Archive for June 2012

Half way through the year.   Leave a comment

Since we returned from Scotland things have been very busy and I have had little time for birding. I have managed to add two species to my year list however. On the 18th and 19th I visited a densely vegetated pond at Pennington in Hampshire to search for a Night Heron. On my first visit I failed completely and I thought this was going to happen on the evening of the 19th as well, but at 2100 I heard a short bark overhead and looked up in time to see the Night Heron flying out to the coastal marshes.

On the 22nd during strong south-westerlies I headed to Portland where I saw three Balearic Shearwater. This is a very rare species globally but during the summer a proportion of the population migrates to the English Channel where they can be seen off the Dorset coast in the right conditions.

These two species took my year list to 275, well on the way to the 300 I hope to see or hear in 2012 and only half way through the year (although the law of diminishing returns kicks in big time now).

The 13th was our third wedding anniversary but unfortunately was also the date when we heard of my mother’s death. My brother dealt with the arrangements but we stayed in touch throughout. We went to Derby for the funeral on the 27th calling in at Coventry to pick up Mum’s sister, Audrey. We stayed overnight in Derby and returned the following day, fortunately leaving just before the torrential downpours, which caused widespread flooding, hit the area.

Tomorrow I leave for an extended visit to New Guinea (again). This time I will be visiting a couple of areas in the east of the mainland plus the islands of New Ireland, Manus and the D’Entrecasteaux archipelago, so there won’t be any blog updates until the end of July.

The 17th was the anniversary of my retirement, this last year has been one of the best and most fulfilling in my life. It was also the anniversary of the blog, in the last year I have uploaded 219 posts, with over 1500 photos and had nearly 18,000 views from some 80 or so countries (top scores UK, USA, South Africa and Austria).

As soon as we got back from Scotland, Amber and Kara presented with me with this T-shirt for my birthday. They call me G3, as they already have two natural granddads, so step-granddad is granddad number 3.

After Mum’s funeral we gathered at a nearby hotel for a meal. Simon is with our Aunt Audrey, Mum’s younger sister from Coventry. Of her four siblings two have already passed away and the other is too infirm to travel.

My nieces Jennifer and Miriam. Miriam has now finished her GCSEs and is set to start four A level courses in the autumn. Jennifer has just had her 14th birthday and has selected her GCSE subjects.

My sister-in-law Viv and her brother Graham.

Graham and his wife Sally have three daughter’s (Miriam and Jennifer’s cousins) and each has had a child relatively recently. This is two year old Lauren.

…. and one year old Arlo…

… whilst Margaret holds her husband’s sister-in-law’s great nephew, two month old Archie. All three kids behaved extreamly well.

Posted June 30, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

13th – 17th June. Speyside to Edinburgh.   Leave a comment

Caledonian pine woods once covered much of Scotland, but today native forest only remains around Speyside and a few areas to the north.

On the 13th we drove from Lochcarron across to Inverness and then south to Speyside where we stayed at Boat of Garten. The Speyside area is one of the most outstanding in the UK, with large areas of native Caledonian pine forest, birch woodlands, open heaths and on the Cairngorm plateau, an arctic/alpine zone. We had two full days and two half days to explore this area. We saw most of our targets, Red and Black Grouse, Ptarmigan, Dotterel, Scottish Crossbill, Crested Tit and breeding Slavonian Grebes, missing only the giant woodland grouse, Capercaille which is much easier to see in April when it leks.

 

Native Red Squirrels are fairly common.

In the late 50’s a pair of Ospreys returned to breed at Loch Garten, having been extinct in the UK for most of the 20th century.

The same Osprey nest site has been used for the last 60+ years. In that time the nest has blown down, been robbed by egg thieves and the tree cut down by vandals. Today it is bolted together with metalwork and surrounded with electronic surveillance. The female Osprey and one of the three chicks can be seen in the digiscoped shot.

Osprey

Nest boxes have allowed numbers of breeding Goldeneye to increase and they are a regular site on the largest lochs.

We hoped to go up the funicular railway on Cairngorm Mountain and then go on an organised walk to the summit (you are not allowed to walk on the summit plateau on your own unless you hike up from the base). Low cloud changed our plans and we headed up to a nearby ridge where my targets of Ptarmigan and Dotterel could be found but Margaret’s knees didn’t allow her to get to the top.

