Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Tag

Late December 2016 – early January 2017 – The Festive Season   Leave a comment

It’s a bit late in the New Year to be reminiscing about Christmas but as usual I’m running late with blog updates, so here is a short account of our activities over the ‘Festive Season’.

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Don’t we scrub up well! The first and only formal Christmas party we attended this year was on the 17th in Bournemouth with the Phoenix Organisation (formerly Nexus), the organisation through which Margaret and I met. I had been ill for about a week beforehand so we did little more than enjoy the meal, have a token dance and leave.

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For Christmas we all went to Margaret’s daughter Anita and her husband John’s place in Maldon, Essex. Kara was already there, we arrived on the 22nd and Janis and Amber arrived on the 23rd. On Christmas Eve we all went for a rather chilly walk near Bradwell-on-Sea at the mouth of the Blackwater Estuary. L-R Kara, Amber, John, Margaret, Janis and Anita.

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Birding-wise it wasn’t too exciting with just this flock of Brent Geese near the car park and a few common waders along the shore ….

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…. but there was an interesting chapel built in 654 AD by Cedd a bishop from Lindisfarne in Northumbria using stone from an earlier Roman fort.

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The rather sparse interior is still used for regular services.

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Many houses and gardens near Anita and John’s house in Maldon were suitably (over) illuminated for Christmas ….

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…. but we had to laugh at this illuminated snowman that appeared to be about to jump to its death …..

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…. compounded by fact that the inflatable Santa below had already hung himself.

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On Christmas morning it was time for the grand present opening ceremony. Janis looks particularly delighted with hers.

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Amber was given some goggles that convert your mobile phone into a VR experience. Kara is clearly enjoying her sister’s present ….

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…. and so for that matter, was her grandmother.

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Having turned his double garage into a ‘man cave’, John was most pleased to receive this sign for Christmas.

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For Christmas dinner we were joined by John’s sister Lois and her family for a slap-up feast in the ‘man-cave’. Clockwise from the left: Amber, Margaret, John, Anita, Lois, her husband Gavin, their son Lyle, Lyle’s girlfriend Heather, their daughter Shan, Janis and Kara. This must be the first year when I haven’t eaten any turkey over the whole Christmas period.

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As they were almost hidden in the last photo here is a better shot of Lyle and Heather.

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And here Shan assisting Janis’ with a selfie.

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Usually after a large Christmas dinner everyone falls asleep during the Queen’s speech, but Anita kept us busy with a series of party games such as this ‘card blowing’ contest where the object was to get the card to balance on the edge of the table without falling to the floor – much harder than it sounds.

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…. but one of the funniest games was the ‘twerking contest’. Small baubles were placed in a box with a hole and tied to your waist. The aim was to knock out as many baubles as possible just by hip action.

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On Boxing Day morning I went to nearby Abberton Reservoir to see a drake Ring-necked Duck (on the left), a rare visitor from America.

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I was pleased to see four Smew on the reservoir including this stunning drake. They occur occasionally as far west as Dorset but the majority of wintering Smew are found in the south-east of the UK.

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This Ring-necked Duck probably hatched in Canada or the northern USA, the Smew in Scandinavia or Siberia and the Pochard from eastern Europe or western Russia yet all come together in one photo in Essex.

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On the 27th we headed north to my brother’s in Derbyshire, an early start helped us to avoid the traffic. We stopped at my University friend Di’s place in Breedon-on-the Hill (centre of the photo with her husband Steve). Her daughter Hannah, husband Karl and daughter Mai were staying and it was great to see Hannah who I haven’t had a chance to speak to for many years and meet Karl and Mai for the first time.

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Over five year’s ago Hannah’s dad, my University housemate Clive was tragically killed in a motorbike crash. I was surprised how like her father she now looks, which of course brought back how much I miss Clive.

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I came to Beeley, a small village in the Peak District, in early December to see a Dusky Thrush, a very rare vagrant from eastern Siberia. The thrush was still there on so I took Margaret to see it.

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The residents of Beeley have been praised by birders for their warm welcome, something that doesn’t always happen when a rarity is found in a residential area. The bird is now showing just outside the village and the number of birders arriving is much reduced but even so residents will probably be glad when it migrates in the spring.

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There have been a reasonable number of Waxwings turning up this year, but very few have reached the south. We managed to catch up with one some ten miles to the north of Beeley but if we had got there five minutes earlier we would have seen a flock of 40!

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On the way back to Poole on the 29th we detoured to see another vagrant thrush – a Blue Rock Thrush, a bird with a wide distribution from the Mediterranean to the far East. This beautiful bird has taken up residence in a housing estate at Stow-on-the-Wold in Gloucestershire and is using roof tops as a substitute for its usual rocky mountain or coastal cliff habitat.

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A few birders are denigrating this bird, considering it an adult and therefore less likely to be a true vagrant, and saying wintering in the middle of the UK rather than the coast points to captive origin. These critics seem to mainly be twitchers who saw the Blue Rock Thrush on Scilly some 20 years ago and don’t want all these newbies catching them up – ie they are doing a bit of list protection. There is debate about its age, some consider it a first winter, and vagrancy can occur in adult birds and nobody criticised the Dusky Thrush because it was found in the middle of the country!

