Archive for February, 2017

River Dart

River Dart

Our second day in Devon found us exploring the southern part of the county with local birder Mike Langman. Our first stop was at Waddeton where we found some Cirl Bunting feeding on a cattle feeder. From here we moved onto a stretch of the River Dart near Buckfastleigh to look for Dipper. Although we did find 3 drake Mandarin ducks, a somewhat unexpected species, the Dipper was nowhere to be seen.

Mandarin Duck

Mandarin Duck

Our next stop was at Staverton where amongst the over-wintering Chiffchaffs we located a Yellow-Browed warbler that has been spending the winter here. Yellow-Browed is usually a species seen as a rare migrant but there appear to be a number over-wintering in Devon this year – maybe a result of the mild weather. Also present were a party of Fieldfare, together with single Mistle and Song Thrush. At the nearby river, we had a brief view of a Dipper flying under a bridge, but which we were unable to relocate.

Yellow-Browed Warbler. photo by Sergey Yeliseev (https://www.flickr.com/photos/yeliseev/)

Yellow-Browed Warbler. photo by Sergey Yeliseev (https://www.flickr.com/photos/yeliseev/)

 

Still, we were not to be denied a good view of Dipper and at our next stop at Darlington Mill, we got some excellent views of one feeding in the stream.

Dipper

Dipper

On then to the south-west coast of Devon at Thurlestone to find another unusual over-wintering species, Desert Wheatear – a bird which is normally found in North Africa. The weather had taken a turn for the worse by the time we arrived and on our first look the small beach seemed deserted, but then Mike found the bird sheltering under the lee of the bank at the back of the beach. We managed excellent views as it began to feed amongst the undergrowth before returning to shelter from the conditions behind a stone.

Thurlestone Beach

Thurlestone Beach

Desert Wheatear

Desert Wheatear

Desert Wheatear

Desert Wheatear

Desert Wheatear

Desert Wheatear

Stonechat

Stonechat

We moved on down the coast to South Huish Marsh where a number of species were added to our list including Wigeon, Shoveller, Teal and Little Grebe. We checked out the Gull roost but only common species were present.

South Huish Marsh

South Huish Marsh

Next, we crossed to the south-east coast to Slapton Ley where Great Crested Grebe, Pochard and Tufted Duck were added to the day’s list, but no Scaup or Black-necked Grebe, which are regular here could be seen.

Slapton Ley

Slapton Ley

After crossing the River Dart, we stopped briefly at Noss on the Dart to search the small woodland for firecrest and other woodland species. A Goldcrest was seen and a Great-Spotted Woodpecker was heard. An excellent day. Thanks to Mike for driving us around and showing us these great sites.

Common Pheasant [sp] (Phasianus colchicus)
Canada Goose [sp] (Branta canadensis)
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)
Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna)
Mandarin Duck (Aix galericulata)
Gadwall (Anas strepera)
Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope)
Mallard [sp] (Anas platyrhynchos)
Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)
Eurasian Teal [sp] (Anas crecca)
Common Pochard (Aythya ferina)
Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)
Little Grebe [sp] (Tachybaptus ruficollis)
Great Crested Grebe [sp] (Podiceps cristatus)
Grey Heron [sp] (Ardea cinerea)
Little Egret [sp] (Egretta garzetta)
Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus)
Common Buzzard [sp] (Buteo buteo)
Common Moorhen [sp] (Gallinula chloropus)
Eurasian Coot [sp] (Fulica atra)
Eurasian Oystercatcher [sp] (Haematopus ostralegus)
Ruddy Turnstone [sp] (Arenaria interpres)
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)
European Herring Gull [sp] (Larus argentatus)
Lesser Black-backed Gull [sp] (Larus fuscus)
Common Wood Pigeon [sp] (Columba palumbus)
Great Spotted Woodpecker [sp] (Dendrocopos major)
Carrion Crow [sp] (Corvus corone)
Eurasian Blue Tit [sp] (Cyanistes caeruleus)
Eurasian Skylark [sp] (Alauda arvensis)
Long-tailed Tit [sp] (Aegithalos caudatus)
Common Chiffchaff [sp] (Phylloscopus collybita)
Yellow-browed Warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus)
Goldcrest [sp] (Regulus regulus)
Common Starling [sp] (Sturnus vulgaris)
Common Blackbird [sp] (Turdus merula)
Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris)
Song Thrush [sp] (Turdus philomelos)
Mistle Thrush [sp] (Turdus viscivorus)
European Robin [sp] (Erithacus rubecula)
European Stonechat [sp] (Saxicola rubicola)
Desert Wheatear [sp] (Oenanthe deserti)
White-throated Dipper [sp] (Cinclus cinclus)
Dunnock [sp] (Prunella modularis)
Grey Wagtail [sp] (Motacilla cinerea)

