Butterflies, Bugs, Birds & Blooms

Easter Sunday.  Taking advantage of lockdown easing we went a few miles out of town to have a walk around, what is for us, a new nature reserve.  Southrepps common is a 14 acre site now run by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust.  Parking opposite the school you start on a boardwalk through reedbed and wet marsh.  The 3.5 mile circular route then takes you through mixed woodland and agricultural land, then on ‘quiet lanes’ around the pretty village of Lower Southrepps with it’s napped flint cottages.  This was the childhood haunt of our walking buddy Mick so he pointed out who lived where and the places he played.  Take a look at a small sample of the wildlife we encountered.

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Snakes-head Fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris). This beautiful and unusual flower is something of a rarity in the UK so I was delighted to see this specimen
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This tiny hoverfly is a species of Eupeodes possibly latifasciatus.  Love the colour the sun brings to it’s wings
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Little bird, big voice!  A Wren (Troglodites troglodites) poses for a quick shot
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I like to keep my eyes open for the unusual and this fits the bill! It is a type of ichneumon wasp possibly Spilichneumon occisorius (according to a fb group). The flower is Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) a common plant of roadside verges near the coast. It was introduced by the Romans and is edible
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Straight out of hibernation most butterflies seek sunny spots to absorb the warmth just like this Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)
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Found a nice sheltered hollow for a coffee and cake break. Several Peacocks (Aglais io) were enjoying the newly opened sallow flowers
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Orange-tip (Anthocharis cardamines)

When we completed the loop we decided to go a bit further to see the farm Mick grew up on.  It was a good move.  As we walked by the steep bank near the railway bridge Mrs H called out “butterfly!”  I was not expecting a cracking fresh male Orange-tip!  Considering we have not had a sustained spell of good weather it was very early to emerge.  Normally these (my favourite spring butterfly) fellows would be wandering here and there not stopping.  This one was attracted to a bed of Red dead-nettles and was still there when we returned some time later.

You will notice from the images it was a lovely sunny day.  Yesterday and today we have been ‘enjoying’ heavy snow showers and a strong north/westerly with temps just above freezing.  I don’t think that first Orange-tip has a great chance of survival.  The Peacocks and Tortoiseshells on the other hand will just return to hibernation, and life goes on.

Another False Dawn

24c!  Forget spring let’s go straight to summer, well for three days anyway.  Today is less than half that value and next week a quarter, 5c and wintery showers forecast.  Spring is a bit hit and miss at the moment.  These past days have been great though, time to dust off the macro and go hiking.

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Not sure of this tiny bee species but it’s had fun with the pollen! (update Andrena flavipes Yellow-legged mining bee)
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A Dark-edged Bee-fly (Bombylius major) shares a lesser celandine with pollen beetles
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Male Great Tit (Parus major) against a stark backdrop of an old industrial unit

It was good for butterflies.  They awoke from hibernation in large numbers.  Strangely, we saw more in the urban areas than the countryside.  Four species noted, the most numerous being Peacocks.  They were all a bit hyperactive and getting any good photos was going to be tricky, never mind plenty of time for that.  It was a joy just seeing them.

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A Peacock (Aglais io) takes a breather on a fallen tree

During this last lockdown I’ve spent a fair bit of time in the garden ‘pond gazing’.  Watching the water plants I put in for signs of growth, delighted to have the first lily pad break surface, but also looking for what might be lurking beneath the weed.  Really pleased when I saw the first Smooth Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris) and now there are loads of them all getting a bit frisky!

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Underwater world. A pair of Smooth Newts in my pond

Really wanted frogs to come and breed but no joy yet.  Plan B, Rose and Mick have two young cats that are pretty efficient at hunting frogs, where they come from who knows.  So I have adopted a couple of recent captures which were totally unharmed.  I think both were females and there has been no sign of any males so it looks like no tadpoles this year unless I can locate some spawn in the wild.

