CountrysidePix

Countyside Pix Blog

2018

 

18 June insect life is beginning to pick up on the allotment now with no less than three Cinnabar moths being seen on the Common Ragwort this morning, plus one Gatekeeper. We are still down on last year’s figures but hopefully the promised warm and dry weather will provide a boost. Still not that many bees about which could seriously affect this year’s honey crop. Only time will tell.

 

15 June another visit to RSPB Rainham Marshes today, unlike Saturday, a great many of the smaller birds were hunkered down awaiting a drop in temperature. I did see a fleeting glimpse of a pair of Bearded Tits and a single Skylark. The Lapwings were less active than on Saturday and seemed to be concentrated around the Target Pools. However, there were more odonata and Lepidoptera about today, so the heat seems to be bringing them out. Also encountered another rarity. A fan of Pentax cameras!! 

 

11 June I have just finished processing the photographs from our brilliant excursion to RSPB Rainham Marshes where the highlights were the Cinnabar Moth; the Cream Spot Tiger Moth; the Cetti’s Warbler and capturing a Kestrel hovering with the aid of the rather ancient 400-600 reflex zoom coupled with the modern 1.4 tele extender. The zoom tends to produce soft images but nevertheless, they are useable.  This is only the second time that I have managed to photograph a Cetti’s Warbler. I hear them quite a lot but rarely see them long enough to focus on them let alone get the shot. Other highlights included a Scarce Emerald damselfly, which, with my brilliant companions made for a very enjoyable day out.

 

8 June I had a very productive session on the allotment today with digging the first crop of spuds and photographing a whole load of insects  including a grasshopper nymph freshly hatched, a clearwing and a White legged damselfly. It is amazing what is turning up on the plot, that said, we are still woefully down on pollinating insects. Very few butterflies about and not that many bees. This seems to be the situation all over.  It could have been the cold winter, I suppose. Hopefully things will recover.

 

5 June I have been experimenting with a home-made flash extender comprising an old Pentax Fresnel telephoto extension diffuser and a Rogue snoot plus the Metz flashgun. Last night I tried a couple of shots out of an upstairs window with the 400-600 reflex zoom and the flash set up. Things looked promising when a family of Goldfinches arrived and I managed a half decent shot of a juvenile begging for food. I anticipate using the rig again soon, probably out in the field

 

30 May to 1 June with all of the lovely weather a trip down to the WWT reserve at Arundel in West Sussex sounded like a very good idea. Unfortunately we chose a couple of days when the weather broke with storms and torrential rain crossing the Channel from France. In reality, day 2 was the iffy day with day 1 being ok and day 3 being acceptable. The bad weather proved to be the icing on the cake. Our hotel, The Norfolk Arms, was full and we were located in room 26 on the third floor overlooking the back of the castle grounds and local gardens.

 

31st May looked ok until we got back from breakfast and saw that the rain had started hammering down. Idly looking out of the window I saw a red flash on the fence, grabbed the camera and realised that I was watching an adult Greater Spotted Woodpecker feeding an offspring. The adult was flying to a bird feeder in one of the gardens, grabbing a beak full and returning to the youngster. This went on for some time, only being interrupted by some Jackdaws muscling in on the feeders. It is an ill wind as they say. We have already decided that on our next visit to Arundel we will most certainly ask for room 26!

 

28 May a very hot and humid weekend with the mornings spent on the allotment splitting my time between assisting in the weeding of the fruit bed and wandering around the plot recording the plethora of insects visiting the site with spare camera, macro lens and ringflash. The late spring means that we are behind on last year’s crop of insect sightings, but hopefully will be catching up soon. The highlights were the White Legged Damselfly and 3 slow-worms.

 

26 May another great day both in the garden and the allotment. The garden highlight was the young Grey Squirrel exploring, and, dare I say, exploiting the Green Fig tree. We are more or less resigned to the fact that the local Grey Squirrel population will ensure that our chances of harvesting anything from the Hazel tree is zero. It rather looks as though the Green Fig situation will follow suit!! Some great shots of the squirrel enjoying itself, so some compensation.

