Archive for the ‘Essex’ Tag

East Anglia and London: 23rd February to 1st March 2016   Leave a comment

We spent a few days in late February at my step-daughter Anita’s place in Maldon, Essex. Regular readers of this blog may remember that a wildlife cruise I had booked around the Russian Far East was cancelled at short notice in 2015. Well I’ve rebooked for this year, so that means a trip to London to be fingerprinted for my Russian visa (even though they have my fingerprints on file from 2015!). Rather than go to London from Poole we opted to wait until we were in Essex as that was a much shorter journey also we could spend the rest of the day sightseeing.

 

 

IMG_3882 The gerkin

We caught the train from Chelmsford to Liverpool St Station and were surprised to find how close we were to ‘the Gherkin’.

IMG_3883 painting

We walked to the Russian visa centre in Gee Street, passing some interesting murals on the way. You have to say one thing about the Russian visa system, once you have spent a day filling in the forms and have actually got to the visa centre, the process only takes a few minutes, so we were done by 0930 and had the rest of the day to ourselves.

IMG_3941 St Paul's

We chose to go to St Paul’s Cathedral which was in within walking distance. This photo was taken later in the day from Ludgate Hill.

St_Paul's_old._From_Francis_Bond,_Early_Christian_Architecture._Last_book_1913.

Between the early 7th C and 1666 at least four different St Paul’s Cathedrals stood on the site, the fate of the first is unknown, but numbers two and three were destroyed by fire in 962 and 1087  respectively. This drawing of the old cathedral as it appeared around 1561 was taken from Wikipedia.

Stpaulsblitz

The fourth St Paul’s was completely destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. The current cathedral with its iconic dome was built by Christopher Wren starting in 1669 and was consecrated in 1708. The cathedral was almost destroyed when a bomb hit it during WWII. This photo of S Paul’s taken on 29/12/40 by Herbert Mason during the blitz has to be one of the most famous photographs ever taken. Copied from Wikipedia.

GTO 225 London.qxp:Regional Update.qxd

Photography within the cathedral is prohibited so I have taken this photo from www.grouptravelorganiser.com. Looking eastwards from the nave to the choir and the high altar.

St-Pauls interior

This stunning fish-eye view was taken from www.hdrone.com and shows the dome and the nave.

london-st-pauls-cathedral-whispering-gallery

It is possible to climb up into the dome and view the ‘Whispering Gallery’ Here you can look down directly into the nave. All sounds from the far side of the gallery are amplified by its curved structure – hence the name. Photo from www.planetware.com

St_Paul's_Engraving_by_Samuel_Wale_and_John_Gwynn_(1755)

The spire above the dome is 365 feet tall, one foot for every day of the year. Spreading the load of the dome was a problem, Wren’s solution was to create a dome within a dome supported by the brick cone seen in the diagram. It is possible to continue up from the Whispering Gallery to the lower ‘Stone Gallery’ and then up a narrow spiral staircase between the brick cone and the outer dome to the ‘Golden Gallery’. Picture from Wikipedia.

IMG_3905 spiral staircase

One place in the cathedral where you are allowed to take photos. Here the brick cone supporting the weight of the outer dome can clearly be seen.

IMG_3808 St Paul's

At the top of the inner dome you can look through an oculus to the floor of the nave far below.

IMG_3894 from St Paul's

From the Stone Gallery and the Golden Gallery you get a wonderful view over London. Light conditions changed rapidly hence the lack of clarity in some of the following.

IMG_3898 from St Paul's

Paternoster Row and the Temple Bar

IMG_3900 The Shard

At 306m The Shard is Britain’s tallest building.

IMG_3910 Millenium bridge

Unacceptably wobbly when first opened – The Millennium Bridge.

IMG_3914 from St Paul's

Looking east towards the Gherkin and other tall skyscrapers. Tower Bridge is just out of sight to the right of the photo.

IMG_3916 PO Tower

Looking north-west to the Post Office Tower.

