Archive for the ‘Maldon’ Tag

Summer 2017: a few trips away from home.   Leave a comment

As in 2016 I haven’t posted much to my blog during the summer and early autumn.

As I mentioned earlier I have lost all my edited photos from the Caribbean trip so haven’t been able to upload any of those, I spent much of July and August ringing and September was spent on a wonderful tour of Western Australia.

With my ringing paperwork up to date I’ll now attempt to edit the thousands of outstanding photos (outstanding in the sense that I haven’t touched them rather than that they  particularly good) that I have accumulated and get the blog up to date.

This post deals with a few non-birdy activities this summer (or rather should I say ‘less-birdy as birds creep in a bit)  and the next with the more birdy ones.

 

In early July we went up to Derby to see my brother and his family and then from there on to Leeds. The purpose of the visit was to meet up with my old friend Nigel (left) whom I have known since school and Uni days. Another friend from University is Dave (right) who lives in County Durham and caught the train to Leeds to meet up with us.

 

Nigel has a strong interest in art and as we all like a good stately home, we visited Temple Newsam House in Leeds which was quite near where I lived in 1976-78.

 

Temple Newsam is a Tudor-Jacobean house with grounds landscaped by Capability Brown. The estate was mentioned in the Doomsday Book, was once owned by the Knights Templar (hence the name), was seized by the crown and given as a present by Henry VIII to his niece Margaret. Today it is owned by Leeds City Council.

 

One of the most outstanding features of this grade 1 listed building is this highly decorative staircase.

 

The ornate rooms, carefully shielded from the rays of the sun are what you would expect from a house of this antiquity.

 

Later we all returned to Leeds for a spot of lunch. When I lived there in the 70s Leeds was a drab northern town (although still full of character). Today it is lively, modern and beautifully decorated (for example by these owls on the side of high-rise building).

 

However the old arcades have been preserved and in many case improved.

 

Dingy back streets have been covered over and turned into beautiful shopping malls. I lived in Leeds from late 69 to early 78 and am amazed at its transformation.

 

A particularly dingy area was along the banks of the River Aire but now decaying warehouses have been turned into luxury flats and pedestrian access along the old tow-paths allows for a pleasant stroll by the waterside.

 

As with our last visit we stayed at a hotel just south of the river. The following morning we set off on a long drive to Essex. We stopped for a bit of birding in Cambridgeshire and then visited Margaret’s friends in Suffolk before arriving at her daughter Anita’s house in Maldon that evening.

 

Anita, her husband John and Margaret on a coastal footpath in Essex.

 

At the park in Maldon is the statue of Byrthnoth, a Saxon Earl who rejected King Ethelred’s policy of appeasement towards the Vikings. He fought and was defeated by the Vikings at the Battle of Maldon in 991.

 

The only bird photo in this post! Along the shore there were many Black-tailed Godwits. Nearly all the UK’s Black-tailed Godwits breed in Iceland, a few non-breeding birds spend the summer in the UK and in July these are joined by the first of the returning birds. At this time many are in their resplendent brick-red and grey summer plumage.

 

John and Anita had some business to attend to near Southend, so we went with them and took a walk along the seafront. Off shore several large sailing barges could be seen. In the distance is the Kent coast on the south side of the Thames Estuary.

 

The tide was out exposing a huge expanse of intertidal mud. This is an important area for wading birds but in early July relatively few had returned from their breeding grounds.

 

In the distance we could see Southend Pier, the longest pier in the world. On a previous visit we walked to the end of the pier and I posted photos of and from the pier on this blog.

 

Rows of beach huts, he stereotypical image of an English seaside resort.

 

On another day we visited the area around Tollesbury, which lie to the north of Maldon on the Blackwater estuary. Unlike Suffolk and Norfolk to the north the Essex coastline is dissected by multiple estuaries. These have created a large area of saltmarsh (much of which has been converted into grazing pasture) but fortunately some remains, as seen here . I don’t like the phrase ‘reclaimed land’ as this indicates that farmland was once ‘lost’ giving farmers  the right to ‘reclaim’ it, which is far from the truth.

 

An old lightship and Bradwell power station (on the south shore of the Blackwater) are seen above the expanse of salt marsh.

 

 

The many creeks are enlivened by some pretty villages.

