MY FAVOURITE CARTOON AS A BOY..

Friday, November 30, 2007

FIRST TEST SHOTS WITH NEW LENS

My new "close-up" (Macro) lens arrived today in the post. I'm off work at the moment, suffering with a fever, but thought I'd quickly test the new snap-on lens out.

The first shot below was taken on the camera's own "macro-mode" (no snap on lens), from about 4cm away from the bottle top. This macro mode on its own is better thanmost cameras, compact or SLR.

The second was taken after I'd snapped on my new lens, from exactly 8 inches away from the beer bottle top. This macro lens pretty well beats ALL SLR lenses in terms of strength. I'll need a bit of time with it, I'm sure, to get everything right, but for the first attempts - I'm quite pleased.

I think its fair to say that this lens (shipped over from the USA) is something else.

Now I can take VERY close up photographs of wee beasties and the like (MUCH closer and sharper than my old phone, and that was not bad), AND the long distance stuff wth the 12X zoom lens and a little cropping. The set up is perfect for me!

Watch this space for close-ups of spiders eyes etc...!


(Back to bed now though for me, with a mug of lemsip).

Thursday, November 29, 2007

CLASSICAL MUSIC ON "BLUE-GREY"

If you've got the volume up on your computer, this may come as a big shock.
Don't like it?
Either turn your volume to zero, or scroll down to the very bottom of the home page of "Blue-Grey" and press the STOP button.
Like it?
Good.

(I'm trying to educate myself about classical music you see - and this seems as good as way as any, 'though I may change this new feature back to "The Blues", "Boogie-Woogie" or "Classic Rock" sooner or later...)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

RANDOM MUTTERINGS

For future reference (for me).
After a brief cold snap, the weather has turned much milder again over the last day or two, the return of the wind direction to a more prevailing wind direction having much input in that.
I think all the bats are hibernating now, as are the hedgehogs.
The only bumblebees alive are the Queens in their nests - the males are probably all dead.
Warm afternoons have brought a few localised hatches of midges and I've seen only one adult Harlequin Ladybird in the last week - on November 26th - will that be the last of the year? I doubt it. I certainly haven't seen any larvae crawling around though, and many pupae have not eclosed, nor will they, I'm guessing.
One, lone Plume Moth is the only moth I've seen for a week or so.

As for my Peregrines....
After a little help from local experts, it seems like there are UP TO FIVE Peregrines in the area around Berkshire.
I know they roost/hunt at Crowthorne and Theale and Reading itself.
The pair that I took a photo of seem both wild (no jesses) and the female that I snapped is the largest Peregrine by far, round these parts. She's HUGE.

Three Peregrines (we think) regularly roost in the town centre (on the Thames Tower, where I've seen them), one of them being a falconers escaped tiercel (with jesses).
For the last two winters, this male has overwintered at Theale gravel pits, and last year attempted to nest with a 'wild' female. Sad to report that Southern Electric's helicopter put pay to that nest on one of the Theale electicity pylons. A real shame.

I seem to be the main person for reporting the birds in town - mainly because I can pass the station every day if need be, on the way to/back from work, and I look up occasionally also.

I'll keep m new camera in my bag, and keep having a look, and with luck, I'll get a decent photo or two soon...

NB. Lunchtime today - and I've just seen one lone winter butterfly (Red Admiral) on the window - so there's a few of those about in this warm spell too...

Monday, November 26, 2007

GADWALL DRAKE


As always... click to enlarge.

PHOTO OF PAIR O' GRINS


I don't think you can click to enlarge the photo in the last post. You soytanly can on this one though, not that I particularly advise it. The Photo is so cropped and sharpened, an enlarged version gives a very poor image indeed.
Up to you of course. At least you have the option.

PAIR O' GRINS.(DEER ROE DEER)

Apologies for the pathetic word play that formed the title of this post. In time, (after reaing the post) you may appreciate its aptness, and simplistic majesty... maybe.

I'm enjoying a last day off for a while, and as my pesky Peregrine Falcon hasn't played ball for some time now (by roosting on the Thames Tower, opposite the station), I thought I'd go and see if I could find a Pererine at Theale gravel pits again, scaring the bejayzus out of the wintering wildfowl.

Well, my luck was in, and I managed to see and photograph a pair - both male (tiercel) and his larger mate, the female (falcon).
Now, you'll have to bear with me here again. Do understand that these birds are a vast distance away - maybe more than 500m. I had my new toy on 12X optical zoom, and have also cropped and heavily edited (too heavily probably) the image to show the birds better.
Very nice to see a pair together though - I feel really chuffed - especially as they didn't hang around for more than about 5 minutes, and both flew off at speed, the male leading, in a north easterly direction - thats back to Reading station then!

What did you do on your day off?
Aw. Nothing really. Just chased a couple of Peregrines on a train...

For your information, the tiercel (male) is the nearer one to us, facing away from us (almost), whereas themuch larger falcon (female) is sitting further away, facing us, but is mostly obscured by the struts of the pylon. Pity that, as through my telescope, she was exhibiting a lovely yellow pair of legs, and a very stripey breast, and kept ducking down, even that distance away, to peer at me from underneath the metal struts...