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When the Blue Rock Thrush was seen from certain angles its lovely blue hue faded to a dark grey. As I said before twitching rarities in urban areas can be difficult, photographing a bird on someone’s roof is one thing but on their bedroom windowsill is a different matter entirely.

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Now if Starlings were rare vagrants from Siberia then birders would go crazy for them, just look that blue sheen. But they were just considered something to photograph whilst we waited for the thrush to appear.

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We did nothing more exciting than watch TV on New Year’s Eve. The planned boat trip around Poole Harbour on New Year’s Day was postponed to the 2nd so we paid a visit to Longham Lakes before the rain set in. The first quality bird of the year was this Great White Egret, one of three that are wintering at Longham. Once a true rarity, there has been a huge increase in numbers in the last few years and now they even breed in Somerset.

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The 2nd was a much better day for our boat trip, kindly put on by our friends Mark and Mo Constantine, but compared to previous years there were relatively few quality birds in the harbour.

IMG_4383 Daniel, Ginny and Chris

There was one last event that fits in with the broad definition of the ‘Festive Season’, the annual bird race. This year I opted to do the race with my three ringing trainees L-R Daniel, Ginny and Chris. I think it would be fair to say that my team has had less birding experience than the members of the other teams, but they did extremely well and we ended up with 117 birds seen/heard during the 12 hours of the race and actually came second out of the four teams participating.

December 2015 – a few friends and family, locations and birds that kept us busy for most of the month.   Leave a comment

This post covers from when we returned from Turkey on 2nd December until the end of the year.

May I take the opportunity to wish all readers of this blog a very happy 2016

 

IMG_2203 M, A&J, Lois and Gavin, Maldon

After we returned from our trip to Turkey we braved the M25 rush hour traffic and drove straight to Anita and John’s in Maldon in Essex. They will be in South Africa at Christmas time so we made our Christmas visit in early December. They have John’s sister Lois and her husband Gavin staying with them and this was the first time I had met them. L-R Gavin, Lois, John, Anita and Margaret (with an imaginary selfie-stick).

IMG_2189 Teal

With John and Anita at work we had time on the first two days to do a little birding, first at Abberton Reservoir where large flocks of wildfowl were present, including these Teal but also many Pochard, a bird that was once abundant in Dorset in winter but is now only seen in relatively small numbers.

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These 16 Great Crested Grebes are just a small part of flock that numbered over a hundred.

IMG_2161 Goose hybrid

I was initially puzzled by this bird, it looks quite like a Cackling Goose, the diminutive relative of Canada Goose, but the black of the neck extending onto the upper breast and the sharp demarcation between the black breast and the grey of the belly is reminiscent of a Barnacle Goose. It must be a hybrid, either between Barnacle and a Canada, or given its small size, between a Barnacle and a Cackling. Hybridisation between geese species is not unusual in feral populations, where the ecological and geographical conditions that would normally separate them during the breeding season, are absent. Its close association with a flock of feral Greylag Geese is a further indication of its dubious pedigree.

IMG_2178 Bewicks & Wigeon

The best sighting of the day was a group of seven Bewick’s Swans, two of which posed nicely for photos.

IMG_2194 Wallasea

Last Christmas we paid a visit to Wallasea, the RSPB’s new 1,500 acre mega-reserve in Essex. A huge area of former farmland has been reclaimed for nature using literally millions of tonnes of spoil from Crossrail project ((I object to the term reclaimed land – changing wildlife rich coasts into farmland cannot be ‘reclaiming’ it as it was never the farmer’s land in the first place – turning farmland back into a nature reserve on the other hand is ‘reclaiming’). Since our last visit much has happened, sluice gates erected, lagoons, both fresh and saline at various heights, have been created to provide feeding habitat at all stages of the time and for the first time in 400 years the sea wall has been breached allowing the former farmland to revert to salt marsh.

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Although our visit in December last year was bird-filled we were a bit disappointed this year, perhaps the very low tide meant most waders and wildfowl were still offshore, leaving the lagoons on the reserve somewhat empty, or perhaps the very mild conditions hadn’t induced many birds to come this far south and west.

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A fair amount of my time was spent accompanying John and Gavin as they visited Maldon’s many pubs. I have been in Poole for 37 years but never know anyone in pubs unless I arrange to meet someone there. John has been in Maldon less than two years and Gavin as many months, but they seem to know everybody. We were often asked what was the relationship between the three of us was, Gavin would reply ‘I married his sister’ and I’d reply ‘I married his mother-in-law’.

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John even took us to a free beer tasting event hosted by the local brewery.

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Noticing an ale called ‘yellow snow’ I commented that was the title of a Frank Zappa song, the barman nodded in agreement and pointed me to the label on the barrel. They also had a beer called ‘elementary penguin’ so the brewers clearly have a good taste in music (as well as in beer).

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As I said, John knows everybody in Maldon, so we also given a tour of the micro-brewry by the head brewer.

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Back home, mid-December was absurdly warm with temperatures reaching 15c and not dropping much lower at night. Flowers are in bloom, butterfly and bumblebees are on the wing, birds are in full song and trees are in bud. I like four seasons a year not one and half.