IMG_3925 The Globe

On the other side of the Thames, The Globe, a reconstruction of Shakespeare’s famous theatre.

IMG_3927 The Eye

The London Eye.

IMG_3928 Templar Chapel

After St Paul’s and some lunch we walked to the nearby Temple Church.

IMG_3934 Templar Chapel

Whilst hardly matching the magnificence of St Paul’s, the Church has an interesting history. Built in the 12th C by the Knights Templar as their English HQ, in the reign of King John it served as the Royal Treasury, making the Knights Templar early examples of international bankers.

IMG_3938 Templar Chapel

The Knights Templar were originally formed to protect Christian pilgrims on their visit to Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple after the first crusade in 1099 . They grew to be the wealthiest and most influential of the Christian military orders. Although the peak of their power only lasted for 200 years, they bankrolled much of Christendom (inventing aspects of the modern system of banking) and became a feared fighting force in subsequence crusades.

IMG_3939 Templar Chapel

Modern day stories or should I say myths, involve the Templars in the whereabouts of the Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant and the origins of Freemasonry and they have of course been highlighted in such influential books as the ‘The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail’ and the Templar Church itself featured in the film ‘The Da Vinci Code’.

IMG_3812 John, Lois, Gavin

We hurried back to Maldon in Essex as we knew that Anita’s husband John and his brother-in-law Gavin wanted to go out for a drink as it was Gavin (R) and his wife Lois’ wedding anniversary. Some of the pubs in Maldon are more like someone’s front room than a typical boozer.

IMG_3815 John Gavin

This one in particular is smaller than the typical living room, you have to wait for someone to leave before you can squeeze yourself in.

IMG_3944 Blackwater estuary#

On the Saturday I popped out to the nearby Blackwater estuary to do some birding but a strong easterly wind was blowing and it was bitterly cold.

IMG_3951 Brent Geese

The tide was coming in pushing the Brent Geese towards to me but they still remained too far away for good photos.

IMG_3957 Avocets and Blackwits

A flock of Avocets in flight with Black-tailed Godwits feeding on the water’s edge.

IMG_3965 Brent Goose

As the tide rose further many of the geese headed for the nearby fields.

IMG_3968 Blackwater estuary

To make matters worse I had left my gloves back at John and Anita’s so when I heard that Margaret and Anita were enjoying tea and cakes at a nearby cafe I abandoned the birds for a bit of warmth.

IMG_3986 Smew female

On Sunday I drove to Abberton Reservoir, a 30 minute drive to the north. I had not expected too much, so I was pleased to see three female/immature Smew.

IMG_3990 Smew drake

We have had a female Smew in Holes Bay near to where I live in Poole but its been a long time since I saw a drake in the UK, well 2004 to be precise.

IMG_3980 Smew Drake

The beautiful drakes seldom turn up west of London except in very hard weather when more easterly lakes and reservoirs freeze up, so I was delighted to see two of them here.

IMG_4009 Gippo

Less exciting was this Egyptian Goose, an introduced species that is slowing spreading westwards from it’s East Anglian stronghold. It is now quite numerous in the Avon Valley on the Dorset /Hampshire border but is still rare around Poole.

IMG_3821 Anita, M, John, Gavin, Lois

So on Sunday evening we said goodbye to the family and headed for Cambridgeshire to stay with my old friend Jenny. L-R Anita, Margaret, John, Gavin and Lois, with me making a guest appearance in the mirror!

IMG_4019 Jennie & Margaret

I have known Jenny since 1972 when she came to Leeds University to study for a PhD. Along with three others we shared a house from 1973-76 and have kept in touch since. Now that we visit Essex on a regular basis, calling in to see Jenny has been so much easier.

IMG_4014 Wicken Fen

Jenny works as a volunteer at Wicken Fen, in Cambridgeshire, mainly doing botanical work and demonstrating wildlife to visiting children The core part of Wicken Fen is a fragment of the original fen habitat that once covered much of East Anglia. With almost all of the fens drained and turned into agricultural land, there is a move now to recreate some large areas of former fen for wildlife. Areas like this on the edge of tWicken Fen have been bought up and are slowly being converted back to their former glory.

