CountrysidePix

Countyside Pix Blog

2019

13 August I have not had much time to process, or for that matter take, many photographs since getting back from Poole. I have managed some more test shots with the Samyang TS lens, but nothing worth publishing. On the plus side, I am getting the hang of the potential the lens has to offer, especially controlling perspective on macro shots without having to use stacking software. The weather has not been too kind, photographically speaking either, although I plan to do some serious work during the next weather window - fingers crossed!!

 

30 July whilst in Poole I had a bit of a play with photographing panoramas with the perspective control lens, which actually worked better than expected.  Capturing the images was the easy part, working out how to stitch the images together using my rather ancient (published in 2006) Photoshop Elements 5 proved a little more challenging. The manual has an entry for stitching photographs, but advised using ‘Help.’ However, ‘Help’ wasn’t at all helpful – all it said was ‘query not recognised!!! Which is where Google came to the rescue and all was revealed. Having got the hang of the process, I can envisage more panoramas on the horizon, no pun intended!!

 

24 to 27 July was spent down in Poole, Dorset staying at the RNLI College with views across Holes Bay and plenty of boats, yachts and lifeboats to watch, brilliant sunsets, plenty of bird life and great food. We managed a couple of boat trips – one around the bay and the other to Brownsea Island for the day. No sign of the Red Squirrels but plenty of birdlife to be viewed from the Dorset Wildlife Trust hides.  The Trust certainly does a cracking job of keeping the sightings boards up to date and relevant.

 

We spent a day at Upton Hall Country Park which is a short distance by bus from Poole; my highlight of the visit was encountering a Beautiful Demoiselle close to the lake. Better still, it hung around long enough to be photographed. The park comprises open space, meadow, woods and water. The hall also provided an opportunity to try out the shift element of the new perspective control lens, so no more converging verticals!! After lunch we meandered down to the shore of Holes Bay where we got relatively close to some waders including Black Tailed Godwits. As there are plans to install a hide at this location, we will certainly return next year.

 

On our final day we took a morning stroll along the promenade to another park overlooking Poole Harbour, not expecting to photograph much, although I did try a couple of panoramic shots with the perspective control lens. The bonus of the morning was a small flock of Oystercatchers coming in with the tide and an unexpected Water Pippit. After lunch we took a wander along another section of Holes Bay with great views of the College.  Already looking forward to our next stay at Poole. The images that I captured will be published up over the next few days.

 

19 July it was one of those iffy mornings. The weather looked ok when we first got ready to wander down to the plot, coffee, cameras - I was ready! Then it started to rain. Flipped a coin and decided to go for it, no sooner had we got down there and we were sheltering in the greenhouse. Just about to give up when the sky cleared, so we stayed. I suppose the highlight of the day was rescuing a distressed Bumblebee which was quite happy to crawl onto my hand and hopefully absorb some warmth from my skin. It’s quite a strange sensation having a bee wandering across your hand, but it seemed happy. After a while we managed to relocate it to a thistle flower where it fed and then had the strength to fly off. Nothing harvested from the plot today, but a successful morning nevertheless, especially if you are a distressed Bumblebee!!

 

17 July down on the allotment at last we are seeing far more butterflies plus the occasional moth obviously prompted by the warmer weather. Finally, we are beginning to see more Honey Bee activity as well, although there were less Bumble Bees about this morning. There was plenty of scope for photography and I even managed some shots of a plume moth with the Helicoid extension tube. I did have visions of it flying off just as I got the focus right, but it must have been asleep!!  I have also been trying the newly acquired perspective control lens, although the learning curve with this is quite steep. I tried to capture some shots of flying Swifts yesterday. I was just getting my hand in when two RAF attack helicopters overflew and scared the Swifts off. Grrr!!

 

8 July enjoyed a truly brilliant day at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew yesterday in very good company. The weather was slightly better than forecast and we were able to see some interesting sculptures by Dale Chihuly together with some interesting insects, wildlife and plants. A very enjoyable afternoon tea in Botanicals round the day off nicely 

 

3 July another morning on the allotment with a few more butterflies (Painted Lady, Comma, Small Tortoiseshell; Large White) about plus one Cinnabar moth. Still no caterpillars of the latter! Our Sweet Peas have finally produced a flower and the Harebells are still blooming. A bit of a kerfuffle on the Oxeye Daisies this morning with flower beetles apparently vying for position, initially oblivious to a Crab Spider capturing a fly – followed by a rapid exit! Such excitement on the allotment this morning

 

1 July Another hot weekend on the allotment with word flying around that we have potato blight on site triggered by the recent humid weather. The only option to save the crop is to either lift the tubers, which we did, or cut the haulms back to prevent the spores reaching the potatoes!! On the insect front, there have been many more hoverflies about; the odd Painted Lady; a few Small Tortoiseshells and Whites. However, even these have been few and far between. As for bees, again very few Honeybees about!! My two highlights of the weekend were a couple of Essex Skippers and a very co-operative (and probably heat affected) horsefly, which stayed long enough for a couple of good shots. According to the RES Book of British Insects, these can be up to 25mm in length.

 

27/28 June spent a night at the Coach and Horse on Kew Green with a perambulation around Kew Gardens on 27th followed by an after dinner walk along the Thames Path. Then, on the 28th over to Barnes for a walk around the London Wetland Centre. Both days were hot and quite breezy which made macro photography a little challenging. There were quite a few Damselflies about at Kew but very little in the way of Honey Bees. The highlight of the day was seeing a Treecreeper close to the lake and a Coal Tit & Nutchatch over in the Conservation Area. Highlights at Barnes included another Coal Tit quite close to the hide and more odonata. The run back to Fenchurch Street by bus was hot and whilst the air conditioning was going full belt, it was only when the bus emptied out that we noticed any benefit. 

