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Crowd Pleaser

Nice to get out at the weekend.  We have the builders in and everything is a bit all over the place as we have lost the use of three rooms for a few weeks, the ‘kitchen’ is now a camping stove and microwave in a tiny spare bedroom.  The sun was shining but the wind was still a bit cool.  After a bit of deliberation it was decided we should go along the North Norfolk coast to see if we could locate a very rare goose that has been in the Cley/Salthouse area this past couple of weeks.

The goose in question has been hanging around with a mobile flock of Brent Geese (Branta bernicla) so I slowly drove past the marshes as Mrs H scanned the fields.  A flock was spotted just past Salthouse village but it was distant and there was no where to stop safely.  I carried on and thought I would try down Beach Road in Cley.  A van was parked by a field gate and my faithful spotter called out “geese!”  Sure enough they were Brents and a quick scan revealed our ‘target’.

The most beautiful goose in the world? Red-breasted Goose (Branta ruficollis)

Now that is a goose definitely worth looking out for.  A little phrase in England for such a beauty is ‘Bobby Dazzler’.  A bit of caution must be taken when seeing these birds in the wild and that includes any rare or exotic species, are they really ‘wild’ or have they hopped over a fence from an ornamental wildfowl collection?  Well it seems this fellow is as good as it can possibly get to being the ‘real deal’.  It wasn’t long before other birders turned up, word travels fast in the rare bird world, and soon there were dozens “oohing” and “aahing” and to make it better it was very close to the road, just the swaying reeds in the roadside ditch making photography tricky at times.

Our boy was more than a little bit vocal!
And at times a bit feisty!

So where does it come from?  The Red-breasted Goose breeds in Arctic Siberia on the Taymyr Peninsula (the same area as some Brent Geese).  They over-winter near the Black Sea coast of Romania, Bulgaria and to a lesser extent Northern Greece and a Country in most peoples thoughts right now, Ukraine.  Sometimes the Red-breasted will join the Brents and head west into Europe and pitch up in the Low Countries mostly the Netherlands.  Then it’s a short hop over the North Sea to England.  This one turned up, with another of it’s kind, in Essex.  The Brent Geese flock then split up with half heading north up to Norfolk with this one among them.

Some more Brents come to join the party

East

About 35 miles away, over the border in the neighbouring County of Suffolk, lies the coastal town of Lowestoft.  Once a thriving fishing port and a centre for ship and boatbuilding.  College days during my boatbuilding apprenticeship were spent here so I got to know the area well.  The town went into decline with the loss of the shipbuilding and the fishing industry is a mere shadow of it’s former self.  North Sea oil and gas brought a period of prosperity before that too declined.  Now the future seems based on manufacturing for the renewable energy market and a reliance on tourism.

The Town’s main claim to fame however is that, at Ness Point, it is the most easterly place in the UK.  Now, you would think that the ‘Point’ would be a place to show off, not everywhere is the easternmost spot of the Country after all.  Make a bit of an attraction out of it, pull in the tourists?  Sadly no.  The area can, at best, be described as ‘a bit rough’.  Reached by narrow, lorry lined, roads, past factories and failed businesses that are now wasteland, under the shadow of ‘Gulliver’ a massive wind turbine.  What could possibly draw local birders to this unattractive location?  The answer…. Purple Sandpipers.

The Purple Sandpiper (Calidris maritima) not totally un-approachable!

It’s been a few years since I last went to admire these cute waders, time for a visit.  So if the Sandpipers attract the birdwatchers what attracts the Sandpipers?  Well, these shorebirds like to winter on rocky coastlines.  They do not feed by probing mud like most of their kin but by picking through what the tides deposit, like seaweed.  Now East Anglia is not graced by rocks, this is an area of soft sandy cliffs and much coastal erosion.  To counteract this, vulnerable places have been ‘protected’ by the installation of sea defences.  At Lowestoft the concrete walls were supplemented with the placement of a barrier of huge granite boulders and it is these the Purple Sandpipers found much to their liking.

Coming to see what I’m up to
The sea walls also attracted Turnstones (Arenaria interpres). Their plumage is starting to brighten up before heading north to Arctic tundra to breed

I was in luck.  Two of these winter visitors were present and with a little patience allowed me to get very close.  I sat down on the promenade and had to wait awhile for the sun to come out from behind a stubborn cloud to get the best shots.  Passers-by were curious as to what I was photographing and were delighted when I pointed out the birds and explained a little about them.  Soon these two will wing their way north to the Tundra of Iceland or Northern Scandinavia for the breeding season and hopefully they, or their offspring, will return for the enjoyment of birders in future years.

Cute or what?
I didn’t pay the Sandpipers to pose for any of my photographs, that would have been stupid as they would have no use for pound notes when they migrate north. However, if I had done this shot would have cost me a pretty penny!

Titchwell Thrills

Nice day forecast, I felt the RSPB reserve at Titchwell on the North Norfolk coast calling for a re-visit.  Now this is one place I don’t mind spending £5 for a days birding!  The site has many different habitats so there is always something of interest to look for whatever the season.  The only downside is it is a very popular place, the most visited RSPB reserve in the Country, but everyone’s here to enjoy the same experience and it never feels overcrowded once people spread out.

The first spot I stopped at was the feeding station at the back of the visitors centre.  A steady procession of small birds came to the feeders which is great for close up photography but to get them in a natural setting was the source of great frustration, always a twig in the way!

