Countyside Pix Blog



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 the delighted photographers that were aware of its presence. Just as I contemplated changing from 300 mm to the 400-600 zoom lens, it moved off. I can honestly say I have never been that close to a Kestrel before.

The rest of the day was enjoyable; the other real highlight was seeing a Water Pipit in the woodland area, not quite as obliging as the Kestrel. Likewise the Brimstone butterfly that came tantalisingly close but declined to settle for a photograph – great to see it though. We managed two complete circuits of the reserve – according to my smart phone that equated to 8.4 km or 14,276 steps. Now that is a completely useless pierce of information!!!


17 March spent the morning at Warley Place near to Brentwood an Essex Wildlife Trust managed gardens/nature reserve with spring flowers and woodland. We were very fortunate to see a Nuthatch and Coal Tit plus a pair of Mandarin Ducks whose presence appears to have been resented by the resident Mallards.  It is our second visit there but most certainly will not be our last


15 March 2017 more work on the allotment where we are still getting things ready for the growing season. In between a bit of weeding I managed to indulge in some macro work as more insects emerge from their winter sleep. Not many bees about but did see a Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell and a Small White. There is a Goat Willow sapling growing on an adjacent plot and the flowers are attracting bees and butterflies. Today was about using the 100mm macro lens plus the occasional use of the helicoid extension tube set. Off the camera hand held flash used which allowed me to keep the ISO value to a minimum


12 & 13 March have spent the last 2 days on the allotment enjoying the fine weather and getting the plot ready for the new growing year. This involved some raised bed building, painting, 25% of which was attracted to me and photography. The spring flowers are coming into bloom and there are some insects about, but not in any great numbers. Saw a Comma butterfly yesterday (12) and a Peacock today. Very few bees about 


11 March I have spent the last couple of days ensconced in my portable chair hide in the back garden hoping that the neighbours don’t think they are living next door to a strange person. On the other hand, do I care?? With bright sunshine I managed to put the mirror lens to good use with some interesting shots of Chaffinches. Its handy to be close to the subject whilst being virtually invisible. A very satisfying session


7 March It has been a bit busy of late with some maintenance work on the allotment, building a new arch for the honeysuckle – actually a kit from Wilko – only took two days, but it looks good. As this morning was good, weather wise, a wander out seemed the order of the day. I ended up at Southchurch Park East hoping to avoid seeing the Water Rail. My logic being if I was not looking for him, my chances of seeing him were heightened. Fat chance!! Nothing out of the ordinary, but enjoyable nonetheless


1 March my first meaningful macro session of the year on the allotment this morning. Reasonable light, little wind and a couple of bees about, The primroses were attractive to one Honey Bee which seemed oblivious to the macro lens; a white Iris provided sustenance for a second one. Spring has sprung this morning, but doubtless the weather forecast will be correct and the promised wind and rain will come. Enjoyable morning though


28 February Spent last Friday at RSPB Rainham Marshes where we saw 34 different birds – a record for us. The best of the bunch now published up on the Website – but it has been an uphill struggle due to computer issues. A technician is coming this afternoon so fingers crossed that normal service 2will be resumed soon!!


17 February it’s the Orchid Festival at Kew Gardens again – unlike last year’s visit in heavy rain the weather forecasters got it completely wrong and we enjoyed sunshine and blue skies and not the forecast dark cloud with rain showers. The orchid theme this year was India – the displays were stunning – at least equal to last year’s display. The second half of our visit took in the lake where the Egyptian Geese entertained us with a courtship display. The trees around the lake were reflected in the still water. We explored the newly established woodland walk in the conservation area before heading home. A great day out in good company. The first of the photos are now published with more to come in the next few days.


15 February it’s been nearly a fortnight since I managed to do any photography – the weather forecast today wavered between rain and sun but it seemed a good idea to chance and outing to Leigh Marshes. Not a tremendous amount of wildlife about, the Kingfisher pool was a dead loss as were the Egret pools. However, I managed to come back with some decent shots and anyway, a morning in the fresh air with peace and quiet was well worth the outing.


3 February quite a nice morning – the weather forecast for the weekend not brilliant and I have been stuck in front of a computer for the last few days reading 18th century local newspapers! So, it seemed like a good idea to go for a wander with every intention of not seeing the Water Rail. I managed to achieve that with no difficulty at all. Visited Southchurch Park East and Southchurch Park where there was not much happening, however, the swans provided a different perspective, the reflections were great, hence the abstract shots and after quite a bit of hit and miss, I managed a decent shot of the Little Grebe. All in all, a good morning out – according to my health app, I took 6,975 steps. As bits of useless information goes that has got to be in the top 100!!!