So what about the Roe Deer then?
I have had at least a couple of comments recently regarding a distinct lack of mammals on "Blue-Grey".
WE WANT MORE MAMMALS!
LESS CREEPY CRAWLIES, MORE MAMMALS!

Well, I agree.
On the train down to Theale, I saw two wonderful Roe Deer, grazing very close to the railway embankment. As I went for my new camera (I'm sure I'd get a decent shot of these large deer), I was asked for my ticket by a brusque conductor.
By the time all that nonsense had finished, the deer were long behind us.
NB. On the way back I saw a fox slinking through the same field, but this time was prevented from taking a photo by a crowd of people all standing in the train (I was one of the crowd).
I'll remember not to take that train again.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

SHOOTING STAR

I am having trouble sleeping tonight - just come off a week of nights, and desperately trying to get my circadian rhythms back in synch!
I've just had a cup of tea in the garden, admiring the very bright Hunters moon (see below) and Mars.

I've seen many shooting stars, and used to deliberately camp outside when one of the annual showers was visible, but I've only seen two shooting stars before tonight that matched the one I've literally just seen.

This one (tonight) would have lit up the ground slightly (if there was no moon), it was that bright, with a long white tail and a fluorescent bright green "head". It was in the opposite part of the sky to the moon (at 04:30am), ie low in the north east, and lasted a full second I'd say, as it streaked across a large portion of the night sky.

Bear in mind that the full moon tonight is incredibly bright, and yet this particular shooting star was not drowned out in the slightest - far from it - it was absolutely spectacular.

Friday, November 23, 2007

HUNTERS MOON


Another full moon this weekend.
The October full moon, or HUNTERS MOON.
I've just taken this very poor photo of it outside. I'll get to grips with night shots with the new camera in time...
(This will NOT be uploaded into the New Warren)!

NEW CAMERA FLICKR PHOTO ALBUM

After a little research (and advice), I've decided to re-open my old "Flickr account" to host any photographs that I take with the new camera, the FZ20.
I have installed a link above the "OLD WARREN" link, at the top left of the home page of "Blue-Grey".
This (new camera album) link is called "NEW WARREN".
Click on it to immediately be transported to my new camera's online photo album, although as I write this, at present, there is only one photo in the new album - of the Egyptian Goose below, as I've only just started to use this new camera of mine!

To recap:

2 online photo album links for "Blue-Grey" (The Black Rabbit).

1) NEW WARREN: All photos taken with new camera (FZ20). (updated regularly)
2) OLD WARREN: All photos taken with phone etc... (not updated much now)






NB. I've also deleted the mosaic slideshows at the foot of "Blue-Grey".
Fun, they were, certainly.
Very, very slow. Absolutely.
If you really want to see them again - visit the "OLD WARREN".

I'll probably upload a slide show to "Blue-Grey" in the future,( from the "NEW WARREN"), but will certainly wait until Blogger have fine-tuned this new addition to their service.

FIRST PHOTO WITH NEW CAMERA! EGYPTIAN GOOSE


Thought I'd take my new toy out for a test drive today.

The entire population of feral Egyptian Geese in the UK stands at about 900, and over 90% of these are situated in Norfolk. (WWT data, september 2007).

Well... as described on "Blue-Grey" first, HERE, there are often a few feral Egyptian Geese on the Thames around Caversham - I think I counted up to 20 once on the way back from the barbers (thats ME, not the geese), and I regularly see them flying over the Thames from the office.

I could have taken a picture or two of some Grey Geese, or Canada Geese, or even that Barnacle Goose that seems pretty content with different species of Geese by Caversham Bridge, Reading (and I know that goose can fly also).

But I thought I'd walk up river a few hundred yards though, to see if any of the Egyptians were around...

I only saw two. (Sometimes there are none).
So I took some photographs, using the full zoom (as the pair were a bit skittish this morning), and manual focus - as I'd rather trust my eyes than an auto-focus device.

The result can be seen above. Click to enlarge (and note the feather detail on the body of the bird, that this camera picks up, even at long range...you can even pick out five water droplets on its breast/neck!)
I am MORE than happy with this camera!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

HERE WE GO AGAIN...

Blue Tits.
Had enough of them?
At the last count, "Blue-Grey" had 62 posts on "Our Tits".
I haven't seen ANY activity near the box, since they fledged in May, and the adults soon realised that all their chicks had indeed gone.

Now, I'm well aware that some garden birds tend to roost in birdboxes during cold, winter nights - it happened last year with us - the female roosted in the box before a nest was built.

Like I said, I hadn't seen any activity at the box UNTIL yesterday lunchtime.
A plump, sleek, adult Blue Tit landed on the chopstick perch and stayed there for about a minute.
I don't know whether it had done so before, and I hadn't been around to notice it. I don't know whether there is a Blue Tit roosting in our box at night currently. (Its normally just the one).
I don't know whether this is a rejuvenated Scargill or indeed Anne.
I don't know whether this is a different bird from a different family, a grown-up fledgling of ours (very possibly), or even what sex it is. Yet.
(I don't knows a lot does I?)

