Friday 29 April 2011

Photo-stack - Light On The Land

(click on any image to enlarge it)



Key to Photos
Sunrise near Meldreth
The Wash, Norfolk                             
Midwinter Amwell, Herts
 Thetford Forest, Norfolk
Reedbed, Wicken Fen
  Stormclouds, North Norfolk
Berry Fen, Cambs
Kings Lynn docks                            
Cambridgeshire Fens

 Take Care.                                                                                                

Pictures on my wall (3)

This photo hangs on my bedroom wall and so is one of the first things I see every morning. Despite its idyllic charm it's actually the site of old gravel workings. There is a series of flooded gravel pits which has been turned into a nature reserve and provides a lovely place to amble around and quietly take in the wonder of the natural world (or, more accurately, the way that nature has healed the scars of industrial exploitation).

Paxton Pits, as the reserve is known, was the place that re-awakened my interest in things ornithological. I'd been walking on Northumberland coast one Christmas and saw lots of winter migrants which I'd not encountered before. On my return I made a trip to Paxton and was amazed to see unfamiliar birds that were there to be discovered "on my doorstep". Of course it looks a little different in winter.

Bird's eye view

Incidentally, have you noticed how often birds line themselves up exactly side on to the camera? The reason is, I presume, that, having eyes at the side of their heads, this is the way that a bird stands to get a good look at you. They're keeping an eye on you.

Now the other day I was watching a Lapwing, one of a nesting pair, that  was doing exactly this; standing sideways on to a hide where people were watching. It soon became clear that he'd positioned himself exactly in a spot where he could not only keep an eye on us, but could also keep his other eye on the nest site. Cunning, hey?

It also occurred to me that some of those notoriously difficult-to-spot species might just be using their other eye to check on the background they are seen against so that they blend into scene more effectively.

Wednesday 27 April 2011

Wreckless, Death-defying Snails

I took this picture a while back and have been wondering what to do with it. So I've decided to inflict it on you.

Take care.(yourselves and the snails).

Tuesday 26 April 2011

Dawn Chorus

I got out of bed at "stupid o'clock" and peered out between the curtains. A fox was timidly snooping about under the bird feeders. There's a lot going on out there while we snuggle under our duvets, you know.  A silver half-moon hung in the sky as I strode off to the local woodland. A hedgehog sauntered off into the undergrowth. The little River Mel babbled gently under the footbridge as I made my way to a tree stump in the clearing, sat down and waited.

A blackbird was already singing from a nearby branch though it was still fairly dark. Over to my right a tawny owl hooted and was immediately answered, to my left, by the begging call of a youngster. A few moments later a dark shape flew silently over the clearing. As it grew slowly lighter other birds began to join the blackbirds and the dawn chorus got properly underway. (Several recordings of the dawn chorus in British woodlands are available to hear on YouTube, but the real thing is infinitely better!)

That little powerhouse of song, the wren, soon added his bustling song to proceedings while a chiffchaff chanted his monotonous two-note refrain. The ancient hoarse conversation of the roooks began to be heard from the tree tops while wood pigeons cooed soporifically among the leafy boughs. Chaffinches, great tits, blue tits, goldfinches and others all contributed their snatches of melody. A blackcap added its exquisite, uplifting warbling. Pheasants called, a distant dog barked and a few early morning motorists set out on their journeys.

                                                                                                                                                                As the sun began to rise I made my way home for hot tea and toast. Take care.

Monday 25 April 2011

Photo-stack - Cambridge Market


Take care.

River Of Dreams

A morning stroll in Grantchester Meadows was rewarded with the welcome sound of the first cuckoo of the summer. The land along the River Cam has long been grazing land, originally to supply milk and dairy products to the town of Cambridge. I was once told that the milk used to be brought down on a cart to this spot in churns. In warm weather the churns were put into the river to keep cool before being taken to town on flat-bottomed boats propelled by long poles. This, it was said, was the origin of the punts which are so popular with undergraduates and tourists today.

In my teenage years some other village lads and myself owned a punt and spent (or mis-spent)  countless hours on the river. Lazy afternoons, fishing expeditions, practical jokes, drunken midnight escapades, trips across the fields when the river was in flood and even the odd romantic liaison all took place on the punt.

In those days, late 60's - early seventies, there were frequent rumours that the Pink Floyd were going to do a free show on the meadows. This was presumably inspired by the fact that Syd Barrett and Rogers Waters of the band came from Cambridge and the album Ummagumma contained a track called "Grantchester Meadows"......

"...and a river of green is sliding unseen beneath the trees,
laughing as it passes through the endless summer making for the seas"
                                                                                                                                                     Needless to say they never did play that gig. But that didn't stop every long-haired, kaftan-clad hippie from miles around turning up most weekends.

My reminiscences were pleasantly interrupted just then by the sound of that first cuckoo; they were once heard frequently here but, like the Pink Floyd, are less often encountered these days. Sedge warblers were also singing from the bushes. These madcap bundles of energy, having just flown in from Africa, throw their entire being in their urgent, scratchy bebop solos that contain snatches of the songs of all the birds they've ever heard.

The meadows are now managed for wildlife under a countryside stewardship scheme. Red Poll cattle are being grazed there which should increase the number of wild flowers and add to the area's bio-diversity. The land on the opposite side of the river, which was once intensively farmed, is also to be managed for wildlife.

Take care.

Thursday 21 April 2011

The Pictures On My Wall (2)

This little girl and her baby brother were encountered on the dusty streets of a Berber village in the Atlas mountains of Morocco. I was there on a walking holiday - enjoying the exotic life and scenery, snapping away merrily with my camera. But during my time there I became aware of the honesty, kindness and humanity which survived despite the harsh conditions and overwhelming poverty.