 

 

Two days after our return from Essex I undertook a far less successful trip, this time to western Cornwall. Earlier in the year news had broken of an Amur Falcon in Cornwall, but it disappeared long before I had a chance to go and see it. On 17th July it was rediscovered at St Buryan to the west of Penzance and was even seen to go to roost. Two of my friends joined me for the 200 mile overnight drive. We arrived about 0400 and waited from dawn until late morning at this vantage point but there was no sign of the falcon. This is the second time that this highly migratory east Asian raptor has been recorded in the UK It was a real shame that we dipped, partially because of the wasted effort but mainly because unlike the first UK record in the north-east it was in an easily identified plumage and had shown very well the day before. Also there was no ‘back-up’ rarities in the area to allow us to claw back some value from the twitch.

 

Later in July we had a day in London, Margaret needs to renew her South African passport and this required a trip to the South African consulate.

 

Situated near to Trafalgar Square this involved an early morning bus ride from Poole and a lot of queuing and form filling. Even now this simple matter is not fully resolved.

 

We later walked past the fortress that is Downing Street. On a visit to London as a child I remember you could walk up Downing Street and take a photo of Number 10, how things have changed.

 

We spent the afternoon in the impressive Victoria and Albert museum (usually known as the V&A).

 

Even the cafe is a historical exhibit in its own right ….

 

…. but the reason we had come was to see the Pink Floyd exhibition which charted the 50 year history of the band from its psychedelic beginnings ….

 

…. to the bitterness and remorse of ‘The Wall’ ….

 

…. to the post Roger Waters period.

 

I first heard ‘Piper from the Gates of Dawn’ in 1967, saw Pink Floyd three times between 1970 and 1974 and have seen Pink Floyd tribute bands many times recently. I have all of their albums. I can honestly say that few bands have given me so much enjoyment or given me so much food for thought. In particular I have come to love the interplay between Waters’ acerbic lyrics and Gilmour’s angry guitar playing on ‘The ‘Wall and ‘The Final Cut’ albums. I never saw them perform ‘The Wall’ live and I will always regret that, but I’m glad I saw them when I did and delighted that 50 years on a three-month long exhibition about their timeline can draw tens of thousands of fans.

 

After the exhibition there was only an hour or so available to enjoy all of the other exhibits at the V&A. These beautiful medieval triptychs are but an example of the countless treasures in this wonderful museum. We must return and spend the whole day here.

 

In early August, planned to coincide with the so-called ‘glorious twelfth’ I attended Hen Harrier Day at Arne RSPB. The purpose is clear, opposition to illegal killing of our birds of prey. Year after year shooting interests openly flaunt the law (and in most cases get away with it) and slaughter birds of prey just in to prevent them predating their precious game birds. This is most acute on moorlands where whole estates have been turned over to ‘Red Grouse factories’, with every predator exterminated, wet areas drained (so increasing erosion and flooding downstream) and birds even fed with medicated grit to avoid infections that result from overcrowding. The result is a hundred-fold increase in grouse numbers all to the detriment to all other species – just so people can blast the grouse out of the sky!

 

This raptor persecution is wholly against the law as the Police Wildlife Crime Officer reminded us, yet it still goes on seemingly unpunished. Although Peregrines, Goshawks, Buzzards and even Golden Eagles are targeted it is the beautiful Hen Harrier that comes off worse. Most years only 3 or 4 pairs in England raise young whilst enough habitat exists for 300 pairs.

 

Every year a few stalwarts like Chris Packham (above) and Mark Avery speak at Hen Harrier events but I’m beginning to think they are preaching to the converted and a new plan is needed to bring this iniquity to a wider audience. Over 100,000 people signed a petition to call for a ban on driven grouse shooting but the parliamentary committee that looked into it swept the facts under the carpet.

 

Our final trip away during the summer was our (almost) annual trip to the Bird Fair at Rutland Water. This time we went up to Derby prior to the Fair to see my brother and his family. As well as meeting up with many people who I know, the main aim of the visit was to look into getting a new telescope. In the event I didn’t buy one but at least I know which one I want.

 

As well as visiting many of the stands and chatting to old friends we went to a number of talks. Perhaps the most interesting was from Dutch birder Arjan Dwarshuis who set a record for the most birds seen worldwide in a single year, an incredible 6,833 and gave an account of his non-stop race around the world.

 

Arjan got a lot of sponsorship for his record-breaking and was able to present a cheque to BirdLife International’s preventing extinction program of (I think) 24,000 Euros.

 

 

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.

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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.

Northern England, Derbyshire and Essex: 2nd – 10th July 2016   Leave a comment

Wales trip route

In my last post I described the journey Margaret and I took through Wales. In this post I continue the saga as we drive from north Wales to Liverpool, Southport and Blackpool in Lancashire, Leeds and Harrogate in Yorkshire, Duffield in Derbyshire and eventually arrive at Maldon in Essex.

