I had it all planned out, where to go, what to see and (hopefully) photograph and even how I was going to present my post!  So when I turned into the ‘village’ car park at Holkham, for the first time since this pandemic began, to be greeted by a pay-and-display machine I spat out my dummy!  What has always been free is now £5 for 2+ hours.  Want to park nearer the beach?  That will be £9 thank you very much, kerching!  Ever since Ms G Paltrow graced the golden sands in a scene from the movie ‘Shakespeare in Love’ Holkham Bay has been a honeypot for the ‘well-to-do’.  Rocking up from their holiday retreats around the coast with their designer clothes, designer children, designer dogs and highly polished 4×4’s which only ever go ‘off road’ when they mount the pavement to drop aforementioned kiddies off at prep school!  Not one’s to overlook the chance of a bit of spare change the local landowners are rubbing their hands together.  Well they are not getting my money!  Free birding may be getting thin on the ground but there are places if you know where to look, just don’t tell his Lordship, he might stick in another pay machine!

Greylag Geese (Anser anser) The largest of our geese. These are not truly wild birds (they can be found in Scotland) but ancestors of re-introduced stock
Bath time! Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca) another non-native (there’s a clue in the name!)
Always a pleasure to be greeted by a Robin (Erithacus rubecula)
The gorgeous Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatas). This tiny bird’s tail is longer than it’s body. They are hyper-active moving around in flocks of a dozen or more looking for insects on bare twigs
Sentinal. A male Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) scans the marshes from atop a lone Spruce
The Wigeon (Anas penelope) form big flocks in winter and graze the marshes. I love their ‘wheeoo’ call
As early as January birds of prey start to display over their territories. This is a Buzzard (Buteo buteo) which circles around emitting a cat like mewing call

All these shots were taken in the last couple of days in places I could go free of charge.  I had a bit of a rant at the start of this post and don’t get me wrong I’m more than willing to pay for conservation work.  What I dislike is what seems to be the never ending ways some use to help lighten your wallet and say the money is used for their projects.  As a born and bred local with little income it seems we are being priced out of the market.  What we once took for granted is no longer so and is it a good idea to have hefty charges when you want to encourage the younger generation?

A Few More December Birds

Yes, yes I know it’s 2022, happy new wotsit everyone, but I’ve yet to get out in the field (apart from a long walk on the 1st) so far (well it is only the 5th!).  Although we have had plenty of lovely sun and record breaking new year temperatures it’s been a bit blowy, that has now swung north and got a tad nippy.  I’m no great fan of windy days or cold.

Here is a mixture of birds photographed last month (or year to be precise).

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) in the winter sun at Titchwell. The beautiful plumes on the breast led to this bird being hunted to extinction in the UK in the 19th century. The feathers were used in the hat trade. It re-colonised in the 1950’s and bred in 1996 in Dorset
A small flock of Pink-footed Geese (Anser brachyrhynchus) on the Horsey Marshes. Over 100,000 winter in Norfolk often feeding on sugar beet tops left after the harvest
Drake Pintail (Anas acuta). A very smart duck, this one has been ‘upending’ and has water droplets on the head
Red-legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa) and not a Pear Tree in sight! We also call this ‘The Frenchman’. Bred and released for hunting several escape the guns and breed in the wild
Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) on the beach.  Sadly due to mans over-fishing of the seas they have moved to inland waters and cause untold damage to freshwater fish stocks
Winter plumage Linnets (Carduelis cannabina) drop in for a drink. In spring the males will acquire a smart pink breast

Let’s hope we can get back out there soon.  Have a great ’22 everyone!

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.

Monuments, Mementos, Memorials.

In the middle of Berlin’s Tiergarten, in the centre of the Grosser Stern roundabout, on the main east-west Strasse des 17 Juni leading to the Brandenburg Gate stands the impressive Victory Column.  Originally erected outside the Reichstag in 1873 to commemorate Prussian victories it was moved to this spot in 1938.  The 8.3 metre (27ft) high bronze statue of the Roman Goddess Viktoria weighs in at a massive 35 tonnes!

Victory Column, Berlin

Berlin was divided in 1961 by at first a barbed wire barrier then later by a more sophisticated double wall.  The Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and most has now been cleared away.  Likewise the command centres/watch towers were destroyed.  Of the 302 built only a handful survive and one can be seen in Alt-Treptow.

