Let’s start with the Mute Swan. They don’t get much bigger or whiter, though until they are fully adult the colouration can be a messy brown/grey (ugly duckling) yet when first hatched the cygnets are delightful bundles of silver fluff. Bit of a love/hate bird, on park lakes and popular rivers they can be a touch aggressive and numerous. This pair on the other hand have been on this dyke, by my favourite part of Hickling Broad, for many years and keep pretty much hidden.
Some thirty odd years ago the Little Egret was a very rare visitor to UK shores. I can still remember seeing my first after several failed attempts. Now you can happen across egrets almost anywhere. This one was up a tree by a local estate lake, a couple of weeks ago there was one in a field on the edge of town. For my American readers the Snowy Egret is a different species but would be difficult to tell apart.
Almost all the worlds gulls, when adult, are predominately white (only 2 are dark). It can take two to three years to reach maturity and it’s often difficult to separate juveniles of similar sized species. Here is a Herring Gull in it’s natural habitat, far more preferable than sitting on my house roof!
A bird with fewer white feathers but a real favourite of mine, so much so our last home was named after it. I remember reading that if the Lapwing was a rare vagrant then every twitcher in the Country would do anything to see it. It may not be a rarity but it’s population has crashed due to habitat loss. A member of the plover family it is also known as Green Plover or Peewit (after it’s call).
Just over a week ago we were under several inches of snow and ice with the temperature struggling to get above freezing. Yesterday the wind fell light, the sun was out and it was in mid-teens centigrade. Time for a long overdue walk. Will nature have recovered quickly? What will we see?
Everywhere the Robins were announcing their claim to territory. Their glorious song filled the air. Full volume now, not the subdued version they will utter even in the depths of winter. They mean business. To our ears beautiful music, to a rival a challenge, throwing down the gauntlet!
Banks of snowdrops and crocuses filled country gardens, groups of daffodils in sheltered spots already in bloom. Wild flowers starting to appear on the verges of the country lanes, Bright yellow lesser celandines, small blue speedwells, daisies and dandelions. New growth pushing through and in the warmth you could literally smell it!
Along the 7 mile walk my eyes were peeled. I just felt the conditions would awaken a hibernating butterfly. Like last year it was Mrs H who spotted the first, a Peacock, and as is her way kept reminding me of it (didn’t think it was a competition). A few miles further on, as we were admiring the local Alpacas, a lemon yellow male Brimstone danced past right under our noses and did a circuit of the paddock. I got my first butterfly photo of the year just a mile from home. A fluttering by an ivy hedge caught my eye and there a Peacock in pretty good condition (considering it spent the winter possibly in a hole in a tree) sat in the sun, posing, allowing me the pleasure to capture the moment for posterity.
Hopefully this isn’t a false dawn and we can enjoy more days like this in the weeks to come, I can’t wait!
This is a difficult challenge from Lisa this week. The reason is that, like butterflies and dragonflies, there are many species that cause my heart to go all a flutter. There are a few that stand out, unfortunately I don’t have any images. For instance the European Bee-eater. Fond memories of this multi-coloured beauty from holidays to Greece and Spain. Or the Robin sized Red-flanked Bluetail from deep in the Siberian Taiga, this once near mythical bird is now an almost annual vagrant to these shores in autumn but still gets the pulse going if one is found nearby.
There are two families of bird that I really like, the waders and warblers.
Nearly all the warblers are spring migrants from sub-Sahara. Unlike the colourful New-World counterparts they are mostly brown jobs that like to skulk about but their songs lift the spirits after the long winter months. The Sedge Warbler inhabits the reedbeds of wet lands. It’s song a fast scratchy affair sounding like cha-cha-cha-chi chi-chi-chicka-chicka ending in a flourish as the bird rises from its oft hidden position to ‘parachute’ back down. It can also mimic phrases of other bird songs.
Waders are a diverse bunch and that, to me, is their attraction. Not all are found wading either. The Snipe above was photographed on the lawn of our previous home. This was March 2018 and the weather this week has been a carbon copy of then. I wonder if the new owners had any surprise visitors!
Some birds are always exciting to see, like the Barn Owl. Not uncommon but it’s usually out at night. We were fortunate where we used to live that there was a resident owl that at dusk hunted the fields opposite our old home.
The Waxwing is a thrill to see. This is a Scandinavian bird that in some years comes to the UK in big numbers, other years none. One of my earliest memories was being taken by my father to see a flock on our small holding back in the early 60’s. Who can’t be impressed by this beauty.