 

I had an interesting time on the allotment with a Green Shield Bug, a Slow Worm and a Hoverfly providing the memorable moments. The flowers on the Bee border are now coming into their own with a backlit Oxeye Daisy providing an alternative viewpoint.  The macro kit of 100mm lens plus ringflash has proved useful

 

25 May with the weather being a lot better today, I managed to do some meaningful macro work on the allotment today. Fellow plot holders have been commenting on the dearth of bees this year. Whilst we do have a hive over the far side of the plots, there have been few bees, and for that matter, other pollinating insects, this year. Hopefully, things will pick up now we are days away from the beginning of summer.

 

22 May some more images from the SE Essex RSPB trip to Minsmere. Towards the end of the visit we were ensconced in a hide overlooking the scrape where we observed fog rolling in over the water from the North Sea. I took a shot of it and did not think any more about it, shifting my attention to the bird life. On processing the image, I was amazed to see a mirage effect, probably caused by the light being reflected off water droplets in the fog. Quite bizarre!!

 

20 May the weather for annual SE RSPB coach trip to RSPB Minsmere looked promising as did the plethora of wildlife sightings on the reserve over the past week or so. The weather turned out to be chillier than forecast earlier in the week with reports of coastal fog, which did not bode well. However, on arrival the weather looked reasonable, if a bit cloudy so hopeful. After refuelling on Minsmere’s famous cheese scones we set forth. The Sand Martins, which had been absent, last year were nesting again and the area around the Visitor’s Centre was busy with them.

 

We headed out towards the dunes with little to see initially, but the first hides provided a good view of Avocets, gulls and a mass of water birds. We had been told about the nesting Swallows at the sluice and shortly after arriving were greeted by a totally unfazed Swallow perching on a signpost and completely oblivious to a long lensed camera. After providing different poses for 16 shots, it flew off, obviously bored by proceedings. Certainly the highlight of the day for us, but I can’t speak for him!!

 

19 May now the insect season has started again I am in a position to embrace macro work again. As usual, the allotment has provided ample scope for my passion. Highlights today included a solitary bee which tolerated the proximity of the camera and the Wild Rocket flower that have finally come good. I am looking forward to more flora and mini fauna in the weeks to come, weather permitting of course!!

 

16 May we only planned a flying visit to the allotment this morning and as the sky was overcast and dull, I was in two minds whether to take a camera with me. On the spur of the moment I grabbed the bridge camera. The flying visit lasted longer than planned and whilst clearing some turf around the shed door, I disturbed a night flying moth, which was very sleepy. I relocated it out of harm’s way and took a few shots with the bridge in macro mode. The moral of the story is always have a camera with you  just in case…

 

15th May after a cancelled outing due to rail problems last week we finally made it to London Wetland Centre yesterday, the journey was virtually seamless. The weather conditions at the reserve were good and after a well needed coffee we made our w2ay over to the hide at the far end of the reserve. For some reason this one is not overly popular so we normally manage to have it to ourselves. It also gives an excellent view of the comings and goings at the Sand Martin nest. There was a lot of Lapwing activity with parents jealously guarding their offspring from all avian comers including, rather strangely, Starlings! According to the books, Starlings predate flying ants but not Lapwing chicks!!!

 

 

After lunch we headed for the wild side area taking in the Crane enclosure where a pair of male White Naped Cranes is in residence. We managed to coincide with feeding time with a talk by the warden thrown in. They are fascinating birds to observe. In addition to birds, there was an abundance of damselflies plus a Brimstone butterfly which very obligingly allowed me to photograph her take off.

