Friday, 27 July 2012

the dorset camping trip- 20-23 July

last Friday was the first day the sun came out in weeks and weeks, and it rather happily coincided with the start of a camping trip to Dorset, followed by a few days in Hampshire. and you lucky lucky souls, for my first blog post I really am spoiling you! a decapitated deer, welly-throwing, rare butterflies and a rescue mission for a toy helicopter among many others! My next post will also include seeing the queen (in human form), and some incredibly geeky beetle forensics.

this'll probably work best if I write out the whole thing day-by-day, starting from...

Friday 20 July

where I got up early and we drove from little Seaford towards the Purbeck area of Dorset. early in the morning, 15 Crossbills flew W over Seaford, a fairly rare bird to see in the town, but July is often a month when little flocks of Crossbill become somewhat nomadic in their search for the Pine Cones they are so well adapted to feed on. The drive to Dorset was hot and boring, but I tend to drift off into a daydream in cars anyway. Once I started recognising where we were there was a pang of familiarity, as we drove the twisting route through the pretty looking Purbecks, turning left at Corfe Castle through a gnarled oak woodland, and taking a small road cutting through the Dorset farms towards Burnbake Campsite.

We had, thanks to an early start, arrived at about 12:30, much earlier than anyone else from our party, and early enough to spend half an hour having a chat with the group who had booked our space out for the previous few nights. They were a home-ed group who were very chatty and friendly, and filled me with insatiable hunger when they mentioned spit-roasting a roe deer! the poor young buck had been hit by a car and was found by the road by the group, who quite rightly didn't want to waste any of it. the skin was going to be used for a drum, some of the feet had been chew-toys for their dog and a spit-roast was set up over an open fire to give what I'm sure was a rather brilliant dinner!
the skin of a Roe Deer

they gave me this as a gift, and I was rather chuffed and proud until a friends dog
found it much to his liking...  

Shortly afterwards the majority of our camping group arrived, and the first evening was spent settling in. The woodlands were naturally explored, though having been here for many years there was only so much of interest we could find, and over the coming days I noticed myself and the rest of the kids spent less time in here than we had in previous years. As evening came we started a fire, which caused some commotion, and we found a Glow Worm. This has to be one of my favourite creatures you can find in britain, and this was only the second time I've been lucky enough to see one. It was, in fact, glowing like a little beacon (quite literally like the sun shone out of it's arse), but this fails to show in any of the photos.
a non-glowing photo of a glow worm, the fact I had to use
the flash setting on my camera really fails to do it justice.

to be completely honest I was a bit disappointed with how ugly it looks in the light. It looks halfway between a woodlouse and a shrimp. But in the dark, how can you fail to get excited? It's a little beetle-like creature with a luminous green bum. It looks like it should be one of those mutated animals from The Simpsons that have spent too much time near a Nuclear Power Plant!

Saturday 21 July

the thing I remember about today was walking. My my how we walked! a round trip of about 14 Km, from Burnbake to Corfe and back again. One of the main reasons for this was geo-cacheing; there were five caches hidden in the downs above Corfe, of which we managed to find four, not a bad score. If you've never done this before, the basic premise is that you have to find a cache, using GPS and your own tracking skills. The cache is generally well-hidden and, once you've found it, you write your name and the date. people leave presents behind for the next person who finds the cache, so you take one item out and put something of your own in for the next person who finds it. 

This stretch of the walk was about five miles, after which we stopped in Corfe, a quaint and rather historic looking village with a dramatic ruin of a castle looming over it, still keeping watch over the town it would once have protected. One thing I did notice was at least 100 Swifts screaming overhead, this probably being one of the last ports of call for this flock before they disappear over the channel and make their way back to Africa once again.

The walk back took an extra four miles, largely as we were taking a twisting route through the countryside. It was what I would probably call 'typical Dorset', a swathe of woodland, farmland and Meadows, which gradually evolves into conifers and heathland the closer you get to the coast. I think by the end we were all slightly too shattered to be paying too much attention to the landscape; 14 kilometres isn't too bad normally, but in the scorching sun you really felt it! 

By the time we got back to the campsite it was mid-afternoon, and it was generally a quiet evening. The previous night I had struggled to sleep, with the festivities of some of our party going well past midnight, tonight I turned in at 11:30 and barely heard a thing. 

a view of Poole Harbour

Corfe Castle

One of our geo-caches

a Rosy Footman, a gorgeous moth that decided dad's jumper was as good a home as any

the steam train that runs from Corfe to Swanage

somewhere on our return walk, we got REALLY lost! 

a friend I made, while trying to find Scotland

Normally butterflies aren't too difficult to photograph, but in the middle of the day 
on a scorcher like Saturday they literally never seem to perch! This Marbled White 
was the only one I saw that stayed still for longer than about half a second, and it was
one among several hundred! Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers were also on the wing
in massive numbers, but diversity of butterflies was disappointing; Speckled Wood, 
Small White and a few unidentified Skippers were the only other species seen.

