CountrysidePix

Countyside Pix Blog

2017

16 October we went off on an RSPB trip to NNR Dungeness and RSPB Dungeness yesterday, the last coach trip of the season. It was still dark when we got up to catch the 0720 coach but as daylight came we realised we were in for a good day, weather wise. Whether the wildlife would be similarly obliging, we would have to wait and see. Dungeness never disappoints, but there was not too much within camera range on the NNR reserve apart from some Stonechats within the perimeter fence of the power station.

 

The RSPB reserve, on the other hand, most certainly delivered. A large number of Great Egrets and Cormorants were about on the scrape. However, our highlight of the visit was when a female juvenile Kestrel landed on the roof of a hide about 6 feet away from us. It was completely unfazed by humans and stayed long enough to provide some great photo opportunities. The other highlight was coming across some Red Veined Darters, again relatively obliging. The only downside of the trip was the 5 mph crawl from junction 3 of the M25 to the tunnel, which added about an hour to the homeward journey. Apart from that it was a truly brilliant trip

 

9 October it’s been quite a week! On Tuesday the car went in for MOT and service, then during the afternoon the virus software on the computer froze completely with error messages galore. The support line proved to be anything but, with the support technician being patronising and singularly unhelpful opining that the machine was infected and there was nothing that they could do. His parting you have a nice day now was the final straw. Eventually, the only solution was to take the computer into the workshop so that a non-existent virus could be removed. The computer has now had a good service, brand new virus software installed, and I am back to as normal as I ever am. Oh yes, and the car passed its MOT.

 

On Friday, a friend and I took a trip to the Essex Wildlife Trust reserve at Blue House Farm, North Fambridge in gorgeous sunshine with hardly a cloud in the sky. The highlight being Marsh Harrier hunting at low level right on front of the hide we were sitting in. Saw some Water Pipits and Pied Wagtails together with a Kestrel. A bracing walk along the seawall and lunch on the Ferry Boat Inn rounded off a good day. Our total walk was 6.6 miles or 17,248 steps!

 

On Saturday the weather was not quite as kind for our trip in excellent company, to South Weald Park. Most of the day was cloudy with the odd short burst of drizzle, but the four of us always make the best of our days out. One of the facilities at the park is sky watching hammocks. I got into it with little difficulty, but found that a heavy camera around the neck made getting out an experience. My companions were alarmed by the reddening of my face!!  Only managed 4.2 miles or, 10,651 steps!

 

 

Today, I went on an RSPB walk at Wat Tyler Park. Not an awful lot to see – Marsh Harrier, Curlew, Cormorant Redshank and gulls but managed to do 6.8 miles or 16,142 steps. It was nice to be in the fresh air with reasonable weather. It will be interesting to revisit Wat Tyler Park later in the autumn to see what else is about The first images taken during the last week now published with more to come in the next few days.

 

30 September Saturday morning the weather was fair, light winds and as the C2C trains were running direct to Purfleet, the allotment lost out in favour of Rainham Marshes. The weather was beautifully calm with some fair weather cloud in the sky. We both took a great interest in the cloud formations as I have signed up to a 4 week Met Office/University of Exeter/RPS course on meteorology. As week 3 was on cloud, it is of greater interest I find clouds fascinating but with the extra knowledge, there is more to see, so to speak. Like our last visit, not much in the way of small birds but the geese were entertaining. The highlights were encountering a Reed Dagger moth caterpillar crossing the board walk and viewing a Barn Owl through a scope. Too far to get a decent image, but a good sighting nevertheless as ever, a really great day out 

 

25 September with the arrival of autumn, work on the allotment changes from frantic harvesting to getting the plot ready for winter. On the photography side, the warm weather yesterday meant that we had quite a bit of insect and arachnid activity around. The strong breeze was a bit of a challenge, but the macro flash helped to steady things up. The latest offering of images includes a couple from our Cumbrian holiday plus local spiders and bees!!

 

22 September now safely into the autumn equinox, I am still previewing (and publishing) images taken in Cumbria. Today’s selection include a prehistoric stone circle, which was apparently used as a stone axe market for the region; a Chinese bridge and a selection of macro shots. The stone circle was problematic inasmuch as the large number of visitors to the site, including a group of ramblers. Excluding humans from the shot was a challenge! The 14mm wide angle lens proved better than the 8mm fisheye, one did include humans the other sheep. I suppose if I had got up there at the crack of dawn, the effect might have been better. C’est  la vie!! The Chinese bridge was shot from upstairs of the open top bus, which had conveniently stopped at a nearby bus stop. Apparently the path to the bridge was a foot or so underwater, and walkers were removing boots and socks to get to it!!

 

21 September I am still uploading photographs from last week’s holiday to Cumbria, although having now returned home it seems like a distant memory. The weather is slightly better at home, but the downside is that I have not seen a rainbow since leaving the Lake District, so the climate up there does have some advantages, although the regular rain is the downside, I suppose. Some of today’s offerings were taken on a journey in an open top bus to Seatoller and back. It was quite good but needed quick reflexes to avoid tree branches along the narrow lanes. We never had this with the open top buses on Southend seafront!

 

I am slowly returning to my normal routine, although I do miss throwing the curtains open unsure of what sort of weather is rolling in from the fells. The neighbouring gardens don’t quite have the magic of Cumbria!! Strange!!