Don’t talk with your beak full! A Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) at one of the many feeders

I continued on the boardwalk past the dragonfly pools where you can imagine the larvae are waiting for the first signs of summer so they can emerge into those flying jewels. Through reedy scrub, quiet now but in a few months will be reverberating to the song of the returning warblers.  Onto the main path to the sea and past the freshwater lagoons and marshes.  There was one particular spot, close to the bank, that was a magnet for a mixture of waders.  I plonked myself down and enjoyed a wonderful hour or so photographing them.

Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa) is the second largest of our waders. Like all shorebirds at this time of the year in it’s greys of winter plumage. It took ages before one posed among these dead plants, they preferred to feed in the open water where their long legs and bill give them an advantage
Our other Godwit is the Bar-tailed (Limosa lapponica). A bit smaller than the Black-tailed, it has more patterned plumage and a slightly up-curved bill. In summer this bird is a striking brick red in colour on the underparts
A different ‘style’ of wader. Chunky body, short bill and legs, feeding on the mudflats in a stop start action. This is a plover a Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola) another wader with a lovely summer plumage this time black and white. They breed in the high-arctic

While I was engrossed in act of filming these different species something caused every bird on the reserve to take flight in panic.  It had to be a bird of prey.  I looked for a Peregrine Falcon or Sparrowhawk scything through the flocks but it was when I looked up the culprit became clear, the massive shape of an immature White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla).  With a wing-span of 8 feet (2.4m) this is Northern Europe’s largest raptor, it has the nick-name of the ‘flying barn door’.  Now, eagles in Norfolk are not un-heard of but are a very rare occurrence, this is only my third sighting, they breed on Western Isles of Scotland like Mull but some do drift across the North Sea from the Continent.  I would like to say I got some stunning shots to record this event, sadly no, by the time I got my wits together, picked my jaw from the floor and the camera focused it was very distant.

A heavily cropped record shot of the White-tailed Eagle, you can still make out the massive bill and huge wings

There was still one more surprise in store.  As I made my way back to the car a Little Egret flew over the footpath landing on the Thornham Marshes.  Nothing unusual in that, Little Egrets have become quite numerous in recent years, however it landed next to another egret that dwarfed it, a Great White Egret (Egretta alba).  This is only my third ever sighting (my first was on the day my daughter was born, twitchers do the strangest things!) but people passing by didn’t seem that bothered, perhaps they are no longer a very rare visitor.

The statuesque Great White Egret catches the breeze

Freebies

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?

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.

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, 1/10
Victory Column, Berlin

Lost Dragonflies

It’s been a few weeks since I have subjected you, my dear readers, to a dragonfly post.  It’s not that I have been ignoring these gorgeous aerial assassins, oh no far from it.  I have been clicking away and recording my sightings so that on a wet, windy, Friday I can overload your senses with their varied beauty.  Today is that wet, windy, Friday.

And to hold your attention and stop you dozing off, at the end of the post is something a little bit special.  No cheating and skipping through the images so you can get on and do your daily chores, I may be asking questions so pay attention at the back!

At the start of July we visited the Pingo trail at Thompson Common in sth Norfolk to see these Scarce Emerald Damselflies (Lestes dryas). Now hands up those who can remember from last year what a pingo is?
A female ‘common’ Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) at Winterton Dunes. Almost impossible to tell apart from Scarce Emerald by eyesight in the field. The females of both species lack the blue powdery colouring known as pruinescence
Anax imperator, even the Latin name sounds formidable. This is the Emperor dragonfly, our largest odonata, patrolling a pool at Winterton
One of the latest species to appear is the Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta). Usually constantly on the move, nice to capture one hanging around
Even in the garden it’s hard to avoid the attention of dragons. Mrs H trying to swat up on her German language had a Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) desperately trying to get in on the act!

Right we are nearly at the end so here is the first surprise.  Yesterday (5th) I was pond watching when a damselfly landed on a lily pad.  First glance and I thought it was a Blue-tailed.  Second glance and it was not right as the blue was at the very tip of the abdomen and the eyes seemed reddish in colour.  Quickly grabbed the camera and confirmation, a Small Red-eyed Damselfly (Erythromma viridulum).  This damsel first colonised the UK in 1999 and have spread to many areas.  I remember seeing some of the first and it was quite exciting for dragonfly watchers.  They are not that common and I would never have expected one in the garden.  This is the 13th species I have recorded at our pond in the year we have lived here.

Star of the pond, Small Red-eyed Damselfly

So we come to the end of the post and the BIG surprise.  I know, the photo isn’t great lots of vegetation in the way but this is a bit special.  A couple of days ago I was wandering around Winterton Dunes watching the dragonflies in a feeding frenzy and one caught my eye.  I couldn’t place it but as it sped around I kept seeing a bright blue band and my mind went into overdrive.  It had to be one of two species, both rare vagrants from Southern Europe.  Then, by sheer luck, it settled for just a few seconds right close by just enough time for two shots.  There we have it a Lesser Emperor (Anax parthenope).  Only first recorded in the UK in 1996, it has bred but is still a very rare beast.  Even better.  I returned the next morning and it was still there in the same area only now there was two!  This time there was no photo opportunities but you should have seen the size of my smile!

Lesser Emperor Winterton, Norfolk

So that’s it class you can all run along now and play nicely.  If you wish to see more of these beautiful creatures check out  https://blhphotoblog.wordpress.com/british-damsel-dragonflies/