The Month of June

  • July 11, 2015 10:07 am

Time for a quick update, apologies for the blog silence of late. During June I took part in the Wildlife Trusts ’30 Days Wild’ project, connecting with nature every single day for a whole month. I documented my adventures right here on my website, click on this link to take a look at my: 30 Days Wild.

Here’s a few of my favourite images from last month. I really enjoyed the challenge of finding something to photograph every day, and was surprised to find some fantastic wildlife which would otherwise have gone unnoticed.

House Martin, Delichon urbica, perched on ground, collecting mud, puddle, farmyard, Norfolk, May

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BIG 30

  • June 1, 2015 9:28 pm

The end of May marks the end of my Big 30 project, a rather ambitious undertaking designed to help me get out and do as much photography as possible. 30 varied, unusual, or amazing wildlife photos in a year – 30 photos for my 30th year. The project had its ups and downs, but has re-ignited my enthusiasm for my photography, and has shown me that you don’t need to travel far to see great wildlife and to make the most of every opportunity. It’s led me to some amazing wildlife encounters, like watching a Short Eared Owl hunting, and photographing that perfect jewel of a bird, the Kingfisher. Wonderful experiences with nature that I’ll never forget.

On the last day of my project – my birthday – I headed over to the fen at sunrise as normal. Suddenly the reserve is full of flowers, brilliant yellow flag iris amongst the sedges, pale pink Ragged Robin along the dyke edges and much more.

Ragged Robin, Lychnis flos-cuculi, amoungst reeds, Norfolk, Fen, May

The birds are still quite quiet, concentrating on nesting and raising their young. The Cuckoos are still very busy, but elude my camera this morning. This male Reed Bunting pauses in the reeds as I go past.

Reed bunting, Emberiza schoeniclus, Male perched in reeds, Norfolk, Fen, May

Further along there’s a lovely Linnet singing away and I slowly approach to try and get a photo. They are such pretty birds, normally found around the gorse bushes, they seem to do very well here.

Linnet, Carduelis cannabina, perched on twig, fen, Norfolk, May

I watch as a Buzzard flies over, an increasingly familiar sight these days. The final thing to catch my eye is the Cow Parsley. I love this time of year, when great frothy clouds of this dainty flower fill the verges.

Cow Parsley, Anthriscus sylvestris, close up of flower head, Norfolk, May

You can view a slideshow of the results of my project by clicking here: BIG 30

 

As one project finishes, another starts. June is the Wildlife Trusts #30DaysWild challenge, and I am taking part, but more on that later….

 

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Crimson and Blue

  • May 29, 2015 9:10 pm

Just a quick update on my recent photography, trying to do as much as possible to reach my ‘Big 30‘ goal.

This lovely flower with it’s pretty twirled petals is Crimson Clover, it is a native, but is commonly grown in a cover crop mix, or as green manure. This one caught my eye on Croxton Heath, a new location for me, growing alongside one of the tracks. I also spotted a couple of Common Lizards here, a looks like a great site for some future photography.

Crimson clover, Trifolium incarnatum, Scarlet Clover, Italian Clover, Carnation Clover, Breckland, Norfolk, May, Spring, close up

 

Regular followers will know, I work full time and often find it difficult to get the time to get out with the camera. Sometimes though, wildlife comes to you. I am fortunate that the company I work for is located on a farm, and this time of year sees the return of the House Martins. They cruise around the yard at head height on still sunny days, like miniature Orcas with their black and white plumage. They take full advantage of the mud washed off the tractors, swooping down to collect a beak full of wet earth to build their nest. The Swallows are also back, perching on the telephone wires and whizzing in and out of the barns chittering away to each other. High in the sky and screaming around the rooftops the Swifts are back too, devil birds with curved flickering wings flying fast and free in the blue. All three species resulting in a lot of gazing longingly out of the window. Short as my half hour lunch break is, it was just enough time to capture a couple of images of the House Martins as they came down to gather mud. Normally they glide down straight to the muddy puddle, but sometimes they land a little way away and have to do a rather comical scampering, hopping, flapping walk across the ground. Close up in the sun, the plumage on their heads and backs has a gorgeous deep blue iridescence. Hopefully I’ll get some more opportunities with these charismatic little birds.

House Martin, Delichon urbica, perched on ground, farmyard, Norfolk, May

House Martin, Delichon urbica, perched on ground, collecting mud, puddle, farmyard, Norfolk, May

 

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Red Mason Bees

  • May 25, 2015 6:53 pm

I’ve been trying to photograph the Red mason bees again, these wild bees have been using my solitary bee boxes over the last few weeks and they are fascinating to watch. I’ve had the odd bee using the bee boxes in the past, but this year they seem to be doing really well, and on Friday I counted 8 bees going in and out, the most I’ve ever seen.

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

As well as trying to photograph these quick and tricky little subjects, I’ve also been watching them, as their behaviour is so interesting. Each bee, and these are all females, collects many loads of pollen which they deliver to a nest chamber where they lay a single egg. Once this food store is complete and egg laid, they seal off the chamber and then begin the process again, repeating until the bamboo cane is full, and then finally sealing off the tube with a wall of thicker mud to protect their growing offspring. Each egg develops into a bee larvae, which steadily munches away at the larder of pollen, before spinning a silken cocoon and pupating into an adult bee. This bee overwinters in it’s cosy cocoon and then emerges the following spring. So next year, hopefully I’ll be seeing even more of these characterful little creatures.

Red Mason bee, Osmia rufa, at nest hole, with another in flight, bee nest box, covered in pollen,  May, Norfolk

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

Standing by and photographing them means I was able to watch the whole process. They are quite choosy, carefully selecting a tube by zigzagging in front of the box to find an unoccupied hole. When a bee hovers too close to a hole already taken, the resident races out with forelegs waving to ward off the competitor.

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

Once a tube is chosen they can begin the process of provisioning the first chamber with pollen. They collect as much pollen as they can carry, often all over their furry bodies, and return to the nest to offload it. They carefully back into the hole and groom the pollen off before going out again to gather more. Using my reflector to carefully peer down one of the holes after the bee had left, I could see a great heap of sunshine yellow pollen, like a lemon sherbet fountain, and the beginnings of a mud wall, as the bee prepared to seal that particular chamber.

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

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

Once the pollen store is full and the egg laid, the bee gathers mud to seal off the nest. They carry a ball of wet mud in their jaws and return with their heavy load, carefully building a mud wall. A couple of the bees I was watching had reached the front of their bamboo canes and were busy making a thicker wall to protect the nest chambers. They are so industrious, constantly back and forth with more mud, and such determination as they build the wall. Not just dropping the ball of mud there, but carefully spreading out each piece, like a master plasterer, building it up, smoothing it out.

This last image has to be my favourite, this bee is just taking off, you can see she is still covered in pollen and if you look very closely (click to enlarge) you can see a few grains flying off. An amazing moment caught by good planning and exceptional camera work. (Haha just kidding! It was luck, sheer luck!)

Red Mason bee, Osmia rufa, at entrance to nest hole, bee nest box, taking off, covered in pollen, May, Norfolk

For more info on these incredible animals and some wonderful images of inside a nest tube, take a look here: http://nurturing-nature.co.uk/solitary-bees-2/red-mason-bee-osmia-rufa-life-cycle-part-1/

 

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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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