Friday 31 July 2020

It's The Pits

Paxton Pits Nature Reserve follows the same pattern as many in this area: 
   - riverside sand and gravel beds that were exploited for use in building.
   - the exhausted pits soon fill with water to form lakes.
   - wildlife moves in, birds and fish find the lakes and trees and plants take over the abandoned land.
   - formal recognition as a site for nature leads to provision of paths and facilities such as bird hides, a car park and small visitor centre. Often funding is aided by the gravel extraction company who wish to improve their public image as they exploit other nearby resources.

Here are just a few photos from our visit yesterday:

Heronry South Lake
with a Cormorant flying low over the water.
The trees in the background are used as a nesting site by the cormorants,
you can see they are "decorated" with the birds droppings.

I'm reasonably confident that this is a Large Skipper butterfly.
Despite its name it's not very big at all.
It's quite a common butterfly, but one that passes under the radar of many people.

The Sailing Lake
Despite being used for sailing it's a good place to see wildlife, 
especially its island and the woodland surrounding three sides of the lake.

Summer skies.

Part of the site is still occupied by a sand and gravel works.
It's not obvious from most paths on the reserve and doesn't seem
to bother the wildlife.

Cloudy Lake.
It's rather larger than it appears here.

Crown Vetch
This robust plant has taken hold along the haulage road used by the gravel lorries.
It's not native to these shores, having been introduced from
 the Mediterranean countries as a garden plant.
It's considered an invasive species in many US states,
but is not covered by legislation here.

A Mute Swan giving me the "evil eye"
on the Island Pit.

Water Lilies on Rudd Lake.

Gatekeeper butterfly.

Purple Loosestrife

Hayling Lake.
There are many old pits in the complex - more than I've mentioned here -
and they are managed for many different uses.
This particular pit is popular with anglers.

Time for some Friday music.
This has been on my playlist for a while now.
Birds Of Chicago are led by JT Nero and Allison Russell (the couple on the right in the video).
Joining them are guitarist Steve Dawson and
Rhiannon Giddens on banjo and vocals.

Take care.

Tuesday 21 July 2020

A Morning On The Fen

Went for a walk around Burwell Fen this morning: neither as many birds, nor as many photographs, as I'd hoped, but a grand walk even so.

Burwell Fen is the first part of the National Trust's ambitious and far-reaching plan to return a substantial area of fenland back to something like it's original glory. This was once all wheat fields and potato fields; now it's being allowed to flood and revert to fen - no good for potatoes and wheat but excellent for the wildlife.

It's being kept in shape by these hardy creatures, Konik ponies from Poland, that roam semi-wild over a large area.

They are ably assisted by these wild-looking beasties, Scottish Highland cattle. Both the ponies and the cattle find food out here all year round and seem to get along amicably enough.

Some smaller beings were also finding a meal, like this Meadow Brown butterfly on a Teasel head.

Or this stunning Peacock butterfly. We're so used to seeing these that we don't always stop to admire their beauty. There are times when having a camera with you makes you see more than you otherwise might.

Flowers of Greater Bindweed are similarly under appreciated - and you certainly wouldn't want any choking the plants in your garden. I always knew it as Bell Vine till I looked it up in books. Those who like collecting silly folk-names for plants will be delighted to learn that it's also called Granny-Pop-Out-Of-Bed.

A Common Tern has found a pretty perch. It's amazing where they can settle with their tiny webbed feet. 

And here's a Roe Deer watching us thoughtfully as he takes a break in his grazing. They seem to be the commonest deer in this area of Cambridgeshire, taking over from the Muntjacs and Fallow Deer that are found in my part of the county.

And we'll leave it with a look back over Burwell Fen.

But before I go here's a couple of pictures taken nearer to home:

Here's my local church taken from an unusual angle. This is the "back" of the church, its north-facing side, so it's only illuminated by the sun at either early morning or late evening during the height of summer. This was one evening near to Midsummer's Day.

And finally a portrait of the little Muntjac that regularly visits the grassy area just in front of my house, but rarely poses for photographs.

Take care.

Saturday 18 July 2020

Summer In Breckland

Lynford Hall was once the centre of a large estate, but nowadays the Hall operates as a hotel and much of the surrounding land is managed by the Forestry Commission. It's a popular area for walkers. Lets go and see why.