 

18 September have been away on holiday for a week in the Lake District staying in Cumbria and getting around the area by bus. Thank goodness of bus passes!!  We stayed in a great boarding house in Keswick and although the weather was at times challenging, we managed to have a very enjoyable break. The first selection of photos has now been published with more to come.  Got some dramatic shots of the weather coming in over the fells 

 

2/3 September another weekend on the allotment with time spent before coffee break helping with grass cutting, tidying etc. and after coffee crawling around the plot armed with camera, macro lens and flash. Both were rewarding in their own way, but it never ceases to amaze me how often the unexpected insect (and spider) presents itself for photographic capture. The shield bugs were out in force again as were the bee-mimic hoverflies. The icing on the cake, so to speak, was a Pantaloon Bee, which had taken up residence on one of the Oxeye daisies. Furthermore, it was completely unfazed by camera and flash. It finally moved after I had captured it from all sides.

 

1 September It has been ages since my last visit to the EWT reserve at Blue House Farm, North Fambridge so with good weather and a free day, it seemed like a good idea to re-visit. I decided to travel by train and just managed to catch the 0910 from Southend Victoria which meant that I was on the reserve by 10 am.  There was plenty of wildlife about and some very obliging dragonflies that hovered long enough to manually focus on them.

 

One of the joys of photography is that is possible to take images of the birds, insects etc. and then identify them at leisure once I return home, so the icing on the cake came when I realised that I had managed to capture a Wood Sandpiper amongst some ducks on the scrape. Another highlight was watching a Hobby in action. The identification of one bird is so far eluding me, so I await an e-mail from Rainham Marshes with an id – I hope!!

 

Having visited all three hides I walked along the seawall finally arriving at the Ferry Boat Inn for lunch and a pint of Maldon Gold ale. In my view this was the best end to a wildlife expedition. I would have no hesitation in recommending the cheese sandwich or the ale. It is a nice friendly inn ideally placed for thirsty photographers and the like

 

30 August the weather has certainly changed today – its feeling decidedly chilly outside at the moment which is why I decided to relive the last couple of days with the weekend’s haul of images. Once again, it was an action packed morning on the allotment with the local Garden Spider population apparently stocking up for winter. Amongst the unlucky prey was a Cabbage White butterfly and a Bee (or possibly a Hoverfly) captured close to the fruit bushes. On the bug front the Shield Bugs are massing on the Rhubarb leaves. The foregoing is a long-winded way of saying that there was ample scope for macro work. 

 

28 August the weekend has been split between allotment and garden with horticulture and photography at both locations. I have concentrated on macro, a discipline that I have always enjoyed, using the spare camera equipped with 100mm macro lens plus ringflash, for shadowless images. There is an ongoing debate over the merits of ringflash and macroflash using 2 angled heads close to the lens. Doubtless this debate will continue ad infinitum! From my perspective, I am comfortable with the ringflash set up. That said, I also favour off camera flash with a softbox.

 

The warm weather has brought out a plethora of insects including what looked like a convention of Shield Bugs clustered on a decaying rhubarb leaf. The bees, and other pollinators, were attracted to the sedums which almost turned into an impromptu insect studio. Only a handful of butterflies about this weekend and not too many hoverflies but the bees and spiders compensated for this. The latter seemed to be concentrating their webs in the vicinity of the fruit bushes where the raspberries and blackberries are ripening, thus attracting insects. Clever, huh?

 

25 August spent the morning on the allotment splitting my time between a bit of woodwork, creating a new frame for the salad bed, and photography whenever an interesting insect came into view. Rather unusually for me, on the frame building scene, I managed to get more paint on the wood than on me – that is a first!!! There were some interesting insects about including a bee mimic and an ichneumon. This was fascinating to watch its antennae vibrating which is used to smell out prey – mainly caterpillars. I have published some shots from this morning plus the final selection form Long Melford and some other allotment shots from earlier in the month.

 

19 August Crossrail occasionally throws up some useful travel advantages as parts of the C2C network shut down for Crossrail related engineering work. The opportunity to travel from Southend to Purfleet without changing at Grays or Barking being one such bonus. So when I discovered that trains would be running the loop, so to speak, it seemed too good an opportunity to travel to Rainham Marshes. Earlier in the week the weather forecast seemed decidedly iffy, but as Saturday approached the weather looked ok – apart from the wind, that is

 

The journey up there was seamless but there was a distinct lack of bird life about. Very few waders, no gulls or swans and only a smattering of wildfowl except over on the target pools. That situation did change with a low flying air ambulance close followed by a raptor as a couple of flocks of geese arrived with much honking. Small bird wise, there were few birds about.

 

However, on the macro front, there were ample insects about plus a bonus in the form of three basking Common Lizards, one of which stayed around long enough to be photographed. It was not overly warm on Saturday so I was surprised to see so many dragonflies about especially the Common Hawker who hovered stationary close enough to get a couple of good shots. There were some interesting bees and flies about plus a parasitic wasp. So the insects compensated for the lack of birdlife

 

17 August yesterday I had a great opportunity for some macro work in a different garden with a whole range of different cultivated flowers and exotic fruit, the former of which attracted some different insects including a Plasterer and a Pale Honey Bee.  I used the macro 100mm lens, the extension tubes, close up filters and Macro ring flash to very good effect. The results were very pleasing. The afternoon session involved a visit to a local park with some interesting wildlife including a duck that is yet to be identified. I am awaiting an e-mail from the RSPB re the identification of the bird  before I publish images up on the site

 

14 August we spent the day at Long Melford having stayed overnight at the Crown Inn after a run up on Sunday morning. I spent a good part of the morning exploring Long Melford Country Park, which is just outside the village on the banks of the River Stour. I made some use of my home made flash extender to try to capture hoverflies in flight, which some success, I am pleased to say. There were some interesting fungi but the star moment was encountering a very obliging Willow Emerald damselfly. Apparently these are relative newcomers to Suffolk.