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I have visited most of the major cities in the UK at one time or another but Liverpool has remained an exception. Margaret was keen to visit this most iconic of cities too. We arrived in the late afternoon and booked into our hotel adjacent to the newly refurbished docks.

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As it was Sunday the following day we thought we had better visit the two cathedrals straight away as services would be going on in the morning. First, Liverpool’s imposing Anglican Cathedral.

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According to Wikipedia: The cathedral is based on a design by Giles Gilbert Scott. The total external length of the building, including the Lady Chapel (dedicated to the Blessed Virgin), is 207 yards (189 m) making it the longest cathedral in the world;[n 1] its internal length is 160 yards (150 m). In terms of overall volume, Liverpool Cathedral ranks as the fifth-largest cathedral in the world[2] and contests with the incomplete Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City for the title of largest Anglican church building. With a height of 331 feet (101 m) it is also one of the world’s tallest non-spired church buildings and the third-tallest structure in the city of Liverpool. The cathedral is recorded in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade I listed building.

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This cathedral spent a long time in the planning phase, as it’s construction was first authorised by Parliament in 1885. The initial site was unsuitable and due to various delays (including two World Wars) the opening ceremony wasn’t until 1978.

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The beautiful Lady Chapel was the first part of the cathedral to be completed.

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As the song In Our Liverpool Home goes if you want a cathedral we’ve got one to spare, Liverpool has two cathedrals. The Anglian version, although most impressive, is based on a traditional design, the Roman Catholic one is a wonder of modern architecture.

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The circular design and the beautiful colours are quite breathtaking. Again from Wikipedia: ‘officially known as the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King,[it] is the seat of the Archbishop of Liverpool and the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Liverpool in Liverpool, England. The Grade II Metropolitan Cathedral is one of Liverpool’s many listed buildings. To distinguish it from the Anglican Liverpool Cathedral, locals call it the “Catholic Cathedral.” Nicknames for the building include “Paddy’s Wigwam” and “The Mersey Funnel.” Unlike the Anglian one, construction was rapid, starting in 1962 and completed by 1967 although the site was purchased as long ago as 1930.

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We were glad we visited the cathedral on Saturday afternoon but wished we had come half an hour earlier as we arrived just as they were locking up and we just had time to take a few photos of its wonderful interior.

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We completed the day with a nice (chinese) meal in Chinatown.

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The following day we walked the short distance to Albert Dock, an area of dockland that has been renovated and turned into attractive accommodation, shops, museums and other attractions.

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We paid a quick visit to the Tate Liverpool (but although I like some modern art, I found little to my taste there) and a much longer visit to the Museum of Liverpool where we could have spent all day if we had the time.

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I was very impressed by this panoramic painting by Ben Johnson (not the athlete) of the Liverpool skyline, with both the Anglican and RC cathedrals being clearly visible

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The imposing Port of Liverpool Building, Royal Liver Building and Cunard Building at Pier Head are known as ‘the Three Graces’. This photo was taken through glass from the Museum of Liverpool, hence the unusual tint.

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On the top of the Royal Liver Building are the two Liver Birds, the symbol of the City (and the name of an entertaining 70s Liverpudlian sitcom by Carla Lane).

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But for all it’s great architecture, unique culture and importance of one of Britain’s most famous ports, Liverpool is best remembered by most as the origin of the Mersey Sound in the early 60’s, when various talented artists started to play live music in this famous club.

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Across the road from the entrance to the Cavern is the ‘wall of fame’ commissioned by Gerry Marsden of Gerry and the Pacemakers which lists all the artists who played at the club in the 60s and 70s and few who have played more recently since it was refurbished. Centre stage, of course, is kept for the ‘fab four’, the Beatles, who not only put Liverpool on the world’s musical map but changed the face of popular music for ever.

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However there is one artist I would have liked to see more than any other and his name is in the centre of this photo. I had a chance, but I was working at my father’s shop during University holidays in 1970 when Hendrix played at the Isle of Wight Festival. I could hardly go sick or just pack the job in without my father’s permission. If I had known that a few weeks later Hendrix would be dead then I might have acted differently!

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We took a look inside the Cavern ….

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….where even on a Sunday morning someone was playing ….

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…. and admired a number of guitars donated by famous artists, for example this one has been signed by all the members of Queen.

