In the evening

  • May 22, 2015 8:02 am

With the lovely long days at this time of year, I can spend a few hours out on the fen after work. The atmosphere in the evening is very different to sunrise, which is when I’m normally there. The reeds buzz and flicker with insects, damselflies and dragonflies, birds cruise through the warm sky and rabbits play in the last golden light.

One evening this week it was bright and very breezy and out on the open fen a cloud of swifts scream through the sky, swirling and twisting through the air chasing each other, chasing insects. They are masters of flight, curved wings cutting through the air, inches from the ground, then swooping up into the blue in a wide ark, testing their skills, how fast can we fly, how high can we glide, how tightly can we turn. The most amazing confidence in the air, wings glinting silver and gold in the last light. They were totally unconcerned by me watching them, and it was the most incredible experience to be amongst them, they whizzed by, just inches above my head, the rush of air in their wings, utterly exhilarating. I tried for some photos, but they are so quick!

Swift, Apus apus, in flight near trees, Norfolk, May

 

Swift, Apus apus, in flight, Norfolk, May

Swift, Apus apus, in flight, Norfolk, May

Yesterday evening I tried to find them again, but they were gone, perhaps they were just passing through. Wandering slowly back, I come across a Roe deer doe, browsing in the field adjacent to the path. She’s nearly got all her beautiful russet coloured summer coat. She glances up at the sound of the camera, sniffing the air, then goes back to her nibbling. She seems young, and I wonder for a moment if this is the same deer as the one I photographed back in January in the hedgerow, as she seems equally relaxed in my presence.

Roe deer, Capreolus capreolus, female, doe, in field, Norfolk, May, Spring

Up ahead there’s a commotion on the path, birds fluttering, rabbits bouncing. A closer look reveals the birds are in fact Cuckoos, several of them swooping down to the path to pick up insects, then fluttering back up to the trees with their long wings and long tail, exotic looking, hawk like. I settle down on the ground, and they come a little closer, not close enough for great photos, but I do manage one photo as one perches in the oak tree above the path. I hope to try again with these birds, as they are fascinating to watch. I’ve never seen so many all in one place before.

Cuckoo, Cuculus canorus, perched in oak tree, Fen, Norfolk, May, Spring

Finally, how could I resist photographing this little rabbit who decided to hop down the path towards me..

Rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus, young rabbit, alert, Fen, Norfolk, May

 

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Here and there

  • May 17, 2015 8:45 pm

Over on the Fen first thing this morning, the Sedge Warblers were quiet again, but the Reed Warblers were singing away. Their song is softer than the harsh, scratchy tune of the Sedge Warblers, more bouncing, more musical. They were busy collecting nesting material, hopping up the reeds to choose a few strands of fluffy seedhead, then dropping them, perhaps not suitable for requirements, and then choosing a few more. Try as I might I couldn’t get any photos as they bounded around the swaying reeds. I did capture one though, peering though the reed stems at me.

Reed Warbler, Acrocephalus scirpaceus, perched amoungst reeds, Fen, Norfolk, May, Spring

Leaving them to it, I wandered on and spotted the local Roe deer, distant, but relaxed, munching away amongst the sedges. Over on the dry fen margin, tiny young Rabbits scampered away with wide, dark eyes and trembling whiskers. This one sat at his burrow entrance calmly observing me as I tried to take his picture.

Rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus, young rabbit in undergrowth, Fen, Norfolk, May

The sun was already warm and around the next corner I found a beautiful jewel of an animal, a Common Lizard. I’ve wanted to do more reptile photography, they are such fascinating creatures, what a treat to find one happy to pose in the open for me. Not the best photo in the world, far too distracting a background, but so lovely to see.

Common lizard, Zootoca vivipara, basking on corrogated iron sheet, fen, Norfolk, May

Back home, this weekend I’ve been trying to photograph some Red Mason Bees which have been making my solitary bee box home. These cute little insects with their russet red fur have been very busy, collecting pollen which they deliver to a chamber containing a single egg, before sealing the nursery with mud and repeating the process again and again until that particular bamboo burrow is filled.

I highly recommend this article which shows inside the Red Mason bee burrows and describes their life-cycle in-depth – very interesting: http://nurturing-nature.co.uk/solitary-bees-2/red-mason-bee-osmia-rufa-life-cycle-part-1/

These images are still a bit of a work in progress, I’ve not quite got the photos I want yet.

This bee is prospecting for a nest site, trying to find a hole not already occupied. They defend their nests from other bees vigorously, fascinating to watch their behaviour.