Despite a few days of sun, the awful weather of June and early July has still left
a lot of flooding in many areas, and all 40 or so of our group had to make
this particular precarious crossing. Sadly no-one fell in to the waist-deep 
flood water, I had my camera ready to capture the action! 

Sunday 22 July

an early start today for one of the most prestigous athletic events in the country. The Burnbake Olympics showcase some of the greatest sporting talent in all of the UK, and features such high-profile sports as Welly-throwing, Potato and Spoon Race, Gymnastics and the Relay (with Spoons as Batons). Our group was divided into five teams for all these events, and I have to say, my team (team 4) fancied our chances. Our main rivals for overall glory were team 3, featuring slightly more athletic talent if I'm honest, but we were plucky and fought them hard! 

The first event was welly-throwing, where it was, in the end, almost too close to call. Gordon produced a monster of a throw for us, but it was bettered by a few inches by team 3's Seb, and the rivalry was beginning! 
Egg and potato was next, a relay featuring every member of the team. We were on the verge of victory here, but Gordon's slip up on the final lap meant we had to settle for Bronze, with team 3 pipping us to Silver. However, in the relay we turned up the heat, picking up our first gold while our opponents were relegated to bronze! 
We now had a gold,  silver and a bronze, the same as team 3 had managed. Javelin was next, where myself and ollie were nominated to take part (you had to pick your shortest team member, and the third tallest). Now, Ollie is 10 years old, and he beat me! I should explain that the javelin was a foam thing, and it got caught in the wind. it nearly went backwards my throw was that bad. we were fourth, team 3 had won another gold, and it looked like victory was out of sight. 
Long Jump saved us somewhat, as I earned gold by a few inches and brought us back into contention. Team 3 had the silver though, and were still ahead going into the final event, gymnastics... 
This is not my strong point. for five of the six people in our group it was not a strong point, only Beth was any good. we threw it, giving the medals to some far more deserving groups who put in much more effort, but still managed second place overall. team 3 beat us by two points, but it wasn't really competitive anyway, was it? 

 Ollie and myself eyeing up the competition 

'potato-and-spoon race'

from left to right- either Joe or Ollie (sorry they're identical twins!), me, Romily, 
Jack and either Ollie or Joe

the silver-winning gymnastics display

the last-placed gymnastics display; I can't even clap in synchronicity

our podiums
thankyou to Claire for organising the whole event, it was a brilliant success! We followed it up with a relaxing trip to Studland Beach, where I didn't really do very much others than swim and sit around, and I didn't have my camera either. 

However, that evening was perhaps the highlight of the camping trip for sheer bizarreness. A girl from another campsite had recently purchased a remote-control helicopter and made one huge mistake; leaving it in the hands of her dad... 

as it climbed higher into the air, drifting over our heads, it drew a few curious eyes. But it started spinning like mad, 30 feet in the air and caught by a strong headwind, it was spinning madly out of control, and in a moment of slow-motion dread, crash landed in one of the trees on our area of the campsite. Jack hopped up the tree in what seemed like a matter of seconds, 20 feet up and making me feel a bit dizzy just looking at him (I'm a bit of a wimp with heights)! However to get to the helicopter would involve shimmying along a very narrow branch that seemed incredibly unlikely to hold his weight. Reluctantly he climbed down, and with a bit of a crowd having now gathered, we thought about our next plan of action. 

To explain the next bit of the story, I need to back up a day, when the adults had asked us to go on a wood-gathering expedition. They expected a few little bits of kindling, but in quite a show of bravado we managed to drag a fallen Aspen out of the forest behind our campsite! It wasn't used at all that night, so the tree, probably about 20 foot long, was turned into a large poking device for our rescue mission. However, even this couldn't quite reach the poor helicopter, and it became quite obvious the only way we would reach it was to climb the tree again. 

one of the twins with an axe (I think this was Joe) lopping off branches from the
Aspen, while Jack and Maddie look on. 