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We carried onto St George’s Hall and Lime Street Station and the imposing statue of Queen Victoria before heading back through a series of shopping arcades and covered walkways ….

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…. until we were back at Albert Dock. There was much more to see in Liverpool but time was now pressing ….

IMG_6190 Nia and Graham

…. as I had a long-awaited reunion in front of me. I first met Nia in 1970 at Leeds University on our microbiology course. We worked together after University in the Leeds Public Health Lab, but in 1974 she moved to London and we lost touch. She contacted a mutual friend via Friends Reunited six or seven years ago and he put her in touch with me. In the mean time she had moved to Lancashire, brought up two children and has a number of grandchildren. She now lives in Southport with her husband Graham. It was great to meet up gain after 42 years!

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Before we left Southport we had a look at Southport Pier ….

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…. which can be accessed either on foot or via a ‘noddy’ train.

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The pier overlooks the Ribble Estuary which is probably the second most important site in the whole of the UK for wading birds and wildfowl. In winter it plays host to tens, if not hundreds of thousands of waders but in July we just saw a flock of Dunlin fly by and a distant gathering of Oystercatchers.

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The nearby RSPB Marshside reserve added a few new species to our trip list, but once again winter would have been the time to come. We had already agreed with Nia and Graham to come again sometime in the future, but this time in February or March.

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Looking across the mud-lats of the Ribble we could see the famous Blackpool Tower and the scary roller-coaster, and that was to be our next destination.

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I have never been a fan of the traditional bucket and spade seaside resort, at least not in adulthood. Poole doesn’t fall into that category and Bournemouth only just does. Blackpool however is the epitome of ‘tack’ with its amusement arcades blaring out loud music, multiple fish and chip shops, candy floss stalls, the three piers with their ‘faded elegance’ and peeling facades and the ever-present smell of doughnuts.

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The weather soon turned bad and there seemed to be no point in going up the famous Blackpool Tower as visibility was very poor ….

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However Margaret, a fan of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, was keen that we visit the overly ornate Tower Ballroom.

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With only two couples dancing the visit was hardly the ‘Strictly’ Blackpool extravaganza but it was well worth visiting.

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I wasn’t too keen on the idea of going on Britain’s tallest roller-coaster ….

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…. or travelling in a gilded carriage ….

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…. but I was amused by these tiles on the promenade composed of a collection of comedy punch lines and dialogues, none more so then this famous dialogue from Fawlty Towers. The sketch, of course, was not intended to be critical of the Germans but of those fuddy-duddy Brits (epitomised by Basil Fawlty) who couldn’t put the past behind them. As can be clearly seen in this photo the rain was now very heavy, so we returned to the hotel to dry out.

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Some holiday makers complain about gulls swooping down to snatch their food and are campaigning for a cull. I think this is absurd because if they don’t want their food snatched outdoor they obviously should eat it where that can’t happen (like indoors) plus they would be better off directing their anger instead towards those to intentionally feed the gulls and teach them that holiday makers equals free food!

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From Blackpool we headed east to Leeds where I used to live in the 70s and booked into a hotel on the south side of the River Aire.

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We were visiting Leeds to meet up with my old school and University mate Nigel Mackie whom I have known since 1967. Nigel greatly influenced my choice of music and my choice of politics and it is a great shame that we live so far apart. Rather than wander around Leeds again, we took advantage of the nice weather and went to Harewood House near Harrogate.

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Buddhist monks in the gardens of a stately home was an unusual sight.

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Taken from Wikipedia (again): Harewood House is a country house in Harewood near Leeds. Designed by architects John Carr and Robert Adam, it was built between 1759 and 1771 for wealthy plantation owner Edwin Lascelles, 1st Baron Harewood. The landscape was designed by Lancelot “Capability” Brown and spans 1,000 acres at Harewood. Still home to the Lascelles family, Harewood House is a member of Treasure Houses of England, a marketing consortium for ten of the foremost historic homes in the country. The house is a Grade I listed building and a number of features in the grounds and courtyard have been listed as Grade I & II

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The house, the upper stories of which are still lived in, contains the usual wonderfully ornate bedrooms, sitting rooms and libraries ….

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…. none more so than the beautiful gallery. The extensive grounds were the site of a Red Kite reintroduction program and in spite of the huge numbers we saw in Wales, it was wonderful to see these soaring over the park and even over the suburbs of Leeds.

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Leaving Leeds we drove south to Duffield in Derbyshire to visit my brother and his family. On route we called into Carsington Reservoir in the Derbyshire Dales as I know this to be a reliable site for two species we don’t see in Dorset – Tree Sparrow and Willow Tit. I’m glad to say we saw both.

