A mixed day of bright-blue, sun-filled skies punctuated constantly by sudden onsets of bleak, forbidding downpours.
Above and below....Views through two different windows of one of the service huts on the long abandoned WWII airfield near Chedworth in Gloucestershire.
Fanciful imagination I know, but standing very quietly in these rooms for long enough makes you feel that you can almost hear the conversations and banter of the men and women who worked here almost seventy years ago.
Dozing baby Tortoise
"Trees help you see slices of sky between branches Point to things you could never reach"
From "Waiting for a Message" by Rochelle Mass
Through the metal gate we passed Across the field and running fast Beyond the woods Along the lane Around the barns Then back again
Tired, our legs were getting sore And screaming out "No more! No More!" But on we ran despite their pleas And sounds of cracking in our knees
Then far ahead we saw the line Which spurred us out of our decline In fact, we speeded up a bit Bullet-kids in PE kit
Twenty yards or less to go But stumbling....falling....No....No....NO! I hit the ground then tried to stand Ignored the bleeding on my hand
Too late, my efforts came to naught As once again the line I sought My sisters both had passed me by I fought the urge to stand and cry
Instead my pride it drove me on to finish last, my title gone!
Yet when my tears had all but dried I felt a glow deep down inside For though the race I failed to win I'd never ever given in!
"The Race" was a poem written by my Mum in her mid-teens and based, she said, on her real experiences in a school cross-country event when she was about ten years-old. It was also one she recited to me many times when I was a boy and which I eventually learned by heart. I think that the importance of never ever giving in must have been well and truly impressed upon me at a very early age and it was the very last verse of the poem that I wrote down in my diary on the day I passed out as a fully-fledged Royal Marine all those years ago.
Odda's Chapel window, Deerhurst
That Old Wooden Shack
That old wooden shack Standing out at the back Has been there since goodness knows when It’s seen better days And I guess what it says Is it never will see them again
Broken old slats A roof full of bats And more spiders than stars in the sky I once heard a rat But Chris saw to that And a Wasp’s nest or two bye and bye
The door doesn’t shut And not even a hut Is as run down as this poor old shed While two panes of glass Once lay smashed on the grass Where I gashed my bare feet and they bled!
It leaks in the rain And the snow is a pain Blowing in from all over the place And an old climbing Rose Has stuck in its nose And is growing inside at a pace
But nevertheless And despite all the mess Or the mice that have moved in to stay I love that old shack ‘cause it takes me right back To my childhood when light filled my day
(Daisy W, Date unknown for certain, but probably written well after my Gran died in the late1960s. The shed stood in the back garden of her Tudor cottage for decades, but was demolished prior to the cottage being sold about fifteen years later)
Snowberries. I've mentioned them before and further down this page I think.
Large White....Looking slightly the worse for wear.
What Tracks Are These?
What ancient evil trod this way In dead of night 'fore break of day? What mythic creatures wandered here Hither thither far and near?
Baba-Yaga? Kyuketsuki? Bodach or Empusa maybe? Lacanica? Yuki-Onna? Dip, Duende, Drude or Dola?
Are these the tracks of Korrigan Or, worst of all....
The marks of Man?
(DW, 2008....Yes, one of my own er....so-called poems I'm afraid)
Just another shot of a Rook from the approximately forty-strong Rookery just up the road from me, but look a little closer and you might be able to see that this old fella is completely blind in his left eye! I noticed that the right eye wasn't much better either, so I guessed that, although he had a perfectly healthy mate already sitting on eggs in the ramshackle pile of old branches and twigs they laughingly call a nest, this particular bird's days were almost certainly numbered!
As a footnote to this....by the time its youngsters had fledged, this bird was in a fairly desperate predicament with its rapidly failing sight and had become separated from the main colony, so I prevented it from eventually starving to death by putting it out of its misery.
Great Grey Owl
I was drawn to the way that sunlight suddenly pierced through the gradually departing storm clouds in Chipping Camden the other day, only to hit the recently rain-soaked surfaces of the pavement and street, turning everything a bright metallic grey!
I know what you're thinking....Not another blinkin' Little Egret picture!
This is Thelma, one of the resident Collared Doves....She likes to perch on the window-feeder like this several times a day with her claws gripping the top edge of the little wooden roof, but then I'm sure she lets go deliberately in order to gradually slide down the slope. Then she scuttles back to the top, holds on again for a few moments before letting go and sliding back down again. She seems to enjoy this and repeats the performance over and over while Louise looks on bemused from one of the adjacent trees!
One of my wife's Orchids....I like the shapes. It reminds me of a painting by a well-known artist, but I can't think what it's called or who the artist is.
Sun setting through the window.
I'll be the first to admit that I'm easily confused when it comes to distinguishing with absolute certainty between many of the Bracket Fungi and this particular example that I found growing on an old Beech Tree stump in an ancient broadleaf woodland the other day is no exception! Is it perhaps a Smokey Bracket or maybe a Willow Bracket....or could it be that old favourite, the Turkeytail? The trouble is, there wasn't very much of it to identify in the first place, but because the upper surface lacked any kind of a concentric ring pattern, I decided against Turkeytail and because the flesh was predominantly brown rather than white, I opted for Willow rather than Smokey. On the other hand, it's probably none of the above! All three are inedible by the way.