The Forestry Commission was founded by the government in 1919, when it was realised that the country needed to be self-sufficient in timber during times of conflict. The major problem faced during the First World War was a shortage of pit-props for the coal mines. Nowadays the woods and forests of the land are managed for recreation and wildlife as well as timber production.

The other big landowner around here are the military. Step over that fence on the left of the above photo and you're in danger of being blown up by unexploded weapons! The Stanford Training Area was set up in 1942 and occupies around 30,000 acres (12,000 hectares). Half a dozen deserted villages lie within its boundaries - and even a full scale Afghan village, including a mosque, which was built in 2009 to train troops for the war in that country.

As you wander through the forested area you frequently come across isolated dwellings. These were once the farmhouses and gamekeepers' cottages, many of which were associated with the old estates. Some still have a few fields and meadows around them and others are occupied by forestry workers.

Rather grander is Lynford Hall itself, which was built in the late nineteenth century for Mr Stephens Lyne-Stephens, who was at that time said to be the richest commoner in the land. In the 1920s the building was seriously damaged by fire: if you look closely you can see that the top floor windows are not dormers at all but just window-frames left standing proud of the roof by subsequent repairs. 

Swans still glide among the lily-pads on the ornamental lake and there's a leafy public path running alongside.

The Hall gardens must have once been magnificent and twentieth century guests included Joe Kennedy Snr, who was then the US Ambassador, and his three sons Joe Jnr, Robert and John; and also Ernest Hemingway.

You can walk down an avenue of Giant Sequoia or Redwood trees... Britain they are still often called Wellingtonias, which was the name initially proposed for them by botanists shortly after their discovery. 

Leading south from the Hall are several paths through the forested areas - nice shady walking on a warm, sunny day. Often the paths are lined with a mixture of trees which screens the commercial forestry taking place behind it.

Occasionally paths are closed because of forestry operations, but usually you can take an alternative path to get to your destination.

Bracken can often take hold along the path edges. It's one of the few plants that always looks prettier in photographs than it does in reality.

Many of the paths converge on Lynford Stag picnic site, where many families gather on summer afternoons, there being a main road right alongside. Closer inspection reveals that the Stag himself is made of iron; he was found nearby by forestry workers and was renovated and set up here. It was formerly used as a target by huntsmen. One wonders if Hemingway ever took any pot-shots at it.

We then faced a trudge back through the forest, but you don't need to do that. I can whisk you back to the fields surrounding the Hall which are full of wild flowers at this time of year.

This is Meadow Sweet, also known by a wide variety of folk names such as Queen of the Meadow, Pride of the Meadow, New-mown-hay, Meadow-wort, Meadow Queen, Lady of the Meadow, Dollof, Bitter-sweet, Meadsweet and Bridewort. It's a familiar plant of wet meadows and was used as a folk medicine to cure rheumatism, ague and other disorders. The reasoning behind this was that it thrived in damp places and therefore must be able to cure diseases that were caught there. Rather silly.....ah, but it worked!

Along with willow (another plant of wet environments) it was found to contain useful medicinal substances which, once they were extracted, made a drug called Aspirin, which gets its name from spiraea ulmaria, the old botanical name for Meadow Sweet.

Yesterday was a grand day for butterflies. Large White, Peacock, Brimstone, Comma, Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral, Gatekeeper, Brown Argus and Meadow Brown were all abundant. And most of them were represented on the unusual dark Buddleia bush growing near the Hall. Above are a couple of Red Admirals.

Take care

Monday 13 July 2020

The Tractor Factor

Last time I told you that I'd seen a lot of old tractors standing about on farms, in fields and in gardens. Here's what they were all getting ready for: The Cambridgeshire Vintage Tractor Club Charity Road Run with proceeds going to the National Health Service in gratitude for the marvellous work they continue to do at this difficult time. The tractors made their way through about a dozen local villages including my home village, which is where I photographed them.  

And there they go!

There were around one hundred tractors on the Road Run. Everyone was keen to take part since most of the events they attend every summer are not taking place this year. The type of machines on show largely reflected what was used on farms around here back in my childhood. 

Take care