I'm off for a few days now (and I think the weather is meant to get a little worse - aw well).
Thought I'd just pop a few photographs up from yesterday, in the garden.
The FIFTH species of Ladybird has turned up in the garden - the tiny (3mm long MAX) Twenty-two spot ladybird. I'll put my photographs up of all SIX (expected), for comparison, when I photograph the final Ladybird in the garden this year - when the 2-spot arrives...
Easily recognised - like I said, its minute, with yellow elytra and 10 or 11 black spots on each. A yellow and black spotty pronotum is present also, and unlike other small yellow and black ladybirds, the 22-spot has no thick(ish) dark line down the middle of its "shell" (separating the elytra).
We've got half a dozen or so of these lovely ladybirds feeding on the mildew and mould in the long grass by the fence - I'll try ( maybe) to get a shot of one on a 5p piece so the scale becomes clear, but for now, the shot above is of one on that fence...
The Ichneumon wasp is one of those stunning insects that fly in occasionally.
I think its a Pimpla hypochondriaca, but I can't be 100% sure.
Talking of hypochondriacs, it did act a little sick - it was quite slow, unlike most of these stunning beasts - which are CONSTANTLY on the go, searching for the next caterpillar to lay their eggs in, (which eventually gets eaten ALIVE, from the inside out).
I saw my namesake yesterday, in the gathering gloom of a remote spot in the Chiltern hills, near our secret badger sett, and right opposite the Barn Owl field...
I've only EVER seen ONE Black Rabbit before in my entire life - and that was about twenty years ago, in the rolling mists of a deserted golf course. This was a VERY NICE surprise!
Some people say Black Rabbits are common in some areas of the UK.
Not round these 'ere parrz.
You'll see I did manage a shot, in the low light, from about 2-300m away, with full 18x zoom.
Click on the photo to enlarge it.
You'll note that the Black Rabbit is glowering at the bog-standard brown bunny in front of him (probably flashing his red, glowing eyes), and that the brown bunny has come over all subservient - lying prone on the ground!
Luckily Anna and I were a good distance away, like I said, so the Black Rabbit didn't spot us and turn his fiery glare in our direction.....
All the "B's" then. B is for Bluebells and Bix. Anna and I decided to go and gawp (and take a few photies) of the explosion of purple that has occurred in the woods of the Chilterns over the past week - probably not quite as magnificent as last year's display, but stunning anyway! So thats the B for Bluebells then (and just for good measure we photographed these Bluebells at Bix (in oxfordshire) .... click on the photo above to enlarge (or as normal, visit the "New Warren". B is for Bucks Badger. After the Bluebells, we drove to a secret wood in Buckinghamshire, quite remote, but I wood I know well and have surveyed before for a local wildlife group, many moons ago. It was in this wood that I had the immense pleasure of watching a whole family of badgers one summer (up to seven at one time) feeding and playing around me (with cubs) - something I'll never forget. Well, the sett has changed a lot since then, but Anna and I were very surprised to have a wonderful view of a large sow badger snuffling around the woodland floor not 15 yards from us, before she shuffled fatly off, and we left the wood - our first badger together and a really nice moment! (No photo - WAY too gloomy under the wood's mixed canopy, even if the badger did emerge at about eight thirty pm - very much light enough for our eyes - but not for my camera unfortunately. Anna and I have vowed to return, in the summer maybe, and look for the cubs - you never know, in a little better light I may get a photograph or two...? B is for Big Barn owl. On leaving the wood, (still in reasonable light) we returned to the car and I suddenly noticed a beautiful Barn Owl quartering over a field pretty close to us - COMPLETELY unexpected - and quite magical in the half light! Anna thinks its her first ever experience of a wild Barn Owl (not surprising really as they're bloody rare these days - I've only seen two beforehand). We watched it for a good fifteen minutes, like a