MY FAVOURITE CARTOON AS A BOY..

Friday, February 29, 2008

(BLACK) CHERRY PLUM BLOSSOM



I rather think I might have already talked briefly about this early blossomer - Prunus cerasifera 'Nigra', the Black Cherry Plum.

It does blossom ridiculously early in the year, with many thousands of delicate pink/white flowers that are often mistaken for Blackthorn.

I did see a bush of Cherry Plum flower almost a month ago now (or at least a few branches of it were flowering, anyhoo), but now all the local trees are exploding in this pink-white colour.

Although the species is a little, how can I put it.... er.... cultivated? Urban? I still think its very nice to see. It'll do me, anyway, Tommy.

Click either image to enlarge (both are now also in the "New Warren" even larger still).

LONG-TAILED TITS AND BLUE TIT UPDATE


Just after I wrote the post below, I thought I'd sit and watch the garden from the spare bedroom, to see if any Blue Tit did visit the box.

We've just had a flurry of activity in the garden, with a pair of Great Tits, Dunnocks, House Sparrows, Greenfinches, a hen Blackbird, a pair of Woodpigeons, about 15 Goldfinches in the bare Lime tree, and a first for the garden - a pair of Long-Tailed Tits. Excuse the photo again please - taken from inside, in a hurry, with the wrong lens.


It often seems to be that way in this garden - as soon a two birds appear, (often the ever noisy Goldfinches), every bird appears.


The GOOD news is that in defending their "patch" from the pair of Long-Tailed Tits (maybe the winter LTT flock has dispersed after all now), both Brittany and her mate appeared and BOTH went very briefly into the box.

BIG sigh of relief - we're still on for mid March then maybe?


NB. By the way - happy "leap day" to any readers of BG.

FOLIAGE SPIDER AND A FEW THOUGHTS...



Two days ago, our overwintering Chiffchaff (the one that's been here all season with his white primary feather) started to sing for the first time in 2008.
It was a sound Anna and I got used to during last spring and summer - but I hadn't heard him utter a peep since last autumn.
Early yes - but cheating a bit, as I know he's not flown south for the winter.

On that sort of subject, I can see that the winter Goldfinch flocks have yet to break up yet, nor have the winter flocks of Long-Tailed Tits. Won't be long now though...

What about our Blue Tits - Brittany and her mate?
Slightly worrying news I'm afraid to report.
I'm well aware that I haven't uploaded any recent nestbox videos in the past fortnight or so.
For two reasons - firstly I've been extremely busy, and secondly, because I've hardly seen them anywhere NEAR the box. In fact, I've hardly seen them at all, and am not convinced they are both still alive - but they might well be.
I'm pretty sure the male is alive - I occasionally hear him calling.
Time will tell of course, though I was rather hoping that in about 2 weeks, (like last year), they'd be stating to put nesting material into the box.
Maybe someone down the road has put up a more desirable nestbox than us?
I do hope they are (BOTH) still alive, and are just taking a break....

Keep your eyes open on the roads at present.
I took a phonecall the other day from a lady in Northern Ireland, reporting hundreds of dead frogs on a road near a lake.
Pretty normal in February and early March I'm afraid.
I saw it myself t'other day, on a road in Berkshire - lots of frogs squashed on a short stretch of road, with the spawn literally forced out of them in some cases - not a particularly aesthetically-pleasing sight.
Lots of amphibians are now involved in migration back to their place of birth (or as near as dammit), to spawn this year.


Now - the "Foliage Spider".
Apologies for the poor quality of the two photographs above.
I took them last night, in the dark, and I should tell you the spider was about 12' up our exterior kitchen wall, and we've got no ladder.
It certainly is some kind of male "Foliage Spider" (a Clubiona sp.) but there are about 19 species of this genus of spider in Britain - and I couldn't possibly narrow it down further than the genus from these poor photographs.
I have a suspicion its Clubiona reclusa but I can't be sure.

Most Foliage Spiders look very similar. Elongated abdomens, fine brown hair (almost like fur) covering their abdomen and cephalothorax, with long spinnerets at the rear.
They normally dwell in foliage (as their name suggests), or under stones on the ground, behind tree bark, or in gaps in fences - weaving a silk retreat purse if you will, in which they lie during the daylight hours.
Come night time though, and they're on the prowl - they are hunting spiders, and don't make webs as such.