28 January today is RSPB Big Bird Garden Watch, so why is it that our normally crowded bird feeders appear to have been boycotted to day? Before we started recording, 5 Goldfinches; 2 Greenfinches; 2 Great Tits and a selection of House Sparrows were feeding voraciously. As soon as we set up in position, having put out extra food, I hasten to add, a dearth of birdlife for the hour. Once we gave up, they started arriving. Murphy’s Law or what???


 26 January with the weather getting raw and cold again, it seemed a good idea to have a dry run of the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch (BGB) from indoors. Well that’s my story and I am sticking to it!! So with the big lens on, I spent an hour observing the birds visiting the feeders. There was a constant stream of Great Tits, Blue Tits, Goldfinches, Greenfinches and Gold finches, with a few House Sparrows, a Dunnock, a couple of Starlings and the resident Woodpigeons, who spend their day mopping up beneath  the feeders, providing some good photo opportunities. Hopefully, on BGB day the more exotic birds will appear – we did have 7 Goldfinches in one visit the other day. With my luck, the Sparrow Hawk will arrive at the wrong moment and stay for the entire hour!!!


24 January another nice day without a cloud in the sky, I toyed with various locations, very quickly decided against another Water Rail outing and settled for a walk into the country around Shopland. I have not been that way for a couple of years so a wander out in the countryside seemed like a good idea. Apart from Magpies and Pigeons there was not much about, but I persevered and the further away from the borough that I got, the more tranquil it became. The high points were seeing (and photographing) a Wren in flight and a Goldcrest clinging to a tree. After a 3 mile plus walk, it was back to the town for a coffee and an upload!!


21 January The clear, blue skies continue with lovely calm conditions and as my original plan was kicked into touch, we decided to take the bus to East Beach and then walk via Gunners Park to Thorpe Bay to pick up the bus home, carefully avoiding anywhere that a Water Rail may appear!! According to my Health App it was a distance of just over 3 miles. Very bracing. The air was very clear, conditions still and whilst we had to be aware of dog walkers, cyclists (the path is shared space) and joggers, we managed to achieve our aim. Not anything particularly outstanding in the wildlife, but an enjoyable excursion nevertheless.


18 January another glorious day – too nice to spend indoors which meant that the two Southchurch Parks needed to be visited. A few more dogs (and owners) about than yesterday but the calm, still weather provided opportunities for some great shots of wildlife. Apparently, I had just missed the latest onslaught on the Mute Swan cygnets by the parents seeking to drive their offspring to waters anew, but was entertained by a bit of sibling rivalry amongst the Little Grebes. There is nothing like a bit of drama to brighten the soul!


With my usual high hopes and low expectations, I relocate to Southchurch Park East in search of the elusive Water Rail. Followers of this saga will not be surprised to read that there was no sign of my elusive prey. Maybe I should change tactics and loudly announce that I am hoping to see the Kingfisher, and then the Rail might appear!!


17 January after a bit of humming and hahing I headed over to Two Tree Island in view of the clear blue sky and little wind – a little chilly but bracing!! Instead of heading for the scrape I went east towards the marshes and found peace and solitude. It was very wet underfoot and decidedly muddy in places. The first hide overlooks the marsh with a couple of Teal and the inevitable Coots. Not much else happening. I moved onto the old sewerage filter beds in search of the Kingfishers – no sign so moved onto the viewing area overlooking the Egret Pools. No sign. I retraced my steps still no Kingfishers. However, there was a very obliging Dunnock just as I arrived back at the car park so I managed to capture a shot before he relocated. A good morning out!


16 January the sunrise this morning looked almost like a Turner painting – managed two shots from an upstairs window using the bridge camera – snatch shots if I am honest. Quite pleasing results which were not enhanced in any way in Lightroom. The more vibrant of the two being a direct focus on the clouds. For the technically minded the shots were taken at F3.1; 1/80th second ISO 100 with a 4mm lens


11th January a bloom fell off the indoor orchid this morning so fitted the camera to the microscope and took some images of the petals. It is still very much trial and error but I am beginning to improve. Having exhausted what could be captured under the microscope I decided on some experimentation with the 100mm macro lens and the helicoid extension tube. Whilst the automated exposure and focussing of the modern dslr is a bonus, I still enjoy the old fashioned way of taking photographs, metering and manual focus, that is. I have no plans to switch from electronic flash to flash powder; my near neighbours will be relieved to hear!!