What I do know though, is I'm very excited by this - I'm pretty sure we'll have Tits in the box again this coming season, and I intend to change the way I record activity this time.
I have been searching for a very cheap nestcam on tinterweb.
I think I've found what I'm looking for, and intend to order it post-haste.
Its very cheap, very basic, not great images and will probably break down the second I attempt to fix it to the box.
It might be very amusing though, to see the inside of the box with a family inside, and prevent the need for a lot of guessing like last year.
It being cheap, will not be a web-cam for you all to see - I'll bung the feed into the back of our telly (techno speak - you like?) and when/if something interesting happens, I'll take a photo of the tv screen and post the image on "Blue-Grey".

What I don't intend to happen is for me to do what I did last year, and spend hours gazing at the box, making notes (and mental notes) so that I could fathom out what was / was not happening in the box. ('Though I made a pretty good job of it if I say so myself).

Any posts this year on "Our Tits (season 2)" will be very, very short, and with luck, accompanied by an image.
I anticipate not posting more than a dozen times on the Tits this year - a bit less than 60 odd, you'll no doubt be please to hear!

Anyway.
Not much time now before we may well get a "rooster". (I hear the wind is changing to a cold North Easterly this weekend).
Must pick up the pace, get and fix that camera.

Nice to know the Tits are still keen though.
I think so.

CAMERAS AND ALBUMS

I have taken delivery of my new (second hand) digital camera a few days ago.
For those of you who are into your digital photography I'll detail it below - for those of you that are not.... excuse me whilst I bore you senseless.

The camera is a Panasonic Lumix DMC FZ20, 5 megapixel "bridge" camera, ie somewhere between a compact digital camera and a very big, expensive digital SLR.
It was first launched on the market about late in 2004, so its not exactly new technology, but its more than fine for me, and meets all my requirements in a camera.

It has a built in 12X optical zoom (and a 4X digital zoom), enabling me to take shots of objects like... oh I don't know... how about distant roosting Peregrines for example!
The camera has a built in "Mega Optical Image Stabiliser", which basically means I've got more chance of obtaining a sharp(er) picture when I'm using the long zoom.

The camera also has a useful "macro" function. Those of you that have followed the evolution of "Blue-Grey" will have noticed, I'm sure, I do like to sneak up on wee beasties and take photographs of them. This built-in macro function, believe it or not, may not match the same function on my phone, so I have gone a step further with my new toy and ordered a very good snap-on auxillary macro lens (a "Raynox DCR 150") which should enable me to take very detailed photographs of small objects, VERY close up - much, MUCH closer than my phone's capabilities.

Possibly most important of all with my new camera is its manual override functions.
Rather like a much more expensive DSLR, I can manually adjust the aperture of the lens, the speed of the film equivalent, the shutter speed and (this is the big one for me) the focussing of the lens - although it also has an automatic function on all of the above.

It has a built in flash, and my friend who sold me this kit has also thrown in a great flash diffuser for those "macro" shots.
Not only that, but he also threw in a load of other auxillary lenses to boot.

There you have it. Not a DSLR, but near as damn it - and all I'll ever need, with the ability to add auxillary lenses should I require them (rather like a DSLR).

I am getting to grips with it at the moment - this digital photography lark is all rather new to me, and very exciting, so bear with me for a few days, whilst I learn its ropes.

My phone will still be used occasionally, I expect. I won't be able to carry around the camera everywhere I go.
Anna's fathers film 35mm SLR camera which he kindly lent to us both almost a year ago, (he went digital himself!) is probably redundant now though.
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank him for his generosity in lending that to us both.
It was (it still is) a wonderful camera and certainly assisted me to re-discover my interest and enjoyment of photography.
I'd also like to take another opportunity to thank the friend who sold me my new digital camera, at a knockdown price. A wonderful gesture and very much appreciated!

I have altered the home page of "Blue-Grey" to reflect my up-coming change in photography methods, with my new camera.
Near the bottom of the home page you will now be able to find a couple of mosaic images or "slide shows", all taken by me with either my phone, or Anna's father's camera.
Hover the cursor over a photograph you'd like to see fully and you will, immediately - though this does take a little practice! I had originally posted a more conventional slide show on "Blue-Grey" last night, but felt this slowed down ths site to an unacceptable level.
The mosaic slide shows on "Blue-Grey" are, in effect, an homage to my phone and Anna's Dad's camera.
As only the very centre of each photograph is shown in the mosaic before you move your mouse over it, its quite fun to guess what the image is portraying,and then see if you're right. Each photograph has certainly appeared over the last year on the blog.
Then again, I regard chasing squirrels around as fun, so don't take my word for it.
You can of course bring an image up, and click on it, to enlarge it in all its majesty, in the album. If you sowish. Sorry, so wish.

I have also added a new link to my newly-formed online photo album.
Click HERE or click on the MY ALBUM link found in the sidebar, at the very top of the home page of "Blue-Grey".
Click on this link, and not only will you be able to view my photographs at any time (should you really want?), but will also see any new photographs added to the album, immediately.
Along with the "blogmosaic" slide shows, (the mosaics for "Blue-Grey"), you will also be able to easily find a few more conventional slide shows (all titled "blackrabbit x") to view my photographs.