I assume this one (a male - see his club-like pedipalps) maybe lives in a gap in our wooden fence, or in a little spot under the gutter for example.
I don't suppose we'll see him on the bare wall that often.

As a rough scale of size, I'd say he was just under one inch long - so hardly a monster, but not really that small.
I'll try and get a better photograph of this genus of spiders as and when, in more ideal photography condusive circumstances, but for now, click either image to enlarge...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

GO ON THEN. ONE MORE...




This is now the THIRD species of "Jumping Spider" I've photographed this week.

Along with my "House Jumping Spider" in the spare bedroom, and my "Fence-Post Jumper" on the Blue Tit box, I've now re-found this little lady, hunting on our back gate, in the warm sun today.

This, of course, is the most famous Jumping Spider in Britain - the "Zebra Spider", Salticus scenicus, and this indivdual is once again, a small female (no HUGE chelicerae (fangs) on her like the Zebra Spider males), at about 2-3mm high and 4mm long.

I've gone into this species' biology before, so no need to again, but do click on any of the above images to enlarge them...
I've added the best to the "New Warren" and enlarged it MUCH larger if you'd like to take a look HERE.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

TALKING OF SPIDERS... ANOTHER OF MY FENCE-POST JUMPERS...


They ALL want their photographs taken now...

This little "byoody" (as the late Steve Irwin might have said), I've just this second photographed on the front of the nestbox.
(The pale clour behind her is the circular nest box entrance hole for the Blue Tits...).
I think she's safe at present though - our Blue Tits only seem to visi the box in the morning.

Click, as always, to enlarge.

SHE WON'T LEAVE ME ALONE...


As I uploaded all my photographs into the New Warren, my little lady friend reappeared next to the computer on the window frame.
She seems intent on having her photo taken now - fickle eh?
This, of course, is the female "House Jumping Spider" I chased around our ceiling a few days ago...
Anyway - couldn't resist.
Click to enlarge.

SCAUP AT SANDFORD LAKE.






I always thought I used my eyes very well indeed. "Use Your Eyes" is BG's motto after all.

Not yesterday I'm afraid.


I had a day off yesterday and took a train 9 minutes east of town (unlike the usual train journey to Theale gravel pits, 9 minutes west), to Dinton Pastures County Park, and Lakes, near Wokingham in Berkshire.

This is a large park, but a water park, full of lakes. The river Loddon runs through it.


I knew there was the possiblity of seeing the park's overwintering Bittern, which seems to spend its time in the reeds on one of the lakes - there will always be a chance to see a Barn Owl - a nest box has a pair roosting there now, and you never know what else could turn up.


I had a very nice relaxed day, wandering about peering at stuff with my camera.

I managed to see a large party of feeding Snipe (photo in my online photo album, the "New Warren" (see link above)), plenty of Teal (photo New Warren), Shoveler, Pochard, Peewits, a Redshank, some Pheasants and a very big rat,that was preoccupied eating, and didn't notice me take a very nice photo of it (in the New Warren again).


I don't consider myself a bird watcher, more of just a watcher really, and I am sometimes amused by the point-scoring "birders" engage in, whilst talking with (more like "to") each other at spots like this.

I did overhear some chap saying he'd seen a Scaup on an adjacent lake. I know what a Scaup (pronounced SCORP rather than SKOWP) is. Its a sea duck, rather like a Tufted Duck, but found on the coast. Instead of a the Tufty's black back, the Scaup has a grey back, instead of a blue sheen to its black head (like the Tufty), the Scaup exhibits a definite green sheen with a steep forehead, and no tuft, but other than that, they do appear very like Tufties, especially from a distance.


I had never seen a Scaup before, though like I said, I knew exactly what one looked like.


Annnyway... on my amble around the last lake before walking back to the station, I noticed a couple of Goldeneye drakes not too far away. Another of my favourite wildfowl - they really are quite beautiful - I stopped to get a shot of one.

I managed quite well I think. The photo is at the top of this post (its the first photo), and you'll see a number of species in the photo.

