Archive for the ‘Raven’ Tag

February 18th 2015 – The Tower of London   Leave a comment

Most countries allow you to enter without a visa, some make you pay for a visa on arrival (which isn’t really a visa but a type of arrival tax) and others charge you £50 or so for a proper visa, which means sending off your passport and documentation to the relevant embassy and waiting about a week until it is couriered back to you. I have been through this procedure many times, but never had so much hassle as I have experienced recently in obtaining a visa to visit Russia.

I have booked on a boat trip run by New Zealand based Heritage Expeditions to far eastern Siberia in May/June. It should be an excellent trip visiting Kamchatka, the Commander and Kurile Islands and Sakhalin but getting the visa has been far from easy. Once I had the necessary documentation from New Zealand I tried to download the application form from the relevant website, but however hard I tried I couldn’t access the site. Eventually I got a visa and travel company to obtain an application form for me. It took most of one day to gather all the information needed and then once I had all the documentation together I had to go to London to the Russian visa application centre to be fingerprinted. However once there the process was quite quick and (as I paid for the express service) I had my passport back with 48 hours. The whole thing cost about £200, an unexpected cost, but there again if the tour price had been £200 more I’d still have booked!

Margaret came with me and we caught (and almost missed) the 0530 bus to Victoria. We were finished with the visa business by 1000 and opted to spend the rest of the day sightseeing the Tower of London, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, something that Margaret hasn’t done before and that I haven’t done since 1972!



IMG_1501 the Tube

For 33 years of my working life I drove (and sometimes cycled) the three and a half hassle free miles to work. Every time I visit London I am shocked by mass of people crowded into the tube, rail and bus network, all rushing to get to work on time. Every time we go we say ‘what a great place to visit but what a dreadful place to live’. I’m sure there are many of you out there who would fundamentally disagree with that statement, but Dorset, at least away from peak holiday season, is a much more relaxed place to live.

IMG_1524 modern skyline

Sandwiched between the modern skyline of Tower Hill, ….

IMG_1502 the Shard

…. the Thames with the Shard rising in the background ….

IMG_1576 Tower Bridge

…. and the imposing Tower Bridge lies the ancient Tower of London.

IMG_1506 Traitor's Gate

Once inside the Tower of London, the first sight you come across is the so-called ‘Traitor’s Gate’, so named as it through here that prisoners were brought from a boat on the Thames for confinement in the Tower, although its official title is the Water Gate.

IMG_1521 Bloody Gate

From here, led by a Beefeater, we walked though the Bloody Gate ….

IMG_1522 TOL thru Bloody Gate

…. into the central courtyard.

IMG_1527 White Tower

…. dominated by the White Tower. The Tower of London was first built by William the Conqueror in 1066, the White Tower dates from 1078. The Tower was originally built for defense and to dominate the Saxon population following the Norman invasion. It has been fortified as recently as WW II.

IMG_1529 crowds at TOL

Being a nice and sunny, if cold day in the middle of the half term break, the place was packed with tourists.

IMG_1509 Beefeater

Tours given by the Yeoman Warders, known for unknown reasons a ‘Beefeaters’ can be highly entertaining. Of course he concentrated on the more grisly details such as the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower in 1483, supposedly murdered on the command of their uncle Richard III or the various executions that have occurred in or near the Tower.

IMG_1518 excecution site

On or near this spot, three Queens of England, Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey plus four others were beheaded. Only those close to the monarch were executed here, most ended their days at nearby Tower Hill where 112 people were executed prior to the 20th century. During both World Wars a number of spies faced a firing squad in the Tower.

IMG_1544 White Tower

To the right the White Tower, at the back the HQ of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers and to the left the Waterloo Barracks, now the home of the Crown Jewels.

IMG_1515 sentry duty

Sentries on guard outside the Waterloo Barracks.

Photography is not allowed inside the so the next two photos are taken from the internet. We joined a very long line to see the jewels, such is the press of tourists that to see the Crown Jewels you have to stand on a conveyor that takes you slowly past the display cabinets. The quantity of precious stones and gold items is just staggering. The Crown Jewels have resided in the Tower since the time of Henry III (1216 – 1272) however the original Crown Jewels were melted down in 1649 during the English Civil War and were recreated in 1660 when the monarchy was restored.


The Imperial State Crown as worn by Queen Elizabeth on her coronation


Crown Jewels in their display cabinet.

IMG_1564 wire polar bear

The Tower of London was once a royal menagerie. Henry VIII was given a Polar Bear by the King of Norway, this is now represented by a Polar Bear model made of wire.

IMG_1563 Raven TOL

Of course there is the story that is the Ravens ever desert the Tower of London then the monarchy will fall. Just in case the birds are all pinioned!

IMG_1546 John Dudley graffittii

Perhaps the most famous use of the Tower of London was that of a prison. Many captives were held in Beauchamp Tower and many of the prisoners carved inscriptions on the walls. Some of the graffiti consists of just the prisoner’s names but others are extremely elaborate, for example that of John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland, executed in 1553 for his part in the attempt to place Lady Jane Grey on the throne following the death of Edward III. The Tower has been used as a prison as recently as WWII when Nazi Rudolph Hess was confined here.