 

Having exhausted all avenues at the park I relocated to the parish church of Holy Trinity, which overlooks the village from high ground between Melford and Kentwell Halls. The church dates from the latter part of the 15th century and its building was financed by rich wool merchants as a visual statement of their prosperity. Close by is the Hospital of the Blessed Trinity which was built by the Lord of the Manor in the late 16th century for the benefit of the poor of the parish

 

12 August visits to our allotment are rarely dull and this morning was no exception. I managed to walk just over a mile whilst engaged in assisting to offload timber donated to the plotholders by a local firm because the wood had become twisted and was therefore unsaleable. If we had not taken it, the wood would have gone to landfill which verges on the criminal! Why have we become such a throwaway society? These exertions were followed by some crop picking followed by photography. Whilst I enjoy venturing to other locations in search of nature, I am virtually guaranteed plenty of subject matter on the plot. It strikes me that all photographers who specialise in macro work should have an allotment or be married to a plot holder!!!

 

11 August  I have been doing a bit of experimenting with stacking images using Helicon Focus software. The shot of the Lavender in the Cultivated Flowers album being my latest effort. It was a stack of a dozen images all shot and processed (post stacking)  in Adobe DNG courtesy of Lightroom. The process of taking the images is a trifle tedious but I am hoping that the results will be worth it. The camera is focussed on the end point of the subject and then advanced a millimetre at a time. It is an ideal activity for a wet afternoon indoors.

 

I have published some other images selected from the unprocessed selection from the start of Spring this year from various locations, although predominantly around the allotments plus some shots of the Sparrows in the Hebe taken from an upstairs window. I do venture out of Southend occasionally and even out of the county, so that is something else for my avid readers to look forward to. I have even developed my fresnel flash device by fitting a custom cut-out fresnel lens into the snoot. 

 

5 August it’s a funny old day, our original plans were scuppered due to an adverse weather forecast and so after a quick trip down to the allotment to pick some produce, we returned home to garden instead. This was based on the premise that if the heavens did open, we would be 90 feet away from the dry rather than ½ a mile. Needless to say I took the opportunity to do some more experimenting with flash photography with the 300mm.

 

 

The lash up alluded to in my last posting works ok but the Fresnel adaptor does spring off sometimes, always at the wrong moment. So, it was a back to the drawing board moment! The Fresnel adaptor was intended for the film era Pentax AF280T flash unit. One of the great advantages of Pentax is that film era lenses and accessories do work with digital age cameras. The 300 mm plus 1.4 tele converter was fitted to the K5 together with the AF280T + Fresnel adaptor, the switch on the back of the flash unit was set for finder A check in other words flash ready, and off I went. The whole set up worked perfectly. In future the kit for wildlife expeditions will include the film era flashgun.

 

3 August way back in the 1970s, when Pentax were the brand of the moment, they brought out accessories for extending the range of flashguns which were basically a clip-on plastic box with a Fresnel screen on the front. The idea being that you could illuminate a subject further away than the flash would normally illuminate. Recently, one or two accessory companies have introduced attachments for flash guns which do the same thing.  I dug my adaptor out from the depths of the obsolete camera box with a view to using it on the Metz. Needless to say, it is too small to clip over the flash head.

 

However, it just about fits into my Rogue snoot so I attached it to the Metz this morning and took some shots of Sparrows in the garden with the 300mm + 1.4 times teleconverter out of an upstairs window. I must admit, I expected the experiment to be an abject failure. The results were not at all bad bearing in mind the Sparrows were being buffeted about in the wind as they clung onto the branches of the Fig tree and Hebe bush for dear life. The relic from the 1970s is now to be kept in the camera bag when I intend using it on my next wildlife trip.

 

1 August 2 pieces of information for you – one virtually useless the other could be helpful. The relatively new RSPB reserve at Wallasea Island has 9 miles of paths. Yesterday, I managed 8½ miles of them in 6 hours taking 22,236 steps in the process, with a friend who can verify this. That is the boring bit out of the way. The weather was very kind, a bit breezy but mainly sunny. Some of the wild and insect life was obliging including an acrobatic Ruddy Darter and a White Wagtail – the remainder varied between mildly helpful to the catch me if you can, approach. I singularly failed in the latter endeavour!! The landscape is extremely flat but the RSPB have worked wonders in creating a fantastic habitat for both bird and insect life. It will be interesting to see how it develops and is most certainly on the list for a revisit

 

30 July another productive morning on the allotment with a very obliging Small Skipper, a Mint Moth and a Common Stretch Spider being the photographic highlights. Once again I was using the bridge camera mainly due to weight issues – horticultural kit, not mine!! The bridge, with its tilting screen, came into its own with the low shot of the fungus. It does amaze me how many different insects and the like are attracted to the site. What started out as a project to attract bees and similar pollinators, is attracting many other species.

 

29 July the last few days have been spent on the allotment mainly picking crops with a bit of pruning thrown in. As the weather has been a bit iffy, I opted to take the bridge camera rather than the main kit, just in case there was anything interesting about. The usual high hopes, low expectations applied. A leafcutter bee and a hoverfly hornet mimic certainly justified taking the bridge along. I would have been most certainly dischuffed had I gone to the allotment empty handed so to speak. The camera not only provided a record of visitors to the site, but also aids the identification of insects like the leafcutter or the hornet mimic 

 

20 & 21 July were the dates of our visit to the RBG at Wakehurst Place in West Sussex, a place that we have visited before and one which is one that we will most certainly re-visit. The weather forecast was not great and we wondered just how much time we would be able to spend ion the gardens and surrounding countryside. In the event, the cold front had passed through by the time we got to Haywards Heath, taking the rain with it. As usual, Wakehurst, and its 500 acres, did not disappoint. The weather was warm, sunny at time but quite breezy, which made macro work challenging to say the least. However, the insect life did not disappoint – the highlight was a very obliging Dark Green Fritillary in the woods – a first for me, I would hasten to add. We managed to walk 4.1 miles on day 1 before heading off to our hotel on the outskirts of Haywards Heath.