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Give us a kiss!
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Spring colour. When we moved in there were no flower beds so it’s nice to see our efforts bloom

Making the Most

It’s often said that us Brits are obsessed with the weather.  It’s true, always the starting point of any conversation no matter what’s going on in the world.  I’m as guilty as the rest of my country folk.  Too hot, too cold, too wet, too windy (I particularly hate strong wind).  So it’s fitting that I sit here typing this post as the rain pours down and the winds build up to gale force, nice.  So when things are pleasant you have to make the most.  Here’s a few shots from recent walks.

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Some Robins are fearless. I thought this chap was going to sit on the end of my lens!
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Approaching Ebridge Mill.

This old water mill on the North Walsham & Dilham canal used to make animal feed.  It was run by Cubitt & Walker from 1869 to as recently as 1998.  It then became a bit of an eyesore until it was turned into luxury apartments overlooking the mill pond.  The lock is to the left by the road bridge.

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Hello deer (I love using that line)

A couple of years back I featured in a post a cute, teddy bear faced deer with fangs,  https://blhphotoblog.wordpress.com/2019/03/01/an-anniversary-upton-fen/   Well this is the other mini deer I mentioned then, the Muntjac (Muntiacus reevesi).  They were introduced to Woburn estate in Bedfordshire in 1838.  Not much bigger than a retriever dog they soon got fed up, escaped, and started to explore the country, breeding merrily along the way.  They are now considered a pest in places as they munch through trees and crops.  Can often be seen having their final sleep besides or in roads.

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Blue Tit in the Alder catkins = Spring
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Mystery plant

Competition time.  Who can name the mystery plant above.  What’s the prize I hear you ask?  I’ll think about it.  There were two patches of these by the canal and I don’t recall seeing them before.  I’ve checked my wild flower books without luck so maybe a garden escapee?

Newsflash.  Evening update. CJ over in Holland  (https://thecedarjournal.com/) has identified the plant it is, drum roll, petasites japonicus otherwise know as Giant Butterbur or Sweet-coltsfoot.  Not native to the UK you should see what the above plant grows into!  Visit google to check it out.

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Buzzard (Buteo buteo). Early spring is a good time for watching raptors display
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Breaking out. Seeds erupting from a Reed Mace head

Last Sunday’s walk broke new ground.  Rose added in a new loop to our canal hike which brought us in at just over 10 miles (16km).  I felt that one!  But the sun unexpectedly broke through so it was very enjoyable.  Take care all.

Spring is in the Air

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?

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Robin (Erithacus rubecula) in full flow

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!

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A pollen laden Honey Bee investigates the Snowdrops

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!

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A perky Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus). In our new garden they are investigating the nest box I put up
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Hazel, catkins and swelling buds

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.

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The Peacock (Aglais io) performs to it’s admirer (me!)

Hopefully this isn’t a false dawn and we can enjoy more days like this in the weeks to come, I can’t wait!

Out of Town

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.

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‘Very flat, Norfolk.’ Noel Coward (Private Lives)

The field paths were nicely frozen and made easy walking.  The roads however were like skating rinks!

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A Collard Dove watches our slippery progress

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.

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Canal at Bacton Wood Mill

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.

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Bacton Wood Mill lock, notice the lack of water above it

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.

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The trading wherry ‘Albion’ on the River Bure in 2010

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.

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Royston Bridge

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.

 

Here we go Again

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.

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Goosanders on Llandrindod lake

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.

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Peacock on Hawthorn blossom

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.

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A Swallowtail (Papillo machon ssp britannicus) on campion, 2020

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.

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Heath Fritillary in Hockley Wood

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.

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A delicate female Silver-studded Blue at East Ruston Common

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.

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Southern Migrant Hawker (Aeshna affinis)

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!

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Flames from the headers and clutch dust from the rear. Steve Ashdown’s ‘Undertaker’ Nitro Funny Car blasts into the late afternoon sun

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.

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Greater Yellowlegs in Suffolk

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.

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Camera magic! No more scenes like this for awhile

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.

Stay safe everyone.

