Bleak Mid-winter

Awoke yesterday to a sharp frost, everything was white and a thin layer of ice covered the pond.  As a lover of butterflies, dragonflies and warm sunny days the winter months can be a depressing time.  What for me is cold (around 0c) is to others in chillier climes almost tropical!  It’s all subjective.  Stuck out in the North Sea on the east coast of the UK we don’t get the hard winters others experience.  On occasion we get a blast all the way from Siberia but mostly it’s dull, gloomy, leaden skies with various amounts of mist, drizzle or proper rain.  So if the sun threatens to put in an appearance grab the camera and make the most of it.

That is what happened yesterday.  Mrs H suggested a trip out looking for birds and trying out the new lens.  Did I really hear that?  Needing no further persuasion it was hat, coat, gloves, camera gear let’s go!  We went 20 miles west around the coast to the shingle ridge at Salthouse.  From the beach road two vegetated areas are worth a look.  To the west the ‘Little Eye’ and east the much larger ‘Gramborough Hill’ and that is where we went.

The shore pool by Gramborough Hill had only one bird on it, a Redshank (Tringa totanus). These waders can be quite nervous and flighty but this one allowed a nice set of shots in the soft light

I was hoping that there may be Snow Buntings near the hill, this is an area they have visited for many years.  It was not to be but a small ‘charm’ of Goldfinches flitted through and frustrated my attempts to get a decent shot in the failing light by keeping low and not hanging around.  Two other birds were noted and by their behaviour I could tell they were a pair of Stonechats (Saxicola torquata).

The male Stonechat. A species I have photographed several times but never get tired of them. They like to sit up on a vantage point to survey the ground for a tasty morsel but rarely return to the same perch
‘Wonder what’s up there’ The female Stonechat
‘Wonder what’s down there’ At times the Stonechats came really close
A Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) briefly hovered over the hill but any brightness had gone and it was difficult to get much detail
Me and my shadow. a Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) appears to have a Redshank mimicking it

Today we should be on a plane jetting off to Berlin to spend the week with our daughter.  Sadly it’s not to be as the German government banned entry to us Brits four days ago in a bid to control this new covid variant, well good luck with that.   Wherever you are around the world and whatever your beliefs (or not) take care, be safe and if you are with your families, cherish the moment.  Have a good one.  B

Worth the Wait?

It’s been a while.  Rubbish weather and more house renovations have kept me indoors in a gloomy mood.  Those of you who can remember when I retired last year may recall I was contemplating purchasing a new super-zoom lens.  Due to various factors it never came to be until……  A couple of weeks back I noticed the camera centre had lowered the price of my weapon of choice (always kept a regular eye on their site) by £50.  The time was right and my new baby was brought home, a Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary.  All that was now needed was a decent break in the weather so I could go and play, er, I mean test the lens.

Today, wall to wall sunshine, light breeze and temperatures touching 12c, that will do nicely!  One hour later and I was at Titchwell RSPB on the Nth Norfolk coast.  Here is a small gallery of my favourite shots, a veritable wader fest!

My favourite winter wader, the diminutive Sanderling (Calidris alba). I love the way they chase the waves on the beach, like a clockwork toy!
Coming at you! From the smallest to the biggest. Curlew (Newmenius arquata)
Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)
Reflection. A tiny Dunlin (Calidris alpina)
Redshank (Tringa totanus)
Finally (for now) the beautiful Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) takes cover from a bathing companion

So was the lens worth waiting for?  For my first efforts I am delighted.  This may be the smallest and lightest of the ‘super-zooms’ but it still weighs in at over 4lbs (2 kilo) so I used a monopod for support.  The 600mm reach added to my crop sensor Nikon gives a length of 900mm (compered to full frame or old slr equivalents) so any slight movement will really ruin a shot.  With this in mind the optical stabilizer is not as good as my other lenses, not bad just not great, so fast shutter speeds are a must.  Focus was quick and spot on, I varied the f.stops to try and find a ‘sweet spot’ f11 was, to my eyes, the better.  I hope these shots show as good when uploaded here as they do on my pc, and yes they have been cropped, the lens might be a big boy but wild birds don’t like you getting too close!

National Finals ’21

Sept 26th.