 

On day 2 the bus dropped us at Wakehurst around 1030 and again we managed to see parts of the estate that we had missed on day 1 including the newly created Coronation Meadow, the wild flowers have gone over and much of the colour has gone, but we will certainly be back for next spring when I have no doubt the meadow will be a mass of colour. The morning was then spent exploring some of the woodland and rocky outcrop trails. Lunch provided a welcome break and sit down. The afternoon was a more leisurely affair around the hall and lakes. The afternoon highlight was seeing a Wren with a freshly caught grasshopper in its beak. Probably not the grasshopper’s highlight though!!! We are already looking forward to our next visit

 

17 July just for a change I spent the morning on the allotment initially clearing some weeds from around the pond, but interspersed with yet more macro photography, I am pleased to say! The day’s ‘catch’ included a Weevil negotiating a plant stem; a Mirid Bug crossing a leaf; a Dolichopid feeding on an Oxeye Daisy and a face to face meeting with a Field Grasshopper. There were the usual butterflies about, quite a few flower beetles and the Wool Carder bee turned up again to feed on the Birdsfoot Trefoil. No damselfly this morning but the mosquitoes were biting well!

 

15 July another day on the allotment with a bit of berry picking, some modifications to the Sea Kale bed, topping up the manure bins and, last but by no means least, some interesting insects to photograph. The highlights being a Wool Carder Bee; a female brown Blue butterfly; a colourful Shield Bug; and a fight between 2 bees trying to feed on the same Birdsfoot Trefoil – the Wool Carder lost!! I have published up a selection with more to follow in the next few days. To many plot holders our bee border is a wilderness that should be cleared. To us, it is a rich source for pollinating insects, (even if there is the odd confrontation) which is beneficial to everyone. One day they may realise its use.

 

14 July this morning’s Plan  was to pop down to the allotment for some fruit and vegetable picking, so I just took the bridge camera just in case. After clearing the last of the gooseberry bushes and mopping up the blood caused by the thorns, I did a quick circuit of the allotment to see what was about. The highlight was a colourful shield bug which turned out to be a bit of a rarity. Its Latin name is Eurydema dominulus – does not appear to have a common name.  This encounter  just goes to show the value of expecting the unexpected and always taking a camera!!

 

8 July another day of picking on the allotment with some photography thrown in – maybe that should be the other way round!! The crop of insects was interesting with a Red Tailed Mason Bee; a fly laying eggs on a plant stem, a Six Spot Burnett Moth and a couple of Small Skippers. It is still a bit breezy, which makes photography challenging, but the macro flash greatly assisted. More or less recovered from my expedition to Canvey. Already planning the next outing!!!

 

6 July yesterday I went to the new RSPB/Buglife nature reserve at Canvey Wick with a friend. The plan was a simple one which was a stroll along the seawall from Benfleet Station, past West Canvey Marsh reserve, onto the intended destination for some photography, onto the Lobster Smack for a sandwich and a pint, a bit more photography and back to Benfleet for the train home. What could possibly go wrong? Ok, so I may have misjudged the distance between the station and our destination, caused in the main by the winding nature of the creeks – just about 5 miles, with frequent stops to photograph insects. The intended timescale was about 1½ hours, in reality about 3 hours!! We finally collapsed into the bar of the Lobster Smack at 1.30 pm!!

 

Having been suitably refreshed, we retraced our steps and got onto Canvey Wick reserve for a good photography session. I think that we just about covered all points and then decided to head back home. Easier said than done – it took about an hour to actually find our way out, by which time the thought of the walk back to Benfleet Station was dismissed. We found the bus stop and after waiting just over half an hour realised that the bus timetable displayed at the bus stop should have started with the words, once upon a time as the timings of buses bore no relationship to the times displayed!

 

On the positive side, we saw some interesting insects, including around 6 pairs of Cardinal Beetles mating simultaneously on a Cow Parsley flower, literally dozens of Marbled White and Essex Skipper butterflies, plus quite a few Ruddy Darters. Got some good shots of an Oystercatcher as well. It is a reserve that is on our list for a return visit – next time it will be bus from Benfleet Station and a relatively short walk to the reserve, with lunch in the Lobster Smack. 

 

2 & 3 July I have spent the last couple of days on the allotment and at last have something to show for all of the watering, weeding and planting. Harvested crops. I must be honest here. I spend more time taking photographs than actually working on the allotment, although I do help out on the odd occasion. I am normally available for harvesting , a bit of watering and some of the hard landscaping, raised beds etc and filling the manure bins. The creative bit is all down to the plot holder (my wife) She is the one who plans the beds, does the planting, weeding and pruning. I do my bit which of course includes enjoying the fruits of my wife’s hard work. 

