night at The Three Horse Shoes Hotel, in Barnard Castle, which is well away from the A66, so needed to make sure that we left the A66 at a recognisable spot, so that we could join it again at the same spot, ensuring that we did the A66 in its entirety.

From the map, it looked as if the safest route would be to leave the A66 at Bowes, and take the other end of the A67 back into Barnard Castle. In the event, we found that it would not be possible to rejoin the A66 at the point that we left it.

We arrived at our hotel and checked in, leaving plenty of time to explore the town before dinner, and enjoying a wonderful ice cream at Shirl's Shakes - it was a hot sunny day, but we tend to aim for an ice cream a day when we are away, no matter what the weather!

Dinner that night was excellent, although I cannot remember what either of us had to eat! I do remember, however, that we appropriately enjoyed a glass of Route 66 Boulevard Blush (a Californian Zinfandel rosé) after our meal.

Tuesday 13th September

We had plenty of time to spare this day as our next booked overnight was in Appleby in Westmoreland, which was only about an hour down the road if we took the quickest route!

I'd had a look at the map the evening before and decided that, as Lindsay is also rather fond of moorland, a visit to Gilmonby Moor, south of Bowes, might be an enjoyable experience. The downside of this was that, no matter which route out of Barnard Castle we took, we'd miss a bit of the A66 again!

It was misty as we left Bowes and headed onto Gilmonby Moor, and it was not long before we saw a Red Grouse - sadly, with a fence wire in front of him.

Red Grouse (Lagopus lagopus scotica) (male) - Gilmonby Moor
A few minutes later and we were out in bright sunshine, and more Red Grouse were seen.

Red Grouse (Lagopus lagopus scotica) (male) - Gilmonby Moor
Further on, Lindsay spotted a raptor sitting on a distant low post. It appeared to be fairly large, but flew off before I could get my bins or camera on it. I did manage, however, to take a few very distant shots as it flew away. I though we might have have seen a Goshawk but it seems, from my images, that it was not as large as we thought, and was a female Kestrel!

I also failed to get any images of a pair of Whinchat that were on a fence beside the road, as they flew away when we were still quite distant. 

A Meadow Pipit was lurking behind a fence atop a roadside drystone wall.

Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) - Gilmonby Moor
Although we were on a single-track road, we'd only seen two other vehicles on it so far, and so I said to Lindsay that we'd just site tight in the hope that the Pipit would come out from behind the fence. We didn't have to wait long before it popped up onto the top of the fence!

Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) - Gilmonby Moor
We next came to a farm where there were Wheatears and Meadow Pipits. There was also a group of House Martins gathering on the telegraph wires, probably preparing to migrate.

House Martin (Delichon urbica) - Gilmonby Moor
We didn't get much further before the road was closed off by an impassable gate at Sleightholme, so turned round and stopped near a place where the Pennine Way walking route departed from the road that we were on. The ground seemed to be a bit boggy round here, and I was keen to take a walk on the Pennine Way across to the nearby Sleightholme Beck. My main objective was to try and find dragonflies, and the Common Hawker in particular as I have never successfully photographed this species.

As we arrived at the bridge over the beck, Lindsay spotted a Common Hawker, but it continued flying upstream until it was out of sight. Lindsay said she was happy to stay by the bridge for a while, so I went off to explore a nearby boggy patch. There was a Common Hawker in this patch but it spotted me before I spotted it, and it flew off downstream. The only things I photographed here with any reasonable result were a rather worn Peacock butterfly, and a fungus that I've not been able to identify, although I suspect it's of the Marasmius or Micromphale group.

Peacock (Aglais io) - Gilmonby Moor
fungus - Gilmonby Moor
I'd left Lindsay for a while, so returned to check that she was OK - she was. I took a photo of the beck from by the bridge, and then noticed a Grey Wagtail on some stones in the river. The second image is taken from the same point as the first, and the wagtail is actually in the first image - it's a dot just in front of the left hand end of the low vertical rock face, below where the grey scree comes down to the water!

Sleightholme Beck, from the Pennine Way bridge
Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) - Sleightholme Beck
I'd just cleared it with Lindsay for me to wander off upstream to try and photograph the wagtail from a little closer, and she'd replied that she'd be happy to sit there all day, when she got stung on the chest by a wasp. Unfortunately, Lindsay has developed a few allergies of late, and we were both unsure of how she might react to a wasp sting, so we made haste back to the car where, fortunately, we had some antihistamine ointment. After a while, we were confident that she was not going to have a serious reaction, so I took a short wander to a nearby boggy patch beside a stream running in a channel about a metre deep (the channel, not the water). 