Been a bit lazy posting anything on my blog this past month.  Truth is, this, the last drag race of the season, was the last time I have gotten my camera out!  Yep, it’s sitting there in it’s bag besides my armchair crying out to see the light of day.  It’s all down to motivation and inspiration, at the moment something I am completely lacking.

The National Finals, after a misty start, was held in lovely warm, sunny weather.  With several titles still up for grabs action was going to be intense.  The other competitors were not coming along just to make up numbers, no they wanted to win the races and maybe cause an upset and in a few classes that’s what happened.  With these shots I wanted to get something a little bit different, maybe the angle, maybe the light.

Not an ‘arty’ mono shot. This is the ‘Pro Dutch’ Pro Mod in the pits
Comp Eliminator champ Nic Williams goes skyward in the COPO Camaro
The PBR Rocket 3 Top Fuel Bike ridden by Al Smith almost made it into the 5’s. The distortion above the rear of the bike is the nitro flames from the exhaust
Jon Giles competing in Pro ET with the Blitzkrieg Racing Roadster
Guy King starts his burnout in his SS Chevelle. Lucky to get this shot. It’s taken through the fence behind the pairing lanes, usually there are a lot of cars or people blocking the view
Super Street Bike winner and champ Steve Venables hurtles into the afternoon sun on another 6 second 200 mph run

And here endeth a very short, pandemic wrecked, season.  As I made my way home on the two hour drive I couldn’t but help feeling slightly sad and empty.  Summer’s over, just the cold and wet to look forward to.

33rd Hot Rod Drags

The drag racing season is rapidly drawing to a close.  For the second year running everything was so badly affected by the pandemic it’s a miracle that Santa Pod Raceway has managed to survive.  This year everything up to June was cancelled, then meetings were held with strict controls in place limiting numbers attending.  Most events that have taken place have suffered with bad weather at some point, it’s enough to make you weep!

Saturday the 18th promised to be warm, sunny and windless so I booked a last minute ticket on-line and headed out west to watch qualifying for the 33rd annual Hot Rod Drags.  Four race classes were in action, the Outlaw Anglias, Wild Bunch, Gasser Circus and Supercharged Outlaws all with a high number of entrants.  In between qualifying rounds there was a ‘run what you brung’ a mix of race cars and road cars, old school hot rods and customs, the only stipulation being they had to be pre-1973.

Getting into the spirit of the NSRA Hot Rod Drags
Keith Bartlett is the owner of Santa Pod, here he is bringing his Gasser ‘Roarin’ Rat’ through the pits
Seeing double! Norm Wheeldon and his twin engined slingshot dragster ‘Too Much’
Steve Clarke and the ‘Good Guys’ Supercharged Outlaw altered
‘American Pie’ Wild Bunch slingshot warming up in the pits
Paul Hensher’s Outlaw Anglia ‘Gas Attack’ leaves the line with the front wheels up
Plymouth Road Runner driven by John Davison in ‘run what ya brung’

Had a great day out including witnessing Europe’s first 6 second run by an Outlaw Anglia as Jedd Guy finally broke the record in the ‘Shorty’s Fabrication Shop’ car with a 6.97sec @193mph, at the other end of the scale Chris Simcock in his original 1950’s Ford Pop managed a 28.01sec @45mph!  It was that kind of day.

Postcard from Berlin

After nearly two years we have finally made a return to the German capital Berlin to see our daughter the ‘Lemming’ along with partner Rob and their beautiful little rescue dog ‘Chilli’.  The pandemic and ‘Brexit’ has made travelling difficult.  No longer can you just buy a ticket and jump on a plane, so many forms to fill out and tests to take.  Never mind, we made it.

Here are a few shots from the same area, the Oberbaumbrucke.  Built in 1896 to replace the wooden original. The bridge spans the River Spree linking the once separate districts of Friedrichshain, which was in the post-war East Berlin, and Kreuzberg in the west.  It was reconstructed in 1994 after suffering a lot of demolition in the ‘iron curtain’ days.  The top deck carries the U-Bahn (subway).