 

1 July yet another day on the allotment – I will be going to other venues for photography this month, but the wealth of photo opportunities on the plot seems endless. It was quite windy this morning, which proved a little challenging but the macro flash managed to freeze most movement. We can still boast one visiting Painted Lady plus both Essex and Small Skippers, Peacocks, Small Tortoiseshell, a Meadow Brown, Commas, Red Admirals and Whites. A sightings report re the Painted Lady has been sent into Butterfly Conservation. No sign of the Damselfly lately – I am hoping we may get some visitors during Dragonfly week – see www.british-dragonflies.org.uk for details. Plenty of of bees and hoverflies about plus other insects, so plenty to see

 

29 June I have spent the last few days popping in and out of the allotments. The wildlife area is certainly coming into its own with the range of insects that are being attracted to the flowers. So far this week the visitors have included one Essex Skipper, a couple of Small Skippers, five Commas, one Painted Lady, Peacocks, Small Tortoisehells, a Meadow Brown and the inevitable small and large Whites, much to the chagrin of our fellow plotholders. We can add to the lepididoptera list the White Legged Damselfly that visited the other day and the range of bees and hoverflies which come daily. The reference books that are kept adjacent to the computer have certainly come into their own this year!!

 

24 June the first job of the day, once we arrived on the allotment, was to take down the aphid infested Broad Beans which was incredibly messy and also rewarding so far as coming across a clutch of Ladybird eggs was concerned. These, together with umpteen larvae and adult ladybirds have been carefully relocated to a wild part of the plot away from predators. Photographically speaking, the rest of the morning was quite productive with no less than seven different butterflies mainly on the buddleia viz Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Painted Lady, Large White, Small White, Comma and Gatekeeper. There were also a selection of bees, hoverflies and beetles – or put another way, I was spoilt for choice.

 

Once back home, we found that around a dozen House Sparrows, with their young, had taken up residence in the Hebe and appeared to be eating the young seed now that the flowers have gone over and the bees have all but left. I managed some reasonable shots from an upstairs window overlooking the shrub. All in all a very satisfying day.

 

23 June another morning on the allotment to do some fruit picking and, in view of the missed rain yesterday, some watering. The weather forecast at lunchtime rather suggests that Southend will miss the showers tomorrow too. In between my horticultural activities, I did manage to do some macro photography with the ring flash; this despite the breezy conditions. One Comma butterfly was particularly obliging and I did manage to capture a Gatekeeper leaving a Buddleia flower. Photographing butterflies in flight is one challenge that I have set myself this year!

 

21 June the original plan to go on a field trip entailing a walk from Benfleet Station to Canvey Wick Nature Reserve with a friend  was thwarted by the heatwave and alert issued by Public Health England, so I settled for a gentle wander to the allotment, some gentle weeding and a some photography. The butterflies and bees must have heard the warning too because they were in very short supply this morning. Only 2 butterflies spotted no bees, a couple of hoverflies and a lot of ladybirds feasting on the blackfly that have taken up residence on the broad beans!! The windy conditions made macro work challenging, but not impossible and with the aid of a couple of close up lenses on the 100mm macro plus ring flash; I even managed some images of the anthers and stamens in a Cornflower. One hoverfly was so intent on feeding on a Buddleia flower that I was able to get extra close. What it thought when the flash went off, is anybody’s guess.

 

18 June I have had a busy few days – Wednesday and Thursday were spent at Kew Gardens beautiful weather with ample scope for photography on Wednesday. The new conservation area board walk was really good with plenty of macro opportunities including a Red Admiral laying her eggs a couple of Brimstones and other insects. One shot of a Red Admiral face on was spoilt by an inconsiderate individual who clomped his way around the boardwalk apparently oblivious to the guy (me) focussing on something on the boards. C’est la vie!!! However, further into the Conservation Area we came across a juvenile Great Tit who has yet to learn that humans should be avoided. Made for some great shots.  Around the lake and Water Lily pond I was hoping for an abundance of odonata aka dragon and damselflies. There was one pair of Broad Bodied Chasers mating and a few Damselflies but little else.

 

On Thursday we had enrolled on a Plant Identification course at Kew Gardens with one of the scientists from the herbarium. This started at 1030 so we made use of the Friends of Kew early garden entrance scheme and I managed a bit of photograph on the Broad Walk and around the ‘Hive.’ Very few people about apart from staff and the ‘Hive’ was deserted which meant that I was able to lay on my back to take some skyward shots without the fear of being trampled.

 

The course was absolutely brilliant and has certainly opened our eyes to the methodology involved in plant identification. After dissecting a Daisy and finding that it comprises what seemed like hundreds of florets each flower producing nectar, pollen and seed, I commented to the lecturer that I did not expect to get so excited about a daisy. The classroom session was followed by a tour of the Order Beds looking at different plant families before it was back to the classroom for the practical session i.e. putting what we learned into practice using a Wild Flower Key. A thoroughly enjoyable day.

 

13 June Tuesdays have become allotment grass cutting day and as the breeze has dropped it seemed a good idea to take the camera kit as well. The mower has become very temperamental of late but it finally started on what felt like the 15th attempt so grass cutting took place. This was followed by a bit of photography, some fruit picking, photography, watering – you get the drift! There were some very interesting insects about this morning including a Clearwing moth, a Crab Spider with freshly caught prey, and a carnivorous Sawfly. It never ceases to amaze me how many varied insects are attracted to the allotment  especially since the bee borders have been established, which are actually designed to attract pollinators per se. Keeping a check on the varied insect species is a good way of enjoying the fresh air and improving my knowledge wildlife simultaneously

 

12 June it is still quite breezy which makes macro work challenging, to say the least. However, in a masochistic mood I decided to take things a stage further and try some extreme macro work with the bellows and a ‘film age’ 50 mm manual lens outside with the Hebe as the subject – the Hebe which is currently literally alive with bees!!. Focussing in such circumstances is great fun with bees buzzing around your head – the camera metering decided to give some false readings and as the exposure meter – yes, I do still use one occasionally – was somewhere indoors, so I adopted that well known technique of trial and error. It worked! Then back indoors to use 21st century software to process the images. Oh yes, and locate the exposure meter for next time - just in case!

