Archive for December 2011

28th December – Derby and Breedon-on-the-hill   Leave a comment

Yesterday Simon and I paid visit to my mother’s old house. Having lived there as a teenager and stayed there regularly ever since, it was a poingent moment to realise that this would be my final visit. Simon has worked very hard to renovate the house and its now ready for rental.


Margaret and Simon in the newly renovated lounge.




Before we left Derby we called in on another old friend, Nigel Mackie. Nigel was at school with me (and Martin and Tricia) and later shared a house with me for nearly six years in Leeds. Nigel still lives in Leeds and now that he is retired he has more time to visit his mother in Derby. We paid a quick visit to Nigel’s mother’s and went for a walk around Allestree Park.


Margaret, Kara, Amber and Nigel at Allestree Park


We wish we had more time to spend with Nigel but we had another old friend to visit.

Di Beech, the former partner of my late friend Clive, and a house mate of Nigel and I in the mid 70s, recently moved with her husband Steve to the pretty village of Breedon-on-the-hill in south Derbyshire. (Kara, Breedon-on-the-hill is a place name not an instruction to breed-on-the-hill!)  They have an absolutely charming home, an old beamed renovated farm-house that has even seen the nearby defunct bus shelter incorporated into the building. Later we headed back to Poole, arriving in the late afternoon.


Di and Steve photographed at our wedding in 2009.



Whilst the adults had a natter, Amber and Kara snuggled up by the fire.



Posted December 29, 2011 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

27th December – Derby and Carsington Water   Leave a comment

During the morning we visited my old friends Martin and Tricia Gadsby. I have known Martin since I moved to Derby in 1965 at the age of 14 and Tricia since 1967,  I was best man at their wedding in 1976. Both have retired this year, so we could compare the benefits of our lives of leisure. Their son and daughter, James and Alex were home for Christmas and it was great to meet up with them as well.


James, Martin, Tricia and Alex Gadsby


The old mill on the River Derwent is close to where Martin and Tricia live. These old mills were just considered part of the industrial scenery in Derby and the Derwent Valley, but now their historical significance has been recognised as the birthplace of the industrial revolution and have been given World Heritage Status, putting them on par with the Dorset coast, Ankor Wat or the Pyramids!


Trouble at mill ?



The weir on the River Derwent


In the afternoon Simon, Viv, Margaret and I nad the four girls went for a walk around Carsington Water, a large reservoir on the edge of the Derbyshire Dales. The area is managed for nature and recreation and has an interesting visitor centre, all of which attracts hoards of people even on a cold winter day.

Whilst the girls went straight to the play area we took a short walk to the bird hide. The dry autumn has left its mark and the reservoir was lower than I have ever seen it. The feeders attracted many Tree Sparrows and a single Willow Tit and out on the water 26 Barnacle Geese (undoubtedly of feral origin) and a Great Northern Diver were seen.


The water level is usually right up to the hide and all of this mud is covered .......



..... and the sailors must be struggling to launch their yachts.



In the courtyard of the centre is a huge granite ball supported by a cushion of water. Jennifer, Amber and Kara find that it takes considerable effort rotate it or to stop it once it gains momentum.




Posted December 29, 2011 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Boxing Day 26th December – Derby   Leave a comment


Today we set off to see my relatives in Derby. Kara and Amber came with us so they could spend time with my nieces Miriam and Jennifer.

We arrived at my brother Simon’s place in Duffield by midday and Simon and I soon went to see our mother in the nearby nursing home. Her dementia is slowly getting worse, but there was a flicker of recognition when we arrived.




Mum and Simon



During the evening we all joined Simon, his wife Vivienne and their two girls for a party at Viv’s parent’s house. Dennis and Ida are great hosts and a visit to see them is always a highlight of a trip to Derby. We were joined by Viv’s brother Graham, his wife Sally, their three grown up  daughters Vicki, Katie and Emily and their respective husband’s and Vikki’s two-year old daughter Lauren and Emily’s six month old son Arlo; four generations in all!




Ida and her grand-daughter Vicki and great-grand-daughter Lauren.



Dennis and Adrian (Katie's husband) relaxed and watched the TV.