Back home I sorted through my boxes of slides and despite some rather dodgy focus and a little underexposure the picture of these two children seemed to haunt me. Some time during the next few weeks I took out a sketchpad and made the pencil drawing above. I can see the pride and stoicism of this young girl carrying her little brother - though I'm not sure if it's really there in the picture or just in my head.

I considered going back to the Atlas Mountains but I also semed to see more and more needy youngsters on the affluent streets of England. Somehow I ended up looking after children with cerebral palsy. This picture has been with me ever since.

Take care.

Wednesday 20 April 2011

From My Window

My neighbour, Paul, loves wildlife of all kinds. This is his latest bird/squirrel table. It's got a washing-up bowl in the centre to act as a bird-bath. Through his efforts we get a lot of birds and some animals visiting. Here's what I've seen since I moved in last July -

Grey Squirrel, Fox, Muntjac Deer, Greenfinch, Jay, Carrion Crow, Rook, Jackdaw, Magpie, Long-tailed Tit, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Pheasant, Starling, Wren, Robin, Blackbird, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Stock Dove, Mallard, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Goldcrest, Reed Bunting, Chiffchaff. The following have either flown over or have been heard: Heron, Canada Goose, Buzzard, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Pied Wagtail, Black-headed Gull, Green Woodpecker and Tawny Owl.

Thanks, Paul.
Take Care.

Spring Gardens 2

Anglesey Abbey
When asked where she'd like to go at the weekend Mum opted for the gardens of Anglesey Abbey, the National Trust property a few miles east of Cambridge. Mum has to use a wheelchair these days so we have to think about accessibility - you don't notice steps and uneven ground unless you're using a chair - but there are no such difficulties at Anglesey Abbey. Even so we managed to find our own problem; when we got there we discovered that the wheelchair had a puncture. More in hope than expectation my brother, Les, went to ask if they might have a wheelchair that we could borrow - certainly, sir, no trouble at all.

The birch grove

We made our way along a winding path amongst daffodils and shrubbery till we reached the birch grove which glowed with the reflected light of "Little Beauty" tulips. The path led us to Lode Mill, a fully restored watermill which I really must explore further some day. Along the little millstream the swans and moorhens drifted lazily on the gentle current. Further along drifts of daffodils swept down to endless lawns.

Hyacinth beds
 As we approached the house the gardens became more formal, with many classical sculptures. The house and grounds were purchased by one Huttleston Rogers Broughton, who later became Lord Fairhaven, in 1926. He set about renovating the whole place according to his own taste. When he eventually gave Anglesey Abbey to the National Trust he stipulated that it should be preserved to represent an age that was quickly passing. We made our way back by a magical woodland walk, passing beneath some magnificent old trees.

A monument to times past

Take care.

Tuesday 19 April 2011

The Lost Village

"Clopton.....deserted......medieval village - site of......good local example....remember it for the exam!"

Thus spoke the aged schoolmaster. And like a good scholar I memorised it as instructed. Whether I used it in the exam I really can't recall, but despite living within a few miles of "medieval village - site of" for most of my life I'd never taken the time to visit - until today.

So I got my bicycle from the shed and set out. Wherever possible I travelled by minor roads, farm tracks and bridleways.

I pedalled through the delightfully named parish of Shingay-cum-Wendy, which with the sun shining, looked every bit as attractive as its name sugests.

I turned off the road and onto a narrow grassy track which led me to the site of the deserted village. Not much to see, of course, after five hundred years of neglect, though the mounds and hummocks indicated where the buildings once stood and the line of the former high street could clearly be seen.

The village had probably never been large and then the effects of Black Death and economic decline reduced the population still further till only a handful of souls remained. At this stage (about 1489) the local landowner decided that sheep were more profitable than people and took over the land for that purpose. Today only cowslips inhabit this forgotten land.


Take care.

The Pictures On My Wall (1)

Having recently moved into a new house I've spent a lot of time looking for pictures to brighten up the blank walls. Mostly these are photographs reminding me of places I hold dear. At this time of year, with spring bursting out all around, my mind often takes a stroll through Foxley Wood in Norfolk which is famed for its wonderful bluebells. Bluebell woods are one of England's special treasures and attract visitors from far and wide. "Bluebell Days" are organised with guided walks; but I've found it's best to look these up on the internet, then try to arrange to visit a day or two before and have the place more or less to yourself.

The picture I chose for my wall

During the 1960's everything possible was done to obliterate these woods with only a small area of ancient woodland remaining - needless to say this is the area where the bluebells flourish. All the cleared area was planted with conifers but the market for their timber has since collapsed. The Wildlife Trust has removed all the conifers and is allowing the natural trees to recolonise. It says much for the resilience of the indigenous species that, despite the bulldozers and chemicals which were used to remove their ancestors, they spring up quite naturally as soon as the sunlight is allowed to reach the ground.

To give a fuller impression of Foxley Wood here are some more photos.

Bluebells and fallen birch

           Spotting the birds can be tricky...

              ....but you can't miss the bluebells !  

  Take care.

Monday 18 April 2011

Swanwatch (1)

Swans are nesting once again beside Grantchester Millpond in full view of the road. Last summer they raised five cygnets - lets hope they can have similar success this year.

 Take care.

Spring Gardens (1)

Meldreth Open Gardens

We're enjoying some proper Spring weather and some of the good people of Meldreth opened their gardens to the public. What better way to spend a fine afternoon than to wander from one garden to the next and enjoy the fruits of someone else's labour. And there must certainly have been a lot of hard graft to produce the beautiful displays on show. 

Tulips always look great with the sun shining through.

Some people garden....
(like a lot of people don't.)

A place to relax!

Take care.