 

10 June Hamstel Road Allotments just for a change – did a bit of watering with seaweed fertiliser some fruit picking and a lot of macro work. Brilliant sunshine but very windy and this made focussing a bit challenging and needed remote flash with a snood and honeycomb to try to freeze movement. I managed about 50% success rate! The more interesting insects about included an Essex Skipper butterfly, 2 crab spiders lying in wait for unsuspecting insects, and some hoverflies. One crab spider was camera shy the other, quite the opposite. A good session though

 

9 June  I spent part of the morning down on the allotment, harvesting, dodging showers and avoiding thinking about the election with a bit of macro photography thrown in. The latter using helicoid tube 100mm lens and the Lensbaby with x10 close up lens. Very windy conditions so had to use flash on an extension lead with a snood and honeycomb. All in all the results were pleasing with a few insects about most of which were not bothered by the flash. When the rain terminated activities on the allotment we made a dash for home with a bit more garden macro work until the heavens opened and I retreated indoors. I wonder why they call this month flaming June??

 

6 June as any hope of photography was a total washout today, I have spent a good part of the morning and early afternoon processing images from yesterday when, although windy, the weather was reasonable. Most of the shots were taken with the 100mm macro, the 100 mm + helicoid tubes and one or two with the Lensbaby and macro supplementary lenses – a lens I intend using a lot more over the coming weeks. I t struck me some time ago that a large number of insects, both pollinators and non-pollinators, are attracted to our bee border together with quite a few spiders. I am intending to create a portfolio of the best shots for a specific project, so please do watch this space.

 

4 June following on from my excursion to Canvey, I spent the morning ostensibly helping on the allotment – a bit of fruit picking followed by modifications to the squash frame and then macro photography  using the 100mm + ringflash and the Lensbaby and macro lenses  which meant that I could get in very close and try some macro plus shots. For some reason this lens is called the Control Freak!!? The Cornflower came out particularly well, the Peone on the other hand, provided an interesting abstract image. There were some interesting bees about and some hoverflies, some of which were quite obliging

 

3 June spent the morning at RSPB West Canvey Marshes with a friend. The weather was warm to humid and there was a bit of a breeze. There were beautiful blue skies with fluffy clouds and excellent visibility. The highlight of the trip was watching a Buzzard wheeling and soaring overhead plus a great deal of aggression of the Lapwings versus crows on the scrape. There was some insect activity in the form of butterflies and one moth very few bees about and only a couple of dragon and damsel flies. I had hoped to see more of the latter. It was a very enjoyable morning – what really struck us was how quite it was considering that the reserve is flanked by two busy roads

 

2 June I have come to the conclusion that weather forecasts should be preceded by the words, once upon a time! Yesterday there were stark warnings about thunderstorms, heavy rain and flash floods destined to hit our neck of the woods at 1 pm. With this in mind and the fact that weather forecasting has given up on a piece of seaweed and uses sophisticated computer programmes and radar instead, we cancelled our planned lunch in Old Leigh and settled for the allotment instead, the latter being closer to home when the deluge came. Needless to say, it didn’t!!!

 

The plus side of the re-scheduling meant that I could indulge in some macro and super-macro work on some very obliging insect, interspersed with some crop gathering and a bit of hoeing. Oh yes, and some watering – just in case. I am still amazed by the variety of insects that are attracted to the bee border, which in turn gave me the opportunity to use the helicoid extension tube and ring-flash again.

 

Still no sign of the rain as I write this at 1710.

 

31 May I have spent the last couple of days on the allotment, which does not sound too exciting but is actually a macro photographer’s dream location. The great thing is that you never really know what is going to turn up. The pond and the bee borders attract all manner of pollinating insects. The vegetables attract predators such as Ladybirds hunting the aphids and occasionally something a little unusual turns up. The arrival of a very obliging Green Lacewing this morning on one of the Rosemary bushes being a case in point. It was completely unphased by the macro lens and flash and hung around long enough for me to get a decent image. A couple of days ago, I took some abstract images with the Lensbaby and this morning I used the helicoid extension tube to get some macro plus images of Black Bean Aphids. All in all, a very successful couple of sessions.

 

27 &28 May spent the day at Thurrock Thameside Nature Park on Saturday in excellent company. It was windy but quite warm after the morning’s rain and there was ample opportunity for us to indulge in some photography. Agonised over the identity of what transpired to be rather pale Painted Lady butterfly, had an excellent lunch in the Visitor Centre, and spent some time in the hide watching container ships being docked at DP World and the antics of a couple of seals. A very productive fun day

 

Sunday was spent on the allotment where weeding the salad bed was my main task, having made sure that the spare camera with macro lens and ring flash was close at hand. If I am honest, more photography than weeding took place with some very interesting insects about. Managed to get most  of the weeds out!!

 

26 May another hard morning’s work on the allotment – at least we did not have to suffer the vagaries of the local transport system as shanks’s pony is the favoured mode of transport. Lovely warm sun, but a stiff easterly breeze proved a little challenging from the photography viewpoint. Some interesting insects about, most of which were reasonably co-operative. And I helped with a bit of hoeing and edging

 

24 May our planned trip to RSPB Rainham Marshes got off to an inauspicious start when the bus into Southend Town Centre failed to turn up. The subsequent bus meant that we missed our intended train connection so decided to go via Grays instead of our usual route via Barking – not a great idea! Going up, was fine, the return journey, with 2 changes and a rush over the footbridge at Pitsea  - in the heat!!

