Archive for Aug, 2012


Moose Hunting

Finding a Moose in Canada is not as easy as you may think. Talk to anyone who has tried. For a large animal they can be surprisingly elusive, not least because their survival depends upon it; Canada is still a shootin’ huntin’ and fishin’ territory and Moose are high on the menu. Reserves here often have a different slant on conservation. Wildlife is ‘Preserved’ for the marksman. However, we were determined to see the world’s largest member of the deer family and that’s how we found ourselves in the Matane Preserve. This isolated area apparently holds the largest number of Moose per square kilometre in the whole of Canada.

Having driven 60 some Kilometres into the Preserve up rough tracks, that was at times like diving up a scree slope, we had walked into the pine forest and made ourselves comfortable at the side of a small pool. The mud around the water had Moose prints everywhere and there was a big swathe of weed missing from the surface, as though something big had waded through; it looked a good place to sit.

We waited. Minutes turned to hours and the hot sun beat down through the pines and lit the pool in an envelope of light that gradually moved across the water throughout the afternoon. Very little sound broke the silence. This was a silence like I’ve never experienced before; the sheer density of trees absorbing all noises. Every tiny movement we made emitted sounds that were magnified. So intense was the quietness surrounding us we became aware of one another breathing. If we were to see this King of the forest we would need to be quiet.

The silence was broken by the odd bird call. One of which was strangely familiar. As the call was repeated I was taken back some 20 odd years and transported to my home in Norfolk, UK. The tiny ‘toy trumpet’ call was that of a Red breasted Nuthatch. One had turned up at Holkham in October 1989. I had seen (and heard) the species for the first time on that occasion and that occurrence remains the only British record of Red breasted Nuthatch.

Sat here in the forest the small flock of Nuthatches soon found our hiding place and came to investigate. I fired off a few shots, the shutter sounding like a cannon salute through the forest. The birds soon went and once again we returned to our watch… (to be continued)


A mouthful worth waiting for

We watched the water in silence. The only sound was the water rhythmically lapping the side of the Zodiac. The sun was hot even out at sea and it cast diamonds of light on any imperfection on the oily surface.

It’s always like this Whale watching. 50% of your time is travelling and 45% waiting. The remaining 5% is the best; when cetaceans show themselves. We were waiting to see a Humpback in the St Lawrence, Quebec. It had dived somewhere in this area 10 minutes earlier.

Sometimes they can come up from the deep far from where they went down. But sometimes, just sometimes …. they can come up real close.


Smarter than average

As we spread on insect repellent we surveyed the forest in front of us; an endless canopy of green stretching and undulating into the distance pierced by rocky outcrops like grey icebergs in a sea of green. Canada is a wilderness and you don’t have to travel far to be alone.

This is not like a stroll in the local woods this is serious stuff; you need to be prepared, not only for the terrain, but also for the wildlife. The Wildlife here is truly wild. Large mammals occur in close proximity to humans in Canada and one of those mammals is the Black Bear and they have to be treated with respect. We saw five bears that evening; the last of the light giving the chance of a few shots.


White Spirits

Yesterday had started well. On a perfect day of breathless air and flat calm water our count within the first two hours was 1 Humpback Whale, 4 Fin Whale, 20 something Minke Whale, a whole host of Harbour Porpoise and a Blue Whale. It was difficult to think the day could get better … but it did.

The skipper of our Zodiac obviously knew the St Lawrence well; he knew where to find every single conceivable cetacean within a hundred miles and was seemingly intent upon showing them to us. It was late into the timetable when he started to head out into open water and across the wide reach of the river. Despite 20 exhilarating minutes at full throttle passing more whales and grey seals at high speed the far bank was still distant. I wondered what it was that had made him bring us out this far. I didn’t wonder for long. There heading towards us were several ghostly apparitions. Initially looking like the white horses of breaking waves they soon became a pod of belugas. A childhood dream had been realised.

These snow white whales are a true Arctic species but a resident population inhabits the area around Tadoussac on the St Lawrence River in Quebec, Canada and we were watching around 20 of them.

As they came closer they slipped under the oily surface. I looked down and several were under the boat their white form taking on a broken ghostly outline. Their curiosity aroused the Belugas stopped with us for what seemed an eternity, surfacing within inches of our spellbound faces. Eventually all too soon they moved on. Fading away into the brightness of the distance I watched them until I couldn’t see them anymore. We ended our three hour excursion elated.

Of course it was difficult to think the day could get even better … but it did. More Anon.


To live another day

Not much of a picture this. Certainly not an award winning photo, no gold medals, not even bronze ones … but read on.

As I was laid in bed the other morning I heard a noise outside; a rhythmical song of sorts drifting in through the open window. It was one of those half awake moments, one of those early stages of awakening. I wasn’t sure if I’d heard it or dreamt it. Then … there it was again. “Wet-my-lips …Wet-my-lips”. We had a Quail in the fields outside the house.