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As always we paid a visit to my sister-in-laws parents, Ida and Dennis. Dennis was full of his usual amusing stories and anecdotes – never a dull moment!

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Leaving Derbyshire we drove south-east via the M1 and A14 to Essex. We had hoped to visit friends in Sussex on route but they had last-minute change of plans. With time on our hands we detoured to the town of Kettering in Northamptonshire where I lived from the age of 4 to 14 and I showed Margaret the house we used to live in, ….

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…. Wicksteed Park that I used to visit at lunchtimes as it was adjacent to my senior school ….

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…. and my old primary school that I attended from 1956 – 62.

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There was more nostalgia as I returned an area known as Headlands. This railway bridge was much easier to look over then and several boys and I used to go train spotting from here. On the other side was open fields, a wood and a stream and here I remember seeing Water Voles, Foxes and a Barn Owl – all magical stuff for a kid like me. Now, of course, its a housing estate dominated by the roar of traffic on the A14.

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With time for another stop, we had lunch at Fen Drayton near Cambridge and did a little birding at the nearby gravel pits. My last visit was in 2014 when I twitched a Baikal Teal but there was nothing of that quality on view today. However on the nearby Great Ouse River we had prolonged views of a swimming Grass Snake, a species I haven’t seen for many years.

IMG_6286 Glossy Ibis

We arrived at Margaret’s daughter Anita’s place in Maldon Essex on the evening of 7th. As Anita and John were at work on the Friday we met up with Simon Cox, an Essex birder I have met on several BirdQuest trips and another ringer. He was not doing any ringing that day but agreed to take us to the RSPB’s Old Hall marshes where we found this Glossy Ibis. In spite of the recent increase in numbers this remains a fairly rare bird.

IMG_6294 cr Blackwit

Whilst staying at Maldon I took the opportunity to bird at Haybridge Basin on the other side of the Blackwater Estuary from Maldon. In a flock of 400+ Black-tailed Godwits I found three colour ringed individuals. Colour ringing is an excellent way of tracking some birds movements but the colour rings only allows a certain number of combinations and works best on long-legged birds that feed in open areas like mud flats where the ring combination can easily be read. All three birds had made remarkable journeys during their life, the best of the three I have reproduced below, showing multiple sightings in eastern England in winter and Iceland in the breeding season as well as a visit to Holland.