Pied Wagtail [sp] (Motacilla alba)
Meadow Pipit [sp] (Anthus pratensis)
Eurasian Rock Pipit [sp] (Anthus petrosus)
Common Chaffinch [sp] (Fringilla coelebs)
European Goldfinch [sp] (Carduelis carduelis)
Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus)

 

Broadsands Bay

Broadsands Bay

Keith and I have made the journey down to Torbay in Devon for a few days birdwatching. On our first day, we make our way to Broadsands Bay in hope of Cirl Bunting. I last saw this bird at the southern tip of Devon about 25 years ago. At that point, it was just hanging on and many people thought in would become extinct in the UK. Thankfully conservation organisations along with local enthusiasts decided to try and reverse this situation and although it is still limited to south Devon and east Cornwall, the population is now healthy. One of the key sites for winter roosting is at Broadsands between Brixham and Paignton.

We began by walking along the bay. Northern Fulmar and Northern Gannet were flying out in the bay, but there was no sign of the Divers or Grebes which had been present the previous week. Great Cormorant and European Shag were seen close to the cliff face.On arriving at the Cirl Bunting site we began to search the hedgerows for these attractive birds with their Yellow and Black Striped heads and it was not long before a male was found in a tree. Over the next hour, we were treated to some excellent views as they perched in the hedgerow.

Cirl Bunting

Cirl Bunting

Cirl Bunting

Cirl Bunting

Cirl Bunting

Cirl Bunting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Towards lunchtime, it began to go quiet and so we decided to walk back along the coast to Brixham. why is it that maps don’t show the ups and downs!!! It was much harder than we anticipated but eventually, we made it back to Brixham where we saw another European Shag in the harbour along with a large flock of Herring Gulls.

Shag

European Shag

Herring Gull

Herring Gull

Common Pheasant [sp] (Phasianus colchicus)
Canada Goose [sp] (Branta canadensis)
Mallard [sp] (Anas platyrhynchos)
Northern Fulmar [sp] (Fulmarus glacialis)
Grey Heron [sp] (Ardea cinerea)
Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus)
European Shag [sp] (Phalacrocorax aristotelis)
Great Cormorant [sp] (Phalacrocorax carbo)
Common Buzzard [sp] (Buteo buteo)
Eurasian Oystercatcher [sp] (Haematopus ostralegus)
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)
Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus)
European Herring Gull [sp] (Larus argentatus)
Common Pigeon [sp] (Columba livia)
Common Wood Pigeon [sp] (Columba palumbus)
Eurasian Jay [sp] (Garrulus glandarius)
Eurasian Magpie [sp] (Pica pica)
Carrion Crow [sp] (Corvus corone)
Great Tit [sp] (Parus major)
Eurasian Blue Tit [sp] (Cyanistes caeruleus)
Long-tailed Tit [sp] (Aegithalos caudatus)
Goldcrest [sp] (Regulus regulus)
Eurasian Wren [sp] (Troglodytes troglodytes)
Common Blackbird [sp] (Turdus merula)
Mistle Thrush [sp] (Turdus viscivorus)
European Robin [sp] (Erithacus rubecula)
European Stonechat [sp] (Saxicola rubicola)
House Sparrow [sp] (Passer domesticus)
Dunnock [sp] (Prunella modularis)
Pied Wagtail [sp] (Motacilla alba)
Common Chaffinch [sp] (Fringilla coelebs)
European Greenfinch [sp] (Carduelis chloris)
European Goldfinch [sp] (Carduelis carduelis)
Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus)

Here are some pictures of the painted ceiling of the Banqueting House by Reubens.