 

4 May What a beautiful day for a trip with a fellow photographer to Tollesbury near Maldon. We started off on the salt marshes which have a beauty all of their own on a cloudless day with birdsong being the only sound. We encountered mining bees and a couple of digger wasps but little in the way of bird life. After an excellent lunch at a little café called The Loft – tea by the sea we set off for the nature reserve at Tollesbury Wick. Here we found birds a plenty with good views of Avocets immediately in front of the hide. The outing finished off with some good views of a hovering Kestrel. A place to re-visit later in the year

 

3 May a minor change to the website. Gone is the shop page, instead if anyone wishes to obtain any of the photographs published on the site, send your requirements via the ‘Contact Us’ link. Undoubtedly we can come to some arrangement!! Any registered UK charities, voluntary organisations that wish to use any of my images can do so free of charge, subject to the source being acknowledged

 

23 April the last week has been spent in the Lake District town of Keswick, where the weather was mixed. Meteorologically speaking the weather was cloudy with drizzle followed by heavy rain on Tuesday, better weather on Wednesday and positively balmy on Thursday and Friday. We managed to visit the parts of the locality that we had missed out on in previous visits and even managed to circumnavigate Derwent Water, albeit in 3 sessions. That is 2016, 2017 and 2018!! There was some very interesting wildlife about, the landscape, as ever, was stunning and we came eyeball to eyeball with a Red Squirrel at the hide in Hope Park, Keswick. No photograph though and no Red Squirrels for the rest of the holiday! We also missed out on the Osprey but did manage a very obliging Greater Spotted Woodpecker; a siskin; umpteen Chaffinches, both Grey and Pied Wagtails, a Wren in fine voice  and a Pied Flycatcher.

 

I managed to get some shots of Herdwick Sheep including a couple of lambs with a sense of humour, or that is how it seemed. Also some great landscape and wildfowl images. The reflections on our final day, especially around the Chinese Bridge were magnificent. These will all be published up over the next few days.

 

6 April on what promised to be a reasonable day, according to the Met Office I ventured over to Rainham Marshes for a day’s photography. I left Southend in bright sunshine, by the time I reached Barking, it was overcast and Rainham Marshes were not much better. Also, the wind had got up which meant the smaller birds were hunkered down! At least it wasn’t raining! I did hear a Cetti’s Warbler close to the Visitor Centre but that was about it until I was a fair way round. There were a few of the larger wildfowl on the move, so I managed a few shots. The highlight came after lunch, as the sun finally came out, with a very obliging Brimstone Butterfly which allowed me to get relatively close. They are certainly well camouflaged and to the casual observer can easily be mistaken for yellowing leaves. I then came a across a Small Tortoiseshell and a Peacock, which rounded the day off nicely.

 

28 March We are currently 6mm short of four inches of rain for March, it’s been wet and gloomy all day and I have been trying to shake off the overwhelming Eyore feeling. So, to brighten my day up, I have uploaded three images that I took on that sunny day we had earlier in the month. By sunny day, I actually mean that sunny morning!!! But a little exaggeration seemed acceptable, if only to cheer myself up. Still Easter is almost here so the weather will improve, surely!!!

 

14 March after what seems like an age, I have managed to get out with the camera. With conditions underfoot being decidedly wet, Gunners Park at Shoeburyness seemed preferable to Leigh Marshes. There were a variety of gulls about in various stages of plumage from winter to summer wear, so to speak. Apart from pigeons and a brief glimpse of a Kestrel, there was little else about. It was quite windy which meant that the smaller birds were hunkered down if they had any sense. On Shoebury Common we encountered a vocal Carrion Crow which seemed unfazed by the camera. A nice walk in the fresh air though.

 

19 February. Mid-month and my first blog posting for yonks!! After what seems like an age with either bad weather or other commitments, I finally managed to get out with the camera yesterday and take some macro shots. Considering that it is still winter, I was surprised to find at least one Honey Bee active around the flowers with a couple of wolf spiders about for good measure. It’s hard to believe that the weather yesterday was brilliant sunshine and blue skies, whereas today we have had wall-to-wall rain. The joy of the British climate!! The next few days do not look good from a photographic perspective. Still, the forecast might be wrong, but I doubt it somehow.