Black-tailed Godwit adult, male
R8-LO 15.07.10 Siglufjordur, N Iceland
R8-LO 07.03.11 Mistley, Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 18.03.11 Mistley, Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 09.03.12 Gansooiensche uiterwaard, North of Waalwijk, Noord-Brabant, C Netherlands
R8-LO 23.03.12 Mistley, Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 27.08.12 Heybridge Basin, Maldon, Blackwater Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 30.08.12 Heybridge Basin, Maldon, Blackwater Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 10.09.12 Heybridge Basin, Maldon, Blackwater Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 21.09.12 Heybridge Basin, Maldon, Blackwater Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 09.10.12 Heybridge Basin, Blackwater Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 15.01.13 Heybridge Basin, Maldon, Blackwater Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 22.03.13 Mistley, Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 07.08.13 Heybridge Basin,Maldon,Blackwater Estuary,Essex,E England
R8-LO 12.08.13 Maldon, Blackwater Estuary, Essex, E Eng
R8-LO 20.08.13 Heybridge Basin, Maldon, Blackwater Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 29.08.13 Heybridge Basin, Maldon, Blackwater Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 3.10.13 Heybridge Basin,Maldon, Blackwater Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 4.02.14 Mistley, Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 21.02.14 Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 26.02.14 Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 2.03.14 Mistley, Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 3.03.14 Mistley, Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 5.03.14 Mistley, Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 6.03.14 Mistley, Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 11.03.14 Heybridge Basin, Maldon, Blackwater Estuary,Essex, E England
R8-LO 11.03.14 Mistley, Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 16.03.14 Mistley, Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 20.03.14 Mistley, Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 21.03.14 Mistley, Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 26.03.14 Mistley, Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 02.04.14 Stutton Mill, Stour Estuary, Suffolk, E England
R8-LO 04.04.14 Stutton Mill, Stour Estuary, Suffolk, E England
R8-LO 08.04.14 Stutton Mill, Stour Estuary, Suffolk, E England
R8-LO 09.04.14 Stutton Mill, Stour Estuary, Suffolk, E England
R8-LO 11.04.14 Stutton Mill, Stour Estuary, Suffolk, E England
R8-LO 13.04.14 Stutton Mill, Stour Estuary, Suffolk, E England
R8-LO 14.04.14 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, E England
R8-LO 16.07.14 Frampton Marsh, the Wash estuary, Lincolnshire, E England
R8-LO 21.07.14 Heybridge Basin, Maldon,Blackwater Estuary,Essex,E England
R8-LO 23.07.14 Heybridge Basin, Maldon,Blackwater Estuary,Essex,E England
R8-LO 29.07.14 Heybridge Basin, Maldon,Blackwater Estuary,Essex,E England
R8-LO 7.08.14 Heybridge Basin, Maldon,Blackwater Estuary,Essex,E England
R8-LO 13.08.14 Frampton Marsh, the Wash estuary, Lincolnshire, E England
R8-LO 22.08.14 Heybridge Basin, Maldon,Blackwater Estuary,Essex,E England
R8-LO 5.09.14 Heybridge Basin, Maldon,Blackwater Estuary,Essex,E England
R8-LO 20.12.14 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 20.12.14 Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 17.01.15 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, SE England
R8-LO 18.01.15 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, SE England
R8-LO 20.02.15 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, SE England
R8-LO 21.02.15 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, SE England
R8-LO 01.03.15 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, SE England
R8-LO 02.03.15 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, SE England
R8-LO 23.03.15 Stutton Mill, Stour Estuary, Suffolk, SE England
R8-LO 28.03.15 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, SE England
R8-LO 09.04.15 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, SE England
R8-LO 10.04.15 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, SE England
R8-LO 18.04.15 Arnarhóll, Flói, Árnessýsla, S Iceland
R8-LO 21.04.15 Arnarhóll, Flói, Árnessýsla, S Iceland
R8-LO 21.04.15 Vorsabær, Flói, Árnessýsla, S Iceland
R8-LO 29.08.15 Stutton Mill, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, SE England
R8-LO 1.09.15 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, SE England
R8-LO 2.09.15 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, SE England
R8-LO 11.09.15 Heybridge Basin, Maldon,Blackwater Estuary,Essex,E England
R8-LO 8.10.15 Heybridge Basin, Maldon,Blackwater Estuary,Essex,E England
R8-LO 14.10.15 Heybridge Basin, Maldon,Blackwater Estuary,Essex,E England
R8-LO 22.10.15 Heybridge Basin, Maldon,Blackwater Estuary,Essex,E England
R8-LO 22.11.15 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, E England
R8-LO 07.01.16 Heybridge Basin, Maldon,Blackwater Estuary,Essex,E England
R8-LO 09.01.16 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, E England
R8-LO 09.01.16 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, E England
R8-LO 10.01.16 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, E England
R8-LO 11.01.16 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, E England
R8-LO 13.01.16 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, E England
R8-LO 16.01.16 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, E England
R8-LO 27.01.16 Mistley, Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 29.01.16 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, E England
R8-LO 30.01.16 Mistley Quay, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, E England
R8-LO 7.02.16 Mistley, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, E England
R8-LO 07.02.16 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, E England
R8-LO 20.02.16 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, E England
R8-LO 1.03.16 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, E England
R8-LO 7.03.16 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, E England
R8-LO 23.03.16 Stutton Mill, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, E England
R8-LO 9.07.16 Heybridge Basin, Maldon, Blackwater Estuary,Essex, E England
R8-LO 12.07.16 Heybridge Basin, Maldon, Blackwater Estuary,Essex, E England
IMG_4914-Margaret-and-Anita-Northy-Island-web

Of course we spent most of our time with Anita and John and went on a nice bike ride to the island of Northey which sits in the Blackwater Estuary opposite Heybridge Basin.

We headed home on the afternoon of the 10th after a very pleasant 14 days away having visited various friends and families and explored several areas of the UK that were new for us and driven some 1600 miles.

During the preparation of the post I found I had used up all the allowed space on this blog. This is entirely my fault for uploading high-resolution photos. As a result the last few shots were uploaded at a very low resolution and hence are poor quality. I need to decide how to proceed from here as the upgrade WordPress want me to take is quite expensive.

 

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.

Christmas Eve 2014 to New Year’s Day 2015   Leave a comment

This post covers our time in Essex. Sussex and Derbyshire over the festive period plus the New Year boat trip in Poole Harbour.

