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Saturday 28 December 2019

Christmas Day Picnic Lunch - 25th December, 2019

For many years, Lindsay and I celebrated Christmas with a Christmas Day picnic lunch in the countryside. However, for the past three years we have, at their request, enjoyed Christmas Day lunch with our daughter and granddaughter in their house. Developments in the effects of our granddaughter's autism have now resulted in Christmas having to be a non-event for our daughter and granddaughter, and so Lindsay and I decided that we'd revert to the Christmas Day picnic.

We'd decided to revisit a local nature reserve for the event - until a friend told us seven days beforehand that the area was inaccessible because of floods! We therefore started looking for alternatives.

Things got more complicated when Lindsay started a heavy cold on 23rd December. She did feel well enough, however, to visit our favourite Thai restaurant, 'Thai Marina' at Barton Marina, for lunch on Christmas Eve, and a very fine lunch it was too. On the way back, our route took us close to the flooded nature reserve and Lindsay agreed to us checking it out as a possibility.

The nature reserve has a private drive of around three quarters of a mile (1 km) length, accessible through a secure gate. Part-way along this drive we found the problem, with considerable lengths of the approach road under water. If I had not known the road well, and if we had not been in our 4x4 with good ground clearance, I would not have attempted it. However, we managed to get through with caution and, having arrived in the car park and checked out the state of the hides, we decided that, given that the weather forecast was very good for the following day, we'd go for it!

Lindsay was feeling rather worse when we woke up on Christmas Day, but was determined to carry on as planned, although we did simplify the picnic somewhat. We chose and prepared our own fare, with Lindsay opting for crackers, a dip, crisps, Christmas cake, and a flask of coffee, and me making up a turkey and mayo baguette, and packing a sloe gin mince tart, and a bottle of elderflower tonic water. 

By the time we left home, the forecast of unbroken sunshine had moderated to unbroken cloud cover! The journey there was pleasant and the roads weren't too busy, and the floods were negotiated once more without difficulty. We settled in the first hide and, having unpacked our lunch, enjoyed the view whilst eating.

the view during Christmas Lunch
Although the view was splendid, nothing was seen of any great interest, and the birds stayed very distant for most of the time. The grey day also made photography difficult.

Ducks were there in the form of Gadwall, Mallard, Wigeon, and Goldeneye. I did attempt a few shots of a very distant drake Goldeneye but failed, with the best I could do shown below

Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) (male)
At one point, I tried to photograph a duck that flew past and had me mystified at the time. I can see now that it was a female Goldeneye.

Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) (female)
I didn't attempt any photos of the Cormorants, but now wish I had as one was in rather fine plumage exhibiting much white. However, it was a very long way away. There were a few Grey Heron and a couple flew a bit closer.

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)
At one point, a heron flew in and made a most inelegant landing, although it soon regained its composure!

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)
The real stars of our visit were, however, the delightful Long-tailed Tits. A flock of 12 birds was almost constantly in attendance and, on occasion, came much closer to us than any of the other birds, keeping us entertained during our stay.

Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus)
After about half an hour, the cold was getting to Lindsay, and it was time to head home and finish our picnic in the warmth.  The heated seats in the car were put to good use during the journey!

It had been a most enjoyable interlude, in spite of not seeing anything outstanding, and the change of scenery had been most welcome.

You may have noticed that I have refrained from stating the location of our picnic. I have to confess that this is entirely for selfish reasons. Both times that we have been here on Christmas Day, ours has been the only car on the reserve, and not one other soul has been seen - we quite like it that way!

I wish all my readers a happy and healthy New Year. My 2020 vision is that it should be a better year for the planet, and the wildlife that the planet belongs to. Please do all you can to further this objective.

Thursday 19 December 2019

Season's Greetings! - December, 2019

My apologies for being absent from Blogger for a while. A planned maintenance on my PC had an unexpected result when a hard drive failed during the process. I now have two new 2 TB drives in my PC and a whole lot of data to reinstall from back-ups. I hope to catch up with everyone soon.

