Berlin……ruckker in glucklichere zeiten (back in happier times)

Way back when as a fresh faced, wide-eyed teenager I embarked on a 36 hour train-ferry-train adventure to south east Poland to visit a pen-friend.  These were the days of the ‘Iron Curtain’.  On the outward journey the train was filled with British soldiers heading to Berlin.  With each bottle of beer the trip became like a huge party.  We entered the City at night.  I gazed out at a clean and modern cityscape.  In the station the troops disembarked and now, in silence, the train inched forward through the divide which almost touched the carriages.  On the other side more troops embarked.  These were not in the least bit friendly, welcome to the East!  We moved through a dark and desolate City which, to my eyes, looked not to have been touched since 1945.

Back in July our daughter (who I refer to as the Lemming) graduated from university in Manchester and announced she was moving to Berlin.  So last weekend Mrs H and myself jumped on a plane and in half the time it takes to drive to Manchester we were in the German capital.

Autumn in Berlin, a walk down Planufer alongside the Landwehr Canal.

The district she is living in is Neukolln.  Like most of the areas we visited the narrow cobbled streets are lined by five storey buildings, the older ones are very ornate, these are formed into blocks with the inner courtyards filled with trees.  Trees also line the streets at about every 15m.  So on our visit, in autumn, they make a wonderfully colourful backdrop.

The Lemming took us on a tour during our stay.  The weather was superb with sun, light breeze and temperatures in 20’s c.  Not everyplace is a famous landmark so please join me as I relive some of the highlights in a two part blog (thanks to wiki and google for filling in the blanks).

Double Admiral sculpture

In the district of Kreuzberg, on Admiralstrasse, stands this sculpture by Ludmila Seefried-Matejkova.  Erected in 1985 it is called ‘The Double Admiral’ and it depicts a mirror image of Admiral Adalbert who in 1848 founded the unified German fleet.  Seated besides the egg timer shaped globes are two bronze punks to represent the area’s modern scene.

Mrs H and the Lemming chill out

The Ramones museum on Skalitzer Street was right at the top of my ‘must visit’ wish list  having been a fan of the New York punk band since I first heard them in ’76 and seeing them live in ’87.  R.I.P Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee & Tommy.

Skalitzer Street under the U-Bahn line
Molecule Man

Crossing the River Spree via the Oberbaum Bridge your eyes are taken by this massive 30m high sculpture standing in the river.  ‘Molecule Man’ is by Jonathan Borofsky and erected in 1999 on the intersection of Treptow, Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain districts to represent unity as the river was the boundary between east and west.  It consists of three aluminium figures leaning in.  The two-dimensional human shapes are full of holes to depict the human molecules.


In Berlin, by the wall

you were five foot ten inches tall.

Lou Reed ‘Berlin’ 1973

The ‘East Side Gallery’  is a must see.  1.3km of the Berlin Wall was painted in 1990 (one year after it’s fall) by 105 artists from around the world.  In 2009 restoration was started as the original art work was defaced by graffiti (as is most of the City).  I could do a blog alone on the famous, haunting and thought provoking murals.

Sunset over Tempelhofer Feld

To end our first day we went to the Tempelhofer Feld.  At 355ha this is the worlds largest inner-city open space.  On the site of Tempelhof airport which closed in 2008 it was given to the people of Berlin.  And thousands enjoy cycling, walking, playing or just relaxing everyday.  There are bars, cafes, bbq areas, dog walking areas, community allotments and nature zones, also a great view of the sunset!

Euro Finals ’19

September already and the drag racing season is drawing to a close.  What better way to wrap up the European series than with one of the best, if not the best, meetings I have ever seen.  The weather conditions on Saturday and Sunday were perfect and to reflect this the number of records and personal bests broken was unreal!  In qualifying on Saturday, which I watched via live feed, the Top Fuel Bike world record came within 1/100th of a second of falling not once but twice as ‘Fast Fil’ from Greece ran two 5.66 sec passes.  The European Top Fuel E.T record was lowered to 3.806 by Norway’s Maja Udtain.  And the Pro Mods just keep on getting quicker.

Race Day on Sunday and it’s a different mindset.  Now is the time to get to the other end of the 1/4 mile first yet still the times were phenomenal.  Apart from 2019 champ Anita Makela the Top Fuel cars struggled to get the power down and several very expensive engines went bang.  With few major clean-ups the day flew by.  Roll on next season.  As usual there are more images and results on my HOME page

The queen of drag racing Anita Makela of Finland leaves the line in Top Fuel final and wins with a 3.850 297mph run which would have been quicker if the engine had not let go before the stripe!
The nitro burning Super Twins have a unique method of steering as the front wheel stays up for almost the whole 1/4 mile! This is Christian Jaeger from Germany on ‘Juntes One’
Robin Noren of Sweden wins Pro Stock beating champion Jimmy Alund on a holeshot. A holeshot is where the elapsed time is slower but the reaction time to the starting lights quicker
The quickest and fastest bike over the 1/4 mile in the world. This is Eric Teboul known as ‘The crazy Frenchman’ on his rocket powered missile running a 5.321 @ 262mph demonstration. The 1/2 mile shutdown area is only just long enough!