IMG_4056 sunset

The famiy spent this Christmas in Maldon, Essex with John and Anita. We traveled up on Christmas Eve but Janis and Kara arrived the day before. In the late afternoon whilst the family watched TV, I drove down to the nearby Blackwater River for a bit of birding.

IMG_4049 Avocets R Blackwater

Good numbers of waders and ducks including this flock of Avocets was seen.

IMG_4052 Avocets Blackwater River

Avocets on the Blackwater River.

IMG_4075 unwrapping presents

Christmas Day Morning – the present opening ceremony. Clockwise John, Anita, Amber, Kara, Margaret and Janis.

IMG_4067 Amber & Kara Xmas 14

Sisters reunited. Amber has been living and working in Essex with her aunt and uncle since June, whilst of course Kara and Janis still live 100 yards up the road from us.

IMG_4081 family at Xmas

Merry Christmas from the Lewis/Dreosti family.

IMG_4084 Kara's prom dress

Kara shows off her new prom dress.

IMG_4092 Wallasea Island

On Boxing Day morning Margaret and I drove to the new RSPB reserve at Wallasea Island, about 45 minutes to the south from Maldon.

IMG_4107 Wallasea Brent's

It was a grey day on the saltmarshes with the temperature hovering around freezing. There were many birds on the reserve, large flocks of Brent Geese were to be expected but it was the large numbers of Corn Buntings and Stock Doves (both relatively scarce in Dorset) that impressed me. We also saw up to four Marsh Harriers, a Peregrine, Merlin, Sparrowhawk, Short-eared Owl, Common Buzzard and several Kestrels but not the hoped for Rough-legged Buzzard.

IMG_4105 conveyer belt Wallacea

The reserve is undergoing a major development. Using  spoil from the Crosslink rail project the land is being raised whilst basins are being created elsewhere. When completed the seawall will be breached in places allowing the basins to flood, so producing a mosaic of tidal lagoons, saltmarsh and rough grazing. The conveyor belt in the photo above is where the spoil extracted from beneath London is brought ashore from barges.

IMG_4108 Burnham on Crouch

Across the river from the reserve is the town of Burham-on-Crouch. Whenever I see that name I am reminded of the excellent, if saucy song ‘Billericay Dickie’ by Ian Dury ‘Oh golly, oh gosh come and lie on the couch with a nice bit of posh from Burnham-on-Crouch’

 

On the 27th we left Essex and headed north to my brother’s place in Duffield, near Derby.  On route we stopped at two sites in Suffolk, the RSPB reserve at Boyton and the famous archaeological site of Sutton Hoo. My reason for going to Boyton was to see the two Trumpeter Swans that have been present for the last couple of weeks, one of just five waterfowl species in the world that I have yet to see.

There has been some discussion at to whether these birds are wild or escapes from captivity. Arguments for them being wild are 1) they are unringed 2) the species is increasing rapidly in numbers in the USA due to re-introduction schemes 3) the species is partially migratory 4) there have been severe storms on the east coast of the States which may have induced dispersal out to sea 5) when they first arrived some staining, possibly iron oxide, was seen on the head, something that has been noted on Whooper Swans from Iceland and 6) another large bird from USA/Canada has occurred in the very same area – a Sandhill Crane in 2011. Arguments against are 1) they are adults, the vast majority of vagrants are first years 2) although the species is partially migratory, no really long distance movements have been noted and the swan is not found on the American east coast. The nearest population on the Great Lakes only makes short distance movements to ice free areas in winter and 3) they have arrived on the east coast when you would expect vagrants from America to arrive on the west coast or in Ireland, 4)the comparison with the Sandhill Crane is not really valid as that bird was a first year and had already made landfall in Scotland before moving south in stages, a pattern shared by the previous Sandhills in Britain.

There is almost always a case for and against a particular American vagrant being wild. If we were to give Chimney Swift, an undoubted vagrant, a score of 10 and Harris’s Hawk, a common falconer’s bird and a frequent escape, a score of 1, then I would allocate the Trumpeters a score of 4. Am I going to add them to my British list or my World list – no, am I glad I went to see them – yes, but only because I was in the area anyway.

 

TS LGRE

In spite of the wind and rain I had great views of the Trumpeter Swans but then realised I had left my cameras SD card back in my laptop. The following photo was taken earlier in the month by LGR Evans and is used with permission. See http://bbabirding.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/trumpeter-swans-in-suffolk-and-review.html

IMG_4119 burial mound

By the time we reached the nearby Sutton Hoo archaeological site of Sutton Hoo the weather had improved. In the late 30’s burial mounds on the site were excavated, many had already been plundered by grave robbers but one was intact and proved to be a ship burial of a Saxon noble, probably King Raedwald who died about 625 Ad..

