CountrysidePix

Countyside Pix Blog

2018

 

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 of all descriptions, seems to be only attracting a relatively small number of White Tailed Bumble Bees this year.

 

26 June it is now 14 days since we had our total month’s rainfall, i.e. 5mm, 16mm less than this time last year! I am not venturing too far at the moment, but as there are ample macro opportunities on the allotment, this is not a problem. I have created a new sub album on the website dedicated specifically to Diptera where I have moved images of all manner of flies. Not everyone’s cup of tea I will grant you, but fascinating and, as far as humans are concerned, essential insects. The National History Museum published a book last year entitled, The Secret Life of Flies – well worth the read.

 

23 June another productive day on the allotment with some fruit picking, locating a nettle amongst the redcurrants the hard way and of course a large dollop of macro photography. This morning there were various pollen beetles about. I managed to get decent images of a couple which meant that I could identify them. There were a couple of hoverflies about and a Common Carder Bee, but the insect count is significantly down on last year. By 23 June 2017 we had recorded 117 insects on the plot. To date we have only recorded 68. The weather is a factor, especially the Beats from the East earlier in the year. It will be interesting to see whether insect numbers pick up by the end of the season.

 

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.