Photographically, it has been a quiet end-of-year for me. We've had relatively poor weather, with lots of rain and plenty of wind and it seems that, every time we've had a spot of good weather, I've had commitments that have prevented me taking advantage of it. Herewith, therefore, a few shots of wildlife in the garden ('back yard' to those on the western side of the Atlantic), taken through the window glass from my study, or from the conservatory, during November and December.

Nuthatch is an infrequent visitor to our garden and has been noticeable by its absence for most of the year - hence it was exciting to have a brief visit on this day. The weather was dull and the bird was at the far end of the garden.

Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) - our garden on 2nd November, 2019
As the camera was out, I took a few shots of a Blue Tit that was close to the window.

Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) - our garden on 2nd November, 2019
We then went away to Dorset for a dew days. On our return, we were delighted to find that the Brambling that had been visiting before we left was still around - again, the light was dire for this shot.

Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) - our garden on 10th November, 2019
A couple of days later, I managed a few shots of a Sparrowhawk. This juvenile is an occasional visitor and, whilst I would not wish it any harm, I'm rather glad that it doesn't seem to have much success in catching the birds in our garden.

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) (juvenile) - our garden on 12th November, 2019
Three days later, I got some more Bramblings shots - at a much greater distance and still in poor light. I think that this is the same bird as that on 10th November.

Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) - our garden on 15th November, 2019
We now wind forward a week. I'm a bit fond of woodpeckers, and disappointed that we rarely see one in our garden these days. However, one (a female) showed up on 30th October. She has been an occasional visitor since then, showing maybe twice in three weeks on average. I managed to catch her on camera on 15th November. This is a sequence of her spotting something she was unhappy with, instantly dropping round to a position under the 'branch' that she was on, then coming back up when she was happy that all was OK.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) (female) - our garden on 22nd November, 2019
The moth trap has been out a few times but, since 22nd October, this was the only time I've caught a moth. This is the splendid December Moth - just look at its 'warm winter coat'!

December Moth (Poecilocampa populi) - from our garden on 26th November, 2019
The female Great Spotted Woodpecker was back on 28th November - in the rain.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) (female) - our garden on 28th November, 2019
We had some excitement on 3rd December, with the arrival of two birds that we had not seen in the garden since last winter - Blackcap and Redwing. We managed some sunshine that day!

Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) (female) - our garden on 3rd December 2019
Redwing (Turdus iliacus) - our garden on 3rd December 2019
During the summer, we had two Hedgehog feeding stations in the garden, as well as three hedgehog houses. A few weeks ago, one of the feeding stations was dismantled as it was now only being used by mice, and was attracting cats. We currently have four trail cams deployed in our garden - three of them are pointing at the hog houses (one of which also covers the remaining feeding station) and another is pointing at a bush, under which a Hedgehog has built himself a nest of leaves. 

At one point we were worried about both the hogs that were visiting our garden. One (a very large hog) appeared one night dragging its rear right leg which seemed twisted at a strange angle. At that time we did not know where the hog was coming from, and I was not up to staying up all night in the cold in the hope of catching it to get its leg attended to. Instead I kept monitoring it on a trail cam in case it got worse. Soon after this, it started building its leaf nest at a place that I just happened to be observing with a trail cam. I helped it by piling dry leaves outside the nest, so that it had less distance to travel on its poorly leg. Over a period of a few weeks I was delighted to see the leg improving, and it got to the point that I could not detect that there'd been a problem.

The second hog that was a cause for concern was a rather small one that was running round the garden at night at great speed and only sniffing at the food and water in the feeding stations. This was probably going to be too small to survive the winter.

On 6th December, the hog in the self-built nest had already hibernated (he's since been waking up and repairing his nest after wind-damage), and the small hog, which had suddenly started using the feeding station and was visibly putting on weight, was busy supplementing the bedding that I'd put in one of the hog houses (a Hogitat - the other two houses are wooden constructions, purchased from Leicester Hedgehog Rescue, but currently 'vacant'). Here is some video of the small hog using some of the extra leaves I'd supplied to cosy-up its 'hogitat'.