I soon found a Common Hawker which was patrolling low over the water. Unfortunately there was intervening vegetation, with only two areas with a clear view of a length of stream of about one metre. I tried to get some flight shots, but failed miserably, with only getting the dragon in frame (just on the very edge of the frame) in one shot - and then it was horribly blurred. This is a crop of about 5% of the original image!

abject failure!
I continued to look around the stream for a while and spotted what I'm 80% sure was a male Black Darter, and then what I'm 50% sure was a female Black Darter but they were glimpses of only about two seconds and one second, and not even a blurry image was obtained.

It was now time for lunch and so we headed back towards Bowes. Just up the road from where we'd parked, we found the Wheatears and Meadow Pipits again. This time I got a few Wheatear shots.

Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) (female) - Gilmonby Moor
There was also a wagtail, which I believe was a male White Wagtail. Please let me know if I'm wrong!

White Wagtail (Motacilla alba) (male) - Gilmonby Moor

In Bowes we happened on The Ancient Unicorn. Having had a good breakfast that morning, the liquid refreshment was more important than the food, but we both had an excellent Mackerel Salad - technically a starter, but perfectly adequate for our needs.

After lunch we headed straight back to Gilmonby Moor, and found that there was a bit more traffic around. We crossed two vehicles with 8-wheeled buggies on trailers on the back, and a short while later arrived at the spot where I'd seen the 'possible/probable' Black Darters.  We'd not been there long when I saw huge clouds of dust in the distance and a convoy of vehicles, led by a particularly strange looking vehicle, came down the closed section of the road. It was then that the penny dropped - I was witnessing the return of a huge shooting party. The strange vehicle looked as if it was a large flat-bed truck with what vaguely looked like an ancient railway carriage mounted on top. Its purpose was obvious - it gave the persons sitting in it with their backsides 2 metres off the ground a better view of their hapless quarry. There were so many of them, and only two of us, that I held back my true feelings. And when I was asked if my camera was a gun(!!!), I politely replied that they'd got all the guns in their vehicles. I wish I had the wit to have come up with something more appropriate to the occasion - I'll perhaps have some remark prepared for such an occasion in future. 

I didn't find any further dragonflies and so, after about an hour, Lindsay and I headed back down the road. We stopped again for the Wheatear - a bird I can't resist!

Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) (female) - Gilmonby Moor
A bit further on, I spotted a Whinchat again. Knowing that it would almost certainly fly at our approach I stopped at a distance and took a record shot of it through the car windscreen. 

Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra) (female) - Gilmonby Moor
In order to cover the bit of the A66 that we'd missed, we had to head back into Barnard Castle, giving us the opportunity for another excellent ice cream! We then took to the A66 via the B6277, giving us the section of the A66 round Bowes that we'd missed (twice!).

Our second night out was at The Hollies, just outside Appleby-in-Westmoreland, which we had to access via the town. We soon realised that we were about to miss another section of the A66 as there was no way of legally, or safely, rejoining the road at the point that we left it!

The proprietor of The Hollies (an excellent B&B) very kindly let us check in early, and also recommended an Indian restaurant in the town - 'Ashiana'. Having put our baggage in our room we set off to explore the town. Lindsay had been enthusing about the town from the research that she'd done but, frankly, she was disappointed. I, on the other hand, found it quite pleasant. It didn't take us long to see all there seemed to be to see, and so we made for the promenade on the south side of the River Eden, which runs between regimented banks through the town whilst we waited for the restaurant to open.

There were a few gulls about, but I was surprised to find a Cormorant in this environment. Sadly, I'd only got my little pocket camera with me so the Cormorant image is rubbish! The rock, that can just be seen in the first image, features in the second and third images.

River Eden - Appleby-in-Westmoreland

Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) - Appleby-in-Westmoreland
It had been raining for a while, and neither of us had been expecting this, so were not suitably clothed. We arrived quite soggy at the restaurant. The food was possibly the best I've had at an Indian restaurant, and we had a great evening. We both had Adrock Chops (a speciality) as starters, and then Lindsay had North Indian Garlic Chilli (chicken), and I had Ameera Curry (chicken).

Wednesday 14th September

The breakfast at The Hollies is probably the best that I have ever encountered. The breakfast menu is extensive, to say the least. Where possible, all is locally sourced, and the provenance is given. It  includes a choice of eight (if I remember correctly) different species of sausage, so it's understandable that they ask you to order your breakfast the evening before. Furthermore, all we had was excellently cooked.

After breakfast I took a stroll in the large back garden and ended up at the mature pond at the bottom of the garden, which is surrounded by fields. I was hoping for dragonflies, but it was probably too early in the day. The only thing I photographed was this fungus, which I've not been able to identify, but I think might be a Coprinus species. I found it to be quite attractive - and so did the mosquitoes!

fungus (Coprinus sp.?) - The Hollies
In order not to miss any of the A66, we had to leave Appleby heading west on the A66, and then turn off right into the village of Crackenthorpe. Here, we turned round and  headed back eastwards on the A66, turning right some way beyond Appleby, down a very minor road signposted Far Bank End. We turned round where the road ended at private property and rejoined the A66 heading westwards. 