 

30 January the weather forecast for today was good and so a trip to Two Tree Island sounded like a good idea. The weather was really nice, the wind virtually non-existent and the sea like a millpond. Quite a few dog walkers with inquisitive dogs about but not much about bird wise in the bushes and shrubs. Once I got down to the scrape things livened up with a large flock Sanderling on one of the islands with more being added to as small flocks came in. It looked quite spectacular! There was also a pair of juvenile Bar Tailed Godwits; a dozing Little Egret and at the west end of the scrape around a dozen Avocets. Not a single gull in sight!! On the creek, there were a couple of groups of Dark Bellied Brent geese and a solitary Lapwing flew over. A great and very enjoyable morning with my first update of the blog for a fortnight

 

16 January another bright, sunny, if somewhat blustery, day. Last time that I was at Gunner’s Park, the warden mentioned that they boasted no less than five Water Rail!! Surely I will spot one today. Let’s face it I have 5 more times chance in seeing one at Gunner’s than I would see the solitary one at Southchurch Park East. My readers may not agree, but I convinced myself that I would see at least one today. Fool!!! It was so blustery, that no self-respecting Water Rail would venture out in such conditions. So, after photographing gulls, rooks and Sanderling, I headed for Southchurch Park East, calmer conditions and an outside hope of seeing the Water Rail. Did he come out of the reeds? No!!! The only highlight there was  a man throwing bread down on the grass and being mobbed by what looked like Southend’s entire gull population!!!

 

12 January we were a little undecided where to go today for a wildlife outing and finally settled on the Shoebury Foreshore as somewhere that we had not visited for some time. It was more of a case of desperately needing some fresh air and a decent walk than expecting to see much on the way of wildlife. As it turned out, our low expectations turned into delight at the birds on the foreshore. Oystercatchers, Sanderlings, Turnstones, Redshanks, Gulls and Black Bellied Brent Geese were about in considerable numbers. The Sanderlings and Brent Geese flying low over the water in flock after flock. We had an interesting chat with the Essex Wildlife Trust warden before heading for the bus stop and home. The only disappointment was seeing, but not getting a shot of, a Rock Pippit. Next time perhaps!

 

6 January I have finally got around to clearing the backlog of viable images and posting them up on the site with a view to concentrating on new images from 2018. Hopefully over the next few weeks I will be able to get out and about to both favourite haunts, and, if all goes to plan, some new ones. Rather belatedly, Happy New Year to all of my readers

 

2017

28 December enjoyed a brilliant day at Bellhus Country Park in good company in brilliant sunshine and calm conditions. The reflections in the lakes were stunning. We encountered quite a few Cormorants roosting in trees, but our quest for a Kingfisher came to naught. Having exhausted photo opportunities we retired to the Sir Henry pub/restaurant at Aveley for lunch. It’s an absolutely fascinating building and is the only surviving V frame building in Essex and dates from the 13th century. Both will be re-visited, hopefully in the bluebell season!

 

22 December the weather turned out slightly better than forecast this morning and after what feels like a lifetime in front of the computer researching 19th century acquisitive Essex crime, a trip out with the camera in search of the elusive Water Rail seemed like a good idea.  There was plenty happening on the lake when I finally arrived. Come to think of it there was quite a bit of pestering dog activity around me every time I stood still!!! Why dog owners think that just because a person has a camera with a long lens, they are fair game for their canine companion beats me.

 

Dogs aside, the only thing that I did not see was the Water Rail. There were plenty of gulls especially when the people were throwing their stale bread, biscuits etc. into the water, the usual Coot battles, a bit of aggro between 2 Moorhens and about 100 Mallards. I came away with some descent shots, despite the lack of Water Rail activity. I enjoyed the walk down to the park and left as the fog rolled in and the sky became overcast

 

18 December I managed to get in some photography including a trip down to Southchurch Park and Southchurch Park East this morning. The highlight was a male swan which almost got too close to focus on. Needless to say, I managed to avoid seeing or even hearing the Water Rail today. The weather for the next few days is unlikely to be photography weather. Maybe I will see the Rail after Christmas. Fat chance, I hear you say!!!

 

11 December after what seems like an age I managed to get down to some serious macro work yesterday.  I tried a combination of 100mm macro lens, helicoid extension tube plus a 50mm manual lens reverse fitted on the front. A little unwieldy but I was quite pleased with the results. Most of the shots used daylight or macroflash illumination, but I did experiment a bit with UV lighting. The bird footprints in the snow were an afterthought and captured with the bridge camera – very much a snatch shot!! 

