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I’ll Take the Low Road

Scotland, pt2 sights.

Our short break north of the border included three coach tours.  One I was particularly looking forward to was a day in the capital Edinburgh.  I am not a lover of cities but have never visited this historical place.  The morning started, as usual, in pouring rain.  The journey took the best part of two hours but the driver did a detour and took us to Queensferry to see the famous bridges over the Firth of Forth.  He drove us over the new crossing, round a roundabout and back over the old road bridge to a view point where I braved the inclement weather to grab some quick photos.

Forth road bridge

Opened in 1964 and with a total length of 1.5 miles (2.5km) it was, at the time, one of the world’s longest suspension bridges.  Now it is only used by public transport, cyclists and pedestrians.  In the gloom to the left you can just see the new road bridge.  To the right is the iconic rail crossing however with a scrapyard in the foreground it did not make a ‘nice’ image!

By the time we reached the City centre the rain had stopped and the skies cleared.  We made our way round the south of the castle and up to the start of the ‘Royal Mile’ by the castle gates.

Towering high above the City, Edinburgh Castle is an impressive sight!
Looking down the ‘Royal Mile’

There has been a castle on the remains of this volcanic activity since at least the 12th century.  The ‘Royal Mile’ (actually more than a mile) is full of fantastic architecture with shops selling as much whisky, kilts and woolly jumpers as you could shake a haggis at!  The Gothic spire is the former Tollbooth Kirk, though never a church it was built as an assembly house in 1845.  Now it is The Hub where the famous Edinburgh festival is organised.

Inside St Giles Cathedral

At the bottom of the ‘Royal Mile’ you come to Holyrood Palace which was unfortunately adorned in scaffolding and more unfortunately demanded a £17 entry fee, no thanks.  Also located here is, in my view, a modern eyesore, the new Scottish Parliament.  A mish-mash of dirty concrete and stone curves, blocks and other odd shapes surrounded by rusty steel railings.

In the shadow of part of ‘Arthur’s Seat’ my least favourite building
Dead centre of Edinburgh? New Calton burial ground. The three story tower to the right was the Watch Tower, built to deter grave robbers then used as a family home ’till 1955!

So that was Edinburgh, four hours of exploring but worthy of a much longer visit.  Another day out was to Glamis Castle (silent i) described as the most beautiful in Scotland it is home to the the Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne.  It was also the favourite residence of the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother who’s family have lived here since the 14th century.

Glamis Castle. I waited for an age to get a shot without any people in view!
Very nice garden ornament

Very often I will take a shot and not know what the subject was.  The photo above is a case in point, turns out this is Scotland’s tallest, grandest sundial!  350 years old and judging by the weather we had probably only used about six times a year!  Only joking, we had a great time, so much so we have already booked a return next June.

You Take the High Road

Scotland, pt1 scenery.

Welcome to the land of liquid sun and hairy cows!  Some time ago we booked a coach holiday to Bonnie Scotland.  Knowing the last couple of months were going to be somewhat hectic it was a relief to sit back, watch the world go by and let someone else do the 420 mile (676 km) drive.  The last (and only other) visit to these distant parts was in ’95 so we were quite excited to return.  Then we enjoyed a rare Scottish heatwave this time, though mild, slightly damp.  Our base was the lovely, remote Loch Achray Hotel and we had three full day trips out.  The advantage of these coach trips is you can relax, the disadvantage is if you see a fabulous view you can’t stop to photograph it!  Never mind, this Country is full of stunning scenery.  Here are a few shots I managed to get.

Morning has broken over Loch Achray and its not raining!………yet. Not a bad view from our hotel window
The Burn from Loch Katrine rushes under the bridge to Achray. Last of the autumn colours and trees adorned in moss and lichen make a pretty scene

The area we stayed in is the Trossachs & Loch Lomond National Park which is in central Scotland about 30 miles north of Glasgow.  The meaning of the word Trossachs is 1. a narrow wooded valley in central Scotland, between Loch Achray and Loch Katrine: made famous by Sir Walter Scott’s descriptions. 2. (popularly) the area extending northwards from Loch Ard and Aberfoyle to Lochs Katrine, Achray, and Venachar. (Collins English Dictionary).  There are some other mighty Lochs (lakes) in the area the most famous being Loch Lomond.  Nearly 23 miles (36.4 km) long, between 1/2 and 5 miles (1 & 8 km) wide and with a maximum depth of 620ft (190 m) this is the largest lake in Great Britain by surface area.

The bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. No, not a mono shot just a wee bit ‘dull’
Loch Long is indeed long, about 20 miles (32 km) but the name came from the fact that the Vikings brought their longboats here then dragged them overland to Lomond (2 miles (3.2 km)! This water is connected to the sea via the Firth of Clyde and was used by the Royal Navy to test torpedoes up to ’86 and there are several wrecks in there
The River Forth at Aberfoyle Bridge. From here it winds it’s way east 29 miles (47 km) to the North Sea

I mentioned at the start ‘hairy cows’ and it would be somewhat inappropriate to do a post on Scotland and not feature at least one Highland Cow (or cooos as our coach driver called them).  Next time a few of the sights we took in.

A Bit of Birding

There was a time, many moons ago, when I was an avid, perhaps ‘over the top’, birdwatcher.  September and October were my special months, this was the time when migrants and rarities could and often did pitch up on our east coast.  I would eagerly watch the weather patterns and bird reports.  If everything fell in place I would head to the coastal ‘hotspots’ and spend my days scanning the scrub, bushes and trees for those lost waifs and strays hoping and sometimes finding something rare and unusual.

Nowadays my approach is much more relaxed.  A day in the field means just enjoying whatever is there.  Most of my photography is now based on insects especially the butterflies and dragonflies.  Bird photography is still something I am learning with the aid of the big 600mm zoom lens so it’s best to practice on ‘easier’ subjects before attempting those tricky rarities.  With that in mind last week, on a very pleasant day, Mrs H and I headed up to Titchwell RSPB reserve to see what was about.  This is a good time of the year for waders.  Most are returning from the northern breeding grounds.  There will be some in summer plumage, some in transition, others already in their winter dress, also juveniles who can look totally different.  Here are a few of our sightings.

Male Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) are so much bigger than their females, they look like two different species. Gone now are the elaborate plumes that give the bird it’s name
This Dunlin (Calidris alpina) still retains a lot of summer plumage
Juvenile Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula) can be told apart from winter adults by its scaly feathering on back and wings
Autumn is well underway when the geese start returning. These are Brents (Branta bernicla) from Western Siberia that landed on the sea
Standing in the sea a winter plumage Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa) our second biggest wader after the Curlew
By contrast this juvenile Black-tailed Godwit resembles a faded breeding adult

Of course it’s always nice to see birds that are not ‘common’ and we were lucky that there were two species of wader that are only usually encountered on autumn migration and then it’s in variable numbers.  The Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea) and Little Stint (Calidris minuta) both breed on Arctic tundra and winter from Southern Europe to tropical Africa.  It is the juveniles that mostly stop over in the UK for a quick refuel.

Curlew Sandpiper, surprisingly difficult to pick out in a flock of Dunlin, they are slightly taller and slimmer
My favourite shot of the day. Europe’s smallest wader the Little Stint

Well, that’s a lot more images than I usually post.  I hope you enjoyed just a small selection from our bit of birding.

Euro Finals ’22

Saturday 10th September.  The third day of qualifying for the final round of this years championship, the first in two years.  The previous two days were blighted by heavy showers but we were promised a dry day, don’t believe the forecasts! A few light sprinkles and late afternoon one heavy enough to cause the  track to close.  Add in a couple of engine mishaps requiring the strip to be cleaned of oil meant only one round of Pro class qualifying took place not the two as scheduled.  The meeting had a big attendance and for the first time I could not get my usual (or any) grandstand seat!  I watched from the banking which stretches the quarter mile.  Photography was trickier.  The lighting was rather flat and clear shots difficult with the pro photogs along the wall and tv gantry to my right.  More shots than usual hit the delete button.

Top Methanol produced a real ‘blast from the past’ as Sweden’s Tony Bryntesson (blue car) made his first run at Santa Pod in 30 years. Here he is up against team mate Jonny Lagg in their ‘A Fuel’ nitro injected dragsters
Top Fuel bikes are awesome 1500+ bhp beasts capable of 5.6 second 250mph runs. This is Rene Van Den Berg of the Netherlands on his ‘Shark Attack’ Yamaha 1200
Though not actually street legal the Super Street Bikes are insanely quick with times of 6.6 seconds and speeds over 220mph! Here is Steve Woods on ‘Street Lightning’ getting, well, a bit light

The performances on display were top quality.  In his final meeting before retirement the crazy Frenchman Eric Teboul set a new world record on his rocket bike with a time of 5.06 seconds at 263 mph.  On Sunday he lowered this to 4.97 @290mph!  The fastest man on two wheels over the quarter mile in the world.  There was a side by side 5 second Top Fuel Bike race and a European Super Street Bike side by side record run of 6.7 220+mph by Steve Venables and Hungary’s Daniel Lencses.  Add in a clutch of 5 second Pro Mods and a 305 mph 3.8 second Top Fuel Dragster run all great entertainment.

