Friday, 25 April 2014


The Easter holidays found us travelling  to Snowdonia in North Wales for a short break, courtesy of my daughter Rachel and her fiance.

The weather was glorious, the first time we have visited Wales and it has not rained, we were heading for a place called Llanberis near Mount Snowdon, to stay at the Royal Victoria Hotel for a few nights.

We were then going to visit the Penrhyn slate Quarry at Bethesda to experience the zip wire, the longest in Europe, the closest thing to flying like a bird the brochure boasted.

 Also hopefully to visit Gigrins farm at Rhayader on the way home to photograph Red kites.

We stopped off at one of our favorite places Beddgelert,and walked along the gorge and stream, not many birds to be seen,
although a Raven did fly over.

The next day found us travelling to Bethesda, looking for Penrhyn slate quarry which we eventually did. Went for a walk along another nice stream running along the bottom of the quarry, still no birds to speak of, a distant Buzzard being mobbed by a Kestrel.

So now for our thrill seeking session, as we entered the car park, I saw my wifes face drop as she peered up at the zip wire disappearing far off into the distance.

This is the longest zip wire in Europe, you find yourself suspended face down  in a harness under the zip line, the highest point above ground is 500 feet, you maximum speed is 115 mph and the length of the zip line is approx one mile.

After checking in and receiving a safety brief you are kitted up in a jump suit, helmet and goggles and placed in a harness which is suspended from the zip line when you reach the top of the quarry

My wife and I ready to go, notice she is still smiling. After a practice ride on a smaller zip wire  to familiarise yourself with procedures, you are loaded up into a truck, which trundles up the track, winding its way up to the top of the slate quarry, giving great views of the way down.

As we reached the top, the temperature had really fallen, as had the smile from my wifes face, she was feeling very apprehensive now as we waited our turn.

And there we were,
 not sure about flying like a bird, more like Superman.!!

Great experience and a big smile returning to my wifes face, as she realised she had conquered her fears.

Red kites at Gigrins Farm to follow.

Rainham Kingfishers !!!

Thought  I would pay another visit to Rainham RSPB to see how the Kingfishers were doing.

The young warden who has been monitoring the kingfishers, briefs everyone as they arrive at the hide, and it was good news, the eggs have hatched and the parent birds have been seen regularly bringing fish back to their brood, lets hope they make it to fledging.

Within a few minutes of my arrival the male kingfisher arrived on one of the perches with a fish in its mouth, it then flew to a small branch placed in the reeds outside the nesting hole, and from there into the hole in the bank.

Just managed to get a few photographs of one on the posts, you can just make out the fish in its beak. 

Spectacular bird to see.

I spent about thirty minutes in the hide and was treated to some excellent views, on one occasion both birds exiting the nesting hole at the same time.

 A good time to visit and see these birds before the young birds fledge and leave the nest.

A walk around the reserve looking for Butterflies to photograph, in particular the Orange tip which was unsuccessful, although I did see a few, they were not settling long enough for a photograph.

Quite a few Green Veined white and Peacock butterflies around in the Cordite store.

My search for a Grass snake to photograph was also fruitless, but I did see quite a few Common Lizards, which I tried to photograph, can't quite get depth of field sorted out in my head, but now I know where to find them, going to try again.

Always something to see and practice your photography skills at Rainham RSPB.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Ashenbank - A Walk in the Woods !!!

A walk through the woods is a great way to start the day, having a dog to exercise is a good excuse, although to be honest, 
I don't really need an excuse these days.

The whole feel of the woods has changed these last few weeks, the trees seem alive with bird song,
Thrushes singing from the treetops,Woodpeckers drumming, Chiffchaff and Blackcap have been arriving adding their songs to the chorus.

 Trees are bursting into life with new leaves, Bluebells are carpeting the forest floor , and wild flowers bursting through the undergrowth, adding a new interest, my ignorance of wild flower identification is staggering, so I have started to improve this by learning and identifying each new wild flower as they appear, starting with the more common woodland flowers.

 Our children have all "flown the nest" as the saying goes, so my wife and faithful dog enjoy the peace and quiet of our country walks in our own company.
Occasionally you experience that perfect moment, for me its a Sunday morning walk through the woods, with warm sunshine on your face, Skylarks singing above you, church bells ringing in the distance, wife and dog beside you and the knowledge that all is well.

Bird sightings have revealed all the normal woodland birds, Great Tit, Blue Tit, but no Marsh Tits as yet, Treecreeper, Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Jay, Magpie, Dunnock, Wren, Chiffchaff, Stock Doves,  A brief  sighting of a Woodcock as it flew over a clearing, Blackbirds seem very numerous as do Song Thrushes.

 Jackdaws doing well in their nesting tree.

The Little owl is still being seen quite regularly, although I have only seen two together on one occasion,
 so I'm not sure if breeding has taken place.

I have also witnessed a Tawny Owl being mobbed by the local Crows, unusual daylight sighting, and a first in these woods.

I have not seen that many Butterflies here yet, although I did spot for the first time, this Bee-fly.

Saw some of the local Carrion Crows collecting nesting material I presume, the cows did not seem to bothered as the crows systematically plucked hair from them.

So back to the wild flowers, these are what I have identified so far, all quite common, most flowering between April to June, but nice to see.