In the summer, we had two pairs of Bullfinch that regularly visited the garden - then we had the youngsters. By the end of October, the garden was, sadly, devoid of Bullfinch. There was, therefore, some excitement when a female Bullfinch appeared on 1st December. This female has continued with occasional visits since then and even brought a male with her on one occasion. I have only once managed a photograph, and this was not very good!

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (female) - our garden on 8th December, 2019
This will almost certainly be my last blog post until after Christmas, so I take this opportunity to wish my readers a very Happy Christmas and all the best for 2020. 

The header, which is current as I write this, harks back to what is probably going to be the lifetime highlight of my birdwatching interest – a Snowy Owl on Tresco, Isles of Scilly, on 17th March, 2018 – a rare bird for UK, but snow on the Scillies is even rarer!

Thank you for dropping by.

Sunday 24 November 2019

Dorset Short Break - 4th to 8th November, 2019

Feeling in need of a change of scenery, Lindsay and I booked a short break at a self-catering property in Lyme Regis, on the Dorset coast. We have stayed in this area before, but never in Lyme Regis, which we had only visited for a few hours once before.

Monday, 4th November

Rather than take the fastest (motorway) route, we opted for the scenic route, travelling the Fosse Way (an old Roman road) for much of the way. We stopped for lunch at the Yellow Brick Cafe in the splendid Cotswold town of Moreton-in-Marsh, where they make some of the best ice cream that we've ever tasted, with wonderful flavour combinations.

The rest of the journey was pleasant, but uneventful, and we arrived at the property just before 4 pm. The property did not have a parking space, but we managed to find a space in the small parking area over the road outside the library. This enabled us to unload the car with relative ease. However, parking between 9 am and 6 pm was limited to one hour, with no return within an hour, so we felt the need to park elsewhere after unloading. The nearest car park was the Holmbush car park, which was very reasonably priced at £2 for 24 hours, but was a stiff uphill walk to get back to!

That evening we did a quick shop at the Co-op before heading into the Indian restaurant just a few doors up from our new home. We had a splendid meal there, and resolved to return later in the week. However, Lindsay had an upset stomach that night, which rather put her off and so we never went back.

Tuesday, 5th November

Sadly, we both had a really uncomfortable night. The bedroom floor had a considerable slope to it and this had not been compensated for with the length of the bed legs, so the bed sloped from one side to the other, and it sagged badly in the middle. Lindsay had a greater problem with this than I did and only averaged around three hours sleep a night whilst we were there!

After breakfast, the weather was fine - if a little chilly and breezy, and we resolved to take a good look at Lyme Regis. Lyme is a delightful town, and we started by walking down the main street, exploring the antique and curio shops and the charity shops too. Purchases were made! We then approached the sea front from the east end.

I hadn't taken my usual camera out that day as I was expecting some hazardous conditions later, so had taken an old bridge camera that I'd been given , but had never used before. When examined, the results were a little disappointing. The first view, below, was taken looking eastward towards Charmouth and the second was looking westward towards Lyme beach and The Cobb.

view eastward from the east of Lyme Regis
view westward from the east of Lyme Regis
We then set off westward along the beach. The rental of the property included the use of a beach hut and, indeed, this was one of the reasons why we chose it. We had, therefore, to make use of it! There were probably around 30 beach huts, and none of the others were being used and so, unsurprisingly, it attracted a lot of attention when we sat outside, and some delightful conversations ensued! 

Lindsay at the beach hut, Lyme Regis
After about half an hour it got somewhat chillier and so we packed up and and took a walk along to The Cobb. Out on The Cobb I saw a few birds, but nothing of great interest, and my attempts with the bridge camera were discarded.

We had a good light lunch at a cafe on the main street, before heading off to Charmouth.