Dennis and Ida had set up some disco lights and a karaoke machine for the kids .......



... but the glitter ball only worked when Simon shone his torch on it!



Kara sang several songs but was upstaged by two-year old Lauren's repeated rendition of 'jingle bells'



Sally with her grandson Arlo. Arlo's father Choy is a Philippino and was greatly surprised when he learned that I had not only been to the Philippines but had visited his home town as well.



Amber took her turn in looking after Arlo.









Posted December 29, 2011 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

25th December – Merry Christmas   Leave a comment

Merry Christmas to everyone.

We have had a very pleasant day.

This morning I popped down to Lytchett Bay, as I have done for the last four days in the hope of adding one final species to the Lytchett Bay year list. The 2011 list stands at 149 and one more is required to set the record. Common(ish) species that have not been seen include Goldeneye and Pochard. As Shaun has returned to Geordieland for Christmas I have attempted to keep an eye on the place – my rewards the second record of Golden Plover this year, a flock of 31 Brent Geese (unusual in the Bay) and a nice male Marsh Harrier.

Back to the Christmas celebrations….

Janis and Andy, Amber and Kara and Janis’ friend Helen came round late morning for a mega present opening session followed by a wonderful Christmas dinner courtesy of Margaret.


Kara and Amber waiting for the present opening go-ahead



.... which soon came...



... even for the adults. L-R Margaret, Helen, Janis and Andy.



I was delighted to be given the final volume of Handbook of Birds of the World, a most excellent series.



To give us more space we moved the table into the conservatory.










Posted December 25, 2011 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Tuesday 20th December – Woolgarston, East Holme and Lyme Regis   Leave a comment

I was invited to fellow ringer Mike Gould to help with ringing some Redwing and Fieldfare that were visiting his parent’s garden in Woolsgarston near Corfe Castle. I had expected a standard suburban garden not a small estate. There certainly were plenty of thrushes of five species visiting the garden, but only a single Blackbird and Song Thrush came low enough to be trapped. We ringed about 20 of the standard fare of Goldfinches, Robins, Dunnocks and tits.

Plenty of birds visit this most extensive garden.

Standard fare - a Dunnock

Mike's parents keep captive waterfowl like these Mandarins....

.... and these Emperor Geese, a bird from arctic Alaska and eastern Siberia

On the way back I had a look around the Froome valley watermeadows in the hope of finding a Bewick’s Swan. No luck there but I was delighted to find a Cattle Egret with a couple of Little Egrets in the East Holme watermeadows seen from ‘High Tor’ on the Wareham to Wool road.

East Holme area seen from the Wareham to Wool road.

A record digiscoping shot of the Cattle Egret.

Whilst I was in Ethiopia there was a Spotted Sandpiper seen at Lyme Regis, the most westerly point of Dorset. Spotted Sandpiper is the North American equivalent of our Common Sandpiper and a rare vagrant to the UK. Although I had seen this species seven times before in the UK, I have never seen it in Dorset. Having accepted that it hed been and gone whilst I was away, I was delighted when Kevin phoned at lunchtime to say it had reappeared. The journey was hindered by many slow lorries and as I had to be back by four for an appointment, the whole thing was a bit rushed, however in spite of poor light the Spot Sand showed well along with about 15 Purple Sandpipers.


The Cobb, Lyme Regis' famous breakwater immortalised in the film 'the French Lieutenant's woman'.

Spotted Sandpiper can told from the similar Common Sandpiper by its yellower legs, shorter tail and differences in the barring on the wing coverts. Unfortunately the spots only appear in summer plumage.

This is the 8th time I have seen this species in the UK but the first time in Dorset.

The Cobb is probably the best site in Dorset for Purple Sandpipers

In winter Purple Sandpipers specialise in wave washed rocky shores, groynes and breakwaters.

Posted December 20, 2011 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Saturday 17th – Sunday 18th December – Christmas celebrations and WEBS counts.   Leave a comment

Saturday evening we attended the Nexus organisations Christmas dinner dance at the Queen’s Hotel, Bournemouth. This sort of event is often characterised by mediocre food, poor service and a disco that no-one wants to dance to. I am glad to report that this was an exception, good food served promptly and later a wide range of danceable music at a volume that didn’t deafen (I think I’m showing my age).