Seb and Joe did the honours, and we passed them one of the longer branches we'd lopped off the Aspen, short enough to be manoeuvrable but just about long enough to reach the helicopter from a few branches lower than Jack had first climbed to. The helicopter was knocked out of the tree, caught and, about an hour after it's crash, had finally been freed. The girl let us all have a go on it as the evening progressed, and I can now completely understand how it could have been crashed. as complete novices to remote-control helicopter flying, we could barely get the thing in a straight line, and I dread to think what would have happened had it ended up 30 foot in the air again! 

during the rest of the evening, we had campfire songs, the kids built our own fire and we all generally wound down after a hectic day. It was our last evening on the campsite, and by 12:00 when I went to bed only five people were still awake, everyone not in quite as high spirits now the trip was coming to an end

Monday 23 July

I hadn't really done any geeky wildlife stuff all trip (I know I'd found Glow Worms and Marbled Whites and things, but I hadn't gone out of my way to look for them, they'd just been there). So early this morning, Dad drove me to Durlston Head, just west of Swanage. Our target was a butterfly called the Lulworth Skipper, which is only found on a handful of south-facing hills on this stretch of the Dorset coast. It didn't take very long to find one, and in the long grassland of the clifftop on Durlston Head we ended up seeing plenty. The total number of Butterflies was estimated at;

  • Lulworth Skipper- 30+
  • Small Skipper- 1 or 2 positively identified
  • Essex Skipper-1 positively identified
  • unidentified skipper- 30+; the only way to separate Small or Essex Skipper is the colour of their antennae, and only a few were seen well enough to determine which species they were. 
  • Ringlet- 2
  • Gatekeeper- 50+
  • Marbled White- a huge number, there must have been a few hundred in this area of Durlston overall
  • Dark Green Fritillary- 1
also seen were a very large number of Six-spot Burnet Moths, a few hundred at least. It was a pretty successful morning, and I got a few OK photographs too, but when we got back it was time to pack up.

a Ringlet, one of my favourite butterflies with their smooth, velvety-brown
wings and the little wings that look like they were drawn on my a cartoonist

Six-spot Burnet Moth, not a bad little critter either

I believe this is a Small Skipper

a flotilla of speedboats briefly broke the silence

and finally, the star of the show, one of 30+ Lulworth Skippers out on a
gorgeous morning. It's not the most colourful butterfly in the world, but I reckon
beauty's in the eye of the beholder

 We left the campsite for another year, and it was time to say goodbye to everyone. If you read this, thankyou Brian, Claire, Liz, Charlie, Oli, Joe, Maddie, Lucy, Neil, Sarah, Jack, Beth, Romily, Gordon, Else, Megan, Ella, Izzy, Ollie, Seb, Laurence, Georgia, Max, my parents and everyone else who went along (and I'm really sorry that I know I've missed a few people out, their names just escaped me as I was writing this), it was a fantastic weekend and it's a shame I might not see some of you til this time again next year. 

On the way home, my parents dumped me at my uncle and aunt's house in the New Forest, which is where I'll pick up in my next post. If you like The Queen, Stag Beetle legs, Alpacas and photographs of baby pigs, it might be to your liking! 

Thursday, 19 July 2012

phoenix from the ashes

sing it for the world, the crazy cuckoo is back! it's been over a year since I lasted posted a thing on this blog I know, but it's a strong pull that I've finally succumbed too. and, well, watch this space...

my most dedicated fan...  

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

the actual last post (I have a new blog now!)  is my new blog. Like Graham mentioned (and Rob over facebook) the pull of nature is just a bit too strong. But this blog will probably be slightly different, more about general wildlife than birds, and with a lot more stuff from the garden and stuff, since I have become far too lazy to go anywhere very often! if people would like to have a look at it and possibly try and critique it I'd be very grateful

all the best, and thanks for reading this blog for so long

Sunday, 3 April 2011

possibly my last post

yes, I'm afraid so.

This blog has shown a year of my life, but I've found it too time-consuming with exams, friendships, and all the regular teenage shit to keep it updated, plus, I've lost a lot of interest in the sort of birding I was into as I first posted on the net. I still love birds, but this blog had become a lot less fun to keep updated the last few months and I've given up largely on hardcore birding or wanting to be a big part of the scene. maybe the easy path for me ya know, counting the toads in the garden, maybe getting on my bike occasionally to visit the patch, but the laidback life seems a nice route to take. Teenagers do sadly have to have a social life which comes first before any bird!

I might be making another blog which reflects a change in interests, in which case my actual last post will be a link to that blog. But for now, thanks to everyone who has read this, and commented on it, and to all the local birders who have told me how much they enjoyed reading it when I've been out and about. It's been a pretty awesome year...

Sunday, 20 March 2011

I went birding!

Yes, men, women, hermaphrodite and asexual readers of this blog. I have actually gone birding! As in but a pair of binoculars round my neck and gone for a walk somewhere! As only the third time this has happened this year, I felt it deserved some extra notice.

I took a visit to Seaford Head, taking a look at Cuckmere Haven at the same time. On the migrant front, I didn't see all that much. However, in Hope Gap was a singing Chiffchaff, a flitting Goldcrest giving a typical 'migrant's view' and 2-3 singing Redwings; their odd, warbler like songs contrasting markedly with the almost deafening chorus of Song Thrushes. And overhead I heard two Mediterranean Gulls. 20 or so Meadow Pipits hanging around, and a few heading north were probably migrants too. Other resident birds seen were several Yellowhammers, a pair of Ravens, and a few parachuting Rock Pipits and patrolling Fulmars along the cliffs. Is their a bird with a more beautiful flight than the Fulmar? I always just think of them as a local bird, but those wings may have carried that bird out into the atlantic in the winter. A Little Egret on the rockpools at Hope Gap was truly beautiful in it's serene and peaceful backdrop, but was sadly too distant for a photograph. And 150+ Wigeon could be seen distantly on the west side of the Cuckmere.

These Mallard on the pond at South Hill Barn were a nice surprise

also on these ponds was more frogspawn. As you can see
they are very well developed, looking like tadpoles rather than little
black dots. By the time I have the chance to visit again they may
well have hatched

photographically, this gorgeous male Yellowhammer was the highlight. The first
time I have photographed this species.

some of the 150+ Wigeon still in the Cuckmere 

and how could I not photograph that sunset across the sea?

going amphibious, plus a garden tick and two legless lizards

Our pond is now littered with Toadspawn, and with Toads mating in it still there's likely to be even more. However there is only one little dollop of Frogspawn left. The Smooth Newts snack on it like there's no tomorrow. They only leave Toadspawn alone because, like their parents, toadspawn and the tadpoles that come from it secrete a poison that makes them taste disgusting to even the hungriest newt. 
don't eat this stuff

the Eggs of a Snail, probably a Ramshorn. I was hoping to find Newt eggs under some of the water-lily leaves but no joy.

However, the highlight was found under some tiles Dad had the hindsight to put by the pond several years ago. If you are lucky you may well find some cold-blooded creature trying to warm itself up, as these act like a microwave for the sunlight. Today was no exception, with two Slow Worms basking under them in all their glory. One was skittish enough to move away quickly, but the other was quite happy to sit there and be photographed for a while...
Slow Worm

Legless Lizard

Lazy Bastard
 And what about birds, I hear you ask? Well, I got a garden tick today, a Mediterranean Gull circled over the house a few times, calling. A few Meadow Pipits were also heading north. And as a final note to end this post, I saw two Small Tortoiseshells. My first spring butterflies of the year!

Friday, 18 March 2011

moving mipits, returning Redwings and a fantastic Firecrest

spring looks well on the way now. Today was one of those misty days I longed to be on the patch, scouring it for a Wheatear. The fact I can see my patch by looking out the window at school really doesn't help that temptation to skip school! But I'd only do that if something rare turned up...

In the end though, it turned out I didn't miss a Wheatear, Matt and Bob Eade were up there and, as you can see on the SOS, saw 2 White Wagtails, a small stream of Meadow Pipits heading north and a summer plumaged Black-necked Grebe offshore. In retrospect that would be a lot better than a Wheatear!

But I saw a few of my own migrants. I counted around 30 Meadow Pipits moving overhead, and since I was indoors most of the day there were probably quite a lot more. I also got a brief view of a Firecrest in fir trees just outside my school. I was rather pleased that I ID'd it on call first before getting a view that was enough to confirm it. Last night, a few Redwing were moving over the house calling, I counted atleast 15 of them piercing the night with their eerie and beautiful calls.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Heron on a house

Mum spotted a Grey Heron perched on a rooftop opposite our house at 18:30 today. Nothing much I know, but birds are thin on the ground at the moment. Despite what looked like perfect conditions today no migrants in Seaford, no singing Chiffchaffs, no overflying Meadow Pipits and Skylarks. I heard a chucking Redwing walking to school today, perhaps a migrant as the winter visitors disappeared several weeks ago. However, with Wheatear, Chiffchaff and various other migrants starting to appear in decent numbers in Sussex now, I'm fairly hopeful an excursion over the weekend may be rewarding for migration.

I'm making a habit of using these old pictures simply to illustrate
my blog now it seems. This Grey Heron isn't the one I saw on the rooftop
(it was 6.30 pm and the light was appalling for photography), it was one
that played Peek-a-boo in a ditch in the Cuckmere last April.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

rarity watch

nothing of my own to report, but a HOOPOE turned up at Portland Bill yesterday, showing what can be found in early march. Also rather intriguing is a (to my mind) fairly reliable report of a possible RED-FLANKED BLUETAIL at Arundel, West Sussex. (click here then here). From the description, (Robin-sized, steel blue tail that was constantly flicked, brownish grey back, yellowy-ornage flanks and whitish belly) Nothing else really fits the bill does it? Am I right in believing this would be the first record of a Bluetail overwintering, if it was confirmed? It certainly seems possible, at least to me, Yellow-browed Warblers do this tolerably frequently (there was a March Yellow-browed in sussex only a few years ago). And what about the european Blackcaps that have colonised our country as a winter visitor in the last 30 years? Surely these started the same way as many of the sibes we get each autumn, migrating in the wrong direction. But they managed to inadvertently find a better wintering ground that allowed them to have a small ecological advantage over their african-bound cousins. Why couldn't a Bluetail do this too? Is it possible that in 30 years time they will be a garden bird in this country in the winter? 

anyway, sorry for my tangent. But I hope any Sussex birders living nearby (I'd be tempted to go myself but Dad's car is out of action) might be able to confirm this sighting, it's been eight days since it was reported and so far no news from Arundel, not even of the negative kind.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

first migrants/a year of photography

I saw my first real migrants of the year this morning, with a steady stream of Meadow Pipits moving over between 9.00 and 10.00 AM. I counted 10 in that hour, and since I was largely distracted by playing football there were undoubtedly more passing overhead. I also heard one Skylark moving North. Also today there were several Goldcrests singing in Seaford, one of which gave fairly good views in a small Conifer stand near my house, flashing his bright orange crest as he flicked through the twigs searching for a meal. A Carrion Crow building a nest near Newlands was another sign of spring arriving, and on Blatchington Pond both Mallard and Moorhen have been getting territorial. At School, the past few days have been slightly enlivened by the brilliant, scratchy little tune of a Pied Wagtail holding territory on the roof of the English block.

Also today, on the way into Brighton by bus, there were several rafts of Great Crested Grebes offshore between Peacehaven and Brighton Marina, totalling 100 birds or more. Probably another sign of migration, with birds gathering here before moving north.

on a final note, it is just over a year since I acuired the camera, whose awful photos so often litter my blog. I tend to take very poor photos with it, but I thought to mark my Pentax's anniversary I might post some of it's finer achievements in the last twelve months...

taken less than a month after I got my camera, this Jackdaw
on Seaford Head is still a favourite photo for me
There can't be that many people with photographs of a pair
of Nightingale on their breeding site. The male is hard enough
to see, but to be accompanied by a female is astounding luck
at the same location as the Nightingale shot (Abbot's Wood, Hailsham), is
one of only two sussex colonies of the very rare Pearl-bordered Fritilary
avocet and chick, taken at Rye Harbour in June
Rock Pipit carrying food at Splash Point, Seaford in July
Black Bear was one of the many highlights of visiting Canada in August!...
As was photographing a Sora in the hand at
Long Point Bird Observatory!...
and holding this Wilson's Warbler. Volunteering at Long Point,
I got to ring a few american Warblers and Thrushes, and practice
scribing and extracting birds. After this experience I decided I want to
learn how to ring as soon as I can here in the UK
autumn is great for all kinds of Fungi, especially in Abbot's Wood
despite spending a lot of time birding in the autumn, I got very few
good phots of the migrants I saw. But this Wheatear on Firle Beacon
makes up for all the rest of them!
Turnstones in a fairly classic pose at Longniddry, Midlothian in October.
A Benefit of having family in Edinburgh
In the snowfall of early December the garden birds must have been very grateful
for the food put out, they're never usually tame enough to get a photo like this
another garden bird in Snow, but this time in Worcestershire,
where we visited family over Christmas.
and finally, the infamous 'sun sets over an out-of-focus car' shot with
a small saving grace in artistic merit ; ) 
all in all, a pretty good 12 months has been had! These are just a handful of the thousands of photos I have taken in that time, of many bird, plant and animal species. Photography is such a fun pursuit and I'd urge anyone who hasn't already to go out and buy a camera. This pentax x70 only cost £250, and with a bit of patience and practice yields some brilliant results. I'd love to get a DSLR when I can afford one but for now mine is a brilliant camera that I will continue to use, continue to learn about and continue to take many awful and a few good photos with!
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