The coast in this area is known as the Jurassic Coast with good reason. The geology is such that the coastal cliffs are rich in fossils, and this is where Mary Anning rose to fame. Sadly, the tides were such that fossil hunting was going to be greatly limited during our stay, but we did manage a couple of hours on Charmouth East Beach before it got dark. I had little luck with my fossil hunting, finding just three bellemnite guards and two pieces of ammonite, all of which were passed to other persons who had not managed to find anything at all.

I'd realised that if we returned to base after 5 pm and there was a space in the car park opposite, we would be able to stay put until 10 am the following day. This served us well for the last three nights. That night we had a simple meal of soup at the property.

Wednesday, 6th November

I had been aware of Seaton Wetlands being a nature reserve beside the River Axe which attracts wildfowl during the winter, but had never visited. Lindsay had graciously volunteered to sit waiting in the car, reading a book, while I took a look at this place this morning. Having parked the car in the car park, accessed through the cemetery, I set off - realising when I got back onto the road that I'd taken a wrong turning! I retraced my steps and soon saw where I'd gone wrong.

A bird photographer, coming in the opposite direction, offered some interesting 'pointers', one of which later led me to doubt his recognition skills. 

I first went to Island Hide, where the most photographable subjects were a few Teal that were near the start of the approach to the hide.

Teal (Anas crecca) (female) - Seaton Wetlands

Teal (Anas crecca) (male) - Seaton Wetlands
I next moved on to the Discovery Hut area, but little was seen here so I moved northward once more, ending up at the hide that's by the tramway on Colyford Common. Here there was a male Stonechat on the wires and a distant Little Egret. 

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) - Colyford Common
Up until now, the weather had been rather dull, and whilst in the hide it had started raining. As it looked as if the rain had set in, I started heading back to where Lindsay was, no doubt, sleeping in the car.

In a small pond near the Discovery hut, a young Mute Swan was drifting around - and the rain had stopped!

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) (juvenile) - Seaton Wetlands
Nearer to Island Hide, I got a few shots of a Shelduck.

Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) (male) - Seaton Wetlands
A return to Island Hide showed that the Black-tailed Godwit on the nearby island was still asleep with its head tucked in whilst a second bird was wandering around in the water at some distance.

Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa) - Seaton Wetlands
Figuring that Lindsay was probably enjoying sleeping in the car, I next ventured to Tower Hide. On the way there, I stopped to photograph a Stonechat that was a little more obliging with its chosen perches than the previous one.

Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) (male) - Seaton Wetlands
From Tower Hide, anything of interest was at a great distance, and no photographs were taken. It was time to head back to the car and gently waken Lindsay from her slumbers.

We drove into Seaton and were delighted to find that the fish & chip shop (Seaton Fish Bar), that we used to occasionally eat in many years ago when we were staying with my mother who lived nearby in Chardstock, was open at lunchtime. Lunch was basic, but absolutely delicious!

After lunch, and a visit to a few shops in Seaton, we headed back to Lyme Regis as we wished to purchase a polished ammonite pendant that we'd seen the previous day, and which Lindsay had decided she would like as a souvenir. 

I made a quick visit to the gardens at the top end of the main street and was impressed by the view down to The Cobb.

view to The Cobb from Langmoor Gardens, Lyme Regis
The evening was one of gentle relaxation at the cottage.

Thursday, 7th November

From the outset, this day had been forecast to have the best weather during our stay, and so we had planned to visit one of our favourite lunch venues - anywhere! We woke to find the forecast had held true, so set off for Ferrybridge, near Weymouth, after breakfast. 

Ferrybridge is at the eastern end of the amazing Chesil Beach - a shingle 'barrier beach', 18 miles (29 km) long and up to 15 metres high and 200 metres wide. You can find more about it here.

There is a visitor centre by Chesil Beach at Ferrybridge with a cafe and also an area manned by the Dorset Wildlife Trust, where the volunteers are very helpful. I had a quick look round outside and was delighted to see that there were good numbers of Brent Goose present. Most were at a great distance but there were a couple that were only about 100 metres away. I don't know my Brent Geese well, and have only ever seen one once in my home county, but I think that one of the two, depicted below, might have been a young Pale-bellied Brent. Please let me know if you think I'm correct!