Cairngorm summit is at 1245 m but we were able to get into the alpine zone by following a nearby path to a ridge at 1080m, on the edge of the cloud base.

As the cloud lifted there were stunning views to the west, but not eastwards towards Cairngorm which remained obscured.

Ptarmigan, a bird with a silent P (like ‘swimming pool’)

One afternoon we drove north to Carrbridge, the Findhorn Valley, Loch Ruthven and the south side of Loch Ness.

The historic bridge at Carrbridge.

Mammals were much in evidence in the Findhorn Valley, with many Red Deer …..

…. feral goats ….

…. and Brown Hares.

It’s not far from Loch Ruthven to the south shore of Loch Ness.

One wet afternoon we drove to the east coast near Aberdeen. After struggling with heavy traffic and lack of road signs in central Aberdeen we reached Blackdog. An American Black Scoter, several Surf Scoter and a King Eider had been reported here and the former was new bird for my British list. As it was June and most seaduck were on their breeding grounds I had expected an empty sea with just one or two seaduck on it. I was amazed to see over a 1000 Common Eider on the beach and similar numbers of Common Scoter offshore. With a strong NE wind, heavy rain and a pounding surf, sorting through these birds was difficult to say the least. Eventually I found about 20 Velvet Scoter and had flight views of the Black Scoter but dipped on the Surf Scoters and King Eider, which is not surprising considering the birds were scattered all along the coast.

It took a walk down the beach, a tricky crossing of this log and a clamber up into the dunes for shelter to get a good look at the ducks at Blackdog.

Male Eiders gathering to moult. Just a small part of the huge flock.

Late on the 16th we drove down to Edinburgh and stayed overnight with Margaret’s younger brother Duncan and his wife Wendy. We flew back to Southampton in the late afternoon of the 17th and were home by 9 pm after a most rewarding Scottish trip.

Margaret with (L-R) her nephew Darren and Sean, sister in law Wendy and brother Duncan.

Posted June 30, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

9th – 12th June The Outer Hebrides part 2 and the Applecross peninsula   Leave a comment

Later on the 10th we headed south from Stornaway. Back in Harris we took the side road to Huisnis, the scenery was fantastic, with huge mountains to our right and white beaches to our left. The area was said to be good for Golden Eagles, but we didn’t have any luck in the short time we were there. In the evening we caught the ferry from the southern tip of Harris to the island of Berenay, which is connected to North Uist by a causeway.

Stornaway, the capital of the Outer Hebrides.

 

Cuckoos remain commoner in Scotland than the south.

The road to Huisnis passes through the grounds of this castle.

 

The mountains of west Harris …….

 

…. and beautiful white sand beaches.

 

Again we had trouble finding our pre-booked B&B, it was off a loop road that ran round the small island of Grimsay which between North Uist and Benbecula, but all we knew wa that it was number 7 but none of the houses were marked. With dusk not arriving until 11 pm there was time to head to Benbecula and search for a vagrant Greater Sand Plover that had been there for the last few days. I have seen one Greater Sand in the UK, but that was in 1978, so I was disappointed to find it had gone. The area was stuffed full breeding waders that noisily mobbed me as I headed for Stinky Bay, the last known site of the Sand Plover.

Oystercatchers called loudly in defense of their nests.

The Uists have a mountainous eastern side, full of small lochans and covered in bare rock whilst the western side is covered in flower rich grassland known as the machair, which has probably the highest number of breeding waders in Europe.

Breeding Redshanks call from fence posts

On Monday 11th I had a pre-breakfast visit to Stinky Bay, just in case, Short-eared Owl and a Hen Harrier were some compensation. Later we headed for the RSPB reserve at Balranald where Corncrakes were in good voice and then onto the north side of the island at Sollas where a beautiful male Snowy Owl was in residence. A quick visit to a viewpoint where Golden Eagle nest could be seen was a bit disappointing, we could just make out the nest but with the scope blowing about in the wind I couldn’t really make out any birds. Margaret had been suffering from a cold for the last few days and was feeling really rough this afternoon, so we returned to the B&B until the evening.

Short-eared Owl

Male Hen Harrier

Once common throughout the UK, Corncrake numbers fell dramatically with agricultural intensification, their last outpost was the Outer Hebrides where only 400 pairs remained in the 90s. Active management has increased the population since.