Forgotten Frames

When I put posts together they are usually on a certain theme, maybe about a certain species or place I have visited.  As often happens there are shots I take that do not fit in so tend to get overlooked.  Today we have a bit of welcome rain good news, bad news I’m on holiday.  To kill a bit of time I’ve been looking through some files and found images that I quite like that never made the cut.  Thought I would share them.

ba DSC_0247a
Brown Argus (Aricia agestis) in a hot July summer meadow
Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus). At first glance looks just like the butterfly above, it was even taken in the same meadow, can you ‘spot’ the difference?

Been awhile since I featured any photographs of birds and I know someone over in the U.S who will be pleased to see some.

Back in June I was checking out a small pool for a rare dragonfly when I was joined by this handsome Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea). Quite like the reflections of the reeds in the water and the bubbles
Last week at Upton Fen I saw this female Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus). It’s not in song but panting in the heat. Not a bad shot as it was taken with the macro lens!

Blue, Blue, Electric Blue!

“One last hurrah before the summer fades away”  My reply to John from Hertfordshire on a fb group when he jokingly comments I’ve not been out and about much recently.  He’s quite right though.  The only butterfly trip I have been on this year was back in July to see the Purple Emperor in Fermyn Woods.  A hot, hard day with only eight sightings in six hours and only two half decent photos, so no post.

With Mrs H on holiday, my day off and the weather set fair I knew the perfect place to visit and the perfect species – Yoesden Bank and the Adonis Blue.

“There ain’t no cure for the summertime blues” sang Eddie Cochran. Well here’s one. The stunning male Adonis Blue (Polyommatus bellargus)

It was two years ago when I made my previous visit to this beautiful nature reserve ( ).  The journey is a round trip of 330 miles that takes eight hours so we were up before dawn to make the most of the day.  Yoesden Bank is in the county of Buckinghamshire on the border with Oxfordshire in the village of Bledlow Ridge.  The area is known as the Chilterns.  It is a range of hills that form a chalk escarpment across four counties.  Yoesden is a steep south facing hill covered in wild flowers and the most northerly site (and closest to home) to see this enigmatic butterfly.

The world looks so much nicer this way up

The Adonis (named after the Greek god of beauty and desire)  is one of the largest of the blues with a wingspan of 1.5 inches (40mm).  The caterpillar only eats horseshoe vetch and they require the perfect conditions.  Because of this they were predicted to become extinct in the ’80s as farmers stopped using the hills for grazing and the rabbit population was hit with myxomatosis.  The grass grew too long for the Adonis to survive.  Now thanks to major conservation work the butterfly is back from the brink, still rare but increasing.

Ta dah!  As the sun appears the Adonis reveals his beauty

It was a touch breezy on the bank and every now and then the clouds would hide the sun.  We sat and watched.  When the sun appeared so did the butterflies.  Hundreds of sadly faded milky Chalkhill Blues rose from the turf flapping weekly about as their life cycle draws to a close.  Smaller but vivid Common Blues fed on the scabious and marjoram making you think Adonis?  Then the real deal, so bright and electric.  The males kept low down to the grass, searching for newly emerged chocolate brown ladies without luck.  Not interested in nectar they were difficult to photograph.  I had to wait for cloud cover, then they settled, carefully get in position and try and clear a few grass stems.  When the sun comes out they open their glorious wings to warm up allowing time for a couple of shots.

Well that’s probably a wrap as far as butterflies are concerned this year.  For sure there will be plenty around for weeks to come if the weather behaves and I might make a few more images.  If you are interested in the butterflies of the UK check out this page I have put together, those who already have big thanks!

All of a Flutter

August has so far been an excellent month for all things fluttery in the garden.  It’s been warm and mostly sunny.  We have had the odd spectacular thunderstorm but not the flooding experienced in other parts of the Country.  The last two days have been very windy, but this has not stopped the little winged ones.  The buddleias are living up to their common name ‘butterfly bush’.  At times dozens of Red Admirals, Painted Ladies and Peacocks have been feasting on the light purple sprays with their heady scent.  These are joined by various species of white and brown.

And now the dragonflies are appearing.  Hyperactive Migrant Hawkers zipping around, slower, larger and more colourful Southern Hawkers, even a Brown Hawker but with none of the drama of my last post.  Now they just seem satisfied to hunt tiny flies, not each other.  The seasons are slowly starting to change.  The fruits of the hawthorn hedge are turning red and the elderberries a deep glossy black, a sure sign summer is on the wane.

