Monthly Archives: March 2013

Exploring Brownsea Island

Brownsea Island

106 years ago, Robert Baden-Powell rowed out into Poole Harbour with a group of boys and made camp on Brownsea Island, owned by a friend of his. This was beginning of the Scout movement.

Now mostly owned by the National Trust, the history of the island in human hands began and ended with a recluse. In the 9th Century, a single Christian hermit lived on the island, tending the chapel. Over a thousand years later a reclusive lady named Mary Bonham-Christie bought the island, expelled the villagers and lived virtually alone until her death in 1961.

Brownsea houses

The island is now a famous sanctuary for the Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) as the invasive Grey Squirrel has never been introduced to the island…

Red Squirrel

Landscapes of the island

The island is now a wonderfully wild place. There are marshes…


… lakes…


… woodland…

Silver Birch wood

… shingle beaches…

Brownsea beach

… and, perhaps most importantly, a large salt marsh lagoon…

View over lagoon and Poole Harbour

The birds of Brownsea

The lagoon is an important site for migratory birds in the winter and summer. Large numbers of Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta) and Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa) can be seen with Black-headed gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) on the lagoon below (with some of the most expensive mansions in the country on the mainland in the background).


In fact, in winter up to half the UK population of wintering avocets may be present on the lagoon. I was over the moon to be able to get so close to them in the hides…


Although I didn’t get as close, I was even more astonished to be able to get shots of Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia) as it is estimated that only around 20 of them will be present in the UK during the winter months (even in the summer, the number is in the low hundreds)…

Spoonbills feeding

Spoonbills in flight

I also saw: Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa);

Black-tailed Godwit

Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus);


Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus);

Spotted Redshank

and its cousin, Redshank (Tringa totanus);


Greenshank (Tringa nebularia);


Turnstone (Arenaria interpres);


Teal (Anas crecca);


and a lot of incredibly noisy Black-headed gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus);

Noisy gull

Black-headed Gull

In the woodland on the island, I also saw: Great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major);

Great Spotted Woodpecker

and many garden birds enjoying the bird feeders, including Coal Tit (Periparus ater)

Coal Tit

Whilst gliding above the island were patrolling buzzards (Buteo buteo)…


Snapshot of Solent wildlife

Sea view

The Solent is the strait of water that separates the Isle of Wight from the south coast of England. The notoriously deep and treacherous waters were once likely to have been a river, deepened and exposed by the thawing of the last great Ice Age.

At the western edge of the Solent, Hurst Spit shields an almost entirely enclosed patch of sea-water, called Keyhaven Lake, from the Atlantic tide and winds (it was unbelievably windy and cold when we were there).

Hurst Spit

The spit is famous for Henry VIII’s ‘Hurst Castle’ and Hurst Lighthouse. The almost gale force freezing wind made it too difficult to walk to the castle, but we did get a good view of the wildlife sheltering on the eastern side of the spit.

Small and tame Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) pecked and chattered up and down the spit pebbles.


Unlike most waders, the Turnstone is an opportunistic feeder. Known to scavenge on a huge range of possible food sources, the birds have even been recorded feeding from human corpses. You get an idea of how small the Turnstone is in this shot of it (note the number of rings it carries on its legs) next to a Black-headed gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus), which is, itself, a small gull…

Black-headed Gill and Turnstone

The gulls were able to hang in the air suspended by the head-on wind…

Black-headed Gull

… whilst below them Brent (or Brant) goose (Branta bernicla) swam and fed through the weed. This was the first time I had seen this species of goose. In the winter, it is believed that nearly half the global population of Brent geese will migrate to the UK.

Brent Goose

Much larger Mute Swans (Cygnus Olor) also patrol the area, and I also managed to photograph a flock of a around 200-250 Linnet (Carduelis cannabina), so called because of their fondness for flax from which linen is made.