IMG_1543 Royal mint

The Tower was also the Royal Mint from 1279 to 1809 when the Mint was moved to an adjacent site in East Smithfield. Ahead of planned decimalisation, it was moved to larger premises in Llantrisant in South Wales in 1968.

IMG_1531 horse with armour

As well as being a prison, a mint, a royal residence, barracks and a menagerie, the Tower has also been the home of the Office of Ordnance and Armoury. Within the White Tower is a collection of armour and weaponry some of which has been on display for centuries, making it the Britain’s oldest tourist attraction ….

IMG_1535 Henry VIII suit of armour

…. many of the suits of armour were worn by royalty. This suit was made for Henry VIII, but some are clearly fanciful, one suit said for centuries to belong to William the Conqueror has now been identified to be of a style that wasn’t introduced until hundreds of years later.

IMG_1571 TOL

The Medieval Tower adjacent to the Thames are one of the oldest parts of the Tower and have been recently restored.

IMG_1572 medaeval throne

Many of the artifacts date back to the time of the Plantagenets.

IMG_1570 bishop re-enactment

Re-enacting history for the kids.

IMG_1523 TOL

After a final look round the World Heritage site we had to leave ….

IMG_1579 The Shard

….and as the sun set behind the Shard, catch the Tube to Victoria and get the bus back to Dorset. What I expected to be a day spent hanging around getting the Russian visa sorted, turned out to be a great day out with a fantastic insight into England’s complex history.


Birding/Ringing in the last week – 16th – 22nd February 2015   Leave a comment



During the last week I have rather busy with paperwork and all of Wednesday was taken up with a trip to London (see next post) but we have got out a few times for birding or ringing.


IMG_2583 New Forest

On the 16th we went to Blashford Lakes near Ringwood but saw little of note. It appears that many waterfowl are already leaving for their breeding grounds. Winter seems to be getting shorter every year, which might sound like a good thing, but isn’t from a birding perspective. Later we continued to an area of the New Forest where Hen Harriers are known to roost.

IMG_2589 Fallow Deer New Forest

Surprisingly, in spite of staying until dark we didn’t see any harriers but a Merlin put on a good show as did this herd of Fallow Deer.


This is a bachelor herd of about 25 males. Unlike Red Deer which shed their antlers after the rut in November, Fallow Deer (a species introduced to England by the Romans) shed their antlers in April/May.

IMG_2596 Great Bustards

We had heard that three Great Bustards were spending the winter along the Purbeck coast. These birds are from the re-introduction program on Salisbury Plain, an ambitious and worthwhile project which is returning this magnificent bird to its former home. On arrival on the morning of the 22nd we saw the birds in the distance but after a while they took off and flew towards us…..

IMG_2602 Great Bustards

…. giving good flight views before settling in an other field. An adult male Great Bustard is one of the heaviest flying birds in the world. As far as I am aware this group consist of an immature male and two females. I really hope that this enormous, stately bird becomes re-established (the native population was shot out in 1832) and that winter occurences in Dorset become the norm.

A distant Great Grey Shrike

We continued on to Mordon Bog/Sherford Bridge area where we met a couple who had just relocated the highly elusive wintering Great Grey Shrike. Two or three Great Grey Shrikes have been found this winter in Dorset with the same or slightly more in the New Forest, however they are often elusive and highly mobile, often flying for half a mile or so before perching. Our views were distant and brief so I have included a photo of another distant, but more co-operative individual, that I photographed in the New Forest in 2012.

IMG_2574 Bufffinch 5f

I spent a morning ringing at Holton Lee on 17th and Feet’s Lane on 21st. The former was predictably busy with common species like tits, Nuthatch etc trapped. After four winters of ringing there we are building up an interesting picture of the site fidelity and longevity of the birds, with retraps of several individuals that were hatched in 2011 or earlier. This female Bullfinch was ringed at Fleet’s Lane. The grey, brown edged alula and primary coverts indicate it is a first year bird, however the best ageing characteristic is brown edging to the carpal covert, a small feather that can only be seen on the closed wing.


We also retrapped a Firecrest that had been ringed earlier in the winter at Fleet’s Lane showing that it is remaining site faithful throughout the winter.

IMG_2568 Chiffchaff

Our main reason to ring at the Fleet’s Lane site is to study wintering Chiffchaffs. Chiffs, normally a summer visitor arriving from late March onwards and departing from September to October, have become an increasingly common bird in winter. Nobody knows if the wintering birds are British breeders that have opted to stay for the winter or migrants from elsewhere. We have retrapped three or more birds over a number of winters, showing winter site fidelity and have failed to retrap wintering birds after March indicating that they depart to breeding grounds in spring. This individual is typical of the nominate western European race colybita.