 

However, once we arrived at Rainham, we were pleasantly surprised by the amount of bird life about. We encountered Reed Warblers, Sedge Warbler, geese, Lapwings, Starlings – plenty of scope for photography, some of which worked out well. I was even able to use the 400-600 zoom with a x2 converter to get some reasonable shots of Shelduck, a Shoveler and a Mute Swan. A great day out apart from the journey home

 

21 May we had our annual local RSPB trip to the reserve at Minsmere today. The weather was excellent, although there was quite a stiff breeze. Apart from Minsmere’s famous cheese scones the highlights of the day included a Bittern showing well amongst the reeds, an aerial flypast by a flock of Godwits which was reminiscent of a Red Arrows display and confrontations between Black Headed Gulls and Common Terns, all of which made for an entertaining day. My day there finished with the opportunity to capture a female pheasant at close quarters. The other highlight was seeing the first (for me) damsel and dragonflies. A fantastic day all round – Minsmere never disappoints.

 

20 May another change in the weather having had 55mm of rain in the last couple of days the sunshine came as a welcome change. We spent the morning on the allotment, for a change!! The insect life was very active with the Blackberry blossom positively buzzing. This provided ample scope for some macro work, although I did manage to fit in a bit of weeding/clearing and some help with the pea sticks!!  The highlight of the photo-session was capturing a hoverfly hovering near to the pond. For the most part the bees were relatively co-operative as were other insects. A good session all round

 

18 May following on from an exceptionally dry April we have so far recorded 28 mm of rain in the last 2 days at Southend making a total of 34mm. This is In turn has meant that the allotment is coming to life again with both plants and insects feeling revitalised. The downside is the increase in aphid activity. On the other hand, the scope for macro photography, especially on still conditions is certainly improving. The weather forecast indicates high pressure is returning so hopefully things will settle down, the ground having been sufficiently watered for the time being. I can dream!

 

16 May just back from RSPB Bowers Marshes – the weather over there was sunny, quite windy and incredibly humid. I heard, rather than saw, Bearded Tits, Cetti’s Warblers, Whitethroats et al. quite a few gulls about – the proximity to Pitsea Tip being a magnet!! There was a bit of a battle in progress on the scrape where I am assuming the Avocets are nesting. A couple of crows kept swooping low over a particular spot only to be chased off by the Avocets. Further on, a Grey Heron was being harassed by some gulls. There were quite a few butterflies about, very few bees, no hoverflies and one Ruddy Darter – my first dragonfly of the year!! According to my STRAVA app, I covered 2.8 miles in about 2 hours in 10,000+ steps – how is that for a bit of totally useless information?? According to how my feet felt when I reached the car, it felt more like 20.8 miles

 

15 May weather showery so little chance of any meaningful macro work today. Just as well that I managed to make the most of yesterday’s weather both on the allotment and in the garden. I tried a whole range of different techniques with ring flash and tripod plus the helicoid extension tube on the allotment followed by telephoto photography in the afternoon session. With a bit of luck + manual focussing I managed to capture a hoverfly in flight!! The allotment never ceases to amaze me with the plethora of insects attracted to the plot – mainly to what most plot holders would call weeds!!! The main bee border is now coming to life with poppies coming into flower along with Oxeye Daisies and other flowers. At least it is providing food for our resident bees.

 

13 May we have been intending to visit the Poppy Wave at Gunners Park for some time and finally made it today. Various friends who have visited expressed disappointment with the sculpture, but we came to the conclusion that the installation is best viewed at an oblique angle and not head on. We were certainly impressed. I suppose that we were lucky that the chilly, drizzly weather meant no crowds and that when the sun illuminated the sculpture, it comes to life. In short, we liked it.

 

 

I seem to be having a run of accommodating wild birds of late. The shots that I took of the Whitethroat and Redshank on our visit to Rainham being a case in point. When we had finished viewing the wave from every angle, we walked over to the old rapid fire battery hoping to see the swallows. They were darting about as usual but one bird seemed unphazed as I approached his perch and let me take half a dozen images before he got bored and joined his friends. I doubt if my luck will hold!!!

 

11 May Yesterday we took a trip over to Rainham Marshes as the weather was set fair and the wind had dropped slightly. It was also an opportunity to try out my new Strava app which is designed to track running and cycling activity, but is very useful to track movements on photo expeditions!! The total distance covered including the walk to and from the station was 7.5 km.

 

After a quick coffee we ventured out onto the reserve with the usual high hopes and very low expectation. However, Rainham, or rather the wildlife at Rainham, came up trumps. We had not got far when a very obliging Whitecap landed close to the path, sang his heart out and was completely unfazed by the camera. I managed a decent sequence of shots including a good view of his very wide gape. Further along the path, a Redshank landed on the fence and again seemed totally oblivious to the camera. I even managed to switch lenses whilst he sang away.

 

 

We encountered a Cuckoo, Lapwing defending their territory against all comers and, in the far distance across the Wennington Marsh, a pair of Black Winged Stilt, out of photographic range, but a great sighting. A Kestrel hovered around for a while, which wound up the Lapwings. There was a mass of wildfowl on the scrape. The only disappointment was a distinct lack of insects. The Cordite Store, which normally insects galore, was devoid of anything save a Red Admiral apparently laying its eggs on a nettle.

 

9 May the original plans for this week went a trifle awry but at least I managed to enjoy some macro work this morning on the allotment. I decided to challenge myself with some manual focus shots using the helicoid extension tubes in pre-set aperture mode. If it was not for the fact that I was using digital and not film, I could easily have been transported back to the mid-1960s when manual pre-sets were all the rage!!! In some ways it is a pity that Pentax do not make an updated auto focus version of the helicoid tube, however, the old fashioned ways worked – well they did this morning!!!