(Pale-bellied?) Brent Goose (Branta bernicla (ssp. hrota?)) (juvenile) - Ferrybridge
It was around 10h30, and Lindsay and I popped in to the cafe for refreshments. My tea was consumed in no time flat, and so I left Lindsay nursing hers, with a piece of cake, and went out to get more shots of the Brent Geese. I was very lucky as, on two occasions, I picked a spot, waited, and a goose continued coming towards me.

Brent Goose (Branta bernicla) - Ferrybridge
There were a few gulls around, and those that know me will probably be aware that gulls are not my thing. However, I was a little surprised to find that one of the gulls I photographed was a Mediterranean Gull.

Mediterranean Gull (Ichthyaetus melanocephalus) - Ferrybridge
A Carrion Crow looked as if it had been confused by beach pebbles, thinking they were eggs!

Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) - Ferrybridge
As I went to rejoin Lindsay a group of Brents flew in and made their way past me.

Brent Goose (Branta bernicla) - Ferrybridge
It was then time to pick up Lindsay and head off to The Crab House Cafe where we had booked a table for 12 noon. This sits beside The Fleet - the long stretch of water protected from the sea by Chesil Beach. This may not look too special from the outside but it is somewhat famous for the quality of its food.

The Crab House Cafe - Ferrybridge
This is the view from the cafe, over The Fleet, with Chesil Beach behind. This will, I hope, give an impression of how massive Chesil Beach is - the sea is beyond.

view across The Fleet to Chesil Beach
We both had a starter of crispy Pilchards, followed by baked John Dory  - it was wonderful!

After lunch, we headed onto the isle of Portland, over the causeway, going directly to Portland Bill on the south end of the island. Tiredness had overcome Lindsay once more and so she stayed in the car while I had a scout around.

Portland Bill Lighthouse
I spent a little while trying to photograph a Rock Pipit. However, having looked at my photos, I find myself questioning if I'd seen something a little different. Plenty of 'unusual' birds pass through Portland Bill in the autumn. This bird was quite pale, with legs that were quite pale too and I'm wondering if it was a Water Pipit. Please let me know your thoughts. Marc Heath, whose judgement I trust, has stated he believes the Pipit to be 'Rock' so I'll go with that - thank you, Marc!

Rock Pipit (Anthus petrosus) - Portland Bill
I started making my way up the east side, heading towards the quarry below 'the Obs' as I was hoping that the Little Owls might still be there. I couldn't resist, however, taking a few shots of the wave action on the rocks. I love shots of moving water!

Coastal Scenes - Portland Bill
As I approached the quarry, a Kestrel was being harried by a Crow. The Kestrel landed on the quarry edge and I got a few shots in before it departed.

Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) - Portland Bill
I stayed a while, but saw no sign of a Little Owl, so headed back to join Lindsay, not expecting the next thing I photographed to be an Osprey - no, not that kind of Osprey but one of the very weird USAF VTOL aircraft which rose up in front of me and flew past - unfortunately, I missed the lift. Sadly, too, the light was already fading 

USAF Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey - Portland Bill
That evening was mainly spent packing as we had to vacate the property by 10h00.

Friday, 8th November

We were ready to depart by 09h00 and so set off homeward. It was another pleasant journey, with a stop for lunch at the AV8 Bistro & Restaurant at Cotswold Airport near Cirencester. We found this place a few years ago and vowed to return - we were not disappointed!

We then stopped in Moreton-in-Marsh for an ice-cream at The Yellow Brick Cafe - it's difficult to pass this place without calling in!

We managed to get home well-before night fall. Although the break had had its discomforts, and it hadn't been over-productive with birds (or fossils), it had been highly enjoyable. 

I have absolutely no idea what my next blog post will feature, but it will probably be a short one unless something remarkable happens! Thank you for dropping by.