Nitro flames from the headers of the beautiful ‘Gladiator’ Fuel Funny Car driven by Jason Phelps who won the event
Top of the Sportsman classes is Super Pro ET which pits a wide variety of different types of race cars against each other that run between 6 and 8.99 seconds. The teams must state how quick they will run (ET) and not go quicker but reach the stripe first. The slower vehicle has a handicap start. Here is Mark Coulsell in the ‘Ballbreaker’ slingshot dragster v Ron Bartlett and the ‘Sweet FA’ Ford Anglia

Footnote

Thursday the 8th was a very sad day for our Country with the passing of our Queen.  A lot of sporting events were cancelled as a mark of respect.  It was decided that the racing should continue but other on site entertainment called off.  To make the weekend even more sombre one of our sports long serving and well respected racers, Jon Morton, suffered a fatal heart attack in the pits.  I decided to attend at the last minute.  Before the professional classes started there was a two minute silence and a playing of the national anthem.  There is a phrase ‘you could hear a pin drop’ and literally you could.  It was a very moving moment and I felt so proud to be part of the drag racing family that, despite whatever views are held, could show such respect.

RIP Your Majesty    RIP Jon

Strolling into September

Autumn is on it’s way.  The year is slipping by.  Day after day, week after week of heat, humidity and drought is slowly coming to an end.  We have finally had a little rain, not much, just enough to settle the dust.  This morning was that cool I had to put on a cardigan!  The last couple of weeks we have decided to reprieve our walks that were such a feature of the covid lockdown.  Sadly one of my favourites, by the old canal, has been blocked by the landowner who had received abuse when asking dog walkers to control their pets.  The minority spoiling it for all.  Still, there is plenty to see at this time of the year as a different suit of species take front of stage.

With the flowering of the Ivy comes the Ivy Bees (Colletes hederae), really cute little mining bees
I mentioned in my last post Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) romance, here it is in action at Hickling Broad
Just hanging around. One of the largest UK dragonflies is the Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanae). This is a beautiful male
The most numerous of the butterflies encountered on the walks has been the Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) which likes shady areas
Sometimes you capture a shot you are really pleased with. A female Common Darter on dead Bracken, simple muted colours of Autumn

A Few Dragons

Not featured our flying assassins much this year.  This is mostly due to the fact I have not been out very often looking for them and when I have not actually seeing many.  The start of the season was good but it tailed off a few weeks back when we started this drought and spells of extreme heat.  Coincidence?  The larvae that have spent one, two or more years underwater and can time their emergence should be fine.  Of course if a pool dries up, as is happening, they are in big trouble, this will have an effect in future years.  As for the lack of adults maybe it has been just too hot at times.

Here are a few I have managed to see in the last few weeks.

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) at Winterton

End of July and I took a walk in the dune system at Winterton-on-sea. Last year this place was heaving with odonata.  Those with a long memory may recall the rare Lesser Emperor I found.  This year a three mile hike turned up just ten, yes TEN, dragonflies!  Yes it was a bit breezy but even so….  One of the pools in the main breeding area had been filled in to stop the spread of an invasive water weed, the others all but dry and with no rain since, well, they must be dust now.

Female Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) Upton Fen

Upton Fen in the Broads was better but still not as prolific as in recent years.  On my first visit the Darters were just starting to show.

Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum) Upton Fen

The Skimmers are a pain to photograph.  They usually sit on the paths, let you get nearly in lens range, then fly a few feet away and repeat ad-nauseam.  The one above obviously had not read the rule book!

Small Red-eyed Damselflies (Erythromma viridulum) Pensthorpe

Saw a few different species when we went to Pensthorpe with the Lemming but again not big numbers.  The highlight being two Lesser Emperors by one of the lakes but frustratingly no photo opportunity.  The damselflies above were egg laying in an ornamental pond and that shot was taken with my 600mm lens.