Grim reminder of a divided city

I mentioned in my last post Teufelsberg the hill constructed from the rubble of a destroyed Berlin.  80 metres (260ft) high it was used in the ‘cold war’ as an American listening station.  Normally the public are allowed inside the ruins, sadly when we visited a film was being shot and security refused entry.

On top of the Teufelsberg

Treptower Park has one of the three Soviet War Memorials in Berlin.  A very impressive sight but sobering to think it is the final resting place of 7,000 soldiers.  It is still undergoing restoration but one thing struck me is that it is free from graffiti, unlike the rest of the city.  Obviously, despite the history, there is great respect for this memorial and I find that very pleasing.

One half of the entrance to the Treptow Memorial


The 12 metre (40ft) statue commemorates the deeds of Sergeant Nikolai Masalov who risked his life, under heavy fire, to rescue a 3 year old German girl in the final stages of the battle of Berlin


Berlin’s Wild Side

Our weeks stay with our daughter in Germany gave us plenty of time to explore areas of Berlin we didn’t see on our last visit 2 years ago.  The City has some beautiful parks like the Tiergarten and Treptower and some not so nice like Gorlitzer.  On two occasions we took the S-Bahn out west to the suburbs.  On the first trip we went to Grunewald.  ‘Chilli’ the dog loved the walk through the forest and up the Teufelsberg.  This is a man-made hill and the tallest point around Berlin.  It was constructed from rubble from the destroyed City then in 1972 it was planted with trees.  It may have been a coincidence but it was very quiet with no bird life.

To save weight travelling I restricted myself to just one lens, an all purpose 18-140mm zoom, so the quality of the images are not great but are mementos of our stay.

A Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris) in the Grunewald forest let me approach to a few feet

Look closely in the shadows, what do you see? This is an un-cropped image at 140mm of a close encounter with a Wild Boar (Sus scrofa) on the Teufelsberg!

A really rubbish image but I had to post it to show the gorgeous Red Squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris) we saw right in the heart of the City

The Mandarin Duck (Aix galericulata) was introduced to collections from the far-east. Some escaped and breed in the wild but they are very shy. This handsome drake was on a lake in the Tiergarten

A Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) chilling out in the Tiergarten

I kept my eyes open for butterflies and saw a few species but not in great numbers. This was a surprise, mating Common Blues (Polyommatus icarus) in Treptower Park

I’m not sure how people feel about zoos.  For me the modern style of big open enclosures giving the animals room to roam are far removed from the bad old days of iron bars and concrete.  Berlin has a lovely zoo the Tierpark in Friedrichsfelde, Europe’s biggest animal park.  We spent a whole day there, here are three of my favourite shots.

The Polar Bears had a huge pool to cool off in, it was nearly 30c

Don’t mess with this Guy!

Love Giraffes, they are so elegant

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, 1/10s

More to follow including some City wildlife.

Summer Slips By

Midway through August already, where has the year gone?  Soon we will be into autumn and my attention will be on different subjects.  Gone will be the butterflies and dragonflies.  Let’s face it, this year has been a very ‘mixed bag’, spring never got going and we have only had brief periods of real summer yet around the world others have literally baked and burned.  Here are a few shots from recent weeks.

Summer is the time for brown butterflies. I do like this family, the Satyridae, you have to get close to see the beauty. This is a Small Heath (Coenonympha pamphilius)

The Large Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus) is not really that large, only an inch and a quarter across

Late summer is the time for the Gatekeepers (Pyronia tithonus), they love bramble flowers

The second brood of Holly Blues (Celastrina argiolus) have been flitting aimlessly around the garden, nice to see one on a flower

The Southern Hawkers (Aeshna cyanea) visit the garden. This female stuffed it’s face with flying ants (look closely, one is still in it’s mouth) and rested here under the Mahonia bush

Flower photography is not my strong point. This is one of my Water Lilies, it was ‘rescued’ (with the owners permission) from an old water tank in the garden of a derelict cottage

Finally, after nearly two years, we are off to Berlin in a couple of weeks to see the ‘Lemming’, fingers crossed everything goes ok as booking flights has been rather traumatic and there are so many ‘hoops’ to leap through to enter Germany and return.  Have a great weekend everyone!