Red Mason bee, Osmia rufa, at entrance to nest hole, bee nest box, May, Norfolk

Here is a bee entering it’s nesting chamber, you can see it’s abdomen is fully laden with a load of pollen, while another bee is just flying in.

Red Mason bee, Osmia rufa, entering nest hole, with another in flight, bee nest box, May, Norfolk

This little bee has just popped it’s head out to ward off a rival bee which had landed at the entrance.

Red Mason bee, Osmia rufa, at entrance to nest hole, bee nest box, May, Norfolk

Finally, this bee is reversing into her burrow to offload all the pollen she has collected.

Red Mason bee, Osmia rufa, at entrance to nest hole, bee nest box, May, Norfolk

These bees are perfectly harmless, and incredibly fascinating to watch. As you can see from the amount of pollen they carry they are important pollinators, just like all bees. If you have a little room for a solitary bee box, simply a box filled with bamboo canes, I highly recommend installing one. A simple, yet extremely beneficial act of kindness for nature.

 

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Here be Dragons

  • May 10, 2015 8:50 pm

Up at sunrise again this morning, I know it’s early at this time of year, but I urge you to do it at least once. Just be still and listen to the dawn chorus, a crescendo of song in the still, cool air. Each individual bird adding it’s voice, a melody from a Blackbird here, a twinkle of silver notes from a Blackcap there, the warm cooing of a Woodpigeon, a powerful trill from the Wren, more and more joining in, building a wall of exuberant sound.

Down on the Fen it’s oddly quiet, just a few snatches of bouncing song from the Reed Warblers, a Chiff Chaff and a Whitethroat, but the Sedge Warblers are silent. Perhaps too busy nest building, or perhaps the haunting echo of the Cuckoo is a little too close today. I walk around, but no opportunities present themselves. The ponies are indulging in a spot of mutual grooming, standing side by side, scratching each others thick manes with their teeth. One of the ponies pauses it’s grazing and looks at me curiously for a moment, then flicks an ear and swishes her tail before moving on to the next patch of grass.

I head round again to where the Sedge Warblers normally are, but they’re still not singing. I spot something in the reeds which at first I take for vegetation, but a closer look reveals a little dragon perched on a reed stem. An intricate creature with dew covered wings, a fire coloured glow and four dark smudges. My first dragonfly of the season, a Four-spotted Chaser.

Four-spotted Chaser, Libellula quadrimaculata, on reed stem, covered in dew, Spring, Fen, Norfolk

 

Four-spotted Chaser, Libellula quadrimaculata, on reed stem, covered in dew, Spring, Fen, Norfolk

Four-spotted Chaser, Libellula quadrimaculata, on reed stem, covered in dew, Spring, Fen, Norfolk

 

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Spring on the Fen

  • May 2, 2015 12:41 pm

Spring has sprung down on the fen, as the sun rises in the cold morning air, I’m greeted by the glorious summer song of the Sedge Warbler. A mix of musical trills and warbles, mechanical rasping, sweet whistles and low purrs, combined seemingly randomly like the best jazz singers.

What wonderful medicine for the human soul to be stood, alone, in the middle of a reedbed in the sun, surrounded by birdsong and mist rising all around. The air filled with the energetic rhythm of singing Sedge Warblers, the silvery notes of the Blackcap (my favourite!), Whitethroat, Chiff Chaff, Reed Bunting, the winnowing call of the Little Grebe and the haunting echo of the Cuckoo, layers of sound in the stillness of the morning.

I enjoy photographing Sedge Warblers, though frustrating at times as they have a habit of singing low down in cover, they pop their heads up now and again, sometimes allowing a few photos.

Sedge warbler, Acrocephalus schoenobaenus, perched on reed stem, Fen, Spring, May, Norfolk

Sedge warbler, Acrocephalus schoenobaenus, perched on reed stem, Fen, Spring, May, Norfolk

Whilst listening to the warblers, I watch a pair of Whitethroats gathering nesting material from amongst the reed stems, one hops up into the open singing it’s plain but sweet song.

Whitethroat, Sylvia communis, perched on reed stem, Fen, Spring, May, Norfolk

Walking onward, through the quickly melting early morning frost, I spot a Kestrel gliding by and a pair of Greylag Geese flapping noisily across. Young Rabbits are playing and feeding on the drier fen margin, and adding to the birdsong a Wren peeps out of the gorse and a male Blackbird sings a simple melody from an oak tree.