Another bird that has declined precipitously but now has a stronghold in the Hebrides is the Corn Bunting

 

The Hebrides have an endemic race of Song Thrush, which lacks the buffy wash on the breast and flanks

 

This beautiful male Snowy Owl has been on the Outer Hebrides for several years but this summer it has taken up residence in an accessible location.

 

Another visit to Stinky Bay in the evening was unsuccessful but again we saw large numbers of breeding Lapwing, Curlew, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Redshank and Oystercatcher, along with many Greylag Geese, Eider and Shelduck, all with young. Twite, Short-eared Owls, a Hen Harrier and drumming Snipe all added interest. The sky had been grey but now in the late evening the sun appeared below the cloud bathing the machair in a wonderful purple glow.

We were up early on the 12th in order to catch the 0730 Lochmaddy to Uig ferry. There were several other birders on board, one managed to find a Storm-petrel on the crossing but I failed to pick it up, but we did see a good number of Manx Shearwaters along with the expected auks.

Back on Skye we drove across the island, over the bridge to the mainland and then north to Lochcarron. Our B&B here was a back up site for Pine Marten, but of course we had already seen one further south, however it proved to be an excellent base to explore the Applecross peninsula and to drive on Britain’s highest road. At the top we searched for Ptarmigan, but although I heard one, I got no more than a brief glimpse. One the way down we flushed a Red Grouse. The views from the top were stunning, an almost 360 degree panorama. We later drove around the narrow coastal road seeing some of the finest coastal scenery in the UK.

The Applecross peninsula

 

Below: 180 degree panorama taken in three photos from the top of the Applecross peninsula looking south over Loch Carron. Skye can be seen in the background to the right.

Posted June 30, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

9th – 12th June – The Outer Hebrides part 1   Leave a comment

The Caledonian MacBrae ferry didn’t used to run on a Sunday but the islanders were obliged to relent.

On the evening of the 9th we caught the ferry from Uig on Skye to Tarbert on Harris. We saw loads of Puffins on the 90 minutes voyage, possibly up to a 1000 but none of the Storm-petrels I had hoped for. On arrival we headed for the small island of Scalpay which is joined to the mainland by a bridge. We had trouble finding our B&B, Margaret asked a local man but reported she couldn’t understand because he was talking in Gaelic, the common language of the islands. We later found out he was unintelligible because he had suffered a stroke!

Harris/Lewis (the division is an administrative, not a geographical one) is famous for its strict observance of the Sabbath, and today was a Sunday. There were no shops, filling stations, bars or visitor centres open and the roads were empty. We were lucky we had found a B&B that served breakfast and we had snacks with us and a full tank.

We headed for Lewis and the Stones of Stannish, one of the largest Neolithic stone circles in existence. The visitor centre was closed and the only people around were other tourists.

Margaret at the Stones of Stannish.

We then headed for the northernmost tip of the Hebrides, the Butt of Lewis, which is almost as far north as the north coast of the Scottish mainland. We then headed south via the quiet capital, Stornaway.

The Butt of Lewis

The butt of Lewis

 

 

 

 

Posted June 29, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Skye – 8th & 9th June.   Leave a comment

On the 8th we crossed the bridge to Skye only to find that the whole island was in chaos. Metal thieves had tried to cut through the cable carrying all communications to the islands with a chainsaw only to find it was fibre optic not copper. As a result there was no internet, no payment by card,  no ATM and no telephones. There was a large cruise ship due in on the 9th and traders were worried they couldn’t capitalise on it.

We headed for our pink B&B at Portree with a wonderful view of the harbour. Early on the 9th we took a boat trip out to the White-tailed Eagles nest. I would strongly recommend trips on the MV Brigadoon, the skipper is keen on natural history and seems to put in extra effort . We set off before the other tourist boats in the harbour and were taken to Golden Eagle’s nest on the cliff first. We then spent some time with a large flock of Guillemots and Razorbills before joining other boats to approach the White-tailed Eagle nest. The nest had failed due to bad weather but we located the two adults perched high on the cliff. The other boats then left but we stayed and saw one of the eagles fly down to the sea giving great views. We also had close views of a Red-throated Diver on our return.

The rest of our time on Skye was spent touring around, looking at the incredible Cuillin Mountains, the rugged scenery of the east coast and the dramatic uplands of the north before we caught the ferry to the island of Harris/Lewis in the evening.

Margaret outside the eponymous Pink Guest House.

Portree harbour, the view from our room.

