Monday, 31 August 2009

Spotting the Spotted Crake

OK, now I need a couple of good excuses for the crap photos that I took of the following bird a few days ago. So, as you can see from the photo below the weather was far from ideal. It was gloomy and overcast and tending to drizzle every now and then. Couple this with the fact that the bird was just a bit too distant for my 70-300ml lens and those are the excuses I'm sticking to. Apart from that, it was a real thrill to even get to see this bird let alone photograph it. It is a rare breeding bird in Britain and also tends to be very skulking, preferring to slip unobtrusively in amongst the vegetation at the waters edge.Early Saturday morning I thought I'd go down to the Somerset Levels, but rather than go to my usual haunts, I decided to try a couple of different areas. I'm very glad I did. This bird was at the RSPB's newest reserve at Greylake. It is a bit further for me to drive, but only by about 15 minutes or so. I shall definitely be going back there in future.The Spotted Crake is a Starling sized Rail which is a rare and local breeder in Britain, mainly in Scotland. This appears to be a juvenile bird due to the lack of black on the face and minimal red to the base of the bill.It certainly seems to find itself pretty handsome!The buff undertail coverts are diagnostic.In my next post, I'll show a couple of the other birds I found at this lovely reserve.

Friday, 28 August 2009

A Wiltshire walk - part two

Carrying on up the hill, the only sounds to accompany me were the buzz of insects and the mournful cries of a family of Buzzards. I love that Buzzard call, for me it feels like the sound of wilderness even though they are not really birds of remote places.Some more sharing of nectar going on here with several bees and a Peacock butterfly and just about hidden from view, some sort of Skipper, all intently feeding on this Cotton Thistle.At the top of the hill there is a small wood where I managed to see some different butterflies. This Silver-washed Fritillary was looking pretty ragged. It was a little late in the season for them so I felt lucky to get to see any.Another Silver-washed Fritillary, again not in the best of condition! I was really pleased to come across a Wall Brown butterfly, it's not one I get to see every year. It's not a spectacular butterfly but I love its subtle marble like markings.There were plenty of Speckled Wood butterflies chasing each other around the trees. This one stayed still long enough for me to get a shot off.It was time to head back down the hill to the car and home. On the way down, I found a male Yellowhammer taking time to take a drink during the heat of the day.I know I've posted Painted Lady butterflies recently, but they've been so plentiful this year and that gorgeous patterning is hard to resist!I'll finish of with a photo of this curious cow. I don't know what type it is, but it was a pretty little thing (well actually it was quite big )! I'm glad there was a fence between me and it! (-:

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

A Wiltshire walk - part one

Well, this WAS going to be a post about my day up at the Birdfair this last weekend, but I'm afraid I managed to delete all the photos I took while up there! It was a great day and if you're interested in the largest and oldest Birdfair in the world, then click on the link and then various tabs and see what it's all about.

So, instead I dug out some photos from a walk that I took in the county of Wiltshire which lies about 20 minutes drive from my home. This area is on the western edge of Salisbury Plain, much of which is given over to the army for training purposes and is off limits for most of the year. The countryside where I was walking though is not part of the training area, but it has the same gently rolling hills and openness that is indicative of Salisbury Plain. This first photo shows the start of my walk. If you click to enlarge, the hill in the distance I like to call mohican hill (for obvious reasons). I've just tried clicking on it myself and it takes me to the Birdfair website for some reason rather than just enlarging this photo. Don't know how to fix it, so apologies for this!I was following a permissive footpath which took me up and along the edge of fields sown with wheat I think (you'd have known what cereal it was without a doubt Roy)! Earlier in the year there were lots of singing Skylarks to keep a walker company along here (one of the sublime sounds of summer in the British countryside).I think this flower is Chicory (Cichorium intybus) which favours grassy chalk downland. It's a beautiful fresh blue which brightened up the field edges as I walked along.It was definitely a day for the bugs and butterflies to be out and about as I soon noticed. This 6-spot Burnet moth was sharing quite happily with a bee of some sort.A Brimstone butterfly gorging on nectar from this thistle, again sharing with some sort of bee. It was a sharing kind of day I guess! (-:I had help from a friend in identifying this moth as a Dusky Sallow. They are usually night flyers, but will sometimes feed during the day in very hot weather. Well it was pretty hot that day!My best encounter of the walk I think was a pair of Roe Deer. I just happened to look left across the field when this female also just happened to look up. We shared a few moments of mutual staring before she bounded off to join her mate who I just managed to catch a shot of below.
I'll carry on up the hill in my next post.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Devon weekend - part two