At present, the only photographs in my online album are ones not taken using my new (run) DMC digital camera. I have taken possibly 1000 photographs in the last year, but only selected about 75 to be included in the online album.
This will change imminently, as I'm sure you can guess, with the new digital camera coming out to play very often!

Onwards and upwards...

Monday, November 19, 2007

CHANGE TO VIDEO (7)

You want a talking cat?
You've got it.
When this was released on YouTube, there was (only) one complaint that the cat was scared, and this video was sick.
Well, the cat is angry, certainly, or a bit peed off anyway. Out of shot (not on this clip, but IN shot in another) is another cat, a kitten really, that is about 6' away from this moggy, and annoying it clearly.
I can't help but find it funny.
Very funny indeed.

"Ohhhh Long Johnson.
Why I eyes ya.
Ohhh Don Piano...."

Friday, November 16, 2007

EXCITING NEWS FOR "BLUE-GREY"

My photographs on "Blue-Grey" aren't too bad, considering, in the main, they're taken with my phone (bar the Blue Tit phtographs and a few others).
Very soon though, I hope to be in possession of my first ever grown-up digital camera.
It has a 12x zoom lens (more than enough) and I've ordered an auxillary lens for very close up macro-shots, MUCH closer than my phone can handle.

With a lot of failed attempts I'm sure, soon enough I hope to be posting some really quite good photographs on "Blue-Grey".
Thankyou to the person (you know who you are) who has sold me this camera (a cherished possession, I know).
I will certainly put it (or attempt to!) to very good use.

Watch this space...

COLD HARLEQUIN LADYBIRD


Click to enlarge

NOVEMBER FROSTS

We've had three nights of hard ground frost now, although I'm reliably informed that they shouldn't continue in the near future - the weather is set to turn much wetter, a little warmer and certainly more changeable during the back end of the month.

The office hedgehog (Russell) is now hibernating. The Harlequin Ladybirds are still out and about, but suffering sometimes from the frost and eclosing as a deformed adult - often with one elytron deformed or completely missing. Those that are still around (see photo below) are very, very sluggish. Harlequins are legendary (in America at least) for gathering in large numbers in houses - looking for shelter during the winter. That phenomenon will happen in Britain before too long - people will be reporting hundreds of ladybirds trying to get ito their houses or sheds, in a large mass.

I still haven't cleaned the birdbox out yet - I'd best do that before we get any winter roosters, if you see what I mean.... Blue Tits or Wrens rather than chickens.
Many birds have formed their winter flocks - we are visited by a dozen-strong flock of Long-Tailed Tits every day, and the Great and Blue Tits are re-discovering the feeder. I'm sure our Goldfinches and Bullfinches will be back imminently...
I might consider erecting a makeshift bird table in the vegetable plot for the cold months ahead, and see what I can attract to the garden...

Posted below are three pictures of the hard frost we experienced this morning, taken with my phone. More about that in the next post (above).

The Harlequin in the 3rd photo may well have copped it in the frost last night. That is frost on the bamboo pole it's sitting on - not lichen.



NB. 30 minutes later, and I think this Harlequin is waking up. It has lifted from the bamboo pole and the frost on its body seems to be melting... (see photograph above).

Some of these 'Harlequins' are pretty hardy. They are well used to Siberian temperatures remember...

1000 UP, SORRY, 1000 OPP.

Congratulations must go to the 1000th documented individual visitor to "Blue-Grey" since 14th September 2007.
My stat-counter (foot of the home page of the blog) has revealed to me that...
someone was searching for "Horned Beetles" in Opp, Alabama, USA, yesterday, and popped into "Blue-Grey" whilst doing it.

The "city" of Opp, Alabama, in the darkest, deepest south of the USA, has a population of about 6,500, all crammed into half a dozen trailers. (I'm going to get in trouble here...)!
But seriously, there is an annual "Rattlesnake Rodeo" in Opp - which I assume is the high point of the long, hot year.

I'm not at all surprised someone there was searching for long-horned beetles.
"Say... Tammy Lee! Gitt yursel' atta that there trailer wommun!
Ah'd shore lak this lil crittur for ma suppurh, with sum of yur momma's gad-givern carrn? Hell yeah! Reeeeeal goood!".

Well, there you go. A real bona-fide "Hick" has just become the 1000th documented individual visitor to "Blue-Grey".

For any future residents of Opp that visit "Blue-Grey", I've embedded a favourite pop video below...
Click to play
(Now I really am in trouble)!


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

USE YOUR EYES (BUT NOT THAT WELL...)

"Use your eyes". The Motto of "Blue-Grey".

Anna and I have a bit of a reputation for finding £20 notes on the pavement!
Today was no exception for me, and I am still kicking myself!

As I got off the train in Reading (back from my Theale trip), I walked quite fast up the platform towards the rotweillers and station exit, in a loose crowd of people, maybe 100 in total.
About 10 people ahead of me, and maybe 20 or 25 yards ahead, I saw what I thought looked like a wad of notes drop out of a bald man's wallet as he walked.
Nobody else seemed to notice - maybe ten people walked over what he dropped, literally right over it.
When I got to the object, I stooped down and picked up a bundle of £20 notes. I would say between 3 and 5, but I didn't flick through them to check - about £80 though.
Now there were people behind me who may have seen what had happened (though I doubt it), so I tussled with a quandry for a while. It felt like a while anyway.