Mute Swan

Linnet flock

The New Forest

The New Forest in Hampshire has been a popular retreat for city-weary Londoners for generations. My fiancée and I just returned from a few days rejuvenating; staying in a nice hotel set in the heart of the New Forest…

Rhinefield House

We spent a day cycling through the ancient deciduous woodland (see below), less ancient heathland, and positively modern evergreen (largely planted to feed the need for wood during the wars of the 20th century)…

Lily and ancient tree

William the Conqueror set out the boundaries of, what became, Royal Forest used for hunting and allegedly turfed off 36 parishes of local people (although some historians doubt whether so many people could have survived off farming the poor soil of the New Forest). Where trees were cleared, heathland now abounds…

New Forest

These heaths are now famous for the indigenous and feral New Forest Pony (above, and foal below).

New Forest Pony foal

As it was originally hunting ground, you will not be surprised to know that there are large herds of deer roaming the New Forest. We saw this group of female Red Deer while cycling through the forest paths…

Red Deer

Now hunting is not as popular, and without any other large predator, you may have seen in the news that deer numbers are growing to a level where they are causing significant damage to the small pockets of natural landscape that remain in the UK (including the New Forest). I heard that six or seven of the local gamekeepers have been tasked with culling 300 deer each! Such industrial scale killing of such majestic creatures is hard to stomach for those of us visiting and admiring the wildlife, but is a consequence of the imbalances in nature that can inevitably occur when so much of what is wild is concreted over. However, even hardened gamekeepers shy from killing the white harts and hinds (see below) for superstitious reasons…

White Hind

The white hind we saw crossing the road in the distance ahead of us was a wonderful sight that enhanced a sense of mystery that I felt in the New Forest. King William may have decreed that the New Forest was a playground, but some say he was amply punished for his crime of removing so many local people by the fact that two of his sons – including his successor, William II (Rufus) – were killed (both while hunting) in the New Forest.

Seven Wonders of London: Part II – an architectural Smörgåsbord

Having already blogged about the Neasden Temple, yesterday I visited another five of the Seven Wonders of London according to TimeOut…

St Pancras Station / St Pancras Renaissance (formerly Midland) Hotel

St Pancras

I am fully in agreement that this really is a Wonder of the capital, it is one of my favourite buildings. George Gilbert Scott’s neo-gothic masterpiece in the hotel and William Henry Barlow’s adjoining station is surely one of the most beautiful railway stations in the world (let me know if you think you know of a superior rival).

At the time of construction (1860’s), the single-span roof was the largest in the world…

St Pancras interior

Old Royal Naval College / Greenwich Hospital


Built on the site of an old Royal palace (birth place of both Tudor queens), Queen Mary II ordered a hospital to be built to serve sailors as the Chelsea Hospital served soldiers. Sir Christopher Wren, Nicholas Hawksmoor, and – after Wren’s death – Sir John Vanbrugh, gave their time and services free of charge to design the amazing campus.


National Theatre

National Theatre

I doubt many would disagree that St Pancras or Greenwich Hospital are beautiful buildings. I imagine many might hesitate to call the National Theatre beautiful (I intend to explore 60’s brutalist architecture further in future blog posts). Indeed, Denys Lasdun’s creation has simultaneously appeared in the top ten most loved and most hated buildings in the UK – How about that for dividing opinion!

Personally, I find the balance of geometric concrete shapes fascinating from the outside, but confusing on the inside – I regularly get lost inside when trying to find the loo or a bar during an interval.

Imagine my annoyance when, arriving to photograph one of the most famous ‘carbuncles’ in London, I find it partially obscured by another carbuncle – some red wooden monstrosity that looks like it belongs in a children’s playground…

National Theatre from Waterloo Bridge

Natural History Museum

Natural History Museum

Designed by Francis Fowke and Alfred Waterhouse, the museum opened in 1881 and is a marvel of Victorian Romanesque architecture.

Although not visible in my photograph, the building has large numbers of carvings and statues of wild animals – extant on the West and extinct on the East wings. They are separated in this way as a snub to Charles Darwin as the curator thought his ideas of evolution were a load of old cobblers!

The Hoover Building

Hoover Building

Way out to the West of London, in Perivale and facing the busy A40, is the Art Deco edifice of the old Hoover vacuum cleaners factory. Now, bizarrely, a Tesco shopping centre (at the back), the building – designed by Wallis, Gilbert and Partners in 1932 is one of the best examples of Art Deco architecture in the capital (I also intend to blog further about Art Deco architecture).

The seventh Wonder is Kew Gardens, but I shall leave that for another day.