IMG_4015 Wicken Fen

The National Trust has a long term plan to restore an area of fen stretching from Wicken Fen in the north to the outskirts of Cambridge, a distance of 25 miles, although they have set a time span of 100 years in order to achieve that.

IMG_4031 Konig horses

The marshes are grazed by Konik horses from Poland, morphologically and genetically closest to the Tarpan, the original wild horse of Europe.

IMG_4034 konig horses

Tarpans went extinct in 1909 although they were probably extinct in the wild for some time before that. Their ability to survive unaided in wetland areas and lightly graze the area to deduce invasive vegetation makes them ideal for the recreation of lost fen habitats. As nice as Wicken was, at this time of year it wasn’t great for birds, so after lunch we headed north to the border of Cambridgeshire and Norfolk to look for wild swans.

IMG_4039 Whooper Swans

From wild horses to to wild swans. In the fields around the WWT reserve at Welney large numbers of Whooper Swans and a much smaller number of Bewick’s Swans were grazing.

IMG_4045 Whooper Swans

We used to get flocks of 100+ Bewick’s in Dorset and just over the border in the Avon valley, but these days they are very rare, just one has turned up this winter and that was only after we visited Welney. Whooper Swans have always been rare in the south. All of these birds are the larger Whooper Swans from Iceland with the triangular yellow mark on the bill. The smaller Bewick’s from arctic Russia have a rounded yellow patch on the bill. Bewick’s numbers have decreased noticeably across the UK in recent years, this may be due to climate change allowing them to winter on the (now much milder) continent ,but hunting on their migration routes must be a contributing factor.

IMG_4067 Whooper Swans & Pochards

The Welney reserve is part of the Ouse Washes, a twenty mile long embanked area where water from the River Ouse is pumped in winter to prevent the surrounding farmland flooding. This results in a haven for wildfowl in the winter and grazing marshes favoured by breeding waders in summer. This type of ‘sacrificial land’ could well be adopted in other flood prone areas, rather than the current system of channeling the flood water away ASAP to the detriment of those downstream.

IMG_4056 Whooper Swan

Around the margins of the flood were many Lapwings, Golden Plovers and the odd Ruff, whilst in the open water we saw many Mute and Whooper Swans and other wildfowl.

IMG_4069 Whooper Swan

The triangle yellow patch on the bill which separates this Whooper Swan from the smaller Bewick’s can be seen well in this photo.

IMG_4077 Pochard drake

Among the many ducks on the reserve where good numbers of (mainly male) Pochard. This species has declined in Dorset in recent years, probably because they are now wintering father east than before.

IMG_4085 Mute & Whooper Swans

At 1530 the swans are fed and the Whooper and Mute Swans come right up to the hide giving excellent views. There was supposed to be both White Stork and Great White Egret on the reserve but they could not be found during our visit.

IMG_4095 Whooper Swans

Whooper Swans migrate from Iceland as a family unit and remain together over the winter. Here an adult pair are accompanying their four cygnets (one is out of shot).

We returned to Jenny’s that evening and headed home the following day with nothing more exciting than a Red Kite seen on route. As before our trip to East Anglia was to see family and friends but its great to combine this with birding in this outstanding part of England.


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.

IMG_2156 GG Grebe

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.

IMG_2192 Wallasea

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.

IMG_6692 John Gavin

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’.

IMG_6698 free beer

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

IMG_6700 Yellow Snow

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).

IMG_6696 brewery

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

IMG_6728 tree bud

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.

IMG_6769 Chris & Ginny

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.

IMG_6709 Sparrowhawk

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 ….

IMG_6726 Redpoll

…. 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.

IMG_6730 Phoenix Xmas dance

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.

IMG_6757 Phoenix Xmas dance

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

IMG_2227 Jools Holland

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.

IMG_2241 Ruby Turner

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

IMG_2222 KT Tunstall

…. as did guest star KT Turnstall.