 

25 June following on from the storm of the early hours, I rather hoped that the humidity would have been washed away. No chance!! Not wishing to spend my entire day in front of the computer revising the North Sea Surge talk, I opted for a trip down to Southchurch Park East having heard that the place was almost buzzing with Painted Ladies.  In the event it was a bit of a let-down. I saw only one, possibly two, Painted Ladies, a Comma and a Meadow Brown. That said, it was great to see how the conservation area has grown in and the whip planting performed by youngsters from Thorpe Greenways School about 10 years ago have evolved into mini copses. So the morning was a success. The revision of the talk will happen soon ish!!!

 

24 June Yesterday we saw more butterflies about including a Small Tortoiseshell and Meadow Brown on the allotment and a couple of Panted Ladies at home feasting on the Hebe flowers. There were a couple about this morning as well. Still a dearth of Honey Bees both at home and on the allotment whilst there are masses of Bumble Bees on the Hebe, which is literally buzzing!! The lack of Honey Bees is a little troubling especially as there is one hive located on a remote part of the allotment. Pollinating is being performed by beetle, hoverflies, flies and Bumble bees at the moment. Whether things will improve once we are through this current thunder storm  period remains to be seen

 

22 June the last couple of days on the allotment have been extremely fruitful both in insect life and produce. However, there is a distinct dearth of bees and butterflies (and moths) at the moment. A check of last year’s allotment log book revealed a situation, which is a cause for concern. We seem to have quite a few flies, pollen and flower beetles about at the moment. The Hebe, in the back garden is well and truly buzzing with bees and hoverflies at the moment, but there are less of them than previous years. Hopefully the situation will improve as the summer progresses

 

15 June it really is amazing what you can find on the allotment, from a photographic perspective that is. Today’s haul included a freshly hatched Cinnabar Moth drying its wings pre take off; a Clearwing moth and a very obliging White Plume moth which stayed long enough from being located, fetching the camera, and allowing a few shots. They are fascinating creatures which seem almost too fragile to fly. Another fascinating creature is the Pied Shield Bug which looks like a blob of bird lime on a leaf at first sight. Presumably this is some form of camouflage, although if attacked Shield Bugs (aka Stink Bugs) will spray a foul smelling liquid by way of deterrent. There were  many more bees about this morning, but very few butterflies.

 

14 Jun after a couple of days of heavy rain, our total to date is 43mm, it was nice to have a sunny day again on the allotment. Love seemed to be in the air, because I encountered a pair of Bumble Bee mimicking hoverflies mating followed by a pair of Longhorn Beetles. Throw in a Cinnabar and a Carder Bee, it made for a very productive photo session. I even managed a bit of weeding – a bit being the operative phrase!!

 

10 June yesterday was sunny all morning with plenty of scope for photography; today was wet, wet, wet; the vagary of an English summer certainly keeps us on our toes!! According to an app on my phone, we are on both an amber and yellow warning for rain!! No mean feat!! Anyway, back to the photography. The broad beans on the allotment are smothered in Blackfly, which are attracting predators, which in turn meant ample macro photo opportunities of ladybirds, beetles, ichneumons, and hoverflies. They were almost queuing up for a meal. I have a feeling that the blackfly were less impressed by the attention, even if they did significantly outnumber the visitors!!

 

8 June not exactly summery for most of the last 2 days despite the fact that one tabloid newspaper forecast three months of blistering heat with not a drop of rain on the horizon. They obviously need a new bit of seaweed!! However, I did manage a short bust of photography this afternoon when the light was sufficient for some hand held shots of birds with the 400-600 reflex lens on one of those days when I felt the need to justify the expense of a totally manual lens and to convince myself (yet again) that I really do not need a 560mm at around £3 to 4k!!

 

2/3 June another very productive day on the allotment, photographically speaking that is. The first set has now been published up with more to come over the next few days. The highlight has got to be the Southern Darter dragonfly which perched amongst the nettles and permitted some shots from different angles. The Lacewing was another good find along with the Cinnabar Moth, the Conehead and the Sawfly, although local gardeners with a love of roses may not be quite so welcoming of the latter!! According to the weather forecast, we can expect rain over the next few days, so the next safari might be postponed!!

 

1 June from the meteorological viewpoint today marks the first day of summer and the temperatures certainly lived up to it!! A little bit of activity on the allotment, photographically speaking was the arrival of a frog in our Butler sink pond, a bit of Cuckoo Spit and much more Crab Spider activity. However, the highlight of the day was the female Muslin Moth (aka Buff Ermine Moth) clinging to the ventilation grill beside the back door. Even better, she was not bothered by the camera.

 

26/27 May spent the weekend down on the allotment with the Olympus compact camera rather than lug the full kit down. The results were pleasing and I encountered quite a bit of activity especially amongst the Crab Spiders who hide up on flowers and then jump out on unsuspecting prey in the form of one flower beetle, a honey bee and a hoverfly, the latter of which declined to be photographed and flew off straight into the jaws of a Crab Spider. One rather bizarre happening was when a Crab Spider was devouring a Honey Bee on an Oxeye Daisy when a small fly descended upon the same flower and proceeded to cross the spider’s body and then walk along one of its legs. What its intention was is hard to comprehend???

 

24 May we spent Wednesday at the London Wetland Centre on a lovely sunny day with plenty of macro opportunities in addition to bird life.  As Hammersmith Bridge is still closed to traffic but not pedestrians the logical approach was to walk over the bridge and pick up a bus on the other side, which worked quite well. Macro highlights of the day were a female Hairy Dragonfly, and Ashy Mining Bee and an Azure Damselfly. The Marsh frogs were in full voice and there were quite a few birds about.