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Views of Matera (3)

Posted: February 23, 2017 in Italy
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Some more photos from the amazing town of Matera in southern Italy.

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Arthur Sullivan was born in May 1842, the son of a bandmaster. He composed his first anthem at the age of 8 and was admitted as a chorister at the Chapel Royal. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music and in Leipzig. He sought work as a music teacher and an organist. He wrote his first comic opera in 1866 and 5 years later he first collaborated with WS Gilbert. The pair were to write 14 highly successful comic operas in partnership before they parted in 1890 following a row over expenses. They did reunite a few years later to write 2 comic operas, but neither reached the success of their initial collaboration He continued to write comic operas in collaboration with others but none of them reached the success he had achieved in collaboration with Gilbert. Sullivan was knighted for his services to music in 1883 and died in November 1900 following a bout of Bronchitis.

Views of Matera (2)

Posted: February 21, 2017 in Italy
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There are many fine churches in the town of Matera in Southern Italy.

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A bright morning and I am on the coach with the local RSPB group on my way to Titchwell, a RSPB reserve on the North Norfolk Coast. It promises to be a good day as there have been some excellent records during the week.

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On arrival, I make my way to the beach. There has been a large flock of sea-duck off-shore including over 100 Velvet Scoter. In the good sunlight, it proves easy to identify them and a flock of 30 or so is soon seen in flight as they move along the coast giving views of the white wing bars which are the key identifying feature. In amongst this flock and some which don’t have wing-bars – Common Scoter. There are also a large group of Long-tailed Ducks. Sadly, the Red-necked and Slavonian Grebes of the previous day were not present (I learnt later that they had moved a few miles down the coast to Holme).

Velvet Scoter. Photo by Tony Morris (https://www.flickr.com/photos/tonymorris/)

Velvet Scoter. Photo by Tony Morris (https://www.flickr.com/photos/tonymorris/)

Long-Tailed Duck. Photo by  Sergey Yeliseev (https://www.flickr.com/photos/yeliseev/)

Long-Tailed Duck. Photo by Sergey Yeliseev (https://www.flickr.com/photos/yeliseev/)

Having exhausted the sea, I begin to make my way back through the reserve looking at the various lagoons and saltmarsh which stretch out either side of the path. There is a good selection of waders and ducks present.

Golden Plover

Golden Plover

Shelduck

Shelduck

Grey Plover and Redshank

Grey Plover and Redshank

Oystercatcher

Oystercatcher

Brent Geese

Brent Geese

Teal

Teal

My final stop is the reed-bed and the woodland where a few more species were added. On the way back some of the group found a Water rail in a ditch and we were able to get quick glimpses as it slipped away through the undergrowth and a party of Pink-Footed Geese flew which over on their way to roost.

Robin

Robin

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese

An excellent day with over 60 species seen.

