Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Crocus awakening

The Rosary Cemetery in Norwich is a wonderful little oasis close to the centre of the city and a couple of minutes walk from my office. The cemetery falls into two parts a wild older section full of mature trees and Victorian tombstones on which the inscriptions read like CV's fro the afterlife and a newer section which is still in use. Cross a road from the new part of the cemetery and you are in Lion Wood. Visit the excellent for more information on the Cemetery.

Its a great place for a 'birds without binoculars' lunchtime walk or potter with the camera. See to see a small of selection of photos taken here over the last couple of years.

Today was my first visit for a couple of weeks and it was good to see the changing season in the shape of the naturalised crocuses that have spread, seemingly randomly through the cemetery, no boring municipal lines here. For the next month these wild crocuses will be an absolute joy. Not to be outdone the small pond was full of frogs with at least ten 'pairs' of copulating amphibians. A large female Sparrowhawk was my first over the Cemetery this year.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Walsingham Snowdrops

An annual event in Norfolk are the February Snowdrop walks held around the County to raise funds for charity. One of the most popular of these is held in the grounds of Walsingham Abbey, here the Snowdrops carpet the ground interspersed with smaller clumps of yellow Aconites. The bare branches of the trees carry large clumps of Mistletoe.

For the last couple of years the mild winters have meant that by late February the Snowdrops have been turning over, but this year presumably thanks to the cold weather we have had this year, they were at their best. An additional bit of atmosphere was provided this year by a small girl playing her violin below the ruined arch.

Prior to our walk around the Abbey we had lunch at 'The Pie Pub' aka The Three Horseshoes in Warham This pub sits just inland from the north Norfolk coast and has escaped the tarting up that has befallen many Norfolk pubs. The words 'fusion' and 'sitting on a bed of' don't appear on the menu instead they sell a range of home made pies and old fashioned puddings alongside Norfolk Wherry bitter, a great place for a winter pub lunch.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Death down at the Staithe

Beautiful early spring morning. Had a short walk around Holkham Park, no Lesser peckers, but lots of noise from the resident Jackdaws and the wonderful almost owl like cooing of the local Stock Doves.

Stopped off at Deepdale Cafe for a takeaway sausage sandwich and coffee, as ever excellent food, great value for money and friendly service. I took my meal down to the Staithe, what with the tide still being out and a number of folk walking around enjoying the sunshine it was quiet for waders and wildfowl. However the calm was broken by a Sparrowhawk taking out one of the Redshanks. Only managed some distant shots of the BOP as it subdued its prey. I've sharpened and cropped one of these and posted it here.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Snowdrops & Aconites

Early, early spring and Summerfield, a corner of scrubby, scruffy Norfolk woodland which for 11 months of the year is unremarkable comes to life. The ground here is covered in great painterly splashes of yellow and white as aconites and snowdrops burst through last autumns still decomposing leaf litter to have their fifteen minutes of fame. Yesterday morning was wonderfully clear and spring like and then at lunchtime the tide brought in a grey overcast sky, it was in this diffuse light that I spent a pleasant ten minutes with the camera photographing these first signs of spring.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Northern Spain in Winter Day 5

Sunday 15 February

Left Hotel Carinena and arrived at El Planeron at 7.30 am, much stiller than last time but also a lot colder at -4 C. A lot quieter we only heard a few snatches of a single Dupont's Lark in song. The wetland area here held a roost of c 80 Common Cranes as well as a selection of wildfowl and a Green Sandpiper.

We drove a track further out into the depression managing to find more Lesser Short Toed, Calandra and Crested Larks and Pintailed and Black Bellied Sandgrouse. Following the minor road across the steppe towards Quinto De Ebro we found roadside Dartford and Fan Tailed Warblers.

Time was now pressing in on us if we were to make Zaragoza airport and our flight home. Nonetheless we found time for a brief stop by the river in Quinto de Ebro. Although in full spate we did manage to add a number of birds to our list including Little, Cattle and Great White Egrets. This village was also really good for nesting White Storks.
Ended trip on 104 species. For gen we used 'A Birdwatching Guide to the Pyrenees by Jacqueline Crozier' We also got some good up to date information from

Northern Spain in Winter Day 4

Saturday 14 February

Spent the morning in the Echo Valley, managed to get about a Kilometre beyond Boca Del Infierno at which point the road was blocked with snow. We parked and enjoyed a short walk through a wonderful sparkling winter landscape of snow covered hills and forest and icicles hanging from the roadside trees and rocks. On top of all this we had more Wallcreeper and Lammergeir sightings.

We wanted to be back at Gallocanta for dusk so we headed south on the road that runs via Ayerbe. Here in the village of Plascencia we saw our first White Storks on a roadside Church and just south of a here a Golden Eagle was hunting a roadside field.