By the light of the silvery Moon
Don't ask because I don't have any reasonable answers....Maybe it's some kind of supressed artistic urge manifesting itself through stupid photographs of things like old planks....or perhaps it's just some old plank taking photographs....I think my money's on the latter!
As Autumn slips into Winter with that all too familiar sense of relentless inevitability, one of the positives (for me at least), is the gradual return of all those birds I've seen so little of throughout the Summer months. The little female Great Spotted Woodpecker pictured above is just one of five different GSWs (two adult males, one adult female and two juveniles) to be visiting the peanut feeders already....and we're only just into November! I've noticed that this particular little lady has a tendency to arrive at the feeders just as the light's beginning to fail and, according to a few folk round here, when you see Woodpeckers feeding into the twilight, it means we're in for a pretty hard Winter....or possibly just a lot of empty peanut feeders!
I couldn't believe it the other day when I heard BBC's Chris Packham on his "Nature Calendar" programme suggesting that it was perfectly ok to go out into the countryside armed with just a copy of Evan's and Kibby's "Pocket Nature Fungi" to help you find your very own edible mushrooms! "What's wrong with that?" I hear you ask....Well, take the solitary fungus in the above photograph. I took this picture no more than fifty metres from where I live and I know what it is, but if you don't, then try looking it up in any book on fungi that you might happen to have at hand. You see, the problem is, it hasn't grown to look exactly like anything you'll find in a book, but it does look a BIT like quite a few things, including Amethyst Deceiver (edible), Panthercap (highly poisonous) and Deathcap (completely and utterly highly poisonous)! Is it one of those? Possibly maybe. The thing is, books are fine, but even the most comprehensive of them don't depict fungi at every stage of development and it's far too easy to misidentify something that's actually very poisonous as being entirely edible! Forget Chris Packham's advice....DON'T depend on photographs in a book....buy your mushrooms from a farm shop instead! On the other hand, if you ever find yourself in a survival situation, then DEFINITELY STAY AWAY FROM FUNGI for two reasons: 1....mushrooms have virtually no nutritional value whatsoever and you would be far better off utilizing your available time and limited energy to find alternative, more appropriate foods. 2....If you decide to eat them anyway, then remember, you'll be a long, long way from the nearest A&E!
White Swan....I'm dedicating this particular "Mutie" to the couple I stopped to talk to at Slimbridge WWT on a very warm, sunny day in October 2007. They were down-to-earth people and long-time supporters of the Wildfowl Trust, visiting as much as two or three times a week. They told me that they particularly enjoy watching the Swans and love to study the way that so many of them interact with one another when gathered in one place. The thing is, I know that they would never claim to be experts, but people like them are the "true birdwatchers" of this world and represent the backbone of places like Slimbridge. I'm also willing to bet that they know far more about such birds than they probably realize....and a great deal more than the twitcher-brigade who, with their tick-sheets, pagers and neurotically frantic ways, will rarely find the time to discover!
The "Harbour Light" Cafe/Restaurant was just one of the many buildings in Boscastle devastated by the terrible flash floods of August 2004 and is a testament to both the strength of character and tremendous resolve of the people of Boscastle who were absolutely determined to completely rebuild not only their homes and businesses, but their lives as well!
See no Weevil, hear no Weevil, speak no Weevil! This is actually a Black Vine Weevil and is seen as a pest by many market gardeners. Its larvae can virtually devastate entire crops of such things as grape vines and strawberries simply by feeding on the roots. It would appear that this photograph has triggered some kind of on-going, on-line debate as to the identity of this insect, with some even claiming that it's nothing like a Weevil at all and is really a Cabbage Aphid! Well, if it's an Aphid, then at nearly 2cm in length, it has to be the Mother of All Aphids! No gentlemen....I'm assured by two entomological experts that this is a Liperarus glabrirostris and that if you can't find it in your insect ID book, then it could well be because there are more than 40,000 known species of Weevil and they wont all be listed in Wickepedia! This particular wee beastie does fit all the main criteria for qualifying as a Weevil however....prominent rostrum (snout) with jaws at the end and elbowed antennae. It was also on a water margin Butterbur in an upland area of the South-West in early summer, exactly where and when you'd expect to find it!
Trumpeting Hedge Bindweed
Any old iron...I have a fascination for windows (and doors) of all kinds and the more unusual they are then the more I like them. This one belonged to an old, ramshackle, corrugated-iron barn in North Cornwall.
National Coastwatch....a brilliant organization manned entirely by volunteers that provides a very special service helping to safeguard all those who are drawn to the sea.
Question....What do you call a plant that's neither a Burnet or a Saxifrage? Answer...."Burnet-Saxifrage" of course! Burnet-Saxifrage is actually a member of the Parsley family and it came to be known as a "Saxifrage" (meaning "breaker of stones") about five hundred years ago simply because herbalists believed that various potions made from the plant and subsequently swallowed would cure kidney and gall stones by breaking them up. Preparations of the plant's roots and leaves were also used over the centuries to stop heavy bleeding and to hasten the healing of wounds and it's my theory that Burnet-Saxifrage (like Common Comfrey) remain locally common to many battlefield sites up and down the country for this very reason.