Closer investigation revealed it was around 20m into a field of Barley.

I have stood in not too tall grass on a previous occasion and had one of these small birds calling from between my feet and still not been able to see it… seriously. A 100 acre field of two foot deep Barley was therefore more than an adequate hiding place. I have only seen Quail well on one previous occasion.

It was later that week I heard the distinctive loud mechanical thrashing outside that could only have been a harvester. Standing at the field edge I waited for the Quail to make a move. Its habitat was being eroded strip by strip. It was still calling from time to time even as the massive machinery passed close by. It waited until the last centimetres of cereal were about to be cut before it made its move. Exploding from under the cutters like a bullet from a gun the Quail flew 100m into the small remaining island of standing Barley. As the harvester moved on to this last stand, I feared for the birds safety. Once again it waited until the very last moment before flying and sought refuge in some vegetation at the far edge of the field. No frame filling image of the bird in flight; it was too quick; too desperate … but the bird was alive.


Taking the heat out of a Dragon

When the sun goes in cold blooded dragonflies rest a while. It’s then they can be photographed. Finding them is however another matter.

I watched a Southern Hawker the other day repeatedly fly up and down a hedgerow on a patrolling mission; very territorial these creatures. Up and down it went; time after time. At last a cloud covered the sun, the temperature dropped and it rested for a while.

So beautiful are these things … and so delicate too.


A hard to ignore honey

I have an admission. When I run a moth trap I ignore some of the moths. How rude of me. The little mites have spent all night in my trap waiting to see me and I just let them go without a second glance. I’m talking about micro moths. Yes, the tiny tiny ones that look like bits of dead grass cuttings that litter the moth trap each morning. The larger Macro moths, yes; I record those as diligently as able but if I ‘processed’ everything in the trap it would take me forever. I’d do nothing else! So I ignore the micro moths. That is until I see one I just can’t ignore. So it was last week when a micro screamed out at me from the bottom of the trap ‘LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME!’ Ypsolopha dentella is a charming little chap about  with an upturned posture that sets him aside from the rest. So I popped him on some Honeysuckle to photograph him. Why Honeysuckle? well his common name is The Honeysuckle Moth so it seemed appropriate.

Now according to the excellent website ‘Norfolk Moths’ this is the first record of the Honeysuckle Moth this year in Norfolk which is a little hard to believe, but as Harry Worth would have said … there it is! (Yeah, it was a long running joke in the ‘60’s so you have to be a certain age and be born in GB to follow that one)


Still Plenty to See

Don’t get me wrong I love the UK’s wildlife, I thrive upon watching it; but it’s not often my breath is taken away here at home by the sight of the natural world any more. I guess one way of getting that rush is to go abroad; seeking out what wildlife wonders the rest of the world has to offer. I shall be after ‘that rush’ in a few days time as we travel The St Lawrence in Quebec seeking among other things Beluga’s; more on that to follow later.

So, as far as I was concerned, UK wildlife is spent; seen it, done it, been there and seen the sequel … or so I thought. That’s perhaps how I felt until I climbed a small grassy hill in North Norfolk last weekend and saw a hatch of Chalkhill Blue Butterflies. We guessed around 2000 to 2500 of these tiny flying jewels were occupying a small area. At times it was as if the ground itself was moving. These small butterflies are quite beautiful but to see so many together was truly breathtaking.

How aloof of me. How wrong could I have been? This wonderful countryside of ours obviously still has so many secrets I have yet to see. I was truly taken aback. The video below I took to try and give an impression of the moment but I guess you just had to be there.


Seeking Small Orchids

Searching for something and not finding it can be soul crushing; especially if you have looked for it a lot.

Creeping Ladies Tresses is probably the greatest misnomer ever applied to an orchid! The name implies flowing locks of tumbling flowers in ringlets and garlands that furtively garnish themselves across the ground. No. Not so. These things are so small some have stems the size of matchsticks. To make them even harder to find they grow under pines in dark and dingy places among pine needle litter. The thing is if I couldn’t find any soon I would have to wait until next year as their flowering season is limited.

I resorted to help. Thanks to friends Paul, Bob, Greg and Tony I eventually got inch perfect directions to one of these things.  They were so insignificant. No wonder I had difficulty finding them. I couldn’t have been more disappointed. That was until I got down on my hands and knees and took a very close look.


Mystery Bird – August

Everyone who entered got last month’s mystery ‘bird’ correct. Yes, it was a Painted Lady Butterfly. Not too many of them around this year unlike 2009 when we were overrun with them. The photo was taken at Beeston Regis in Norfolk during that invasion.

This month we continue the non bird theme. Take a look at the photograph below. As normal send in your entry to


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Aug 2012


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