Monday 30 November 2020

Here And There

Here: as in near my home. There: as in near my brother's house. And all of it within the local authority area of South Cambridgeshire. That's how our wanderings have been restricted during the last month. 

Fen Drayton Lakes RSPB reserve is just down the road from Les's house. There were more birds about than it looks in some of these pictures, though we didn't manage to see the Cattle Egrets which have been there lately. We did see a couple of Great Egrets however.

The area above is where they've created "scrapes", areas of shallow water and wet meadowland, just the thing for the huge flocks of Wigeon, neat little ducks that spend the winter here. 

A family of Mute Swans on one of the drainage ditches.

Just before we left we noticed dark clouds gathering, with the low winter sun illuminating the reeds and bushes.

I ventured out early one morning while frost was still on the ground and the mist was clearing, transforming (I hope) a mundane scene into something more interesting.

The first rays of sun were illuminating this lonely rose and had already transformed a touch of frost into tiny drops of dew.

The overnight frost made me notice this stylish picnic table.

I loved the way this spindly tree seemed to be breaking free from the tangle of bushes and briars.

A visit to Fowlmere bird reserve yielded a spectacular sunset - but no murmuration of Starlings now. They seem to have moved on elsewhere, leaving about 30 birds to try to put on a show - and probably wonder where all their mates had gone. 

The fields surrounding Les's village are all intensively farmed and, back in the seventies were virtually all given over to growing wheat and barley, year after year after year, and maintaining output by applying huge amounts of chemical fertilizers. Don't blame the farmers though; they were doing exactly what the government and the EEC were encouraging them to do. There are a few pleasant walks, like the old Lolworth to Childerley road that you can see above.

Lolworth has a population of just 150 people, while Great Childerley and Little Childerley were destroyed long ago in order to make way for a deer park by Sir John Cutts, owner of Childerley Hall. I think you can work out why the old road fell into disuse. 

Some high cloud began to drift over as we made our way from Childerley to Dry Drayton. It's called "Dry" Drayton to distinguish it from "Fen" Drayton. 

That's potatoes being harvested as we get close to Dry Drayton. And we'll pop back to that sunset we saw at Fowlmere to bring these wanderings to an end. For now.

Take care.

Sunday 22 November 2020

Close To Home, Close-Up And The Close Of Day

Blustering Boris's latest idea is that we stay close to home to take our exercise and I've been doing my best to comply; he has enough problems without me wandering deserted footpaths further afield. I've long ago given up trying to make logical sense of it all.

Just over three miles on the bicycle gets me to Fowlmere bird reserve, where there is a one-way system in operation around the site. I toddled around in the prescribed direction and only met four people coming the other way! 

I felt inclined to take some close-up, intimate shots of the landscape and, if I saw some birds too, then so much the better. I found myself following a man who seemed to have much the same idea.

I started taking photos like this as long ago as the early 1980s, having seen a magazine article about the photographer Eliot Porter. At the time it all seemed a radical way of taking photos and I got some very strange looks in those days as I aimed my camera at mushy leaves and tufts of grass. 

There's a reasonably dry path around the wetland, parts of it a raised boardwalk, but the mingling of land and water is never far away. At this time of year the transition zone is beautified by green mosses and golden leaves. And having walked once around the circuit, I decided to wander around again.

As the sun sank ever lower in the western skies the golden light began to be reflected in the tiny stream alongside the path.

There are still odd pockets of autumn leaves which are yet to fall, and which looked splendid when lit from behind.

I was now nearing the end of my second lap around the little reserve and still enjoying it. Shall we go round again?

We won't get all the way round as it's starting to get dark, but at this time of year it's worth lingering a while longer.

Flocks of Starlings begin to coalesce and swarm around the skies above the reedbed before roosting for the night.

These spectacular mass gyrations of birds at the end of the day are known as "murmurations", which seems a strange word to use especially if you're ever lucky enough to be standing directly beneath as the pass overhead - the loud whoosh of the wingbeats of a thousand or more birds is hardly a "murmur".

Sparrowhawks and the occasional Peregrine Falcon come to seek out any weak birds for an evening snack. The reason for the Starlings acrobatic twilight flight is probably a response to the threat from birds of prey; there is some safety in numbers. But just how great are the numbers?

This murmuration at Fowlmere is by no means the most spectacular assemblage of Starlings in England, but even so there are probably more than 2,000 birds present. It's easy for the casual observer to underestimate the number, but if you take a photo, then count a small area of it, you'll soon get some idea.

And eventually, just as darkness descends, they suddenly dive headlong into the reeds and settle down to sleep. Now where did I leave my bike?

Take care.

Sunday 8 November 2020

I Haven't The Foggiest....

I haven't the foggiest idea why, but  there's a crazy old man around here who always goes out for a walk when it's a foggy morning.

He tramps through the village with a camera swinging from his shoulder till he gets to the most muddy and waterlogged bit of land he can find, then tries to take photos. In a bog, in the fog.

Not all madmen seek power in high office; some are content to seek out quietness and solitude, both of which are enhanced by early mornings and misty weather. Even the sounds which can be heard - the drip of dew from the leaves, the swish of boots through the grass and the call of unseen geese - only serve to emphasise the stillness.

Cattle stare in bewilderment as I pass by, before resuming their thoughtful rumination. A human: first one of them we've seen today.

The hushed colours in the lane are so different from the vivid reds and golds that we've seen on sunnier days this autumn.

Some trees stretch their leafy twigs up to the sky, even though this is the season of leaf fall and hibernation.

Passing by the old churchyard.

The seasonal pond is full after the recent rains and there are a few sheep in this field.

I'm always attracted to the old hawthorn stumps left in the wet meadow. This area is managed as a nature reserve as grasslands like this are a rare habitat around here; so much of the land has been drained.

There are clearly plenty of spiders in the hedgerows, their webs being revealed by the dew, though they are presumably present all year.

I get home and end my walk just as the sun is breaking through. It takes all sorts.

Take care.

Friday 6 November 2020

In The Forest

Earlier this week we went for a walk in Thetford Forest. Most of the forest consists of square blocks of dark conifers, planted very close together in straight rows. But through the middle of it runs the River Little Ouse which has small areas of mixed woodland, paths and tracks, meadows for horses, sheep and cattle, a few farms and even the village of Santon Downham. Lets go and explore.....

And as it's Friday - I think - we're due for a little music. Here's Jackie Oates singing Dave Wood's song "May The Kindness". Never heard of either of them? Take a listen....

Nice, eh?

Take care.