Introduced to the UK from North America a couple of hundred years ago, several varieties of Snowberry have been developed for use as garden hedges....though I very often see individual shrubs or even larger thickets growing here and there in woodlands and forests (estate woodlands especially), where it will thrive in the shade and was originally introduced to provide Winter berries for Pheasants. In actual fact, they are not much liked by birds, who will only eat them when absolutely nothing else is available during the harshest of Winters and, although not actually poisonous to Humans, are very unpleasant-tasting and definitely not recommended eating! Children in times past have called them "Poppers" because of the berry's tendency to explode with a very satisfying "popping" sound when squeezed....a sort of fore-runner to modern bubble-wrap I guess!
These slate tiles on the roof of Harnhill church appeared almost organic to me and must be very old....hundreds of years at a guess, but where would they have come from originally....Cornwall (Delabole) perhaps or the Welsh Mountains maybe?
With more than 2,000 micro-species of Blackberry growing across the UK, it's often difficult to find even two which are exactly the same as you travel from location to location! It is however, one of the few naturally occuring food items that virtually everyone recognizes and which many are prepared to eat straight from the bush. However, according to ancient legend, Blackberries should NEVER be eaten after Michaelmas (29th September) because the Devil herself is said to spit on them! Of course, as with many legends, the story has often sprung from more than a germ of truth and, in this case, the "Devil" of this particular story is actually the gruesomely named Flesh Fly which is attracted to the plant around the end of September by the berries themselves which, by that time, have grown slightly mushy in texture. The Flesh Flies then dribble oodles of saliva onto the mushy berries which helps to liquify their contents even more, thus making everthing easier to suck up and digest....isn't Nature wonderful sometimes!
I felt very lucky to spot this particular type of Crab Spider....the one with the go-faster stripes. She was eating her meal exactly where she'd caught it on the flower umbrel of a Cow Parsley plant growing on a cliff above Goran Haven in Cornwall. She'd probably waited motionless for as long as it took until some hapless fly settled to feed on the flower's nectar right in front of her! There's actually something just a little bit spooky about these ghostly predators and I've always felt that a better name for this particular species would be "Chameleon Spider", simply because of it's ability to gradually change colour from white through cream to light green in order to match whichever type of flower it chooses to adopt as a hunting platform.
The reason for this little alley/lane/street actually being called "Rattle Street" is probably the most interesting and most hilarious thing I've heard in many a year....Absolutely priceless....In fact, I'd bet you'd never believe a word of it!
I like taking photographs of old windows, gates and doors. I don't know what it is about them, but I find them totally fascinating! I daresay that there's some deep, profound psychological significance to it all, but there we are....what can I say?
This gate is situated towards the end of the outer harbour wall in beautiful Mevagissey and bars the way through a gap carved out of the natural rock. The rock actually serves to protect the building located just behind it from the ravages of the awesome storms which are such a regular feature of life for the hardy Cornish inhabitants during the Winter months!
There are hundreds of subspecies of Bramble with only very subtle differences between them. However, they were all once thought to be a charm against rheumatism and other aches and pains. I also remember being told by my step-sister when I was very young that all babies were found under Blackberry bushes....but now I'm not so sure!
An overly ripe and gradually degrading Cramp Ball (King Alfred's Cake). I've mentioned on my other website how I used to prepare a gooey mixture of Cramp Balls and water in the blender at home more than twenty years ago to rub into my Dad's legs to help ease the terrible cramp that used to plague him so often as he became more and more ill....and it worked!
One of my wife's Orchids
If this is a variety of Mason Bee, then it's not one I recognize!
These hail-stones began melting the moment they hit the ground, but I did manage to get a quick picture or two. They were about the size of peas by the way!
"National Flag III"....Yes, it's number three in my critically condemned "National Flag" series
From a distance I thought someone had hung and old shirt out to dry on an apple tree....not an uncommon practise amongst some of our more itinerant, shall we say, "gentlemen of the road". I happen across such characters occasionally and, if I have time, I sometimes stop to share my lunch and a flask of tea. However, this so-called "shirt" turned out to be just an old discarded plastic bag, probably blown there by the prevailing wind!
Tracks in the snow
So, just why is it called a Great SPOTTED Woodpecker? I guess it must be all those spots!
When I took this picture years ago with my old Zenit SLR, I had no idea that it would come out all black and white like this. Perhaps that's why it's another one of the very few of my photos that I actually like!
Barely the second week into January and the Snowdrops are all over the place already!
G M crops!
Scattering storm clouds
Yan tan tethera pattera pimp! There's an old saying in the world of shepherding....if a sheep can see through it, then it can get through it....and that was certainly true of these little rascals who I helped round-up after they escaped through a hole in a fence no bigger than a biscuit tin lid to get to better grazing on the verges of a nearby lane!
Westonbirt in the Spring (Late May, 2009)
* * * * * * *
Ravens, Stoats and Fulmars or Seven Days in Cornwall (June 2007)
Years ago (and back when I had even less of a life than I do now), I helped to compose what eventually came to be known as a "Reality Thesaurus". It was a little piece of abject nonsence designed to disperse, once and for all, the thick smog of myth and misconception (try saying that after three G&Ts!) surrounding many of our more commonly used words. The (very) basic idea was to provide alternative and far more realistic lists of synonyms for those words included in the book than were to be found in other, more conventional thesaurususeseses.