Lets face it, theres only one thing that I should have done. So I did it. I ran after the bald man, tapped him on the back and told him he'd dropped this - showing him his bundle of purple notes.

He did thank me. I hope he was thankful. He better have been!

Lesson - use your eyes to spot the money lying around. (I've mastered that bit).
Do NOT use your eyes to spot who dropped the money! (Hmmmmmm....)

GOLDENEYE (AND GADWALL)



Click to enlarge

PYLON AND PEREGRINE TAIL!!! (SEE IT?)



Click to enlarge!
Both pics taken from the same spot. You need eagle eyes!

GREAT-CRESTED GREBE (WINTER PLUMAGE)


Click to enlarge

GADWALL (DUCK AND DRAKE)


Click to enlarge

SHOVELER (DRAKE AND DUCK)



Click to enlarge




NB.1/1/08 A shot of a Drake and Duck Shoveler from the balcony of Anna's parent's flat at Tottenham Hale, right over the river Lea Navigation. Three Shoveler (at least) are spending the night right under the balcony, and moving back to Walthamstow reservoirs when the light returns in the morning.

Apologies for the poor, grainy shot.

WIGEON (DRAKE AND DUCK)


Click to enlarge

FIELDFARE


Click to enlarge

THEALE LAKES (PHOTOGRAPHS ABOVE)

I had another day off today (my last for sometime - I'm on nights again as of tomorrow, 7 in a row) so I thought I'g get a train all of 6 minutes outside Reading to Theale gravel pits.
I've been desperate to see the Reading Peregrine(s) whilst I'm in possession of this 18X zoom camera, so I thought I'd revist the place where I know one hunts regularly...

What a day I've had!
As described in my Hampshire posts not so long ago, Wigeon are possibly my favourite of our British ducks - and there were many at Theale.
Shoveler drakes and ducks too - typically shovelling their huge bills through the water - very nice to see.
Gadwall also. Gadwall are pretty dull ducks (from a distance anyway, they're quite beautiful close up) with a black arse - no other of our ducks has a black backside like the Gadwall.
Great Crested Grebes were about also, looking very pale and pointy in their winter plumage without their crests.
Of course there were the usual suspects too. Coots, Moorhens, Swans, Mallard and Cormorants, but then I spied something a little unexpected (although a look at this months records and I should have known better) a striking male Goldeneye Drake and three females (re-heads). Great stuff!

The lake that I saw all these ducks on, is not particularly small - far from it actually, and most of the ducks were way off shore - a REAL test for this camera I've borrowed.
All the photos above were taken at 18X magnification and then cropped 2 or 3 times. (If I'd taken them with a normal 35mm camera lens, you wouldn't even be able to make out a duck at all, let alone what species it was). Apologies for the poor quality photos - thats a drawback of very high magnification sometimes...

That wasn't all though...

I was treated to the magnificent site of a big female Sparrowhawk chasing a Redwing around a Hawthorn bush as I left the lake proper. The last time Anna and I went to Theale, to see if we could find a Peregrine (which we did), we were then treated to a Sparrowhawk ambush also. Thats a 100% record so far then!

Fieldfares and Redwing were all over the bushes too. These appeared to be very skittish though, (I'm used to being able to approach these winter thrushes, so that surprised me somewhat), meaning the only photo I got (of a Fieldfare) is of very poor quality again.

Was I finished?
Was I 'eck as like!

As I made my way back to the main gravel pit, to give my Peregrine one last chance to show itself, one flew over my head - heading away from its usual spot (on an electricity pylon on an island in the main gravel pit).
Beautiful to see, such a powerful flight, but I thought that was that.
Nope.
I sat down on a grassy knoll, took out my sanwiches, and watched another Peregrine on its pylon for about an hour.
To be honest with you, it didn't move much. A scratch here, a shake there, that was all. Unfortunately in terms of photo opportunities go, there were none with this bird. It was sat right at the top of the pylon, on the far side, half hidden by metal struts (only its tail was visible for the most part), against the bright sun, at a distance of about 1/4 mile! I'll post the photos above - you may just make out its tail, but thats about it!

Finally, as I ambled down the canal tow path, on my way back to the station, the sun came out completely - and I fought my way through the rabbits and midges to board a train back home.
A really nice, peaceful day out on my own. You know what - sometimes it's grand to have a day off when most other people are at work!

A few relevant facts regarding some of the species above:

Goldeneye
A relatively common winter visitor to our lakes these days, although you'll have to look very hard to see one. The UK has about 100 pairs of breeding Goldeneye (all in Scotland), which nest in trees, sometimes in duck-nest boxes! That resident breeding population is boosted by up to 30,000 pairs which overwinter here.
Compare that with the Tufted Duck, which has approximately 9000 breeding (resident) pairs in the UK (nationwide), and 90,000 overwintering pairs.
At a distance (thats how you'll see them), they look like the far more numerous Tufted Duck, but they do sit lower in the water, remain much longer underwater when they dive, and the drakes exhibit much more white in their plumage (with an obvious white spot at the top of their bill).
Close up, and the drake is a striking bird - with a tall, domed head, which has a green tinge to it, and piercing golden eyes.
The duck is far less striking, with a white belly, grey body and red/brown head - a few of these were at that lake today - 3 I think and only one male (that I could see anyway).
Click HERE to visit Arthur Grosset's Goldeneye page (and photographs).