Entering Friedrichshain under the U-Bahn. Nikon D5300, Nikkor vr 18-140mm @45mm, iso250, f11, 1/60s
Cityscape. The white wall in the centre is the largest surviving section of the the infamous Berlin Wall, now the East Side Gallery. Nikkor 18-140mm @52mm, iso400, f14, 1/400s
Blue Hour. Nikkor 18-140mm @42mm, iso800, f10, 1/2.5s
Sunset. The Fernsehturm (old DDR tv tower) is a prominent feature of the Berlin skyline. Nikkor 18-140mm @35mm, iso200, f8, 1/10
Victory Column, Berlin

Lost Dragonflies

It’s been a few weeks since I have subjected you, my dear readers, to a dragonfly post.  It’s not that I have been ignoring these gorgeous aerial assassins, oh no far from it.  I have been clicking away and recording my sightings so that on a wet, windy, Friday I can overload your senses with their varied beauty.  Today is that wet, windy, Friday.

And to hold your attention and stop you dozing off, at the end of the post is something a little bit special.  No cheating and skipping through the images so you can get on and do your daily chores, I may be asking questions so pay attention at the back!

At the start of July we visited the Pingo trail at Thompson Common in sth Norfolk to see these Scarce Emerald Damselflies (Lestes dryas). Now hands up those who can remember from last year what a pingo is?
A female ‘common’ Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) at Winterton Dunes. Almost impossible to tell apart from Scarce Emerald by eyesight in the field. The females of both species lack the blue powdery colouring known as pruinescence
Anax imperator, even the Latin name sounds formidable. This is the Emperor dragonfly, our largest odonata, patrolling a pool at Winterton
One of the latest species to appear is the Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta). Usually constantly on the move, nice to capture one hanging around
Even in the garden it’s hard to avoid the attention of dragons. Mrs H trying to swat up on her German language had a Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) desperately trying to get in on the act!

Right we are nearly at the end so here is the first surprise.  Yesterday (5th) I was pond watching when a damselfly landed on a lily pad.  First glance and I thought it was a Blue-tailed.  Second glance and it was not right as the blue was at the very tip of the abdomen and the eyes seemed reddish in colour.  Quickly grabbed the camera and confirmation, a Small Red-eyed Damselfly (Erythromma viridulum).  This damsel first colonised the UK in 1999 and have spread to many areas.  I remember seeing some of the first and it was quite exciting for dragonfly watchers.  They are not that common and I would never have expected one in the garden.  This is the 13th species I have recorded at our pond in the year we have lived here.

Star of the pond, Small Red-eyed Damselfly

So we come to the end of the post and the BIG surprise.  I know, the photo isn’t great lots of vegetation in the way but this is a bit special.  A couple of days ago I was wandering around Winterton Dunes watching the dragonflies in a feeding frenzy and one caught my eye.  I couldn’t place it but as it sped around I kept seeing a bright blue band and my mind went into overdrive.  It had to be one of two species, both rare vagrants from Southern Europe.  Then, by sheer luck, it settled for just a few seconds right close by just enough time for two shots.  There we have it a Lesser Emperor (Anax parthenope).  Only first recorded in the UK in 1996, it has bred but is still a very rare beast.  Even better.  I returned the next morning and it was still there in the same area only now there was two!  This time there was no photo opportunities but you should have seen the size of my smile!

Lesser Emperor Winterton, Norfolk

So that’s it class you can all run along now and play nicely.  If you wish to see more of these beautiful creatures check out  https://blhphotoblog.wordpress.com/british-damsel-dragonflies/

Unto the Realm of the Purple Emperor

It’s that time of the year when the UK’s most sought after butterfly is out and about.  The Purple Emperor (Apatura iris) is not that rare but due to its habits and habitat not that easy see.  The Emperor otherwise known as HIM (His Imperial Majesty) or Iris dwells in woodland.  Not that unusual for a butterfly, however they spend most of their lives in the canopy.  Unlike other species Iris does not nectar on flowers, no it prefers delicacies such as dead animals or poo!  This is the second largest of our butterflies and the beautiful colour of the male is only seen when the light catches it just right, it’s called refraction.

Finger licking good!  An Emperor with the taste for human flesh, mine!

On the 17th I headed out on a six hour round trip to their stronghold the legendary Fermyn Woods part of the ancient Rockingham Forest in Northamptonshire.  It was hot, very hot, high 20’s C.  Arrived early at 8am and spent the next four hours wandering the rides.  I had ten sightings but few came to ground and if they did it was only for seconds.  I found one feeding on moss and eased it onto my finger where it licked the sweat for several minutes.

