Archive for Sep, 2018


Beluga in the Thames

Have you ever been concentrating on something and had someone outside hammering or mowing the lawn. It gets to a point where you just have to do something; anything. You have to get up shut the window, throw something at the guy; shout some obscenity … whatever. Well it was like that this week. Everytime I tried to focus my thoughts and get things done there was this nagging distraction. THE BELUGA! – the TV news, radio, twitter, emails, the mobile phone … everywhere. How am I supposed to sit at the laptop and prepare presentations with that going on? In the end I got up and drove to Gravesend. I just had to.

I’ve seen Beluga before in what could be termed their natural habitat. They aren’t showmen. No leaping out the water for these cetaceans. I knew all I’d see was a rising lump of lard in the murk of the Thames and that would be it; but I had to scratch the itch.

I’ve seen Gravesend, at distance, from the north wall of the Thames on a twitch I did some 30 years ago; I think it was for a White Winged Tern. It didn’t look salubrious then and, apologies to the people that live there but, nothing had changed. I reluctantly left the car half expecting it to be on bricks upon my return and found the pub from where the Beluga had recently been seen. The view of the river was cluttered with barges, boats blokes in red jackets, fences, stanchions … oh the whole nine yards. Anyways the lump of lard eventually rose in front of the assembled crowd and with a little shuffling of my position up and down the river it showed repeatedly.

Now, I have to say I heard a lot of ill-informed crap being talked about this animal and I did try to put individuals right.

“It’s in difficulty” – NO IT’S NOT. It looks rotund and well fed and it was seen to be feeding well. Someone said it caught a crab well I didn’t see it do that but I did see it lunge and catch a fish.

“It’s in danger” – YES to some extent. The amount of large sea-going traffic on the Thames amazed me. The animal is at risk of a propeller strike. HOWEVER, it is at no more risk than the Harbour Porpoise (see photo) that I also saw in the river today and they are frequently seen in this part of the river – look on the net at the historical sightings on the Sea Watch Foundation ‘latest sightings’ page for this area.

“It should be in deeper water”. NO IT SHOULDN’T. Lots of people I listened to were equating this to the ‘Thames Whale’. The Northern Bottlenose Whale that entered the Thames in January 2006 and died of convulsions as she was being rescued. That was a Ziphid. NBN Whales are deep sea animals that eat squid. There are no squid in the Thames so it could not feed. All cetaceans get their water intake from the food they eat. No food equals no water equals dehydrated hungry confused animal therefore it goes up river rather than down it. Belugas are estuarine animals and are quite at home in shallow water as well as deeper water.

“It shouldn’t be in fresh water” – The Thames is tidal in this area and the water will therefore be brackish. The physiology of these animals allows them to enter brackish water without undue concern.

“It’s lost and is too far south” – Well it’s disassociated from other Belugas for sure but we have had Belugas before in the UK  … just not in the Thames. They have usually been around Scotland or Shetland; more recently in Northumberland and Ireland. However, there’s a population of Beluga close to Tadoussac in the St Lawrence river in Canada. Tadoussac is 48.14 degrees north. London is 51.50 degrees north ie London is closer to the pole than the resident population of Beluga in Canada. So it can survive here. Having said that my guess would be it probably originated from populations around Svalbard on this side of the Atlantic. I think as climate change kicks in we should expect more arctic species occurring here in the UK.

“The Thames is too polluted” – Well yes it is. However Salmon have recently been caught in the Thames and the Harbour Porpoise manage to live in it. In the St Lawrence the pollution is extremely high and when Beluga die there they are treated as toxic waste given the high level of toxins in the cadaver; but they manage to live and thrive in it.

Without doubt there was a lot of interest in this little Beluga and that’s a good thing – the more interest and knowledge there is, the better we all are – by the way I estimated it at 2.5m in length. So maybe not so little. It did have a pinkish grey cast to it so it’s probably a youngish animal rather than an adult. No doubt it will eventually move on but I would tentatively suggest it might be seen here for some time. No reason for that … just a feeling. Certainly the first ‘twitchable’ beluga in the UK.

Just to explain the photo of the Beluga. The animal is facing right. The blowhole can be seen at the extreme right hand side and the dorsal ridge can be seen on the left. The species unlike the Harbour Porpoise pictured doesn’t have a dorsal fin.

Just one last thing. Why do people insist on giving it a name? Benny the Beluga. I don’t think so. It’s not a pet. It’s a wild animal.


Big Beasts

Processing the last of the photos from the Biscay trip last month I found this one. Two of the 21 or so Fin Whales we saw. Magnificent beasts!



A message from friend Simon had me searching the trees around the local retting pond the other week. He’d seen an emerged Willow Emerald Damselfly. Equipped with camera I picked a likely spot and waited. It wasn’t long before one made a stunted reed stem its perch. Odd to think this beautiful species has colonised the south east of the UK in only the last 10 years.



The feeding behavior of waders here in North Norfolk is sometimes interesting to watch. It’s not impossible to find a flock of Ruff feeding in complete harmony side by side and then on another occasion it seems as though they’re at war. These two Ruff were having a particular vicious spat with one limping away from the encounter.


Don’t start

I went to Leeds this week. My god it’s changed since my business development days. I was a stranger in a ‘hip’ city full of instrument carrying bearded students wearing converse footwear without socks. I don’t like cities. Too many people. Too much traffic. Too few green places and not enough connection with the real world that should matter; but sadly doesn’t. This was the realm of a disjointed population. A developing culture determined to be set apart from its origins.

As Holly, my daughter, and I walked from the university to her halls of residence I heard familiar noises. It’s like hearing your name mentioned in a crowded room. It stood out. I looked up to see a small gang of Pied Wagtails flutter down from the escarpment of a Victorian facaded building into a sparse ornamental tree being choked at the roots as it bulged the edges of surrounding designer brickwork. The crowds around us oblivious to their presence. Even here nature was taking a stand; trying to compete with the noise of traffic and pushing back the paving. The tree and the wagtails brought a smile to my face.

Holly was just asking me if I thought the name of the nearby café would have been purposely named based on it’s address when I heard another sound. Less familiar … but I recognised it. It took me a little time to locate the Black Redstart calling high above the café. A bird of scree and rocky valleys had found a home here in a concrete and plastic pretence.

A migrant … or even a breeder perhaps?




Young Avocets. Cute or what?


Silver Y

Earlier this year we had an influx of these day flying moths. I guess it’s easy to see why they call them Silver Y’s


Life is Golden

I know they are released exotics but ‘by-heck!’ Golden Pheasants are full of colour. When we saw this one a lady nearby wanted to know what sort of chicken it was!?!?!


Streaking Again

I found myself in Gilbert White’s patch a few weeks ago. The 18th Century naturalist was a pioneer in natural history. I thought I’d retrace his steps and have another go at Brown Hairstreak before the season ended. Walking on the dew laden heath I was trying to find an optimum spot for a phone signal when a hairstreak shot by me at break-neck speed. I chased it but it disappeared into impenetrable blackthorn. A spotted flycatcher sallied down and caught something but I’m not completely sure it was ‘my’ butterfly. It took me a further two hours to find another. Eventually I managed to get close enough for a half decent shot but it evaporated before I could get the underwing. Difficult subject this species. Ah well! Maybe next year.

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Sep 2018


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