As we left the harbour on the MV Brigadoon, this huge cruise liner arrived. Fortunately for the islanders the cable link to the mainland had been repaired.

Portree harbour from the boat, guess which is our quest house.

Razorbills and Guillemots. Note the ‘bridled’ form of Guillemot in the lower left.

After giving poor views on the cliffs this White-tailed Eagle flew down to the sea, presumably investigating a fish …….

…. before flying back along the cliff to its distant perch.

Summer-plumaged Red-throated Diver.

The peaks of the Cuillins, said to be the most challenging mountains in the UK. I was once friends with someone who traversed almost the entire ridge.

The pinnacle of the Old Man of Stour can be seen from the road along the east coast.

We didn’t have time to hike along the track to the Quiraing in northern Skye but the views from the car park were pretty impressive.

Posted June 28, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Margaret Iris Lewis. 1921 – 2012. A tribute.   Leave a comment

I attended my mother’s funeral in Derby yesterday. I read the following account of her life at the service and include it on my blog as a celebration of her life.

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Margaret was born in May 1921 in Caerphilly, South Wales. She was the eldest of five. Apparently some neighbours started calling her ‘Maggie’ and her mother then used her middle name Iris, a name that stuck with the family, but she prefered not to use elsewhere.

Her father was a coal miner and times were hard during the Depression. At the age of fourteen Margaret left school and was sent to live with family friends in Birmingham where she worked in a Post Office and sent most of her income home to help support the family. In due course the rest of the family left Wales and moved to Coventry where employment opportunities were better.

Later Margaret started work at Sainsburys in Coventry where, in the late 1930’s, she met Brian Lewis, although this was not approved of by the management who thought it inappropriate for staff to be ‘seeing each other’. With the outbreak of war Brian joined the RAF and she returned to live with her parents. They married in September 1940 at the height of the Battle of Britain, so a honeymoon was out of the question.

Margaret in the early 1940s

She lived in Coventry throughout the worst of the Blitz. One morning they discovered the terraced row in front and behind theirs had been destroyed by bombing, but throughout Sainsburys remained open and she continued to work, walking past unexploded bombs and bomb craters to get to work. On one occasion the detonation of an unexploded bomb prevented them from going home and they were sent to a nearby men’s hostel. Panic ensued as night fell and it was realized by the management that young women might have to share the same accommodation as the men!

Coventry during the Blitz. Photo from the internet.

Eventually, with the glow of Coventry burning visible from Brian’s airfield in Bedford, he turned up with a suitcase and had her evacuated to his parents in the village of Cransley in Northamptonshire. Later in the war Brian was stationed in Yorkshire and they both lived there. After the war they returned to work in Coventry where they bought at house in Bell Green. Ian was born in June 1951.

With a promotion to manager, Sainsburys moved Brian to Kettering, Northants in 1955. Simon came along in June 1958 but it was not an easy birth. An emergency caesarian was followed by an emergency hysterectomy and Margaret nearly died. A long period of convalescence had her and Simon staying with her sister in the West Midlands, so Ian was looked after by family friends whilst Brian was at work.

Margaret and Simon in 1958

In 1965 another work related move took the family to Derby. Margaret was to remain in the house they bought in Allestree until she was obliged to move to a nursing in 2010. Ian left home in 1969, first for Leeds, then Poole. Margaret was able to return to work and found employment with British Telecom as a telephone operator. She later moved to the night shift, this was a job she greatly enjoyed, we always joked that was because it meant she could chat all night. She continued to work well past retirement age until 1985, when Brian’s failing health meant she was needed at home.

The house in Derby where Margaret lived from 1965 to 2010

Tragically Brian died on New Years Eve 1985. The transition to living alone was eased by the fact that Simon still lived at home until his marriage in 1990. She coped well with living on her own but as her mobility decreased she became increasingly lonely, although Simon visited very regularly and Ian living 200 miles away in Dorset, phoned on a near daily basis.

By the time she reached her mid eighties it was clear that she was suffering from more than just ‘senior moments’. She struggled to cope, even with Simon’s daily help, and now, diagnosed as suffering from Alzheimer’s, help from the council was implemented. By autumn 2010, when she was aged 89 it was necessary for her to move into a nursing home where she remained until her death in June 2012 at the age of 91. The last few years were problematic; she never quite realized where she was or for that matter understood that her new daughter-in-law shared her name.