10th January brilliant blue sky, sunshine – what a change from Sunday! Got the kit together and set off for Southchurch Parks East ready to enjoy the day. Problem was it, clouded up virtually as soon as I got there. There were some odd sunny interludes, but gone was the wall-to-wall sunshine. Still, I managed to make the best of it and managed to get some images. No sign of the Water Rail – that undoubtedly popped out minutes after I left. Still, it was a morning in the fresh air, so certainly worth going. Where next?


9th January Another day lacking on promise but on a whim I decided to set up the 400-600mm mirror lens on the spare camera supported by the monopod more to practice manual focussing on the feeders  than anything else. I was rewarded by the arrival of a couple of Goldfinches attracted to the food plus some sparrows and a male and female Chaffinch. Much to my amazement I managed to get a couple of action shots of a Sparrow and a Goldfinch taking off from the feeders. Happy days!


8th January the wet conditions made the thought of both gardening and allotment a little unattractive so, needing to get some fresh air we decided on a 4 mile round trip to Priory Park. The weather was dull and the prospects for decent images low, nevertheless I gave the spare camera and the multi-purpose lens and outing. The light was not brilliant; however, there were some interesting fungi on a dead tree including some fine Purple Jellydisc which proved colourful in an otherwise dull day. 


3 January I spent part of yesterday photographing birds arriving and feeding at our feeding station, a bit up market from the old bird table that we had when I was young. Nothing too exciting in the way of visitors but fun to photograph nevertheless. I used the same venue today but threw caution to the wind and set up the 400-600 mirror lens on the monopod to see what I could capture. It is all part of the experiment to see how well it will perform for my next photo outing. The results were not too bad especially as I was using the 1.4x auto teleconverter with a lens that predates auto focus. With the crop factor of 1.5x I ended up with a focal length of between 840 to 1260 mm. Normally I would only use the mirror lens in bright conditions because the shallow depth of field does make manual focus a bit of a challenge. Today it worked OK so I will have to see how it pans out on the next outing




31 December I have now added two sub albums to the website – the General Photography album now boasts a dedicated Sky sub album for images of clouds, sunrises, sunsets and the odd rainbow. The Macro Plus album now has a Photomicrography sub album for images taken though the microscope, that is with a magnification higher than x50. Hopefully I will be able to add some new views of microscopic life in the New Year


28 December The day started foggy and without promise but once we got over to Two Tree Island at Leigh, things really improved, We could still see fog over Hadleigh Downs towards Benfleet, but the island was bathed in sunlight with a clear blue sky. The walk around the island presented ample opportunities for macro and abstract photography . Once we got to the scrape the mass of waders and waterfowl was stunning. The icing on the cake was seeing a Water Rail island hopping – out of range for a decent shot but at least I saw one to the delight of my companions.


After a great lunch at Ye Olde Smack, we poodled around Old Leigh, saw a murmuration of Brent Geese, one very close feeding and a pair of Kingfishers heading for their roost. The day was rounded off with great reflections in the water and a stunning sunset complete with rainbow effect. I have published up the first selection with more to follow


24 December More activity with the microscope this afternoon using a moss leaf as the subject. The process is still very much trial and error at the moment but my technique is slowly improving – only managed to put an objective through one coverslip today!!! Still, I am making progress and looking for other botanical objects to photograph. It’s a good challenge and is certainly giving me food for thought!! The next stage will be making permanent mounts of specimens.


22 December Up early to go shopping and beat the rush with breakfast followed by shop at Waitrose, which meant that most of the morning was free. It was a brilliant morning with a cloudless sky so microscopy indoors was put on hold in favour of a brisk walk to Southchurch Park East Water Rail hunting again. I got two fleeting glimpses of him but was entertained by the Mallards which were more aggressive than ever, now taking their disagreement up onto the bank. Some great reflections of the reeds in the water provided scope for some abstract shots plus a Mallard reflected in the flat calm of the lake. It would be nice to be able to photograph the Water Rail, but today it was not to be. One day soon perhaps – please!!! 


21 December I have spent most of the day alternating between the camera and microscope, with the latter progressively remembering what I learned at school in biology concerning using a microscope. It is slowly coming back to me 50+ years of memory recall. Scary or what?? The net result is that after a great deal of trial and error with the spare, spare camera linked to the microscope I finally managed to publish up a Stinging Nettle hair and the surface a pondweed leaf.  I would not claim that they are brilliant, just a bit quirky. More to come as I find more material!! It does make a change from missing Water Rail - which I will possibly resume doing next week!!


20 December one day away from the shortest day with the cloud lifted this morning off on another Water Rail expedition to Southchurch Park East taking some bird food with me to hopefully entice the elusive chap a bit closer. It didn’t quite go to plan but at least the local Mallards did enjoy the sunflower hearts!! I did actually get a fleeting glimpse of the Rail and he (or she) was quite vociferous in the reeds. No actual shots of the rail but I did manage some Mallards, a couple of Coots, a male Teal and capped the morning off with a shot of a swimming Brown Rat. Maybe next time the Rail will pose for me!!


14 November brilliant sunshine so with low hopes and no expectations went for a trip around the Southchurch Parks finishing at Southchurch Park East hoping to see the Water Rail. Success!! I saw it – that is the good news, the bad news is that the camera kept focussing on the windswept reeds so no joy with images. But, at least I saw it!!!


9 December spent the morning looking for the elusive Water Rail in Southchurch Park East and no, I didn’t find him!! Instead I had to make do with the antics of the male Mallard ducks in confrontational mood. I managed to take a sequence of images from the initial beaks at dawn moment through to the point that the loser got fed up with emulating a submarine and beat a hasty retreat. A few more skirmishes with other drakes ensued but nothing quite as ferocious as the sequence photographed. The other highlight of the morning was a pair of obliging Meadow Pipits and an equally obliging Blackbird.


6 December I have spent the afternoon experimenting with photomicrography using various botanical samples most of which have been an abject failure. On the verge of abandoning the project, I decided to have one last attempt with a pondweed leaf which I fished out of our excuse for a pond – another project for the New Year!! I actually managed to get a credible shot of the stem of a leaf magnified x56. For the moment the images, all one of them, will be published in the Macro Plus album. Once I have added a few more – I have a nettle in my sights so to speak – I will create a dedicated album. 


5 December last December the country was seeing the effects of Storm Desmond this year could not have been much different with clear skies and brilliant sunshine both for my birthday yesterday and today. This in turn provided some great opportunities to photograph some garden birds. Not as exotic as Dusky Thrushes but pleasing nevertheless


2 December 2016 way back in the age of 35mm film slr cameras, Pentax launched a copy stand called the Copypod that fitted to the front of the lens and allowed close up photography primarily designed for copying documents etc.  Ffordes Photographic of Inverness has a couple for sale recently so, I purchased one. It arrived this morning together with a microscope adapter so that I can indulge in photomicrography with my under-used microscope – ideal for those winter months when the weather is too bad to go out!! I have just photographed a bowl of cherry tomatoes using the Copypod, and I must say that I am pleased with the result.


30 November  another brilliant if cold day without a cloud in the sky. After a bit of debate settled for the Southchurch Parks with a faint chance of seeing the elusive Water Rail. Needless to say, I didn’t. What I did see was the cygnets on Southchurch Park using their breastbones to heave up onto the ice and break it, much to the amazement of the many onlookers witnessing the spectacle. Eventually, the cygnets forced their way through the ice and re-joined their parents. The ingenuity of wildlife!!


29 November a very frosty morning with clear blue skies and little or no wind, I was a bit spoilt for choice but as I was over towards the western side of the Borough, settled on Two Tree Island. There seemed to be very little bird life about when I arrived apart from Magpies, but the clear sky and excellent visibility gave me an opportunity for some landscape work. When I finally got down to the hide overlooking the scrape, it seemed unusually quiet until someone else in the hide mentioned the lack of gulls – not a single one! Loads of Avocets over the far side a Little Egret and a very obliging Wren just outside the hide. This was closely followed by an equally obliging Robin and then a Greenfinch. On the way back, I spotted a Whimbrel on the Hadleigh side of Leigh Creek which was the icing on the cake, so to speak.


26 November just back from a great morning with a friend at RSPB Bowers Marshes – all week the forecast has been for dark clouds but it was great to see that they were wrong and we had clear blue skies and sunshine. Initially it looked like a high hopes low expectations sort of day but we were pleasantly surprised by a Kestrel being mobbed by a crow. Not certain that the Kestrel was so enamoured though! A couple of Bearded Tits, a Meadow Pipit and a Redwing were showing well. Narrowly missed photographing a weasel and a Woodpecker, but a great morning out in fresh air in good company.