 

Going home, and with the thought of crowded buses and a diversion via Chiswick in mind, I suggested that we walk back to Hammersmith via the Thames Path. Not one of my better ideas as it is shared space with cyclists, many of which seemed to be in training for time trials and seemed to consider pedestrians as targets. However, we survived although once we reached the underground, which was packed. Mental note for the future!! Try to avoid Chelsea Flower Show week when travelling on the underground!! Still it was a great day and we managed to clock up 6 miles!! Slept well Wednesday night.

 

18 May the Blue Tits on the allotment in our nesting box seem to be growing by the day based on the observations that the parents, when they return to the nest with food seem pretty cramped towards the entrance hole. The chicks seem to be close to fledging as they are often to be seen viewing the big wide world through the entrance hole. The parents, meanwhile, seem to be getting more and more frazzled as the days go on.

 

12 May we went on the local RSPB trip to Minsmere, on the Suffolk coast where the weather was virtually wall-to-wall sunshine; the cheese scones were as good as ever and the wildlife magnificent. The highlight of the day was a Hen Harrier which was hunting almost overhead – the closest that I have ever been to one. The sun was shining through its wings, adding to the spectacle. With the exception of the Hen Harrier, already alluded to, the  best wildlife we saw was on the dunes with a couple of different (yet to be fully identified) Warblers;  some Small Copper butterflies and a Tawny Mining bee. It was a long and somewhat tiring day but certainly worth the trip, especially as someone else was doing the driving.

 

5/6 May it’s been a busy few days with a BENHS Bumblebee ident workshop at the Natural History Museum on Saturday; a trip to Gunners Park in Shoebury on Sunday in excellent company and Blue Tit watching on the allotment today. The monopod came into its own because the average time each adult spends in the nesting box with food for its chicks is 15 seconds – sometimes quicker. I lost count of the number of visits each adult took. Even with high speed shutter and continuous firing, I managed a good half-dozen shots of just the nesting box with not a bird in sight!! I did manage to get some reasonable shots of Blue Tits in flight, though. We reckon that it will be another fortnight before the chicks fledge – just hope we can see some of the action.

 

1 May another day on the allotment but with far more industry than usual. Although I must admit that I spent most of the time with my eye glued to the viewfinder watching the Blue Tits make frequent trips to the nesting box with caterpillars and other tasty delights for their offspring who have obviously hatched. When the Blue Tits weren’t running a shuttle service to their offspring, the Robins were. We think that they have set up home in a privet in and adjoining garden. Meanwhile, the starlings were foraging for nesting material. It was pretty tiring watching them all in action!!

 

23 April just uploaded a selection of macro shots taken over the Bank Holiday weekend with insects a plenty about. The ones that got away comprised an Orange Tip butterfly and a Speckled Wood butterfly, both seen on the allotment during my coffee break. That will teach me!! The Battle of the Broad Bean Weevil continues. I am hoping that we can attract their natural predators, arachnids, to the bean bed. I have a sneaking feeling that the weevils might prevail!!!

 

17 April spent the morning on the allotment where the still conditions made macro work a little easier. There were quite a few insects about including a Hairy Footed Flower bee feeding on the Dead Nettle flowers. We are allowing a few clumps to stay on the main plot together with Dandelions for the benefit of pollinators. Still some coming and goings around the nesting box – the Blue Tits seem to have taken it over, but no sign of any babies yet. Hopefully with the weather for the Bank Holiday weekend set fair, I can indulge in a little more macro work.

 

8/9 April just back from a trip to Kew Gardens which coincided with the installation of the forthcoming Chihuly: Reflections on nature exhibition at various locations in the gardens. The weather forecast was a little too accurate with rain showers, gloomy skies and one torrential downpour when I was most certainly in the wrong place at the wrong time!! There were some bees about including a hairy footed flower bee which was paying great attention to the Dead Nettle flowers and one or two honey bees. We stayed overnight at the Coach and Horses on Kew Green, which as usual was excellent. The weather could have been kinder, but Kew is such a magical place that inclement weather does not spoil the experience

 

29 March another interesting day on the allotment with a combination of work and photography, the latter proving the benefit of all of that entomology study/macro photography. The rather interesting beetle walking across the leaf of one of the Broad Bean plants turned out to be Bruchus rufimanus aka the Broad Bean Weevil, which lays its eggs on young, tender pods and on hatching the young feed on the beans in the pod!! No prize for guessing the first job when we get down to the allotment in the morning!!

 

27 March another busy morning on the allotment with all of the grass paths mown, a break for coffee and then some photography. It was a rather dull and gloomy day but the Grass Fly had turned up again perched on the Buddleia. I have never seen one before then one turns up on two different days in the same week. The dull conditions meant that the only real option was off camera flash and the 100mm macro lens. The results were reasonable and the insect seemed ok with both the flash and the noisy focus motor on the 100mm lens. There were a few Honey bees about as well, but very little else. At least the weather should start improving once we get next week out of the way – ever the optimist!!!

