Archive for Mar, 2012


Dogs tooth

Churchyards are becoming something of a haven for things wild; an enclave away from herbicides and fertilizers. Often uncut and dare I say untended, these small corners of our countryside can harbour some wonderful sights.

Perhaps not truly wild, but a local churchyard I was told about last week had a display of Dog tooth Violets that were planted in the late 1800’s.

Having their origins in southern Europe they are actually members of the lily family; their name reflecting the resemblence of their corm to a dogs canine.

So beautiful, they just took my breath away.



I’m often asked about the term ’Feral’ and what it means. Although it could apply to my 15 year old daughter it more often applies to creatures that were domesticated but have returned to the wild and in some way still rely on man.

Take Rock Doves for instance. They were taken from the wild to become domesticated Pigeons – any Pigeon with a white rump will probably have a wild ancestor within its history that was a Rock Dove. Now you probably have to go to the sea cliffs of Northern Scotland to find a true Rock Dove.

The odd mixed bag of creatures flying around the cliffs here in North Norfolk that visit the gardens to feed are perhaps best therefore described as Feral Pigeons.


Bit of a stink

I was told of a site for Stinking Hellebore last week. Not the best name in the world is it? It does have others; Dungwort, or Bears’ Foot, but gets its commonest name from the pungent smell when the foliage is crushed.

The plants occupy lime rich soil which is not often at the surface in Norfolk. It takes a cutting, cliff or escarpment to expose the underlying chalk. This site is therefore the only place (as far as I’m aware) where this plant occurs in the north of the county.

This early Hellebore is heaven sent for the early bees. It has yeast that lives within the plant and it’s the resporation of the yeast that raises the temperature of the flower just a little above its ambient surroundings. The slight heat generated helps to disperse the flowers scent to attract the few insects around in early spring. What an intricate reliance.

Of course being early flowering if you are one of only a few plants obvious on the forest floor you have to have some built in protection and every part of the plant is quite poisonous despite having quite beautiful green bell shaped flowers edged with purple.


Rushing Water

Water is the lifeblood of our countryside. It attracts all manner of wildlife; indeed it is essential for its existence. One species which is at home around it, particularly fast running water, is the Grey Wagtail.

I called at the mill race this week to photograph the Grey Wagtails nesting there. Given the dearth of fast moving streams and rivers in Norfolk the species is not common in the county.

Above all it was important not to disturb them. The welfare of the birds always comes first. I hung back to watch for a while getting a feel for their habits. I watched from a distance. Both birds, the male and female, were building a nest within the thatched roof of the building and I didn’t want to impede or distract them. I stood at the opposite side of the mill, the sunny side, out of sight. As the birds were leaving to fetch more nesting material they sometimes briefly stood on the sunlit side of the roof to take off. Completely oblivious to my presence they went about their business. It was a delight to be hidden in the shadows and listen to the rushing of the water as a spring dawn bled into late morning.

I managed, after a few hours waiting, to get one or two shots of these beautiful birds.

Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photographs, kill nothing but time.


Shades of red

Much needed rain fell during last Sunday’s tour. As we walked down the riverbank there was a break in the clouds and the sun broke through for a while at least.

A flash of turquoise and an orange breast bobbed atop a branch overhanging the water. A kingfisher delighted us as it beat the life from a minnow before swallowing it head first. Then above us the song of a Willow Warbler rang out. A Willow Warbler would you believe. Not what I expected to hear on a tour in mid March; in a few weeks time maybe, but not in mid March. A red letter day indeed. As we moved around the tree to see the perpetrator of this early rendition I almost trod on something half hidden in the leaf litter. It was something colourful; something bright and quite at odds with the greyness of the day. As I looked closer it was a fungus. Scarlet Elf’s Cup is not a common species with a limited range. Just a moment within a day that saw us marvelling at a whole host of Breckland species.

Rain, what rain?


Olympic Sprite

Firecrests have played a strong part in the tours we’ve taken this last week.

You can’t fail to be impressed by them. Such a strong sweet song deserves to come from something so richly coloured. Wearing a saddle fashioned from bronze, eyebrows of silver and a crown of gold you would be forgiven if you thought this creature had been fashioned by Faberge. This incredibly tiny member of the Kinglet family is nothing short of a small miracle of design.

The weather was set to improve last Friday afternoon so I took an hour out to go and take a few photographs of Firecrest at my leisure. They can be difficult to photograph when they are high in the canopy so I was looking for a bird feeding at around head height. When I eventually found a foraging bird in low vegetation the break in the clouds had passed over; however it behaved itself, came close, and despite the low light I was able to get a few shots.

It has to be said though no photograph can do a Firecrest justice.


Glossing Over

It’s wouldn’t be my choice for a spring break. Far too close to Cantley beet factory for me; but four Glossy Ibis thought the flood meadows there had the edge on the marshes of southern Spain.

There has been a ritual played out each March over the last few years for Spanish Glossy Ibis (or should that be Ibis’s, or maybe even Ibi) to move north into the UK. From Kent to Northumberland parties of these overgrown Curlews have been on tour. The four birds shifting around the Yare Valley made temporary home on a flooded field on Saturday. Very jumpy indeed they would not tolerate close approach and given the gloomy skies laden with rain during the morning photography was difficult … but we managed a few shots.

One individual was sporting Vardic jewellery.

Click to enlarge the following photo.


Wild at heart

Cities are not my favourite places. I much prefer the open marshes, the heath strewn with Yellow Gorse or better still the sea. To quote Karen Blixen – the author of Out of Africa – ‘salt water is the cure for all … sweat, tears or the sea’.

Needs must however and from time to time we must take to the metropolis that is Norwich, and so it was last week.

As I walked the shops, high above the city I could hear the scream of falcons; the repeated pitch of a Peregrine luring his mate on the Cathedral. Even here the wild had made the city its home.

What gave me much encouragement was the number of people who stopped and talked to me as I photographed the birds. The thirst for knowledge about these wild creatures was limitless. It’s heartening to know so many are beguiled by wild things.


Black and White

One common bird that often gets overlooked is the Coot. Although, it must be said, they are not easy to photograph – black and white animals and birds never are. If you manage to successfully expose the white parts correctly the black parts lack detail and texture and if you expose for the black parts the white bits are ‘bleached out’. It takes time and ideal lighting to get something where the detail can be seen in both areas.

The Coot obviously feels I’ve done him justice … or is it just me that thinks he’s smiling?


It’s in the bag

As I drove west on the coast road the other day I saw something white out on the marshes. It wasn’t the sparkling white of an egret and I suspected it may be a Spoonbill. They have a duller, not as bright, plumage about them.

It had the look of a roosting bird; one of our returning breeders perhaps. It took all of 60 seconds to stop and exit the vehicle to discover I was looking at a plastic bag; albeit a very avianly shaped one. I climbed back into the driving seat thinking “It’s happened before and I guess it will happen again”. I had travelled another half mile before it did happened again. Cursing the farmer who had littered the marsh with fertiliser bags I stopped the Landrover and raised my binoculars once more only to discover a pair of bags with long legs and bills. They were indeed Spoonbills.

No sooner had I focused upon them they were off moving west.

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Mar 2012


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