 

29 April spent the morning down on the allotment with my time split between helping prepare the runner bean bed and macro photography. The allotment is so dry that I had to resort to a club hammer to break up some of the larger lumps of soil!! This is the driest April for some time – so far we have had 6 mm of rain, only marginally wetter than April 2007 when we had just 2 mm!! The photography side of things went well! Quite a few insects about including an Ashy Mining Bee and some very obliging Honey Bees

 

22 to 24 April I had arranged some time ago to visit the Essex Wildlife Trust Reserve at Thurrock Thameside for some time. We chose Saturday 22nd hoping for favourable weather but woke to heavy drizzle. The various weather forecasts did little to reassure but in the end we decided to go for it, after all, the BBC said it would be through by around 10. Crossing Pitsea Flyover, the visibility looked as though it was deteriorating, but my smartphone app assured me that the worst would be clear by 11 so we pressed on. It was still drizzling when we reached the reserve so grabbed a quick coffee and came back out to dry, if overcast, conditions.

 

So far, so good apart from a dearth of wildlife!!! They had obviously not embraced smartphone technology! We pressed on, heard at least one Cetti’s Warbler, got a brief glimpse of a Willow Warbler, saw a Cuckoo, a Kestrel, some Crows and a few gulls. We managed to walk around Thurrock Thameside and then Stanford Warren before lunch. This was followed by a hike over to Stanford Wharf by which time we had warm sunshine and clear blue skies. Finally, as we headed back towards the centre things really improved in the guise of a very obliging micro-moth which was so intent of feeding that a large macro lens inches away from it did not phase it phase it at all. If only all insects were so helpful.

 

 

Sunday was split between the allotment and back garden so I spent quite a bit of time armed with the macro flash, macro lens and helicon tubes doing some ultra macro work. Its amazing how big an ant looks with this kit! I used the same set up today again with some great results on the allotment, the highlight being a red tailed bumblebee, some spiders and a pair of mating ladybirds. The forecast for the next few days is not great but at least we are back in the macro season

 

 

18 April whilst the weather forecast promised a dry and mostly sunny day, the brisk north easterly winds put paid to my original plans for Hyde Hall so I settled for Two Tree Island instead  - this was plan C. Plan B was Gunners Park but that too can be bleak. Two Tree’s eastern half was chosen as I am still hoping for a sight of the Kingfishers on the redundant sewerage lagoons, but found Black Headed gulls instead. They entertained with a mating ritual, but as nothing else was happening I moved on.  I caught a brief glimpse of a Nightingale before it sought cover in a dense hedge, but did manage some shots of a Goldfinch and, after much trial and error, a Swallow!! I was quite surprised to see some butterflies and bumblebees about, but then that half of the island has quite a bit of shelter, so low flying insects can stay relatively warm. The highlight of the visit was being able to get relatively close to a feeding, male Orange-tip butterfly.

 

 

9 & 10 April we travelled up to Kew on Sunday having booked to stay at the Coach and Horses on Kew Green. The plan was to walk around the gardens on Sunday and then take in the London Wetland Centre   on Monday. Of course we had to pick and exceptionally hot day for the Kew Gardens perambulation. According to my phone, the temperature peaked at 25° centigrade in Kew making it as pretty hot April day. Needless to say the gardens were packed but, luckily the conservation area was not. We saw a Whitethroat in the trees plus a couple of Orange Tip and Brimstone butterflies.

     After lunch the walk around the gardens was demanding due to the heat so frequent stops were the order of the day. The gardens did look stunning though with ample opportunity to indulge in some macro and abstract photography. I had lugged the full kit of lenses with me so made sure that I used each. Dinner at the Coach was followed by a stroll along the Thames Path before returning to our room for a well-earned coffee and rest.

 

    The weather on Monday was significantly different although sunny the northerly wind meant that our anoraks were most certainly needed. Once again the Wetland Centre was crowded especially around the children friendly areas. However, as the woodland path does not appeal to children looking for entertainment we were able to content ourselves with searches for some very elusive Blackcaps and Garden Warblers – they would appear for a couple of seconds and then disappear into the undergrowth, singing all the while. Frustration and entertainment all rolled into one!! It was a great couple of days – the photographic results will be published up over the next few days 

 

5 April another sunny if somewhat breezy day and I ventured no further than the allotment this morning, taking the spare Pentax and remembering to take the Lensbaby. Twice in the last fortnight I have delved in the camera bag to use this lens only to find that it is at home!!! Third time lucky!! The tulips provided good subjects for my latest foray into abstract photography. Meanwhile, the Honey Bees attracted to the Rosemary flower covered the macro side of things with the macro flash being used to freeze movement.

 

1 & 2 April Brilliant sunshine, a plethora of insects and macro opportunities – it’s that time of year again. Despite the bright sun, I did not venture much further than the allotment or garden this weekend – the weather forecast predicted rain so instead of Plan ‘A’ – a trip to Kew Gardens, home seemed preferable. At least that way we managed to take in the Boat Race on TV as well!!! Plenty of insect life about most if which was obliging and the good light allowed me to indulge in some macro plus photography

 

25 March Today I went to Rainham Marshes with a friend – his first visit. The weather was quite breezy which made me think that the day was not going to be as successful as we would have hoped for.  Wrong! Within minutes of leaving      the visitor centre walking towards the Purfleet hide we saw a Kestrel hovering a few feet above the hide, motionless in spite of the breezy conditions. It just stayed there seemingly oblivious to the interest that it was attracting amongst