Shoveler
A large, fat bold drake with chestnut and snow-white flanks, and a spatulate (shovel-like) out-sized bill. Unmistakeable.
Shovelers do breed in Britain, about 1000 pairs breed mainly in England, and mainly in the east (specifically the Ouse Washes, though they breed elsewhere too). The winter population is more like 10,000 pairs.

This photo is a marvellous view of a Shoveler drake - taken once again by Arthur Grosset (see links).

Gadwall.
Allegedly one of the tastiest of our ducks. Often seems to be quite nervous. I guess thats the reason why. Look for the black backside in the drakes and a 'graceful pose' in both sexes, with a more graceful, slightly longer neck in relation to their (slightly smaller) bodies if compared to, for example, a Mallard.

Breeding population in the UK - about 800 pairs, overwintering population - about 17,000 pairs - though I think you're much more likely to see Gadwall than Goldeneye in the winter. Gadwall may visit close to the edge of our lakes - Goldeneye are normally right out in the centre - in the far distance!

Click HERE to see some very nice photos of Gadwall - they are quite beautiful close up!

Wigeon.
Beautiful pink/chestnut heads with a gold crown running between the eyes, and a snow-white rump, (thats the drakes).
Very vocal. The drakes whistle and the ducks growl. Honest. Click HERE to listen to drake Wigeon whistling (courtesy of the very good site "Thames Valley Bird Forum".
The UK only has about 400 breeding pairs, (resident, mainly in Scotland) and these numbers are swollen by our winter visitors from Russia etc... up to 300,000 pairs overwinter in Britain.
Wigeon tend to graze on plants a the side of bodies of water.
Click HERE to view an RSPB video of Wigeon foraging, and HERE to revisit my original post on Wigeon (complete with very good photos from Arthur Grosset).

Great-Crested Grebe.
Unmistakeable again. This sawbill's crest feathers were taken for ladies hats not so long ago in Britain. I can't understand for the life of me why? Not because I don't understand the fashion regarding ladies hats in Victorian England. Well I don't actually - but couldn't they have found any better feathers? A Jays feathers for example? A Woodpeckers? Many ducks feathers would be better than the rather dull ginger crest of the Great Crested Grebe. Annnnyway, since all that nonsense stopped, our most common Grebe has flourished.
I was lucky enough once to see a Great Crested Grebe catch a Roach UNDER WATER once! I was looking in the right stretch of the river at the right time I suppose. Thats all. I honestly don't think if I spent the rest of my time peering into rivers, I'd ever see that event again!
There are approximately 10,000 breeding pairs of Great Crested Grebes in Britain, and the overwintering population doesn't rise much.
They are famous for their elaborate courtship routines (click HERE to watch an RSPB video of that wonderful courtship), and their very vocal young, which look like giant black and white humbugs, riding about on their parents back, learning to fish.

Fieldfare.
In October it begins and by the middle of November it has reached fever pitch. This is when the UK is inundated with literally millions of overwintering Thrushes such as Redwing and Fieldfare, all from Scandanvia - (and only a proportion of the Scandanavian population actually make the trip south).
We have between 1 and 5 pairs (at a last rough count) of breeding Fieldfares in the UK, and 750,000 pairs in the winter - all gorging themselves on our berries.
Fieldfares are big, upright thrushes, with a distinct grey head, but unlike our Mistle Thrush, which has a blobby breast, the Fieldfare has distinct prisoners arrow markings.
Fieldfares are often (like most birds) heard calling before they are seen. Click HERE to listen to a Fieldfare's call (not its song, which is far less often heard in the UK).
You can compare that to THIS, the flight call of the other big winter thrush from Scandanvia - the Redwing. Both flight calls can be heard very commonly at night from these 2 species - as they fly overhead , fresh in from the north - you'll hear them, but not see them.



All my photgraphs in the posts above this one - all shot at huge distance. Please excuse the poor quality, but (as always)...
Click on any to enlarge!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

LACEWING


After all those nice photos of ducks etc... taken with the very flash digital camera, back down to earth this morning with a poor phone photo of our most common lacewing (Chrysoperla carnea).

This very common insect can be distinguished from our other green lacewings (about 18 species in the UK) by the fact that it has no black dots on its face , and no black dot specifically between its antennae.

This species will turn a flesh colour soon (specific) , before it hibernates for the winter, often inside our houses.

Lacewings are often called Golden eyes or Brass eyes (no jokes now,please) although, yes, I know the photo is not great, far from it, but my Lacewing's eyes are far from golden. Not even bronze....