IMG_2250 Jools Holland

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

 

 

IMG_6783 Nigel and Steve

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

IMG_2252 red sails

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.


27th June – 1st July 2015: visiting family and friends in East Anglia.   Leave a comment

Rather than make a number of separate weekend trips to visit friends and family this summer we decided to fit it all into a single ten-day trip, seeing Margaret’s daughter and my brother on successive weekends (as they are working) and seeing a number of retired friends during the week.

IMG_8003 John at the canal

We arrived at Maldon in Essex in the afternoon of the 26th. The following day we all cycled along the River Blackwater and the Chelmer and Blackwater Canal for a picnic. Here Margaret’s son-in-law John surveys the canal.

IMG_8002 John, Donna, Anita & M

Anita, Margaret’s daughter, also had her old school friend Donna (also from South Africa and now living in London) staying with her. L-R on the bridge over the canal: John, Donna, Anita and Margaret.

IMG_8811 Heybridge Basin

On the Sunday morning I did a little birding at Heybridge Basin where the River Blackwater and the canal flow into the sea. The footpath, popular with locals, takes you over the canal locks and along the river bank. It was a pleasant walk but the grey clouds seen above soon closed in and it started to rain.

IMG_8799 Heybridge basin

In the winter this estuary is teeming with waders such Avocets, Curlews and Black-tailed Godwits but in late June there was little but the local breeding Oystercatchers and Common Terns.

IMG_8829 Margaret & Jennie

Late on Sunday we left Essex and drove to Cottenham near Cambridge to stay with my old friend Jennie. I met Jennie in 1972 during my last year at University whilst she was doing her PhD. From 1973 – 1976 we shared a house with three others until I got married to Janet in the September of that year.

IMG_8826 Lakenheath

Jennie is a keen naturalist but unlike me hasn’t specialised in birds. She does volunteer work at the nearby Wicken Fen, but it was to the larger and more distant RSPB reserve at Lakenheath that we journeyed. The visitor centre’s floor is covered with hundreds of beige coloured tiles, but just three are green with a sign that says the beige tiles represent the area of East Anglia that was once covered by fen and the green ones represent what is left!

IMG_8824 Marsh Harrier edit

We saw some good birds including a Crane with its head poking out of the reeds, great flight views of a Bittern and several Hobbys but it was the local Marsh Harriers that put on the best show. Here a male returns with a full crop ….

IMG_8814 Marsh Harriers food pass

… but earlier we saw a male carrying prey fly over the nest site and performed a food pass, the female (left) rose up, the male dropped the prey which the female caught in mid-air.

IMG_8841 Large Skipper

Butterflies abounded in the hot weather, I saw some Essex Skippers, a butterfly I haven’t conclusively identified before, but only this Large Skipper posed for the camera.

IMG_8886 Stone Curlew

Later we visited the nearby reserve of Weeting Heath, just over the border in Norfolk. Here we had good views of several Stone Curlew a species that now is very hard to see in Dorset or its environs.

IMG_8894-Hickling-Broad-for-blog

On the 30th we headed for friends in Lowestoft but on route we detoured to Hickling Broad in the Norfolk Broads.

Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio machaon britannicus). Strumpshaw Fen, Norfolk

Our main aim was to see the endemic UK race of the Swallowtail Butterfly which has its UK stronghold in the Norfolk Broads. I have seen this species many times in Europe but I’ve never been to this area at this time of year before. After some searching we saw three but they were fast flying and I failed to photograph any. This photo is taken from the Norfolk Broads authority website.

Pacific Golden-plover Ken Harvard Hawaii

We headed south to Lowestoft and stopped off at Breydon Water near Yarmouth where a Pacific Golden Plover had been seen for the last few days. We had reasonable views but the heat haze was pretty bad and the bird often hid in the spartina grass. This photo comes from the Internet Bird Collection and was taken by Ken Harvard in Hawaii. The bird we saw was moulting out of breeding plumage unlike this one which was moulting into it and had less gold spangling on the upperparts but was similarly plumaged on the face, breast and belly. Pacific GP is a close relative of the American GP and breeds across arctic Siberia into western Alaska. The wintering range is huge, from eastern Africa across the Indian Ocean , SE Asia and all across the Pacific. There have been 83 previous records of this species up to 2013 and this is the third I have seen in the UK.