Common Pheasant [sp] (Phasianus colchicus)
Pink-footed Goose (Anser brachyrhynchus)
Greylag Goose [sp] (Anser anser)
Brant Goose [sp] (Branta bernicla)
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)
Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna)
Gadwall (Anas strepera)
Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope)
Mallard [sp] (Anas platyrhynchos)
Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)
Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)
Eurasian Teal [sp] (Anas crecca)
Common Pochard (Aythya ferina)
Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)
Velvet Scoter (Melanitta fusca)
Common Scoter (Melanitta nigra)
Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis)
Common Goldeneye [sp] (Bucephala clangula)
Little Grebe [sp] (Tachybaptus ruficollis)
Great Crested Grebe [sp] (Podiceps cristatus)
Little Egret [sp] (Egretta garzetta)
Western Marsh Harrier [sp] (Circus aeruginosus)
Eurasian Sparrowhawk [sp] (Accipiter nisus)
Common Kestrel [sp] (Falco tinnunculus)
Water Rail [sp] (Rallus aquaticus)
Common Moorhen [sp] (Gallinula chloropus)
Eurasian Coot [sp] (Fulica atra)
Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)
Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)
European Golden Plover (Pluvialis apricaria)
Grey Plover [sp] (Pluvialis squatarola)
Black-tailed Godwit [sp] (Limosa limosa)
Bar-tailed Godwit [sp] (Limosa lapponica)
Eurasian Curlew [sp] (Numenius arquata)
Common Redshank [sp] (Tringa totanus)
Ruddy Turnstone [sp] (Arenaria interpres)
Red Knot [sp] (Calidris canutus)
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)
Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus)
European Herring Gull [sp] (Larus argentatus)
Common Pigeon [sp] (Columba livia)
Common Wood Pigeon [sp] (Columba palumbus)
Eurasian Collared Dove [sp] (Streptopelia decaocto)
Eurasian Magpie [sp] (Pica pica)
Western Jackdaw [sp] (Coloeus monedula)
Rook [sp] (Corvus frugilegus)
Carrion Crow [sp] (Corvus corone)
Great Tit [sp] (Parus major)
Eurasian Blue Tit [sp] (Cyanistes caeruleus)
Eurasian Skylark [sp] (Alauda arvensis)
Cetti’s Warbler [sp] (Cettia cetti)
Long-tailed Tit [sp] (Aegithalos caudatus)
Common Starling [sp] (Sturnus vulgaris)
Common Blackbird [sp] (Turdus merula)
Song Thrush [sp] (Turdus philomelos)
European Robin [sp] (Erithacus rubecula)
Dunnock [sp] (Prunella modularis)
Pied Wagtail [sp] (Motacilla alba)
Common Chaffinch [sp] (Fringilla coelebs)
Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla)
European Greenfinch [sp] (Carduelis chloris)
Eurasian Siskin (Carduelis spinus)
Common Linnet [sp] (Carduelis cannabina)

The Banqueting House (2)

Posted: February 17, 2017 in History, London, UK
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King Charles I

King Charles I

Memorial to execution of Charles I erected near site of scaffold outside Banqueting House

Memorial to execution of Charles I erected near site of scaffold outside Banqueting House

Views of Matera (1)

Posted: February 14, 2017 in History, Italy
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Matera is a unique town in Southern Italy. It is built on the side of a gorge and is thought to be one of the oldest inhabited sites in the world dating from the pre-historic period.

The oldest caves in the ravine

The oldest inhabited caves in the ravine

The ancient town was known as ‘Sassi di Matera’ and consisted of houses cut into the rock of the gorge. A front wall would then be built across the cave entrance. Some of these cave houses were still in use until the early 1950’s when the last residents were moved to more modern accommodation at the top of the gorge.

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When I was there, in 1997, we were having a drink in a cafe after visiting some of the cave houses, which had been renovated and opened for tourists to see. The lady in the cafe heard what we were talking about and disappeared. A few moments later she re-appeared with her husband, who spoke no English, but pointed to himself and said proudly ‘Troglodyte’ which means cave dweller. It turned out he was from one of the last families to be moved out of the cave houses and, perhaps surprisingly, we learned that many families were very reluctant to leave their homes in the Sassi to move to new flats in the modern part of the town.

The Sassi at the bottom and the modern town at the top of the ravine

The Sassi at the bottom and the modern town at the top of the ravine

The old town and the Sassi are fascinating places to visit.

Let it Snow

Posted: February 13, 2017 in Landscape, London, Natural History, UK
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Snow has become increasingly rare in London and this past weekend we experienced our first snowfall of the year. It didn’t amount to much as most did not settle but it did make the trees in the garden look like a Christmas card for a couple of hours.

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