We arrived at Gallocanata late afternoon much sunnier and stiller than on our first visit. Lots of birdwatchers and photographers scattered about the place and perhaps as many as 23,000 Common Cranes. We had a wonderful last couple of hours of daylight and probably an hour after sunset watching and listening to thousands of Cranes flighting into roost. A truly stunning sight and an amazing testament to the wildness that does still manage to survive in western Europe.

Northern Spain in Winter Day 3

Friday 13 February

Pre Breakfast walk turned up a number of wintering Hawfinches, Bullfinch, Peregrine, Lammergeir and an unseasonal bat flying around the church.

Today was to be our high altitude day and we had a wonderful clear blue mountain sky. The road to the Portalet pass was blocked and there was chaos around the ski lifts due to the sheer weight of ski traffic. No sign of any birds so we headed down and up to the Somport Pass, again the road was blocked by snow so we went down to the ski resort of Astun. This was very busy but also sheltered and we were fortunate to find c 6 'tame' Alpine Accentors feeding in the car park and a number of Alpine Choughs hanging around. Disappointingly so Snowfinches here or anywhere else today.

Had time for a quick drive up the wonderful Echo Valley, the usual Red Kites, Common Buzzards and a Dipper on the river. Had to give up on trying to reach the Refugio at Gabardito when our hire car refused to drive up a steep road of sheet ice.

Northern Spain in Winter Day 2

Thursday 12 February

Up at Sparrows and on site at El Planeron SEO reserve by 6.30 am. Quite a blowy morning but we heard the first Dupont's Lark squeaky gate song in the pre dawn at 7.05 am. Really atmospheric just the wind, the Dupont's Lark song and a velvet blue glow in the horizon. As it got lighter the dawn chorus was joined by Short Toed, Calandra and Crested Larks. After about three hours trying we managed a brief scope view of a Duponts. Also saw a pair of Southern Grey Shrikes here and Black Bellied Sandgrouse.

On our way north we stopped at the Lomara reserve for lunch and had great views of a low flying Golden Eagle. We continued our way north via Embalse's Sotonera and Ardissa but in the high wind these were pretty birdless.

The hour and a half that we spent at Riglos was one of the best of the trip. As we walked through the village towards the church we had great close views of two Alpine Accentors. Once under the cliffs we had good views of two Wallcreepers including one very low down eatinga caterpillar. Other graet birds here included a stunning male Black Redstart, a Blue Rock Thrush, Peregrine and a steady fly by of Griffons.

Next stop the Monastery at San Juan De La Pena. The meadow and car park here were carpeted in snow but we had good views of a Black Woodpecker in the vicinity of the Aspen tree I had seen it nesting in last spring. A singing male Crossbill added to the atmosphere.

As we drove down the hill we saw Lammergeir and Peregrine. We got a room for two nights at the Hostal Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz de la Seros.

Northern Spain in Winter Day 1

Wednesday 15 February

Flew into Zaragoza and drove down to Laguna Gallocanta and followed a clockwise circuit around the lake. Quite breezy and 7 - 8 C. No other birders about and the Cranes were feeding close to the road, small numbers with c 2000 present late afternoon. Very good for Hen Harriers with about ten birds present all bar one were males. Other highlights were a Rock Sparrow on the church in Tornos and a roadside Wild Boar at dusk. On leaving Gallocanta we headed for the Hotel Carinena in the town of the same name, strategically situated 45 minutes drive from Belchite.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Forms in the Gloom

Heavy snow last Wednesday night / Thursday morning meant that I thought better of driving to the office in Norwich and worked from home. Went out for a short walk at lunchtime, cold, grey and not much visibility. Found these two pictures amongst the dead foliage by the side of a lane. The top image is of some Burr seed heads with water droplets attached. The lower picture is of the remains of an Umbellifer seed head [probably Alexanders], I particularly like the spidery form of this one.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Ivy & Chapel

Lovely springlike lunchtime, Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming for the first time this year and the first crocus flowers up and open. Walking back to work I saw this idea for a composition using the ivy in the foreground and the cemetery chapel behind. One to come back to as I don't like the glare on the leaves, but I like the different view of a patch of ground I walk around every week.

Monday, 2 February 2009

New toy in a snow storm

Snow at lunchtime had turned to a cold rain by late afternoon. So I am glad I made the effort to get out in Rosary Cemetery, Norwich for half an hour with my new Ricoh GR digital compact. Only the second time I have taken this new toy out a replacement for my old Capilo R4. First impressions are that I will miss the optical zoom on the Capilo [I am not as impressed so far with the GR's optical zoom] and that it will take me a while to get used to the GR's macro function. Having said that playing with the settings of a new camera in a snow storm was always going to be difficult.

Pictured here is the delicate flower stalk of a Butterburr always one of the earliest of flowers to bloom [I saw some in flower on the North Norfolk coast at Christmas]. The other image is of the newer half of the cemetery.