Bugle Ajuga repans    This was growing along the border of the woods on grassland. Flowers between April and July, its supposed to be attractive to many insects especially White Tailed Bumblebees & Green Veined  White butterflies, Silver Y moths and Common Carder bees. In Archaic times it was used by herbalists to treat  a variety of afflictions, infusions of the plant was said to be useful at stopping hemorrhages and spitting of blood, due to its astringent properties, a decoction of the leaves and flowers taken in wine was said to dissolve congealed blood and inward bruising .

Greater Stitchwort  
"Poor mans button-hole" another common wild flower, found along the borders of the wood, 

Wood Spurge 

Found this one growing within the woods, another common species found growing in the south of England. 
Slightly scary this one, when the stems are broken it oozes a white milky latex type substance which has a caustic nature, said to be corrosive to human skin, and as such was used to treat warts, in days gone by, although inadvisable to try.

Cowslip -  From the Anglo Saxon cowyslepe which roughly translated means cow slop.
The plants were thought to grow among cow pats, which strangely enough where mine were found.
  In the past it was picked for Mayday celebrations, dug up for gardens, harvested to make Cowslip wine and herbal medicines.A declining flower due to intensive agriculture methods and the increased use of herbicides.

Lords & Ladies - This seems to be shooting up all over the woods mostly in the shady areas. The purple spadix is enclosed in a pale green spathe, the flowers are hidden from sight at the base of the spadix, a ring of female flowers with a further ring of male flowers above them. Above the male flowers are a ring of hairs which form an insect trap, the spadix said to have a faecal odour which attracts insects which pollinate the flowers by brushing against them.

In autumn the female flowers form bright red berries , these are extremely poisonous, the berries contain oxalates of saponins which contain needle shaped crystals which irritate the skin, mouth and throat.
 The throat can swell causing difficulty breathing, burning pain and upset stomach.  However, their acrid     taste and immediate tingling sensation usually means that very little is consumed. 
Another one to avoid I think.

Red Campion - these rose red flowers give a splash of colour  to the hedgerows, seem quite common and widespread. There is also a white variety.

Yellow Archangel  this one comes from the dead nettle family, leaves do not sting, very attractive yellow flowers, said to be indicative of ancient woodland, found growing in sunny woodland borders.

White Dead nettle - like other members of the dead nettle family, the leaves do not sting, quite widespread. Found growing all over the woodland. Can be used in some medicines to reduce swelling and skin inflammation

Cuckoo flower or Lady's Smock found growing in the woodland, likes damp areas, ditches and riverbanks.
 Believed to be given this name because it flowers between April and June coinciding with the arrival of Cuckoo, another possible reason is that the plant's leaves are often covered in "cuckoo spit"
a  substance used to conceal the nymph of the froghopper.

The flowers have a peppery taste, and can be used to decorate salads.

Ransons - Another ancient woodland indicator usually found where bluebells are flowering.
 Known to foragers as wild garlic the leaves can be used for flavouring salads.The stems and bulb  have a mild garlic flavour. It is also said that it can be used for rheumatic pain 

And the Primrose which I think most people can recognise .

So thats a good start on woodland wildflowers in the spring, interesting to see what insects and butterflies are attracted to the various plants.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

The Special One !!!

A flash of brilliant blue along stream or reed bed, is probably the most opportunist view of this beautiful bird if you're lucky, sometimes its high pitched whistle will attract your attention as it passes by unseen.

 Always a special bird to see, and a favourite of most people who love the countryside.

Last year at Rainham RSPB reserve, a pair of Kingfishers took up residence and were watched and photographed by many fortunate people, the story did not have a happy ending however, it was believed that a marauding fox discovered the breeding tunnel, and during the night dug out the female Kingfisher and her brood, killing them all.

 The male Kingfisher was seen to return to the site with a fish the next morning, only to discover the devastated scene.
 It was seen to fly off, a tragic end.

This year looks more promising for the Kingfishers,  much of the flood including the Kingfisher bank has been protected with fox proof fencing, there is also some electric fencing protecting the actual bank where the Kingfishers nested previously.

The adjacent Discovery  zone provides an excellent viewing point alongside the Kingfisher bank, which is well camouflaged internally to prevent disturbance by those viewing the Kingfishers.

The story so far this year.

The male Kingfisher was seen on several occasions surveying the newly formed kingfisher bank, obviously to his liking as he begun to excavate several tunnels, three in all.

A female was attracted to the site,  she eventually selected the most suitable tunnel.

Both male and female have been visiting the site regularly and I think its assumed that eggs have been laid.
When I say that they are visiting regularly, they are still not easy to connect with, hopefully the chances will improve when the brood is being fed.

I have visited on several occasions now, finally seeing the male Kingfisher as it exited the tunnel and perched on tree branch placed there especially for this purpose.

It was only there for about thirty seconds before flying off, but I managed to get a couple of photographs through the glass and netting.

Not exactly frame filling, but at least "the special one" showed himself at last.

Satisfied that I had at last seen the Rainham Kingfisher, I went for a stroll around the reserve in the warm spring sunshine.

Plenty to see at the moment, grass snakes , lizards, marsh frogs.
This Water Vole was feeding next to the   boardwalk completely unconcerned by my presence.

Lots of Butterflies to be seen, mainly Peacock , I did see four or five Brimstones, and two Orange tipped Butterflies, but they never settled long enough for a photograph, I couldn't resist this Peacock Butterfly sunning itself though.

All around the reserve there seems to be birds nesting, Moorhen Coot , Little Grebes, Lapwings and this Mute Swan.

Still looking for that full plumaged great crested grebe

Summer migrants are arriving,  looking forward to my next visit and hopefully catching up with the Kingfishers again.