It was only when I got home and downloaded my photographs, and started to look through them, that I remembered about the Scaup. I'd only gone and taken a VERY poor shot of one - out of focus - but CLEARLY visible in the Goldeneye shot - and I hadn't even noticed it - so intent was I on getting the Goldeneye in focus...


The first photo (like I said) shows the Scaup.

The duck top left is my subject - the Goldeneye.

The duck bottom right is the bird I completely missed - the Scaup.


Never mind eh?

I'll be 6' under before I join the "Twitchers" of this world, so don't intend to beat myself up about a bird that I've not seen before, being missed by me - RIGHT UNDER MY SNOUT!


The pint of Wadworths 6X I had at the local watering hole waiting for a train is worth mentioning here also.

I hope that Anna and I will return when it gets a little warmer, to see maybe the Owls, maybe the Bittern, maybe have a pic-a-nic Boo boo, and maybe a pointa zoider after, in that very nice pub...


NB. The best photographs of the day (in my opinion) can ALL be found, now, on my online photo album, together with some facts about each species photographed.
Click HERE or use the link on the top lhs of the front page of BG.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

BLACK SWANS ON THE THAMES





Some readers of BG might know that Black Swans are special birds for me and Anna. We are at present, designing our wedding invitation cards using images of Black Swans.

When we got together in London (and I moved to be with her in Walthamstow (nicer than it sounds)) we regularly used to watch a Black Swan on Walthamstow reservoirs and the river Lea.


I think we both appreciate "different" sights or animals, slightly unexpected or abnormal events and sights, things that are out of the ordinary or improbable. Doesn't everyone?


We were always delighted when we saw that swan fly down to the reservoirs or river (although smaller than the normal Mute Swans, you'll not miss a Black Swan flying - they have longer necks than Mute Swans, are jet black all over (at least it appears that way from a distance) and have very showy white wing flashes in flight which are hidden when it is on the ground or water).


The wild Black Swan (Cygnus aratus) is native only to Australia and Tasmania, although there is a significant breeding population in New Zealand also, where it was introduced.

It is a popular wildfowl collection bird, all over the world, many have escaped these collections and are now often found in "the wild". It was thought that they couldn't breed in the Northern hemisphere, so in tune were they with the southern hemisphere's "winter" breeding season - but that is quite clearly untrue.


I have no idea where the pair of Black Swans that appeared on the Thames at Reading have come from. There is a Wildfowl collection very close - and this stretch of the river is no stranger to exotic avian visitors because of that. Maybe they came from that collection. Who knows?


During the 1980's I enjoyed boating up this part of the Thames because you quite literally never knew what you were going to find - maybe a Carolina Wood Duck, possibly a Mandarin Duck, and ever since we've been living in Reading (for the last year or so), a Barnacle Goose, a dozen Egyptian Geese, and a semi-tame Tufted Duck - all of which I know can fly, and fly elsewhere should they want.


Well, now, possibly two of our favourite birds (as a couple anyway) have turned up right under our noses in Reading - maybe they took their time following us from Walthamstow!

I'll try and get much better photographs of these beautiful yet different (slightly unsettling) birds if we get better light here - its very warm and dull at present. We do hope they stick around for a while...


Click HERE for a review (in the Telegraph) of the book "The Black Swan" by the very rude, frank, Lebanese epistemologist, Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
I think that might be worth a read - "Plato was a nerd" eh?!!
Should be a giggle.




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NB. A day later. After a little more research on the web, and after being told an interesting tit-bit of information by a colleague, it seems that Winston Churchill may have introduced the Black Swan to Blighty, at his country residence, Chartwell.

Lifted from the web:

"Out in the garden is a small lake with an island that Churchill helped to build himself. Unusually for England there are black swans resident in the lake. The original swans were a gift to Churchill from the people of Australia in recognition of his wartime achievments. He was very proud of them and their successors are there today".

The Black Swan means "Perth" (Western Australia) to Australians, in the same way that the Kangaroo means "Australia as a whole". There is an ancient Western Australian legend that explains the origin of the Black Swans. Allegedly a pair of White Swans stole some Eagles' boomerangs. The Eagles were so furious that they plucked those White Swans alive. Their blood stained their bills, and so concerned were the local Crows, that they covered the Swans in their own black feathers...


