Wednesday, 25 April 2012


A few days ago I did a post on the pair of Mandarin Ducks that I'd found on a small pond in Ashridge Estate in Buckinghamshire, also on the pond were a pair of Mallard Ducks doing what Mallard Ducks do well... dabbling! 

I won't bore you with lots of info on the Mallard as I'm sure you already know everything there is to know about one of our most numerous and friendly ducks!

However I couldn't resist taking a few photos and some I'll bore you with those instead!!

Monday, 23 April 2012


After reading  the local bird reports on the internet over the weekend I noticed that a Grasshopper Warbler had been 'found' not too far from me ,and as the weather forecast  looked not to bad for this morning, I decided to go on a 'gropper' search!

It was quite pleasant as I left home at 9.30am, 9 degrees C, sunshine, some blue sky....buuut... some dark clouds were lurking here and there in the sky! When I arrived at the reservoir car park the sun had all but gone being replaced by a brisk cold wind. After a short walk I arrived at the reed beds were the  bird had been sighted and almost immediately I could hear the sounds of both Reed and Sedge Warbler  

I got a few glimpses of the Reed Warbler as it swiftly relocated to different  areas of the reeds. And then, coming from the base of an Willow bush, the unmistakable reeling song of a Grasshopper Warbler. It was quite difficult to spot him at first and even more difficult to get good pictures, I had to manually focus through the reeds that were constantly being blown about in the wind.

As you can see the pictures are massively cropped and poorly focused but I'm quite pleased that I managed to find, and photograph without too much hassle, the bird that I'd set as my target for the morning. (the images on the video are a little better!!)

And yes ...the black clouds won, it got cold, it rained. I got cold, I got wet...... happy cold and wet though!

 It's amazing to think that a few short weeks ago this little bird, singing his heart out in a bush in the Buckinghamshire countryside, was enjoying the warm sunshine of West Africa!

And finally, Keith, this one is for you.....???

Sunday, 22 April 2012


I'm still trying to sort, file and catch up with all the images that I've taken over the last couple of months, or in other words, I'm consigning  the majority of my recent photographic  endeavours to the trash can!!

I did however find these that I thought I might share with you.

Exactly a month ago I went to Ashridge Estate in search of the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers which had recently been seen there. Unfortunately I didn't find the Woodpeckers , but what I did find, on a small muddy pond about 300 yards from the very noisy visitor centre, were a pair of beautiful and very confiding Mandarin Ducks.

 The adult male is a striking and unmistakable bird. It has a red bill with a white tip, a large white crescent above the eye, a reddish face and long reddish neck feathers that resemble a beard or whiskers. The breast is purple with two vertical white bars, and the flanks ruddy, with two orange "sails" at the back.

 The adult female is mainly a drab grey -brown in colour with a white belly and large white spots on her neck, breast and flanks she also has  a white eye-ring and stripe running back from the eye,(like a pair of spectacles!) and a pale tip to the end of the bill. 

The true range of the Mandarin Duck (aix galericulata) is Eastern Asia where it was once widespread, but large-scale exports and the destruction of its forest habitat have reduced populations in eastern Russia and in China to below 1,000 pairs in each country; Japan however, is thought to still hold some 5,000 pairs. The small UK breeding population has derived from escapee birds from private collections,  and for this reason most 'grown up' birders class them as 'plastic'!

I guess this pair might also have been escapees as they didn't seem to be too worried by my presence and only took flight when a group of (about 30!) red uniformed, very noisy, young (infants class) school kids arrived to do some pond dipping!!

Thursday, 19 April 2012


It's yet another grey, wet, windy and dismal day just like yesterday and the day before that and the day........ anyway, as I didn't feel inclined to go out in this not too pleasant weather I've taken the time to sort through some of the images that I've taken over the last couple of months and I though these few would make for an interesting post.

These images of a Queen Common Wasp resting on a shed in my garden were taken on the 30th. of March during a week or so of Summer like weather that had temperatures reaching 20+ degrees C (70F.)!

A couple of days later I noticed this inside the shed....the beginnings of a nest?

And this after another two days....looks like things are progressing nicely!

Since these images were taken there has been no further developments on the nest construction, although the Queen is still in attendance!

Below is an article I found on the internet, courtesy of 
The Tameside Citizen a local news and information publication for Greater Manchester, it explains nicely what's going on!

Although 11 species of true wasp are found in Europe, only two, the Common Wasp (Vespula Vulgaris) and the German Wasp (Vespula Germanica) are important as pest species. Both species overwinter as queens, the Common Wasp usually hibernates in buildings and the German Wasp typically overwintering under the bark of trees.
In spring the overwintering queens leave their hibernating quarters to seek nesting sites which could be in a hole in the ground, a hollow tree or artificial structures such as eaves, lofts and attics, garden sheds etc. The queen starts to build her nest with a papery material that she makes by chewing small pieces of wood mixed with saliva; this is known as Wasp paper. She will raise the first few workers by her own efforts and those workers will then commence the enlargement of the nest and caring for the immature Wasps to follow. Nest construction starts in earnest in June and will reach its maximum in size in September, when 5 - 10,000 workers may be present. These workers will forage for food up to 400 metres from the nest. The size of wasp colonies will vary from year to year, the severity of the previous winter is probably the key factor. In the Autumn the young queens mate and leave the nest to hibernate, the rest of the nest dies out and the nest is never used again.

The video below shows the Queen Wasp having a wash and brush up, (now you get the title!!).  And the last few seconds are just me experimenting with the close up capabilities of the camera!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012


Last week there were reports all over the local birding blogs of up to 13 Ring Ouzels (turdus torquatus) being spotted on Ivinghoe Beacon. The Beacon is a well known feeding and 'resting up' point  for the birds  during their Spring migration from their winter home in the Mediterranean  region back to their breeding sites in the remote highlands of the North of England, Scotland and Scandinavia.

So, on Saturday I made a phone call to Keith and we arranged to meet at the Beacon car park at 6 o'clock the next (Sunday) morning. Keith had already been to the Beacon on the Saturday morning but readily agreed to another visit!! (see his blog here)

Sunday morning dawned cold and frosty (-3 degrees C  overnight) but  a clear sky was heralding the prospect of a sunny day. After meeting  at the appointed hour and a quick cup of coffee (thanks Keith!) we started to walk down the path to the Beacon. In the silence of the early morning we heard a sound... "what was that", said  Keith," did you hear it?.. sounds like elephants! "  Then we heard it again..." no !" I said, "I reckon it sounds like lions roaring"....then the penny dropped what we could hear were the lions roaring from Whipsnade (London) zoo, about  two and a half miles away across the valley, we were on our own little safari !!

Whipsnade chalk Lion with the zoo and Hippo house in the background

After noting Chiffchaff, a Nuthatch and Linnets we soon arrived at the area where the Ring Ouzels, about ten, were already showing well in the early morning sun. Unfortunately the sun was behind the birds, not in the perfect position for photography! 

Also showing well were about eight to ten Wheatears.

Occasionally little skirmishes would break out.

Keith feeling all penned in...or was he on the lookout for Lions?
Skylarks 'performing' in the clear blue sky and Meadow Pipits posing on prominent perches also added interest to the scene.

Have you ever had one of those moments when your mind starts to drift off and you start to 'see' things that are not really there?  well, I had one of those moments and saw Snoopy flying through the sky!!...what do you think?

So after around five and a half hours of excellent 'Ouzel watching it was time to call it a day and make our way  back to the cars and home, via a brief visit to a nearby Bluebell wood (see Keith's excellent image here).

I enjoyed the day so much that I decided to go back for another visit on the Monday morning!
Again the birds were showing well. Unfortunately the day was spoilt by a few mindless people - idiots - and mostly photographers I'm ashamed to say, who decided it was good practice to stalk and chase the birds across the entire hillside.
 Don't these people realise that the birds need  to rest and feed up to be able to continue on their long migration journey, and if they just pick a spot, stand quietly and wait, most birds will eventually 'come' to them?   Rant over!

On the way back to the car this Chiffchaff was singing his heart out from his lofty perch.

I did take some video, not very good I'm afraid ...but anyway, here it is!!

Thursday, 12 April 2012


Hi folks, I'm back!(no pun intended!!)

I've not posted for the best part of a month due to various reasons, not least a 'back problem' that just appeared for no good reason ,which in turn aggravated an old work related shoulder injury and together they made it very painful to sit at the computer for more than a couple of minutes at a time, in fact the only comfortable place was laying flat out on the floor!!

I'm glad to say that after about ten days, of doing a good job at doing nothing, the back and shoulder slowly got  back to normal  ( or as good as they for an old wrinkly, I guess!!). the rest of the time has been taken up with catching up on all the jobs that I didn't manage to get around to whilst laying about on the floor!

So, many apologies  for not being able to leave any comments on all of your wonderful blogs, however I did manage to keep reasonably up to date with reading most of them, and as always a grand job is being done by all of you.

I did manage to get out and about on a couple of days (good back days!) and take a few 'snaps'.
So by way of easing myself back into Blogland here are a few old and new portraits.



Great Crested Grebe

Mandarin Duck (male)

Mandarin Duck (female)

Carrion Crow