 

24 & 25 March with the warmer weather back the insect count on the allotment has been rising. One of the highlights was a mining bee disturbed from its slumber when the allotment manager decided that the bollard nearest to our plot could be removed then changed his mind. The bee stayed around long enough for a couple of shots then headed back underground. The other highlight was a miniscule grass fly! On the bird front, there has been a good amount of activity around the nesting box, so we are hopeful that the Blue Tits have laid a clutch of eggs, which could be anything from 7 to 16 eggs. This morning we spotted a Redwing in the garden, which then returned in the afternoon to grub around a newly dug bed. It was unfazed by the camera and the use of flash

 

22 March went down to the allotment this morning with abysmally low expectations and pretty low hopes of seeing anything worth photographing, so you will be amazed to hear that the bird nesting box provided sufficient activity to make lugging the kit down worthwhile. The adults continue to pop in and out. Better still, they are completely unfazed by our presence. I am hoping that I can get some better images tomorrow if the forecast sun materialises. Fingers crossed

 

10 March we spent a really lovely day at Chiswick House/Park in lovely company taking in the Camelia display, which is certainly worth seeing, a nice lunch and an afternoon exploring the park. The weather was excellent if a little breezy but it is another venue which will be certainly worth a re-visit later in the year when the house is open.  The lake with some interesting, and obliging, wildlife was a pleasant surprise. Some bees about, a couple of Blow Flies and a solitary hoverfly, but not much else insect wise. Transport links from Hammersmith are excellent

 

25 February with the unseasonably warm weather continuing and the forecast of the Jetstream soon reverting to where it should be at this time of year, another trip to the London Wetland Centre seemed like a very good idea. The journey over there was interrupted by a signal failure on the District Line and after a long hike at Embankment to the Bakerloo Line followed by the Hammersmith and City, we finally arrived at the centre. Only about 15 minutes later than planned.

 

We had a brief glimpse of the Bittern and were entertained by the gulls swooping low over the water and the Cormorants reflected in the mirror like surface of the lakes. The light was brilliant which allowed more use of the mirror lens than usual. Highlights included a Jay, a Long Tailed Tit and the Snipe – the latter viewed from the Peacock Hide. A truly brilliant day out despite the underground problems which persisted to a lesser degree on the journey home

 

23 February I never expect to do much on the way of macro insect photography at this time of year, but the unseasonably warm weather has changed all of that. This morning on the allotment there were honeybees, bumble bees, a few flies, a hoverfly and a bee fly hovering near to the pond and later feeding in a daffodil. The latter is unable to fly in temperatures less than 17° centigrade, so it’s little surprise that I found things warm on the plot. The other highlight was being serenaded by a Dunnock

 

20 February with what looks like a very early spring, we have a good array of crocuses, snowdrops, miniature irises and the like in flower, Bees are beginning to venture out as are some of the smaller web spiders on the allotment. The birds are beginning to sing as though spring is here. Let’s hope that the weather does not suddenly change back to seasonal!!

 

15th February we popped down to the allotment to do a bit of work, yesterday, which involved removing a pallet from the greenhouse and in so doing disturbed a whole mass of arthropods including quite a few woodlice, which remained long enough to get a few credible photographs. They are fascinating creatures, although not always popular with gardeners!! Out on the plot itself the unseasonable sun had brought out about five Honey Bees who were feeding on the Crocuses and miniature Irises. They were so intent on gathering nectar that they paid no attention to the camera.

 

14 February following on from our brilliant day at Kew Gardens, and with the weather unseasonably warm, we decided on another visit to the London Wetland Centre, yesterday. The light was about right with thinnish white cloud which diffused the light nicely. No sign of the Bittern about but our highlights of the day were a Ferruginous Duck; a Marbled Duck; a Siskin, Chaffinch and a Robin. There was a bit of aggravation between two male Mute Swans, probably siblings, which made for some drama. We spotted a highly camouflaged Snipe and got a brief glimpse of a Water Pippit and a Coal Tit. A really lovely day out.

 

11 February it’s been ages since we last visited Kew Gardens so yesterday, with the start of the Orchid Festival , nice weather and following a bit of diary synchronisation we went for it. This year the process for entering the Princess of Wales Conservatory has changed to accommodate the festival, with a queue to get in and a one way system in place inside. It worked like a dream and we were able to see all of the display. This year’s theme is Columbia and we were delighted to see such rich and vibrant colours. After a quick break for lunch, we meandered over to the newly restored Temperate House, which accounted for the rest of the afternoon

 

2 February attended a BENHS workshop at the Angela Marmont Centre in the Natural History Museum, London to study Leaf Beetles. As usual it was very well organised and after a tutorial on leaf beetles we were allowed access to the museum’s collection of leaf beetles. The Olympus TG5 really came into its own with is ability to photograph through the eyepiece of the stereo microscope plus some experiments with hand held stacking, which came out a lot better than expected. I came away with a great deal of knowledge and more confidence in identifying leaf beetles.

 

20th & 21st January a couple of frosty mornings gave me an opportunity to experiment with the Olympus TG5, the mini tripod and, having at last mastered remote control, the IPhone/Olympus app. I was pleasantly surprised by the clarity and detail that the TG5 – especially of the ice crystals on the wood and on the edge of the Polyanthus. The latter of which seemed to take all forms of weather in their stride, admittedly a strange word to use with plants firmly rooted in the ground!!

 

10 January herewith another couple of semi experimental pictures with the Olympus TG5.  The one of the mill (Marriage’s Mill) was taken whilst visiting the County Record Office at Chelmsford to indulge in my other passion – local historical research. The shot of the Erysium was taken in the garden whilst trying out a piece of newly acquired kit designed to illuminate macro shots using a light guide

 

8 January a blustery day but with clear, blue skies and a desire to get some fresh air I ended up on Two Tree Island where I hoped, rather than expected, to see some interesting wildlife. The trip was not an overwhelming success, although I did encounter a dozing Whimbrel on the tideline, a score or so of jumpy Lapwings on the scrape and a couple of Shelduck. Things got interesting when I arrived back at the car park and spotted a Kestrel hovering nearby. I was lucky enough to find a hump, which gave me an elevated position, to get a couple of reasonable shots.