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I had hoped to spend a fair bit of time with my two trainee ringers, Chris and Ginny, however the incessant wind that has accompanied the warm weather has reduced the opportunities.

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However we have taken advantage of the few lulls between the storms and have visited several of our local patches, ringing birds like this immature male Sparrowhawk ….

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…. and this breeding plumage Lesser Redpoll.

IMG_6706 Goldfinch abnormal bill

As birds are supposed to be in normal health before they are ringed we released this Goldfinch with a deformed bill without ringing it.

IMG_6718 Chiffchaff ELR143 12 12 15 FLC

At our Fleets Lane site we trapped three wintering Chiffchaffs. One was a typical nominate collybita, but this very brown bird just might be the Scandinavian race albietinus.

IMG_6713 Chiffchaff ELR135 12 12 15 FLC

This bird, trapped on the same day lacks the yellow tones of collybita but does show some green on the bend of the wing and on the fridges of the primaries, together with the prominent supercillium and the whitish belly this could indicate that it is the race tristis from Siberia. A feather from each bird, accidentally dislodged during the ringing process, will be forwarded for DNA analysis.

IMG_6766 Holes Bay

Away from ringing, I have only done a little birding but did take part in the monthly wetland bird count. My area, the southern part of Holes Bay, failed to turn up very much, but the dramatic shower clouds propelled across the Bay by a brisk SE wind were photogenic.

IMG_6719 Star Wars premiere

Being science-fiction fans we managed to get tickets to see the new Star Wars film on its opening day. The steps of the Empire Cinema in Poole were littered with stormtroopers and Jedi knights.

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We only attended one pre-Christmas party, the annual Phoenix dinner-dance (the organisation where Margaret and I met nine years ago). Here Margaret found herself seated next to the only other South African in the Poole group.

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We never had lighting like that when I used to attend discos, a glitter ball was the highlight!

IMG_2206 B mouth Xmas market

Also just before Christmas we visited Bournemouth but paused only briefly at the entertainments near the Winter Gardens ….

IMG_2244 Jools Holland

…. as we were on our way to see Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra play at the BIC

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A superb line up of top class musicians playing rhythm and blues and boogie-woogie. This is the third time I have seen him play and have enjoyed every minute of it.

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As always the ‘queen of booie-woogie’ Ruby Turner gave a splendid vocal performance ….

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…. as did guest star KT Turnstall.

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All of which more than deserved a standing ovation.

IMG_6776 Adrian Dominique Francesca A&K Xmas 15

This brings us on to Christmas. This year, along with Janis, Amber and Kara we were invited over to their friends Adrian, Dominique and Francesca’s in Southampton. Amber and Kara have been friends with Francesca since nursery school. Amber has spent the last few months working in Cornwall but came back for Christmas. L-R: Adrian, Amber, Francesca, Dominique, Kara.

IMG_6777 Boxing Day dinner

We had similar good fortune on Boxing Day when we were invited for dinner to Winterbourne Abbas near Dorchester by Janis’ boyfriend Nigel. L-R: Margaret, Nigel’s daughter Ellie, Amber, Nigel’s son George, Nigel, Nigel’s younger son William, Janis and the children’s grandmother Ros. (Kara is absent as she was invited to go to France by a friend and her parents for the rest of the holidays).

On the 27th we drove up to Duffield in Derbyshire to visit my brother Simon and his family. We also visited my sister-in-law’s parent Ida and Dennis, old friends from school, Martin and Tricia and Di who I knew from University day and her husband Steve in Breedon-on-the-Hill. We also we met up with Nigel whom I was at school and university with and shared a place with for many years. We also did a little birding at Carsington reservoir, a twenty-minute drive from my brother’s house looking (as usual) for Willow Tit and Tree Sparrow – two birds we never see in Dorset.

I have posted photos of friends, family and scenery in the Derby area at Christmas several times before, see these links if you wish to see more.

2014: https://gryllosblog.wordpress.com/2015/01/02/christmas-eve-2014-to-new-years-day-2015/

2013: https://gryllosblog.wordpress.com/2013/12/25/merry-christmas-everyone/

2012: https://gryllosblog.wordpress.com/2012/12/31/26th-31st-december-its-been-a-great-christmas-and-heres-to-a-happy-new-year/

2011: https://gryllosblog.wordpress.com/2011/12/25/25th-december-merry-christmas/ also a number of other posts between Christmas Day and New Year

 

 

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Nigel and Steve cooking pizza, Breedon-on-the-Hill, Derbyshire.

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As it is Christmas we decided to treat ourselves to a very nice painting, called Red Sails. It is mounted at the top of the stairs. It was painted by Margaret’s sister Cathy in Austria.

Dad

And finally I would like to pay tribute to my dear father Brian. It is 30 years today since he died and 29th December marked 100 years since he was born. Photographed here in 1940, the year that he and Mum got married. I learned so much from my father and it was from him that I got an enquiring mind and the love of discovering places, history, landscapes and wildlife. Both Mum and Dad are greatly missed of course, but their memories are with us always.