IMG_8896 Debbie, Alan & M

Then it was on to Lowestoft, the most easterly town in the UK to visit my old friends Alan and Debbie. I have known Debbie since 1974, but I met Alan in 1969. Whilst relaxing in a coffee bar at Leeds University I heard Alan defending the performance of Derby County Football Club, asking if he was from Derby I found that he not only had lived in the same area as me but in the same street! I had met his sister back then but not him. He joined us in the infamous Fraser Terrace ‘slum’ for the next three years and we have remained friends ever since.

IMG_8895 Debbie, M & Alan

It was one of the hottest days of year with temperatures around 30c, so relaxing in the garden with a bottle of wine seemed the order of the day. Note the only one falling asleep is Margaret who was only drinking water.

IMG_8934 Minsmere

South of Lowestoft lies the RSPB’s flagship reserve of Minsmere. This was the subject of this years Springwatch TV series.

IMG_8935 Minsmere

The reserve consists of extensive areas of reed bed, open water, muddy pools, heathland and woodland. In the distance is the Sizewell B nuclear power station.

IMG_8930 M at Minsmere

Behind the beach lies ‘the scrape’ an artificially built pools that are a haven to breeding waders and migrants alike.

IMG_8900 juv Avocet Minsmere

Perhaps the most famous breeding wader is the Avocet. Heavy predation of Avocet chicks by Badgers has resulted in the scrape being ringed by an electrified fence, which certainly worked as ‘the scrape’ is full of juvenile Avocets this year (compare with the Avocet chicks I photographed in Hampshire on 28th May to see how much they can grow in a month).

IMG_8918 Oyk

Other breeding waders included this Oystercatcher ….

IMG_8920Oyk pullus & Turnstone

… and the Oystercatcher’s chick wandered around in the company of this Turnstone, fresh in from the high Arctic.

IMG_8911 Spot Red

The best sighting on ‘the scrape’ was a flock of 50+ Red Knot, some still in their orangey-red breeding dress and a flock of 16 summer-plumaged Spotted Redshank (above). This species nests in boggy woodland in the arctic and uses a system of sequential polyandry, ie the female mates with one male then leaves him to incubate and raise the chicks, then may mate with another male who does the same. The females then migrate, so breeding plumage females can arrive in the UK from late June on their ‘autumn’ migration south. This species used to be much commoner in Dorset than it is today and partially breeding plumaged birds were often seen in Poole Harbour in April on their way north, but now it is mainly a scarce winter visitor to the area, a time when they are in their grey non-breeding plumage. Eastern Britain at this time of year is probably the best place to see these beautiful birds in all their finery.

IMG_8944 Framlingham

For various reasons our friends couldn’t see us in the most convenient order so by the time we arrived in Framlingham we had almost done a full circle.

IMG_5491-Terry,-David-and-M

Terry, David and Margaret. Margaret was friends with Terry when she lived in South Africa. Recently Terry moved to the UK where she met and married David. David has a strong interest in natural history, particularly birds, and being completely blind has a great interest in their vocalisations. At the temperature was in the 30s away from the coast we spent the afternoon indoors discussing music and bird song. I took this photo in a nearby church in 2014.

On 2nd July it was thankfully a little cooler. We left Terry and David after breakfast and started the long drive to Leeds in Yorkshire. This, along with a visit to Derbyshire will be the subject of the next post.

24th – 28th July 2014 – The only way is Essex   Leave a comment


Margaret’s son-in-law, John started a new job in Maldon, Essex back in March, Anita followed him in May after landing a job on Canvey Island. Margaret visited them whilst I was in Borneo but last weekend we both visited over a long weekend.