 

3 January another highly successful day out at the London Wetland Centre at Barnes, yesterday and whilst we did not see the Bittern on this visit, there was plenty to see, and photograph. The weather was cold and relatively still which provided some great reflections of the Tufted Ducks and Gadwalls. The usual assortment of gulls was seen on the scrapes, which led to some id problems this afternoon. Is that a first, second or fourth year immature??? The highlight of the day came towards the end of our visit when we saw a Pintail. The journey home had its moments courtesy of a signal failure at Earls Court , but it could have been worse!!

 

Tuesday 1st January Wishing you all a very Happy and prosperous New Year.

2018

31 December for reasons still totally beyond my comprehension, the website has been down since 23rd December. The problem started when I renewed the domain name which should have ensured continuity but instead created a mini nightmare. For some reason the firm from whom I purchase the domain name deleted my record instead of updating it so that www.countrysidepix.com was no longer pointing at the site. I finally resolved the issue this morning following 2 telephone calls, a few e-mails and one or two expletives thrown in for good measure!!

 

To celebrate my return to normality (a word rarely associated with me) I have published a couple of images taken in microscope mode on the new Olympus compact plus a selection of unpublished images from the last 12 months. I have not abandoned Pentax, my main camera, but the Olympus does provide a facility not available on any dslr as far as I am aware.

 

12 December the second photo outing of the week took us up to the London Wetland Centre at Barnes with the weather promising to be dry, cold and with a chance of some sun. On arrival we headed for the Headley Hide where we knew that we had a reasonable chance of seeing the Bittern. The volunteer had a scope set up pointing at the Bittern’s last known position and after a patient wait, it came to the edge of the reed bed, where I managed to get a few images, the best of which is published on the site. It is very much a case of spot the Bittern amongst the reeds, but it is there - honest!! On the way back, via the Otter enclosure, we encountered a pair of juvenile Grey Heron, trying to stare each other down, They seemed completely oblivious to us, glaring at each other, which allowed for some great photographs

 

After lunch we headed out towards the other hides and were fascinated to see the antics of the Shoveler ducks (17 in all, male and female mixed) swimming as a group in a circle and then feeding on what the vortex spun up towards the surface. I have seen films of Orcas performing in this way with herring, but never ducks! As the light began to fade we headed for home, delighted with our sightings.

 

11 December after what seems like an age, I managed to have 2 photo outings in quick succession. The first was on Saturday (8th) where a blustery walk along the promenade at Shoebury Common gave me an opportunity to try out my new compact camera, the Olympus TG-5. It was actually purchased predominantly for macro work – it focuses as close as 1 cm in microscope mode, but it seemed a good idea to test it on some conventional photography, namely the sea. I am delighted with the results.

 

Yesterday (10th), I took the conventional kit out for a visit to RSPB Rainham Marshes with a friend. The forecast was for relatively calm conditions but in the event it was a little windy which meant that the smaller birds were hunkered down. There were, however, ample opportunities to see just how twitchy the Lapwing were – they took to the air in a squawking flock with almost monotonous regularity. Firstly it was the presence of a March Harrier, but later on in the day anything that flew near them, sent them skywards. As the light started to fail a group of four Snipe could be seen in amongst the reeds, but their camouflage and the shadow meant that they were almost impossible to spot, let alone photograph.

 

30 November it has seemed an age since I managed to get out and about with the camera and as there have been repeated sightings of the Water Rails at Southchurch Park East, today it seemed like a good idea to totally miss any sign whatsoever of any of them. In that I was 100% successful! There were various hybrid Mallard ducks. There were gulls, argumentative Coots; stroppy Moorhens and even a swimming brown rat. So, my record of not spotting (or even hearing) a Water Rail is unbroken. Will it last? I sincerely hope not!!!

 

16 November today’s plan had been to take a trip over to the EWT reserve at Blue House Farm, North Fambridge to do some bird photography of the winter visitors and then head to the Ferry Boat Inn for a sandwich etc. After Wednesday and wall-to-wall sunshine, it initially looked ok. Unfortunately, the predicted high pressure and foggy conditions materialised so, as wet, dull and low light conditions were the order of the day, common sense dictated a postponement until December.  On the plus side, I was able to finish processing Wednesday’s images and posting them up on the site, so the day was not wasted. There is no reason that the second week of December will not have stunning weather, is there??? I do have reason to be optimistic, don't I???

 

14 November we still have a number of birds that we would like to see clearly on our bucket list and as the Bittern has been showing well at the London Wetland Centre of late, and we had a free day with perfect weather we set off with high hopes and slightly low expectations. The weather on the reserve was brilliant, little wind no sign whatsoever of the Bittern but some great views of a Gadwall, a Great Crested Grebe, a Jay and a Squirrel. The perfect light conditions meant that my heritage lens – manual focus, reflex 400-600mm could be used and it was to very good effect. So an excellent day all round with an excellent lunch and a good journey home. Pity about the Bittern though – next time perhaps.

 

22 October we have had some really fine weather of late and as a trip to Kew Gardens was seriously overdue it seemed a shame not to take a trip up there before the winter set in, especially as various parts of the media are predicting a new Ice Age from mid-November!! The weather could have been much better, clear blue sky, little wind and whilst it was a bit on the cool side, the gardens made up for it. The autumn colours are spectacular; the reflections in the lake were  stunning and, as usual the gardens did not disappoint. A fine day all round

 

10 October a beautiful cloudless day at London Wetland Centre with plenty of macro opportunities mainly odonata, in fact they were the only insects about in any number. The weather has been so dry of late that the summer route was still open – not bad for the second week of October. We did the usual run of the hides and when we reached the top of the Peacock hide everyone seemed to be over on one side of the hide trying to spot the Snipe on the marsh. In fact, it was so crowded on that side that I wandered over to the other side, glanced out of the window and watched (and photographed) a Snipe happily feeding away about 30 feet away in clear view! I did eventually let everyone else know and there was a rapid move to my side of the hide. It did appeal to my sense of humour that whilst most of the hide occupants had been straining their eyes trying to spot a small, well camouflaged bird a couple of hundred yards away, there was a perfect specimen happily feeding away next door to the hide!!

