Category Archives: Weekly Photo Challenge

A long wait for a Long Wood record shot

When Little Owl recently succumbed to my patch list, Bullfinch (perhaps alongside Woodcock) became my patch ‘bogey bird’: a relatively commonly seen bird missing from my list.

But let’s put ‘relatively common’ in context here. The British Trust for Ornithology ‘Breeding Bird Survey’ shows that Bullfinch numbers have declined by around 39 per cent since 1967, and the decline is steepest in the South East. With the exception of some sightings on our neighbouring ‘Leyton Flats’, I believe the recent Autumn birds are the first Bullfinches seen on the patch for two years: since October 2015.

Yesterday, Tony saw four birds in Long Wood on the Wanstead Flats. This follows several recent sightings in the same area.

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Long Wood as seen from the Broom fields on the Wanstead Flats

I was not long at Long Wood this morning before I heard the distinctive melancholic phe-ouw call which I like to describe as a child blowing weakly into a de-tuned harmonica. And through the branches, twigs, and remaining leaves I briefly saw a female Bullfinch. A bogey bird no more; my 116th bird for the Patch and my 105th for the year.

I then stayed another hour or so waiting in vain to get a photo. But with the exception of a brief call, I didn’t see another flicker. However, had I not waited, I would not have caught the flash of airborne movement that revealed a Short-eared Owl being mobbed by crows over the wood. This is only the second SEO seen by anyone on the Patch this year and only my second ever on Patch:

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Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)

After counting everything on Alexandra Pond for the BTO Wetland Bird Survey (very few winter ducks on the Flats at the moment, but rather more in the Park) I walked back via Long Wood for a second attempt to try and photograph the Bullfinch. I am unclear why I felt such a strong desire to get a photo, but it was definitely niggling me.

I was rewarded with views of at least three birds; two female and one male. I didn’t get any good photos, but securing the record shot flooded me with a sense of relief.

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Male Eurasian Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)

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Female

I find the fact that I saw Hawfinch from the Patch before Bullfinch quite extraordinary, but that is just one of the many wondrous uncertainties about  Patch birding.

 

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Hope Springs Eternal

Wanstead Flats at dawn

Dawn over Wanstead Flats

Patch birding can be an exercise in faith.

As an atheist (albeit a Buddhist one, but that’s another story), I have always struggled with the concept of ‘faith’, or, rather, accepted the fact that I am lacking in ‘it’.

But, without delving into semantics, there is an expression of hope in rising before the sun, following well-beaten paths, and searching for something new. To extend my metaphor, rather like many spiritual journeys, sometimes we set off with an expectation of what we want, or hope, to find… but then find something entirely different. Today certainly felt like that.

This morning began with mist.

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Initially a fine, low-lying blanket, but one which grew and clouded nearly everything from view.

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Things started positively with my first footstep onto the SSSI – trying to blank out the noise of early morning traffic on the road I had just crossed – in that I immediately heard the song of a Willow Warbler (I even briefly video-recorded it singing, here).

It moved through the trees just south of the copse we know as Motorcycle Wood, an area that in the last couple of years alone has been one of the most consistent providers of both Willow Warbler and Garden Warbler, but also local scarcities such as Wood Warbler and Yellow-browed Warbler. I watched the early morning sun stream through the trees and the light transported me back to all those wonderful moments, and more: these trees shaded the young birches where I saw my London-first Pied Flycatcher; I have watched Ring Ouzel burst out of the upper branches, Spotted Flycatcher perch and feed from middle branches, whilst Common Redstart has flicked around from branch to ground; I have stood by these trees watching Shelduck, Hobby, and Peregrine fly over, and was close-by when several of us watched a skein of White-fronted Goose turn in the sky.

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Motorcycle Wood, SSSI, Wanstead Flats – where the magic happens

The golden morning light seemed to hold these memories in trust for me. It felt like the Copse was reminding me why I come out; these moments are the rewards we get for placing our hope and trust in the patch. But the Copse – in that equilibrium between the bare brown branch of winter, and the leaf-rich green of Spring – also helped to remind me that there is reward in just ‘being’ here in this place. This was lucky, because the song of the Willow Warbler was the peak of a long morning of birding (there were several of us out and searching and there was a general air of disappointment).

The beauty of Spring, over Winter in particular, is that when birds fail to show up, there are, at least, other creatures of the wing to marvel at. In Wanstead Park and surrounds, I counted eight species of butterfly including Green-veined White, Orange Tip, Comma, and Holly Blue as new year ticks for me.