ghostly (completely silent) white moth, low over the scrubby long grass. At this time of year, the Owl should be breeding, and if so, it will quarter over that field all summer long - I think we may be in luck here. However, and this is a BIG "However", the Barn Owl, because of its scarcity, is a "Schdeule 1" species - one needs a licence to photograph these birds anywhere NEAR their nest, in season. So we won't be getting very close to this Owl - and not even approaching any nest - not even close! Wonderful stuff and so unexpected! B is for Bones. Fallow Deer bones to be exact. Rewind to the Bluebells at Bix, and Anna and I literally stumbled over two Fallow Deer carcasses (does and not together), lying in the wood, close to the road. Both had been there a year or more - just bones left - and we suspect one (at least) was hit by a car and thrown into the wood. Anna allowed me to glean one of the skulls, which I'll clean and photograph when I get time. B is for Buzzard. Another carcass I'm afraid, in the same wood. My father has done a spot of gamekeeping, when it was almost de rigeur to shoot or poison birds of prey on estates, so will have come across such things - but as for me, this was the first such carcass I'd ever seen. Dead for some time again - as it was mainly just feathers and bones - and I took one of the magnificent primaries for myself. Was it poisoned? Doubt it. Shot? Ditto. I think it just died naturally (everything does I suppose), fell out of a tree, and the bugs and beasts cleaned it up. Wonderful to see the plumage at VERY close range though - that feather I've got is a byoot! B is for Black Rabbit. And that OBVIOUSLY deserves a post (above this) all to itself.... a a a What an incredible few hours Anna and I had last night!
After my post two days ago on the return of my favourite bird, its fair to say they're back IN NUMBERS now, over Reading. Anna and I spent yesterday afternoon sorting out the garden and there were at least three dozen screaming about high in the sky above us. At last....!
NOW THEY ARE BACK. 2 MINUTES AGO I JUST SAW ONE LONE SWIFT, SILENT AND HIGH ABOVE THE REC BEHIND THE HOUSE! FIRST SWIFT! WELCOME TO SUMMER EVERYBODY! (ANNA AND I ARE OFF TO THE BADGER BEER PUB ON THE THAMES TO CELEBRATE - IN THE RAIN PROBABLY!) MORE LATER....
Well ok, so no Blue Tit nestbox live streaming from Black Rabbit towers this year, but you've now got links to EXCELLENT birdcams on Blue-Grey now. A Goshawk nest in the New Forest and a Peregrine nest in Derby. Both are SUPERB - please, if you haven't used these links - do so! What else can I give you? Hmmmm.... How about a Little Owl nestbox camera or two? (From Holland). Well worth a visit, the "angry-looking" little niblet is sitting on her eggs now, the fourth egg (vierde ei in dutch) was laid on the 20th April. Both cameras are WONDERFULLY clear - please click HERE or use the (new link) in my expanding link section on Blue Grey. You'll not be disappointed... There (like I said) is a wonderful live feed, and also plenty of clips of the pair of Owls battling Pigeons, Jackdaws and even a Barn Owl INSIDE their nest! (NB. When you get to the site, you have to specify which camera you'd like a stream from by clicking the appropriate tab).
Not my Swifts (although they WERE back by this date this year).
My favourite spiders - the "Fence-post jumping spiders" (Marpissa muscosa).
These wonderful jumpers, significantly more furry and larger than their Zebra Spider cousins, have now taken over our fences in the back garden it would seem, although the Zebras are still around.
We've had a lovely couple of days of sunny weather now - the leaves on the Lime tree have really got going (the tree has started "raining sap on us" again), all our potato plants have poked their green noses through the soil, into the air, the ladybirds are flying about (always nice to see the tiny yellow and black 14 spot ladybirds, especially with all the Harlequins about).
I hear this saturday may be warm and sunny too (after a day or two of light rain showers and rain from sunday onwards next week), so Anna and I have decided to carry out ANOTHER Bluebell recce and combine it with a trip deep into the Chilterns, to see if my old Badger sett is active at present...
Click on any of the images above to enlarge or visit my online photo album (the New Warren), to see them titled and at their best.
Looks like we're in for a spot of warmth today, and a bit of sunshine too!
Yesterday (afternoon at least) wasn't too bad either, and even though our prevailing wind may bring a little rain on wednesday and thursday, its fair to say we may have broken the back of the cold winter rain and murk...
Anna and I hope to take pictures of our favourite Bluebell wood THIS weekend now, and with luck, pop up to the badger wood to see whats occurring...
I managed to take a few photographs of some insects & spiders in the garden yesterday - a Red Mason Bee has commandeered an old hole in our back gate, the Zebra Spiders were out having fun with all these midges (there DO seem to be an awful lot of midges presently - is this across the whole country?), the Hoverflies were soaking up a little sun on the fence, and even the wee evil weevils were scampering about.
Please visit the "New Warren" online photo-album to see all the above shots in their original size (with accompanying text as normal), or failing that, do click on any of the photo's above to enlarge them...
My sister in Paris is often very good enough to let me know when les martinets arrive in Paris each year. A couple of days later they generally arrive in Berkshire, in the UK.
No word yet, and last year in the sun-drenched south of England in April, the Swifts arrived on St.Georges day here - the 23rd April - IN TWO DAYS TIME!
We are lucky enough to have Swifts nesting up and down our street, and all last er.... cough cough.... "summer", the air was shred with the screams of my favourite bird of all.
That said, I think they'll be another week yet.
Allegedly after a horrid easterly wind over the weekend, we'll revert back to our prevailing south-westerly mid week this week, with temperatures up 7c on last weekend - that may help my Swifts on their journey home...
I await notification from Paris.
Talking of France, Anna and I were treated to a lovely sight of two "Frenchmen" this weekend.
We spent two days with one of my cousins in the Worcestershire countryside, and even though the weather was a bit dour, its always fantastic to unwind in a place where one wakes up to the sound of lambs bleating and Rooks cawing, rather than suped-up Vauxhall Novas hissing down the road, or Eastern Europeans shouting at each other over a can of rocket fuel.
The "Frenchmen" in question were Red-Legged Partridges - the more flamboyantly-coloured of our two Partridges here in the UK, always VERY nice to see.
Unfortunately the only shots I got were from inside my Cousin's house, through double glazing and drizzle, so not the best photo's in the world I'm afraid.
(In case you weren't aware, the Red-Legged Partridge is called a "Frenchman" in slang, as the orangey/red legs of the bird allegedly reminded people of the red trousers the french military used to wear....
Each year in March you'll hear the same nonsense, often from the same mouths regarding:
"OOOoooh! A bumblebee! Spring gets EARLIER and EARLIER eh?!"
"Is that a WASP? In MARCH? That's global warming I tells ya. We're ALL DOOMED"
Ya dee ya dee ya. Uninformed hysterical clap trap.
This year more of the same I'm afraid - specifically regarding Daffodils (some American hybrids flower at Christmas time dopey), Wasps and a Cuckoo that was allegedly heard in February or something daft - That would be a Collared Dove. (Go get yourself an extra gene).
It has become increasingly clear this year since March, that over vast swathes of the country, spring is actually LATE this year. Unequivocally so.
My cousin is a farmer, and we spoke at length to two more on the subject, during our weekend in Worcestershire.
Ask any farmer about acres of grass or bales of hay, or whether their dairy cows are out on pasture yet.
You'll get similar answers from all over the country.
Anna and I will check on our Bluebell Wood later this week (with luck), but I think now it may well be another week or ten days. Remember they exploded around mid April last year (albeit after a bone dry month with temperatures well above the summer average).
Spring is LATE this year. With luck it might arrive this week, and STAY!
I hear (after writing this that ONE (unconfirmed) Swift has been seen in Berkshire at the back end of last week). I still think it may be a week before they start to arrive in numbers...
Anna and I are lucky enough to have another few days off together this weekend, so we have had a trip down to a cousin's country pad in Worcestershire (on the side of Bredon Hill) planned for some time.
Unfortunately I hear its going to sh.... ship it down for the entire time, with a biting Easterly wind!
Spring does seem to be slowly making progress.
Anna collected another Large White Butterfly for me yesterday whilst I was at work.
When I say collected, it had obviously emerged from its chrysallis in the sitting room somewhere- and she just shut the door - so when I came home, I could grab a snap of it.
I'm a lucky boy eh?!
We both went for a very nice ramble around a local Nature reserve that I know very well - Hosehill lake near Theale.
Thats where I managed to get three very nice photographs of an incredibly tame Robin.
I think if we returned with a handful of meal worms - that chap would eat out of our hands - all of my robin photographs (recent) on my online photo album were taken under a Hawthorn Bush, with the robin no more than 2.5 or 3 feet away from the camera - so clse I had trouble focusing on him, with any more than 3X zoom (my camera goes up to 18X zoom)!
The Cowslips seem to be out in force now, and our Maris Peers seem to be tentatively poking their way through the soil in the garden bed...
We may well have found a Kestrel nest box on our recent rambles - makes up for hearing that a loca Barn Owl nest I know of has been deserted and TWO dead Barn Owls have been found on the M4 nearby - VERY sad indeed.
And then there's the steam train that chuffed past our house t'other day.
I'm hardly a trainspotter, but I really SHOULD bugger off up the station (a mile away) and find out when all these old engines pass through Reading on a timetable - I'd love a close up shot from the station itself...... maybe I'll do that.
Anyhoo - We're off, until sunday afternoon.
Click on any of the images above to enlarge them or DO visit the "New Warren" flickr online photo album (as usual) to see the butterfly and robin pictures (especially), full size and with decent accompanying text.
Make the most of it - this weekend looks like a washout.
Anna and I are in the Worcestershire countryside then, pity it looks like it'll be wet.
Until the Bluebells explode, (a week now), I'll just have to make do with the White Deadnettles (always a month later than the much more abundant, red deadnettles) , and the first brood of ducklings to hit this part of the river this year - all ten of the little bundles of fluff, yesterday to be precise....
"Sunshine and showers" - the Met Office meaningless cliche eh?!
Last April, on the equivalent sunday, when the London Marathon was run (as it was today) it was 28c (82f) - a little different this year I think!
That said, the bugs and buds are responding well.
Its my birthday tomorrow, and I hope the weather will be decent enough to allow Anna and I a trip to a local wood for some Bluebell shots - fingers crossed.
(If not tomorrow, then within a fortnight I'm sure - I don't want to miss them with my camera this year!)
All the photographs above can be enlarged (as normal) by clicking on them, or use the "New Warren" link at the top page of BG to see them in their full size with explanatory text on my online photo album.
The first is a photo of the half (but waxing) moon, I took after work last night, the second is of a Bee-Fly (taken a few days ago) and the third is of a "Nursery Web spider" (taken this morning in the back garden
Want to find out more - please do visit the New Warren...
I haven't been out much locally recently, to see where our Berkshire Peregrines are nesting, so I thought I'd add ANOTHER link to BG - a Live feed from the top of Derby Cathedral, where a pair of Peregrines are nesting NOW! Click HERE or use the Peregrine Nestcam link in the links section of BG. Enjoy. Er... I know I will. (You seeing a pattern emerging here yet?)
A new link on BG, from one of my favourite places on these shores - the New Forest. A live stream from the Forestry Commision, of a Goshawk nest. As I write this, the female is incubating four eggs. Enjoy. I know I will. Click HERE or use the "Goshawk cam" link in the links section of BG.
Its very rare Anna and I get a few days off together (other than booked holidays), so it was nice for us to spend two days (nearly) in one of my favourite parts of England - the north Devon coast, a few days ago.
We booked a room at a hotel (pub really) called "The Smuggler's Rest", in a sleepy little (almost model) village called Morthoe just north of Woolacombe Sands - where I've been to quite a lot over the years...
You takes yer luck with April weather. We rolled the dice and came up with a double six as far as I'm concerned - lovely sunny weather for one and a half days, and a band of rain when we left on thursday.
Its a strange year so far.
Snow (quite heavy you'd call it for Britain) AFTER the Easter celebrations, and staggered Easter holidays for the nation's schoolchildren have combined to really strangle the coastal tourist industry in the UK.
Do YOU celebrate Easter? (Other than breathing a collective sigh of relief for a quite ridiculous period of about ten bank holidays in as many weeks if you're an office worker).
As I've mentioned on BG before, the arcane rules governing when EXACTLY we celebrate Easter laid down to us by the Roman Catholic Church are a bit silly really - the first sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox etc... etc...
Easter this year was the earliest its been for about 95 years, and the earliest it WILL be for about 100 and something - and I can tell you with absolute certainty, the very early Easter this year, combined with the cold snap (remember last years April - hot and sunny ALL month?), AND the staggered holidays, will have put many businesses that rely on tourists, OUT of business this year.
I've been going to north Devon at various times of the year (high season and low), and I've NEVER seen it as quiet. Never.
On Wednesday, we had sun pretty well all day (with a cool sea breeze granted, but bright sun nevertheless) and there were maybe a dozen people on the 2 mile stretch of Woolacombe sands.
Granted there was no surf to speak of, so the "dudes" and "dude-esses" were not there either, but there was quite literally no-one in the pubs or restaurants.
Well.... Anna and I liked the privacy of course - no kids running around, very few dogs, no drunks.... very nice, but slightly unsettling, in a strange sort of way.
The Ewes have obviously just had their lambs in the south west - much gambling, sorry, gamboling, was occurring in the fields, and speaking of the fields, Devon is lit up at present with the wonderful yellow Gorse bushes.
The Swallows and Sand Martins have arrived in force over that neck of the woods - we were surrounded by them on our ten mile trek around Baggy point on Wednesday, and its always nice to see Stonechats and Ravens at the coast.
We were HOPING to see a Grey Seal or two - I've spent many an hour perched on the end of Baggy Point Cliff peering down at Seals, but I'm told its just a little early to see them there with any regularity.
What we DID see though, I haven't seen since I was eighteen - a wonderful bright green male Common Lizard, sunning itself on a molehill, and sloughing its skin at the same time.
I'm lucky enough to have seen both Common Lizards and Sand Lizards at Braunton Burrows (a HYOWGE set of sand dunes near Saunton sands - a mile or so down the coast from Croyde and Woolacombe), when I was about 17, but none since - that really made up for the lack of seals!
No Peregrines either (which I've seen in the area before) or Wheatears (strange that), but Sparrowhawks, Buzzards, Kestrels, Ravens, Fulmars, Herring Gulls, Stonechats, Swallows, Sand Martins, Foxes, Bees and Butterflies all were just what the doctor ordered. As was the wonderful light down there and the sea air. We'd love to live near the sea when we can. We'd never watch television again!
Click on any of the photographs above to enlarge them, or click HERE to immediately be transported to my online photo album where there are many more photographs from our two days in Devon, all in their original, large size, and all with explanatory text.
Before I disappear briefly though, I should point out the wonderful beetle in the photo above (as that photo is NOT in th online album).
Anna found that chap in the Marram Grass deep in the dunes behind Woolacombe beach - its a "Bloody-Nosed Beetle". Its elytra are fused together, so it cannot fly, and instead ha a defence mechanism which means if stressed it "bleeds" a quasi blood from its nose.
This beetle was great! It didn't bleed on myself or Anna I should point out, and we popped it back in amongst the Goose Grass, on which it feeds...