 

8 October over the last week or so I have been active with the bridge camera at the allotment, where there is still ample scope for insect and spider photography plus a visit to the Tythe Barn community museum at Upminster and the Forestry Commission park/nature reserve at Thames Chase, Cranham  on Saturday. Unfortunately the weather on Saturday did not was wet, putting it bluntly and although the allotment needed the rain, I didn’t!! Nevertheless it was a very interesting day in excellent company.

 

26 September for a distinct change away from allotments and spiders we took the bus to East Beach Shoebury and then walked along the coast path through the garrison estate and into Gunner’s Park. Beautiful clear blue skies, very calm conditions and got my first sighting, and photograph, of a Wall butterfly. There have been numerous sightings along our coast for the past few weeks, but as far as I am aware, this is the first sighting in Gunners. Flocks of Starlings then provided us with an aerial display as they created a mini murmuration before descending on a couple of houses overlooking the park, one of the downsides of living so close to nature! A great walk in the fresh air

 

25 September quite warm when I went down to the allotment this morning with the express purpose of taking some photographs of spiders before moving on to a different location. In the event, there was so much insect and arachnid life on the plot that I spent the whole morning indulging my passion for macro photography. The spider life ranged from a miniscule jumping spider to some larger web based individuals. There were a handful of butterflies about, a few hoverflies, one wasp and a couple of dozen bees all exploiting the warm weather. There do seem to be less orthoptera about that the moment and the shield bugs seem to be in decline, but this morning’s frost might be an issue here

 

20 September a visit to Rainham Marshes was planned some time ago when we hoped the weather would be dry, relatively still with bright or, at the very least light cloudy conditions. The weather forecast suggested that the day would be dry with light winds. Within a short time of arriving, it was drizzling quite hard and blowing a houley. After a quick coffee break, and with the rain stopped, we ventured out and headed for the Purfleet Hide. Whilst the scape in front of the hide was completely dry, we were delighted to see a female Kestrel perched a few feet away from the hide on a fence post. Every so often she took off, headed out over the scrape, got mobbed by crows and returned to her perch. It was a great opportunity to observe her relatively closely. We managed to get as far as the Butts hide, but with the wind increasing in strength, and there not being much else about – the small birds having hunkered down, we left earlier than planned. A nice day out in the fresh air, though.

 

17 September unlike last year when cataloguing insects on the allotment ended at the beginning of September, I am still at it, so to speak. By 3 September 2017 I had recorded 243 insects compared with 172 up to 15 September this year. The cold spring with the Beat from the East was probably a contributory factor. Last year I noted a dearth of orthopteran species whereas this year they are abundant. We still have both honey and solitary bees arriving on the allotment, but over the last couple of weeks I have seen fewer bumblebees. We are still getting butterflies about although they too are mainly Common Blues and Small Coppers with the odd Comma and Red Admiral. As autumn beckons, we are seeing more garden and nursery web spiders, and of course their webs about and the rhubarb leaves are hosting a plethora of shield bugs at the moment! Apart from some windy conditions coming in tomorrow, the weather forecast looks ok for the rest of the week so it will be interesting to see what turns up, insect and spider wise.

 

13 September another busy morning on the allotment with a bit of planting and watering coupled with a disproportionate amount of macro photography viz 90% photography and you can guess the rest!! A still, sunny day brought out the butterflies, bees and hoverflies. I was almost tripping over grass and leaf hoppers. We even had a rather mangy fox pay a very short visit before high tailing it off in the direction of the neighbouring plots. The late warm spell seems to be working wonders for the insect life, but we are still down on last years total

 

8 September we spent the morning on the allotment where we are now in autumn/prep for winter. Very few insects about today although I was surprised to see a Painted Lady flutter past and away, it being a bit late in the season. This afternoon was spent uploading the backlog of insect images from the last week or so. Rotating the images on the site ensures that fresh images are always available on the home page. I am finding that what I learned at the   RES conference is certainly helping me to observe insect behaviour, especially pollinators, from a totally different perspective.

 

4 September following on from 4 days away at the RES 2018 conference at Edgehill University, where I learned a great deal concerning insect behaviour, with a workshop on spider identification, we decided to pay Kew Gardens a visit, yesterday. As usual the gardens looked splendid – the extremely hot weather seems to have not affected them too much. The Broad Walk was literally buzzing with pollinating insects. We witnessed a rather one sided tussle between a hoverfly and a wasp. Sad to report, hoverfly nil, wasp 1!! Although I must say that the hoverfly did put up a valiant fight. There were quite a few damsel and dragon flies around the lake, and we saw no less than four pairs of Common Blue damselflies mating. A most enjoyable day

 

25 August once again the allotment provided an interesting array of insect life to photograph although I did tear what little hair I have, out, trying to decide whether the Common Blue was a Brown Argus or vice versa. I finally concluded that both were present. Hopefully I will not be proved wrong!! Today’s highlight was a Small Copper, by which I mean Lycaena phlaeas and not a diminutive member of Essex Police, which was a challenge to photograph but I got there in the end. There were actually a pair about, but I had to be content with just the one.

 

22 August for weeks we have been planning a trip to the Wetland Wildlife Trust London nature reserve at Barnes so as the weather seemed favourable, we set off. The trains were running ok, the underground likewise but when we got to Hammersmith and discovered that the bus service was deplete due to Hammersmith Bridge being shut, we wondered whether our choice of day was flawed! Anyway, the diversionary route via Chiswick made a change and we finally arrived at the Wetland Centre around noon – a little later than planned!!