But it’s not just the birds, often it’s the place as well. To be somewhere special and see special birds is the icing on the cake. For me to wander about the wetlands in spring listening to those newly arrived warblers and watching the years first dragonflies when a graceful Marsh Harrier drifts by sends me home a happy bunny!
Woke up this morning to find the easterly gales overnight have dumped a good layer of the white stuff on us and is still adding to it. It’s being called the ‘Beast from the East part 2’ after the storm of 2018. Well it makes a change from rain, we have just had the wettest Dec/Jan for over 100 years.
Time to put out a post and it’s Lisa’s bird weekly photo challenge.
The Dunnock is a small unassuming ‘little brown job’. It’s quite common and most gardens will have a pair or so creeping about under the hedges. I say a pair or so as the Dunnock has a rather interesting sex life which I will not go into here, if you want to know more ask uncle google. Years back we used to call this bird the Hedge Sparrow but a sparrow it ain’t, this is a member of the Accentor family.
For you Lisa….Dunlin. Got a few shots of these hyperactive little waders mostly, like this trio, in winter plumage. Come spring, before they head back north to their breeding grounds, the wings and back moult to a lovely chequered chestnut and the belly is black.
My last offering for this challenge is a bit of a rarity. The Desert Wheatear normally lives in Nth Africa the Middle East and into Asia. However each autumn usually sees one or two of these birds take a wrong turn and end up here in the UK. This particular one is quite nice as it’s a male in near full adult plumage, the female lacks the black. If you are wondering where the name ‘Wheatear’ comes from well back in the middle ages it was called the ‘White Arse’ as this family has white rump feathers.
So don’t forget to give Lisa’s post a look and check out the other blogs taking part. Why not join in.
Hmmm sounds like a 90’s film title. Don’t remember seeing it though, I’m not a great movie fan I lack the attention span to get involved with over two hours of action. No, my film viewing is limited to the likes of ‘Finding Nemo’ or the ‘Ice Age’ series. I digress. This week Lisa has set the bird photo challenge to shots of our feathered friends on fences or wires. https://oureyesopen.blog/2021/01/29/bird-weekly-photo-challenge-birds-on-a-wire-or-a-fence/
So taking advantage of our extended lockdown and disgusting British winter weather I trawled through the dusty files to unearth these frames.
Out of the breeding season Linnets will form big flocks in search of seeds, often mixing with other species. Come spring and the male has a dapper deep pink flush to his breast and head to woo the ladies.
The Stonechat gets it’s name from the sound of it’s alarm call which is like two stones being struck together. They can be found on heathland and coastal dunes. If you think the wire in the above three shots looks similar you are right, all were taken on the same morning along the same field.
Don’t forget to visit Lisa’s blog and if you have any suitable images why not join in.
Under restrictions we are to stay at home (except for essential shopping or work) , only go out once a day for exercise and can meet just one person from outside the household. This is a bit limiting for places to go where I can find subjects to photograph at this time of the year. Luckily we live on the edge of town and at the end of our street is the ‘Weaver’s Way’ footpath which leads into the countryside. A couple of Sundays ago it was bright sunshine after a frosty night so we took a wander.
The field paths were nicely frozen and made easy walking. The roads however were like skating rinks!
We made our way cautiously through the hamlets of White Horse and Spa Common. Amazing the amount of traffic on the country lanes considering we are in lockdown. More amazing was the speed they travel on the icy roads, wish I knew what tyres they use! We reached the canal bridge at Bacton Wood Mill and decide to follow the course of the disused waterway north. No cars and the going easier underfoot.
A short history lesson. The North Walsham & Dilham Canal was constructed in 1825 just in time for the coming of the railways to make it obsolete! It mirrors the path of the River Ant from it’s source at the spring fed Antingham Ponds for approx 9 miles (14km) to Smallburgh. This is the only man-made waterway in Norfolk with locks to raise and lower the boats, there are 6 locks in total. Cargo was mostly offal for the bone mills at Antingham but also other produce was transported both ways. One problem was inadequate water supply to operate the locks so only one boat could make the journey each day. The canal was a commercial flop and the last wherry the ‘Ella’ sailed here in 1935.
The canal soon fell into disrepair and nature took over. 20 years ago a volunteer group was formed to restore it. 2.5 miles were cleared of reed and scrub from Ebridge water mill to Swafield bridge. Half this stretch now has water in it whilst permission for the rest to be re-watered is on hold. The lock at Bacton Wood Mill has been completely restored and new gates put in at Ebridge. The locks are much bigger than those on other canals. This is due to the type of craft that plied their trade. On the industrial waterways of the midlands and north they were barges or narrow boats, here it is the unique Norfolk Wherry.