Please DO visit my "New Warren" (online flickr photo album) - to see more photographs, like I said - of a few spectacular sunsets and a vampire spostle, if nothing else.
Finally - I can heartily recommend the "Fillet of Gurnard Broth" that the "Ship Aground" pub in Mortehoe serve as one of their specials. Sounds a bit dodgy doesn't it.
Before we break out the gritters though, today gave us a glimpse of the first stirrings of the silly season here in Berkshire.
Fat, pasty teenage mothers were proudly displaying thongs and tattoos whilst pushing their bairns up the pavement, the kids all broke up for ANOTHER holiday - 2 or so weeks this time, and crowded into newsagents for their alcopops and cigarettes, and I caught a young couple smoking crack behind the derelict swimming pool near the office...
AAhhhh... summer in the city!
Actually, today was the first day for some time I really didn't feel like going into work.
The weather was quite beautiful. maybe around 18c, and once again, all the insects and bugs responded magnificently.
I took all three of the above shots this morning - all can be seen in their largest, original sizes on my online photo album (click HERE), together with some explanatory text.
I still, as yet, haven't had the time or opportunity to try and take a photo or two of the office pipistrelles (TWO now, like last year), but hope to soon, when I alter shift patterns temporarily...
All that remains for me to say on this post is I hope you made the most of today, and tomorrow if you live in the south of the UK, because by monday, if you listen to the Met Office, you'll be shovelling snow off the porch, and wondering where on earth spring has gone!
You want the winner of tomorrow's 40-horse strong Grand National?
Blimey does it feel like its been a long, long time since its been anything like this warm.
It gives me a very good feeling to see that the large Lime tree at the end of the garden is tentatively producing its first, small, green leaves - in a month or so, we won't be able to see if there's one of the Woodpeckers on its branches - so dense will be that tree's foliage - and personally speaking - I can't wait.
Yesterday, even though the Met Office got the forecast spectacularly wrong, was warm - and the insects and arachnids responded as though all of them had had a simultaneous "button push".
Anna and I were outside after I returned from work at half past ten, trying to take a photo of a VERY large House Spider on the fence (it wouldn't sit still, so no worries for you arachnaphobes out there), when I spotted a beautiful Brimstone Moth had fluttered into the kitchen.
Click on the photo above to enlarge it or click HERE to take a flying trip to the "New Warren" (my online photo album), where I've uploaded quite a few pics recently - all in their large size and with explanatory text...
I hear the weather really IS going to be very summery tomorrow (friday).
After being tipped off by Urban Extension about the emerging bats recently, its taken me a while to see one... There were two Pipistrelles hunting around the office all last summer (must have been a bad year for the insectivores I reckon), and tonight, a few minutes ago, I noticed one in exactly the same place. There are a few hunting over the Thames outside the office, but I won't be able to see tham until I am rostered in on a morning or night shift. I hope to grab an 8 second exposure of this office bat - something I've not tried before, and it may well not work, but I'll give it a go when I bring my camera down to work next, and we get a clear evening....
A TESTAMONIAL TO BLUE-GREY. FROM A FELLOW WONDERER
I wonder at your camera, especially when you capture those exquisite close ups, but also that even the long shots of the wildlife I've seen have detail that most cameras can't give. That may be your talent as a taker of pictures - but I find long shots with the still shutter of my puny vidcam (it fits in my pocket) affords only punctuation to mark the excitement of what I saw. I don't mind. My messy memory is a superlative camera ready for life's duration to transform images into words and ideas. Nonetheless your art with the lens is superlative especially when accompanied by your thoughts and the option of sublime music. Thank you Black Rabbit. You are Hardy's subject: nnnn nnnn "If, when hearing that I have been stilled at last, they stand. at the door,Watching the full-starred heavens that winter sees,Will this thought rise on those who will meet my face no more,'He was one who had an eye for such mysteries'?" m m m m