IMG_2569 Chiffchaff best

This individual is slightly duller but is still typical of colybita …..


…. but this bird, photographed by Ian Ballam and used here with permission, is more typical of the Siberian race tristis. I presume that this bird, which is still showing well, is the individual ringed by others in our group on 27th January. The grey tones to the upperparts, pure white belly, very fine wing bar and green edging to the primaries all indicate tristis. If it is the same individual then it was sound recorded on the date of ringing and shown to give the characteristic lost chick call of tristis. So we know that at least some of the Chiffchaffs that winter in the UK come from the eastern side of the Ural mountains, the cloest breeding grounds of tristis. Some consider tristis to be sufficiently differentiated to be considered a separate species.

IMG_1582 Woodcock

The only other ringing I have done this week is joining one of other group members near Corfe Castle  catching Woodcock at night . This is a very interesting species to ring, as the breeding grounds can be far to the east in Siberia, even on the same longitude as Burma (but of course much further north). As Woodcock are regularly shot for food, both when wintering in the UK and on migration , then the ringing return rate is high.

IMG_1583 Woodcock

Sometimes after processing the birds can be placed on the ground and remain still for long enough for photos to be taken.

IMG_1585 Woodcock

We ringed two individuals and saw at least 15, however most flew long before we could get near them. We also saw a Jack Snipe which stayed hidden until the last-minute before erupting at our feet.

IMG_1563 Raven TOL

As I mentioned above, Wednesday was spent in London, after the necessary tasks were performed, Margaret and I spent the day in the Tower of London where the pinioned Ravens performed for the crowds. More of our visit to the Tower in the next post.


19th – 26th April 2014: recent birding and ringing.   Leave a comment

Over the last week I have made several attempts at ringing at both Durlston and Fleets Lane but none have been overly successful, culminating with an attempt at Durlston on the 25th which resulted in the capture of just two retrap Wrens. We did ring our first Common Whitethroat early in the week at Durlston and Mick caught a couple of retrap Whitethraots that we ringed as first years last autumn



Common Whitethroat at Durlston.



Firecrests are usually a bird of late autumn, with very few occurring in spring, so it was pleasing to trap this female on 21st April, especially was in breeding condition, so confirming local breeding.



As I was leaving for Durlston early one morning I saw this Hedgehog on the front lawn. It had rolled into a ball, but I supposed this was in reaction to my presence. Later Margaret called me to say it was obviously sick and she had put it in a box in the conservatory. With no improvement by mid-afternoon I contacted a local animal hospital, who later took it into care.



I had a number of immovable appointments on the 24th, which was a bit frustrating as both a Richard’s Pipit and  a Hoopoe where found near Studland. In the end Margaret and I did get out but not until late evening when we went to a spot near Corfe Castle hoping to hear a Nightingale sing.



Nightingale numbers have declined markedly in recent years with them now absent from several previously reliable locations. However I usually get to hear one or two singing birds each year, either on migration or at a known breeding site, but I seldom see anything more than a brief glimpse. I was very surprised when we arrived at the site on the south slope of the Corfe to Ulwell ridge to find this Nightingale was singing out in the open.


It was well past 8pm and the light was fading so the image quality isn’t the best, but I think this is the first Nightingale I have ever photographed in the UK, apart that is from the odd bird that we have ringed.


Sunset over the Corfe ridge.


On the 25th I spent the morning at Portland Bill. Once again I failed to connect with a large arrival of migrants but with a strong southerly wind the conditions were ideal for seawatching, something that clearly occurred to every other birder in the area.


Most birders scan the area just to the right of the Pulpit Rock, hoping to get onto east-bound seabirds at the earliest opportunity, they can be tracked until they pass behind the Obelisk. Views to the east of the Obelisk are into the sun and involve birds rapidly disappearing. I stuck it out from 0645 – 1015 but still there were a few good birds that passed soon after I departed.


A couple of Ravens were in the Bill area.


Raven numbers have increased considerably in recent years. This may be due to a cessation of direct persecution or finding  alternative sources of food.


Powerful birds, Ravens will feed on the eggs and young of many birds but the abundance of road killed mammals may form a large part of their diet.


During the seawatch I saw four Great Skuas but they were always at a fair distance. This dark phase Arctic Skua flew directly overhead but was into the sun before I got my camera on it.


Manx Shearwaters were moving past the Bill in small numbers.


It’s not just shearwaters, skuas and terns that can be seen on a spring seawatch. A pair of Gadwall flying by out to sea was an unusual sight. More expected was this flock of twelve Whimbrel moving between their African wintering and Scandinavian/Siberian breeding grounds.


I had to call into Radipole RSPB reserve on the way back to  look at this bit of ‘modern art ‘that has caused so much controversy. Erected as part of a local art exhibition, it has caused outrage among some local birders, whilst others have suggested that such ‘works of art’ will encourage those who are not committed to conservation to enjoy the beauty of the local wildlife reserves. For an extreme view see Brett Spence’s blog but don’t click if you are offended by strong language!