 

After a quick drink we set off around, initially I wondered whether I would actually use the camera as water were very low on the scrape  and there did not seem to be very much about. Things improved when we arrived at the Peacock Hide and spotted a Snipe feeding, vanishing then reappearing. The camouflage on the Snipe is very effective. Highlight one, over. After lunch we headed for the Wildside and things really picked up. Initially, I thought that capturing Migrant Hawkers in flight was going to be highlight 2, until we came across a small red-eyed damselfly – definitely highlight 2. The Red eyed damselfly has been on my list for some time, so quite a result.  

 

21 September the last couple of days have been interesting on the insect front with quality rather than quantity being the order of the day. In the big scheme of things there have not been swarms of butterflies and bees about, the odd visitors in the form of a Comma, Red Admiral, Painted Lady and Common Blue appearing at the right moment, photographically speaking.  There have been some interesting hoverflies about, a one off ground bug and grasshoppers all around. It seems that every time I move, a grasshopper leaps in front of me. What a change from last year when there was a distinct dearth of grasshoppers.

 

14 August Walk for wildlife details have now been published on https://www.chrispackham.co.uk/the-peoples-walk-for-wildlife The event starts at 10am and finishes at 2 pm. Hopefully, the weather will be kind to us.

 

11 August spent Saturday at RSPB Rainham Marshes for Hen Harrier Day, which was the latest rally in the quest to save the Hen Harrier from extinction. There were some inspirational speakers there including a jet lagged Chris Packham, former Green Party chairman, Natalie Bennett, Ruth Tingay and Mark Avery. All spoke very well and Chris Packham opined that we are beginning to move towards winning! He also highlighted the forthcoming “Walk for Wildlife” even in Hyde Park on 22 September – see www.chrispackham.co.uk for details.

 

After lunch we made a circuit of the reserve where the highlight was a Marsh Harrier which overflew the main hide. Oh that it had been a Hen Harrier – one day perhaps. The water levels on the reserve are worryingly low with the target pools completely dry, the Purfleet Scrape looking more like a meadow and many of the streams very low. Macro highlight was a few female Wasp Spiders motionless in the grass close to the Ken Barrett Hide, doubtless waiting for their next meal to come by!! As ever, Rainham Marshes did not disappoint.

 

1 August last year we records the first Painted Lady butterfly on the allotment on 1st June; this year our first sighting was today when we found four feeding on lavender and buddleia flowers, so it would seem that the hot weather is proving sufficiently  welcoming for them. The only other butterflies on the plot today were Whites, Gatekeepers a solitary Comma and a Common Blue. Despite having a Red Admiral about a couple of weeks ago, there is no sign of caterpillars. Talking of which, the Cinnabar caterpillars have finally munched their way through our Ragwort plants so hopefully they have pupated and we can expect adult Cinnabars next spring, hopefully.

 

29 July we took the train down to Poole on Wednesday with the intention of returning yesterday (28th). The idea being to stay at the RNLI College for 3 nights and then returning late afternoon yesterday, or that was the plan anyway. The RNLI College is designed for training lifeboat crews from the UK and Ireland but when they have spare capacity, the vacant rooms are let to members of the public. It is described as Poole’s best hotel; we can certainly vouch for that with lovely rooms all with views of the harbour, lovely staff and very good food. Brownsea Island is a 20 minute boat trip away and there is plenty of photographic opportunities both there and on the mainland.

 

The RNLI College lived up to expectations and we probably got more entertainment looking out of our bedroom window than was available on TV. There were plenty of photo opportunities of vessels and lovely reflections across Holes Bay. Our trip to Brownsea was brilliant with very welcome sea breezes and some lovely views of Sandwich and Common Terns; Oystercatchers; waders and a Fallow Deer. The scenery on the island is lovely, the people very friendly and we spent some time in the parish church talking to the churchwarden and learning more of the history of the island. Poole harbour also provided some photo opportunities and we had a great time.

 

The only snag that came into the equation was in the form of a long running dispute between train guards and their employers, South West Trains. Between booking the train tickets and Wednesday, the RMT union decided that a series of strikes were to be held including one on Saturday 28th July. South West trains were contacted and they advised that an hourly service would run from Poole, so no need to cancel the break. This then got changed, once we were in Poole to a bus replacement service to Bournemouth, then a very infrequent bus replacement service to Bournemouth, with the prospect of very overcrowded trains. So we cut our losses and came home a day early. Even that had its moments with a very late running, overcrowded train and a guard who, as we left Clapham Junction with 3 minutes to run before Waterloo, advised that the buffet trolley was located in coach 4 where passengers could purchase hot and cold drinks, cakes sandwiches etc. There were no takers for some reason. I can’t think why!!!

 

We will visit Poole again, sometime next year to take in areas that we missed this time around, and hopefully avoid any railway disputes. We will certainly stay in the RNLI College again. As the taxi driver who took us to the station said, “The College is Poole’s 4 star hotel and one of its best kept secrets.”

 

23 July we decided that we would undertake the Big Butterfly count on the allotment yesterday having seen a good selection of butterflies such as Small Coppers, Meadow Browns etc. over the last week. It panned out very much like the Big Garden Birdwatch where Gatekeepers replaced Sparrows in the listing, if you get my drift. We ended up with 15 Gatekeepers; 3 Large Whites, 1 Small White, 1 Common Blue and a very, very fleeting glimpse of a Purple Emperor, which had come and gone before I could switch the camera back on! Now if we had been counting bees, I would have been spoilt for choice. I wonder if we would have fared better if we had pretended not to count butterflies!!??