IMG_4118 Sutton Hoo treasure

The grave was full of the most wonderful treasures, which are now in the British Museum, but replicas of some are on show at Sutton Hoo. Saxon’s are often thought to be uncivilised people from the ‘Dark Ages’ but these burial goods have shown they could produce the most wonderful artifacts like this gold and enamel purse ….

IMG_4117 Sutton Hoo treasure

…. the fabulous metalwork of this sword ….

IMG_4115 Sutton Hoo helmet

…. or this helmet.

IMG_4113 ship burial replica

The visitor centre had a recreation of the ship that the king was buried in. His body was laid out surrounded by the goods that he would want to use in the afterlife.

IMG_4120 Edwardian House

One floor of landowner’s Edwardian Manor House has been preserved as it was at the time of the excavations.

IMG_4277 Cromford

When we arrived in Derbyshire we found that the rain we experienced in East Anglia had fallen as snow further north. The following day we drove north into the Derbyshire Dales and found a picture postcard landscape.

IMG_4195 Carsington

Our destination was the scenic Carsington Reservoir where we saw some great birds, a pair of Bewick’s Swans and a flock of 300 Pink-footed Geese flying between their wintering grounds in Norfolk and Lancashire.

IMG_4186 Dunnock

With the cold conditions plenty of birds, such as this Dunnock, were coming to feeders.

IMG_4198 Willow Tit

I was particularly pleased to get views of Willow Tut, a species that has long been extirpated from Dorset.

IMG_4204 Willow Tit best

These two photos show several of the subtle features that separate Willow Tit from the similar Marsh Tit. Willow Tits have a duller crown, thicker neck, a pale wing panel, a more diffuse border to the bib, a subtle gradation from the cheeks to the side of the neck, lack of a pale patch at the base of the bill and a smaller difference between the length of the longest and outermost tail feathers. In spite of all these fine pointers the best ID features remain the vocalisations.

IMG_4230 Tree Sparrow best

Another bird that we seldom see in Dorset but which is delightfully common at Carsington, is Tree Sparrow.

IMG_4282 Cromford canal

Later we went to the nearby Cromford Mill, a site where Hawfinches are often reported but are never there when I visit. This actual mill is considered to be the birth place of the industrial revolution. The canal which once brought materials to and from the mill is now a pleasant place for a walk or a spot to feed to feed the ducks.

IMG_4295 Di, Steve, Nigel, Margaret

During our time in Duffield we spent some time with my brother and his family and also visited several of my old friends. We picked up my old school and Uni mate Nigel (sat next to Margaret) and visited friends from school and also Di who was at University with me and her husband Steve.

IMG_4305 fireworks on TV

We didn’t do anything to celebrate New Years Eve and just ended up seeing the New Year in by watching the Queen concert and the fireworks on the telly.

IMG_4321 bird boat

We are very thankful to Mark and Mo Constantine for putting on their annual bird boat around Poole harbour on New Year’s Day. About 65 birders took up their kind offer and we had a good social as well as some good birds. Only a few are in this shot as most are upstairs enjoying the birding upstairs.

IMG_4306 raft race

Poole Quay was busy and parking places hard to find due to the crowds watching the annual New Years Day raft race which seemed to involve all contestants getting thrown into the water.

IMG_4319 Spoonbill

It was a very low tide and the boat couldn’t get around all the islands as a result we didn’t visit the area to the west of Brownsea which often holds interesting ducks or Arne where most of the Spoonbill flock hangs out. However we did see this Spoonbill near the boat near Ower Quay. Not being able to complete the circuit was to our advantage as when we retraced our steps we came across a Black Guillemot near Brownsea Castle. This is the first time I’ve seen this species in Poole Harbour. I didn’t get any photos but some along with another account of the bird boat have been posted on Steve Smith’s excellent blog at http://BirdingPooleHarbourandBeyond.blogspot.co.uk

IMG_4325 Purps

After the boat docked Margaret and I drove round to North Haven and the mouth of Poole Harbour where in spite of the crowds going for a New Year’s Day walk these Purple Sandpipers were dodging the incoming waves.

IMG_4336 Purple Sand

An arctic breeder ‘purps’ winter on rocky shorelines, in Dorset this means they are seldom seen away from Mudeford Quay at Christchurch, the North Haven in Poole, Portland Bill and the Cobb at Lyme Regis.