The road remained scenic as we passed Penrith, Keswick, Bassenthwaite Lake, and Cockermouth.  We then entered the town of Workington and continued to where the A66 finishes a a 'T' junction with the A596. Here we turned right, and were immediately able to make a 'U' turn (A66 completed!) and head back on the A66 eastwards, retracing our route back as far as Keswick, where we headed south on the A591 towards Ambleside. 

We made a quick stop at White Moss Common where there is a car park, and toilets. Here I saw a large Hawker dragonfly which dropped into some ferns, but I couldn't locate its position.

With the weather being so good, Ambleside was extremely busy, and we wanted to park near the quayside at Waterhead. We spent around 15 minutes waiting for a space in the large car park before giving up to look for an alternative. We found one - in the tiny car park next to the quays - reserved for steamer users, which was our intention anyway!

Having booked tickets for the Red Cruise which runs between Waterhead and Bowness, we did not have to wait long for a departure, but had enough time for a drink and packet of crisps beforehand.

We enjoyed a relaxing cruise in fine weather, sat on the open upper deck of one of the middle-sized boats - I didn't note which one, but suspect it was one of the "Miss Cumbria"s. 

We found the waterside at Bowness to be somewhat uninspiring and 'downmarket', and decided to head straight back on the next available boat. Again I did not note the boat but think it was one of the "Miss Lakeland"s. Nothing very interesting in the way of wildlife was seen, but here are some images from the return journey.

Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus) - Lake Windermere
Cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo) - island on Lake Windermere
island on Lake Windermere

Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus) - Lake Windermere
view to Wray Castle and beyond - Lake Windermere
"Princess of the Lake" - Brockhole
Once back at Waterhead, we had a local ice-cream before setting off to White Moss Common, where I hoped to find dragonflies. I thought I might be onto something good when I found an area with eight or more people with cameras on tripods. However, my hopes were dashed when I was told that they were a camera club, and they were all practising infra-red photography! The only photos I took were of a wooded area.

by White Moss Common
It was now time that we could check in at our hotel, which was the Briery Wood Hotel. The check-in process was a disappointment as we discovered that our rate didn't include breakfast (my mistake), and that breakfast was £10 per head. This seemed a bit much when we both usually only have a very light breakfast. The experience was not enhanced by the unfortunate manner of the check-in clerk, and being informed that a charge of two pounds for a wildlife charity which supported Red Squirrels would be automatically added to our bill, unless we wished to opt out. We're both in favour of support for such charities, but both of us were appalled at this unethical way of collecting money.

I'm pleased to say that, from then on, our experience at the hotel was a delightful one, and we'd happily return. Our room was on the ground floor, with a door out onto a patio with table and chairs, and the gardens beyond. The weather was warm and sunny and so we settled in for a cup of tea on the patio before dinner.

We had a full three courses for dinner, and the food was outstandingly wonderful! The service was excellent, and the dining room comfortable. Afterwards, we relaxed in the lounge with coffee - served with a plate of locally hand-made chocolates.

Thursday 15th September

Rather than pay the £10 per head for breakfast, and having had a full meal the night before, we found it perfectly adequate, and very enjoyable, to have tea and biscuits (from the tray in the room) on the patio outside our room.

Check out went quickly and smoothly, and we were soon on our way home. Rather than race down the motorways and get home quickly, we set the sat-nav to 'avoid motorways'. This turned out to be a mistake as, although the first part of the journey was very scenic, we later found ourselves being taken through the centre of Manchester. This is never a good move, but there is currently chaos in the centre, with many streets being closed - I suspect that a new tram route is being built. The sat-nav couldn't cope and, at one point, had us turning right at a 'no right turn' junction - a fact I didn't realise until after executing the turn and being told of my error by Lindsay!

We stopped in Buxton for the loos, and then bought the makings of a picnic in the local Co-op. Our picnic venue was beside the Tissington Trail at Parsley Hay, and we were able to enjoy the final ice cream of the break from the kiosk there. We were home at around 15h00.

Thus ended a most enjoyable break. 

A66 v Route 66: 

I've never done Route 66, but I reckon we had a better time on the A66 than we would have had on Route 66. It incurred a fraction of the cost, took us to places that we'd not been to before, was probably more relaxing than Route 66 would have been, took up less of our time - and the only guns to give us any concern were those of the hunting fraternity! All we need now is for someone to write a song about the A66!

Thank you for dropping by.