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) takes a breather on the ripening haws.
Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) on garden blooms

Mid-week I took a drive a few miles east around the coast to Winterton.  In autumn this is an excellent site for finding migrant birds but I went to look for butterflies and odonata.   This is an area of outstanding natural beauty and managed by Natural England.  The beach is wide and sandy and is backed by an extensive area of sand dunes that stretch for several miles.  At this time of the year the inland section is covered in beautiful flowering heather.  There are also a few little groups of stunted oak trees.  It was among the heather and along the sandy paths that I searched for the Grayling (Hipparchia semele).  These butterflies are the masters of disguise.  You see one in flight, it lands and almost instantly folds it’s forewing into the hindwing.  It turns to angle itself into the sun so as not to cast a shadow and disappears, only to fly up when you step too close.

Grayling caught with forewings raised

About a mile west of the village, nestled in the dunes, are two ponds known as the ‘toad pools’.  The toads in question are the rare and protected Natterjacks, none around today.  There was a lot of damselfly activity but since I last visited a few years ago someone has kindly erected a fence.  No one about so let’s get closer.  The damsels were Emeralds (Lestes sponsa).  In the past the very rare Southern Emerald has bred here but I found none today.  Two large and impressive Emperors patrolled the pools and dozens of tiny darters, Common and Ruddy, went about the business of creating a new generation.  A lovely morning out.

Male Emerald Damselfly. Possibly photographed from behind the fence with a massive lens or probably not

Kiss of Death

Friday afternoon was quite pleasant despite a fresh northerly straight off the sea.  Thought it would be nice to have a wander around Upton Fen looking for dragonflies.  One area was particularly good, an area of cut reed on the edge of the woodland, nicely sheltered.  A newly emerged Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta), wings soft and shiny, struggled into flight.  Seconds later it’s brief life was snuffed out as a patrolling Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) took advantage of an easy meal.

bh DSC_0031a Brown Hawker
Not for the squeamish but this is nature

All this happened right at our feet!  Mrs H was not overly impressed, I was ecstatic.  The image above has created quite a stir on a dragonfly facebook group, not something that is often witnessed let alone photographed.  The Brown Hawker is a big dragon it’s body 3 inches (75mm) long, the Migrant Hawker is 2.5 inches (63mm).  The brown didn’t eat all the migrant it was soon airborne catching more ‘normal’ prey.  I think it was just taking advantage of something weaker.

bh DSC_0042a
The Brown Hawker with a normal catch

Ol’ Blue Eyes. The Southern Migrant Hawker

Can not hide the fact I was disappointed to return from Cumbria without having seen the two dragonflies I had targeted.  I should not be greedy, after all I have seen and photographed five new species this year.  Yet I am greedy!  A plan was hatched sometime ago where John from Hertfordshire would take me to a special site to see a special dragonfly (or two!).  The site is called the ‘Canvey Ditch’ so let me set the scene.

Canvey Island is in south Essex.  It is in the Thames estuary east of London and is not noted for being a beauty spot.  On the north side of the busy A130 that leads to the town centre is a cattle field, not very wide, that is split down the middle by a very narrow ditch at the most only a few feet across.  For the most part of it’s 1.5 miles the ditch is dry or at least muddy and has an abundance of reed and true bullrush growing from it.  The banks were dotted by hawthorn bushes.

A super start to the day. A pair of mating Southern Migrant Hawkers

We met mid-morning in the leisure centre car park and the temperatures were already in the mid 80’s and the sky cloudless.  Only a few minutes after entering the field and saying hello to the resident cattle I spotted our target a Southern Migrant Hawker dragonfly (Aeshna affinis) and then a mating pair.  This beautiful dragon was a very rare visitor to our shores.  Then in 2010 there was a small influx to south east England.  In later years it was found to have bred successfully in a few areas like the Canvey ditch.

On patrol

The males held territory along the ditch, each had a stretch of about ten yards between bushes.  When they met on their boundaries a quick tussle ensued.  They were searching for newly hatched females.  The day was very hot and the dragonflies were not going to settle so I had to resort to trying for in-flight images as they hovered for a few seconds whilst on patrol.

Searching for a mate

Also in this area resides a very rare damselfly the Southern Emerald (Lestes barbarus).  Carefully I checked the rushes.  There were dozens of Scarce Emeralds, a species I saw for the first time on the pingo trail ( see post ‘A day with the damsels’).  Then by chance I spotted one without any blue, a couple of quick shots for conformation, this was a Southern Emerald.  First recorded in 2002 it is limited to only a couple of sites in the country.

A rare damsel the Southern Emerald

A very successful day.  The field also held a good number of butterflies including Marbled Whites which we do not have in Norfolk.  The only downside to the day (apart from the travelling on over congested roads) was I forgot to check my camera batteries after the drag racing, yes they went/were flat!

Up close with a Scarce Emerald