 

21 July last night’s 5 hours+ worth of rain provided us with 1mm which means that since 1st June our total rainfall stands at 6mm. By this time last year our rainfall stood at 80mm for the same period! So far, the crops on the allotment are being sustained with daily watering, but if the drought continues a hosepipe ban will come into force according to ES Water and whilst we tend to use watering cans rather than the hose, the standpipes will probably be shut off which means we will have to rely on our butts until they run dry!!

 

On the insect front, I have managed to capture hoverflies, bees and butterflies, but we are not getting insects in anything like the number we had last year. I keep a log of pollinating insects that are seen on the plot. By this time last year I had recorded 215 different insects whereas by today the tally stands at 215!! Honey bee numbers are still done and we have not seen the usual variety of butterflies. Two days running now I have photographed the same Common Blue which is unfazed by the camera. It has ragged wings and identical patterning, so I am pretty certain it is the same one. Be interesting to see if she turns up tomorrow.

 

16 July the hot weather continues and the prospect of any rain is just about nil. Watering on the allotment is become increasingly problematic, but the insect life seems to be increasing by the day which has given more photo opportunities. We are now seeing more bees, although these are mainly solitary bees with only a few honey bees still about. The butterfly population (mainly Gatekeepers, Whites and Common Blues) are on the up. A Painted Lady has been seen over Westcliff way but no sign on the allotment yet! The highlight, if you can call it that, occurred on Sunday morning (yesterday) with masses of winged ants about. Apparently, it is common for several nests to erupt with flying ants simultaneously. For a while the gulls and swifts had a feast before everything returned to normal. The Cinnabar caterpillars are increasing in size and munching their way through the Ragwort!!

 

14 July another busy day on the allotment with my time split between building a raised bed and then a frame to keep the White butterflies off the Sea Kale and photography. At last we seem to be getting more bees attracted to the flowers and pollination borders. There were a  large number of butterflies, mainly Gatekeepers and Small Coppers with the odd Peacock and Large White. The Courgette flowers are attracting bees and pollen beetles. In flower I had visions of fisticuffs between a Honey Bee and a Bumblebee. The Honey Bee had been quietly feeding when a large Bumblebee wanted a piece of the action. There was a lot of buzzing; the Honey Bee started to vacate in the face of a superior presence, came back, left again, came back and seemed to be dodging the unwanted visitor. A Hoverfly popped in briefly and then obviously thought better of it. Quite entertaining though!!

 

11 July the weather was a lot chillier this morning so the moment that the hose and nozzle parted company this morning at full pressure giving me an extra bath, was not so welcome as it has been in recent weeks. Normally, the hose starts leaking before the shower, but not this morning. That was the low point!! The high points were a juvenile Blue Tit exploring the Fig tree in the garden and a Field Grasshopper climbing up the greenhouse door frame on the allotment. By the time I made it home to process today’s images, I had almost dried out!!

 

6 July     the planned photo outing today did not go ahead due to the hot and humid conditions. I think it is the first time that we have called one off because of good weather, but it was a good decision, because of the oppressive nature of the weather. Even a stroll down to the allotment with the kit, produced what felt like gallons of perspiration – it was probably only litres if I am honest!!! Some great photo opportunities on the plot with the Cinnabar caterpillars now hatched and a pair of amorous Ladybirds sharing the Common Ragwort with the caterpillars, which, according to the Book of Caterpillars, are the most poisonous in the world. Apparently the Ragworts on which they feed are full of alkaloids.

 

Once back home and rehydrated, I set up the hide in the back garden with x2 tele extender, 400-600 zoom lens, homemade flash extender, camera and tripod. The results were reasonable although my technique needs tweaking. When you think that I learned photography on manual focus lenses with hand held exposure meters long before the days of auto-focus and ttl metering, the modern gear means that I have to do a quick refresher when using heritage equipment. Trouble is, the local Sparrow population want to get to the feeders, quick feed and away. No thought at all for the photographer, who incidentally tops up the feeders each day. C’est la vie!!

 

3 July I have just tried an experiment with a Pentax K-5, 400-600 mirror lens; a T6 2x rear converter and a Metz AF58 fitted with a homemade flash extender comprising the Rogue snoot, minus the honeycomb plus a Fresnel lens cut from an A4 sheet lens. The shot of the House Sparrow was taken at 1/180 sec; ISO 800 from an upstairs window. The result was far better than expected especially as the lens combination is totally manual and dates from the 1980s!!

 

30 June/1 July because of engineering work on the C2C railway line, trains to London were being diverted via Purfleet on Saturday. It seemed too good an opportunity to miss so we headed for Rainham Marshes. There were quite a few Woodland Brown butterflies about, mainly males presumably looking for mates because they were not landing to feed. There were a few dragon and damsel flies about but precious little else insect wise. Likewise small birds. However, we saw a pair of Spoonbills some distance off and out of effective camera range – they were stood on one leg and dozing, and a couple of Cormorants. The highlight of the day was watching three Marsh Harriers hunting over the Target Pools being harassed by a couple of very persistent Lapwings.

 

Sunday morning on the allotment there were a few more honey bees about, one flying ant and some butterflies and hoverflies. There also some solitary bees still about, although the Wool Carder was absent. I probably spent more time fruit picking, yesterday, but with the camera and macro flash all set up in case something exciting came along. It didn’t!! I suppose that the plus side is fresh home grown organic fruit and home made jam.

 

29 June another hot morning on the allotments with time, once again, split between macro photography and fruit picking. A few more insects about this morning including a Small Skipper butterfly and some solitary bees, but we are still not seeing very much on the way of Honey Bees despite the fact that there are ample nectar resources on ours and neighbouring plots. Likewise out Hebe shrub which is normally literally humming this time of year with bees