Archive for Feb, 2013


Rays of sunshine

As the sun broke through we walked down the beach to see what we could find. The sea was retreating and making the sand into a wide firm walkway. As we ambled our way along our eyes were drawn down. It’s impossible isn’t it? to walk along a beach without beachcombing is like having a fruit pastel and not chewing.

As we continued to walk it became apparent the high tide had left spoils. There had obviously been a hatching of Thrornback Rays (among others) as their egg cases littered the tideline. This is a fish that has shown philopatric behaviour; that is the returning of a migrating fish to a particular area to feed or breed. The Shark Trust (Rays are closely related to Sharks) run an interesting website with an Egg case id guide.

Thornback Ray Eggcase


Her vibrant wings of delicate lace …

The Peacock Butterfly is one of the few British species that overwinter as mature adults. They will frequently find a hole in a tree, an outbuilding or other sheltered space in which to spend the colder months. Often these places are regularly frequented by several insects and are used year after year.

Last week I was told of a roosting site and upon inspection there were around thirty insects present. Camouflaged by their drab under wing just occasionally one would flash its coloured upper wing in an attempt to scare away intruders, perhaps detecting our presence. Thirty Butterflies are not something you would expect to see on a very cold February day.

Peacock Butterflies



When I was a boy my mother used to leave plastic cups on the doorstep. They were for the milkman to place over the milkbottles he delivered each morning. If they weren’t used the Blue Tits used to peck away at the foil and help themselves to the cream at the top of the bottle.  Now I guess most of us get milk from the supermarket and don’t get it delivered. The Blue Tits have had to move on. In the last ten years or so Long tailed Tits have started to feed from bird feeders. I watched a small band of Long-tails in the garden last week, They visited the peanut feeder; not for long and then moved on. Someone once described them to me as flying lollipops. Quite apt.

Long tailed Tit


Keep your distance

At the weekend we visited the coast and came across several young seals; not pups, but still young enough to be dependent on their mothers for some tuition. Over the past few years the wardens have told me pups are being born earlier and later in the season. Maybe this is due to milder winters. I don’t know. What it means is that young seals are on the beach for longer. One in particular we saw was hiding in among rocks but was attracting more than its fair share of attention from passers-by.

The cameras in mobile phones have just got better and better. I see many people now using them and the results are good high quality photographs. They are however no substitution for a long lens when it comes down to wildlife. Mobile phones will not give quality photos on zoom setting therefore to get frame filling photos you would need to get close. Ensuring you keep a reasonable distance from any animal or bird is paramount. The way to do it is to let your subject come to you; letting them do that as a matter of their choice is the way to get a photograph with no harm or distress to your subject. This of course takes time and patience.

Some obviously do not have the time or the patience. Many passers-by respected the young seal at the weekend and viewed and photographed it from a reasonable distance. One particular mother however despite my very loud and definitive protestations let her children almost crawl all over the animal.

Approaching a seal and causing it obvious distress by poking a mobile phone in its face is just unacceptable.

How not to view Grey Seals


A muddy tale of a tailess bird

Lying in the mud meant I had to turn up for lunch at Cley reserve centre looking less than my debonair self. I wish.

Carrying my camera along the muddy path aside the Glaven channel meant an uncomfortable three quarters of a mile walk slipping and sliding and generally struggling to keep an upright posture. Having talked to a photographer who was returning, walking the opposite way, I was told the Long tailed Duck was viewable but only at some 500m. Despite the disappointment of only being able to photograph the bird at such a distance I decided to go ahead and at least get a record shot of the bird. Long tailed Ducks are not rare especially further north in the UK but to get close to one within Norfolk doesn’t happen often.

It didn’t take long to find the bird sitting in the middle of the channel. I decided to walk past it and find an area where the channel was closer to the path where I could sit quietly and let the bird come my way. If it didn’t I’d lost nothing and still had my record shot. I found what looked like a good place to sit and waited. A group of Teal came by so I hid; lying flat on the ground. If I spooked the Teal the Long tailed Duck would never come close. ‘Long tailed Duck’ by the way in this instance is a complete misnomer as no long tail was evident – she was female and therefore lacked the Oldsquaw feathering of the male. As the duck dived and fed she came closer and closer and eventually sailed by. No doubt in complete ignorance there was someone admiring her nearby getting exceptionally muddy.

Long tailed Duck


Rambling over Brambling

Few birds can match the Brambling for style and colour. Large wheeling flocks change colour from Orange to brown and then to white showing their sparkling rumps as the fly in unison Starling like. Several tens were visiting feeders this last week and were quite photogenic as they perched waiting their turn to take seed.

Brambling 1



To strive to seek to find and not to yield.

I guess Tennyson wasn’t talking about Geese or Rough legged Buzzards when he wrote his famous lines but it felt appropriate earlier in the week.

Neither the Taiga Bean Geese in the Yare Valley or the Rough legged Buzzards in the Waveney were playing ball … at first.

The geese were sitting low among folds of ground and dykes. Gradually they grazed their way closer and I was able to take a photograph or two. On the still cold morning the shutter sounded off like the report of a shotgun and they didn’t like it. I regretted not muffling the camera. Unexpectedly … even at over 500m … the geese were edgy, took flight and settled at what they deemed to be a more respectable distance. Maybe it wasn’t me but the distant gunfire that spooked them.

The rough legged Buzzard on the other hand after playing hide and seek preferred to ‘make like a post’ . Only when it ruffled feathers did it show the white in the tail revealing its true identity.