Monday, November 12, 2007

COOT


Click to enlarge

MOORHEN (WATER HEN)


Click to enlarge

BLACK-HEADED GULL


Click to enlarge

CANADA GOOSE


Click to enlarge

FERAL GREY(LAG) GOOSE


Click to enlarge

MALLARD DUCK


Click to enlarge

TUFTED DUCK (DRAKE)


Click to enlarge

PHOTOGRAPHS AND WATERBIRDS

M' colleague (m' boss actually, but hey ho) has only given me her camera for a day or two (is she MAD?!), so I wandered up the Thames today, snapping some pretty common birds, to see what the camera was capable of.
I'm sure you'll indulge me the photographs above...

Black Headed Gull.
Almost all these gulls (our most common inland gulls) have lost their summer back heads now (chocolate-brown heads really, but they look black from a distance) - leaving just a smokey smudge behind each eye. This particular bird was not born this year. One can tell that by the lack of mottled brown in its wing feathers, (just grey and white) and the fact that it has brightly coloured legs - this season's gulls would have a duller, pinky tinge to their legs, rather than a bright orange/red colour. Larus ridibundus is the scientific name for this gull - literally translated as "laughing gull". Strange? When I see them, all they seem to do is quarrel and fight!

Moorhen.
Or Water hen. Much more timid than the similar coot (hence their name of "Skitty Coots" in some parts), with a distinctive red and yellow bill, instead of a white bill and 'skull cap', and for want of a better word, a "petticoat" under its dark back, with 2 patches of white feathers at its rear end (undertail coverts), which it constantly flicks when disturbed (pretty well all the time).
Moorhens do not live on moors as their name suggests, Moorhen is purely a corruption of Merehen.

Coot.
I think I disturbed this coot at toilet! Note its indignant pose! Also note the coot's fantastic lobed feet and the crimson coot eye...

Canada Goose.
Not strictly a native bird, but ubiquitous now. Very vocal.
In the second year of their lives, Canada Geese will find a mate, and (unless one is killed) stay with that mate for the rest of their lives...

Grey Goose.
Not a (wild) Greylag, as some would believe. The Grey Geese around the Thames (and surburbia in general) are pretty well all hybrids and / or domestic geese, feral if you will. Truely wild Greylags only breed in Scotland in the UK.
Another undignified pose!

Mallard duck.
The Drake Mallard (a dabbling duck) is the boldly coloured, recogniseable bird, but I hope this photo, of a very obliging duck shows that the female has beautiful plumage too - more so than the drake, I would say.
In common with many waterfowl (ducks in particular), homosexuality is rife in Mallards.
Male-Male relationships account for about 1/5th of all breeding (or non breeding as it 'appens) Mallards in a given population.
"Ooh...'Ello Ducky!"
That all said, virtually every species of domestic duck owes its existence to Mallard genes, apart from the Muscovy Duck, that is. Everything else is part Mallard.


Tufted Duck (Drake).
One of my favourite waterfowl (and Anna's too). Named for its very obvious tuft on the drake's heads. The male is a striking duck with a "Blue-Grey" (yes indeedy) bill.
The female is less black and white than the male - more of a chocolate brown colour with pale broen flanks. The tufted duck is a diving duck (unlike the mallard for example). Both sexes exhibit glorious golden eyes.
We had the great pleasure of seeing a family of Tufted ducks grow up on the river Lea, under our balcony last spring, when we were living in Tottenham. The ducklings were diving very well after just a day or so - incredible to see!
This photo has taken over (possibly permanently, we shall see) from the Blue-eyed Lemur, on the home page of "Blue-Grey".



I also visited the station three times today, with my eyes upwards, hoping to see the Peregrine fly in, or on its perch.
No joy today - I'll try again tomorrow - it would be such a shame to miss the opportunity to take its photograph with this camera, whilst I'm in possession of it.
Fingers crossed for tomorrow...

INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION

I've just had a cup of coffee in the garden under a very clear night sky, and watched the International Space Station cross over Britain above me.
I've seen this many times and it never fails to amaze me.
You'll see many satellites pass overhead if you spend any time looking at the night sky, most are very faint tiny dots, moving at a steady speed in (of course) a straight line.
The Space Station, when it passes overhead though, is absolutely unmistakeable.

It always passes over Britain from west to east, and is the brightest thing in the sky, more often than not.
Venus (the morning star at present) is very bright indeed in the east, but the ISS competed with even her brightness this morning.

The best time to see the ISS is firstly on a clear night (obviously), and secondly just before the sun comes up, or just after its has set - this will mean sunlight will reflect off the ISS for the longest period of time in the dark, night sky, making it appear very bright for the longest time.
One can quite easily watch the ISS cross the entire sky, from west to east, in the right conditions.

If you are still unsure if what you've just seen in the night sky was a plane (much lower and blinking lights) or any old satellite, instead of the ISS, then click on the new link on the links menu to track the current position of the ISS (direct from NASA), (or HERE).

Like I say though, when you DO see the ISS cross the sky - you'll know you have, you'll not mistake it! It is that bright and that distinctive.

When you do see it, you'll be looking at something about 360km above the surface of the earth, which makes about 16 orbits of the earth every 24 hours, at an approximate speed of 17,000 mph. Just so you know...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

PHOTOGRAPHY (3)


Not in focus I know, but a start. Click to enlarge.