Muddy Boots but a ‘Seal’ of Approval

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.

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Horsey drainage mill

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.

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And relax!

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.

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This seal pup must have heard a great joke!

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. 

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“Am I 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.

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Brograve pump

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.

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Mute Swans in winter light

 

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Dusk

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.

 

 

My Kind of Norfolk

Last Saturday and it was my turn to choose a walk.  After going through a pile of assorted maps and books that Mick and Rose had accumulated, I had ear-marked a few.  Trouble was they all involved sections of wetlands I am familiar with and at this time of the year could be muddy underfoot.  I settled on what I thought would be the easiest, following the River Ant from Ludham Bridge upstream to How Hill then across fields to Ludham village.  I was hoping for a bit of brightness but unfortunately the day got gloomier and by the time we had done the seven or so miles it was almost dark.  It made photography tricky with such low light but I think adds an atmosphere to the landscape shots.

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Turf Fen drainage mill.  Nikon  D5300, Nikkor 18-140mm @35mm, iso 250, f10, 1/100s

When I worked at the last boatyard, I would spend a fair bit of time ferrying boats to and from different yards in the winter.  Scenes like these are very familiar and to me captures the nicest season on the Broads.  This mill was built in 1875 to drain the Horning Marshes into the River Ant so they could be used for livestock grazing.

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Fly past. A Mute Swan flushed from a nearby field gives us a close view

 

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Boardman’s drainage mill at How Hill.

How Hill is an 800 acre estate with the mansion house built for Edward Boardman in 1905, it is now an environmental education centre and nature reserve.

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Cormorant tree

 

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Toad Hole cottage

The men who worked the marshes cutting reed lived in cottages like this.  Very basic with no luxuries like running water and electricity.  Toad Hole is now a museum and furnished to show the marshman’s life.

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Turf Fen
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Winter plumage Great Crested Grebe caught in the gloom at Womack Water

 

Man of Leisure?

Its a new day
But it all feels old.
Its a good life
That’s what I’m told.
But everything
It all just feels the same
And my high school: it felt more to me
Like a jail cell, a penitentiary.
My time spent there
It only made me see
That I don’t ever want to be like you.
I don’t want to do the things you do.
I’m never gonna hear the words you say
Cause I don’t ever wanna.
I don’t ever want to be.
You don’t want to be just like you
What I’m sayin’ is this is the anthem
Throw all your hands up
You. don’t want to be you
After 48 years, 8 boatyards (some more than once), 4 builders, post office, HGV mechanic training course, several bouts of unemployment and finally 2 supermarkets I have called it a day, stuck two fingers up to being a wage slave and taken early retirement!
So now I don’t have to get ready for work at lunchtime and spoil a whole day.  What shall I do with all this spare time? (apart from the extensive list of to-dos being drawn up by Mrs H!)
It would be lovely to go travelling again once this bloody pandemic gets under control (as of the 5th we are again under lockdown so cannot go anywhere!).  Berlin beckons.  I really miss being able to see our daughter the Lemming and she is really struggling with all the restrictions she is under in Germany.

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Viktoria on top of the Brandenburg Gate Berlin

Our holiday to Berlin this spring was cancelled very close to departure time and it took many months to get the full refunds.  Good job we had not booked a stay on the Greek island of Corfu.  I am really looking forward to being able to return here one day.  I enjoy the Greek way of life and there is so much more of this verdant isle to explore.

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Azure sea and matching sky, the south/east coast of Corfu

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Evening over a tranquil Ionian Sea and a cruise ship slips toward Kerkira

What else can I do to occupy my tiny mind? (yes dear I haven’t forgotten that list).  Well I could buy myself another motorbike.  Always been part of my life since I was a teenager, I didn’t get a car until I was in my 30’s!  I sold my last bike a couple of years back but to be brutally honest I’m getting too old.  The condition of the roads (potholes etc) are lethal and the amount of traffic is even more deadly.  Best forget that idea.