“Oi mister take my picture!”
“Very well but you must sit nice and still” Male Common Darter, garden pond

The garden pond has been almost deserted for some weeks, just the odd Blue-tailed Damselfly.  This Common Darter arrived a week ago and is good company it even tolerates the macro lens a foot from his face.  What he does not tolerate is any other male Darter trying to muscle in on his territory.  These are given a quick kicking.  Any females are treated to ‘Darter romance’, grabbed by the back of the neck, dragged into the bushes, brought back to the pond by the back of the neck and dunked in to lay eggs, the little charmer, not even a “what’s your name babe, care for a dance?”

Pensthorpe

The temperatures are rising again and the drought continues.  We have just had a wonderful few days as our daughter the ‘Lemming’ popped over from Berlin for a short break.  This is her first visit ‘home’ in over three years so we tried to cram in as many trips out to favourite places as we could.  One such spot is Pensthorpe Natural Park.  700 acres of flooded gravel workings gives many lakes to walk round plus the beautiful River Wensum, woodland and fantastic gardens.  The park is well known for being at the forefront in breeding rare species for release such as Corncrake and Red Squirrels.  There was also a big collection of exotic waterfowl from the around the world.  I say ‘was’, sadly in February the park suffered an outbreak of avian flu and a lot of birds were culled.  There was still plenty to see, here are a few images from a lovely day out.

A Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) enjoying the summer sun
Some ducks are ‘natural’ like this female Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)
Juvenile Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) makes for a pretty picture
Another of the ultimate ‘little brown jobs’. Reed Warblers (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) are shy breeding migrants and this is my first image of one. Soon they will be heading back to sub-Saharan Africa
Relief! A Great-crested Grebe (Podicus cristatus) enjoys a good scratch
This Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) survived the cull
The Lemming in conversation with one of the park’s Barnacle Geese (Branta leucopsis)

Chalk That One Off

Is it really four years since I last visited the Iron Age hill fort Warham Camp near Wells-next-the-Sea up on the Norfolk coast?  Apparently so.  This is the best preserved site of this period in the County and was probably home to an Iceni tribe.  Who knows, even the legendary, fearsome, warrior queen Boudica may have walked here before going off to kick some Roman bottoms, started well, didn’t end well.  All’s peaceful now, well apart from the constant roar of fighter jets overhead.  Just practicing in case the lovely Mr P decides to widen his horizons even further.

The fort is now home to Norfolk’s only colony of the delightful Chalkhill Blue butterfly (Polyommatus coridon) which were introduced here some years ago, not the done thing you know tut tut.  As I left the lane to cross the field to the ramparts I noticed a few Chalkhills fluttering about.  “that’s odd” I thought “never seen them here before”.  When I climbed the outer ring ditch it became apparent why, I have never seen so many!  The ground was shimmering with hundreds of the silvery blue males.

Lovely fresh male Chalkhill Blue

There were so many I could pick and chose which I wanted to photograph.  In the past I’ve not managed to get them nectaring way off the ground.  So I watched the best Scabious and Knapweed and waited ’till one alighted and hopefully open their wings (they were not always keen on the last part!)

A little bit worn

The females were less numerous.  Mind you with that many amorous males about they did well to keep their heads down!  Like several other of the ‘blues’ family the females are brown on the upper wing with variable orange lunules on the outer edge.  The under wing is also browner in hue.

Female Chalkhill Blue
That’s not a butterfly! Nope it’s a Six-spot Burnet moth (Zygaenea filipendulae)

All in all a rather good day out!  In total I saw 18 species of butterfly.  Better not leave it quite so long before my next visit but I can chalk this one off for this year.

If You Go Down in the Woods…

The house renovations (for this year) are nearly finished.  As I write this the dining room carpet is being laid, soon all the furniture will be in it’s proper place!  Just to keep my sanity and collect my thoughts I took a couple of days off over the past months to immerse myself in nature.  Purple Emperors started emerging in the third week of June down south.  On the 23rd, more in hope than expectation, I visited Foxley Wood our local Emperor site.  It was a lovely morning and the first Silver-washed Fritillaries and White Admirals were on the wing.  I sat in the shade watching the coming and goings and had just finished chatting to a lovely couple who were on holiday when out of the blue his loveliness landed on the path right in front of me!