PHOTOGRAPHY (2)


Click to enlarge

PHOTOGRAPHY



A kind colleague at work has loaned me her super-duper digital camera to play with to see if I think it may be worth shelling out some moolah for a new camera.
I know my phone is pretty good for macro shots (well, for a phone anyway), but anything else is pretty poor.
How on earth will I get a decent photo of my Peregrine?

The 2 shots above ( 1 on this post, one on the post above) compare my phone's shot of the Thames Tower, this post, (and Peregrine on its perch - though you'll bust your eyes trying to see anything other than a white dot!) and a photo taken by me this afternoon from the same spot below the tower, of the perch the Peregrine was sitting on yesterday, with my colleague's camera at full zoom, (post above).
Point made I think.

The photo above the building photos is of my left eye taken a few minutes ago, with my colleagues camera.

Click on it to enlarge it, and you'll immediately see I have an insect living under my eyelid.

Not only that, I seem to have a nice orange blob in my iris, meaning I will almost certainly die of an exploded liver (or something like that) in the not too distant future...

Friday, November 09, 2007

SPOT THE PEREGRINE (2)!

Click to enlarge

Thursday, November 08, 2007

SHE'S BACK!

Walking home from the office today, at around 14:45, via the station, I took my customary glance up at the big brown office block opposite the main entrance hoping (as I always do) to see the Reading Peregrine(s).
Its been weeks (months even?) since I've seen one on its roost, but today I was in luck.
At EXACTLY the same time as I looked, the big female flew in like an arrow, and settled near the top of the building and began to preen.
She's back.
Good news.

(Of course, just like every other time, no-one on the ground even noticed...).




NB. 9/11/07 (The next day). She's still there, looking very frisky, with her pyjama bottoms ruffling in this stiff breeze, and cocking her head and peering at the pigeons, gulls and odd crow flying by - most of which (like the humans far below) haven't even seen her I'm sure - there's no mobbing going on!
I'll post a photo above. You'll not see much - it was taken on my phone, but those eagle-eyed amongst you may pick out a white smudge near the top left of the Thames Tower - Thats her!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

COMMON STINKHORN


Inedible


Click to enlarge

UNIDENTIFIED FUNGUS - APRICOT CLUB?

Inedible

Click to enlarge

UNIDENTIFIED FUNGUS - POSSIBLY CLUSTERED BRITTLESTEM

Inedible

Click to enlarge

BLACK PARK VIEW


Click to enlarge

AUTUMN COLOURS, BLACK PARK


Click to enlarge

FUNGI FORAY IN BLACK PARK

My eldest sister and her husband organise one of these each year.
100 or so people (including the world famous Richard Fortey this year) head off into Black Park (near Wexham, Berkshire) to forage for as much fungi (edible with luck) as they can, then we head back to the house and eat them...
Great stuff!
This year Anna and I were lucky enough to go, we certainly had a fantastic time!
I've not been to Black Park (and its neighbouring park Langley Park, Near Slough) since I camped there when I was a boy. A wonderful area of 1000s of acres of mixed woodland, meadows and a lake or two, and absolutely spectacular at this time of year with the colours of the foliage and hidden fungi below.

We were lucky enough to find many different species of fungi, but most of which I didn't take photos of.
The highlights of our search (for me, anyway) were 8 or 9 Bolete sp of mushroom (we didn't manage to identify them to species level, but I rather think they were a mixture of Bay and Birch Boletes), a PERFECT 'Penny Bun' or Cep (white pores like the more yellow pores of the other Boletes), which looks just like a penny bun - an almost toasted cap and a thick wide stem, the infamous Magic Mushrooms (which I'm really gutted I didn't photograph, as I've only just learned how to identify these), a very picturesque clump of unidentified Brittlestem (probably Clustered Brittlestem I think), hundreds of Amethyst deceivers, a good number of Common Puffballs, lots of Common Earthballs, a dozen or so Fly Agaric (the red and white toadstool) and a very phallic Stinkhorn.

We thoroughly enjoyed our walk around the park, and I did manage to take a few photos which I'll post above.
Two of the three species of fungus that I'll post photos of above are yet to be identified definitely to species level - I'll work on that and change the title of those photos very soon. I have an idea for both - but will confirm it with experts as soon as I can.

A wonderful afternoon / evening, surrounded by breathtaking scenery, lots of Goldcrests, some very noisy Woodpeckers and very good company, and you know what, the mushrooms fried later by my Brother in Law, topped off the day perfectly...

Click on ANY of the photos above to enlarge considerably.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

CHANGE TO VIDEO (6)

Time for a change to the video on "Blue-Grey".
Well now, it was Hallowe'en last night, so lets think pumpkin.
Lets make the pumpkin a fermenting, rotting pumpkin.
Now lets think of a Squirrel feasting on that pumpkin.
Result?
Completely wasted squirrel.
Enjoy the video...



NB. At the bottom of the clip (when it has finished) you can find other related clips.
The sedated cat is quite funny (in a guilty way) as are the drunk monkeys.
Come to think of it, the (hidden) clip of the "Drunk Man" is good as well - give it time - and before long, you'll be rooting for him to get to his feet and walk away!