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The beautiful beast! My Harley I owned a few years back. It taught me one thing, you need very deep pockets to keep an old machine running, oh and that fuel tank was only good for 60 miles! But the sound was wonderful (and totally illegal, no silencers!) I actually cried when I sold this

I could always take up fishing again.  When we moved I brought all my old rods and reels with us.  It’s been twenty  years since I put them in the shed when I lost my love for angling.  A lot of the lakes and rivers I fished changed ownership and became private or very expensive.  With the birth of our daughter I just gave up but now sitting besides a beautiful river on a crisp autumn morning has an appeal.  Perhaps I should dust them rods down, if the mice haven’t got to them!

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How about that for a wet, slimy, smelly thing! The 21lb (10kg) pike however is a thing of beauty

I could always attempt to see and photograph all 58 species of British butterflies in one year.  The amount of travelling involved puts me right off this idea, best to just take your time and enjoy those that come along.  We will now be able to go when we please when the weather is good without having to worry about booking holiday time in advance so that’s a bonus!  I might invest in a nice shiny new 600mm super zoom lens.  I have been pondering the purchase of one for some time and it would make bird photography a lot easier.

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Not all birds, like this very friendly Robin, allow such a close approach

Whatever I do in the coming years one thing is for sure, I will grow old disgracefully!  I have had years of experience!

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Selfie ’70’s style. Camera on tri-pod, focus and settings, set timer, strike a rebellious pose!

If you are still with me after my thoughtful wanderings,well done, see you soon…..

Go to college, a university
Get a real job, that’s what they said to me
But I could never live the way they want
I’m gonna get by and just do my time
Out of step while they all get in line.
I’m just a minor threat so pay no mind
Do you really want to be like them
Do you really want to be another trend
Do you want to be part of that crowd.
Cause I don’t ever wanna.
I don’t ever want to be you

(Good Charlotte ‘The Anthem’ 2003)

Pond Life

One thing we looked for when searching for a new home was a smaller garden.  Seems strange as most people want a bigger plot, yet we wanted to spend more time enjoying things and not tied to endless chores (one and a half hours lawn cutting in our last place!).  Our new garden suited us fine despite it being neglected for a while and needing a lot of clearing and chopping back.  It’s about a third the size of the previous plot but joy of joys it has a pond!  I’ve always wanted a wildlife pond (no fish) but have been too lazy to dig one, now I’m spending ages watching the comings and goings instead of getting on with other jobs.

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My new source of fascination! There is a mass of oxygenating plants and a couple of water irises so I’ve started adding marginal plants to give it more appeal to wildlife. The shrub at the back is Red-Osier Dogwood and is starting to produce white berries and the leaves a lovely autumn hue

I was delighted when I saw the first dragonfly appear and a little pond dipping revealed they had made use of the feature before, in among the weed and mud were several dragon and damselfly nymphs.  One day two exuvia (cast shells) were on an iris leaf, a darter and hawker, we had had babies!

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On sunny days a male Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) is often present. Usually it’s sitting on rocks for warmth here it’s making use of the dogwood

To date I have noted six species of odonata and egg laying by Common Darter and Southern Hawker.  Dragons are not the only visitors.  I’ve seen baby newts, a frog and lots of other bugs.

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Pond Skaters are fearsome looking creatures in macro, they prey on small insects that fall in the water and will even take damselflies!

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Yes it’s upside down. Water Boatmen come to the surface for air then swim back among the weeds using those two long legs as oars

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The wasps spend ages feeding on ivy blossom then pop down for a quick drink

I was delighted with the sixth species of dragon it was a Willow Emerald Damselfly (Chalcolestes viridis).  This damselfly only colonised the UK in about 2009 but is spreading across the country.  It lays it’s eggs in branches overhanging the water.  The larva when they emerge then drop down and continue development underwater.  Will it use the dogwood?  Probably not but it’s lovely to see one here.

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Nice visitor, the Willow Emerald Damselfly. Also known as spreadwings you can see why

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Up close with the Willow Emerald

Anyway must get on, jobs to do and ponds to watch!