Margaret at Christmas 2004

Her final moments were in the company of Simon and his wife Viv and her granddaughters Miriam and Jennifer. Ian was able to speak to her on Simon’s mobile and Simon reported that there was a glimmer of recognition. She passed away peacefully moments later.

Margaret and Simon at Christmas 2011

This account has given the bare bones of Margaret’s life but says nothing of the type of person she was. Margaret was a wonderful loving wife and mother, prepared to do anything for her husband and children. She upheld traditional values of honesty, order, cleanliness, thrift and financial self-sufficiency. She was proud of her sons achievements, be it Simon academic success and church work or Ian’s globetrotting. She adored her granddaughters, cared deeply for her wider family and her friends. She was a wonderful cook, made the most amazing cakes with the most intricate icing imaginable and made the beautiful flower arrangements.

Simon and I could not have wished for a more caring and compassionate mother. She had been a devoted wife to Brian and loving grandmother to Miriam and Jennifer. It goes without saying that she will be sorely missed.

Posted June 28, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

June 21st – 23rd June – The Isle of Wight Festival   Leave a comment

Cars had to be towed in and out the car park by tractor

With TV reports of seven mile traffic jams, flooded car parks and festival goers being stuck in their car overnight I was wondering if buying a ticket for the IOW festival had been a good idea. As Janis was at work on Friday we didn’t leave until Friday afternoon and made the ferry with seconds to spare. Once there we had no problem in getting to the site, just in finding somewhere to park. Eventually we found that all car parks were impassable and new traffic was being sent to a Country Park some five miles away and bussed back to the festival. That done, we then had to find somewhere to camp and as we had lots of food and drink with us, we had loads of gear to manhandle through five muddy fields before we could erect the tent in a gale!

On Saturday we watched bands like Big Country and Madness, and sat through Jessie J and Labyrinth for the sake of the girls. Janis retired to the tent in the evening and I watched Professor Green and Pearl Jam whilst the girls toured the funfair and went to a ‘silent disco’. I returned at midnight but the girls ignored the curfew and stayed out until nearly 2am, because they had to shelter from the heavy rain in the disco!

Sunday morning we awoke to a scene of destruction. The centre section of the tent was flooded, lakes had appeared in the camp site and some tents had blown down and been abandoned. We packed up, took the gear back to the car then returned for a great music session that included teenage heart-throb Matt Cardle, Suzanne Vega, Spector, Noel Gallagher and of course Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. ‘The Boss’ and the E Street Band were absolutely superb, the best live act in the world, a three-hour session with no breaks, full of energy and great music. They concluded with old favourites like ‘Born In the USA’ and ’10th Avenue Freezeout’ (with an extended and emotional pause in honour of recently deceased saxophonist Clarence Clemens) and then came back on stage for an encore performing ‘Twist and Shout’ to a backdrop of fireworks.

Leaving was not as bad as I had expected. We were so lucky to be parked in a mud free destination off-site. We caught the 0100 ferry and were home by 0300 after a fantastic weekend.

Mud, mud, glorious mud.

55,000 music fans, 110,000 welly boots!

Many tents were submerged in the flood and some had to be abandoned.

…. and of course I was camping with hyperactive and volatile teenagers (and their Mum). Kara, Janis and Amber with face paint and silly hat.

Surrounding the three stages were fairground, stalls , multiple stalls selling everything from trinkets to wellies, catering outlets and even a recovery room for those stoned out of their minds.

The girls went on some scary rides.

Our Saturday music session started with Scottish rockers Big Country.

With all the money she must be making on ‘The Voice’ you would think that Jessie J could afford a new pair of jeans.

Matt Cardle, another must see act for Amber and Kara

Suzanne Vega sang old favourites like ‘Marlene on the Wall’, ‘Luca’ and ‘Tom’s Diner’ along with several new ones

The area in front of the Main Stage is dominated by the Big Wheel.

Whilst Noel Gallagher and his ‘High Flying Birds’ were on stage …….

…. we were high-flying on the Big Wheel and getting great views of the Main Stage on one side ……

…. and the fairground and Big Top stage to the other. The flooded campsites and car parks are out of shot to the top right.

‘The Boss’ with the E Street Band: maybe not the best band in the world, maybe not the best musicians in the world, but definitely the best live act in the world.

The finale: ‘Twist and Shout’ with fireworks.

It had been a tough, muddy and wet weekend, not very comfortable but a great experience and was enjoyed by all.

Posted June 26, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized