I See Sawbills

Ducks with teeth?  Well not quite.  There is however a group of quackers that collectively go by the name Sawbills.  This is due to the edges of the beak being serrated which comes in handy when your diet consists mostly of slippery fish and you have no hands to hold them!  There are six species worldwide.  Of these four are seen in the UK.  The Hooded Merganser is a very rare vagrant from North America, the gorgeous Smew a winter visitor in small numbers from Scandinavia, the Red-breasted Merganser and the Goosander both breeders in the north and west.

Two drake and a duck Goosander on Llandrindod Wells Lake

On new years day, after a bit of a late night, we went for a walk to get some fresh air.  Not too far from our hotel in the Welsh town of Llandrindod Wells was a park with a beautiful man-made lake.  Apart from the usual Mallards, Canada Geese and Mute Swans all trying to scrounge a crust or three I noticed a small group of four ducks out in the middle that were not familiar.

Waiting for the lady to get herself ready

They turned out to be Goosanders (Mergus merganser).  In my part of the country they are a scarce winter visitor, I am more used to seeing the Red-breasted Merganser.  Here in Wales they breed in holes in trees next to fast flowing rivers but in winter will visit still waters where the feeding is a touch easier.  The drakes are very dapper with their mostly white plumage and dark heads with a deep green sheen.  The ducks are grey with a ginger hair-do.  They were quite nervous.  Although attracted to the commotion when children fed bread to the usual suspects when I pointed a lens in their direction they sidled back out to the centre.  In all there were about eight.

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions to this shot!

This area of Mid-Wales is very well known to bird watchers.  It was in the remote valleys of Powys and Ceredigion like the Elan where, in the 50’s, the last handful of Red Kites survived in the UK.  In Medieval times Kites were common across the land and protected by law as their scavenging helped clear up man’s waste.  This changed in the 16th century when they were declared vermin and hunted to near extinction.  Now thanks to a re-introduction scheme they are once again flourishing and can be seen almost anywhere.  I saw many on my break but the light was poor and photography difficult.  So here’s a shot from Norfolk in 2017 when I had a close encounter!

Red kite over Foulden Common

Down in the Valley

The workload leading up to the holiday period and a couple of disappointments left us physically and mentally drained.  Time for some rest and relaxation.  We booked ourselves a new year break on the other side of the country in Mid Wales, a place we have never visited before.  Travelled over on an organised coach trip and stayed in a lovely Victorian hotel where we were wined and dined for three nights.

The impressive Caban Coch Dam

On day two we were taken on a trip through the spectacular Elan Valley.  I was amazed at the ability of the driver to negotiate the 20+ miles of narrow, twisting road through the Cambrian Mountains.  That’s the advantage of doing this, being able to sit back and admire the scenery.  The disadvantage is not being able to stop when a stunning view comes into sight!  The Valley Is dominated by six dams and reservoirs which supply drinking water to the city of Birmingham and the West Midlands and also produce some hydro-electric power.  Building started in 1893 and finished in 1952.

The Cambrian Mountains

The Cambrian Mountains do not have many rocky outcrops but are more rounded and grassy.  The area has very little population and is known as the ‘Desert of Wales’.  The highest point is 2467ft (752m).

Devil’s Bridge

A stop for lunch in the village of Devil’s Bridge gave me a chance to see the structure from which the name derives.  For the princely sum of £1 you can descend into a gorge to view the three bridges built on each other.  The earliest being Medieval (c 1075-1200).  The second built in 1753 and finally an iron bridge erected in 1901.  Light down here was pretty much non-existant and I had to push the iso to a thousand.

A pretty waterfall in the town Llandrindod Wells where we were based

Makes you Think

Had a message request on facebook (only use it as a platform to post images) from a fellow wordpress blogger.  Mudar Salimeh lives in Syria and we all know what’s been happening there!  He is an artist and butterfly fanatic his blog  .  Mudar tells me he knows I follow his blog but cannot see mine or any wordpress blogs he cannot reply to my comments.  That is a sad situation.  So I’m thinking, wouldn’t it be a nice gesture if some of you who read my posts pay him a visit, leave a like or comment or better still follow.  Show a bit of friendship to a fellow nature lover.