I felt at the time (and still do as it happens), that many everyday words had all but lost their original, contextual meanings and that they were increasingly being used incorrectly and/or inappropriately (particularly by the media)! A typical example might be a fairly insignificant little word beginning with "p" and ending in "olititian"....An ordinary thesaurus would attempt to classify it using such so-called synonyms as "administrator", "government-official", "parliamentary-member", "diplomat", "statesman/stateswoman", etc. The "Reality Thesaurus" on the other hand, sought to provide an entirely more realistic and accurate list of words to use as alternatives...."culpable", "felonious", "nefarious", "malefactor", "recidivist", "misappropriator" and "baddy" spring most readily to mind!
More to the point here however, is that if I had to include the word "Cornwall" in any modern-day thesaurus, including the "Reality" version, then the synonyms would flow thick and fast...."appealing", "beguiling", "bewitching", "captivating", "delightful", "exquisite", "fascinating", "glorious", "lovely", "magnificent", "picturesque", "pretty", "pulchritudinous", "quaint", "rugged", "scenic", "spectacular", "stunning", "superb" and generally "wonderful"....In fact, it actually took me longer to put them in alphabetical order than to think them up!
Portmellon, near Mevagissey I spent a few weeks convalescing in one of the cottages shown in the above picture back in the early 1980s after my left ear-drum had been well and truly "perforated" by an explosive concussion....eh? In fact, it was the very same explosive concussion that resulted in one of my knee-caps being split completely (and impossibly according to one surgeon at the time) in two by a piece of white-hot shrapnel hardly bigger than a grain of sand! The same incident also led directly to my subsequent and unavoidable change of career....No more falling out of helicopters or wandering about in God-forsaken places pretending to know what I was doing for me anymore! More relavant to my situation these days however, is the fact that it's the bloody knee (the "Old Trouble") that still gives me so much gyp from time to time (even more than twenty years later) and which occasionally causes me to hobble a bit on some of my longer yomps! Meanwhile, I still only have about 15% hearing efficiency in my left ear and my balance is still slightly affected occasionally as well! No complaints though....after all, I was carried off to a Lynx on a stretcher, alive and still in one piece, while the civilian guide standing right next to me at the time was eventually gathered together and scraped up by two grim-looking guys using shovels and carted off in a plastic sack! I've written a long chapter about it for "Slices" on my other website (www.wildliferanger.co.uk), but I can't quite bring myself to put it into the public domain just yet! This is also a key reason why I'd quite like to see both Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush out on the streets of Baghdad for a month or two with their sleeves rolled up, helping to "dispose" of all that carnage (another 78 killed today and 224 injured by a lorry-bomb driven into a mosque apparently....sh*t....just numbers to the media it seems, but an incomprehensible nightmare to the poor sods who really have to cope with it all)....I reckon that Messrs B&B could even take their own shovels and plastic bags if they liked or possibly confine themselves to picking up the bigger bits....after all, they're very important people and they shouldn't have to be dealing with all that....mush! Oops, I guess I'll stop now before I give myself another bad day and I end up getting loads more hate-mail from good, clean, honest, God-fearing folk who may not have been in those kind of situations themselves, but still manage to find my comments to be grossly insensitive, very inconvenient and totally un-PC. They love to tell me what a sad, bitter and twisted man I am and how I should just stick to taking pretty pictures....which isn't fair because some of my pictures aren't the least bit "pretty"! Mind you, I think they're also the ones who tend to feint if they get so much as a nose-bleed! Thinking about it though, my downwardly spiralling mood was probably triggered by the story in the news this morning about how a re-run of Tony Hancock's (Han****'s if you work for the RSPB) old 1960s advert (the one showing him eating an egg for breakfast and nothing else) has been blocked by certain advertising standards dimwits who object to it being aired on the grounds that it fails to show Hancock eating a "balanced" meal and could therefore prove terminally misleading to a (presumably) totally gullible general public who will then subsequently eat nothing else but eggs....forever and always....and possibly end up dying horribly of Double-Yoke Vision or Chicken-Liver Disease! What really got my goat though I think, was the fact that almost a full minute was devoted to the Hancock story while barely fifteen seconds were given over to the Baghdad truck-bombing! Is it me, or shouldn't I care? Oh well, back to Cornwall....
As with large areas of Scotland and Wales, the Lake District, the Yorkshire Moors and, of course, Devon, I simply love Cornwall and the chance to spend time working there at any time of year is always something that I really look forward to. Late Spring/early Summer is a particularly special time to visit....especially with all the kids still at school and the hoards of invading tourists not due to arrive for several weeks to come!
Mevagissey The chap seated on the bench nearest to me when I took this photo was very happy for me to stop and chat and turned out to be an enthusiastic bird-watcher. He was particularly keen to talk about up-grading his binoculars and wanted to discuss the pros and cons of buying new. Meanwhile, the husband of the couple sitting on the next bench down was a talented amateur water-colour painter and was half-way through producing an excellent harbour scene. I personally felt that his effort was good enough to consider selling on the American-based www.Imagekind.com I think he'd do quite well.
This trip involved seven days camped in a field above Gorran Haven, a typically pretty 13th Century Cornish harbour-village just a few south of picturesque Mevagissey and required that I covered as many miles of hedgerow and roadside verge as possible on foot (between fifteen and twenty-five miles per day) with a view to obtaining a comprehensive insight into both general and specific wildflower mixes and overall vegetation patterns predominanating in the area. It was also a chance to add to the on-going wildflower photo-catalogue I'm currently involved with on behalf of a conservation agency and to conduct further snapshot surveys of a variety of wildlife species, including the usual buzzards, Ravens, Fulmars, Stonechats, et al.
Setting off at around 0500hrs each morning to focus on one particular stretch of coastline for a couple of hours and then returning to my van for a shower and breakfast became the general pattern. This was followed by the bigger yomp throughout the remainder of the day. Evenings meanwhile, were spent cooking tea and watching W.C. Fields, Marx Brothers or Tony Hancock DVDs while attempting to decipher and write-up my own field notes, de-code hastily drawn maps and sketches, edit photographs and plan the route and itinerary for the following day.
Chapel Point My wife and I have always wanted to live here and if I did, I'd turn the entire area into a fantastic nature reserve....Oh well, dream on!
the weather was terrific for the first couple of days....pleasantly warm and sunny, but things became a little more difficult with the advent of more taciturn conditions....including some very heavy, thundery and occasionally prolonged showers. On such days, even the supposedly simple task of choosing the best and most appropriate clothes to wear becomes extremely difficult, bearing in mind that twenty or so miles is a very long way to carry any kit that will end up being surplus to requirement, not to mention all the technical stuff that you most definitely will use!
All on my lonesome. Apart from a single caravan positioned in a separate area in another field and well away from me, I was completely alone all week. In fact, the thought of being alone for most, if not all of the time sometimes, could be a daunting prospect for most people, but it goes with the territory in the UKNR and you just have to get on with it....besides, it never bothers me....I grew up that way!
Anyhoo, I managed to get everything done and generally ticked all the boxes. I took loads of photographs, some of which I've uploaded to this website and there were even a few special moments including those involving, a family of Stoats, a Raven family, a Honey Buzzard and my favourite seabird, the little "Stiffwing"....the Fulmar. I talked to lots of very nice and chatty people who I met on my travels and all the locals I spoke to were ever helpful and always friendly. I even discovered what is possibly the best cheese-festooned baked potato to be found anywhere in Cornwall at the "Harbour's Reach" cafe in Gorran Haven (apparently the secret lies in "fluffing-up" the potato at some point during the top-secret baking process), while at another Gorran Haven cafe called the "Mermaid" (situated virtually on the beach itself), a truly grand mug of piping-hot tea can be purchased for just a few shillings!
Mevagissey Herring Gull At a guess I'd say that this Herring Gull is perhaps twenty-five to thirty years old and was the character that I eventually shooed away from a little girl whose idiotic parents were encouraging her to feed with chips. He didn't go far however and probably just waited for me to disappear around a corner before returning to the stupid Primates!
On the downside, the tirade of verbal abuse I received from a young tourist couple in Mevagissey did manage to put a slight damper on my day, though I suppose it's only to be expected these days! To an oft repeated chorus of "oh look Sasha, he's smilin'....give 'im summor why don'tcha", I had suggested politely and while pointing to a "PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE BIRDS" sign, that they refrain from actively encouraging their little two-year-old daughter to feed chips to a very large and elderly-looking Herring Gull standing expectantly nearby. They simply weren't capable of recognizing that the bird's demeanour was changing rapidly and that it was just a few seconds away from launching itself at the child to get at her coveted chips! Doubtless, this would have resulted in the child being extremely frightened at best and, at worst, being badly injured! Then, of course, the moronic parents would be at the head of the queue to get something done about the "bloody birds"! I walked on after temporarily shooing the bird away, only to witness several other, equally moronic touristy individuals attempting to feed the Gulls with anything from chips to chewing gum....more abuse was innevitable, though slightly more guarded....if only because my own demeanour had grown slightly more hardened)!
Caerhays Castle Viewed from the hillside opposite, Caerhays Castle and its wonderful grounds undoubtedly provides one of the most breath-taking views in the whole of the UK and should be at the top of anyone's "must see" list! I just wish I'd been able to do it more justice in my photograph. I believe now that, with the beautiful and virtually deserted sandy beach just a couple of hundred metres to the left and the emerald-green/indigo-blue sea sparkling hypnotically in the warm Summer sunshine under an azure sky (see below), a panoramic shot would undoubtedly have been a much better option.
Poppy and Hover Fly (Episyrphus balteatus) Now that's what I call a red zone!
Stoat Family....Highlight of the Week! I see plenty of Stoats....and Weasels on my travels plus a few American Mink and the odd Otter or two from time to time, but this little event was slightly special! I'd seated myself down in the shade of a large Oak tree to eat my lunch with my back to an old wooden five-bar gate at the edge of a small field on the corner of a quiet country lane. The sun was beating down from a virtually cloudless sky and I was tempted to doze. Suddenly however, from the tufts of grass beneath the lowest spar of the gate and only a metre or so away from me, there appeared a little nose with its whiskers all of a twitch....a moment later, another nose poked its way into view....and then another. Just as I expected the noses to flee in the opposite direction, they shot out into the open right in front of me! Three very young and extremely playful Stoat kittens (left and middle pictures) began to run and romp and chase each other's tails all around me! One of the little so-and-so's even leapt across my outstretched legs and I felt the faintest touch of its tiny feet as it brushed against my trousers! This continued for perhaps fifteen or twenty seconds as I sat stunned and completely motionless, but as the initial shock began to pass and my wits gradually returned, I very carefully began to reach for my little pocket camera. As I did so, another, much larger Stoat, the Mum (right picture), shot out from beneath the gate, and paused for a moment to stare at me. I pointed the camera towards the prancing siblings without risking scaring them off by raising it to my face....She took another step forward and sniffed....then suddenly turned and cried out in alarm (sounding a bit like a Tomcat with piles) to her wayward youngsters. I managed to press the shutter four times before all of the animals had completely disappeared! The three very blurry shots shown above are the result of my "from the hip" photography, while the fourth effort merely depicted an empty space where all four Stoats had been just a second or two before! The fact that I didn't get any decent photos at all is a major disappointment to me, but these playful little scamps were moving about all over the place at a phenominal rate and were little more than a blur at times....even to the naked eye! This little episode, as brief as it was, goes down as the highlight of my week and continues to fuel my belief that sitting very still, without making the slightest of sounds, is when you are most likely to get the very best and most unexpected close-up views of wildlife that it's ever possible to have!
Painted Lady I was able to get really close to this sun-bathing Butterfly to take this picture without it flying off, but I had to be slightly downwind AND manage not to breathe for the entire duration otherwise it would have smelt me and/or sensed my presense long before I could get so near!
Fulmar Nesting Pairs Chatter to Each Other Constantly "Fulmars", "Tubenoses", "Stiffwings" (whatever you want to call them), may well look clumsy and even comical on land as they squat or shuffle about in their slightly ungainly way while at their nest-sites, but once airborne, they more than come into their own as they arc, bank and glide with the absolute minimum of effort just above the foaming, wind-whipped ocean waves. Back on land however, constantly chattering pairs of devoted birds take turns to incubate their single egg for around seven weeks and then feed the chick with food regurgitated from their own stomachs. As I've said before, this is my favourite of all seabirds, but unfortunately (yet again), my digi-scoped efforts (above and below), although taken from a distance of about two hundred metres, are sadly lacking in every way! I might add however, that there are actually plenty of people out there who can achieve the most wonderful results using the digi-scope method of photography....sadly, I don't appear to be one of them! Meanwhile, taking photographs of Fulmars from long-range is probably the wisest course of action due to the bird's very special method of self-defence.... We were involved in a so-called "silent" beach and cliff assault training exercise somewhere along one of the more rugged and lethal stretches of Devon coastline one wet and windy Winter's day, circa 1978 (apparently no one gets seriously injured or even killed if it's warm and sunny, so there's no point doing it in the Summer....although I believe that's all changed since health and safety was invented!). We were "attempting" to ascend a virtually sheer cliff-face while being supervised by a belligerence of assorted instuctors and NCOs who were, at that moment, enjoying mugs of hot tomato soup at the top of the cliff about 150ft above us. Not surprisingly, we were each required to carry about thirty pounds of kit on our backs all the way to the top, as well as nearly 14lb of SLRA1A rifle! Just as predictably perhaps, we were soaked to the skin from the waist down, having been dumped into the sea rather unceremoniously and somewhat prematurely just minutes before, by a determinedly difficult (is there any other kind?) Jock coxwain who apparently didn't want to risk scraping the hull of his beloved landing-craft on "any wee nasty rocks that I canna ken from here laddie"! As Kelly and Billy Bunter disappeared up their ropes into the now driving rain high above me, I tried to rub some life back into my frozen hands....until that is, I was asked if I too would care to give it a go....or rather, that I'd have my b***s stomped and fed to the "wee fishes" (another Scot) if I didn't move my "fat, sorry English a***e up that F*****g rope reet noo yoos greet big pile o' gobsh**e"! (I believe that this particular sergeant may well have been the inspiration for Matt Groening's Groundskeeper Willy)! I climbed and, as I did so, immediately gave up any realistic hope of ever seeing my family and loved ones again. I do remember growing in confidence however, the higher I climbed....If only because I gradually became less and less aware of the Glaswegian NCO and his constant, machine-gun tirade of "helpful" abuse! About half-way through my ordeal, I risked a quick glance down towards the narrow splinter of shingle and jagged rock laughingly called a beach and caught sight of the sergeant with his fists on his hips, glaring up at me. His inspirational words of encouragement at the morning's pre-exercise briefing seeped into my mind...."the beach yoo'll be landin' on is practically Blackpool lads, soo dunnay go forgettin' yer wee buckets and spades. Then, it's just a short wee climb to the top o' a wee moond! Oh, an' doont forget ta buy me a wee poostcard when yooz get to the top will yeez?". I began to consider where I would eventually tell the sergeant to stick his bl**dy "wee postcard" when the grim-faced Geordie, lovingly nick-named "Tex Mick" by his fellow bootnecks, began to overtake me on another rope (what do you expect....he only gave me a five minute start!). It was also about then that I suddenly came face to face with a smallish, grey and white seabird hunkered down out of the worst of the elements on a narrow ledge to the leaward side of a slight out-cropping of rock....it was a Fulmar! For a moment, I forgot all about my immediate misery....the wind and rain....the cold....or even the fact that I'm extremely uncomfortable in any situation that involves being any higher than when I'm standing on a dining-room chair! I stared at the bird who seemed determined to ignore the "dope on a rope" no matter what, but then, just when I made as if to continue climbing, the bird suddenly drew back its head as far as it possibly could, shook its beak from side to side a couple of times, made a loud gargley-retching noise and shot a thick jet of foul-smelling, fishy-tasting, warm, oily spew right into my face, mouth and eyes! Totally shocked and taken completely by surprise, I jerked my head back! Momentarily blinded, I put one hand to my eyes and wiped away the sticky mucus as best I could while spitting more from my mouth. At that moment my foot slipped and I banged my head against the rock and I might well have fallen, but for the steadying hand of Tex Mick who had been extremely quick to react after seeing what happened! My problems weren't over yet however....a gash had appeared on my forehead and a steady stream of blood mixed with rainwater and regurgitated bird mucus was now running down my face via my right eye! I hung on desperately and momentarily managed to regain my footing! Unfortunately, a combination of the bird's sticky mucus and the blood from my heroic wound had also managed to find their way on to both the wet rope and my frozen hands and this made everything extremely slick and slippery! "Get up that rope you stupid streak of p**s-water and stop playing with that bl**dy birdy or I'll come up there an' strangle the both o' yeez!"....the sergeant's voice barely reached me through the persistent howl of the wind as he sought to offer the best advice he could given my current predicament! Tex continued to support me as I did my utmost to clean my hands, one at a time, by wiping them on my soaking trousers....it was enough though....just....and I was eventually able to continue onwards and upwards....with one eye closed and stinging like crazy and a story to tell my grandchildren....thanks mostly to Tex! Funny though, I've never forgotten the foul taste of that Fulmar's fishy gob-spit and how it kept me even more focussed for the remainder of the climb than the fear of falling itself! I returned to those cliffs a couple of years ago and tried to spot the ledge that the Fulmar had so steadfastly refused to vacate (I wouldn't have been surprised to see the same bird still sitting there!). I failed to identify the exact ledge however....though there were lots of Fulmars sitting on lots of ledges....while some were just gliding around, effortlessly as always, on the updraughts and wind currents blowing in from the sea. It struck me then, just how much in control they actually are on those stiff little wings of theirs....and how much they looked, for all the world, like beautiful little toy aeroplanes!
I couldn't help but notice this bunch of reprobates going round in circles in their brand-new camouflaged pedloes a couple of miles offshore during the course of the week!
Opium Poppy There are quite a few (usually Oriental) Poppy hybrids to be found growing in all sorts of unusual and out-of-the-way places and this Opium Poppy was competing valiantly alongside a whole bunch of very tough and resilient local wildflower-types, including various Thistles, Campions and Parsleys, on a patch of fairly rough ground on the outskirts of Mevagissey and not far from the Lost Gardens of Heligan. Despite its well-documented association with drug-addiction, this particular Poppy has actually had a long and beneficial association with Humans. Even today, the non-narcotic seeds are sometimes baked into bread and cakes, while oil obtained by crushing the seeds can be used as a salad dressing or for cooking. The same oil can also be used as a fuel for lamps or in the manufacture of soap! This particular plant is probably a garden escape, though it might well be a remnant from a time when the Opium Poppy was grown quite extensively in the UK as a crop. I'm not actually certain that this plant is an absolutely pure example of an Opium Poppy, but it's worth remembering that true Opium Poppies are not just a source for opium itself, but also for the medicinally invaluable pain-killing drugs, codeine and morphine!
Poppy Hybrid? Intricate detail and vibrant colours make these plants truly special!
Young Fledgling Raven (left and right), Adult Raven (middle) If you're not sure whether the large black bird that you see flying overhead is a Carrion Crow or a Raven, then it's almost certainly a Carrion Crow. Ravens are pretty much unmistakable, with a wingspan sometimes even larger than that of a Buzzard and a voice that I can only describe as the Joss Ackland of the bird-world! I love this species....they mate for life and are fiercely loyal to each other and, like most Corvids, they are extremely clever, boasting an immense problem-solving capacity. Often, when I'm in dense woodland or forest at higher altitudes, I hear one or two of them flying above the trees "talking" to themselves or to each other in that deep, gutteral "kronk, kronk, kronk" way that they have. Getting photographs of Ravens can be very tricky though. The birds in the above photos are two-thirds of a small family group (junior and Mum) nesting on a rocky outcrop less than a mile from Gorran Haven. Working a route close enough to them to get at least half-decent pictures, involved scrambling with all my kit across sheer rock faces high above the foaming ocean waters about fifty metres below....and, since I'm not completely stupid, that's why I opted to use my digi-scope instead from the relative safety of the coastal footpath about a hundred metres away from their scruffy stick-pile of a nest! I don't really get on with digi-scoping however, which is why the above results are a great deal less than satisfactory (sadly, that's the best excuse I can come up with)! Oh well, I did manage to count a total of nine pairs of Ravens plus sixteen young birds while I was in Cornwall this time, indicating a strong, healthy and possibly marginally increasing population!
Green-Veined White Rather than a Small White I think.
Pale Flax This little Pale Flax plant was one of twenty-four new wildflower species that I managed to add to my photo-catalogue this week....making a grand total now of just over three hundred and twenty different species of wild or naturalized flowers that I've photographed, logged and pin-pointed on maps in either Devon, Cornwall or Gloucestershire. I've even managed to positively identify around 90% of them! Pale Flax meanwhile, is a totally versatile plant and has been used for centuries in the production of linen cloth. In fact, a cultivated variety of the plant was grown as a crop in many parts of the UK until ousted by mass-produced cotton in the 19th Century. It's still used to this day in the production of some high-grade writing paper and even cigarette papers! I've read that the ancient Egyptians once wrapped mummies with the stems of the plant, while a useful food-oil (linseed) has been obtained for thousands of years by simply crushing the seeds. A purified form of linseed continues to be used today by artists worldwide and can still be found in many modern paints, varnishes and putty.
Juvenile Stonechat Is it me, or does this young Stonechat look as though he's just learned that he's been grounded for a week....and with no Playstation either?
Rain-soaked The water droplets on this gorgeous flower meant that I just couldn't resist taking a photograph or two, even though it was growing in someone's garden in Gorran Haven and not in the wild!
Bramble or Dog Rose? The variation in colours and even the shape of the flowers amongst the many hybrids within this species is really quite incredible!
Solaris Since I don't actually know what this plant is (though I often saw it growing, bush-like, in a number of private gardens), I thought that "Solaris" would be a good name for it for the time being! There's another shot of this flower with the sunny disposition on the "Yellow" page.
Mr. K It's amazing really, I could spend an entire day in town, mingling with thousands of other people and only talk to two or three of them....and then probably only because they know my wife or they thought I was somebody else! Out in the "wilds" however, I end up talking to nearly everyone I meet....and that's a part of the job I enjoy. Coastal walker, Mr. K (pictured above) was typically keen to stop and chat and find out what I was doing....and for once I actually knew....I was attempting to photograph a family of Lesser Whitethroats from the cliff path above Gorran Haven, though I actually managed to get pictures of everything but....including Mr. K. It transpired that Mr. K is a published author of textbooks and a setter of "A Level" question papers. He's retired from teaching now (I think that's what he said) and was, at that moment, walking the full and enormous length of Cornwall's coastal footpath (anti-clockwise)! He's also going to write a book about it afterwards....and he will, I'm sure of it! I could tell immediately that he's one of those people who tends to get the job done...dependable, redoubtable and formidable in the undertaking of any project, no matter how small or how large. The kind of person who just keeps on going. If he was in the military, he'd probably be nicknamed "Duracell" and I'd certainly want him in my unit! Fiercly independent, tough, resilient characters, people like Mr. K tend to hold the gloop that is the rest of us together....and how do I know all this? Simple....I could see it in his eyes the moment I met him. I've met a few like it over the years....I married one of them! They never see themselves as particularly tough or special, but they are....not all the time maybe, but always when they need to be!
Sunset I Rain and clouds permitting, the sunsets to be seen from my van window were usually pretty spectacular and all very different!
Text and loads more photos yet to be added
More Black and White
Zebra Spiders are tiny, daytime hunters who secure themselves to a vertical wall or somesuch by a single silken thread and then jump onto their prey, having first spotted it using their excellent eyesight. They are voracious consumers of garden Aphids and should always be encouraged in both the home and the garden. Every year tens of thousands of them can be seen crossing the vast African Plains, having followed the same migratory routes for thousands of years....or am I getting them confused with something else?
This young Bull and the one below were my constant companions for the entire time I was in their field to photograph several species of wildflower. They seemed to tower over me each time I knelt down to take pictures of things like Crosswort and Common Vetch, though what had really attracted me into the field in the first place, were a few examples of Winter-Cress growing here and there!
Dandilion Clock by Daisy W (My Mum, Aged 14) Got to go now Can't you see... Dandilion clock says "Time for Tea!" But I'll be back Tomorrow noon So bye for now I'll See you soon!
Go No Further!
I don't know why, but instinct tells me that this bag of birdfood would probably weigh about 3kg....but what's that in real money?
Pica pica peek-a-boo
White on Black
Black on White....Incidentally, this is a complete paw-print set of a fifty metre long Rabbit trail (the trail that is, not the Rabbit) with the animal moving briskly from left to right. Also, the hind paws tend to appear ahead of the two front ones when Rabbits move in this fashion, which is an important thing to bear in mind when tracking Bunnies because, if you think that the hind paws are at the back of each set of tracks, then you'll probably be going the wrong way!
One of the House Martins from two seperate pairs that nest under the west-facing eaves of my house each summer.
Ermintrude and co compete to be "Nosey Cow of the Year"!
One of my all-time favourite Moody Blues songs is the one called "When the Tide Rushes In", which it certainly does in some places. This is the spot where two teenagers had to be rescued by the RNLI the previous day after being cut off by the tide in a lot less time than they actually had available to scramble back to a safer area and, with nowhere else to go, the youths would most certainly have been swept out to sea only moments later!
"Come out, come out. I know you're in there! I'm not going to hurt you little fella....honest!"
"Fly on a flower....so what? Get a life!" Such things have been said to me from time to time, but I guess I just can't help but keep noticing lots of those seemingly inconsequential little things all over the place....Why is that do you suppose....and would I really be that much happier if I actually did find "a life"? You never know though, maybe I'll find one that someone left lying around somewhere one day!