Some of our friends from the Nexus organisation..... ..with the inevitable party hats.










On Sunday morning I took part in the WeBS count, an acronym for Wetland Birds Survey. Each month from autumn to spring wetland birds across the UK are surveyed in a coordinated count. Up to now I haven’t taken part as I had to work weekends and was often away on foreign trips at this time of year. The WeBS counts in Poole Harbour has required a relaunch as many key areas were going uncounted and I volunteered to cover the southern section of Holes Bay.

Good birds including 75 Avocets and 7 Knot were seen, along with 260+ Black-tailed Godwits and many ducks.

Wigeon numbers have increased markedly in Holes Bay in recent years.

As well as the Barclay House Choir , Margaret has been practicing with the local church choir and tonight they gave a great performance at the annual carol concert at the Parish Church.

The Parish Church at Lytchett Minster, where we got married two and a half years ago

The church is always packed for the carol service. Margaret is in he choir somewhere at the back on the left.

Many of the neighbours have modest Christmas lights on their properties......

.... but some still go a bit over the top!

Posted December 18, 2011 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Saturday 17th December – The Fleet   Leave a comment

For several weeks now a Hume’s Warbler has taken up residence near Littlesea holiday camp on the Fleet. This is a much rarer relative of the Siberian breeding Yellow-browed Warbler and is considerably rarer in a British context. The two species only differ slightly on plumage but considerably in voice. It took about an hour before the bird was located and I was fortunate to hear it call several times and get good, if somewhat brief views.

This is the third time I have seen this species in the UK and the second time in Dorset. there have been about five previous records in Dorset. Unfortunately, on arrival I found I had left the memory cards from both my SLR and pocket camera attached to this PC, so the following photos are taken from the internet.

Aerial photo from the internet. The Hume’s Warbler was in sallows beyond and to the right of the Bridging Camp.

Closely related too, but much rarer than Yellow-browed Warbler, this was about the fifth record for Dorset. Photo from Wikipedia by JM Garg

Whilst at the Fleet I heard about a Great Bustard that had been found at Ringstead Bay, to the east of Weymouth. I called in and saw it well on the way home. The bird has wearing a satellite transmitter and was clearly from the Sailsbury Plain re-introduction scheme. The last native Great Bustards were shot in 1832 and over the last six years or so birds from Russian stock have been re-introduced to Sailsbury Plain. This has resulted in successful breeding in the last two years and hopefully will result in a self-sustaining population. Not all birders approve of this scheme but I think it is an excellent idea and it has my full support.

In recent years the odd bird has been seen in winter in Dorset, usually near the Fleet. True to form the Ringstead bird was seen flying in that direction over Upwey in Weymouth late on the 17th and was relocated at Buckland Ripers on the Fleet on the morning of the 18th.

Great Bustards from the Sailsbury Plain re-introduction scheme are being seen in Dorset on a annual basis.

Posted December 18, 2011 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Wednesday 14th – Friday 16th December – Middlebere and Poole Hospital   Leave a comment

Wednesday 14th.

Every year Poole Hospital provides a very good Christmas lunches at a very reasonable price for the staff. The catering staff must be complimented for producing the regular meals for those not booked in for Christmas meal, all the patients meals and the Christmas lunches all at the same time.

The lab had a couple of ‘no shows’ due to sickness and they phoned me to ask if I’d like to come, to which I readily agreed. Again I enjoyed catching up with my old colleagues, especially those who weren’t at last Friday’s evening out.  Before the meal the lab had the traditional Secret Santa event which involves my former boss Andy (with all the presents) being pushed along on a lab trolley by a number of ‘little helpers’.

Andy plays the role of Santa .....

... but soon disappears under a pile of presents

.. and soon we were down the canteen for the Christmas lunch.

Thursday 15th.

Amber has had the last few days off with a cold but really wanted to  go to school before term ended. Rather than have her wait at a cold bus stop I volunteered to drop her off at school in Wareham. Afterwards I continued on to Middlebere for a few hours of excellent birding.