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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

TONIGHTS TOTAL LUNAR ECLIPSE

As discussed right at the start of the month, HERE, we have a Total Lunar Eclipse to look forward to tonight.
After a good ten or so clear nights recently, its pretty cloudy today (at least where I am), so we'll just have to cross our fingers, and hope this grey sky clears as the day and night go on.
Its not as user friendly as the spectacular eclipse of March 3rd 2007, which was completely clear of cloud, and at a more respectable time of about 10pm.

Tonight's Total Lunar Eclipse will begin about 1:30am, totality will occur at 03:26am, and it will all be over until the next time, by about 05:15am ish.

Your next chance to see a Total Lunar Eclipse in the UK?
December 21st 2010.

Make the most of this one if you can...


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NB. (The next day). Unfortunately, here in Reading, whilst at 11pm the sky was clear, if very hazy, by 11:10pm, we had pretty thick cloud cover on and off - so no view for us this time...
Hey Ho.
Lets hope December 21st 2010 will be better eh?

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Later still. I have just (12pm on the 21st) found out that my "statcounter" (the facility to record visitors to BG found right at the very bottom of the page of the blog - under the feeds) crashed this morning, what with all the hits I was getting with specific reference to last night's lunar eclipse.
I've reset it now, but it is even more of a shame I couldn't see it last night and pop some photographs on the blog, eh?
Aw well...

Pseudeuophrys lanigera "THE HOUSE JUMPING SPIDER"




I always thought this was called the "Wall jumping spider", but after a little research, it seems like it has no common name - just Pseudeuophrys lanigera.

I found this on our hall ceiling this morning, and its taken me an hour or so to get a few half decent shots of it.

I'll add to this post when I can, after finding out more about this tiny wee jumping spider - about 4mm in length and 3mm in width.
Click any image to enlarge...
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NB. Later today.
After some more research I have found that this spider is one of eleven species found within this genus in Europe. Our spider is a female (its fore legs are not darkened - as is the normal colouration for displaying males), and it does have a common name - the "House Jumping Spider". It is very often found near or in human habitations - often on or in roofs, and sometimes in rooms - like the one I photographed.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

ANNUAL HAWK CONSERVANCY PILGRIMAGE (2)




ANNUAL HAWK CONSERVANCY PILGRIMAGE




Anna and I try to get to the Hawk Conservancy near Andover, every year if we can.

Its a wonderful place full of many species of Hawks, Buzzards, Falcons, Owls and Vultures - run by very knowledgeable and friendly staff (who CLEARLY enjoy their work), and not only provides a valuable conservation service, but also an excellent hands-on educational service to boot.
Just as a paying day visitor one can have a Harris Hawk fly to your fist, or have a Barn Owl sit on your gauntlet-clad fist, and watch some fantastic flying demonstrations.
Ashley, Gary, Cedric and staff clearly know their stuff, and its always a pleasure to visit.
We hope to take part in one of their falconry days next time, or maybe a photography day, or even "Owls by moonlight" evening...


Above are a few of the 90 photographs I took whilst we were there yesterday, (3 on this post, 3 on the next).

The first is a close up of a Harris Hawk - a bird widely used by Professional Falconers here in the UK (even though its not native to these shores), as its a reliable "all-rounder".
Strictly speaking its no Hawk, nor Buzzard, as its scientific generic name suggests "Parabuteo" -part Buzzard.

The second is a portrait of a female Barn Owl.

The third photo shows a large Milky Eagle Owl (named after its milk-coloured eyelids) flying low over the gathered crowd at the Woodland Owls display.

The fourth photo (on the next post, above) shows a Saker Falcon (with attached radio transmitter in case it buggers off - I'm told they often do!) over our heads in a hunting flight demonstration.

The Fifth photo on that post shows the same bird before flying, shaking his feathers. The pre-flight checks if you will.

Finally, the sixth photo (the next post above this one), shows an old stalwart of the trust, catching his prey in mid air in a demonstration. This is Frodo, a 24 year old Tawny Eagle, who I first saw at the trust 22 years ago with my family. Its grand to know he's been well looked after, obviously!


I personally would like the trust to show off more British birds - the last time we went, we were treated to flying Peregrines and Tawny Owls - which I always find more interesting than African Sea Eagles or Turkey Vultures.
That is a small whinge though, I understand why they can't do that more often, and both Anna and I look forward to our next trip down there...

NB. You can visit the trust's comprehensive website by clicking on the "Hawk Conservancy" link in the links section of BG.


Click any of the photographs to enlarge them slightly...

Sunday, February 17, 2008

BAD NEWS...




After a week or so of walking up the river at dawn to see my Barn Owl again, I am reluctantly going to say that I don't think its hunting "south of the rivvarrh" at present.


There is clear evidence of motorbike activity (trail bikes by the look of the tyre prints) all over the Owl's hunting field.


Having come across these morons before, I assume they are out at night (de-restricted, unregistered bikes very often) - at least 2 or 3 of them by the look of the mess they've caused.




I don't blame the Owl for finding "pastures new" (quite literally), as they will be making quite a racket at night.


I hope I know roughly where the Owl is still roosting at present, and assume it will be hunting just north of the river - but that is a good two hour walk for me (4 hours round trip at least), and at the moment, will not be do-able by me.




I'll continue to walk up the river at dusk and dawn occasionally, for a time, in the hope that the cretins on their bikes get reported or bored.


I hope to meet them one evening...., with a catatpult and a few stones maybe...






The picture above is another photo I took this morning of a barb on a barbed wire fence, running next to the Barn Owl field, covered in a heavy frost.


Click as always to enlarge.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

ANOTHER MOON SHOT (TONIGHT)


I think I'm slowly getting the hang of this photographing the moon business.

Took a few shots tonight, on different manual settings.

This was the best, and I think makes ALL my other efforts at photographing the moon look absolutely awful. (Its all to do with resizing your digital image, but I won't bore you with all that nerdy stuff).

Click to enlarge.


NB. Remember the Total Lunar Eclipse at 3am (ish) 21st feb. I may get up for that if (big IF) the sky is clear - thats when this moon-training may well come in handy!

VALENTINE'S ROSE




A still life, taken early this morning (couldn't sleep), of one of the dozen red roses I gave Anna for Valentine's day this year.


Don't all vomit at once...
NB. Sharper (better) version of my photo in the "New Warren".

Friday, February 15, 2008

MOON TONIGHT (WITH NEW LENS)


I've recently bought a new (well, second hand, but new to me) teleconverter for my camera, from the same chap who sold me the camera in the first place.

Thought I'd try it out on the Gibbous, Waxing moon tonight.
I'm dead impressed.
Cheers pal!


Click, as always, to enlarge.

THE COMPOST HEAP RAT...




You know... one day I'll take a photo of a Bengal Tiger, or maybe even a Golden Oriole or something...


Photo taken 5 minutes ago from the spare bedroom.




Click to enlarge.

ANOTHER PIGEON PORTRAIT


You can tell how crap I'm feeling.

Another bleedin' pigeon.

Click to enlarge.

RED KITE OVER GARDEN.


Less than an hour after the Peregrine...

Click to enlarge.

PEREGRINE OVER BACK GARDEN


I'm very under the weather at present. My circadian rhythms have been well and truely knocked out of kilter by those recent night shifts, so I'm at home, doing a few jobs and mainly resting.


I was gazing out of the window a minute ago, when I noticed a bird of prey spiral relatively low over the rec behind our house. It was behaving like a Sparrowhawk, but it was only when the 3 dozen or so pigeons all leaped into the air a few seconds later, I realised what it was.
Its very impresive that the pigeons can tell the difference between a real threat (what THIS was) and something that isn't (a Sparrowhawk).

One of our Peregrines. Drifting lazily towards one of its hunting reservoirs, a few miles west of us.
By the look of it, this one was big enough to be a Falcon (female) and in good nick (nice and plump) by the look of it...

Managed one shot, and one shot only.
Click to enlarge.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

DUNNOCK AND SQUIRREL






Sat in the hide for an hour or so today, hoping to get a shot of the Woodpecker.

The light was SO bad though (it was like night), that I gave up after that time, having got the shots above, using a high speed film setting for most. Not great quality I'm afraid.

Of course, as soon as I came in, the garden went bananas with all manner of birds flocking in - (including the Woodpecker right above me) - aw well, I'll wait for better light...


Click any of the photographs to enlarge.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

WOODPIGEON PORTRAIT


The last sunny day for a day or so I fear and the female Woodpecker got on her post at exactly the same time as yesterday.

I wasn't inside the hide though - I've picked up some sort of gastric bug, and couldn't face an hour or so in a frosty tent, so for now you'll have to make do with this close-up of one of the Woodpigeons to visit the garden.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

MOON TONIGHT AND INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION WITH SHUTTLE VIDEO (BY MARS)


Another nice day today with more insects making the most of the glorious temperatures and sunlight.

I thought I'd snap tonight's waxing moon again, and try and get a video of the International Space station (with Shuttle Atlantis still docked to her) flying overhead.
Managed it just, and by a complete fluke, recorded (with the stills camera set to video mode again) as the station and shuttle flew "past" Mars.
Excuse the poor quality of the video (all hand held, shot in a panic again, (poor old Anna's marrying a headcase you know)).
If I'd have known it was going to fly right by the red planet, I'd have made a much smoother video...!

As always, the photo above can be enlarged by clicking on it, and the video can be found on my "Youtube channel", or at the bottom of the home page of BG, on my "Youtube player", or by clicking HERE. (All that providing your server gives you permission to view youtube videos of course...).

FEMALE GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER ON POST!



This morning is the first time I've seen the hen on the post - previously it had always been the bolder male.
Good news - though I was gutted I wasn't in my hide, not 8' away from the woodpecker, instead I was watching from behind double glazing again, about 80' away.
I'll hope to get some great shots when I do get back into the hide!

As normal, click either image to enlarge.

"WALL SCREW MOSS"


This is the very common (especially on urban walls), "Wall screw moss". Its scientific name is Tortula muralis - and it doesn't take a graduate in classical languages to realise that quite literally means : Winding/twisted of walls.

Very apt name for this bryophyte - this is the moss you are (by far the) most likely to see on brickwork around urban areas - with stems growing from a plump, moist cushion.


I found this moss on the office wall a few days ago, and snapped it last night.

Click (as always) to enlarge the image.

MUCH COLDER THIS WEEKEND...

15c might be the norm over parts of Britain today - I hear N.Wales might even reach the giddy heights of SEVENTEEN DEGREES!
All these newly emerged Hoverflies, Ladybirds, Butterflies (Primroses seen in places already - but not by me yet), Bumblebees (saw a big queen "Buff-tail" in the garden yesterday) and Weevils (one of the back fence yesterday also) are going to find it tough this weekend - VERY tough.

From 15c to 4c (daytime temp) in two days, and no warming sun either.

Monday, February 11, 2008

TONIGHT'S WAXING MOON


TWO GREBES 'A COURTIN'

On my ramble up the river this morning, (for any interested parties, I was just "saaaf of ver rivarrh" (sorry, "in joke")), I did manage to record on video a Great Crested Grebe calling his mate (very rarely heard outside the breeding season), and then the very nice sight of is mate responding, and the two Grebes participating in their famous courtship dance - waving their heads at each other etc...
I didn't manage to video them giving each other presents of weed (thats the next stage) or actual copulation (the final stage), but I'm really happy to have caught a bit of their famous dance on video.
I've uploaded both videos to my youtube channel - visible at the bottom of "Blue-Grey", or by clicking "My youtube channel" on the links section.

They are labelled "Podiceps cristatus" (the latin name for a Great Crested Grebe), which (as I've mentioned before), literally means "Crested Anus-foot".

I hope you enjoy watching them...

I'M ADDICTED.



No Owl again this morning.

Just a heavy mist (fog really) and a beautiful sunrise.

Click to enlarge.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

ANOTHER RIVERSIDE WALK AT DAWN...





I was a bit late (I hope?) to see the Owl today, so I took a few more pictures of other sights again...

Descriptions can once again be found in the "New Warren".

Click any image to enlarge as usual.