25 November very windy and cold again today with the garden birds making frequent trips to the feeders, although the starlings have found a way of getting the mealworms from the Robin feeder again. Spent a good half hour or so with the reflex lens set to 400mm in the fond hope of catching one of the Great Tits on the feeders. My manual focussing skills are a bit rusty so had to make do with a female Greenfinch facing me!! Did make a change from a Grey Squirrel though!!


24 November  just finished taking a series of shots of the antics of a Grey Squirrel trying to get a feed from the sunflower hearts feeder on the bird feeding station. The ingenuity was amazing and its perseverance paid off!! It was great to watch although the birds queuing to use the feeder were less impressed!!


17 November the weather at Southend started bright followed by strengthening wind, showers, hail shower, more wind and now rain. Now (noon) the sun has come out again. The weather radar on my app, Home and Dry, suggests more rain to come. Joy!! However, managed to get into the garden for some shots of the vibrant Blueberry leaves before they get blown away!! 


16 November  lovely sunny day and relatively still so on the spur of the moment headed for Rainham Marshes by the time I got there, the wind had got up, the reeds were blowing like the clappers and most of the birds had hunkered down!! Highlights of the day were and obliging water Pipit; a Ruddy Darter – in November??? A kestrel and a Peregrine. Plenty of fresh air and exercise, so not a wasted day


13 November Attended the Remembrance Day service on the cliffs at Southend. Brilliant sunshine and very little wind made for a nice, if a little chilly, morning. The blue skies over the estuary coupled with good, clear visibility provided some good photo opportunities especially of the pier. All images shot with the Pentax X 5 bridge camera which never ceases to amaze me with its clarity


11 November I have been meaning to re-visit Chalkwell Park  for some time and in this morning’s glorious autumnal weather I finally made it. The trees look great in their autumn colours and with no wind, there was ample opportunity for slow speeds and low ISO. I have just published the first batch with more to follow over the weekend. I made use of the 400-600 mirror lens as light condions were so good, with quite pleasing results. The doughnut effect added to the result!


4 November Spent the morning at Belhus Park near Upminster – the weather was cloudier than of late but it was relatively warm and we were in good company, The autumn colours were vibrant although many of the trees still had green leaves. The reflections in the lakes were stunning and the wildlife was quite active. Narrowly missed seeing a Kingfisher but other species about including a Great Crested Grebe; Mute Swans, Cormorants, geese, and Tufted ducks. Another venue to repeatedly visit


31 October after what seems like a month - just under a fortnight actually, I finally got out to do some photography looking for autumn colours in Belfairs Woods.  It has been a strange autumn with higher than average temperatures; accordingly, the leaves are not quite turning to their usual vivid colours. Hopefully the forecast cold snap will provide some vibrance!


18 & 19 October spent yesterday in Southchurch Park – met a friend for lunch then spent some time photographing gulls in various poses and a massive fight between two male Mallards. It was very much a case of beaks at dawn.  After failing to see much wildlife on Dungeness Beach on Sunday, I repeated the performance at Gunners Park. According to the RSPB sightings reports, the place is brimming with wildlife – very little about, mainly because of the windy conditions. Lovely view of the windfarm array though!!!


15/16 October I suppose you could call it a wildlife weekend. On Saturday we spent a very pleasant day at RSPB Rainham Marshes when the sun shone for a good part of the day. A bit of interesting wildlife about but what struck us most was how dry the area was. The Purfleet scrape was so dry that there were a couple of Pheasant feeding!! It’s always good to go to Rainham though!


On Sunday, we went off on a local RSPB outing to Dungeness  & RSPB Dungeness. It rained all the way down there. When we got to the beach, the wind was blowing, spray was coming over the shingle bank, the English Channel looked wild and all of the birds had hunkered down out of sight!!! The afternoon was a complete change – bright weather, no rain and relatively light winds. We managed to see 9 Great White Egrets, umpteen Cormorants dragonflies and a wasp’s nest in an abandoned rabbit burrow. The banter on the coach home added to the entertainment.  A great weekend all round.


10 October Back to macro photography both at Hamstel Road Allotments  and home! Autumn is now upon us but there are still a surprising number of insects still about and flowers in bloom. Conditions, in this neck of the woods are dry so it will be interesting to see how we fare for autumn colours this year. 


24 September once again Kew Gardens have run their Write on Kew festival featuring a wide range of authors covering a whole range of subjects. We attended two talks this year, the first on Thursday evening, which is relevant to Countryside Pix, when farmer John Lewis-Stempel gave a talk on his latest book entitled The