Early(ish) the next day, we set off for the southern most tip of Devon at Prawle Point. I hadn't been here for years and it was a real pleasure to come to this remote part of our busy island! I guess it's not remote in the true sense of the word, but it was wonderfully quiet and peaceful and beautiful. Dave, our host, led us up the hill towards the coast guard watch point. If you click to enlarge, you will see the coast guard building at the top of the hill.This is the lovely view looking east from the top.I put this photo in by mistake. It's the same view as the one above, but from lower down the hill and doesn't have the same impact I think. I couldn't find a way to delete it once it was in here so, here it stays! (-:This is the view from the top. For any sufferers of vertigo, I wouldn't recommend walking much further towards the cliff edge! (-:We wanted to do a spot of sea-watching so we made our way further down the cliff edge to get a better angle for seeing birds out at sea.It wasn't the best weather conditions for sea-watching, but we love doing it anyway. There is something very relaxing but exciting at the same time about sea-watching. I love it!One of the things I love most about watching sea birds from a high cliff is the different perspective you get from watching birds on their level or from looking down on them. There were plenty of Herring Gulls loafing around the cliffs here as well as the odd Fulmar. Unfortunately I didn't manage to get a photo of the Fulmar, but this Herring Gull was obliging.This rocky island had a colony of Herring Gulls nesting. It is attached to the mainland only at high tide. Dave told us the story about one enterprising fox that used to slip over to the island at low tide to predate the Herring Gull nests. One time however, he mistimed his visit and because of the variation in level of the rising tide, had to spend several days on there!This is the view looking west. I love the morning sunlight on the rock formation.This rock has been completely hollowed out. A good place to shelter if caught out in a storm!On the way back down the hill, we passed these old Coast Guard cottages. I wish one was a B&B. I would LOVE to stay in one for a week or two!One of our target birds for the weekend was the Cirl Bunting. This bird is right on the northern edge of it's breeding range in Europe and the only place it is found in this country nowadays is in the southern part of Devon. This is a male and these two photos are heavily cropped as he was in the process of feeding young so we didn't want to get close and disturb him.You can see he has some food in his bill. They rely heavily on Grasshoppers at this time of year.As we were heading back to the car to start making our slow way back home, we came across these young Barn Swallows waiting to be fed by their parents. There must've been about fifteen of these noisy youngsters twittering away. A great way to end our weekend in Devon.
All the scenic photos show up better when clicked on to enlarge them I think.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Devon weekend - part one

This last weekend I took a birding trip down to South Devon with my friend Jane. We birded on the way down to where we were staying overnight at Brixham. There were no picturesque photo opportunities on the way down so these first photos were taken Saturday evening at Berry Head which is a promontory overlooking the town of Brixham. We were staying with a friend of Janes who co-wrote the book Where to watch birds in Devon and Cornwall (a great resource if you're thinking of birding either of these two counties). This first photo is taken from Berry Head looking north towards the town of Torquay. This is the view of the coast facing south toward the distant promontory of Start Point. The next morning, we set out reasonably early to get down to Prawle Point, the southern most tip of Devon. On the way, we had to take the car ferry across the River Dart at the pretty town of Dartmouth.If you look at a map of this area, you will see that the ferry at Dartmouth saves a very long detour to get across the river by road.This is the view across the River Dart showing part of the town of Dartmouth. At the top of the hill on the right you can just see the Royal Naval College. (click any of these photos to enlarge).This was the view as we crossed over on the ferry.The next post will show the beautiful coastline at Prawle Point and some of the birds we saw there.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Tea mugs and Tree ferns - part two

Having left John Leach's pottery, we drove about a mile down the country lanes to Burrow Hill Cider Farmhouse. The county of Somerset is famous for its Cider (fermented Apple juice). For a number of years the apple orchards of Somerset had been run down, but in recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in Cider making here with single variety ciders proving particularly popular (with me anyway) (-: There are many farms in Somerset selling 'scrumpy' (rough cider) which can be very rough indeed! This place we visited also makes Apple Brandy and if you click on the photo below to enlarge, the sign tells you a bit more about this.I liked the fact that there were sheep roaming freely through the apple orchards. I wonder if they're allowed there when the apples are falling? I don't know if sheep would eat apples? Do you know Roy?There was an opportunity to sample the wares, but being the driver, I didn't succumb! (-:I was tickled by this sign up above one of the doors there. I don't think I particularly fancy being pickled!!! (-:It was round about lunchtime by now so we moved on to this Smokery which had been recommended to us at the pottery as being somewhere quite different to eat. I love smoked food so was in my element here. This is Chris's lunch of smoked fillet of Trout.I decided to go for the smoked tenderloin of pork. YUM! As we usually do, we tried each others and I think I actually preferred Chris's trout, both were delicious though. We also had some great puddings, but I was so interested in eating mine that I forgot to take photos! (-:After our lunch Chris and I had a bit of a spend up in their shop. Not cheap, but nice for a treat! These were mainly smoked meats.And these some of the smoked fish available. They also had smoked cheeses. I was in heaven!Our last stop of the day was at a Garden Nursery. Eric wanted to buy a couple of house plants. This was a proper 'plantsmans' nursery with many unusual plants. I could have spent a fortune! You'd have loved it Evie, they had a great array of ferns!In the end Eric surprised us by buying us this beautiful Tree Fern (I saw these in the wild in the rainforests of Australia). At the moment this is gracing the edge of our pond where it looks right at home. Thanks dad in law!Oh....and as promised, I popped round to snatch a photo of the famous Tea Mug. It's already been put to good use! (-:Cheers Eric!