I turn to see a Roe deer buck, grazing in the damp rushes, he hasn’t noticed me yet, so I stalk closer. Another deer barks in the distance and his head comes up, ears pricked. I freeze, balancing mid step, holding my breath. His head goes down again and I stalk forward, hunched to stay below the hedge line, I make it to the cover of a wide tree trunk. Peeping round it, I can see he’s still calmly nibbling, and I have the privilege of watching him for the next 20 minutes or so. He munches a few leaves, has a scratch, shakes out his coat, then rubs his antlers against a sapling, sniffing and scent marking as he slowly moves further away. Wonderful to watch such a normally shy creature just going about his business.

Roe deer, Capreolus capreolus, male, buck, early morning, Fen, Spring, May, Norfolk

 

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Short eared owl

  • March 8, 2015 8:19 pm

A wonderful first for me today. I’ve always wanted to see and photograph Short-eared owls, but I’ve never quite managed it, for some reason they have always eluded me. So today, on the advice of the wonderful and talented John Richardson (CLICK to have a look at his blog) I headed over to a beautiful stretch of Suffolk coastline. Soon after arriving, the astonishing sight of a brown patterned owl gliding nonchalantly across open water. Upon reaching the rough grass alongside the path, he began to hunt, buoyant in flight just like a Barn owl, but larger, more powerful. On long wings he quartered across the field, pouncing into the grass, and showing off his attractive brown and cream checker pattern markings. Hovering lightly in the breeze, allowing me a photo despite the terrible light, then gliding down the bank. With an attitude as fierce as his stunning yellow eyes, he silently slides past no more than ten paces away on rounded wings, ignoring his various watching admirers. An incredible experience that I won’t forget any time soon. I hope I’ll be able to get back there in better light, but for now, here’s something a bit artistic…

Short-eared owl, Asio flammeus, hunting, Suffolk. March

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Staying home

  • February 24, 2015 8:34 pm

I’m very fortunate to live near some lovely countryside, with two small nature reserves just a few minutes walk away from home. This weekend I decided to explore these instead of heading to the Fen. The closest reserve is an area of heathy common, with short rabbit grazed turf, and prickly gorse bushes. There’s a boggy area with a small stream, where I found a Little Egret hunting. I watched as he paddled in the shallow water stalking and striking his prey. He wandered up the bank and paused in the frost to take a look at me, before moving off back to the stream to resume hunting.

Little Egret, Egretta garzetta, in frost, Norfolk, Winter

I watched for a while longer, but the first dog walkers of the day appeared, so I headed over to the other little reserve, and area of wet meadow. This is such a contrast to the common, open, lush and green. Incredibly peaceful in the early morning sunshine, I sat and watched as the frost slowly melted. Flights of Woodpigeon crossed the vast blue sky, and a team of quacking ducks circled overhead. A male Reed bunting balanced atop a reed stem watching me. Definitely well worth exploring, hopefully I’ll get the time to get to know the local wildlife a bit better!

Back in the garden this Collared dove sat on the fence…

Collared dove, Streptopelia decaocto, perched on garden fence, Norfolk,

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First signs of Spring

  • February 15, 2015 5:53 pm

All has been rather quiet of late down on the Fen, no meaningful images in the last few weeks, which is somewhat disappointing. Yet there are the first subtle signs of spring all around. On my way there this morning a Skylark rises into the air on trembling wings, belting out his intricate song. On the Fen, a woodpecker drums and a Chaffinch’s song tumbles from the hedge. No deer around again today, and the Bearded tits are becoming ever more elusive. I hear them and catch a glimpse through the reeds, but that is all. Soon they’ll be moving off to their breeding grounds. There’s not much else around except for a Little Egret paddling amongst the flooded rushes, and the overwintering pair of Stonechat’s skip ahead of me along the path.

I couldn’t post a blog without a photo, so here’s a Snowdrop from the garden. The local verges are already twinkling with these little beauties, looks like spring is on it’s way.

Snowdrop150215DM3336

 

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Spot the bird

  • January 11, 2015 5:38 pm

Wildlife photographers have a habit of showing only their very best work, which is of course understandable. It does leave aspiring wildlife photographers a little disillusioned or disappointed with their own efforts, because it’s a fact that for every amazing photo taken, there’s ten, twenty, or a hundred (or more!) ‘misses’. After all, we’re dealing with living beings which move, run or fly away, and refuse to look in the right direction. Sometimes, we go out to shoot, and come away totally empty handed, which is why patience and persistence is key to nature photography.

Today was nearly one of those days. Over on the fen this morning, bright but incredibly windy. In the shelter of the hedgerow, a twittering flock of small birds were feeding, Long-tailed tits, Blue and Great tits, a Robin, and several cryptically camouflaged little birds. Can you spot the bird in this photo?