Sadly I got no images of the open wings though to be fair I have had many in past years.  One species that was quite noticeable was the tiny Purple Hairstreak (Favonius quercus).  This butterfly lives almost it’s entire life in the tops of Oak trees and feeds on the honeydew produced by aphids.  On Saturday many were at low level and some came and searched for minerals on the paths.

Not one I’ve featured before, Purple Hairstreak the purple prince

Today (19th) I again went in search of Emperors.  This time it was local just 20 miles to Foxley Wood.  For the past two years Iris has been reported, would I be lucky?  You bet!  Just a few yards along the main ride and I had my first sighting as one cruised around a big Oak.  Further on and two more were searching Sallows for newly emerged females (the caterpillars eat Sallow leaves and pupates on the tree).  As the temperatures rose to mid 20’s I saw a few more and then bingo!  One came down on the ground to gather minerals.  For several minutes it paraded around flashing off it’s regal sheen.  This butterfly was last recorded in Norfolk in 1961.  Then around five years ago a few sightings were reported a few miles away from Foxley.  Now they are back and breeding and I no longer need to travel half way across the Country!

His Imperial Majesty alights at Foxley
And flashes it’s royal colours

Dragstalgia 10. The way it was (ish)

At last a chance to get over to Santa Pod Raceway the home of European drag racing since 1966.  Built on what was the former USAAF base, home of the 92nd bomb group, the track has improved immensely but still retains the charm.  To re-live the ‘old days’ for the last ten years the Pod has held a meeting called ‘Dragstalgia’ where the vehicles racing are either originals from the time or modern reproductions.

Why ‘ish’?  Well due to this pandemic things are not yet back to normal.  The tickets had to be booked in advance as the crowd capacity is very restricted.  Sadly as things stand we can no longer be treated to seeing competitors from across Europe who would have made the event even more memorable.  Enough waffle, let me show you a variety of the classic machines that gave us a great day out.  I guess this post will not be eveybody’s thing but hey I have been spoiling you with the wildlife and there is a clue in the blogs name!

Cannonball.  The fastest cars on show.  Nitromethane or methanol, three rounds of racing over two days the two cars with the lowest combined times contest the final.

Chris Manning’s ‘The Villain’. a short wheel base slingshot dragster which ran to just over 200mph  A sad postscript I learned after I left the meeting that this car was badly damaged in a demo run.  The driver is ok but the dragster is un-repairable   c
‘Venom’ The beautiful Camaro bodied nitro Funny Car driven by Tony Betts  c

Supercharged Outlaws  A real mixture of dragsters, altereds even street legal cars.  They must run quicker than 9.90 seconds over the quarter mile.

Roy Wilding with ‘Chariots of Fire’  sco

The Wild Bunch  Again dragsters, altereds and funny cars.  These are a real taste of the early days.  They race on a handicap basis so the slower vehicle has a head start.

‘Rough Diamond’ is one of the original race cars from the period, driven by Dave Gibbons  wb

Outlaw Anglia  Ford Pop, Anglia, Prefect or Fordson vans fitted with big v8 powerplants.

Jedd Guy ran a new record for the class of 7.01 secs. Underneath that body is a motor of 12,044cc injected with nitrous oxide  oa

Nostalgia Super Stock  Pre 1980 American v8s raced on a handicap (what we call dial in).  There were 45 entries!

Guy King’s SS Chevelle  nss

Willys Wars  1933 to 42 Willys coupes, sedans or pickups  race for fun and ‘bragging rights’.

‘Redneck Gasser’ of Dave Hinson  ww

Gasser Circus  Nose high throwbacks to a popular class in ’60s America.  They run on ordinary pump fuel.

‘Guzzler’ burns out across the start line. A ’56 Chevy driven by Tony Pearson  gc

Old School Stockers  Classic Pro Stock bikes of the ’70’s based on wickedly fast Japanese machines of the time.

A Kawasaki H2 750cc two stroke triple ridden by Rod Spry  oss

NSA Bike Shootout  Famous bikes brought out to play!  Not quite as quick as they once were but a joy to see.