Although less than 170 miles away we found the journeys there and back to be quite tiring, mainly due to dreadful congestion on the M25. On the way up the temperature exceeded 30c which made sitting in stationary traffic jams most unpleasant.

P7240404-riverside-barges

Maldon is a very pleasant town on the western bank of the River Chelmer.  Leaving Margaret and Anita to chat, John and I walked down to the river bank for a pint on our first evening. A line of Thames barges was docked waiting for the high tide.

 

P7250408-Simon-in-barn

I have been on several foreign birding tours with Essex birders and ringers Simon and Pat Cox. We contacted them before our visit and they invited us along to see a brood of Barn Owls being ringed at a nearby reserve.

 

P7250424-Barn-Owl-pulli

Seven eggs had been laid, six hatched but one chick died young, even so a brood a five healthy youngsters shows that Barn Owls are having a good breeding season, unlike last year. Simon on the right is assisted by the local reserve warden (whose name I’m afraid I forgot to note).

 

P7250430-Kestrel-pulli

I had ringed Barn Owl chicks before but not Kestrels, so I was delighted when Simon took me to a Kestrel’s nest where the three chicks were just the right age for ringing. Ringing birds at the nest is particularly valuable as it defines exactly where bird has come from in the event of a later recapture.


P7260441-Southend

On the 26th John and Anita had some business in Canvey Island and afterwards we drove to Southend-on-Sea for lunch. The weather had turned rather dull but that still didn’t deter the masses of holiday makers that thronged the beach.

 

P7260438-Southend-Pier

In the 19th century it was the fashion for Londoners to take a short cruise on the Thames. Margate in Kent had good docking facilities but Southend with its extensive mud flats didn’t. Southend’s answer was to build the longest pier in the world – over one and a third miles long. The Kent coastline can be seen in the background.

 

P7260460-Blue-Boar-Maldon

That evening we visited the Blue Boar, an coach horse inn in Maldon dating back to 1400. We were impressed that although John has only been living there for five months, everyone in the pubs and many passers-by already know him.

P7260467-Blue-Boar-Maldon

The adjacent hotel has plenty of old world charm

 

P7270482-Heybridge-Basin

On the 27th Margaret and I borrowed their bicycles and cycled round to Heybridge Basin.

 

P7270477-Heybridge-Basin

The cycle path followed the River Blackwater which was turned into a canal in the 19th century to move timber from the Baltic inland. Here yachts wait for hide tide before departing the canal for the tidal stretch of the river.

P7270485-Heybridge-basin

Even row boats have to wait until the lock gates open on the high tide.  We were later joined by John and Anita at a nearby cafe. We had planned on a late cooked breakfast but breakfasts weren’t served after 11. No worries, as we could get scrambled egg on toast with a side order of bacon, sausage and beans, ie a cooked breakfast. You could get tomatoes as well but only if they weren’t cooked as they couldn’t fry them after 11 !

 

P7270492-Maldon

Margaret and I cycled back along the River Chelmer. Maldon is on the far side of the river.

P7270491-Thames-barge

With the rising tide, the tourist carrying Thames barges were able to set sail.

 

 

P7270493-Maldon

Cycling up the steep hill that leads to Maldon High street was a bit of challenge. Margaret has opted to push her bike.

 

Aquatic LB SR3

Of course you can’t be two places at once, but it was a bit ironic that I suggested  that we go to Essex in July rather than August as I wanted to maximise my chance of seeing an Aquatic Warbler in the hand at Lytchett Bay, something that was far more likely in August. Guess what, on the 25th they trapped what was not only the first UK Aquatic of 2014, the first in western Europe of 2014 but the earliest record in Dorset ever! Photo by Shaun Robson.

Aquatic LB SR1

As would be expected at this time of year it was an adult, as can be seen by the very abraded plumage. Although I saw a number of these very rare birds from eastern Europe in the hand when we used to ring at Keysworth, I haven’t seen one anywhere since 2000 and haven’t seen one at the Bay since 1983! Photo by Shaun Robson.