The year’s first Purple Emperor (Apatura iris)

Spurred on by this early success the following week I decided on a trip to Fermyn Woods in Northamptonshire.  I have struggled in the past couple of years at this Emperor mecca and have even pondered foregoing the delightful (not) two and a half hour journey.  Perhaps I should have listened to my inner self.  The sun was intermittent but the wind far too strong.  I kept to the more sheltered areas but sightings were few and far between.  After several hours and many miles of walking the grand total was just nine with only four on the ground!  In future, conditions will have to be perfect before I venture here again.

His Imperial Majesty enjoying brunch, Fox scat!

Back at home the dragonfly activity in the garden pond has been poorer than last year.  Not sure of the reason as the weather has been ok.  There was some emergence in May and the damselflies returned to breed but now sightings are thin on the ground.  One species I did see, and a new addition to the garden, was a female Banded Demoiselle.

A female Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) spreads her wings by the garden pond

Into July and for the first time in three years I took a look at Holt Country Park 18 miles to the west.  As I got to the site a band of dense cloud had covered the sun.  No going back, I was sure it would clear.  I made my way up to the heathland called the Lowes.  This is a great place for Keeled Skimmer dragonflies (Orthetrum coerulescens).  Making my way down the slope to the boggy area where the Skimmers breed I was stunned to come face to face with a Roe Deer and her fawn.  What a lovely but very brief sighting.

I’ve been spotted! The Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus) and fawn about to flee

Normally the Skimmers are highly active and very difficult to approach.  The cloud worked to my advantage and I managed to get my best shots to date of this species.

Female Keeled Skimmer at Holt Lowes
Male Keeled Skimmer. The blue colouring is a waxy powder called pruinescence which will wear off with age and mating

Sure enough the sun eventually appeared and I made my way back down to the woodland.  Like turning on a switch butterflies were everywhere including the one I had come to see the Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia).  They hungrily searched out the last of the bramble flowers for a boost of nectar before seeking out a prospective mate.

Male Silver-washed Fritillary nectaring on Ragwort

Now the paint brushes are put away ’till next year hopefully more trips out are on the cards.  Watch this space.

Retro Rules! Dragstalgia ’22

As much as I love the awesome thrill of the ‘big show’ 300mph dragsters the meetings I really look forward to are the nostalgia events and in Europe the biggest is Santa Pod’s ‘Dragstalgia’.  These events are more relaxed though competition is still fierce with the teams aiming for ‘bragging rights’.  Such a diverse array of machinery harking back to the very early days of the sport they bring back such fond memories.

On Saturday the 9th I made the pilgrimage to the Pod to watch qualifying for this years offering.  When the early cloud cleared we baked in the sun as the Country enters a heatwave.  Brilliant for watching but awkward for photography, the harsh light meant a lot of post processing to bring out details from shadows and reduce glare.  I took hundreds of shots, here are just a taster.

The ‘Commuter’ dragster was built in 1966 and in 1970, driven by Tony Densham, became the UK’s first 200mph car. So famous, Corgi made a die-cast model, yes I’ve got one!
The biggest surprise and best kept secret was the appearance of this nitro Funny Car ‘The Cannonball’ driven by Ricky Gowan. I photographed this car winning it’s first race in 1981! The machine was originally Don ‘The Snake’ Prudhomme’s ‘Army’ Arrows from the U.S.A where it ran 5 seconds over the 1/4 mile
Steve Johnson leaves the line wheels up in ‘Motor Mouse’ a slingshot dragster
Be afraid…..
Race on! The Supercharged Outlaws compete for fun. Here Des Taylor in the ‘Thundergod’ altered takes on the quicker James Usher driving ‘Hemi Hunter’ slingshot
On the bike front Colin Fallows rode ‘Super Cyclops’ a twin engined Norton
‘Paranoia’ has been around in one form or the other since the beginning. Back with Alan Loten one of the original owners. The engine is a 3,800cc Jaguar straight six a popular choice for altereds ‘back in the day’
“There’s a very wicked ’55 Chevy looking for you” Keith Freeman’s supercharged ’32 coupe is a great copy of Milner’s hot rod from the film ‘American Graffiti’
Fellow wp blogger Niamh Smith of ‘Raceway Hussy’ https://racewayhussy.blog/ was one of 52 entrants in Nostalgia Super Stock (pre 1980 American V8s) in her Ford Fairlane