The wherry was the workhorse of the Norfolk Broads and rivers. About 50ft long, 12ft wide and with a draft of 3.5ft and made of oak. The single gaff rigged sail and forward mast were designed to be operated by just one man (though they usually had a boy as well), the sail and mast can be quickly lowered to allow the wherry to ‘shoot’ bridges. The keel could also be removed and towed behind to let the craft negotiate shallow water. The distinctive black or dark brown square sail was covered in fish oil for weather proofing. Only two traders are now afloat, carefully preserved. There are a handful of others that were turned into pleasure yachts for the growing holiday trade. The rest of the 300 or so built were unceremoniously sunk to block entrances to private waters or in mass ‘graveyards’, the remains of many can be seen at low tide in various parts of the Broads.
The photo above shows how quickly reed can take over. About three years ago this stretch was cleared and filled with water to make sure there were no leaks, it was then drained again. The bridge is the only one that has been replaced to help modern traffic and the the house on the left is the former ‘Wherry’ pub which closed in ’65.
Hope you enjoyed my slightly historical ramblings, as you might gather I have a fascination for this canal which goes back to boyhood days when we used to go and ‘explore’ or try and catch sticklebacks (little fish). Maybe one day restoration will be completed.
Letter C? Certainly ‘c’een a few (groan). A memorable occasion being in 2004. Leaving the family at home I fulfilled a dream, something off my ‘bucket list’ to give it a modern phrase, and spent a week on the Isles of Scilly in October. These Islands lay some 20 miles off the tip of Land’s End in the Atlantic. During the autumn they are a mecca for rare birds lost on migration and for birders keen to add to life lists. A huge storm almost stopped me. Luckily I got the last helicopter there (an experience on it’s own). The two stand out birds of that week a Cream-coloured Courser, a ‘wader’ of deserts and arid areas and the first for twenty years. The other a Corncrake, a highly secretive (but vocal) rail that was once common but now only breeds on remote Scottish Islands. Sadly in those days I didn’t have a decent camera so no images, just memories. For the challenge things a bit more common.
Chiffchaff. The archetypal ‘lbj’ little brown job. This hyper-active little warbler is sure to put a smile on my face! To hear it singing it’s name from the tree tops is a sign spring is hear. The first of the warblers to arrive from Africa, however larger numbers are now able to over-winter as the climate is milder and insects are available.
Chaffinch. Perhaps the commonest bird in Britain but always a welcome sight. Again a song that tells the winter’s gone. A lot of Chaffinches migrate to the UK from Scandinavia in cold weather. They are quite timid around garden feeders.
Eurasian Coot. A common sight on lakes and slow flowing rivers. In my County of Norfolk they were once shot in their thousands by Royal shooting parties and given to the ‘locals’ for xmas dinner! Luckily for the Coot this practice has ceased.
For those of you outside the UK who don’t follow the news…. As of last night our Country has, again, been placed in full lockdown. This new covid variant has caused cases to sky rocket, hospitals are almost full and sadly loss of life is increasing. Our PM has said if all goes well with the vaccine roll out restrictions could be eased mid-Feb, 7 weeks. A look through the window, cold, wet, windy, my mood is not getting better.
Let’s take a look back at the last twelve months and reflect on happier times in an awful year.
The new year started in grand style with a luxury hotel break in mid-Wales. We were on an organised coach trip and got to see the sights of the Elan Valley and the Cambrian Mountains. On the return home a stop in Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon. Little did we know what was in store.
Into early spring and as temperatures rose the first butterflies appeared in the garden, just in time for the first lockdown. The (my) world became eerily quiet. Roads were deserted and skies empty of planes. At work and customers were panic buying, shelves emptied and supplies ran out. Surreal.
As spring progressed I spent my time in the garden or walking the country lanes around the village. I was getting itchy feet. Driving the few miles to a favourite Broad I felt like a criminal. I craved to be out by the wetlands and the dragonflies and butterflies welcomed me with their beauty.
By June restrictions eased and I ventured the 120 miles down to Essex to photograph the Heath Fritillary, one of Britain’s rarest butterflies. It was my first venture onto roads other than between home and work and it felt unreal, like I had never driven before. Locally and the Silver-studded Blue’s emerged on the heath. It was so peaceful just to sit among them.
July was a major upheaval as we sold our home of 30 years, moved into temporary accommodation with Angela and Simon and set about buying a new house. We still had plenty of free time to explore the local countryside and found some superb wildlife. I ‘treated’ Mrs H to a trip to Canvey Island in Essex to see the rare Southern Migrant Hawker dragonflies and got my best ever in-flight shot.