Treecreeper110114DM2959

It’s a Treecreeper, fascinating little birds that creep up the trees, checking every crack and crevice for insects, using their curved needle like beak to extract their quarry and their long, stiff forked tail as a prop to help them cling to the bark. They are constantly in motion with tiny mouse like movements, making them extremely difficult to photograph. This one refused to look at the camera, but does nicely illustrate just how well camouflaged they are, and also my point about the frustrations of wildlife photography!

Walking on to see if I could spot the Bearded Reedlings, I was faced with a sea of swishing reeds, swaying violently in the swirling wind, and I knew it was unlikely I would see them. After an hour of waiting I heard a few pinging calls, but didn’t see the birds.

Heading back to the warmth of the hedge line, I spotted one of the Fieldfares perched so attempted a stealthy approach. Fieldfares are one of our wonderful winter visitors, a beautiful thrush species, they are closely associated with orchards, feeding on the fallen apples, and may also be seen feeding on berries in the hedges. On the fen they seem to pay close attention to the dry mole run riddled areas, perhaps taking advantage of the worms and insects bought to the surface here. This one was surprising tolerant and allowed me to photograph it as it sat in the hedge.

Fieldfare110115DM3056

 

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Hello Deer

  • January 4, 2015 9:32 pm

I’ve had a few new visitors to my blog recently, so I just wanted give you a warm welcome to my website, and also to introduce my local patch, where I do a lot of my photography – Redgrave and Lopham Fen.

Redgrave and Lopham Fen is the largest remaining valley fen in England, and managed by Suffolk Wildlife Trust. The reserve encompasses not just fenland, but woodland and heath too. It’s a peaceful haven for me, having lived in the area for around 20 years I’ve grown up here, walking the tracks that criss cross the reserve and watching the amazing wildlife. For the wildlife, this place is an oasis in the agricultural vastness of the surrounding fields. The river Waveney rises here, although there’s not much to see at it’s source, just a boggy area and flooded scrape patrolled by Grey Herons, and dabbled by Teal in winter.

There’s something to see year round, but winter is a favourite time to visit for me, the frost crystallised on the reeds and clear cold sky, and often I have this tranquil place to myself. This morning I paused to watch a group of Long-tailed tits foraging in the brambles, and when I walked a little further a movement ahead made me stop. It was a Roe deer, the youngster from the group of three I photographed earlier in the week, she was so close, and hadn’t yet noticed me. Carefully and quietly setting up the camera, I waited and watched, fully expecting her to sense me and bound away, but in the cold still air she couldn’t smell me, and maybe if I stay still she won’t see me. She turned, nibbling on bramble leaves, and focussing manually for quietness and the distracting branches, I took her picture.

Roe deer, Capreolus capreolus, youngster in hedgerow, Norfolk, January, Winter

Roe deer have to be my favourite deer species, such elegance and grace, and such a privilege to observe one so closely. Amazingly the sound of the camera shutter didn’t spook her, and she started to move towards me. Just the other side of the brambles, just a few meters away. So close I could hear each dainty hoof-step on the frozen leaves layered on the ground. She passed by, and waiting until she had moved off, we went our separate ways.

The birds were very busy, and despite the fact it’s only January a pair of Blue tits were investigating a potential nest site. A tantalising glimpse of spring.

Bluetit040115DM2875

The Bearded tits whizzed across the path, not pausing for a photo today, but as ever, lovely to see. Walking back, a reminder that it is still winter, a dried umbellifer sparkling with the frost.

Frosted plant, Norfolk, Winter, January

I noticed a Fieldfare paying close attention to a Molehill, and after a few moments I realised why – the mole was busy rearranging his home, pushing soil up to the surface and no doubt insects or worms too, hence the attraction to the Fieldfare. Short video here: Mole in the Molehill.

 

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To the Sea

  • January 2, 2015 10:20 pm

The coast in winter, the roar of the sea, beauty and ferocity. Wind whipped sea foam sparkling in the weak sun, the fizz of waves pouring over pebbles. A twittering from small birds dashing away from the rising tide. I visited the most easterly point in the UK, Ness Point in Lowestoft, in search of Purple Sandpipers. These little birds, darting around like clockwork toys between the rocks and waves are regular winter visitors to this area and I was keen to see them. After three visits I eventually managed a couple of images, but they are tricky birds to photograph, small and constantly moving.

Purplesandpiper301214DM2658

There were also some Turnstones around…

Turnstone, Arenaria interpres, perched on rock, Suffolk, Winter, December

But the Sandpipers were the stars, busying about feeding and preening, taking no notice of the human onlookers.

PurpleSandpiper020115DM2787

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Follow this link to see a video of the Purple Sandpipers…

Wishing you all a very happy, healthy and prosperous new year!

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