We agreed both were worth the wait. See my guests take on the day in todays issue of the ‘The Times’

Click to enlarge

Taiga Bean Geese


The ability to observe

I scattered a little seed around and went back to the Landrover to see what it would attract. Black headed Gulls were the first to take advantage and then a few Turnstones arrived. Sitting with the camera to hand I expected a few Snow Buntings to turn up. They have been regular around the car park, as they have in previous winters, but perhaps not in as greater numbers this year. Sure enough it wasn’t too long before a small flock of a dozen flew in and I started snapping away.

I don’t see everything, but I do class myself as relatively observant; but some people must walk around in a world of their own. You would think that a large vehicle with a 400mm lens pointing towards a dozen white birds feeding and shuffling across the shingle would prompt someone to think “What’s he doing? … Oh! he’s photographing birds … let’s give him a wide berth so as not to disturb what’s going on”. No such luck. Drongo and his five Labradors pile straight through between me and the birds and of course the whole shooting match is in the air. Now I’m a tolerant chap and we all have to live together and life will always be a compromise so I settled down to wait for them to return.

25 minutes later, again they fluttered in and once more the whole situation was disrupted almost immediately by yet another visitor with accompanying four legged friends. And so it went on sometimes in true Fentonesque style. In a moment of weakness the thought even presented itself to me that on occasion interventions were not accidental, but I dismissed this thought as decidedly uncharitable. It has to be said even a few bird watchers were not immune from this blinkered vision. It appears we have lost the power to observe. An ability that is essential to survive in the wild has been eroded by our cosseted lifestyle.

This inbuilt reflex is demonstrated by one of the Snow Buntings I was photographing. The bright sunshine and still air had prompted the emergence of an insect or two. Even as it was feeding head down on the shingle the little chap below had his eye on a passing fly.

Snow Bunting



Not as delicate as they seem.

Little Egrets are common now in Norfolk. Compare this with the 1980’s when they were very scare. There has been quite an upturn in numbers. Looking at them with all those fine filaments of feathers you would be forgiven for thinking that it wasn’t such a robust species … but you would be mistaken. Photo taken on one of last week’s tours.

Little Egret



Grumpy Old Git?

We called at Minsmere last week. For those that don’t know Minsmere is a reserve under the auspice of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). This is the same organisation that runs Titchwell Marshes in Norfolk (I’m sorry if you already know this but some readers in the States will not)

During 2011/2 the RSPB made some changes to Titchwell reserve and replaced hides. I did a write up of the hide design last year ( and it didn’t come out well. The new hides despite winning design awards were and are unpopular with birdwatchers.

I was surprised therefore to find a similar but perhaps worse design at Minsmere. The old Reedbed hide was in need of replacement and something clearly had to be done. A company called Gilleard Bros Ltd we drafted in to design and build the hide.

I love the RSPB – they do a great job and in the main they get it right; but a serious review needs to be made of the people within the organisation (presumably at the top) commissioning these hides.

Take a look at the photo below taken from the back of the Reedbed Hide on our visit. More photos here


Notice anything? It’s difficult to see why anyone thought it would hide its occupants – it clearly does not. There is too much glass on both sides. Someone has already noticed this as they have put anti-collision stickers to prevent bird strikes on the glass. It beggars belief that it has to be pointed out but these constructions will only hide the occupants if they have narrow openings and are dark inside – the wish to make them light and airy to attract more clientele and drive up profits is understandable but self-defeating – there will be nothing for them to watch. Indeed the only birds close to the hide were relatively tame Mute Swans; the short marsh area was devoid of Snipe which I would have expected to see here on a bright winter’s day.

The old hide had two tiers and from what I can recall would have seated around 48 people the new hide is one tier and will seat at best 20 with standing room for perhaps another 20 (*but see the note below)

As we sat in the hide our view out was severely restricted. This is bizarre given the amount of glass in the hide but reflective surfaces just obstructed vision. In the old hide my visibility would be restricted to around 170 degrees. Now it must be 120 degrees at best.

The openings lights are over engineered. Yes they enable wheelchair users to open window flaps without assistance but a better, simpler arrangement could have been made. The lower pane of glass is wound by way of a geared wheel into the panel in front of the observer’s legs. It goes too low and leaves the surface where you put gloves, hat and camera etc. too exposed. They will easily fall out. Several items of clothing have already been lost outside the front of the hide.

The higher glass panes rise on pulleys to near horizontal. They are dangerous. In high wind they come down – an accident will happen. *It suffices to say anyone stood up can only look out through glass when it’s windy. Goodbye photographers. In any case there is just too much glass – it’s unnecessary and indeed detrimental to viewing birds.

There is a long ramp to the hide, no doubt to aid access to wheelchair users but it rises well above surrounding reeds – it needs screening.

It has to be said construction is to a very high standard. Zero marks for design. In this age of austerity a good old fashioned wooden replacement would have been more than adequate and much better than what we now have. Please, please RSPB consult a few birdwatchers in the know next time. Please.

Wow this is turning into a long post but while I’m writing I might as well get it all out. The reserve at Minsmere seems as though it’s going through a phase where it’s beginning to look like an extension of Pleasurewood Hills (the local theme park for our American Readers) Swings, play areas and statues and the like. I feel as though a Wildlife Reserve is just not the place for these things. Or am I just being an old grumpy git?

I promise the next post won’t be as long.

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Feb 2013


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