We moved to the new home in September. Lots of decoration and garden clearance but we had a pond, somewhere I would spend hours watching the comings and goings. Most of the year and sport was banned, then allowed with no spectators. As you are aware I’m a drag racing addict and I was getting ‘cold turkey’! Santa Pod Raceway announced a trial of three races with limited entry and lots of guidance, no matter, I was going!
Restrictions started getting tighter again. I had made the massive decision to take early retirement from the end of October. Life’s too short to spend your days stacking shelves in a supermarket during a pandemic. We were allowed out to exercise so I went to Suffolk to ‘exercise’ and just happened upon a very rare bird I had not seen before, as you do.
We also started going on long walks with our friends Rose and Mick. These hikes are now not permitted. We can walk locally around town but no more driving to beauty spots.
The last year proved it can have its good times. It must be said that my part of the Country was the area with the lowest infection rates. This is no longer the case, now we are among the highest. Spring will come again and if the vaccine is a success the future could be brighter.
The Red Kite is a large bird of prey. It has a wingspan of up to 6 feet (195cm). Not much of a hunter it prefers scavenging. Once driven to the point of extinction in the UK a successful re-introduction scheme has seen numbers soar (pun intended).
The UK’s heaviest flying bird at up to 22lbs (10+kg) needs big wings to get airborne (and a long run up). The Swan’s wings stretch out to around 7.5 feet (238cm).
To finish another bird of prey and a favourite shot some may remember. Like the Kite the Marsh Harrier was another bird in danger of extinction in Britain in the 60’s. It’s numbers increased naturally as habitats were improved. One of it’s favoured areas being the Norfolk Broads. The Harrier’s wingspan, just over 4ft (130cm).
Hope these images are crisp. I have been noticing a lot of compression recently on my wp uploads especially landscapes. Sadly due to the theme and plan I’m on I cannot decrease this compression which wp put on to make loading images quicker. Seems a shame that one of the reasons for doing this blog was to show my photos to their best but I’m unable to unless I spend mega bucks on a new plan 😖
Sunday and with sun forecast all day we could get a walk in. It’s been a bit wet of late so we haven’t had a chance for a couple of weeks. As everyone enjoyed my last choice I was tasked with picking another so I settled on an old ‘stomping ground’ Horsey.
We started at Horsey Mill. This drainage pump is the best preserved of these iconic Norfolk sights. It is in the hands of the National Trust and a couple of years back was given a new cap and sails. Then we crossed the very soggy marshes to the coast. For several miles on this stretch is an extensive dune system and this sand and marram grass is all that keeps the sometimes volatile North Sea from flooding the low lying freshwater Broads network. The last time the defences were breached was the terrible surge of 1953 which claimed many lives on the east coast and Continent.
A big attraction on the beach here are the Grey Seals that from November come ashore to give birth. The area is cordoned off and has a lot of voluntary wardens on duty to stop idiots trying to get close. There were hundreds of people there so we only gave it a few minutes just to get some shots.
The seals are ungainly on land but pretty nimble in the water. They are not my most favourite mammal but the pups are quite cute.
Leaving the madding crowd far behind we headed across some fields to a raised drainage ditch bank. This led us to the ruins of Brograve wind pump. On the way was a small herd of ‘winter swans’ mostly Bewicks but a couple of larger Whoopers as well. Unfortunately too distant for any decent shots.
There are many fascinating tales linked to this mill. It was said the devil chased the landowner here and beat on the door leaving hoof marks. Annoyed at the marshes being drained the devil was said to have tried to blow the mill down, hence the angle of lean (which is actually subsidence, sorry to be a spoilsport). The drainage is now taken care of by a less romantic electric pump.
After six miles we arrived back at Horsey by dusk. Despite the last stretch of narrow path leaving our boots caked in mud all agreed it was a great day out.
Mrs H and myself wish everyone as happy a holiday period as possible in this difficult year. Keep safe and we will see you all again in ’21.
I have been a huge fan of Drag Racing ever since my first visit to Santa Pod when I was 7-years-old. I love all Motor Sport but Drag Racing is still the one that gets me jumping around enthusiastically. Despite America having the larger NHRA Championships, which I also continuously follow, I have always preferred European and British Drag Racing. This is mainly because I have grown up with it - the first official FIA European Championships were held in 1996 and I haven't missed a big event at Santa Pod since 1997. When an event is on I get to the track, plonk myself down somewhere along the spectator banking and would very happily sit without moving for the entire weekend watching the racing.