 

28 November not great weather this morning with rain just about the time that I was planning to go out so the quest to see the Water Rail this year was put on hold for an hour or so. Eventually the sun came out and with my usual Eeyore approach to birdwatching, i.e. it will have just gone back into the reeds 5 minutes before I got there. Or, if I had waited 5 minutes longer, it popped out and posed for photographs. Needless to say no Water Rail this morning – I heard it a couple of times, though, so that is a start. On the plus side, the water was calm, the air was clear and the bird life that was about was obliging. The highlights of the trip were a sequence of Swans in flight and an ultra-tame Robin who seemed intent on checking the camera out. Maybe next time for the Rail

 

17 November what a gorgeous day after all of the gloomy ones. Cold, crisp and not a hint of wind which prompted me to take a run down to Gunners Park to see what was about.  Nothing out of the ordinary, I am sorry to report. Nevertheless, there was a bit of action between the local Gull and Crow populations. I surmised that a gull flew too close to where some Crows were perched, thus starting a bit of an aerial turf war. Quite spectacular while it lasted! There were at least 4 Little Egrets on the lake, the usually argumentative Coots a few Mallards, Little Grebes and a pair of swans. The tide was in so nothing in the way of seabirds on the foreshore. A good morning though.

 

9 November last year I came across an interesting sight on the allotment.  A dead bee caught in a spider’s web, covered in tiny flies https://www.countrysidepix.com/gallery/arachnids-1077/photo/cpx-mah-2646-1263397 It seemed odd and I made efforts to discover what was going on. E-mails to celebrity zoologists were not replied to, so, at the weekend, I contacted the Royal Entomological Society for their view. The reply that came back this morning advised that the flies were  likely to be Phorid flies aka coffin flies which were possibly laying their eggs on the dead insect. An interesting strategy so long as the spider did not return at the wrong moment!!!

 

2, 3 & 4 November the weather has been unseasonably mild and on a visit to RSPB Rainham Marshes on Thursday (2) we were struck by the number of wildflowers still in bloom and the range of insects about, not what you expect as winter draws nigh. Even saw some dragonflies.  The weather was a bit cloudy at times with the threat of fog ever present, but there were some sunny periods. Despite hearing of umpteen sightings of a Cattle Egret either it evaded us, or, more likely we were always in the wrong place at the wrong time. We also missed the Firecrest and only got a fleeting glimpse of a Cetti ‘s – which is better than I normally do!!!  Nevertheless, it was a great day out in the urban countryside.

 

Friday (3) was allotment bonfire day, with clear skies and no wind it was ideal. We managed to burn everything that we wanted to, earthed the fire up to keep it smouldering, and came home reeking of smoke. The bonus of the day, photographically speaking, was that a Red Admiral chrysalis had attached itself to the hat I keep in the shed, and came home with me! After carefully photographing it, it was placed in a tube to return to the allotment.

 

Saturday (4) just back from checking the fire that as now collapsed courtesy, we surmise, of a couple of fox cubs jumping on it and leaving the plot, hot foot! Sorry, couldn’t resist that. No scope for photography today as the forecast rain has arrived. However, seeing as we only recorded 7 mm last month – the driest October since 1995, the ground needs the rain

 

26/27 October we had booked a course at Kew Gardens on Gardening for  Wildlife on 27 October commencing at 1030 am so logically we decided to stay overnight at the Coach and Horses and enjoy the gardens on 26th. Wednesday 25th – brilliant sunshine; Friday 27th – brilliant sunshine. Thursday 27th got wet once, booked into hotel. The rain stopped, back into the gardens, very heavy drizzle so got wet again!!! Gave up! Friday we had wall to wall sunshine all day. The course was absolutely brilliant, 50% classroom 50% in the gardens mainly on the world’s longest herbaceous border aka the Broad Walk. We came away full of enthusiasm with great plans for both the garden and the allotment bee border. The tutor, Christine Lavelle was inspirational. She is one of those tutors who one could listen to for hours. Will certainly look out for other courses that she tutors

 

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