Swallowtail, Norfolk
fswv dsc_0190a
Silver-washed Fritillary form Valezina, Holt cp Norfolk
cd common darter DSC_0218a
Common Darter (female) Alderfen Broad, Norfolk

So go on folks give him a look.

And for those who like my dragonflies I’ve put together a new page

Snowflakes on the Shore

Spare time has been at a premium just recently and the weather mostly poor.  As a result I have not been out with the camera since my trip to Germany.  Exchanging comments with Brian over at gave me an idea for this post.  So B for you Snow Buntings!

Snow Bunting on the shingle ridge

Each winter, here in Norfolk, we are lucky to have numbers of these delightful Buntings visit the coast.  The flocks can be over a hundred strong and in flight although they twist and turn as one each individual rises and falls.  With the white in the plumage they resemble snowflakes.  As they fly they have a lovely ringing call.

Looking for seeds

In the UK the Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis), as a breeding bird, is restricted to the high mountains of Scotland.  I remember seeing them outside the cafe on Cairngorm and Mrs H calling them sparrows!  The birds we get in the winter most likely are migrants from Scandinavia.  Occasionally a male will still retain it’s gorgeous black & white feathering.  They usually return to the same areas of coastline. One such place is the shingle ridge at Salthouse.  Here local birders supplement their diet with seeds, this makes them fairly approachable and some nice images can be had with patience.

Part of a flock of 40+ Snow Buntings at Salthouse

East Side Gallery – Berlin

Throughout history countries have erected walls to keep people out.  The Great Wall of China and Hadrian’s Wall spring to mind.  In more recent times a wall was constructed to keep people in, the Berlin Wall.  After an estimated 20% of the population had left East Germany through entering West Berlin, then moving freely onto other countries, the communist government, on 13th August 1961, erected a barbed wire barrier which divided and encircled the city.  This was soon replaced with a pre-formed concrete barrier 3.4m (12ft) high and running for a length of 156km (97 miles).  Further modifications took place including a second wall with the gap in-between known as the ‘killing strip’.  After successful uprisings in neighbouring communist led countries the people of East Germany demanded change.  On November 9th 1989 following a TV announcement that access to West Berlin would be allowed the people flooded the wall and it ‘fell’.

Today only fragments remain and as I touched on in a previous post the longest section is the East Side Gallery in Friedrichshain – Kruezberg not far from the banks of the river Spree.  Here 105 artists from around the world painted their thoughts on this grim reminder of times past.

A chilling memorial
The most famous work is ‘Fraternal Kiss’ depicting Soviet leader Leonid Brezchnev and East German President Erich Honecker. Underneath is written ‘My God help me to survive this deadly love’.
"In Sensurround sound in a two inch wall
Well I was waiting for the communist call
I didn't ask for sunshine
And I got world war three
I'm looking over the wall
And they're looking at me"
From inside the ‘killing strip’ a view of the west side of the gallery wall
"They're staring all night
And they're staring all day.
I had no reason to be here at all.
Oh now I got a reason it's no real reason
And I'm waiting at Berlin wall
I gotta go over the Berlin wall.
I don't understand it (I gotta go over the Berlin wall)"

'Holidays in the Sun'  Sex Pistols 1977
The iconic East German car the Trabant breaking through the wall
Timeless slogan

If you have the chance to visit Berlin allow time to view the East Side Gallery.



As The Crow Flies

When I was out in Germany I noticed that the crows did not look quite the same as those I am used to back in the UK.  I didn’t get good sightings to start with but when I did I realised these were Hooded Crows (Corvus cornix)

Hooded Crow, Berlin

In the UK this species is mostly restricted to northern Scotland and Ireland.  The odd bird will wander south in the winter.  The crow I am more used to is the Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) which is entirely black.  It is not many years ago that these two were, in this Country, treated as variants of the same species.  The crow family is not everyone’s favourite and perhaps with some justification.  Most often they are seen living up to their carrion name, scavenging on road kill.  They are very adept at this and will fly up at the last second so as not to become the main course!  They do however prey on the nests of other birds.  Populations of corvids has grown in recent years and with very few natural predators this is causing a slight imbalance.

Gothic horror style?