Gary Norman on his fathers bike ‘Conquest 2’ two 750cc Norton engines  nsa

Simply Red

red-letter day
/ˌredˈlet.ə ˌdeɪ/US
a specialhappy, and important day that you will always remember:
Well I have certainly had a few of these in June.  Having managed to photograph three new species of dragon/damselflies so far I was greedy for more.  For my next target I had to visit a site forty miles away.  I’d had one trip with no luck but was only wearing my hiking boots.  This fen was very wet so I returned with my wellies (rubber boots), now I could really get amongst it!
Small Red Damselfly (Ceriagrion tenellum) male.  Scarning Fen, Norfolk

And there we have it, the Small Red Damselfly, I hope you are impressed.  Put into context this is probably East Anglia’s rarest odonata.  It only occurs at the one site, the nearest colonies are in the most south, south/west counties or west Wales!  In these areas it is at it’s most northern range in Europe.  The Small Red is typically found in acidic pools on heath and bog, hence the need for the rubber boots!

The lady of the species comes in three colour forms, this is intermedia with a red and black abdomen

I carefully and slowly squelched my way through the bog keeping my eyes peeled for any movement, the smell not the most pleasant.  In recent years these damselflies have been in very low numbers and fears are that the colony may die out.  Suddenly a weak fluttering ahead, careful approach, not this time, it was a Large Red one of our commonest damsels.  Then another, a quick record shot, zoom in on the back of camera and YES!  Red legs, all red body this was my target.  It moved around low in the luxuriant plant growth, teasing me, and then it alighted on a lone reed stem as if to say “I give up, go on take your photos and leave me alone”.  And that’s what I did and I couldn’t ask for a nicer set of shots.  In all I found at least four Small Reds including a female.  Another red-letter day.

Large Red Damselflies (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) gave several false alarms. They are not that much bigger than the Small Red but have all black legs and the males have black on the abdomen. When dealing with creatures only just over an inch (30mm) long not easy to see with my dodgy eyesight!  This is a mating pair (the male above) forming a wheel, or heart for the romantics

Keeping to the red theme.  Butterflies have been very thin on the ground recently. The changeable weather has not helped but when the sun has shone good numbers of Red Admirals (Vanessa atalanta) have been in the garden and their flower of choice?  Red Valerian (Centranthus ruber).

Before the Rains Came

The start of June was glorious, now? not so much.  I mentioned in my last posting that we had been out and about making the most of the summer sun so today I thought I’d share a few images (not a dragonfly in sight, I promise 😥, but maybe a butterfly 🙂)

Monet would be pleased! The first Lily flower to open in my pond the variety is ‘Xiafei’

Speaking of great artists I mentioned last time visiting ‘Constable Country’.  The Constable being John (1776-1837) and the Country is the River Stour on the Suffolk/Essex border.  It was here that JC painted his greatest landscapes such as ‘The Hay wain’.  It was our first visit to the area and, well it’s ok but the paintings are better.  Times change and I prefer the more romanticised view of the past to the reality of the modern scene, cafe/visitor centre/activity centre/paddle boarders/etc.

Willy Lott’s (house) Cottage. A feature in some of Constable’s works. Mr Lott was the tenant farmer at the time and apparently only spent four nights away from the property in his whole life! (oh, and you can’t go inside)
The famous Flatford Mill. This is the best view I could find, there were a lot less trees about in Mr C’s day
The Stour at Flatford. Looking through the lock gates toward the bridge. The length of time I waited ’till the bridge was clear of folk and no day-glo paddle boarders were in view!

I have spent a few mornings visiting Hickling Broad.  As well as the usual suspects I have been keeping my eyes open for a very special wasp.  Regarded as extinct in Britain the Fen Mason Wasp (Odynerus Simillimus) was re-discovered here in 1986.  These very small wasps nest by burrowing in the ground and forming a ‘chimney’ style entrance.  I was delighted to find some on my last visit.

Fen Mason Wasp, Hickling Broad, Norfolk, June’21

Of course no visit to Hickling would be complete without a shot or two of our Broadland beauty the Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio machaon ssp britannicus).  Thing is they have been few and far between due to the cold spring.  However the day I saw the wasp six were on the wing.

June 2021. A very late start due to a prolonged cold spring. this one favoured the Ragged Robin