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Comma (Polygonia c-album)


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Orange Tip (Anthocharis cardamines)


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Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)


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Peacock (Aglais io)


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Speckled Wood (Parage aegaria)

On my way back home from the Park, I was shocked to see that the water levels on Heronry Pond seemed to have fallen even further. Action is apparently planned, but we are heading for a completely dried-out lake quite quickly. The days of herons breeding here are long gone, but the days of them fishing here could also be numbered).

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Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)


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The lake bed of Heronry

The smallest kingdom in the world

Some believe that the tiny Island of Tavolara off the coast of Sardinia was the smallest kingdom in the world. They are wrong. The smallest kingdom is on the border of Wales and England.

It lies on a river. The fifth longest river in the UK to be exact. A river which helps form the border between England and Wales. The river Wye:

River Wye

River Wye

A much smaller tributary of the Wye also forms the border between England and Wales and runs through our pocket-sized kingdom: it is called Dulas Brook. As I stood on a bridge this weekend gone, straddling England and Wales with a leg in each and peering through a curtain of vines, I saw a pair of some my favourite British birds, the water-bound Dipper:

White-throated Dipper (Cinclus cinclus)

White-throated Dipper (Cinclus cinclus)

The Kingdom is nestled in a valley overlooked by the northern outpost of the Black Mountains, Hay Bluff – a plateau peak carved out of ancient sandstone by the glaciers from past ice ages:

Hay Bluff in the distance under the sun

Hay Bluff in the distance under the sun

Walking back down to the village kingdom from a morning in the hills, a friend and I stopped by some woods to look for Crossbills. We didn’t see any, but we did get neck ache from watching so many soaring Red Kite and Buzzards. Closer to earth, we also watched a busy Nuthatch, as I reflected on how hard I have tried in vain to see this bird in my local London patch:

Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)

Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)

Storytime: The Kingdom of Hay
Once upon a time there was a bibliophile, a man who loved books so much, he made them his life. This man lived in a small beautiful village on the border.

The man was saddened by the slow death that befalls many small places as their young inhabitants leave to work and live in bigger cities. It felt as if the life-blood of these small communities was being sucked away.

He wondered how he could save his own village from this ignominious fate. He found the answer in books. Not inside a book, but in books generally.

This man took the strongest men from his village across the Atlantic ocean and started buying up cheap books and carrying as many back to Hay as he could find.

This was the beginning of making Hay one of the most famous destinations for books in the world.

He further secured the village’s place on the map by declaring it an independent kingdom with him as its king.

The King of Hay still runs a bookshop in the village to this day, and the smallest kingdom in the world, though not recognised as a state officially, has secured its place in the world. Long live the King! Ling live Hay-on-Wye!

My blogging century

This is my 100th blog post as iago80. It has been fun…

100 photos: one from each blog post

100 photos: one from each blog post

I have shared my travels, including to some exotic places:

Volcano, Costa Rica

Volcano, Costa Rica

… where I have seen exotic wildlife…

Green Iguana (Iguana iguana)

Green Iguana (Iguana iguana)

Collared Araçari (Pteroglossus torquatus)

Collared Araçari (Pteroglossus torquatus)

… and been privileged to photograph some extremely rare animals in the wild…

Costa Rican Red-eyed Brook Frog (Duellmanohyla uranochroa)

Costa Rican Red-eyed Brook Frog (Duellmanohyla uranochroa)

Closer to home, I have explored history…

Nottingham

… and shared landscapes that I have found interesting and beautiful…

Trent

Many of you have also shared my journey to photograph birds in the wild…

Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)

Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)

Thank you for reading. I look forward to sharing my next 100 photo-stories with you.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside

Taking up the challenge of posting a photo that means ‘inside’ to me, I have gone for ‘inside’ a pint of beer (taken two days ago, so not strictly ‘this week’) – surely one of my favourite views!

 

Your questions answered:

  • The writing at the bottom of the glass says: “CAMRA – Campaign for Real Ale”
  • This photo was taken at the Kent CAMRA beer festival at Merton farm
  • I was lucky to be allowed to attend the festival despite not sporting a beard and not wearing sandals
  • According to CAMRA, Real Ale is defined as: “it has not been filtered or pasteurised and so the yeast is still present in the container from which the beer is served.” Where lager is generally yellowish, cold, fizzy, refreshing stuff, real ale is generally much darker, drunk at around room temperature and is lovely satisfying stuff
  • No. My fingers do not normally look like those of ET. It is simply the glass distorting the image