For once  got the tide and the light just right. The sun was behind the hide and the tide was rising, driving flocks of Avocets, Black-tailed Godwits and Lapwings ever closer. There was nothing unusual but seeing over 800 Avocets and 1000 Lapwing performing aerial maneuvers was exhilarating. Along the access lane flocks of Redwing, Fieldfare and Blackbirds fed on berries and there were good numbers of Bullfinches in the area too.

Middlebere on the SW side of Poole Harbour, has wet fields, reedbeds, woods and an estuarine inlet.

Fieldfare (above) and Redwing were common along the lane.

About 1000 Lapwings were on the nearby fields or the intertidal area.

The Avocet flock flew closer as the tide rose.

Poole Harbour has the largest wintering flock of Avocets in the UK. Up to 1800 have been recorded on Brownsea Island.

By mid morning the weather had turned so I retired to Arne RSPB car park to watch birds coming to the feeders. Although Coal Tits and Nuthatches were present there was no sign of the regular Marsh Tits and the warden told me none had been seen for weeks. I find this disturbing as this was always a reliable site for this diminishing species. During my time in Dorset I have seen first Willow Tit and now it appears, Marsh Tit disappear.

Coal Tits are regular at the Arne feeders....

... as are Nuthatches, but where have the Marsh Tits gone.

Before returning home I called in at the private estate of Holton Lee and joined ‘Friends of Holton Lee’ allowing me access to this great site which lies along the southern boundary of Lytchett Bay for 2012.

In the evening Margaret and I went to the cinema to see the latest offering in the Twilight series. whilst acknowledging that the books and films are more targeted those of Amber and Kara’s age group than ours, I have quite enjoyed the saga (although I prefer the suspiciously similar, but more adult, ‘True Blood’ TV series), however the final book, Breaking Dawn’ has been turned into two films, and there just isn’t enough material to justify that approach.

The rather twee but quite entertaining Twilight series.


Friday 16th
Another month another retirement! I don’t know if its rats leaving a sinking ship or that the lab just employed too many people of the same age but today marked the fourth retirement from the microbiology department this year (plus two who have left for other jobs). My Italian friend and longstanding colleague, Giovanni Pietrangelo retired today after 37  years of service.
Gio was given a good send off, with kind words from consultant Microbiologist Dr Paul Flanagan. many old colleagues attended to wish him well, including Dr Bill Hooper, who was the lab director in the 70s when Gio and I both started.



Paul Flanagan (L) presents Gio with his leaving gifts.



Former colleagues: L-R me, Mike Brebner (retired 1995), Gio and Geoff Westwood (retired 2003)

Posted December 16, 2011 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Monday 12th December – Longham Lakes.   Leave a comment

Stuck at home today whilst an electrician did some work at home but I did manage to escape for a few hours and go back to Longham Lakes. The female Blue-winged Teal did show, but only briefly as it slipped from the long grass on the island into a hidden inlet. I hope to return as soon as the weather improves for better views.

Blue-winged Teal is a vagrant from North America and is about the sixth record for Dorset. I have seen one previously in Dorset at Abbotsbury in 1999.

With no photographs taken I have included (with permission) a shot from Vaughan Ashby taken of the same bird last week.

Female Blue-winged Teal, Longham Lake. Photo by Vaughan Ashby / Birdfinders.



I later made a brief visit to Hatch Pond where a Jack Snipe showed well for a few minutes in the recently cleared area adjacent to Elborn’s Cut.

Posted December 12, 2011 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Sunday 11th December – St Peter’s Church, Ashley Cross   Leave a comment

Margaret, along with friends Christine Arnold and Ann Hitchcoe sing in the Barclay House Choir. Every year the choir puts on a concert in May and a carol service at Christmas at St Peter’s Church at Ashley Cross. The carol concert was most successful, probably the best I have heard and consisted of pieces sung by the choir, by soloists, a quartet, orchestral pieces and of course tradditional carols sung by the whole congregation. Janis, Kara and I attended, along with Christine’s friends Malcolm and Hazel and Ann’s husband John.



Barclay House choir and St Peter’s Orchestra, St Peter’s Church



Spot the Margaret competition



Margaret, Christine and Ann




Posted December 12, 2011 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized