Friday, 13 June 2014

Choughs, Kites, and Hens

Last weekend I went to an awesome outdoor hen weekend in Wales. A weekend of surfing, horse riding and troughing with near strangers. Not to mention a little birding. It was a great escape from PhD-dom, plus I got to see two of my favourite birds. 

The first chance photo op came when I offered to take snaps of our brave horse riding crew. As Caroline and I rushed down the cliff steps to get into position to shoot the others cantering along the beach there was a jackdaw like call. They were right at the foot of the steps, probing for insects. In our rush, we flushed them.

Luckily, after 15 minutes of snapping horses, they were back and I managed to get a few shots in. For anyone not familiar with choughs, they're AWESOME! Intelligent and curious, they play on the wind in a way jackdaws can only envy. They're mainly insectivorous, and like to forage in grassy areas, particularly grazed pasture. And just look at those amazing red/orange feet and bill. There are roughly 300 pairs around the UK, distributed around coastal cliffs.

Just could NOT get the iso right for the perfect shot

Expert landings on vertical surfaces

My other bird of the weekend were the wonderful red kites around Cardigan Bay. They remind me of my time working at the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre following my MSc. Unsurprisingly, the birds were most numerous as I passed Bwlch Nant yr Arian (where there is a feeding station), and could be seen in great clearly from the road. 

I love a good comeback story (part of why I love white tailed eagles so much), and the kite's is a great one. First releases of Swedish birds took place in 1989, with first successful breeding recorded in 1992. Wild reared birds successuflly nested a few years later, and there are now an estimated 1600 pairs in the UK. Much of the success of the kite reintroduction is the result of the goodwill of local population and the introduction of more stringent protection of both the birds themselves and their nests, not to mention the occasional free feed.

Anyway, these shots were snapped beside the A487, drive along it for long enough and they're a safe bet.

Chance shots from the side of the road

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Little Bits of Earth

Last year, Mum took on an allotment. For the following 12 months, it was all I heard about. Or half heard about it. I've never been that much of a veg fan. Last year's squash crop was so big it almost put me off pumpkin for life - there's still one in the kitchen. But, last time I was home, I went down to the plot at a ridiculous 7:30 (if you're not birding) to lend a hand. And I finally got it.

My last trip down had been in winter, there was lots of bare earth and damp grass. It looked pretty grim. When I was back last month, everything was shades of spring green and deep red. I could hear skylarks. It was so unnaturally natural. After lending a hand with weeding and planting some salad and marigolds. I promised Mum I'd nip back down and take some record shots for her. These are they.

The allotment is definitely a practical one, she's not been lured away from the fruits and veggies yet; but, the determined little plants still have such charm, especially up-close. The beds themselves are only slightly raised, so there's lots of knee bending for both weeding, planting, and photography. I passed it off as good exercise (even if it did make me feel a little creaky) and got stuck in.

I planted these!

Salad crops grow fast, getting lots of successive use out of beds. 

Dwarf beans have beautiful hidden flowers

The allotment itself is obviously organic (the big pile of rotting manure is testament to that), and full of wonderful natural predators. The small space was packed with ladybirds, lacewings, and other great little creepy crawlies, all of which will happily much away on those garden nasties. A happy looking song thrush was bashing a snail to bits as we arrived, and lazy bees buzzed between the bean flowers. The only thing Mum wasn't happy to see was a particularly menacing cabbage white, which we swiftly shooed away before carefully replacing the fleece.

They say that an Englishman's home is his castle. If that's the case, then the allotment is hallowed ground. Everyone knows their boundaries - marked or unmarked - and hell mend those that don't keep to them. Otherwise its a friendly atmosphere, with plenty of gossip between neighbours, the only grumbles being about the refilling of the water trough. 

Everywhere you look on the allotment there are great examples of creative recycling. Pallet compost bins, bath-tub planters. Mum even uses water filled bottles to weigh down her cloches and covers.

Zooming out, you can see not only the mix of veg, but the space still for cultivating. Strictly organised beds help keep the more rambling plants at bay, and the really invasive plants are confined to planters, and in front of the new shed an area protected by thick carpet from the ingress of weeds awaits the next crop. 

I'll try and take some more pictures before harvest time hits. Personally, I'll be holding back on the pumpkin this year...

This year, Mum's Christmas present was a new shed.

Mesh wind brakes protect the taller veggies

Sunday, 1 June 2014

No Otters

Although it may seem strange to recent readers, but there are some nights out on the point I don't see otters. Thankfully, there's always something to look at. The last clear night felt perfect for otters - still, quiet, low tide - but no joy. But there were plenty of other animals out foraging on the point. The first thing I noticed was an amazing number of herons (7 on the point alone), all with successful strikes while I was wandering. 

First fish-eater of the night, grey heron


There must've been plenty of fish around as the seals were in close, with a couple of big grey seals cruising around the bay. And for most of the day there were a pair of foraging harbour porpoise further out. Starting in close between Farland and the Eileans and moving out toward little Cumbrae as the tide dropped away.

One of two porpoises feeding between the point and the mainland

But my stars of the evening where (for a change) the oystercatchers, not only were they surprisingly quiet and confiding, but I also got nice views of this year's fluffy, big-footed chicks. I'm always amazed that something so small and incapable of more than a flap is able to move around between the large boulders. It becomes very tempting to scramble over the rocks for a closer look, then I think about finding somewhere dry to put my camera (and the stress to the animal, I'm not evil), and think better of it. I could have stayed out and watched them all evening, except for the clouds of midges, which soon sent me scurrying for the house.

Oystercatcher on Farland

Two Oyk chicks on Farland